Banged Up

Sylvar stooped to pick up a rock and sent it skipping across the open ground towards the edge of the plateau. It bounced three times, sending up little clouds of red dust before flying off the side and toppling into the pit.

He stood near the edge of a circular shelf of dusty red stone a couple of hundred feet wide. Ahead the shelf dropped away into the darkness of what was known colloquially as the shit pit. It was called the shit pit for reasons which became obvious when you took in the complete lack of any hygiene facilities and the large number of people scattered across the plateau. The shit pit wrapped around the rock like some evil-smelling moat just a few feet beyond which were a plethora of bored-looking sentries in a strange open-faced tower.

The walls of the tower were tall, but the inside was open like some ancient ruin so that everyone on the rock could watch as the sentries gambled their wages away at cards, drank themselves into a stupor of more irritatingly, pulled faces and waved their cocks at the people on the inside. It meant those on the inside knew they were being watched at all times but also gave the impression that one could simply step from the desolation of the rock to the safety of the tower in one easy hop. Unfortunately, in Blastrock Maximum Security Prison things were rarely that simple.

“What’s the matter Sylvar? You’ve had a face like a slapped arse all morning” asked Ludo, the huge half-orc his voice like rumbling like a barrel of rocks rolling down a hill.

Sylvar let out a sigh and waved a theatrical arm to take in their surroundings. Broken people dressed in nothing but rags and dirt lay still, waiting to die or scrabbled about like insects scavenging for scraps of food from sleeping bodies. At least he hoped they were sleeping bodies.

“You mean the prison?” asked Ludo, scratching his head with a thick black nail.

“No, I don’t mean the prison,” sighed an exasperated Sylvar. “I mean those clowns.” He jabbed a finger towards a group of sentries who were tossing coins into an upturned helm.

“The guards?”

“Yes, the guards! It’s offensive how little interest they take in us. Don’t they know who I am? I’m Sylvar Theren III, master lover, inimitable thief and menace to the rich and boring. There hasn’t been a prison made that can hold me.”

“This one isn’t doing a bad job so far.”

As the talked a wild-haired man, who looked more skeletal than some of the bodies in the pit dashed towards the edge his tattered robe flailing behind him like a banner. As he reached the edge, he leapt into the air, easily clearing the gap only to crash into an invisible barrier, rebound back and topple end over end down into the pit where his scream cut off abruptly. It was such a common occurrence that neither of the pair even blinked. Instead, Sylvar shot his big friend a scowl before continuing.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve been here very long, is it? Besides can’t they even pretend to be vigilant. It is their job, after all. The real ones stealing in this city are them, not us. Stealing a living from the crown they are. Look at them, drinking, playing cards and not giving me the slightest bit of attention. I have a good mind to escape.”

“Do we have to? We only have one more week in here.”

“Yes, because fuck them and their snooty disdain for my ability. I might even kill one of them on the way out to teach them a lesson.”

“Well, can’t you just…” Ludo waved a thick paw in what he considered a vaguely mystical manner.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, you know magic.”

“I don’t think they will like that. Besides no matter how incompetent they are I’m pretty sure they will notice someone casting a spell powerful enough to dispel that barrier. Unless…”

“I don’t like it when you do that Sylvar,” said Ludo as Sylvar stared into space with a smile on his face. “That look usually ends up with me getting hurt, or robbed, or sent to a maximum security prison…”

“Do you trust me?” said Sylvar.

“Not even a little.”

“Great.” Sylvar picked up a large, rather pointy looking rock and hurled it with all his strength at a Goliath lounging nearby. The rock cracked off the side of his head, leaving a line of red, bright against his grey skin. The goliath spun its face twisted in rage, and Sylvar put his hand in Ludo’s back and pushed. “Good luck.”

Ludo staggered forward-looking over his shoulder to where Sylvar was beating a hasty retreat, and a roar echoed around the prison that shook the walls. Ludo turned just in time to see a giant, gnarled fist rushing towards his face and then he was fighting for his life.

Around the rock, the prisoners started to gather around the fighters. Ones and twos at first and then, when it was clear the smaller man wasn’t going to be hammered into the ground like a nail into a board, at least not immediately, the rest flooded in forming a loose ring. The fight even piqued the interest of the usually indolent guards who gathered in small groups, watching from the safety of the tower.

Ludo slipped a wild swing and hammered a fist into the goliath’s ribs. His knuckles cracked on the creatures iron-like hide, blood flowing, but he heard a satisfying huff of pain that brought a grin to his face.

Sylvar better have a bloody good reason for this, thought Ludo as the beast leapt for him again. He tucked and rolled through its legs, feeling claws rake down his back as he narrowly avoided being crushed like an overripe melon. Chest heaving like a newlyweds bossom he backed away and scanned the crowd for his friend, but he was nowhere to be seen. Ludo circled right, keeping an eye on the frothing goliath as he scanned the crowd. Where the hell is he? Thought Ludo. Then he saw him and stopped his mouth hanging open. Sylvar was off by the edge of the rock squatting down taking a shit. If he did this just so he could have some privacy to pinch one off I’ll… 

Ludo’s vision narrowed to a thing tunnel and stars danced before his eyes, and the last thing he saw before the goliath pounced on his was Sylvar giving him the thumbs up.

Sylvar grimaced and retracted his thumb as the goliath fell on Ludo like a tsunami. With his other hand, he gingerly held the wand that he had recently retrieved from his brown pocket. It was one of the less fun things he’d had in there, but it would be worth the discomfort, assuming it still worked. Holding it between forefinger and thumb, he shook it clean and then pointed it the barrier. “Here goes nothing.”

On his back with a goliath’s hands wrapped around his throat choking the life out of him, Ludo thought about his poor life choices. The one top of mind being getting together with an idiot elf with a bad habit of taking things that didn’t belong to him. The goliath smiled, and ropes of drool slapped on Ludo’sf ace, but he barely felt them. As he slowly died, he saw a bright flash in the sky and wondered if that was a sign from the gods. It turned out it was a sign, just not a divine one.

Get up you idiot the barrier is down. Ludo felt the voice rather than heard it.


The barrier is down, stop pissing about and let’s get out of here before anyone notices.


Is now really the time to talk about this while some big lump chokes you to death!? I used the butt wand okay? The butt wand! Now stop getting killed and get over here.

Ludo lifted his legs, looked up into the wild orange eyes of the goliath and slammed his legs down, arching his back. The goliath shot upwards losing its grip for a second and Ludo grabbed it’s arm twisted and pressed into its elbow with all his strength. There was a crack and a tearing sound, and then the weight was off him, and the goliath was on the floor rolling int the dirt one arm hanging uselessly by its side.

“Sorry about that but I’ve gotta run,” said Ludo before charging through the crowd and pelting it over to where Sylvar stood in the tower waving to him. The crowd turned as one and seeing a prisoner beyond the barrier they went mad. Prisoners threw themselves across the pit as guards scrambled to draw their weapons and all around were screams as men fought to the death. While on the far side of the rock Sylvar and Ludo slipped quietly down the stairs and out into the warm night air.


The Revolution

“Lizard people, once a far fetched political conspiracy theory, has been confirmed to have a startling element of truth after thousands of people across the nation woke up this morning to find friends and family members gone, and numerous sightings of large lizard-like beings on the run. Mrs Cartwright was coming home from a night shift when she encountered three humanoid reptilians. Diane is with her now-”
I turned down the television and pulled my worn book from in between the sofa cushions. It was hard not to get distracted by the news, no matter how many times I’d heard it. We were warned to stay in our homes, keep our loved ones close and report any disappearances to the police. I was reading The Great Gatsby. A timeless classic, but not my favourite book. I used to claim, with a whimsical, hubris air, that the description of the party at the start of chapter three was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read. It was half a lie – I was an English literature student who couldn’t name her favourite book and was desperate to find some footing in the forced conversations within the first term of university.
The reason I was truly reading it was to comfort myself because when I said that – spouted that bullshit in some ridiculous, long winded way – another student had lit up.
“I love that book! Don’t you just fall in love with Gatsby?”.
Ella. I sat next to her in the lectures we had together, shared hangovers over steaming lattes, read poems out to her whilst we laid out on her bed, and loved her, entirely. Our deep and incredibly personal friendship had blossomed over this precious little novel, and I dared not forget that.

That morning she had disappeared. Her and her husband were due to catch an 8am flight but when had he woken, she was gone with her phone still plugged in on her bedside cabinet and her belongings untouched. People were unsure, at the time, whether people were becoming these reptilian creatures or being killed or eaten or taken by them. I don’t know which would have been worse. 

“Your wife doesn’t love you,” says Gatsby. “She’s never loved you. She loves me.”

Realising I was reading the same line over and over, I gave up.
“Mark?” I called, shuffling my feet into his slippers and standing up.
I was met with silence.
A soft rustling came from the kitchen.
“Uhhh, Mark?” I tried again, my sense of reason dissipating as the news reports echoed in my head. Trying to be soundless, I peered round the door. My husband, not half reptile, was right there in his long, creased apron taste testing from the large pot on the stove, moving his hips and shoulders jauntily in some ridiculous attempt at dancing to the music from the headphones in his ears. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, laughter creeping in at the stupid, lovely sight of him. Finally he noticed me stood there and pulled his headphones out, offering me a soft smile.
“Hello Darling.”


“Any news about Ella?” he tried, his face hopeful. 

I shook my head, trying not to think too hard about it. It was hopeless. We all presumed the worst.

“You don’t think she’s…?” my voice faltered. 

He considered it for a moment, and then shrugged, “I wish I could say no, Darling.” 

But your best friend is, in all likelihood, a giant lizard. Cool. 

I slumped into a seat at the dining table, the weight of the situation settling upon my tired shoulders. It didn’t seem possible. Every heartfelt moment we’d spent together couldn’t have been a lie. 

“Come on now.” Mark tried, bringing the wooden spoon over to my face with a coy grin, “Try this.” 

I couldn’t sleep that night. Gently, I placed my hand against Mark’s warm chest, and felt it rise and fall evenly. He was so calm. Did he dream? Was his mind totally undisturbed by the dramatic events happening across the globe, by the fear and grief apparent in every face he passed in the street? He still seemed so cheerful, despite it all. I mean, he knew Ella. He liked Ella.
Suddenly, a shadow darted past the open crack of our bedroom door. I jumped, recoiling my hand and pulling the cover up around my shoulders.
You’re overthinking. The stress is getting to you. It’s nothing. 

My heart beat heavy against my ribs, and nervousness rose like bile in my throat. 

Just go out there and check. Put your mind at ease. 

Yes. Clever. Face your fears. Gently, I pulled the cover away and stood up, avoiding the creaky floorboard that I had mastered locating after years of waking up earlier than Mark for work. 

I crept around the bed, watching my husband intently for any signs of waking. I reached the door and, composing myself, yanked it open fiercely, ready to confront my empty corridor. I went to scream as I found myself staring at a pale, wide eyed face, but their hand clamped securely over my mouth and suddenly I was being forcibly pinned against the wall. They closed the bedroom door with a swift movement and glared at me from beneath a thick hood. 

“Would you shut up!?” the intruder whispered sharply, and my nerves melted away as I focused on familiar eyes and that soft, caramel voice I knew well. It was Ella. 

She stepped away from me, sighing with agitation, “It’s just me.”

“Where have you been?” I questioned, trying to make my tone sharp but breaking into relieved laughter at the sight of her. She pressed her finger to her lips, indicating silence and gestured towards the bedroom door. 

“We mustn’t wake him, but we have to go. I know people who can help us escape before it’s too late. There’s an underground network-”

“What? What do you mean, escape?!”. 

“You can’t trust anyone anymore. I mean, Mark shows all the obvious signs of being one of them-”

“Mark!? Not a chance.” I argued. 

Ella took my hands in hers, running her thumbs across my palms gently, her eyes pleading with me. 

“I wish I could prove it to you. We’re not safe. He isn’t, well… who he says he is. Most people aren’t. They’ve been taking over for a while now. Has he seemed happy still, unworried, calm?” 

I thought back to the kitchen, the way he danced, as if it were a normal Tuesday evening and all was right. I felt the weight of the silence in the air, and knew he was still sound asleep despite it all.

I leaned gently against the door, torn. 

“And why do you trust me?” I whispered, “How do you know I’m not one of them?” 

“Well, I don’t.” she replied, shaking her head at how ridiculous it seemed, “But you seem true. You seem real. And I’d rather risk it all then leave without you. You’re like… my soulmate.” 

“Soulmate?” I repeated, my conscience swaying. 

She nodded, and the air seemed to thicken around us. Surely I would be crazy to run off, to run away from my own husband, because of one conversation? Then again, could anything truly be deemed crazy in a time of lizard revolution?

It felt absurd, too fantastical to be true. But I trusted her. I let her guide me down the stairs, out the front door, and into the depths of an uncertain fate. I sat nervously in the passenger seat of her car, and watched her lean over me into the glove box. It fell open onto my knees and within, amongst cables and old food wrappers was a well read book, the corners folded upwards and weak with touch.

The Great Gatsby. 

Of course.
I liked the word she’d used.
Soulmates, with their fates resting in each other’s palms, escaping absurdity, beating on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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:


Time for another Goodbye

Hello all.

It’s the last month for Novel Dreamers. The writers have run out of time last month, and now to just go home. Well, after one last month.

Go vote for those by the way. They’ll be on the Voting Page shortly.

So thanks for another year. This month, just write what you want to. It’s a free for all. Go for it.

Much love,


Does This Really Need An Example?

I can’t show you how to do this. Funny, because each month without fail, I have tried. Obviously I’m the oracle of all of this and as such I should be able to tell you exactly what you need to hear to make you pick up your pen/pencil/crayon/writing tablet/whatever you write with and just put some bastard words on paper. I can’t tell you how to feel about things. You know me, so you’re probably hearing the use of the word “bastard” with my mock Sean Bean impression or with a hint of anger. I just like the word. It wasn’t used in malice or frustration, just like the word and didn’t like the sentence without it.

You don’t need me to tell you any of that either. I don’t have any paperwork saying I’m an educated writer. I have no sales reports saying that people like my writing so much that I can live off it. I’ll be very honest with you, the little payments I have received for my writing has been enough to cover a month of rent in the 15 years of writing I’ve done and that includes Theatre, Music, Prose, and that bloody Table Top Role Play Game that I’ve become “the guy” for. I am a fraud that just got tired of hearing people say “I wish I had time to write” so forced them to sit down once a month and write. And forced is a very broad use of the word. I’m not sat next to you with a gun to your head, and every month you don’t write I don’t get angry because life is busy and hard, I literally just put the request in front of you.

That’s what I do for a lot of life, I’ve noticed. A friend wants to do podcast work, so I write the first episode of an audio play that never gets touched because the idea isn’t needed anymore. Another wants to sing and play in a band, so I draw from the pool of friends with talent and say let’s make a go of this. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask. The group just finds itself and I just happen to be the one who ends up organising it until it gets to the point that I don’t have time to organise a night of people just needing an escape.

So when do I escape? I’ve forgotten how, if I’m honest.

If I boil everything I do in a week down to brass taxes, I spend 25-40 hours at a place I resent for cracking the childhood illusion of that high held dream. I then go home and I sit with this screen in front of me for an hour or two. Throughout nearly all of these hours, I have my headphones in playing someone else’s story into my brain. There’s not enough time to actively sit and read a book so audiobooks and podcasts whilst doing the other things are quite useful. If I am not too busy that week, I’ll sit and absorb a story through video game whilst listening to the headphones. I may not actually put a word to the page all night, but there are ideas brewing and fermenting away to the point that at the end of the week when they’re needed, I can pull from the brain without much issue. I will sit and listen to previous recordings of these events and edit them so others can listen. I talk occasionally with my partner about things because she’s very busy with her week and the last thing you need when you’re busy is some numpty to start talking about their weird fantasy works that have nothing to do with your actual proper writing that’s getting a degree and actually means something. And finally I try to occasionally break with puzzles because there is no stopping, just distracting.

Back to that comment of not being educated properly or paid enough to hold a level of authority in all of this. I think the constant streaming of work gives me some authority.

I won’t lie, I am tired of the constant streaming. I need a break but I don’t know how to. Actually no, that’s not true, I want it to stop feeling like work and go back to feeling like fun.

When I was 17, I applied to go to university after 2 years of studying both Theatre and Music and my music teacher was most upset when I said I was going to study Theatre not Music but my reasoning was sound then and I feel it is sound now and should be applied again. I wanted to avoid going to study Music because the thought of having to spend day in day out playing the guitar with some form of judgement that led to a grade took all the fun of it away. I go home and pick up my guitar and relax for a bit. I can’t do that if I have been playing guitar all day for university, or even reading and writing about it for coursework. And that’s where I feel I’ve gone with all of this.

So where do I go from here? I don’t want to stop my weekly writing task, because I’m quite attached to the work I’ve done so far and I’d like to work out how the story finishes. I’ve also started to work on the next story, should me co-writers agree to such a thing. I’ve worked out where the fun is with that. I struggle to keep a hold of it, but I know where it is if it ever gets too much. Maybe I should take the advise I want to give you for the end of this year of writing. I think it’s a fair enough request, as one final challenge for you that I too will try to give example of for sake of a familiar format.

For the love of all that’s holy, write what you like. And don’t hold yourself to stupid deadlines like some fat guy who literally writes his example piece in 30 minutes on the hand in weekend because he feels the month is too long to write for. That’s his time scale, not yours. If you need a deadline, create one for yourself. It could be a RPG session for the end of a week, it could be a date you want to release a song on your soundcloud, it could simply be that your child wants a story before bed. Don’t stop doing what you love, just work out how to do it in the week so I don’t have to keep running these!

I’ll probably start working on Novel Dreamers Year 3 soon.

Ready or Not

Hi all!

As the theme for this month was ‘Running Out of Time’, I set myself the task of writing my piece at 11.30pm, half an hour before the deadline, to literally feel like I’m running out of time.

I won’t edit, I won’t change it, I’m just going to write and see what happens.

It’s taken me two minutes to write this introduction. It’s now 11.32.

And … Go.


Ready or Not

“100, 99, 98, 97 …”

The cupboard under the stairs. It’s not a good choice, but I can’t get to any other room, he’s standing in the doorway. Upstairs would be foolish. What can I do? I can bang on the window but there’s not likely to be anyone walking past at this time of night. And he took my phone.

“86, 85, 84 …”

We used to play ‘Hide and Seek’ as kids. I never thought for a second we’d be playing still as adults. Let alone that it would have taken a dangerous turn like this. ‘Hide and Seek’ is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? My parents said I used to hide behind a curtain, using the logic of ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’. Maybe I should have done that this time. Maybe he would have been so taken aback by my childishness that he’d let me off.

“74, 73, 72 …”

This is the … fifth time, maybe? That we’ve played this game. I say “we”. It’s not a game “we’re” playing. It’s a game he’s playing. Games are supposed to be fun. Nobody is supposed to get hurt.

“69, 68, 67 …”

Jack and I grew up together. People used to say to our parents that they thought we’d get married, that kind of rubbish. And, lo and behold, we did. It’s been seven years now. I can’t believe it. The first three years went so fast, it was all happy and smiley, the usual honeymoon period you get at the start of a marriage. Then it … changed. I can’t put my finger on what it was that changed it. Maybe nothing. Maybe Jack was always like this. Maybe he’d been biding his time. I don’t know.

“57, 56, 55 …”

The cupboard under the stairs is dark. There’s an empty light fixture, missing the bulb that I keep meaning to replace. It’s my fault. I should have fixed it sooner. There’s not much else in here but, weirdly, lots of stuff. There’s not much of worth. Some tools, some bits and pieces – a broken toaster, Jack’s old tennis stuff – and the Christmas decorations. Nothing, really, but enough to make me curl up into the tiniest ball and wait.

“44, 43, 42 …”

I can hear him. He’s getting closer.

“39, 38, 37 …”

My heart is beating in my throat. I try and stay calm; he doesn’t like it when I’m nervous. I try and think of other things. My parents, both dead now. TV shows I like. Music I listen to in the car. When I used to take tap lessons as a kid. My thoughts are everywhere. It’s like a mismatch of randomly firing memories. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.

“25, 24, 23 …”

I should have gone into creative writing, the amount of excuses I’ve come up with over the years. Walking into doors, dropping stuff on my hands and feet, spilling hot water when making tea … The usual. Then the more hardcore stuff. A broken ankle from walking the dog we don’t have and tripping over the lead. A concussion from a minor car accident I wasn’t in. A small stab wound from stage fighting class when another student got a bit too overenthusiastic. It all sounds so ridiculous and made up. They’re obvious lies, aren’t they? Anybody who knew anything about me would tell you that I’ve never done stage fighting in my life, that I’m allergic to dogs and can’t drive. But hospital nurses don’t know any of it.

“12, 11, 10 …”

I can hear the footsteps now. He likes to slow down whenever he approaches my hiding place. Apparently, it “adds to the sense of drama” for him.

“8, 7, 6 …”

He’s outside the door. I can hear the handle rattling. I close my eyes. I wait.

“3, 2, 1 ..”

This is it.

“Hannah? Are you in there?”

A laugh.

“Ready or not, here I come!”

A Bad Run

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. One minute you’re pulling off a sleek and smooth data heist, and the next everything is going wrong.

As the red alarms filled their head up display, ArcFeather began to swear quietly and succinctly. The peripheral of their sight shifted to red and the escape timer appeared in the top right corner of their vision; five minutes and counting. ArcFeather spun away from the console, snatching the datajack and tucking it into a pocket, and began to run full-pelt at the window. Leading with their left shoulder ArcFeather hit the glass and burst out into the black night, 98 levels above Grid-0.

It wasn’t the blackness of night, of course, and the window wasn’t actually glass. There is no sky above the Grid, just an empty pallet, and it is black because this is the easiest thing for simpler systems to render. The glass was a representation, as was Maxid Tower, the building Arcfeather had just exited so dramatically. Giving datacores building-like structures made them easier to navigate, and allowed you to apply human logic to the world of the Grid. The logical approach to exiting Maxid Tower wouldn’t be via a window 98 levels above the main level of the Grid, however. Anyone with sense, and the correct levels of access, would just use a door.

But ArcFeather didn’t have the correct levels of access. Some might also suggest that xe didn’t have much sense either, but there you go. Now ArcFeather’s body tumbled downward toward Grid-0, a situation that needing rectifying ASAP. For all that the Grid wasn’t the same as the Real, hitting representative ground after a fall of nearly a hundred floors would still fuck you up royally. So ArcFeather tucked their arms in and pointed their head down, feeling a sudden increase of speed as they became more aerodynamic, and at the same time tapped a series of buttons on the keypad strapped to their thigh. With an electronic thrummm, silver and green glimmering threads burst from ArcFeather’s back, and in milliseconds a pair of wings twelve feet across had sprouted from their spine. They were semi-transparent, and exquisitely detailed, mimicking the shape and structure of raven wings, but each feather was a thin gossame material, like the wing of a dragonfly.
They had taken three months to create, programming the look and more importantly the physics, but as the wings snapped open and changed their tumble into a glide, ArcFeather grinned; three months well fucking spent.

All this had taken roughly 20 seconds, and the timer was still ticking. The countdown was a custom programme, a reminder to ArcFeather to hurry the fuck up; once the timer reached zero, whatever authorities that would be chasing them would have locked onto ArcFeather’s signal and entry point, and subsequently confirmed their location in the Real. ArcFeather had four and a half minutes to get off-Grid, and once back in the Real, to get lost. Xe banked to the left, still heading downward but seeking the stacks of silver and blue and purple buildings that were the smaller datacores. Once amongst those xe’d be harder to track and could lose any pursuit. As soon as the thought was finished another alarm message flashed in the top right of ArcFeather’s vision; incoming bogeys. ArcFeather looked back over their shoulder and saw three seekers glide around the edge of Maxid Tower and aim straight for them.

Seekers were silver and red insect-like shapes, simple but powerful AI watchdogs, automatic functions that chased and traced rogue programs and outlaw users. ArcFeather was the latter, and proud of it. Xe slowed in the air, allowing the three bugs to get a little closer, before tucking their wings in, dropping three levels before snapping them open again and jetting off in the opposite direction. It fooled the seekers for a moment, but soon enough they were following once more.

ArcFeather threw themselves into evasive action, looping around the other datacores, which looked like a mass of glistening skyscrapers, ducking and diving and swooping but the seekers kept up with every manoeuvre. The timer was at two minutes and counting; xe needed to get off-Grid fast. Another alarm beeped and ArcFeather twisted in the air, rolling to the right as a red harpoon hummed through the airspace xe’d just been in. It was a lockbolt; a freezer code that would lock an avatar in place, preventing them from moving but also from going offline. ArcFeather began a litany of four letter words, wracking their brain for a way out of this clusterfuck.

Then xe saw it. The lack of gravity in the Grid meant that, if you chose, you give a construct literally any impossible shape. On the edge of the group of cores that ArcFeather and the seekers were dodging amongst was something of a curiosity; the building, which had been nicknamed the Cluster, was the main core of a large design company, and whoever had coded it had taken an artistic approach. The building looked like a bird’s nest or a tangled mass of cable, each strand 15 feet in diameter. It was a vivid, shimmering purple, and had caused a stir when first coded into the Grid. The reason ArcFeather grinned when xe saw it, though, was that among the strands of building structure were gaps. Small enough for a human sized avatar, just about…

Ignoring the part of their mind that was screaming that the idea was insane, ArcFeather surged forward, racing toward the Cluster. The seekers also put on a burst of speed and followed. As xe approached, ArcFeather took a deep breath and held it, and as they reached the first gap they snapped the wings closed for a second, then open again. Through! Spotting the next gap ArcFeather jetted towards it, ignoring the booming explosion behind them that made the Cluster shake. That was one down, maybe…

ArcFeather was acting on instinct, trusting to reflexes honed from hours of flight and ghosting in the Grid, blazing a speedy path through the Cluster, around and down towards the bottom level, Grid-0. Another explosion echoed behind, and then a third, but ArcFeather didn’t slow; more seekers could come, were probably en route, and the timer was on 58 seconds and had begun pulsing. With 23 seconds left ArcFeather soared out into the open air, ten feet above the simulated ebony surface of the Grid floor, drawing a few surprised gasps from the figures wandering below. Xe snapped the wings shut, the silver and green lines vanishing, dropped to the ground and began to walk as casually as xe could manage. The Grid was always busy whatever time it was in the Real, so it was easy enough to blend in.

10 seconds.

ArcFeather scanned the street for the closest jackpoint, spotting one ten feet away. Xe lowered their gaze and made a beeline for it.

7 seconds.

Above the murmur of the avatars on the street came the faint whine of an approaching seeker, and a few turned to looked. ArcFeather ignored the sound and kept right on going.

3 seconds.

ArcFeather reached the jackpoint and without a backward glance pressed their palm against the top of the blue glowing column. As contact was made, the Grid vanished–

–and ArcFeather blinked their eyes, looking out at the Real once again. Xe glanced down at the wristcom and saw the escape timer paused at 1 second.
“That was too fucking close,” ArcFeather murmured as they pulled the jack from the socket behind their ear, their voice hoarse. They coughed, and patted the many pockets of their coat till they found the hipflask. ArcFeather took a swig of water and sighed; definitely too close. And what had happened, why had a simple job gone wrong? That was still a mystery. Xe shivered in the evening air, deciding that the problem would have to wait. Xe’d gotten off-Grid in time, but it would be wise to get gone from here anyway.

ArcFeather sat huddled on the metal grille of a fire escape balcony, two floors up. The flat the balcony served was dark and silent; the occupant was away, which was why ArcFeather had chosen this spot for the jack. Xe detached the spike from the cable running into the wall of the flat and slowly rose, joints cracking and popping. A gentle rain began to fall, the drops making a faint pinging noise at they hit the metal of the fire escape. Rolling their shoulders, ArcFeather picked up their satchel and tucked spike, keypads and deck into it. They were waterproof, of course, but a professional looks after their tools. Then xe headed down the metal stairs to the lower balcony, climbed over the barrier and dropped onto the plastic lid of the industrial bin that stood next to it. Dropping at last to the floor of the alley, ArcFeather did a quick check of pockets to ensure xe had everything, then glanced out at the street. The glow of shop signs, the occasional whisper of traffic and the faint smell of Chinese food and falling rain permeated the autumn evening, and bodies drifted across the alley mouth, people heading out or heading home…

ArcFeather tugged their coat close about them to ward off the night’s chill, pulling up the hood and thrusting their hands deep into their pockets. A bad run, but they’d gotten away in time and clean, and that was something, at least. Nodding to themselves, ArcFeather moved slowly to end of the alley, stepped out into the street, turn right and started walking; just another figure drifting through the rain.

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.

Last Man Standing

Giles clicked save, leaned back in his chair and let out a long contented sigh. Another 14,000 words added to his magnum opus. Giles Rees-Johnson’s: History of the Twenty First Century: The Capitalist Utopia. It was a blow-by-blow account of the last forty years from the perspective of the world’s richest and most powerful man; Giles himself.

They said history was written by the victors and Giles had taken them literally. And who was better placed than him to document this defining age? No one! Giles was the perennial victor. He’d beaten his twin brother out of the womb, come top of his class at the prestigious Harvard School of Business and had forged a business empire so vast that he currently owned more money than the rest of the globe combined. He wasn’t the one percent he was the one. Presidents bowed to him, dictators held open doors for him and the peasants in the street common folk trembled underneath the shadow of his vast tower in Manhattan.

A shot rang out in the darkness. Giles couldn’t hear the corresponding thud but he was certain there had been one. There was a time when the gunfire had bothered him but not now. It was too common. Too normal. Too boring. Giles didn’t even look up from his screen. There was no danger the gunshot could have come from anywhere. The tendrils of his Panopticon system had eyes and ears everywhere, feeding back data into the vast computer array deep beneath Rees-Johnson Tower. It had been Inspired by the prefect prison initially suggested by Jeremy Bentham in 1791. A prison where the inmates were visible at all times but had no way of knowing if anyone was actually watching them Without being able to tell whether they are being watched the inmates would natural err on the side of caution and behave themselves. Giles had naturally taken it up a notch and using machine learning had made it so that people were being watched at all times.

Businesses had paid him to spy on their employees, husbands to spy on their wives and governments on their people. His fortune practically doubled overnight, and then again next night and the next. Pretty soon he was personally the fifth highest grossing country in the world. There were calls for splitting up his companies, for investigating his taxes but they all went away after a quick search through his databases. Everyone had something to hide. As his power grew he began to use it less defensively and more offensively. Taking down a hostile government here, passing a more business friendly regulation there anything he wanted he got and what he wanted more than anything was money. All of it.

A woman’s scream tore through the silence. Startled Giles tapped at his keyboard and his manuscript was replaced by a murky shot of some derelict street. He tapped a few keys and the shot sharpened slightly as the camera adjusted for the smog. A woman dressed in filthy rags was on the floor edging back from a hulking figure wielding a club. An incomprehensible murmur came through the speakers and Giles tapped a few keys to turn up the volume.

“Easy now love,” said the hulking figure. “There’s no need to make this any harder than it need to be.”

“Please,” begged the woman. “I don’t have anything you need. Just leave me be.”

“That’s where you’re wrong love. You know how long it’s been since I seen a woman? Never mind a woman as fine looking as you?”

He ran a thick booted foot down her leg and she recoiled like she’d been bitten. The man just smiled and licked his lips.

“Oh, don’t be like that. It must have been a while since you’ve been with a man. Not many left nowadays. How about we just have a little fun while we still can eh?”

“If I do this do you promise you won’t hurt me?” asked the woman, her back pressed against the door behind her, no where left to run.

“Not much,” replied the man with a smile.

The woman nodded, tears running down her face.

“You won’t regret this,” said the man setting aside his club and unbuckling his belt. As he lifted what was left of the woman’s skirt and positioned himself between her legs Giles fingers hovered over the keys ready to kill the feed. Before Giles could click the button the woman sat up she and wrapped her arms around the man’s neck and whispered something in his ear. The man started to jerk and spasm, flopping like a fish in the bottom of a boat as the woman held him close then at last he fell still. The woman pulled the small knife out of the mans neck and licked the blood off the blade as the counter in the top right of the screen ticked down.

90,304. That was all that was left of the eight billion people that had called the earth home just twenty years earlier. Global warming had cause floods, famines and mass migrations. Civil unrest had lead to war which had led to more death and disease until first China then Pakistan had pressed the button and doomed the already broken Earth. All that was left now were 90,303 cockroaches scrabbling through wreckage of a broken world and above them all safe in his bunker Giles Rees-Johnson documenting it all for no one. On the screen the woman took the knife and started to butcher the corpse with the ease of long practise. Giles shuddered, clicked and few buttons and his manuscript popped back onto the screen.

Time was running out for everyone. She would be one of the last to die but soon even a predator like her would fall to radiation poisoning or starvation or some less gullible prey. Then it would just be Giles. The richest man in a broken world. The last man standing.

You’ve Got Time


His voice is low, gravelly, secretive. It’s something like the voice he uses in bed, beneath the sheets, pressed skin to skin, but it’s more tense. It’s further away. His breath isn’t against my ear, hot and ragged. I don’t have time to think about such things. 

“Hey you.” 

I try to sound rosy. It doesn’t work, my voice cracks. I hear him take a short breath down the phone, deliberating over what to say for. He never struggles to talk normally. When he hasn’t seen me for a few days, I can’t shut him up. He catches me in his arms and tells me all about those missing hours. It’s been five weeks. God knows what his days are like now. 

“I’ve not got much time.” he says. 

“Okay, how are you doing, are you sleeping any better? How’s the food?”. 

Too many questions at once. Not enough time for any of them. 

“The food is fine Lovely. I’m allowed more time outside in the courtyard for good behaviour. Good to get out my room.” 

His room. His cell. His calmness overwhelms me. I can’t help myself. 

“Tell me you didn’t do it.” I blurt. 

“Now Claire.” he warns. 

His tone frustrates me. I distance myself. 

I remember us pressed up against the wall, his hands skimming underneath my blouse, feathering over my waist. I can recall perfectly the feeling of his lips kissing behind my ear and down my neck. I remember the front page headlines, that girl, face down in the marshy woodlands ten minutes from our house. Perverted, they’d called the killer, a monster.

“Please.” I whisper. 

He sighs. There’s a pause and every news report that I had sat and watched with hunched shoulders, sobbing into my own hands, plays on the cruel reel in my head. 

“The electric carving knife.” he mutters. 

“What!?” I laugh nervously, confused, and then it hits me. 

“I’m out of time, goodbye Claire”.

The electric carving knife. I’d been rooting through the drawers to find it to cut the beef with for our Sunday roast with my parents. 

“It wasn’t working, I had to chuck it. Don’t worry, I’ll get you a new one.” he’d said to me, hand on the small of my back, “Mmm, dinner smells delicious Darling.” 

That was the missing link. The mysterious blunt muder weapon used to slit her throat.


He hangs up. The receiver clicks and the call ends.

August Rush

Hi all.

Edit note: this was scheduled for this morning, but didnt come out. Because I meant morning and the schedule meant evening.


July is done and dusted, so get your summer shorts and flip flops and get ready for a vacation and then panic writing the night before hand in!

Shortly, the voting page will be ready for your wonderful pieces about finding stories in random phrases, and for this month…

I am asking the writers to write like they are running out of time. This can be two fold. 1: write on the theme of running out of time. 2: Do what I did and set yourself a timer and you stop writing at the end of the timer.

What could be simpler?

Anyway, example piece:

A Goodbye Note


I need you to listen and I need you to listen good.

I don’t have much time.

I have stumbled upon a grave misdeed in the village and I don’t think I’ll see you again.

Father Jasper has been working with outsiders and is sending the girls off to the city for profit. I don’t know how long he has been at it, but it has at least been for the last three or four months.

I have been running surveillance during neighborhood watch meetings. He comes in 40 minutes early for the meeting, and leaves with a different girl each time. I have tailed him and found the trade site is actually in the rectory. Why would anyone think any different? The famed and adored
Father going into the church in a village in which the most that happens is a cat goes missing a little
longer than the usual week?

I don’t know where they go to next.
So I am going to hide myself in the back of the van before it leaves.

I am going to see where this trail ends. If I die before I find out, then I will have died trying to stop this, but if I survive, there are going to be some big changes around here.

I have had enough of this village, Susan. It is time we lived somewhere we want to rather than somewhere we

The letter was found like this. Unfinished. I didn’t know what would come next.