Year Zero

Wrrrhh tchk.

“It’s Year Zero, Day errr Seven.

“Yes, that’s about right. Seven days since we got here, not seven days after it happened. That was umm ten days ago? My memory’s a bit vague, after it hit, there was a lot of chaos, a hell of a lot of fire. Christ, there was so much fire, everywhere I turned…”

There’s a pause, the quiet sigh of a steadying breath.

“I- I don’t know how to start this, I’m not even sure how long I can do this for. I found this recorder in the back, and there’s only so many batteries. But someone has to. Record how it all went down, how the human race fell, how we ended, and how a new world begins. So, here we go.

“We think it was a bomb, a huge huge one- or lots of them. It was so quick. One moment, May and I were walking the dog, the next, one big explosion. I hit my head, so it’s all a bit of a blur. I remember walls of fire, a muddy ditch. I remember getting back to the village afterwards. Just black and ash as far as you could see. Anyway, we managed to find a group, far far out where the countryside wasn’t touched – turns out doomsday preppers aren’t just a US thing – and now a new start. There’s no signal, nothing over the radios. At this moment, there is quite possibly nothing out there, only us.

“So, this is what I am recording, the beginning of a new human civilisation. A chance to build anew. God knows we needed to.”


Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Eight.

“Sorry for the abrupt end to the last log, I didn’t know what to say anymore. I’m sure you can imagine how… upsetting it has been. So I think I shall keep it simple for this one, and just tell you where we are.“Well, I can’t actually tell you where we are. As I said, things got a bit confusing. But I am mostly certain we’re about a three day walk from the village of Ash-Easton. Not that it’s of any help now I think about it. I suppose one scorched wasteland looks like any other scorched wasteland.”

Strained laughing.

“We’re in still in Somerset, I think. Pretty sure we didn’t cross any county lines. Anyway, where ever we are, it’s in an old RAF bunker, you know, the ones with sod for a roof. It’s actually pretty spacious, and a lot more privacy than I would ha-”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Nine.

“I’ve made sure to put in fresh batteries this time.

“We’ve still not heard anything, and, frankly, I am not that upset. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t begin to explain how we’re all feeling, about what has happened. But, this feels like a clean slate. I mean, before the- the Cataclysm – yeah, that works, it was all going to shit. Brexit, Russia, the US. Then this happens. It’s like we’ve been handed a great flood, and we can rebuild the world in our right image.”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Ten.

“This log isn’t just about me, it’s about all of us here at Prometheus Base. Jane, do you want to introduce yourself?”

“Err what?”

“Introduce yourself, how you want to be remembered by the coming generations.”

“What exactly are you recording? It’s 2018. And who let you call us Prometheus Base? That’s a fucking stupid name.”

“I am recording the first and best primary source for the Cataclysm and the new beginning of the human race. This could shape the development of coming generations.”

“Right, OK. One, we thought you were just doing a little journal to keep your mind off this all. Which I get, and support, I really do. But you’re acting like this is the apocalypse or something.”

“Well, it is, isn’t it?”

“I know what’s happened has been… fucking awful, but it really isn’t. Jenner’s saw a plane the other day, we will be OK. We are OK.”


“How do you know? We’ve heard nothing since the Cataclysm, and the coming generations-”

“Oh my god. Two, never, ever say the phrase ‘coming generations’ again. That’s gross. And three, I’m taking this recorder and speaking to your wife, I think this is just making you worse.”

Sounds of a brief scuffle occur.

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Twelve.

“They are absolutely convinced that this is not the Cataclysm. You should see them, so attached to the dead world that they think I’m the one who’s mad. It’s sad really. They keep their phones charged up with this solar panel thing, just in case. In case of what!

“Oh yeah, that reminds me, they’ve been going outside because there has been some activity on the radios. As if that makes it safe. I’m sure there are plenty of survivors in need alright. However. There are those who are looking for a nice cosy setup, just waiting to lure us out. And I highly doubt they’ll want to keep us around after they do.”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Thirteen.

“Prometheus Base has been in an uproar for the last hour. Someone finally got through to us on the radio, and now they are coming over. What happened to being careful, safe? God knows what we’ve invited into a midst. I may not be able to record much over the coming days, but I’ve made sure I am prepared.”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“It’s still Day Thirteen. They’ve arrived, and, ugh, there is so much laughing and crying. May is looking for me, but don’t worry. I will not fail the coming generations”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day Fourteen.

“I’ve got to be quiet, they don’t know I still have this. I won’t stop just because… Shit-”

There is a scratching, rattling sound. The voices are muffled.

“Jesus, Brian.”

“I did what I had to, May. To keep us safe.”

“By stabbing someone who came to help!?”

“Of course, they are murderers! One moment of stupidity and we are all dead. And- and there will be no more hope!”

“Do you hear yourself, Brian?

“This is not the end of the world, this is not year zero. We are not alone! Christ, I know it’s been terrible, hellish even. We’re all struggling, but we’ve also been pulling together. These new people, they’re no different. In fact, they’ve been traveling around, finding us all.”

“The man I stabbed…”

“He’s fine. Luckily, it was shallow and he’s understanding.”


“You’ve spooked the others, but I think I can talk them out of turning you over to the police or military, or whoever when they come. But I need- I need you to pull it together. No more Cataclysm. No more new beginnings. Just back to how it used to be. Me and you.”


“No. No more.”

A metal door clangs.

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Year Zero, Day.. whatever.

“I don’t know how long I’ve been stuck in here for, they won’t let me out. May visits, but all she talks about how more people are coming, how the government is going to save us all. As if there’s an actual government. If Ash-Easton, the ass end of nowhere, was reduced to ash, then there’s a bastard crater where Westminster was.

“I tried to tell her it’s all lies, that we finally have a chance to make something better and worth while. But she leaves when I try. She’s my wife, and she won’t listen.

“Maybe we ended in the Cataclysm, maybe I’ve been trying to hold on to the old world too.”

Wrrrhh tchk.

“Oh god, I did it, I’m out. I don’t have long though, they’ll find May soon.Oh god, May. May. I’m sorry, I had no other choice. You were going to drag me down with you. And I can’t. I can’t have that, not when so much depends on me.”

Brian is panting, almost sobbing. Shouting can be heard from the distance. There is a dull thud.

Wrrrhh tchk.

Recording Ends.


The Ninth Wave

The things they do tell you.

Drink deep the poppy, to count the sheep and only sheep. Take the wool that is given, and knit your wedding dress, then your shroud.

The storm will pass. Hold up your hand to blot out your fears and count slowly, under your breath for fear of murdering the calm that is sure to settle.

You do not bleed, you will never burn.


But you do, in leaping gouts.


And that wave you were told to hold back, the one that threatened and seethed all those years ago, it grows so high as to blot out the sun and steals the wings of that poor little blackbird.


The things they never tell you.

First, the witch lies. She will sit across from you, trace her line in your hand and tell you of children. But they are not yours, not when it should count.

Second, no matter how hard and deeply you love, eventually they stop seeing you. They will wonder out loud at how their world can turn so smoothly. And you will stand before them, your hands calloused from the crank, and you will turn away. They will not see you leave.

And third, blood is like sludge. At first, when you tear into flesh, it slips through your fingers, trailing thick, glistening lines. But as it cools, the copper in the air turns to rot and that red pool begins to clot.


There was no love waiting for you.


Your little lights are dark.


When they find you, sure as the coming dawn, you will fall like a stone.


“You’re probably wondering how does a rock ‘n’ roll man like myself find time to stay sane in body and mind. The answer is vicious masturbatory habits.”

Six months ago, such a card combination would have been followed by raucous laughter, but now it barely elicited a murmur. They were slumped around a game of Cards Against Humanity, unsure what would happen next. Would one of them eventually summon the energy to laugh? Maybe the dusty radio sat on a high shelf would finally say something. Perhaps there would be a miracle, and there would be life after death again. But such hope had been disintegrated by a thousand explosions of searing light, wiping out millions of souls and the virus that bought them back. Each one of them had witnessed the devastation administered so quickly by god-like hands, and they were envious.

Karen was the first to throw in her cards, she’d pulled out another tooth out after lunch, and her softening bones burned from the inside out. Not a word was spoken as she limped to her cot and tugged a small box from underneath. It was her time to pass out of the world, to save the little dignity that had not been stolen from her wretched body. Taking the needle hidden safe inside, she sunk it deep into her arm, releasing the barbiturates with a push of her thumb. As the bitter drug slipped through her veins, she took comfort in the warmth of the companions that surrounded her, that laid their hands on her dying body as they had all done for those who went before her. Although the silence of death ushered her into cold and empty isolation, she would not take the final step alone.

It only took a few minutes for the rush of death to take over, suffocating her lungs and crushing her heart until her soul flew free. No longer held in agonising rictus, the body slumped, jaw hanging open to reveal the maw of necrotic flesh in her mouth that she had kept hidden for weeks now. Not one of them even grimaced as they picked up her remains, each aware of their own living rot.

The door might have only been a handful of feet from the table, but their wasted muscles cramped and cried under her meagre weight. They didn’t bother to don scarfs over their faces as they once used to when going outside. There wasn’t any point when the radiation carried in the eddies of dust also laced their water. It was not far from the door that they dropped the body, unable to care for it any longer, and with it they abandoned the meagre hope that they had carried with them since the world ended. Before the dead returned to walk with the living, before the governments, drowning in moral and bureaucratic fear, had taken to exterminating the virus without thought of consequence, Karen had been a person who blazed with furious life. But when the bombs exploded and the black rains ran, the brilliance had leached from her, the following dust storms scouring away what little remained. The death of someone so saturated in energy, so suited to the second life briefly offered, had eradicated the group’s will to survive. Collapsing into their cots, they each began to embrace the decay crawling through their limbs as if the maggots already feasted.

A hacking cough clawed through the quiet, accompanied by retching as someone cleared their lungs of phlegm. It spattered across the outside of the door. Three tentative knocks followed. One of them, having no fear left, eased themselves up to swing open the door. Karen stood at the threshold wiping the last of the sputum from her chin. A cheeky grin spread across her face as she watched the hope rekindle in the wasted faces before her as she strode in, no pain or exhaustion dragging at her steps.

“I’m gonna let you into a secret. I really shouldn’t be here.”

It’s Not Fair

“Why is there a man crouched under your cloak?”

“What man?” The Goblin King thrust his pelvis out even further, his leather boots creaking with the strain.

“Jareth,” Sarah pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration, “the man who is playing with glass balls.”

“There’s a man playing with my glass balls?” The man in question stood and reached under Jareth’s armpits to glide a pyramid of glittering orbs around his palm, “They are pure crystal, I will have you know.”

“What… wait, you know what, I don’t ca… NO! No, no, no, no! You cannot do that here. Or anywhere else for that matter!” Sarah strode over to the Skeksi/Podling pile up that had jammed in the meeting room door. “I have told you time and time and time again, you cannot fit your oversized thrones in here, and you certainly cannot have the Podlings carry you in on them,” she snarled, “it’s insanely illegal!” She hooked a hand around a huge Skeksi collar and hauled one out. It was a brave move, and one she regretted entirely when her fingers sunk into a rotted rodent snack hidden inside, but it had the desired effect of uncorking the doorway. The rest of the Skeksis surged in, carrying with them the fetid stench of mouldy vegetables and week-old corpses.

Sarah backed off quickly to her position at the head of the table, disguising her nausea with a well-placed hanky, and kicked Jareth out of her seat. There was a spasm at his forehead which she took to mean a raised eyebrow at her insolence, but it was rather spoiled by the thick make-up that already elevated his brows to impossibly high angles. She could not care less. Since returning from the Goblin Castle and its infernal Labyrinth as a teenager, she’d been determined to shrug off her naïve petulance, and part of this grand objective was to do something sensible. The PR firm she had joined was this sensible thing: a guaranteed salary, no one cared if she got a bit wrinkly, and best of all, there were no masks. Apart from the occasional coffee break spent with Hoggle and the rest, life was perfectly normal. Until the Goblin King pranced out of the cleaning cupboard.

Striking a majestic pose in a flurry of glitter and feathers, he had commanded Sarah to turn His Kingdom and that of His Compatriots into Stellar Holiday Destinations. It came as a shock to him[1] when he was shoved back into the cupboard.

The second time he appeared, he bought his so called “compatriots”, and Sarah would never forgive him for it. A screeching, belligerent gaggle of hell-birds descended upon her office, followed by a regiment of slaves hauling along platter after platter of foul and stinking food stuffs, refusing to leave until she acquiesced to their demands. It was mortifying. The poor receptionist still had a nervous tic; her boss journeyed down from the thirty-third floor and promptly threw up; and the cleaners – well let us just say Sarah would have to do her own cleaning from there on in. It only took them two hours to wear her down, but between the crotch twitching and the general gruesomeness of the Skeksi court, Sarah found herself drawing up a contract for them.

If Sarah was honest, it could have turned out much worse. Not by much, but they did pay her generously[2]. Jareth was an egotistical and extravagant moron so it was easy to create a media campaign that showed the sun shining out of his pert arse. And the Skeksis’ land was simply gorgeous, full of the most sensational fauna and flora she had ever seen, so not a lot of work was needed there. But there were some… issues.

“General… GENERAL! Don’t you start screaming at me.” Sarah tried to turn to face the current Skeksi Emperor, but his putrid breath still hung on the air so she ended up taking a strange twisted stance that ostensibly put her body facing him, but kept her nose as much as possible out of the stench zone. “Have you even bothered to read the copy of the Human Rights Convention that I emailed you?”

He stared at her disagreeably.

“Any of the hard copies I gave you?”

He adjusted the fall of lace down his bloated front.

“The man I sent to follow you whilst reading the Convention aloud?”

Here, the General gave a smug shrug and glanced over his shoulder at his court. His less emaciated than normal court.

“You- you- For Christ’s sake! You can’t keep kidnapping people for their life essence! I cannot set your country up as a top tourism destination until you start treating people as people. Not slaves. Not resources. I want my assistant back this instant or I’m ripping up your contract. And you,” she spun towards the snickering royal behind her, “you have no room to talk. I’ve seen the latest reports from my people in the Labyrinth.”

“They managed to escape from the Oubliette? I was going to make them all Knights of the Bog of the Eternal Stench. Such a pity.” He leant over to the General, “So how did you do it?”

“We tricked the spithead into dropping himself into a pit,” the overgrown bird cackled as another tugged out a roll of parchment to write notes, “are you as clever as we?”

“Well, now you see the Labyrinth is my own personal creation. My magnum opus if you will…” Jareth began, his bulge shivering with barely contained delight. A goblin sprung up out the bin with its own notebook in hand.

Sarah watched with dismay as the meeting spiralled out of her control, as the two rulers began exchanging pro-tips for kidnapping and other illegal activities. Her to-do list lay abandoned on the table. There was no way she was going to address the problem of the Fireys bursting into spontaneous song and decapitation in the middle of a tour group. Nor was she going to be able to discuss the cease-and-desist letters from the Gelfling community against the Skeksis. She groaned, feeling the words she promised herself never to say again course up her throat,

“It’s not fair!”

[1] Though not to anyone else.

[2] If curiously. She still wasn’t sure what to do the Landstrider coach-and-pair.

Pride and Programming

It is a truth universally disparaged, that a single man can find the perfect wife on his own.

Youthful and impetuous, these men cannot be trusted, and over the generations a veritable legion of mothers and daughters has been assembled to compensate for this lack in intelligence and social mores. This has turned even the most childish game of pontoon into a dreadful battlefield of fine eyes and sweetened suggestions.

“Hells bells, Mrs Greenway,” cried he to his wife, “I have found our solution!” The Mrs Greenway in question was readying herself for a fit of the vapours as punishment for her husband’s complete lack of refinement, paused mid-swoon. It seemed to her that some men never made it out of the young and impetuous stage, no matter how many matrons descend upon them.

“What is it, Mr Greenway? You must tell me for you have quite nearly ruined my nerves!”

“A solution, and an easy one at that,” he replied, flourishing a periodical and eyeing the lace hanky his wife twisted in her hands. He had already achieved his daily average of three lace victims to his wife’s aggravated nerves, now he set out for the fourth. He settled back into the armchair and made no further answer.

“My dear husband, how can you do this to me? I shall be confined to my bed until the coming Thursday if you continue to play such cruel games,” she exclaimed, wafting her face anxiously. “Has a rich man come to the neighbourhood searching for a wife? If he has taken on Spitfield Halls, it guarantees a fortune of at least ten thousand a year! A magnificent catch for Emilia that would be!”

“It is much simpler than even that, my dear one. It is a machine that calculates the perfect couple and it is going to be revealed in London next month. They say it cannot be refuted.”

“We must go to Town at once! The future of our daughter demands it,” the good lady cried but her husband only settled back to his morning paper nonchalantly.

“We shall have to see; my business has not been looking favourable as of late.”

The fourth handkerchief was shredded at last.


Of course, Mr Greenway was merely teasing, and the next day he rented a smart townhouse, suitable for his income and large enough that in the study, he might not hear his wife’s squawks of outrage or adulation from the parlour. As a man of only a few thousand, many debts and a wallflower for a daughter, he had not been looking forward to the expenses that attending every Season until a man was intimidated enough to take Emilia on. Mrs Greenway might see a gilded version of her daughter, but the truth was that she was a plain, moonfaced girl, and inattentive to boot. Not a marriageable combination. This new-fangled machine was the cheapest, quickest solution, and Mr Greenway was determined to take it.

Meanwhile, Emilia accepted the decision with amiable apathy, content to be pulled wherever her parents wanted. Despite her mother’s frequent overtures about her looks (“skin like fresh paper, my darling) and her demeanour (“no man wants a harridan for a wife, and you are such a little mouse”), she had looked in enough mirrors and been to enough dances to know her chances on the marriage market were minimal. And more than that, she had little interest in people let alone any feelings that could be construed as romantic in nature. She found society to be monotonous and wearisome, something for which a childhood living with the likes of Mr and Mrs Greenway had not been beneficial. Rather she learnt how to smile, nod and stay quiet, staunching the cutting remarks and strange observations that no one wanted to hear, especially from a child with so little to offer. So she sat in parlour after parlour, ball after ball, baring with the indignities caused by her silly Mother. Customarily, she would find the nearest vase with tasteful Classical motifs and blithely stare at it as her mother filled the room:

“Oh, the colour of your gown! Such an awful puce I thought. But, dear, it does lift your complexion so.”

“Young things today, they really are not bought up with the exactness to propriety that we were! Say, I heard that your eldest son is somewhat of a macaroni?”

“My darling Ethelberta, the ornament on the lintel? I’ve seen such things at the village market back home, it is so nostalgic.”

Even the ugliest vase is a haven when a daughter is challenged with this.


Dressed in an insipid pink gown, Emilia entered into the large side room, beset by her parents on either side. They had almost not arrived at the grand townhouse on Dorset Street, her mother succumbing to acute nerves in the carriage over.

“Mr Greenway, sir, you made sure to inform them of our Emilia’s dowry, did you not? I am certain it’s important. They would refuse us entry if they believed us impoverished, and then where would we be? At least we are in Town, we can establish ourselves early for the coming season.”

“Never fear, madam, I have put them in no uncertainty as to our financial position.”

“You heavenly man! Now Emilia, have no fear and remember what we discussed. If there is a rush, there is nothing unsporting about a well-placed slipper between a person’s feet… Mr Greenway, what was it exactly that you did not leave them uncertain about?”

There were no Incomparables of the first water strolling around the room, no disgustingly wealthy men looking for fine eyes, and absolutely no members of any royal family in poor disguise. Instead they had been invited to the showing with only the dregs of the Tonne and a handful of merchant families, all milling around the room, sipping weak tea and avoiding each other. Mrs Greenwood was aghast that they had been lumped into such a crowd, and ushered her family to a far-off table to formulate a new plan of assault.

Only the arrival of tea paused the matron long enough for Emilia to sweetly interject with a plea to take a turn around the room. Blessed with her mother’s acquiescence, she began to circle the room with as much grace as she could muster before sliding out of the door and into the cool freedom of the hallway. With no hysterics or fervent mutterings to distract her, she could finally decide her next move. Until now, she had been content to follow the wishes of others including that of marriage, but with its possibility and all the accompanying complications looming so close, so real, she found the idea to be disagreeable. Sickening even. Sharp voices echoing down the hall caught her attention, and man and woman appeared from behind a large potted plant. The man hardly glanced at Emilia as he turned and strode away, leaving the woman behind to manage the eavesdropper. Her sour expression was quickly smoothed over as she approached.

“Now, what are you doing here, Miss…?”

“Emilia Greenwood. I was just taking some air if you don’t mind. I am sorry if I intruded onto anything?”

“It is nothing. Charles and I do not always see eye to eye, and his latest machinations – let’s just say that I believe them to be an overreach of what we are currently able to achieve. Are you sure you are well? You do look dreadfully pale.”

Emilia decided against assuring the lady that she was always this pallid.

“I am simply nervous,” she said, feeling that it was a safe excuse but the woman stayed silent, waiting for the truth as her clever eyes assessed Emilia. “I… I don’t want marriage. But what else is there for me?” Moments passed like years before the woman replied.

“I am the programmer of the Eternity Engine, and I can arrange it so that marriage will never be a part of your future.”


If her parents were surprised by her sudden zeal to secure front seats in the machine’s reveal, they did not show it as they took to the much sought-after positions. Silence filled the room as final families filed in, and the man from the hall took to an improvised stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming here today to witness the revolution that will change the Empire – if not the world. Mismatched marriages will no longer be a risk. The expense and strain of coming out will soon be an antiquity from years gone by, and our children will be of the utmost beauty and breeding that is normally reserved for only the most fortunate among us. We can now find certainty in love and life at the flick of one small switch. I present to you, The Eternity Engine!” With a flourish, he drew back the curtain behind him to reveal a machine of gleaming brass and mahogany.

A murmur fluttered through the crowd as he held out his hand, “Now if I can just ask my lovely assistant, Ada, to step up here we can commence with the first demonstration.” The woman approached the machine and turned the crank, shoulders tight with affront that she should be so demoted. Neither looked to be afraid of the crackles and shudders that emanated from its heart, rather they did not seem to be hearing it at all as they explained its mechanics and its origins as the Analytical Engine. The erratic clanks and groans soon began to ease as the pistons began to curl and dance smoothly as if it breathed, and Ada made a show of selecting the first candidate. As planned, she surveyed the gathering before selecting Emilia. A contract was handed to Mr Greenways to sign, “All a formality, I can assure you, sir,” and Emilia was handed up to the machine.

“I have made all the necessary changes,” Ada whispered as she settled Emilia down in a chair set into the hollow of the machine. “You might feel a little kick to the neck, but if you remember what I said to do it will start printing nonsense rather than the analysis of your perfect match. Just tip your head forward for me, this will pinch.” She nipped the skin at the top of the girl’s neck with two delicate fingers and fixed a clamp there. Its needle-like teeth bit in deeply until it entered bone. “Not long before all of this is cast out as tosh, then it’s no more marriage for either of us.” Ada’s face disappeared from her vision and she was left alone in the churning breast of the Eternity Engine. Closing her eyes, Emilia concentrated on pushing back at the Engine with her mind. With Ada’s surreptitious changes to the programming, whatever that was, the machine was now open to manipulation and all she had to do was force it to print her thoughts, in particular those in regard to her spinster future. All those years of focusing on ornaments to drown out her mother had shaped Emilia’s mind into a hammer, and the moment the Engine connected with her with a resounding crack, she swung with all her might.

But there was no resistance, no wall to push her thoughts through. She tumbled in. There was no hope of saving herself as she floundered in the Engine’s silvery channels, her screams drowned in electric waves.


The Greenways watched Charles touch the switch, their hope turning to horror as their only daughter convulsed in the chair then slumped, indifferent to the grease and the audience. Grim seconds passed before a slip of paper was disgorged from the machine. Ada stared at it, blanched, and ran to Emilia, her shaking hands tearing the link from her nape. But the girl only slumped further down, lifeless. Another piece of paper slipped out. Charles took them carefully in hand and passed them gently to the couple:

~Oh merciful God, why?

~I am lost to the machine.