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.


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.

More Time

The hush of the door
The pad of a foot
The stifled giggles of untameable excitement

I brace myself for what I know is to come.

I hold my eyes tight shut, burying my face into the duvet and savour the last brief moments of sleep, shadows of dreams still dancing across my eyelids.  A ball of knees and elbows hits me square in the back and my breath leaves me despite the anticipation. The whirling dervish throws herself this way and that, and any frustration quickly melts as Kaylah throws her arms around me, the laughter coming out in squeals.

“I got you Mummy!”
“Yes, you did, little bear,” I say as she dives under the duvet, snuggling into the crook of my arm.  “Did you sleep well?”
She nods in that way she does that ripples through her whole body and another knot loosens in my stomach.
“I dreamed that there were dinosaurs,” she exclaims, her hands flailing in front of her, painting the picture of the huge creatures. “We had a pet one called Rufus, and we played games and he ate a lot.”
“Did he?” I ask in the sing-song voice of all very interested parents.
“Yes, his favourite was pizza and milkshake, just like me, that’s why he was our pet, because we like the same things.”
“Of course,” I pull her closer, breathing her in, the fluff of her hair tickling my nose.  “Well maybe today we could go and see some real dinosaurs.”
Her eyes widen and her lips crease before spreading into a toothy grin.
“We can?!  For real?!”
I nod, “For real.”
Another elbow to the gut as she throws off the covers and bounds out of the room, but this time I don’t mind quite so much.  It’s always worth it for that smile.


We spend the afternoon wandering the rooms of the museum, weaving between statues and marvelling at paintings.  I purposely save the best for last.  Her charging and dancing slows to a stop as she gazes up at the reconstructed diplodocus looming over her. She leans, arching her back to get a full view, eyes wide, mouth gaping.

“Mummy look!” she gasps, pointing, and I join her, crouching down to take in the magnitude of what she is seeing.
“This,” I explain, following the line of her arm, “is what a real dinosaur looked like when they were alive millions of years ago.”
She wrenches her eyes away and tilts her quizzically, “Why did the dinosaurs all die?”
“Well,” I lead her to the sign at the foot of the towering creature, “we don’t know for sure, but most people think that it was because a large meteorite, a big rock, that it hit the Earth.”
“Not how Mummy, I mean why?” Her deep brown eyes swim with questions.
I draw her close and whisper, “I don’t know the answer to that sweetheart, I wish I did.”
I see the cogs turning behind her furrowed brow.  “But if they are all gone then where is Rufus?”
I chuckle, the crux of her woes revealed.
“I think I know, come on little bear.”
I take her hand and we exit through the giftshop.


The early evening light is still warm so we pick a table outside and enjoy our pizza and milkshakes, making sure to share a slice with Rufus.  She babbles on, as much to the toy as to me, and I just drink her in; my bright, energetic, beautiful girl.  I think of all the milestones still to come, each one flashing before my eyes like a photo album yet to be made: her first day at big school, her exam stress, her graduation, her first job, her first love, her first heart break…

She slurps at the dregs of her milkshake and I resist the urge to snap at her; it’s been a good day, there’s no need.  Instead I sigh deeply and pick up my bag, slipping a few notes under the edge of my plate, before slinging the strap over my shoulder.

“Come on then little bear, time to head home.”
She hops up from the table and skips a little way down the street, chattering away to herself.  She reaches the corner and she stops, spinning around, a look of gravity on her young face.
“Mummy, Rufus says he would like to play some more before going to bed, and I need to give him a tour of the house.”
I let the smallest hint of a smile crack as I nod towards her.  She turns back to the corner, a silhouette against the setting sun and I turn away.

I hold myself straight, eyes fixed ahead.
Just breathe.

Horn blares
Breaks squeal

After follows the void; a silence that screams with how full it is.  I hold my eyes tight shut, tears tugging at the corners, until the screams come.  I turn and walk, robot-like, and carefully scoop up the crumpled body of my daughter, dinosaur still clutched firmly.

The journey home is a blur of streets and cars, trees and lamplight, my wet eyes leaving my vision swimming.  I drop the keys on the counter and force the door closed with my back, pushing my way through the house.  Her room is a sea of purple, a torment, like the rising bruises belong.  I place her limp form gently on the bed and tease the toy from her grasp, pulling the cover up to her chin.  Aside for a small graze on her cheek I could convince myself she’s sleeping.

I place my lips gently on her forehead, breathing her in, before I back out of the room I have tried to repaint time and time again.  I look down at the bloodied Rufus in my hands, his big eyes and toothy grin too close for comfort.  I open the cupboard on the landing and place him between the crooked doll and the torn teddy, a flake of dried blood floating out like confetti.  The cupboard is nearing full, each carrying a little piece of her.  I’ll have to think of somewhere else to keep them soon.

I close my bedroom door behind me and slip between the sheets, clutching at the thick duvet like a lifeline.  I have given up on trying to save her, she’s always taken in the end.  No matter where we go or what we do death finds her.  Yet every night I hear myself crying out my unanswered prayer, “please let tomorrow be different.”  When I begged for more time, I never thought it would be like this.


Seventy-eight years. When he was twenty-seven they met on the bus, and he went six miles past his stop just to keep talking to her. She was the last thing he saw. Fifty-one years together ended with a view of her smiling face, her hand pressing his gently as he drifted slowly into darkness.


He opened his eyes, blinking lazily. Light slowly filled the room, warm but neutral. As it grew brighter, so his surroundings grew more familiar. This was his room. Plain, as they all were, but definitely his. Slowly Hunter sat up in bed. The memory of aching, aged joints was fading, and he stretched a younger body that was growing more familiar by the second. He looked about as he did so, noticing the white notebook and pen sitting on the small table beside the bed.


Twelve years. Polio took him early, but there was something in the eyes of one of the nurses. It was a look that was utterly familiar, though he was too young to understand…


“Thank you, Gideon.” Hunter murmured. He reached for the notebook and opened it to the first blank page, noting that he was over halfway through now. As he thought for a moment, wondering what to write about his last life, his gaze fell on the shelf on the wall opposite him. A row of similar notebooks was lined along the shelf, each one already full. Then inspiration hit, and Hunter pressed his pen against the blank page and began to write.


Fifty years. They passed once in the street when he was thirty years old. She looked at him, smiled… Then turned her eyes to the man whose hand she was holding, and walked on… Those eyes haunted him for the rest of his life, even as the heart attack hit him years later and he slumped to the floor, clutching his chest…


“Hunter! Over here!”
Arcady and Eleanor were waving to him from across the canteen. He grinned and nodded, making his way over to them. As he did so, he looked searchingly at the faces of the other diners, but did not find what he was looking for, as usual. Finally he reached his friends and sat, but before he’d settled on the chair Arcady spoke.
“So? How did you do?”
Hunter sighed.
“Do we have to compare notes immediately? Can’t I eat first?”
“Come on, spill.”
Hunter looked at Eleanor, who just rolled her eyes and shrugged. Relenting, Hunter began to tell them about his latest life.


Twenty-five years. He was a soldier, she was the childhood sweetheart he’d had to leave behind. As the bullets tore through his torso and knocked him to the ground, his hand fumbled for the photo of her he’d kept by his side every day since they parted…


Hunter took a bite of toast and looked about the Canteen, searching each face. He noticed Eleanor and Arcady were watching him, and raised an eyebrow.
“Looking for someone?” Eleanor asked. Hunter gave her a small smile and shrugged.
Arcady frowned.
“You’re sure it was her again?” Hunter nodded, and his friend shook his head. “Hunter, I keep telling you, you must be making a mistake. It’s just not possible. I mean, statistically if nothing else.”
Hunter shrugged.
“It’s her. It’s always her.”


Sixty-eight years. They’d met via an online dating website, a measure which neither of them thought would work, but then spent thirty happy years side by side. Then, in his sleep and unaware, he drifted slowly away from her…


Three lifetimes later the trio walked through the Park after eating, taking Eleanor’s favourite path, the one that wound down to and then around the lake. Arcady chatted on about his latest life, but Eleanor and Hunter said little. Hunter would have wondered at Eleanor’s silence, which was unusual, if he hadn’t been caught up in his own thoughts. Finally Arcady fell silent too, looking at both of them.
“Well you two are being cheerful today.”
Ignoring Arcady, Eleanor caught Hunter’s eye.
“Hunter, supposing it is the same person each time…”
“It is.”
“Well… Shouldn’t she be here, then?” Hunter gave her a lopsided smile.
“Who do you think I’m always looking for?”


Forty-five years. They’d met in school, and his heart had been hers ever since. But she’d never wanted it, never felt more than friendship for him. They had remained close, and he had kept his silence, and given her the best friendship he could. Then one day as they crossed a road towards a coffee shop a lorry could not stop in time, and so he pushed her out of its path…


“She’s here somewhere. I just have to find her.”
“And how do you propose to do that?”
Hunter had no answer, and Arcady grinned. Smiling sympathetically, Eleanor spoke quietly.
“You’re sure it’s always the same person?”
“It’s her. Every time, it’s her.”
“Then… Well , even if you don’t find her here, at least you have each other when you’re there. That’s something, right?”
“It’s something,” Hunter said, quietly. “But it’s not enough.”


Thirty-six years. They’d met through friends, and over a few years their friendship had grown, blossoming into a love that they’d each never dared hope for. Then, on the return train from a magical day in a beautiful city, weather and disrepair combined to end it. Time seemed to slow as the carriage shuddered and twisted and rocked, the shattering of glass and grinding of metal made no sound; he heard only the beating of his heart as he reached for her hand one last time…


A few lifetimes later they sat once more in the Canteen, and Hunter was searching each face for a familiar gaze.
“You’ll never find her, Hunter. Stop doing this to yourself.”
“I find her there, every time. Why not here?”
“Well, here’s different, I guess. It’s not meant to be, here.”
“No,” Hunter said. “No.”
And before either of his friends could speak, he stood and walk out of the Canteen, his food untouched.


Eighty-one years. He’d missed her terribly when she passed, leaving him alone. For seven years he’d carried on as before, but his heart wasn’t in it. Even if every step is the same as those you’ve taken before, the path changes when you walk it alone. Then, sixty-three years after she’d stolen his heart, seven after she’d taken it away with her, he sighed one last time and slipped into darkness…


Hunter stayed away from his friends for a few lifetimes. He kept himself to himself; he wrote notes on his lives, he ate, walked in the Park, sometimes laying on the grass and gazing up at the birds gliding high overhead. And he vainly searched every face for the gaze he’d seen over and over, across a thousand lives and more.


Sixty-two years. They’d met at university, fallen so deeply, so immediately for each other that they both knew it had to be something more than just the freedom and exploration of youth. Then one day they’d been crossing the road when an oncoming car could not stop. She had cried out, shoving him as hard as she could. The car had crushed his foot, and though it eventually healed, he had a limp for the rest of his days. But she had taken the full force of the impact, and he was assured she’d been gone before she hit the ground. In time he had found another love, married, had children, lived a happy life. But the young woman who had saved his life never truly left his heart, even as he fell into his final slumber…


Hunter lay on the grass, his eyes closed. He heard the faint whisper of footsteps on grass, then the sounds of two people laying down beside him. Finally Hunter spoke.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Yeah. Me too,” Eleanor said.
“And me,” added Arcady.
“We know you want to find her. We just worry about you.”
“I know.”
The three friends lay together on the grass, reunited.


Seventy years. Their time came together, which their children thought was typical of them. Fifty years side by side, hand in hand, and then they slipped into the dark one night, lying in each other’s arms…


He sat in the Canteen, the memory of his last life slow to leave him, when a voice spoke beside him.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
“Of course not,” Hunter murmured. “I’m sorry, I was just…”
But his voice trailed off as he looked up at the speaker, and his gaze was met by a pair of eyes he’d seen countless times before, though never in this place.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Ariadne.”

A Life Sentence

life sentence
  1. A punishment of life imprisonment or of imprisonment for a specified long period.
    Seemingly the thing at the top of Isabel Clark’s bucket list.


“Alright.. When I let you in don’t freak out or nothing, alright?”.

I stopped banging at the door to my own apartment, her strange words resonating for a moment. It was never going to be good news coming home to find that Isabel, my ever obnoxious roommate, had deadlocked and bolted shut the door to stop me getting in.

“What!? Let me in.” I hissed, “Let me in right NOW!”.

After a moment of muted cursing, she pulled open the door and gave me a less than convincing smile.

We stood face to face, me seething with anger (I’d had a one-sided argument with the chip and pin machine at the supermarket and left a bag of shopping on the train.) and her flashing me a darling little grin in a weak attempt to stop me going ape shit.

I pushed past her and froze as my boots made a sickening squelching sound against the carpet. Preparing myself for a brief moment, I looked down.

Blood. Lots of blood. All smeared in a trail leading from the door, round the sofa, puddling on the kitchen tiles and curling off into Isabel’s room.

Everything that had happened that day, my latest murder being called ‘lazy’ and ‘messy’ by the local newspaper, the cat pissing on my bloody bed sheets, the bloody chip and pin machine not accepting my bloody card and now this, Isabel letting her victim bleed on my beautiful, fluffy white carpet, all piled up to create the worst day ever.

“I’ll clean it-” she started, but I’d had enough. Silently plotting to brutally murder her dumb ass and wrap the body up in my now ruined, once perfect carpet, I stormed off down the hallway and turned into her room.

He lay there on the floor, face down and moaning incoherent words. It was the man who had wolf whistled at us in the coffee shop on Tuesday, weedy and not at all a worthy kill for the high-profile killer my roommate had become.

“Never have I once bought a victim home.” I muttered with exasperation, watching the blood seep from a deep wound in his neck.
Suddenly, he reached out and grabbed at my leg, gasping for air, “Help me, please.”.

“No! Stop bleeding on my carpet.” I retaliated, crossing my arms in a strop. This really had crossed a line. This was the second time she’d brought a victim home (Although she said the first time didn’t count because she’d only bought his arms and legs, pffft.) and it was breaking the first and most important rule on our roommate agreement stuck to the fridge.

Rule #1; Murders must be kept discreet, separate to our personal lives and out of the apartment.

At the bottom of the agreement, under another nine rules I’d set when she’d asked to move in, clear as day, she had scrawled out her signature. She had promised.

I should have listened to Ezra, my bartender who’s side job as an assassin had got him five stars on OffYourEx.com.

“Don’t live with another killer.” He’d said, “You’re killing methods are going to clash and it’ll only end badly.”.

Oh how I wished I’d listened back then.

Isabel peeked her head round the door frame, eyes wide and apologetic as I glared at her.

“Do you know the Daily Echo called my latest kill messy and disorganised this morning!?” I nearly cried, feeling defeated as I realised I’d left crimson footprints through the hall, “And you go and break the roommate agreement and drag blood through the house, making a god awful mess and they still call your murders ‘intelligent’ and ‘pure evil’.” .

“Oh, come on, I-I’ll let you slit his throat!?” she tried, rushing over to her bedside cabinet and picking up her knife with a small smile.

“You crazy cow, you’re not killing him on my carpet!”.

I turned on my heels and headed straight for my own room. It was quite the opposite Isabel’s pink little princess fort, the walls a dark purple colour and the four-poster bed swallowed in heavy black curtains and a huge, thick duvet. I swallowed up as much of the calm air as I could, breathing in and out and directing my mind away from the blood stains and the murder and my awful fucking excuse for a flat-mate. Satisfied I wouldn’t end up losing my temper and killing her, I dropped to my knees and dragged a worn shoe box out from the under the bed, quickly pouring the contents onto the floor. My revolver lay amongst a few covered knives and golden ammunition. It was a beautiful thing, well-kept and shiny enough that I could see my brown eyes blinking back at me in the reflection of the barrel. I pushed a single bullet into the cylinder and clicked the hammer.
My jaw locked, I walked back down the hall, swinging my weapon of choice between my fingers. When I turned back into Isabel’s room, I found the dying man turned onto his side with a cloth pressed to his neck, obviously Isabel’s futile attempt to stop anymore blood getting on the floor.

“Oh please don’t!” She whined at the sight of the gun, “It took me ages to get him here without anyone seeing, at least let me have a little fun!”.

Blah blah blah. Smirking, I pushed the miserable runt of a man onto his front with a sharp kick to the shoulder. His eyes went wide as he stared at the muzzle of my gun and he began muttering in a panic, begging for forgiveness and offering me everything from his chihuahua to his car and one bedroom flat.

I pouted at him, “I’m sure your chihuahua will find a very loving home.”.

With that, I pulled the trigger. A satisfying bang resonated around the room as his body relaxed and his eyes rolled upwards in his what was left of his bloodied skull; dead. Easy peasy pumpkin pie.

Isabel slumped back against her bed, which was fittingly adorned with a baby pink duvet to fit her princess attitude. Her bottom lip jutted out as she wiped her blonde hair from her eyes and pulled a cigarette from the Louis Vuitton bag on her bed. (Which she definitely stole from a victim, she could never afford one herself.) I pulled my boots off and set them in the corner, grimacing at the blood that dripped from them.

“Come on then, clean this up.” I sighed, realising Isabel was still sat there. She rolled her eyes, a fag hanging lazily from her plump lips, “Alright Your Majesty.”.
I laughed bitterly, “Your majesty wouldn’t be so forgiving, now I’d hurry up before it stains. I’m going out now, so don’t wait up”.

The next morning, heavy with the ugly effects of straight vodka, I woke up to a rolled newspaper being thrown at my temple.

“Wake up Moron, the press are absolutely loving us!”.
Isabel had pulled the bed curtain aside and light from the window burnt bright against my tired morning eyesight. She thrust the newspaper into my hands and I groaned, trying to make sense of the blurry headline.

“The Shadow Killer and Angel Maker become partners.”

I blinked repeatedly and read it again to make sure.

Me and Isabel? Partners?

“The Angel Maker, a notorious killer known for leaving the bodies of their victims outside police stations and tourist locations, has left yet another victim outside West End Central Police Station late last night. The 26-year-old man was seen less than 12 hours earlier at the fast food joint he worked at a mere twenty minutes from his home. Upon closer inspection, police at the scene found the man was killed with a single bullet to the head, leading them to believe this was the work of the Shadow Killer. Reports suggest the two high-profile killers are working together. Full story on page 5.”


I looked up, stunned.

“This is brilliant.” She grinned, “We just went up in the world, the police are going to be going bloody daffy trying to track us down now! That’s gotta be like… a life sentence and a half each!”.

She flopped onto my bed with a content sigh. She was right – we had just become Most Wanted.

After a moment of overwhelmed silence, we burst into happy giggles.

I affectionately thought back to how it had all began, when we were struggling, fresh-faced students just escaping the education system. Five short years prior, she’d come into my room in the dead of night, covered in blood and wielding the butter knife from our kitchen, utterly out of breath.
“How many men do you think I’d have to kill before they give someone as adorable as me a life sentence?”.

Welcome to the Machine

“A time machine, seriously?” Natalie looked at Thomas with a mix of scepticism and exasperation as they stood in the middle of his garage, next to a refrigerator adorned with wires and magnets. Cables ran to the device from each corner of the garage, which was lit by a single work lamp hanging on the wall beside a work bench. 

“What else should I call it? It makes things travel through time.” 

“I just mean, it sounds like science fiction.“ 

“So would an iPhone, if you talked to someone in the 60’s.” 

“How does it work?” 

“Really well.” Thomas smirked. 

“Don’t be a dick.” Natalie shot back, instantly. 

“It creates a miniature wormhole whilst balancing the gravity well by reversing the polarity on the magnets on the outside.” 

She walked around the machine, curious. 

“Do you know what any of that means?” She said, teasing him the way friends do. 

“Not really, no.” He grinned. “I mean, I only have the two PhDs…” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible.“ 

“Thank you.“ 

“Do you realise how much this is worth?” 

“More money than God.” 

“How much money do you imagine God has? Or needs?” 

Tom took a deep breath in and out, which Natalie recognised immediately. 

“A sigh that big is never the start of something good.” She offered, accurately. “This is me, Tom, I’m not other people. What’s going on?” 

“I want you to come with me to 2015.” 

“You’re crazy.” 

“That’s never bothered you before.” 

“Have you any idea what will happen if we use this thing?” 

“I’ve tested it Nat, come on, I wouldn’t ask you to do something dangerous. I mean, except that one time in Paris, but that was for a good cause.” 

“Impressing a girl does not count as a good cause Tom.” 

Tom grinned, and thought to himself that not only was it fact a very good cause (and on that occasion worked out very well), but come to think of it, was pretty much the only reason he did anything. 

“Okay, listen, the way it works is this…” he said as he walked to a white board and started drawing on it, remembering the scene from Back To The Future where Doc explains the timeline to Marty. 

“I sent my watch backwards and forwards to see what would happen. When I sent my watch forward, it arrived at the point in the future I sent it to without any time passing for it, but it also left a copy of itself in place. I just had to remove the first watch before the second arrived in the same space.” 

“And when you sent it backwards?” 

“All I could see from my point of view was the copy of the watch that stayed in the machine, but it stands to reason that the copy went backwards and that strand of time was so altered that we would be unaware of it.” 

“That’s a pretty big leap.” 

“Not really, the machine works sending an object forwards, that proves that my theory of how time works is accurate, it’s basically a function of gravity, and time is compressed with gravity’s pull. With time a constant moving through from a to b, the future is being created constantly, like we’re sitting on a beam of light and all in front of us is black, until we get there. It exists in a state of flux and doesn’t solidify until we observe it. We can send things to the future and have them appear for us because what’s actually happening is that we’re just delaying the arrival from the present, into the future of this bunch of atoms and energy. When we send something to the past, we’re accelerating it backwards and then when it arrives in the past, it’s writing a new timeline from that point, essentially creating a multiverse. I mean, it’s possible that the multiverse already exists and we’re moving things between the multiverses. I haven’t entirely figured that part out yet.” 

Natalie stood looking at the whiteboard, now adorned with dots, lines and arrows. She sighed. 

“You haven’t entirely figured it out yet?” 

“Yeah. But it’ll be an adventure.” Tom replied with as much enthusiasm and charm as he could muster. 

“An adventure…” Natalie repeated, thoughts swirling in her mind. “Tom this is totally crazy, we have lives here. I have Chris, you have a job you love, we have friends, they’d miss us…” 

“Actually from their point of view nothing would have happened. The amount of energy in the universe has to be constant, that’s why the watch didn’t disappear when I sent it either direction through time. We’d be copying ourselves, effectively. We’d keep living our lives here, and we’d also be living our lives, y’know, somewhere else… Sometime else.”

“Why 2015?”

“Because 2016 onwards was awful, and we might be able to do something about that. At the very least we know the result of the EU referendum and the US Presidential election, so we can make more than enough money on those to never need to work ever again.” 

“What about the grandfather paradox?” 

“Once we go back it’s not our universe anymore, so the existing timeline is maintained.” 

Natalie widened her eyes and sighed, trying to buy a moment to collect her thoughts and focus on the most pressing and practical questions. “Why do you want me to go with you? Surely if you’re only going back a short time, you’d just find me again and it’d be like nothing had happened…” 

“I can’t be in the same place as my copy, it’d be too complicated. I’d have to go somewhere else, live a separate life, none of the same friends, none of the same places. What would be the point in that? And what right would I have to disrupt my existing life like that, and do what, split our time half an half? Alternate the times we saw my friends?”

“But why me too?”

“You’re my best friend. You’re the one person I really couldn’t live without.” 

“Tom, this machine might kill us.” 

“It won’t.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I know.” 

“That’s a child’s answer… It’s too big a risk… Surely you see that… I finally have a life I love and I can’t take a risk like that anymore. If you go back and change things can you even be sure you’ll be happy? Where does the meddling end? How can you be sure you’d change anything significantly? How can you tell what the consequences of your actions will be at all?” 

“I can’t promise anything except this; Maybe we can’t change the world. I think we can, but maybe we can’t. We could be entirely different people if we wanted to be – a truly fresh start. How many people get that chance?” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible. But I don’t need a fresh start. And I didn’t think you did either. You don’t need a time machine to go and make a fresh start to make yourself happy, you can be happy here.” 

“You keep saying ‘if it works’, as if doesn’t. It works, I promise you.”

“That isn’t even the point Tom, I’m saying you’re asking me to do something monumentally huge, and it’s a lot to process. We’ve known each other for a long time, but I did not see this coming.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I usually am.”

“Yeah, all the time.”

“Look, I have to get back home. Let’s have lunch in a couple of days and we’ll both have had a chance to think about it. There’s no rush right. You quite literally have all the time in the world.”


“And I’m serious. If you’re that unhappy, please talk to me about it, I can help.” 


Natalie walked over to Tom and gave him a hug. “I’ll text you.”

She walked out and Tom stood still until he heard her car pull away. He turned to the door and his other self walked in. Tom2, from the future, noticeably older than Tom.  

“What did she say?” Tom2 asked. 

“She’s not coming.” Tom replied. 

“You knew it was a long shot… Did you tell her about my jump? What we said to each other?” 

“What would be the point?” 

“You shouldn’t lie to your friends.” 

“Even if the truth would make us both miserable?” 

The question hung in the air, neither version of the man able to provide a satisfactory answer. Tom2 tried to offer a sympathetic coda.

“It’s just bad timing. Ironically. Should have asked her when you were both young and still had nothing to lose.”

“I can go back in time, but I can’t make myself any younger. Maybe I’ll work on that next.” Tom joked as he walked to the machine and opened the door, revealing the iPad control panel inside. He set the destination time for 2015 and looked back at Tom2. 

“Does it hurt?” 

“You get over it. In time.” 

Tom closed the door, took a deep breath and engaged the machine. 

Scarborough Fair

The last swirls of colour hung steadfast in the sky, grasping at the bottoms of the clouds and fighting the encroaching dark of the night. Between us, we gave them a nod and whispered appreciation for their fading beauty, before we surrendered our attention to the coming assault on the senses, and stepped over the makeshift threshold of sheet metal and concrete.

Wood smoke, hot oil, sugar and starch. Floodlights and flashing bulbs. Chattering, screaming, whoop and holler above the thud-thud-thud and growling hum of music and machine.

We made careful steps through the crowds – the many rivers of people with their contrarian currents, criss-crossing paths and sudden stops to bark commands at however many of the several children bobbing and weaving their own ways through the throng – to find our targets.

To stopper the grumble of stomachs, we splashed out on food (the classics, the gentrified, and the straight-up outlandish) scraping at the Styrofoam whilst lurking in the second-hand warmth of the serving hatches and trailer doorways.

To defy the odds, we surrendered our newly acquired coppers to the will of rubber ducks, coconuts and the grip of the claws. The eventual plush trophy most likely paid for twice over.

And to tempt fate, we took on the machines, to be spun and shook and launched. Hands finding hands, heads resting on shoulders. Laughter, screams, whispers.

And in between the spiralling chaos of the waltzer, we marvelled at the raven-haired girls who stepped on and off the walkways and arms with an effortless grace. Sirens that harmonised as they walked against the tide, to spin the cars. An old folk song. Their calling card.

Spun-drunk and enchanted, we stepped off the wrong way, and found ourselves elsewhere. Lost in amongst tent-backs, bins, and generators. Backstage to the theatre of the fair, with all the noise and light curtained off from us.

Alone in a sea of people.

Eyes lost in eyes.

Devious smiles.

Arms wrapping around each other, squeezing at the padding of layers in winter.

A stolen kiss.

Cold-numbed lips warming against each other. The rub of stubble. A crystal of Caster.

The already quietened world fading to a whisper. Only the siren-song to fill our heads.

An eternity, with no end in sight.

A sudden yell, and we broke apart.

Two tents down, a young man dove forward, bent double, unleashing a belly full of cider and chips, emptied onto Mike Ashley’s finest.

We were gone before we could be seen. Out amongst the throng, back in formation and hyper-aware, with blood pounding in our ears.

And as the adrenaline died away, the warmth sparked up inside of us, again.

The taste on each others lips.

The brush of fingers as we walked.

And on the air, distant but clear.

The sirens of the waltzer, singing of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme…

The Morning After the Night Before.

I know I said I was going to draw all these but this picture was perfect and I couldn’t do it justice with my useless clown fingers.

This is a continuation of one of my stories from last year which you can find here: FEAR IS MOSTLY IN YOUR HEAD. MOSTLY. 

‘Time is on my side, yes it is’

Jamie started awake to a blackness so deep that it took him several seconds to realise he had his eyes open. It pressed in on every side. He felt it crawling down his throat with each shallow, panicked breath. It was forcing out the air, smothering him, he was drowning in darkness.

‘Time is on my side, yes it is’

The sweet, soulful voice of Irma Thomas came again, a lifeline in the all-consuming black. Jaime struggled to sit up his head swivelling from side to side trying to locate the source of the music. He felt weak as a day-old kitten, his arms and legs heavy and his thoughts muddied and slow. The music was muffled like it was playing in the next room.

‘Now you all were saying that you want to be free’

Carefully Jamie reached out with his hands he felt rough cloth underneath him, damp in places, soft and springy to the touch; some kind of bed? He turned slowly to his right and dangled a leg off the side and felt the cold stone floor under his bare foot. After a few moments when he felt his strength begin to return Jamie got up off the bed and shuffled forward waving his hands around in front of him. After a few steps, he met a wall of undressed stone.

‘But you’ll come runnin’ back (I said you would baby)’

Jamie wasn’t sure if his hearing was getting sharper to make up for his lack of sight, but the music sounded closer. His breath came in short gasps, and it took all of his will to not let the claustrophobia overwhelm him as he felt his way to the left along the wall. After a few feet, Jamie found another wall, and he followed it until it vanished leaving him standing in an open doorway.

‘You’ll come runnin’ back (like I told you so many times before)’

The sound was coming from somewhere to his right. Jamie cautiously stepped out of the doorway and turned in that direction. As soon as he turned the corner, the smell hit him like a tidal wave of filth. It was the choking stench of death and shit overlaid with the burning chemical smell of bleach. Jamie wavered for a second. He really didn’t want to go into the room but what choice did he have? He needed to get out.

‘You’ll come runnin’ back to me, yeah’

After a long minute building his courage Jamie started forward one hand out in front waving from side to side, one arm bent masking his face in the crook of his arm. The oily darkness pressed in on all sides leaving a film of filth on every inch of him, but he pressed on regardless. Jamie was a dozen shuffling paces into the room when his shin crashed painfully into something hard. He tipped forwards reaching for his bruised shin, spots dancing before his eyes, but his hands stopped short pressing down on something soft, spongy and wet.

‘Time is on my side, yes it is’

It was a bed like the one he’d woken up on, all rough, cloth and protruding springs, only something was different there was something soft and wet. He ran his fingers over the bed trying to puzzle out what it was he was feeling. Soft but with an undercurrent of firmness, then something hard and metallic, a loop then… With a yell, he snatched his hand back like he’d thrust it into a fire the bile rising in his throat. Beneath the loop of steel was the cold, wet foot of a decomposing corpse.

‘Time is on my side, yes it is’

Jamie’ heart pounded, and he heard his blood rushing in his ears. He lowered himself to a crouch and feeling his way around the bed, careful not to touch its gory contents, he crept further into the room. He encountered three more beds but kept low and moved around them quickly. For the first time, he was glad of the darkness because judging by the smell those beds too were occupied. When his hands eventually hit upon the rough stone of the far wall he collapsed in a heap, curling up in a ball and sobbing like a child.

‘You’re searching for good times but just wait and see
You’ll come runnin’ back (I said you would darling)
You’ll come runnin back (spend the rest of life with ya baby)
You’ll come runnin’ back to me’

As the chorus wound down Jaime’s sobs became less frequent and wiping his face on his sleeve, he forced himself back to his feet. “You can do this Jamie,” he whispered into the darkness. “You got in here so there must be a way out. Just take it one step at a time, one step at a time.”

‘Go ahead baby, go ahead, go ahead and light up the town’

Jamie reached out and found the wall, he moved to his right his soft hands bloodied by a myriad of cuts from the rough stone. He came across no way out before he hit the corner of the room. With increasing urgency he retraced his steps moving back left using both hands now sliding up and down. “There has to be something there has to…” He stopped dead as his hand his something long and hard. Hope flared in his chest and he explored the anomaly with both hands it was tall and made of wood covered in flaking paint. It was his salvation, a way out of this hell-hole, a door. He tugged on the handle, but the door remained closed. It was locked.

‘And baby, do anything your heart desires’

Jamie tugged uselessly a the handle but it stubbornly refused to budge. He ran his hands over the door again hoping for a window or any way through but he found nothing. Frustrated Jamie took a step back then slammed his shoulder hard into the wood only to bounce back, clattering into the bed behind him which let out a deafening screech as the steel legs scratched across the stone floor.

‘Remember, I’ll always be around’

Jamie reached out to lever himself up using the frame of the bed but as he did the welding gave way and the pole hit the ground with a sharp crack. Jamie spun groping for the pole and when his hands closed on it he braced his feet against the side of the bed and pulled. The bed screeched like a stepped on cat and the pole came loose. Rod in hand Jamie leapt to his feet and jammed it into the frame of the door where it stuck with a crack of splintering wood. Leaning into the makeshift lever Jamie pushed with all his strength and with a groan of protest the door popped open, the lock snapping through the frame.

‘And I know, I know like I told you so many times before’

Jamie felt a rush of air from in front of him and tears of relief sprang into his eyes. He could hear the distant whoosh of traffic and the steady patter of rain on rooftops. He was free. On unsteady legs, he ran towards the sounds only to pull up short only a couple of steps out of the door. His vision flashed white and he was falling as he heard an almighty snap as the jagged teeth of the bear trap sank into his leg so deep they buried themselves in the bone.

‘You’re gonna come back’

Jamie flung his head back to scream but before any sound came out he felt a gloved hand clamp over his mouth and the sharp sting of the needle sliding into his neck.  “Where are you going Jamie?” came the familiar voice, a ghost brushing his cheek. “You’re time isn’t up.”

‘Yeah you’re going to come back baby’

Jamie slumped to the floor the darkness rushing into the hole left by the syringe, filling him, smothering his consciousness. “Why?” He managed to force out the question but the darkness swallowed him before he got an answer.

‘Knockin’, yeah knockin’ right on my door, yeah’

Jamie started awake to complete darkness. He felt familiar rough cloth underneath him, damp in places, soft and springy to the touch. He was back in his bed. He reached out to rub his eyes, but his hand stopped short. He felt the bite of the steel handcuff cutting into his wrist. He screamed, but his voice was smothered by the soulful voice of Irma Thomas.

‘Time, time, time is on my side, yes it is, I said’
Time, time, time is on my side, yes it is, I said
Time, time, time is on my side’

A Construct of Human Perception…

Well that’s month one down and by Jove, have they knocked it out the park this time! Given a few hours to play with the voting page, you’ll be able to vote for your favourites and talk about your enemies and whatever arty people do…

Onto this month’s writing challenge! I was discussing with a dear confident that there’s not enough time to do things and how time waits for no man, before eagerly waiting for time to pass so I could go for a weekend away with the lovely one, at some point I started looking into the idea of a class for DnD that plays with time.


The writers have one simple yet large stimulus for this month’s writing challenge. Time. Discuss it, slag it off, let it wile away whilst you think of an idea. Whatever you do, just don’t run out of it!

As always, your example piece.


Time After Time

She closed her eyes, took him by the hand, and they walked away forever.

The final words felt like an eternity as she typed the ending sentence of the novel and closed the document. Glancing at the violently red digital clock slicing through the darkness on the edge of her desk, she could see it was 04:32am and that she had broken another promise. She closed the laptop and padded gently to the kitchen to grab a glass of milk before ascending the creaky staircase to the bedroom where she could already hear him in deep sleep; the broken promise didn’t feel so bad knowing that she would have to kick him to stop the snoring…

The Writer gently pushed the door open, though forgot about the small dog and it’s ability to find the most inconvenient of sleeping spaces and the silence was broken by a sharp yelp as the poor Westie was awoken from his dream of finding the biggest bone a dog had ever seen; but that’s a story for another time.

“Barchimedes, sic ‘em.” The bass heavy half asleep voice gently called from the other side of the room. The pint sized patrolman jumped up from behind the door and excitedly slalomed between The Writer’s legs as she tried not to stand on him. The Musician, no longer testing the patience of the sleeping world, sat up rubbing his eyes.

They were an unexpected pairing. She was slim and beautiful, with an air of grace to her that covered her immaturity only briefly. He was rounded and clumsy but had a heart that meant well, though covered with a half pretence of menace. Barchimedes was just adorable.

“Did you finish it?” He asked in the darkness. She didn’t need the light to see the half sloping grin on his face as he looked her way, it was there every time; without fail.

“You’re meant to be asleep,” she chided, though with a smile backlit by the hallway lamp so he didn’t panic.

“I was, until some nefarious ne’er-do-well tried to break in and steal the family heirlooms.” He lay back down and waited for her to join him, waiting for the sarky comment.

3 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 1…

“They’re not family heirlooms until they’re past down, y’eedjit.” She seemingly glided across the room and slid under the duvet and remembered on of the reasons she kept him around; the furnace heat was luxurious in comparison to the autumn chill in the study. And so she slept…

Their fingers intertwined, like the teeth of two cogs running side by side in the old pocket watch.

The Musician sat on the end of the bed, Barchimedes sat vigilantly by his side with as pride as a short Westie Terrier could. The only noise in the room, other than the gentle thrum of the heating was the tick of pocket watch he held in his hand.

“She’ll be in a minute, boy. Stop fretting, it’s going to be okay. We’ve prepared for this. Will you straighten your tie! Oh I know you’re a dog, quit reminding me.”

The door latch echoed up the stairwell and the two took their positions.

“You in?” She called from downstairs.

“We’re upstairs! Got a surprise for you.” He called back, brushing his shirt and hair into some sort of tamed affair.

A few seconds pasted and the bedroom door opened. She stood in her usual work clothes, the ones she liked herself in but wouldn’t say she looked anything special by, yet the smile on his face and the bouncy dog at his side contradicted the thought entirely. He held out the pocket watch and dropped to one knee.

“So erm, want to run away with me and never look back?”

She could see in his face he was trying his upmost hardest to pull off the John Belushi puppy dog eyes. She saw the flowers surrounding the walls, all whites and yellows; her favourite colour. She could see the ring missing in his hand…

“Aren’t you meant to offer a girl a ring?” She said, placing her hand on her hip and looking mock offended.

“Okay, hear me out before you turn and leave,” the puppy dog eyes had widened to fox in the headlights. “A ring is great and all, and you can hand that down to your kids when they’re older…”

“Oh we’re having kids now?” The foot gently starting to tap in mock frustration.

“Just shut up and listen will you? You can give a ring to your kids when they’re older but then you’ve got to stop wearing it or be dead so they get it afterwards. It’s all a little complicated so I spent some time thinking about it and this is what I got.”

He clicked open the pocket watch to reveal the inscription ‘With every second, the heart grows fonder’ had been engraved on the inside of the door and the ornate golden numbers around the face had actually been painstakingly forged to look like her handwriting. Sat on the middle of the timepiece, thin and beautiful, sat a silver ring with blue gem.

“So I’ll ask again, will you run away with me and never look back?”

Time stood still, allowing the two to pass as welcome friends.

The final words felt like an eternity as she listened to the doctor before he closed the document. Glancing at the violently red digital clock slicing through the darkness on the edge of his bed, she could see it was 04:32am and that he had broken another promise. She closed her eyes and listened to the doctor padding gently to the kitchen to grab a glass of milk for her before ascending the clinical staircase to the waiting room where she could already hear him explaining to the now grown up kids that their father had passed. The broken promise didn’t feel so bad knowing that he had spent his last moments with her and her alone.

She closed her eyes, took him by the hand, and they walked away forever.