Dacing on a Sunday Afternoon

I’m no good at slow dancing. I have two left feet at the best of times but at least when there is a thrashing beat I can wobble my body about to some kind of rhythm. My wife on the other hand moves like a piece of gossamer through the wind; all hips and legs flowing one movement into the other.

I always wanted to give in to her whim; to that perfect ideal of the two of us gliding bare foot across the kitchen floor on some lazy Sunday morning. Today I thought I’d indulged her.

I see her in a new light, her beautiful face lighting up with that smile that she saves just for me. She’s whipped her hair up into a messy bun, a few blonde strands falling down around her ears; effortlessly perfect. As I take her tiny waist in one hand and her delicate fingers in the other I can feel a happiness pouring into me, one that I have not felt for some time now.

This is how we should live, in that unutterably absolute moment, enjoying and loving the other in equal golden harmony. Her sweet face and perfect form flutters in front of me in her pure white dressing gown and everything else in this world seems to blur out of all existence.

As we skim across the tiles, the cold seeping into my feet she brings her head to rest on my chest, fitting around me as if she were made to fill up all my empty spaces. I gaze hazily over her head and look around with an unseeing eye at the flowers on the table, a small mountain of white and red. I don’t take in the cards; the scrawled words of comfort and sympathy, but I can’t ignore the urn that’s still sitting on the wooden surface, glaring at me with sharp disapproval for my blatant disregard.

Before I have time to savour the moment it is over, vanished an slipping from my grasp as she has slipped from me like water through a sieve. Now I’m just a widower, dancing on my own.

There

There’s an old Earth book, I forget what the title was, but it gave me the best advice a lonely little girl could ever have hoped to absorb.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.””

I liked it because it reminded me of my father. Every time my eyes skipped over the bold black lines that formed the words on the dull, yellow page I could hear his voice. Now, it drips with nostalgia; thick globs of memory trickle down through my brain and his face invades my waking vision.

My childhood was such a happy one, it seems like such a shame to spoil it. When I think of how we lived, free and easy, flying above the clouds in our little floating ship; I want it to stop there. Like re-reading a book you have devoured time and time again, knowing something terrible is going to happen to your favourite main character. Wanting to stop before you get to the part where it all goes horribly wrong but unable to put it down, entrapped and enslaved by the horror that binds you to the spot.

I never really understood what happened; I was only ten. We’d been sailing out from Eranta’s space port into deep space. We’d been in a hurry, I don’t really know why, I think Mother was a little ill. For a long time we drifted in space, in quiet blackness that was so different from the love and laughter I had known before. I’d been told to keep to my room and like the good girl that I was I didn’t question it; trusting in my kind Mother and Father to the fullest extent of the word. It was only when a whole day had passed and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of either of them that I ventured out into the darkness.

A blue light above me flashed down the corridor, bathing everything in a sickly glow. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear the grinding, whining of an alarm bell screeching its endless siren.

“Da?” I called out, suddenly a little afraid. “Da?”

No one answered. My Father’s work boots sat outside my bedroom door, I’d been wearing them when the soles broke off mine. I used to sit in the hammock in my bedroom keeping them on with just the ends of my toes as I swung through the air gently, reading some old book or another. They felt comforting and familiar on my feet.

We were listing slightly, a tiny touch of the gravitational field wearing off as I have walked, half bounced down through the ship down into the living quarters.

“Mumma? Are you down here?” I pushed on the door to the living quarters and shuddered at the cold breeze that was rushing across the back of my bare little legs. The fire was smouldering, some embers left but nothing else. They always stoked a fire. It was so unusual for Mother not to have one going that it made my stomach sink right down into my Da’s boots and settle there, like lead.

I crept from room to room, questioning at every door and finding nothing. I finally reached the bridge; I wasn’t allowed in there, too many big enticing buttons for a young girl to push. I didn’t think they’d mind, not this once and it had been such a very long time now. So with shuddering hands I pushed open the door.

The alarm was louder in here, blaring into my ears and the shaky AI voice was screeching a warning through the rusting old speakers Father had never got around to replacing.

“Escape pod ejected, escape pod ejected.”

My eyes grew wide and I turned to look at the escape pod exit, through the square hole of glass I could see the air lock open into outer space on the other side. Straps and insulating flapped free in the still vacuum outside. I could feel the prick of tears as it suddenly dawned on me that my parents had abandoned me, for no good reason at all they’d left me here, ten years old and floating in space.

That was five years ago now. Five years of endless drifting in deep space, not a soul around, no sign of a habitated planet. I asked the AI to send us to the closest planet with registered life; she estimated it would take us twenty years. We ran out of fuel two months ago and even for all my rationing I used the last canteen of water and tin of food yesterday morning. I’d been feeling ok about it actually, knowing it was the end but when AI finally gave up two hours ago I decided to call time on everything. I can’t drift forever, with no food or water, no fuel, no comforting voice and companionship even if it is an artificial lie. I can’t drift with no hope.

I have had advantages, I’ve had caring and loving parents until something drove them away. I can’t help but criticise though, all the pain and the suffering and the abandonment I’ve endured does not bow to the philosophy I once held so dear. It is that quote that reminds me of my Father and how much of a hypocrite he was.

This will be my last entry. I’ll leave it unlocked on the system for you, whoever you may be. Maybe you can find the answers that I never had, maybe there are no answers to be had now. Whatever happens now, at least I will have a legacy. Even if my parents didn’t remember me, maybe you will.

Terry

I really should have picked up on the first hint. It was staring me right in the face but it was so subtle I just didn’t cotton onto it at first. Something in my life has changed; everything and nothing is different, I don’t know what happened but now, I feel like an imposter in my own skin.

Friday has crept up on me like the bad end of a surprise. I’ve been working such long hours, for so long that I barely knew what month we were in anymore let alone the day. The moment I cracked my eyes open against this morning’s six am sun I knew something was wrong. Sitting up and rubbing a hand across my eyes I took in the familiar sight of my bedroom, wardrobe door slightly open, the same bedspread, the Terry and Lea matching dressing gowns that I hated hanging from their hooks on the bedroom door, last nights clothes slung across the chair in the left hand corner; everything in its usual, messy place. I shrugged off the uneasy feeling that had taken up residence in my stomach and slid my way downstairs, stuffing my legs through my creased up trousers at the same time.

Gliding triumphantly into the kitchen, I tightened my belt to its usual fifth notch in and smiled at the back of my wife’s head for a brief second before it hit me, the second hint.

“Hey, er, darling. What did you do to your hair?” She turned her face just a little so I can see the side of her face in the morning sun, she’s juicing some smoothie thing for lunch later. I don’t need to see all of her face to tell that she’s frowning.

“Nothing. It’s been like this since forever, dummy.” I want to reach out, to take a strand of that short, brunette hair and tug on it, wanting it to come away and reveal the long, golden blonde locks I know so well. Not once in our ten years of marriage have I ever seen her with any other style.

“Very funny. Did you dye it overnight or something? That’s some dedication Lea.” She turns around fully now, frowning, as I knew she would be. She sticks a finger in her mouth to lick off some blitzed fruit and cocks her head to one side.

“Terry, did you leave your brain upstairs asleep? Look …” She gestures to the wall behind me where we have a few pictures from our wedding hanging. I peer at them, expecting to see the same thing I’ve seen every single damn day for the past ten years.

“I’ll be damned.” I whisper to myself as I take in endless pictures of us together, and Lea on her own, sporting that brown bob. The lengths change a little, one right up under her chin, another to her shoulders but it’s not long and it certainly isn’t blonde. I feel the bottom fall out of my stomach.

“Terry?” I feel a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Terry, are you ok, you’re a bit white.” I take a gulp of air and gather myself.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” She doesn’t look convinced. “I must have just dreamt it, you know one of those lucid things.”

“Uhuh.” She says and kisses the end of my nose before sliding my lunch along the counter to me. “Get your butt in gear then or you’ll be lucid dreaming about getting a new job if you’re late again.” She slaps my dazed and confused ass on the way out of the door and before I know it I’m in the car, driving absent mindedly.

I fucking know she had never had brown hair, I know it in my god damn bones and yet here we are, all brunet and shit and I don’t know what happened. My brain chews it over, everything just feels wrong, the colour of the houses I drive past everyday seems different, the stop sign that I swear was never there before. I shake my head a little bit to clear my thoughts; these damn dreams getting in my head.

I pull into my usual space in the parking lot and hot foot it up the steps of the building two at a time, the office is quiet, Friday mornings are usually worked from home, or so many of my lazy ass colleagues thought. I reach into my pocket as I see my office door approaching on my right and swipe the shiny piece of plastic through the chip reader. It beep a couple of times and a light flashes; pushing on the door I heave in surprise when it doesn’t open. Scanning the card again I watched with round eyes as the light flashed red, my entry denied. I stepped back, confused, head darting left to right. This was my corridor, my floor, fifth door in on the right, this was my office without a shadow of a doubt. I scanned the card again, something akin to rage beginning to bubble up inside of me.

“Hey Terry!” Someone called me from behind me, I felt a clap on the shoulder and turned to see Jordan Stenmark hovering in the corridor.

“Hey man.” I muttered before turning back to the door.

“Trying your hand at a spot of breaking and entering?”

“Something’s wrong with my card. Damn thing’s broken, it won’t let me in my office.” My fuse is short today, super fucking short.

“Well, call me stupid and all but wouldn’t it help if you tried it on your actual office door?” I stop, card mid swipe and glare at him. Jordan frowns a little and gestures to the name plaque I’d not even thought to look at yet. I raise my angry eyes to the golden lettering that leered down at me, mocking me.

Jordan Stenmark 

Head of Sales 

I stared at it for the longest time, unable to take it in. First Lea’s hair and now this, something was wrong with me, really wrong. Jordan reached across me, his suited arm snaking past me to pluck the card out of my quivering fingers, placing a hand on my arm he led me across the corridor and swiped us in; I caught the name plaque on the way in:

Terry Harding 

HR Manager 

“What’s up Terry? Are you hungover or something?” He looks concerned, the same way my wife did. The office I’m in is definitely mine, just on the wrong side of the corridor. What the fuck is going on here?

“Do you want me to call someone, Lea maybe?”

“No, no. Just give me five minutes, I’ll be fine.”

“You sure, buddy?” I nod back at him, unable to speak through the whirring cogs of my mind.

I don’t know how long I sat; head in hands, staring at the water cooler bubbling away. There is a little crowd gathering outside my office, I can see their shadows outside the blinded window. Hushed whispers float through the cracks in the door, it sounds urgent, pressing. Maybe something has happened, maybe someone is ill … maybe it’s about me. A shiver runs across me and a great need to know what is being said fills me. I’ve never been the sneaking type but today, I have no self control.

I slid along the whitewashed wall, keeping to the tips of my toes desperate not to make any noise. I don’t want to be seen so I keep myself away from the window, and make it to the door. Pressing my ear to the crack, I hover my head away from the wood, the door moves in the frame and I don’t want to make a noise. When did I get so paranoid?

“He’s in there now?”

“Closeted himself in the first moment he got. I didn’t really get a chance to speak to him.”

“You could have pushed him a little harder!”

“Or yeah, sure and have the whole thing blown apart. I’m not that clumsy you know!”

“Fighting won’t help us now. Will you two calm down. How much does he know?”

“I’m not sure. I think he’s picked up on something, I’m sure of it.”

My heart is racing now. God what is this! What do I do? Jordan that dick, he’s setting me up in something, if only I knew what it was. I think about locking the door from this side and waiting it out but where is that going to get me? There’s no way out up here, no street facing windows. I keep listening.

“Did Lea do her bit this morning?”

“From what she told me he woke up shaken, but otherwise fine. She thought we were all on track.”

I take myself away from the door, unable to compute what I am hearing. Lea, how can it be true? Maybe she was coerced, forced into taking part … or maybe she is in on whatever is happening to me. I’m scared now, frightened to leave and frightened to stay. I don’t know what to do but I have to do something, and do it fast. I decide to make a break for it, it’s the only way. They don’t know I’ve heard them so if I just act cool, keep it together I can do this. I straighten myself and, rearrange my tie and ruffled hair; taking a deep breath I grasp the door handle with purpose and push myself out into the corridor.

The chatter stops instantly. Silence pours into the corridor and no one moves a muscle. I keep my hand on the door handle, not quite wanting to let go if it’s comforting metallic shape.

“Hey Terry!” Jordan says, a little too cheerfully. “How are you feeling buddy?” I do a quick scan of the people in the hallway, all faces I know; Janet from reception, Vince from tech support, Lance from security and a few others, about six altogether. I can’t outrun this many.

“Fine, I just want to grab a cigarette and a coffee.”

“Are you sure you’re ok Terry, you look awfully white.” Janet pipes up.

“Yeah Terry, you don’t seem too well.”

“Terry, is there anything I can get you?”

“Terry, talk to us.”

“Terry?”

“Terry?”

Time seems to stop and all I can see is this sea of faces pouring in on me from every angle, bleating my name and they just won’t stop. It’s crazy, they look crazy, heads all cocked to one side in mock concern. They’re my co-workers, people I’ve known for years but they’re not, they’re different now, something has changed.

I mumble something about needing air and making a dash, walking just a little too fast down the corridor and around the corner; shouts of “Terry, wait!” ringing in my burning ears.

I make straight for the car, keys fumbling in my hands, rattling, ringing with my desperation and fear. I jam them into the lock and throw myself in. I lose no time in jamming it into first and peeling out of the parking lot. I don’t know where I’m going, I have no money, no clothes, nothing but I can’t go back, and I can’t go home.

I wish I’d noticed that first clue earlier. I don’t know how I didn’t register, how I didn’t know. My name isn’t Terry.

The Silverlight Dome – Chapter 2

“That bitch is around here somewhere. Keep your eyes open, if we don’t have her by sunrise I will personally skin every last one of you sorry motherfuckers.” The big burly ring leader that had held Lilth hostage towered over the small pack of ruffians gathered around him. A little stream of angry spittle swung from his chin to mingle with the blood from his broken nose. They shifted nervously from one foot to the other, every man knew what Bolath was capable of and they didn’t want to push their luck.

Sneaking through the shadows the group of six moved like water, silent and sure footed. Not a sound could be heard as their soft, clothed feet padded across the soft sand street. Like cats they surrounded the first door, jimmied it open with an old, rusting screwdriver and flooded inside. A few seconds sweep of the building gleaned no results. Old, worn out furniture was tipped up, cupboards and closets ransacked; nothing. This process was repeated all the way down the street, the homeless and destitute dragged from their make-shift beds, dazed and confused.

They reached the fourth door. Grappling with the door handle the scrawniest of the group twisted and turned the rusted door knob to no avail. The group behind him began to titter and his cheeks flushed an angry red. Bolath, used one large, furry hand to yank the smaller man out of the way, impatience brewing up inside him, making his agitated. Using a little of his strength he ripped the door from its hole in the wall and threw it some way down the street, no longer concerned with the noise it made.

Forcing his way inside he filled the dark room with his vast body. Stooges poured in around him and searched the place.

“There’s nothing here!” One called from the back room. Bolath’s temple twitched and the men closest to him took a few quick paces backwards. In two strides he was in front of the speaker, grabbing him around the throat and forced him back against the wall.

“Nothing?” He snarled. “Is that what you said?” Before he could go on something fell from above, tapping him lightly on his naked head. A few bits of roof tile rolled down his back and plopped unceremoniously onto the floor. He looked up, still gripping his accomplice in a vice, his face turning a nasty shade of blue-purple; he caught the flash of a heel as it disappeared up into the rafters onto the roof. He dropped the man, now unconscious onto the floor and forced his way outside.

“Lilth!” He bellowed into the night as she leapt from her roof onto the neighbours, crumbling abode. His face become a beautiful shade of purple and blue mottled rage as she turned to blow him a kiss before disappearing off down the street; canvas bag draped over on shoulder.

“Get her back!” Bolath screamed at the men already scrambling after her. Pulling out their light dividers they shone the bright beams across the rooftops, catching a gleam of red hair and shinning brown boots.

Lilth could hardly breathe, the stitch in her side rendering her almost incapacitated. She pranced like a deer over the last few rooftops before she came clattering to the end of her tiled road. Without missing a beat she gripped onto the rusting old drainage pipe that was just clinging to life and swung herself around and down the side of the rickety structure. The pipe crunched and swung, the screws that held it in place flaking away from the old walls. Leaping the last two foot Lilth rolled into the dust, losing her bag in the process.

“There she is!” Someone shouted just behind her, the sound of running feet beginning to gain on her made her heart pound in her chest. Snatching up the bag she cursed as a few precious gems rolled out into the street. She gave them a longing look before pelting off down a side road, leaving little skids from the heels of her boots in the dust; oh how she hated anyone else touching her bounty.

Crashing into the next street she headed for the docks, there was a boat leaving for the Outreaches at sunrise, if she could just make it there before the sun started to peak over the horizon she’d be ok. Picking up the pace she ignored the screaming cramp in her calf muscles and carried on. She could smell the clean atmosphere of the air lock. This was it just a little further.

Something whizzed past her, grazing her arm. Yelping her bag slipped down around her elbow; a sudden pain in her upper arm and a warm, flowing sensation apparent to her. Reaching around she touched the hilt of a knife embedded in her flesh, puckering the once taught skin where it pulled and warped it out of shape. She didn’t have to pull it out, she knew if she took even a second longer they would catch her and she’d be dead meat.

She could see it, the great ship filling the dock like a great, flat dinner plate suspended in space. It was gently spinning, getting ready to depart, she was a fraction of a second too late. She was limping now, unable to keep her pace. Skidding to a halt at the end of the dock she cursed her bad luck, the goons were behind her, blocking her in, forcing her towards the edge. A face she recognised peeked out of the crows nest as it began to float down beneath her.

“Jaspen!” She called out, waving with her good arm. “Jaspen, wait!”

“Can’t now lassie! She’s afloat!” Lilth swore at the little old man staring up at her with confusion abound on his face. There was nothing for it, glancing back one last time she knew she had no other options left to her. Her wide eyes took in the sight of the great disk, rotating, floating down towards the hatch in the great glass dome they called home, its shining silver exterior cold and uninviting. It looked like her death. She took a deep breath, shook herself twice and jumped.

Bolath came to the edge of the causeway and looked down as the ship was swallowed up in the cloud that lingered at the bottom of the great glass bowl and howled with anger. He turned and strode away, rummaging in his pocket for his cigarettes and pocket communicator. Lighting a tar black stick of smoke, he kicked the smallest of his bunch of henchmen off the edge to alleviate his rage. Feeling somewhat calmer he raised the little black box to his face and pushed a series of buttons. An electrical crackle emitted itself from the speaker on the bottom of the box. Giving it a swift whack with his palm the static settled down.

“Sir. My most sincere apologies Sir.” Bolath began.

“Did I not make it clear to you how important it was that you recover that gem, Bolath? Perhaps I was not making myself clear?” A whispering, rasping voice echoed out across the musky dock. It sounded distant, far away and muffled.

“No Sir, I understand. It was, just that …”

“Oh Bolath. I am disappointed.” The voice hissed, a little louder now that it had been before. “I’m afraid that I can’t stand for such a thing. I might have to let you go.”

“Sir, please.” He coughed and pulled on his collar.

“I simply cannot afford anymore blunders at this stage, you understand I’m sure.” Bolath heaved, suddenly unable to take in any air. The blood vessels burst in his eyes, filling them with little strings of red. For the last time he flushed his trademark shade of purple before falling unceremoniously to the floor, to the great delight of his crew. As they shied away into the new morning the radio crackled to itself, keeping the cooling body company in the still of the dawn.

The Silverlight Dome – Chapter 1

Lilth spat a mouthful of blood onto the dingy, dirty floor; a little mushroom cloud of dust floating lazily up around her expelled bodily fluid. Her eyes drifted hazily about the room, a little dazed by the force of the fist that had connected with her jaw. She grinned up at the swaying black figures that surrounded her.

“You’re one stubborn bitch Lilth.” Her tormentor leaned over her, both grubby, bloody hands resting on the arms of the chair she was tied to. She tugged again on the ropes that pulled her wrists tightly together behind her back. “Just tell us where the gem is and we’ll let you go. It’s that simple.”

“Like hell, dickhead. I sweated way too hard for that thing, and I broke at least two nails in the process.” She craned her head to wipe the blood from her chin on her shoulder. “I’m not telling you shit.”

Her captor sighed; his breath reeked of bad scotch and bad decisions. Leaning back a little he cracked his violence weary knuckles. The guys behind him chuckled a little to themselves in the shadows, excited by the promise of another beating.

“Wait, wait.” She sighed, leaning back a little further in her chair, shifting her weight off her dead left leg. The man before her grinned, yellowing teeth protruding from a dark, tanned face that was hard lined and scarred. “I’ll tell you something, but you have to come a little closer. I don’t want everyone knowing what I do with my stash.”

He leaned in a little further, too eager for the information he’d been paid to collect. The promise of a large hoard of treasures an eagerly awaited bonus. The smile that crept across her face matched his own, corrupt grin.

“You should really learn to tie a better knot.” She whipped both hands forward, balled into powerful tiny fists that she slammed into both his ears making his head ring with the force. Her stumbled backwards with a roar, clutching his large, meaty head with both swollen hands. Swinging her body up and away from the chair she perfectly distributed her weight through her hands. In one swift motion she delivered an unrelated kick to her interrigator’s solar plexus, bringing him to his knees.

Three others leapt forward from the shadows, their reactions slowed by her unexpected attack. The distance between them disadvantaged her opponents and she used those few seconds to her advantage; grabbing two implements from the torturer’s table. A scalpel and long metal rod gleamed in her hot hands.

A brief moment of hesitation passed over her; her choice of weapons didn’t exactly fill her with confidence, but taking a deep breath she arched her arms into a wide throw. Connecting hard with one beefy bicep the scalpel found its mark, eliciting a high pitched howl of pain from the man attached to it.

Bringing the other arm around from the left she took a two handed grip on the metal rod and swung it around her head as the second man reached her. The metal hit his skull with a dull, but satisfying crunch. A horror filled his eyes as blood started to pave its slow trail down his forehead and into his eyes; he crumpled to the floor as Lilth leapt over him. Ducking under the flailing tree trunk arms of the man she struck with the scalpel she bolted towards the door to her small cell in a bid for freedom.

Shoving her shoulder hard against the tough wooden door she threw it open. For a second the bright light of the sun blinded her and she staggered out into the world dazed as a newborn. Rubbing her face she kept moving, feeling her way until her eyesight came back to her. She ran.

Throwing a look over her shoulder she took in a fleeting glance at the one roomed shack she’d just escaped from. The field it sat in full of bright blue grass that waved in the fake summer breeze. She wasn’t that far from home. She’d never seen her captor before but it was a safe be to place that someone from the slums had called him in. She’d have to be more careful about bringing her loot home in future.

Skidding out onto the road at the edge of the field she looked left and right wildly. She knew exactly where she was, she could run left, straight home, grab the loot and hop on the next ship across the Skylands. Or she could go right, they wouldn’t be expecting that, into the wilds to hide out for a couple of days until the hubbub died down and she could sneak back into to town to claim what was hers. What if they got there first? What if they knew where she lived and they ransacked the place whilst she was still hiding out of town like a nervous cat? Fuck that, no one stole from Lilth.

She raced down the road, feet thumping, bright red blazen hair flying out behind her in a long plait that reached to her waist. Her heeled boots clicked and clacked on the rough tarmac and the waistcoat she’d left undone flapped about, skittishly in the wind.

It wasn’t long before she reached the outskirts of the shanty town. Broken down, beaten up houses leaned jaggedly from side to side, crashing into each other like drunk men. Holes in the old cement walls leaked bricks and dust like fat silent tears into the street below. The whole place stank of despair and poverty. Lilth hated it.

“Hey Lilth!” She groaned as a group of local street kids popped out from under a pile of bricks they’d been playing in at the edge of the street.

“Hey.” She muttered as she wandered past, trying to make herself look casual. Her green eyes darted around, looking for any hint of a jump, giving away her nervous demeanor.

“What happened to your face?” One of the grubby little girls asked, eyes wide.

“Did you get in a fight?” One of the boys piped up, excitement flashing in his tiny eyes.

“I bet she did! I bet there were at least ten of them, all huge and disgusting!”

“Yeah! With big muscles and bulging eyes!” The chattering group began to swell in volume. Two of the oldest boys began a convincing reenactment of the fight, rolling around on the floor taking pot shots at each other.

Lilth groaned a little to herself. She loved all the local kids despite that annoying, gnawing anger that they always brought out in her. They always appeared at exactly the wrong moment.

“Look guys, I’m kind of busy right now. Why don’t you come back later and I’ll tell you all about it?” The group groaned aloud, little faces of disappointment swam around her knees like irritating puppies. She felt her eye twitch a little. “If I give you a couple of gold rottles will you go find yourselves some cake or something?” She hated parting with money but needs must, and they looked like they could do with a big cream bun each.

The group burst into bunch of clamouring hands and squeals of delight. She couldn’t contain the smile that crept, unchecked across her bloodied face as she quickly dolled out one gold coin to each eager hand and watched them scamper off down the road towards the bake house, pushing and shoving each other in their excitement.

The street grew quiet. The night watch bell rang out from the city centre, loud, ominous and deep. She braced herself for the artificial, shivering wind that she knew was coming. Looking up she took in the sky and watched as the pixels of colour that once made up the false blue and white fluffy clouds fade. A shimmering ripple of black moulded itself across the great glass dome that they lived under and fizzled out all the light the fake sun gave.

A few seconds passed before the street lights, flickered lazily into action . The half light they made casting long fingers of shadow across the street. She kept to the walls, hiding in the sudden darkness and felt her way, one, two, three, four doors down. Feeling for the round door handle she wriggled it, twice to the right and once to the left and gave two good pushes on the left hand corner before it gave way.

Time was running out, they’d be after her by now, using the cover of night to their advantage. She needed to pack up and go as soon as possible, she cast one last nervous look out into the night and slid the door to her house shut behind her.

The Circus of the Golden Circle

“Ladies and Gentleman!” The echoing, dulcet tones of a man billowed across the damp cobbles stones of an obscure London side street. Gas lamps flickered in the slight drizzle that ran down their glass defence like fat tears; casting an eerie orange glow across the wet surface of the world.

The man’s long Stockman coat flapped about the mind like the wings of a giant bat, his white face the only thing that shone in the darkness; his wide grin framed by long black hair and a towering top hat.

“Ladies and Gentleman, your attention!” the few people who were out at this late hour slid past him like a group of eels trying to avoid the hungry gaze of a predator. Not to be dissuaded from his mission he slinked forward, his suit and tie wet from his hours in the rain and approached a gentleman who had been minding his own business, smoking a cigarette against the window of a shop.

“Good sir. You have the mark of a Gentleman who enjoys the thrill of the fantastical.” The man took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out a long, thoughtful puff of black smoke. He didn’t say a word.

“Illuminate your mind Sir with tales of old evils from dark times long forgotten. I can promise you an evening that is unparalleled with delights and thrills the like of which you have never seen before! Magic and mystery await.” The street seller poured over his hands, moving them in ways that looked mystical and foreign to his uninterested one man audience.

The door behind them pinged open, the bell above the wooden frame announcing the exit of a petite lady. Her brown hair was pulled tight and covered with a light blue bonnet, lace decorating the delicate edges and exaggerating her large green eyes. She hitched her black, full length skirt up as she stepped delicately over the threshold, showing over her brown patent shoes for the world to see. The man offered her his jacketed arm and the street seller sensed that he was loosing his grip on the situation.

“Lady! A beauty such as you must be interested in adventures? A woman of such rapture, and yet I sense, one of great intellect as well.” He moved swiftly, almost too swiftly and stood before the couple.

“What’s this?” She asked, tugging on her leather gloves as she spoke and offering the curious man before her a baffled smile.

“Nothing Lilly, just a street vagabond attempting to lure us in with pretty words. We’d best be back before the weather turns for the worst.” Her surly partner interjected. He rapped his cane on the cobbles in impatience, feeling the rim of his bowler hat beginning to wet his slicked back hair.

“No Madame! I simply aim to entertain and delight. Our little travelling company of theatre hands is in London for one night only. We promise to dazzle, entertain and enthral in ways you have never experienced.” He kissed her hand with a flourish.

“Oh Jeremy, lets!” She exclaimed, clasping her companion’s arm. “It sounds like such a lark. Oh please lets!”

Jeremy’s eyes moved from his eager young wife to the sly street seller, he didn’t like the way his eyes twinkled with the promise of mischief but he never had been able to deny his girl anything she’d asked for.

“How much?” He sighed, putting his hand in the inner pocket of his dinner jacket.

“For you Sir, not a penny’s charge. I insist.” The seller grinned a sickly smile and ushered them a couple of steps down the road and into a creaking wooden door that sat a little crooked on its ancient hinges.

“Well would you look at that? Isn’t it marvellous Jeremy?” Lilly gasped, full of delight and wonder as they shuffled into their seats. The room was rounded, like a giant lecture hall filled with uncomfortable wooden benches that stacked up and up the great tall walls. Dim light from candles and the odd gas light flickered in the darkness making the round clearing in the centre of the room just visible. It was unexpectedly busy.

“I can’t see a damn thing in here.” Jeremy muttered, straining into the gloom to pick out the odd face in the crowd.

“Hush dear!” His wife, tapped him on the arm, embarrassed by his harsh language. “It’s probably for dramatic effect.” Jeremy huffed in disgruntled annoyance.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of London Town. I bid you welcome, to the greatest show you shall ever have the pleasure to witness!” It was the street seller again, standing on an old wooden crate in the centre of the room. His tall, black top hat stood imposingly on top of his head as he swirled a great black cape about his skinny, pale frame. No one had seen him come onto the stage; it was like he’d just dropped out of the sky. “A world of mystery, wonder and a little fear awaits you. Come, join us, follow us on our journey. Welcome, to the Circus of the Golden Circle!”

A mass of bodies spread out onto the stage, glittering costumes of all manner swirled around in the half light, winking at the audience. From somewhere towards the back of the room the whining, pitiful sound of a violin being badly played echoed across the vast space. Lily shuddered a little at the sound.

The characters on stage swirled around, contortionists crammed themselves into tiny jars, their crooked limbs bowing and bending like broken branches behind the glass. The fire eater, swallowed mouthful after mouthful of scorching flames, barely blinking an eye as he set his enormous beard on fire; his endless smile forever grinning out at the audience. One tall, willowy woman, towered over the crowd on giant stilts, balancing on one precarious leg.

There didn’t seem to be much plot, nothing amazing or exciting. The frozen grins on each and every pale, white face serving as the only chilling element to the whole charade. Something was not quite right.

Jeremy scanned the scene, and thanked God that he hadn’t paid for this tirade of drivel until something caught his eye. The chandelier winked at him from the ceiling, catching the light as it gently swung to and fro from its chain. Its gilt design was battered and worn, half the diamonds missing and not a single candle alight in any of its holders. He peered and leaned forward. There was something, some shape sitting atop the fixture. A figure, someone up there, holding onto the chain and watching the crowd below, shrouded in darkness where no one could see them.

He sat up, suddenly a little alarmed. He went to tap his wife and thought better of it, no good in worrying her just yet; it may be part of the show. Glancing around into the crowd he watched as dark, hooded figures streaked behind the back rows, weaving past each other as silently as the wind across a field. They were everywhere, they were surrounded.

Turning slightly he made to grab his wife’s hand; he didn’t like where this was going, the sooner they could leave the better. As he turned  his feet squelched with the movement. He balked and looked down, turning his once shiny shoes into the light. Something was splattered across the dark surface, reaching down he swiped one finger across the shoe and brought it close to his face. He leapt back in surprise at the blood that dripped from his finger tip and pooled under his nail.

“What is it darling?” His wife’s worried face floated into vision, he could see some of the other audience members starting to crane round to look at him too. They all had that same, sickening grin.

“We need to leave.” He hissed. “Now.”

“The show hasn’t finished yet.” She pouted, oblivious to the many faces now trained on them. Their deathly white skin reflecting light like death himself had visited them.

“Trust me.” He dragged her to her feet roughly, suddenly painfully aware that the music had stopped. Putting a hand protectively around Lilly’s waist he pulled her to him and glared around at the sea of faces. Every single one in the room was turned to face them, staring, sizing them up like wild dogs about to leap in for the kill.

“Jeremy?” Lilly’s voice was shaky; suddenly frightened as she began to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Something hit him on the head, only lightly but enough to get his attention. He looked down as a droplet of glass from the chandelier fell onto the floor with a tiny thump as loud as the explosion of a gun in the silence. With a racing heart and a stomach full of dread he looked up, slowly. The chandelier had stopped swinging, the man upon it leaned into the light displaying his taught, ancient face. Unhuman and ungodly, wild with delight and anticipation. He craned forward and tilted his head to one side, his long, black hair falling over his face a little and exposing sharp, pointed ears. He barred his teeth and in that moment both Lilly and Jeremy realised, the chase was up.

War Machine

It appears that we’ve sprung a leak. The water sloshing around my feet is cold, seeping through the worn and splitting soles of my commission boots.  I wriggle my toes, trying to stimulate a little sensation back into them as I whip the hefty flashlight in my hand across the hole that now gapes in the belly of our beast.

The water floods in. In the half light it almost looks like the jagged mouth of a great demon, pouring destruction and black, foul smelling fluid across the floor. It’s mesmerising and unsettling; my stomach churns a little at the rushing, roaring noise as it swells throughout the bowels of the ship.

“Sir!” One of the privates is floundering his way towards me, staggering against the list that I had barely noticed take hold. He grabs hold of one of the nearby crates and heaves a little with the excretion of moving against the swirling current. I forget his name.

“The Captain’s requesting a report Sir.” He’s shouting over the roaring rush of the water. I know there isn’t a way back from the brink we’re now teetering on. I glance around me at the explosives and ammunition in the many boxes surrounding me. Just one spark from the buckling hull and we’d be nothing more than food for the creatures that haunt the bottom of the ocean.

“Sir?!” My brain stutters back into life and I reach out and grab the young man’s arm pulling myself away from the gaping wound.

“Tell them we must evacuate, immediately. She’s lost, I want everyone off as soon as it can be done.”

He plunges back through the water, his pace quickened; fear biting at the back of his heels. I drag myself back through the yawning expanse of hull after him. It takes nearly all of my upper body strength to heave myself and my saturated clothing up the stairs and out of the swirling, misty waters below.

Thumping up the stairs, two steps at a time I emerge onto the deck. The cold night air is chilling my already frozen face to the point of pain; above my head the stars twinkle and laugh at our misfortune.

I can see the ship that hit us, out to the North East, circling back around, guns at the ready preparing for a second attack. Bodies are flying past me at an extraordinary rate, eager hands grabbing at life jackets and spare bullets, a few manning the guns readying us for the last battle. It’s the easy way out really, we’re all going to die in these waters.

The ship is listing dangerously to the right, the water we’re taking on weighing her down with a super human hand, pushing us under. The boys are starting to panic, the water is chomping at the right hand side; over three quarters of the ship already under water. We all know what’s going to happen.

I make a bolt for my cabin, pulling myself along the ship with all the strength I have, my feet sliding away from underneath me, trying to pull me overboard. I reach the open door and fling it wide, heaving myself over the threshold and into the room. Stumbling over to the great desk at the far side I throw myself into the chair, fixed into the floor thank God.

I reach for the second shelf down and give it a tug and a little pull upwards. used to the way it gets stuck in the thick, expanding wood. Throwing a few papers onto the floor I put my little finger into the tiny hole on the right hand side of the bottom of the draw and pull up the secret compartment. Lifting out the Webley  No.I Mk.I issue pistol I pause for a moment to feel the weight of it in my hand. It’s loaded, I always keep it loaded, you can’t be too careful on these ships, months cooped up with nothing to do and no new faces can turn a man real quick.

I pull back the pin. I can still hear someone screaming orders, the rumble of engines in the background; I don’t know if they’re ours or theirs. Everything outside this little room is dizzy and sick with chaos and fear. This sanctuary, this blessed place. It could be my last.

Lifting the gun with heavy shaking hands I place the barrel to my temples. The feel of cold metal against my skin is more shocking than I imagined  and I suddenly feel the weight of what I am about to do. The fear grapples at my throat like a giant clawing hand until my breath is coming in short, sharp gasps. I suddenly realise that I’m sobbing now.

Throwing the gun down I grasp at the edges of the table. Tears still wet on my face; using one roughly sleeved arm I wipe them away. Got to be a man, got to stand up, got to make this right. On unsteady legs I stand and move my way across the listing, groaning ship; its death wail reaching fever pitch, mingling with the yells of my crew mates. Grasping the door handles with sweaty, uncertain hands I wrench them open and step forward into the hellish hysteria of war.

The Littlest Vampire and The Kellyfish

The Littlest Vampire had gone for a swim in the sea. In the darkness that surrounded him the reflection of the moon on the soft, rippling waves shone like rays through the murky water. A slight breeze ruffled his hair and grabbed playfully at the edges of the cape he was still wearing.

He swayed in time with the gentle hum of the sea lapping up against the sands and kicked his feet back and forth, curling his toes in the wooshing waves.

Until, suddenly, something brushed past his leg. Something wet and slippery and soft. His eyes widened with surprise and he bent his head to look down into the dark, deep waters.

For a long time nothing stirred, the top of the water undisturbed until something caught his keen little vampire eyes. A little blur of white, and a pair of big round eyes blinked up at him with sparling curiosity.

The little vampire, stared in amazement.

“Hullo.” He mumbled. The creature smiled and bobbed further up out the water.

The Littlest Vampire’s eyes grew round as saucers; she was the most beautiful jellyfish he had ever seen. Stripes of bright purple streaked the top of her perfectly white head, her green eyes shone as bright as the deep seaweed. Her little tentacles, swirled delicately in the currents, glowing with a slight hint of blue.

“I’m The Littlest Vampire.” He said pointing to his chest with one white finger. The jellyfish seemed to smile and jumped a little in excitement.

“My name is Kellyfish!” She said, delightedly, bobbing up and down and twirling in the water.

The little vampire giggled as flecks of water splashed up into his face. “Will you be my friend, Kellyfish?” he asked, desperate to have a little friend to play with.

“Kellyfish loves vampires!” She exclaimed, doing a little back flip for good measure.

The Little Vampire grinned as wide as he could, showing off his little pointy teeth. For what seemed like hours they raced each through the waves, practiced their best underwater handstands and competed to see who could hold their breath the longest; being dead of course the little vampire always won.

After some time the Kellyfish seemed keen to be getting on her way; the freedom of the ocean enticing. The little vampire wanted to come too, he’d been having such fun he couldn’t stand for it to end. It wasn’t even nearing dawn yet and she didn’t seem to mind as he swam behind her, Further and further out into the sea they went until the shore just seemed to be a white spec on the horizon.

The Littlest Vampire dipped his head under the waves, taking in the sight of the fish and the coral waving about in the current. He bobbed along in time to their gentle sway. He followed the Kellyfish down and down and down and down into the blackness until the only thing he could see was her bright blue glow lighting the way. Until suddenly, a light shone out into the gloom.

As he swam closer and closer the shape of a giant castle appeared before him, all the windows were lit with a soft, golden light and gentle singing could be heard echoing across the chasm. Colourful fish swam around the structure and in and out of its little windows and doors. The Littlest Vampire gazed up at it in awe.

The castle was grand, but nothing compared to the mermaids that lived inside. Theirlong tails sparkled and shone in greens, blues, reds, pinks and yellows. His eyes, round as saucers could barely keep up with all the swirling colour as they all swam up to say hello.

They took his hands and swam with him through the great, green tangle of seaweed at the bottom of the ocean. The light from the moon poured in in great streaming strips that glowed through the foggy abyss. In front of him the Kellyfish wiggled and waved in the current, leading the way with her little blue glow.

They sang songs together and the mermaids showed him all the sights of the ocean. They taught him how to weave shells into their hair and how to tickle a bream until he sung.

As the moon began to wane in the sky the mermaids and the Kellyfish took the Little Vampire back to the beach. He hugged the little jellyfish tight and promised he’d return soon for more underwater adventures.

They waved goodbye to each other happy and contented. He watched as her little blue glow bobbed in the distance before disappearing quietly under the waves.

An Unusual Lady

Lilth’s feet pounded the soggy ground as sparkling green grass slipping around underneath her, making her tumble with every other step. Her breathing came fast and labored; her right leg was starting to scream with the cramping muscles. It seemed as though she’d been running forever.

Somewhere behind her a tree crashed to the ground, groaning its death rattle on the way down. Twigs and rocks alike snapped in the way of the great thundering footsteps that traipsed after her through the dense forest.

Her skinny framed dived over one huge tree trunk, her heeled boots making little grooves in the bark; she cursed her choice of inappropriate footwear. Scuttling under another low hanging branch her waist length, blood red hair caught itself around one of its many fingers. She tugged, pulling on it until her head hurt. The footsteps got closer; she watched as the birds flew in a crazed panic, squawking as the trees around them swayed and bent into unnatural shapes.

With one last wrench she pulled herself free and stumbled into a clearing. Everything shone with life, bright pink and purple blossoms carpeted the floor and huge, expanding trees enveloped the sky above her in brilliant blue leaves. The sun just peaked through the odd gap in the branches, punctuating the half light with streams of glowing strips.

She whirled on her heel, the thundering footsteps made her whole body leap into the air as each giant foot smashed into the poor, forgiving ground. She had no where else to run, it had inevitably caught up with her.

“Fuck.” She muttered under her breath. Throwing off the heavy satchel, she hitched up her under bust corset and popped the buttons on the sleeves of her long white shirt. As she crouched to the floor she screwed her left knee into the ground, feeling the water from the earth creeping up the fabric of her maroon colored, tatty jeans.

She fumbled with her gun, ripping it from the holster and stabbing at the safety switch on the left hand side as the creature came thundering into the clearing. The Bluntersnitch snarled, its dog like face set in a look of pure anger and rage. A couple of sharp twigs stuck out of its bleeding hind quarters; a tree held in its mouth like a stick. Seven feet tall and full to the brim with unrelenting, animalistic hatred.

Lilth aimed for the middle of its three eyes, trying to ignore the spittle dribbling down its dirty white fur. She felt the pistol power up in her hands, the vibrating, whirring sensation familiar and comforting in her palm. She let a shot fly, bolting forwards just as the Bluntersnitch charged forward throwing her aim off balance and catching him just at the tip if his left ear.

The monster screamed and picked up the pace. Reaching her in under three seconds it made a fell swoop at her with its mouth, all yellow teeth and bad breath. She jumped, forcing one small foot into the jaw of its mouth and the other found itself on the animals nose. Before she knew it she was swinging through the air, clinging to a clump of fur to land on the Bluntersnitch’s back.

It roared and bucked, tossing her left and right. The gun flew from her gloved hands as she grappled with the creature. With one smooth motion she brought a devastating punch down onto the back of its head, stunning it just long enough for her to leap up and grab one of the low hanging branches that swayed above her. Using all her upper body strength she pulled herself out of reach, just as the creature turned and snapped its jaws at her dangling legs.

She was fumbling with the knife that she kept down the back of her left boot when a piercing whistle rang out across the forest. Both Lilth and the Bluntersnitch turned to stare in bewilderment at the man who stood in the center of the clearing, looking cocky and self important. Lilth rolled her eyes.

“Nice Bluntersnitch you’ve got there!” He shouted across the yawning expanse of space.

“Yep, it’s under control. One hundred percent. I don’t need any help, thank you very much, have a nice day.” She called back staggering with uncertainty across the outstretched branch.

“Oh yeah, looks like it.” The man mumbled to himself. He kicked Lilth’s gun about in the grass and caught it under his toe, flipping it up into the air with the panache of a man who’d long been practicing the move in front of the bedroom mirror. The Bluntersnitch’s eyes flickered from one human to the next, unsure of where it should strike first.

He took a pot shot, aiming it squarely at the giant dog’s behind and hitting his target. He guffawed as blood and a little flesh spurted out from the new wound enticing a pained howl from its owner. It twirled on its feet, churning up mud and grass as it went and lolloped towards him, a bit slower now then it was before.

Lilth let out an a exasperated sigh and watched as the man dodged his quarry, thick brown hair floating dreamily about in the breeze. He had all the trappings of a man with station, nice fancy clothes, a shiny looking blade at his waist and a cape. Who even had a cape these days?

“Aren’t, you going to ask my name?” The man panted as he artfully jumped over a swiping paw and dived underneath the animal’s belly.

“Nope!” She called out, summersaulting backwards off the branch to land in the grass next to him. “Not interested.” Racing forwards, she landed a swift kick to the Achilles heel and skidded to the side as the monster came crashing down next to her.

“It’s Ezrel.” He paused a moment to let her digest this new information. “You are?”

“I’m busy!” Lilth screamed as she ran up the side of the Bluntersnitch’s squishy exposed stomach and wobbled a little as it huffed and panted in pain underneath her feet. She lost her footing and fell, sliding down the belly of the beast until she landed on its throat. Before the animal even had time to think she whipped out her huge hunting knife and buried it into the creature, feeling it breath its last under her feet.

She hopped down from the still warm body, ignoring Ezrel’s outstretched hand and strode over to her satchel.

“You’re quite an unusual lady aren’t you?” Her unwanted companion asked, craning over her shoulder to see what she was rooting around for in her bag. “How did you get tangled up with our furry friend over there?”

“I stole something from him, not that it’s any of your business. Now if you will excuse me I have things to steal, places to get drunk in and bad life decisions to make.”

“Can’t I at least get you something to drink. You must be thirsty after all that … killing.” Lilth hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and gave him one withering look, eyebrow raised.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Right?” Ezrel grinned at her expectantly.

“Out of my way short stack! I really don’t want to have to break your face.”

“Has anyone ever told you, you have a real anger problem. I could help you work on that you know. I’m a …” He never got to finish his sentence.

Lilth’s fist connected hard and fast with his chin, sending him flying backwards into a bramble bush. She shook off her fist and tugged her hair out from underneath the leather bag strap it had caught under.

These men, where do they even come from. Did she look like a damsel in distress? She looked herself over, the smears of blood and mud didn’t scream save me to her. Shrugging she retrieved her gun from where Ezrel had flung it onto the ground with the force of her punch and slapped his upturned, unconscious ass on the way past.

“See you around, scumbag.”

Incoming Message

I started getting the texts last month. At first I just got the odd one here and there, maybe once a week or something like that. The flickering of the blue light of my phone forced its way into my life like some great, terrible beacon that I couldn’t ignore.

It’s cold in here.

I was pretty sure someone had the wrong number. I tossed my phone to one side and forgot about it.

A few days later my phone bleeped again.

When did it get so dark?

Where am I? 

I decided to text back, maybe it was a stupid idea but it seemed like the most logical thing to do at the time.

Who is this? 

I waited exaclty one minute before the screen lit up with an eager, sickly glow.

Did you forget about me?

My stomach flipped over.

Who is this? How are you using this number? 

I got no reply to that. I sat up nearly half the night next to the phone waiting for something; nothing happened.

It must have been about a week before I got the next one. I must say I was starting to miss the interaction, the flutter of exciement and fear in the pit of my stomach has grown into a stimulus I craved.

I miss you.

I felt the keen prick of tears at the back of my eyes, sharp, vivious little needles digging into my retina.

I miss you too. 

I’ll be home soon. 

I sucked in my breath, tears propelling themselves down my face now.

When?

Soon, Jack. 

How would they know my name? How would they know if it wasn’t her? Maybe It could be true. I waited. I sat, crossed legged on my bed until I lost all feeling in my feet, pins and needles giving way to a fat, nothing sensation.

I was excited, the messages had given me new hope. I wanted to believe it. It had been a comfort to me, receiving all these messages. It was just a shame that Grandma had been burried with her mobile phone.