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May 27, 2013


IN with 'Ghost crabs have been moved from the crypt to the swamp'


May 27, 2013


To The Curious – 1197 words. Prompt: Ghost crabs have been moved from the crypt to the swamp

Fifteen years on, and Clifford had transformed into a caricature of the teenager George remembered. As have we all, George thought, with ears, noses and – on all but his host – guts that protruded farther by the day. But Clifford was the first of George’s school friends to have grown smaller since uni. His shins protruded nakedly from his brown parka like cocktail sticks in a misshapen sausage, while his eyes and lips had popped forward as if to make up the space vacated by his shrunken-in cheeks. He brewed coffee in a saucepan, rain beating on the window behind him.

George meanwhile, struggling to resist total envelopment by Clifford’s only armchair, found his thoughts returning to just why he had ventured to this inhospitable corner of the United Kingdom to begin with. Curiosity, for sure, of the morbid sort – to find out why his high school’s biggest stoner had invited him to his hut on the saltmarshes of South Uist after ten years of no contact. But was there more than that?

When he had finished with the stove, Clifford brought the two mugs over on a plastic tray he used to bulldoze a thick covering of books with titles like Stonehenge’s Secret and 21st Century Dowsing from a low table.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” he said, pulling up a chair.

“Of course, mate,” said George. “It’s been far too long.” Had it? They’d been friends, sure, but their primary connection had been the weed that George, the budding entrepreneur, ordered online to sell on to Clifford and a couple others. Clifford would later introduce him to harder psychedelics by way of recompense, but this was a fleeting acquaintance, one George packed in long before the mortgage, the marriage, and the position in his father’s property firm.

“You know why I invited you, George? Over all the others?”

George did not.

“It’s in how you think – you’re a questioner. You don’t just take for granted what you’re told, you know?”

George felt perhaps more flattered than he ought to, as he suspected Clifford based that assumption entirely on the fact he had once tried LSD. “You want to know what’s really going on, am I right?” Clifford continued.

“I guess that’s me,” said George.

“Well,” said Clifford, leaning back, “just you see what I’ve got for you. You know why the rent here’s so cheap? Everyone who’s had the place left within a month, something about disturbances in the night. Of course, that doesn’t put me off like it does most people…”He trailed off, leaving the room to drift into deep silence. “Listen!” he whispered, “the rain’s stopped! Get your coat.”

Abandoning their beverages, Clifford led George out behind the hut, marking their way with a flashlight as they walked the dirt margin between the rocky beach and the marshes further inland. The night was still and quiet – George couldn’t hear the waves against the shore, though he knew the shore must be just beyond Clifford’s torch beam.

“Now if you read Sullivan,” Clifford started up he walked, “you’ll realise that this part of this island is on a very interesting configuration of ley lines. Very interesting. The Britons knew it, as did the Gaels, as did the Vikings, which makes for some very unique archaeology, if that’s your thing. What I’m more interested in for now, though…” Clifford stopped moving, dropped his voice to a whisper, and indicated a movement in the reeds: “…is the wildlife!”

A shape began to emerge from the shrubbery in the light up by Clifford’s torch. It was a crab, a big one, that shone silver in the dark. As if unaware of their presence it made for the two men, and as it passed Clifford’s legs his dark boots were visible through its translucent carapace. Clifford followed its path with his torch as it continued its lumbering journey until it entered the still sea, leaving no impression on the resinous surface.

George finally exhaled. “Was that crab a ghost?” he asked in disbelief. Looking at his guide, George felt as he had when they’d taken acid: that while he was a traveller in a foreign land, Clifford seemed more at home in this strange place than anywhere else.

But even surrounded by madness, Clifford found ways to up the ante: “They are the spectral messengers of the Great Nyan-hotep that emerge at night from his prehistoric monument.
Look, there’s more!”

And there were. Soon there were five such creatures crawling across the beach, then fifteen, all moving to the same goal – the sea – and from the same origin, a silver river in the light of the full moon.

“Let’s see where they’re coming from, shall we?” said Clifford, and led George along a dry path inland over the marsh. After twenty minutes they came to a faint light, soon revealed to be a table of immense stones, loosely assembled, that glowed a moonlike silver. In near side of the structure, a gap between two square boulders made a door from which emerged a steady flow of the crab-like beings, to spread in each direction over the moor.

“Enter that portal, George” said Clifford, “as I did on the last full moon!”

George took on step forward. A whispering in his mind called out, “George! George!”

“Enter that portal and the veil shall be pulled back from reality, and to you the true nature of man’s lot shall be revealed!”

George faltered. He did see himself as a curious person, but did his curiosity go that far? He’d pick up a New Scientist on the way home from work, sure, but he wasn’t about to get a PhD in physics. Similarly, while it was fascinating that legions of ghost crabs emerged from an ancient Celtic burial mound every night, perhaps he wasn’t he shouldn’t poke about and find out why. Particularly if they were, as Clifford seemed to think, the harbingers of some kind of cosmic deity.

“Clifford, look,” said George decisively, “I have no idea what’s going on and honestly I don’t want to. Can we go back inside?”

“Oh,” said Clifford, deflated. “Well, I’m not gonna force you. I just thought you might be interested. It really is rather good, the show in there. You learn everything from the five caliphs of Pzum’Thuhm to the Sleepless Giant of Gi’anthock, who is to our entire race what we are to a flea. You sure you’re not interested? There’s free tea and coffee at the interval.”

Even the whispering in his head sounded disappointed: “George?” it said, “George?”

George thought of what he’d be doing at home: having a decaf coffee, finishing off a spreadsheet, waiting for Hannah to come home from her late shift. That was what he had come here to escape, but now George realised he needn’t have. For most people, George thought, there comes a point in life where you have to stop asking the big questions and focus on the little things. His family, his career, and his mental stability depended on it.

“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “Show me round the island tomorrow, when it’s light. There’s some things I’d rather not know.”

May 27, 2013


In with some Bowie, please!

May 27, 2013


Weekend of Lights - 1253 words

Song: D.J. – David Bowie

Craig stood by the marquee entrance and looked at his phone. The cool air out here was a welcome respite from the heat within, which reminded him of the steam-room at the gym. It was quieter too, though the waxed canvas walls didn’t do much to block the music, the deepest tones of which reverberated through the turf at Craig’s feet.

His phone had three bars of signal and just three percent of its battery. Stella had not phoned, texted, or WhatsApped him all night. Checking Facebook Messenger just in case, he found his last message still floating like a lonely blue cloud on the sparse white screen. He had sent it a 7:46 PM, while Toby had been navigating the Banter-Mobile through the muddy field that served as the festival car park. He read it one more time: “Just arrived  u up to much tonight??” Stella had seen it at 7:57 PM. It was now 12:04 the next morning and she had not replied.

Craig decided he did not feel like smoking, but he did not feel much like dancing either. Most of all he felt like lying in bed and watching poo poo TV with his girlfriend. No, ex-girlfriend now. How long until he stopped having to correct himself? Still, Stella had said they’d stay friends, which he supposed meant they would watch TV from the couch instead of from his bed, like how friends do. He had never had a girl friend that wasn’t a girlfriend before, and he wondered what it would entail.

When a boy of about twelve started regurgitating kebab onto the tree beside him, Craig sighed and decided it was time to re-join the group. When he had left them to get fresh air they had been just by the stage, Toby swigging vodka from his hip-flask, Josh spilling Carlsberg on the girl he was necking, Ken none-too-subtly slipping keyloads of ketamine from his jacket pocket to his nose, the three of them totally lost in the night. Craig had felt isolated by his sobriety, though not for lack of trying – those pills must have been duds, for a start.

Inside, the music blasted loud enough to thicken the air and shake the floor, its surging electric bass permeating Craig’s body. The crowd was its own creature, writhing like a wild beast, churning like a stormy sea. On a better day he’d have been right with them, revelling in the anarchy, but tonight Craig felt entirely isolated from the people around him, like an alien observer of a bizarre human ritual. At the front of the tent, the DJ looked out proudly as if surveying his domain.

Craig spent £4.50 on a lager to have it knocked out of his hand as he tried to push through the crowd. A girl caught in the splash span round screaming “What the gently caress?” but Craig kept moving forward, letting himself be consumed by a wall of backs and shoulders. His friends were not where they had been. Right by the stage, he held the metal fence for support against the heaving mass around him and stood on his toes to get a better view over the crowd. No sign.

His phone was at 1% battery. He wondered if he could call Stella, just to chat. It wasn’t the sex he’d miss most. Before Stella, whenever things got rough, he’d text the lads and they’d meet at the pub and chat football. When his parents were getting divorced, they met every night talk about everything but. After he met Stella, he could call her and talk – really talk. He could cry on her shoulder and not feel like a pussy.

He looked over the crowd once more. What was the point? he thought. Even if the guys were here he was unlikely to find them, and while he’d feel a bit hurt if they had left for another stage without saying, they were each too smashed for him to take it too personally. He might as well try back at the campsite, then if he still wasn’t feeling anything he could try for an early night.

Upon leaving the marquee, however, Craig quickly discovered he couldn’t remember the way back. The grounds seemed so much vaster by night than they had in daylight, an arboreal cityscape that stretched in every direction, thronging with packs of woodland revellers: swaggering posses of lads in snapbacks, troops of girls frogmarching with pale legs on show, wandering bands of folk old enough to be Craig’s parents, drinking wine and screeching in the moonlight. Following a general flow of people he found another stage, this one more open to the elements, but couldn’t make out who was performing. Fatboy Slim was meant to be, somewhere, or had been, or was going to be – or was that tomorrow?

As he moved towards the stage, a dark shape detached from the crowd and staggered towards him.

“Craig!” Josh shouted, clapping Craig heavily on the shoulder as if to support himself. “There you are! Where the gently caress is everyone?”

“No idea,” Craig said. “What happened to the girl you were with?”

“What girl?” Josh said. His eyes were glazed and he moved as if the ground kept shifting beneath him.

“Actually, never mind. I was just gonna head back to the tents, are you coming?”

After a bit of persuading Josh conceded to tag along, and despite his state turned out to know the way back to the campsite. Once they reached the campsite, however, Craig looked out over the dark sea of identical tents and realised he had no idea which one was theirs. “Do you remember where we pitched the tent?” he asked Josh. “They all look the loving same.”

“Yeah, it’s this one,” said Josh, confidently marching over to a green dome – one of many.

He had pulled up the zip about halfway when a voice called from inside: “Who is it?”

Josh and Craig looked at each other.

“Toby, is that you?” Craig called out.

“Who the gently caress’s Toby?” said the voice.

“I don’t think that’s our tent,” said Josh.

They kept looking.

“Is it just me or is it getting light?” asked Craig after a while.

“It’s not just you.” Josh stopped walking. “Dude, this is totally the wrong end of the campsite.” By now he looked far more sober.

“Yeah, you’re right. That’s the shop, isn’t it? We were nowhere near there.”

“gently caress’s sake,” said Josh. However, as the pale sun rose behind the thin clouds, the lay of the campsite steadily grew to resemble what Craig remembered from when they had arrived and pitched their tents, as if it the world was slowly shrugging off its night-time glamour.

“Look!” he said, finally. “That’s our tents there.” They had pitched their tents in a ring and spread a picnic blanket in the space between the porches.

Josh started rooting for something in the front of his. “After all that I need a beer,” he said.

Craig sat down on the picnic blanket. Looking at the rising sun, the colourful tents, his friend, he felt an unexpected smile colonise his face. “Here, Josh, do you want to sit up and chat?”

Josh opened his beer with a hiss. “Yeah, for a bit.” He sat next to Craig on the picnic blanket and they talked, really talked for once, about their friendship, their dreams, their insecurities. When the conversation turned toward Stella, Craig cried on Josh’s shoulder and didn’t feel like a pussy.

May 27, 2013



May 27, 2013


All Hail the Worm Queen - 1196 words

Clare Ferris, Child Queen of the Worm Throne, sang for her squirmy followers. Their bodies were a moving carpet in the grass, a second turf in writhing pink. Her father plucked them for deposition in his holding jar. Clare knew why they came: for the rhythmical stirring of her garden fork, her breathless incantations to Wiggly Woo. Her father’s jar was heavy with worms. Clare Ferris already knew she had won.

“Short, sharp movements,” he father told her. “Really vibrate the ground. And tell me if you want to swap places.”

Clare would never want to swap places. Worm-plucking was a thankless job, and she needed the glory for herself. Beyond the boundaries of their plot, the school field buzzed with disparate industry. One pair tried to summon worms with a singing saw.

Mrs Farren from plot fifty-four floated by for a chat. “My, Clare,” she said, “what a lot of worms!”

Clare smiles but doesn’t stop singing.

“Well, best of luck. And you might actually need it – the Smiths have outdone themselves this time.”

The Smiths? She might not know it yet, but Sophie Smith was Clare’s arch-nemesis. Every year, the Smiths wriggled closer to the Ferris’ title. Last time there were only ten worms in it. What’s worse, Sophie Smith never got shunned for the hobby like Clare did. Sophie Smith made worm charming cool, but only for herself. When she gave presentations about her techniques in front of the school, Clare sat at the back, forgotten, consoling herself with the knowledge that she was the real Worm Queen. Being the Worm Queen made it okay to be alone.

Clare tried to bury her doubts and focus on the soil. Forget Mrs Farren – she was old and never got any worms. Mrs Farren’s face reminded Clare of looking into the compost bin to see her Hallowe’en pumpkin wilting in the muck, its dead eyes teeming with invertebrate life.

Another time, a family of rats had forced their way inside the bin to eat the worms. Trapped inside, their tails got matted with compost and blood and poo poo and fused together like the hub of a wheel. When her father cut the bin open, the whole group escaped across the lawn as one creature – a Rat King.

There was a wriggling clump in the grass by Clare’s foot. However entangled their bodies may seem, Clare knew worms would never conjoin like a Rat King. Animals with five hearts have little taste for company. While the nature of their monarchs makes rat society functionally democratic, the Worm Queen’s authority is near total – and not something Clare wanted to part with.

The Chief Wormer’s bells woke Clare from her reverie, marking the end of the competition. All valid receptacles were to be submitted to the Counters’ Table for processing.

“You alright?” asked her dad. “You spaced out a bit there.”

“Do you think we won?”

“Can’t say – we got more than last year, but so did everyone. The soil must be fertile. Want some lemonade?”

Her father’s composure unnerved her. Didn’t he realise what was at stake? In the lemonade queue, Clare caught a familiar voice in the crowd: “Catch lots of critters, Sophie?”

“Yeah, way more than last year,” Sophie Smith said to Clare’s teacher.

“Oh my God there were tonnes,” said one of Sophie Smith’s friends. “At first I was like, gross, but then somehow it was cool.”

Jealousy and anxiety gnawed in Clare’s brain. She’d charmed more worms than last year too, but not by much. Gazing down the field to the gazebo where their offerings awaited judgement, Clare was surprised to see it left so unguarded. Even the Chief Wormer was up this end, chatting with the contestants.

Making a quick excuse, Clare slipped away from the crowd and moved down the field as inconspicuously as she could. She imagined pouring Sophie Smith’s worms out onto the grass and stepping forward to burst their full bodies beneath her toes. She would take her shoes off first. She might take a handful into her mouth like a packet of strawberry laces, or drop them from above and let any that missed her mouth squirm into her hair.

Sticking to the edge of the field, Clare doubled back along the school’s wall and approached the gazebo from behind. Inside, every surface was covered with mason jars, each one half-filled with live worms. They were labelled only with their plot numbers, which meant Clare had no idea which was Sophie’s. She did find her own, though, and she had just scooped a handful from a neighbouring jar when a voice came from right outside:

“Like, she thinks she’s so great but does anyone like her?” Clare backed away from the table, pulling her right hand up into the sleeve of her hoodie, still holding its living cargo.

“I know, it’s not her fault though…” Sophie Smith ducked under the sloping roof, followed slowly by the same friends as before. “Oh!” she said. “Hi Clare! Having a good day?”

What sort of question was that? Clare studied Sophie’s smile for the trick, the obscure way by which a hasty answer would give up her secret, which had just started nosing the sensitive underside of her wrist. Finally, as Sophie and her friends circled the table, peering excitedly into the jars, Clare murmured: “Yeah, I guess.”

“How did you do, anyway?” asked Sophie. “Everyone got so many!”

“Fine, I think,” said Clare, trying ineffectually to manoeuvre away from the conversation without the people talking to her noticing she was doing so.

“Only fine? I’m sure you did great,” Sophie said. “You’re good at this. Here, can you take a picture of us all by the jars?” Sophie Smith held out her phone. Fortunately for Clare, both her hands were now free. As she raised her arm to take the picture, a wet lump rolled down the inside of her sleeve.

“Now girls,” came a man’s voice from behind her, “You’re all going to have to leave here while we tally the winners. I trust you were only looking?”

No one said anything. Either they really didn’t suspect her or they were playing a long game.

“Do you want to come sit with us, Clare?” Sophie asked.

Weighing up her options, Clare decided it was better to act natural. It was only after they’d sat down that Clare realised not only had she potentially been caught cheating, she had also failed to successfully cheat. While Sophie enthused about her favourite rake techniques, and the worms further advanced across her shoulders, Clare privately mourned a loss she now saw as inevitable. By the time the results were announced, Clare had become so accustomed to thinking of her loss that the news of her actual victory seemed anticlimactic.

Holding up her trophy in front of the crowd, Clare tried to feel like she deserved it. Sophie Smith and her family stood at the front, second place but beaming. “What did I tell you?” shouted Sophie. Clare smiled back. Cameras flashed. Human hands clapped. Long live Clare Ferris. Long live the Worm Queen. Her assembled followers would have clapped if they could.

May 27, 2013


gently caress it, in, and hit me with some drama

May 27, 2013


IN with a radioactive for last week's shameful display

May 27, 2013


White Powder, Black Oil (1247 words)

I kneel in the grass by the open door of my Aston Martin and suck in a thick line from the silver tray on the passenger seat. It’s only then, after the familiar numbness has blocked out the lingering taste of vomit, that I can start to think rationally about the situation.

Jamil and his men are dead. Their throats are cut and their wares are gone. The operation he ran, just inland of where Southend-on-Sea used to be, was the last link I knew of between England and the continent, a black market selling petrol and narcotics for sums that five years ago could have bought a house. Now it’s empty except for the bodies, a grim reminder not to linger for long.

Though I knew this would happen sooner or later, I hadn’t expected it to look like that. What would Shannon have made of it all?

Still, I have been nurturing a plan.

Cruising alongside a sea pockmarked with flooded houses, I check my supplies: enough coke to get home and twice enough fuel, even in this car. The absurd quantity of petrol the Aston consumed was always part of its appeal but nowadays its fuel economy is downright perverse. It gets through petrol like I get through cocaine, and the best part is, now there’s no one else on the road the two of us are free to indulge simultaneously. The shock of seeing Jamil like that has left me needing more than ever. I have the silver tray on my lap as I drive.

Just outside Wormington, I pass a tribe of Folkies setting up camp in a field. At first they lived only in national parks and expansive farmland, rightly choosing to flee the cities that stay occupied only by those with the brutality and firepower to survive their treacherous landscapes. Going to London is still suicide, but already these hippies have grown bolder, determined to rebuild civilisation with solar energy and renewable tweed. Last week, a group of them penned their sheep in my hedge maze.

I feel better already. Did science ever realise the psychiatric utility of the roar of a V12 engine? With Jamil’s guys dead, I must be the last man in England still living the party. For the rest of the country, running out of oil hit like the mother of all comedowns. It took just a week for London to become a warzone, but out in my manor country, my fortunate coal generator and copious stash of blow went happily unnoticed. The billions Shannon and I made as the power couple of the petroleum industry left me at least well prepared for the consequences of its abuse.

But as the house comes into view, I know something’s wrong. When I left, the lights were all on and Madonna was blasting from the speaker system. Now the place is dark and silent except for the gravel crunching beneath my tyres, and the faint murmur of voices from within. Fortunately I’m too jacked to be scared, so I lick up the last of the powder and march in the front door.

Inside, a woman in wellies stands on my Persian rug. “What the gently caress have you done to my house?” I demand, barging into a crowd of smiling Folkies. Chickens strut around my feet.

A skinny gentleman lays a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry sir,” he says as a goat bleats from the mezzanine, “but in times like this don’t you think a house like this should serve the common good?”

I push past him onto the stairs. Still, once I’ve got my cocaine they can have it. More immediately concerning is that my high is starting to fray at the edges. How long has it been since my last real line? The problem with coke is the energy it gives you only lasts as long as you keep having more, and then you suffer. As I run up the stairs, images I don’t want to see force into my brain. Jamil at his desk, neck gaping open like a mouth in his throat. Strobing movies in my head. Shannon’s body in the morgue.

I shoulder though my bedroom door and dive under the bed, much to the consternation of the couple on top of it. My stash is loose in a safe set in the floor. There’s less than I remember, but I do a quick dab then scoop as much of the rest up in two cupped hands and scurry out the room. Climbing back in the car, I dump the powder on my silver tray and drive.

So what was the big plan for when I ran out of petrol? It’s simple, really. Ever since the year all the oilfields dried up I’ve been living in my country home: nice, but not quite me. Through and through I’m still a Londoner, and I need to see the City one last time – the centre of a financial empire built in two manic centuries on oil and cocaine.

On the motorway I have six lanes to myself. My remaining fuel is half-gone before I get inside the M25. Even over the roar of the engine, the city sounds like New Year’s Eve. As the buildings get taller, I just know the ears of whoever’s hiding in them will have pricked up at the sound of my engine. This car always did turn heads.

But aside from a smashed wing-mirror near Seven Sisters, I make it into the City without incident. It’s only as I’m passing the Gherkin that something high calibre rockets into the passenger door, sending cracks through the window. Accelerating away, I find myself on London Bridge, the Thames a yawning gulf to each side.

Right ahead of me looms the Shard. I must have been driving towards it subconsciously. The tallest building in London, the Shard is a sheet-glass monument to the dead god Money – the building Shannon jumped from when she realised what we had done to the world.

No time to dwell. I’m racking up another line with a credit card when something thumps hard into my chest, knocking the tray to the floor and scattering its precious cargo. I stare at the growing dark pool in my suit jacket.

When the tray slipped, it landed between my seat and the gear stick at a 45 degree tilt. Miraculously, a perfect line of white powder seems to be trapped against the rim. Though every movement is a struggle, I delicately manoeuvre the tray onto my legs, desperate not to spill what I know is the last line of my life.

A coke-head and a petrol-head and proud, I decided long ago that a world without either wasn’t one I could live in. I’m a dinosaur and I know it, the last capitalist in a world belonging to environmentalists or anarchy.

Glancing up, the markings on the road have become lines of white powder floating on a black oil sea, disappearing one by one under the nose of the Aston. I accelerate faster, basking in the roar of the engine.

At the end of the bridge, the Shard looms ever closer. As the bridge becomes a road, I touch my rolled-up fifty to the tray and, with the car still accelerating, inhale triumphantly. When I turn a hard left and plough the Aston into the base of the Shard, the explosion of my body becomes the final hurrah for mindless excess.

May 27, 2013


57) Lost World Children's Fantasy or Space Opera Eco-Thriller

And thanks for all the crits in the past few days

May 27, 2013


I'll take 48) Jelly

May 27, 2013


in with a flash and a


May 27, 2013


in with whatever and another for being a serial failure

May 27, 2013



The Zoo
Romance: Just broke up
Illicit: The would be-thief and the one with the plan
Community: Animal rights activists or sympathizers
To get even...with those monsters who let poor Buttons die
At Home: Basement habitat nobody's supposed to know about
Still more animals: a fish worth $120,000
Guilt: A showdown

Vegetarian Dreams of Violent Revolution - 1498 words

Buttons the gorilla became the first animal to be lawfully executed live on a British news programme when he was put to death by firing squad for the crime of killing seven-year-old Murray Talbot within the gorilla enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo. That evening, Patrick and Ruth’s six-month relationship hit a snag when Patrick found himself unable to comprehend Ruth’s acceptance of the punishment as a rational response to the circumstances, sparking a protracted argument between the two of them that Patrick found to reveal Ruth’s true personality to be quite different from the one he had imagined for her.

‘I’m not saying we should kill all the gorillas, Patrick,’ Ruth said, already exasperated with a discussion that would stretch on for another two hours. ‘I just think that animal rights should come with animal responsibilities, like not murdering kids.’

‘What rights did he have, Ruth? He was a wild animal living his whole life in a cage.’ When Buttons was led hooded onto the BBC news set at just past ten o’clock, where soldiers had established themselves atop the newsreaders’ desk, armed and waiting, Patrick had got up and waited in Ruth’s kitchen, watching with horror through the open door to the living room the expression on Ruth’s face develop from a grimace to a smirk as the sounds of gunshots echoed from the speaker system.

‘He had a fair trial, didn’t he?’ Ruth said. ‘That’s a right.’ Now they were both in the kitchen, Ruth leaning coolly against the sink unit, Patrick pacing its length not unlike a caged animal. ‘And when you haven’t seen all the evidence I don’t see how you can go on saying how the jury should have voted,’ she continued. ‘All I’m saying is they’re the ones who know everything that happened, so I trust their decision.’

‘Oh yeah,’ replied Patrick. ‘Because juries never make mistakes.’

‘Can you not talk to me like that?’ Ruth snapped back. ‘I don’t know why you’re attacking me, anyway, I didn’t kill him.’ Patrick stopped pacing and looked at her just in time to see her expression change to one of realisation. ‘Wait, is this about me not being vegetarian? It is, isn’t it?’

‘No!’ Patrick responded too quickly, realising Ruth had hit closer to home than he was comfortable with. ‘It’s just the principle of it,’ he said vaguely. But she was right, he inwardly acknowledged. Since pledging to forego meat entirely a year prior he had been haunted by a growing sense of detachment from the animal-consuming element of society, an element which, he sometimes had to remind himself, remained frustratingly dominant beyond his immediate social group, which subsisted primarily on kale.

Sole exception to that was Ruth, who made the McDonald’s drive-thru a weekly fixture of her drive home. Patrick had hoped that his relationship with her might prove to himself that he was not a ‘veggie snob’, but seeing her reaction to the brutal public murder of poor Buttons for the so-called ‘crime’ of accidentally mauling a single child who was never meant to be in the gorilla cage anyway was having the opposite effect, only confirming his prejudices about those who chose to eat meat in the 21st century. He didn’t want to write off all meat-eaters as morally defective, he thought, but the evidence was increasingly pointing in that direction.

The argument fizzled out by midnight. The next day, Patrick had agreed to housesit his friend Natalie’s illicit panda, but since he refused to learn to drive ‘for environmental reasons’ he had to ask Ruth for a lift. Not trusting her to understand Natalie’s reasons for kidnapping a panda from Edinburgh zoo (being that it was unfair to keep pressuring them to have sex when they clearly didn’t want to, which even Patrick thought was a bit weak) he told Ruth he was dog-sitting instead.

Once Ruth had left, Patrick opened a trapdoor beneath the couch and climbed a stepladder down into the basement with an armful of the bamboo Natalie kept stacked in what was once a living room but could hardly be described as one now, what with so much floor space given over to stacks and stacks of shoots and leaves. Patrick wondered how it was that seemingly no one had suspected Natalie of the panda’s kidnapping, given how high-profile the case had been and the no doubt conspicuous quantities of bamboo Natalie had begun to order so shortly after. He started to suspect the establishment simply didn’t care.

The habitat itself was a concrete cube, lit from above by heat lamps. Its only furniture was a wooden chest of drawers, on which stood a small television, and an old-fashioned wooden chair. The panda, dubbed Maurice, slumbered in a corner. Everything smelled like a hamster cage only more so. Dumping the fresh bamboo next to the water bucket, Patrick sat down and turned on the TV to see Huw Edwards happily announce that owing to an unprecedented reversal of parliamentary and public opinion fox-hunting would be legalised within a week. His desk was still smeared with Buttons’ blood. After that, a disproportionate amount of Countryfile was spent covering a pig farm that slaughtered its own livestock, the cameraman focusing pornographically close on pink necks being sliced open.

Patrick was shocked. He had noticed the amount of animal violence on television steadily increasing over the past year, but nothing like this. The public murder of Buttons must have marked a tidal shift in the country’s social id, he reasoned, sending the repressed violence of a flesh-dependent society bubbling upwards. Looking over at Maurice, who having woken up was now munching happily on bamboo, he realised he felt more affinity with this furry creature than he did for many of his fellow humans, including his girlfriend. He decided he would break up with Ruth as soon as he could get her to drive him home.

Though he’d originally been sceptical of Natalie’s decision to steal a panda and keep it in a secret habitat under her house, he now realised that she had made the right choice. The meat-eating masses could no longer be trusted with the preservation of nature’s most beautiful animals. If even seemingly ‘nice’ non-vegetarians like Ruth were responding to Buttons’ execution with acceptance or even excitement, human society was clearly already too sick with the disease of carnivorism to be saved. The time for passive vegetarian resistance had passed, and the only possible response now was violent overthrow of the oppressive meat-eater regime, the coming together of a broad church of vegetarian humans and other herbivorous animals who could forcibly seize from the carnivorous ruling class the means of dietary production and replace them with a wholly plant-based assemblage of culinary-industrial apparatus.

Caught up in revolutionary fervour, Patrick jumped to his feet and sent the chair clattering backwards – back into Maurice. Before Patrick realised what was happening, the startled panda took a swipe at him with a paw, knocking him down, and began to knead the foot heavily into Patrick’s now outstretched leg, growling as it did so. With the bear’s weight pressing into him and its claws tearing through his jeans and skin, Patrick almost screamed but manged to hold it in, not wanting to give the game away to Natalie’s neighbours. Finally pulling his leg free, he scuttled as well as he could from the growling animal and back up the step-ladder, dragging his shattered limb. Bleeding into the couch in Natalie’s one-time living room, Patrick phoned the first contact he saw.

‘Ruth,’ he said slowly. ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I need your help…’

Ten minutes later, Ruth ran over to him and started pulling apart the torn denim on his leg. ‘Oh my God,’ she said. ‘What happened?’

‘Natalie’s dog bit me then ran away,’ lied Patrick, trying not to let on just how much pain he was in.

‘It did what?’ exclaimed Ruth, inspecting the wound. ‘Patrick, we should phone the police! That is one hell of a bite, your leg looks crushed. What sort of dog does she have, the hound of the Baskervilles?’ At that moment Ruth noticed the open trapdoor and the stacks of bamboo. ‘Patrick,’ she said. Her voice was soft but firm. ‘What the gently caress is going on here?’

It was impossible to keep up the façade any longer. Finally letting out a wail of pain, Patrick pulled Ruth into an embrace and began to weep into her cardigan.

‘It’ll be alright,’ she said, stroking his back. ‘Just tell me what happened, okay?’

‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise,’ blubbed Patrick into her neck. Staring into the panda’s eyes as it was digging its talons into his leg, Patrick had recognised something he never expected to in the eyes of such a cuddly looking herbivore: malice. ‘It’s all my fault. I didn’t realise they were so… evil!’

‘It’s okay, Patrick’ whispered Ruth gently into his ear. ‘It’s okay. I knew you’d come around.’

May 27, 2013


Adjective me, I'm in!

May 27, 2013


Down and Out in Paris and R’lyeh - 1194 words - 'loathsome'

‘You and me babe are the luckiest people alive,’ I murmur to the child in my arms, watching bugs move on the wall in a column of moonlight. Lucky to have left England for our own reasons before the ancient city rose from the Atlantic, and all that came with it. Theo shifts against me. When we first brought him home, I watched our baby sleep and wondered what he could be dreaming. There’s no need to wonder now - there aren’t many dreams going round. He whimpers quietly, pudgy fingers clutching the folds of my cardigan, but doesn’t wake up. He’s braver than I am. Seeing the once-sunken towers for yourself, even in a dream, is horrifying for reasons I can’t fully explain. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to not see the Prince.

An hour after dawn I get the money from inside the mattress without waking Theo, count it, and slip a solitary note back in. The rest I put on the concierge’s desk: ‘une semaine de plus, sil vous plait’. A loathsome sycophant around more valued guests, the concierge takes it and hands me an envelope without looking up. The address is right but the handwriting is not. Only one person in England knows where I am, and this masculine script, though familiar, is not hers. She must have told him. The first time I introduced my mother to Stuart, my then-fiancee offered to help her fetch the groceries. If he was trying to impress her it worked: she decided right then he was ‘a good man, dear,’ and nothing I could say or he could do would convince her otherwise. ‘Sometimes men have queer moods,’ she told me the first night I had to take Theo and run. ‘Talk to him in the morning and you’ll sort it out.’

I bin the envelope. Stuart hurt me enough when he was alive.

It kills me to leave Theo alone in the room but we need money. He’s six years old. Since Tuesday I’ve been a waitress at the Café du Nord, twenty minutes walk from the hotel. Every morning when I pass a particular street, a gentleman sitting outside a cafe calls out, ‘Belle! Belle femme!’ Today he approaches me when I’m waiting at a crossing for a tram to pass. ‘Always rushing to work,’ he says with a thick accent. Over the tenement blocks, the north-western sky is stained colours I’ve never seen before. ‘It is the end of the world, non? Time to relax a little.’ He wears an expensive looking suit jacket despite the heat. It couldn’t be clearer he wants to gently caress me, I think, and though I find him loathsome, one day I might let him for a free meal.

Then the tram passes and I cross the road. The Cafe du Nord is not just closed but boarded up. I bang on the door until a woman in a flat upstairs starts yelling, ‘Ils sont partis!

I give it another kick. ‘My money, you son of a bitch!’ I shout, as if the door itself took my wages.

Ils sont partis!’ yells the woman again, leaning from her window. I walk away. Without a job, I’ve got a week to find more money or we’re out on the street. Two blocks down, my admirer from before steps in front of me to block my path. ‘No work today, beautiful? Let me buy you a drink.’

I’m starving and exhausted. ‘How about breakfast first?’

We go inside the cafe and I order soup. It’s not long before he starts talking about what’s happening in England, acting surprised I know so little about it. ‘I try to avoid the newspapers where possible,’ I tell him. He doesn’t take the hint.

‘The big one,’ he explains, ‘they call him the Prince of Despair. They say everyone who sees him becomes inconsolable. By the end they welcome their deaths.’ He takes a sip of beer. ‘The question is, how does one rebel against such a tyrant?’ Here he pauses for a second, smiling with self-satisfaction. ‘Well, by never having hope to begin with: enjoying its absence, even. The more hope we have, the more it hurts to lose.’

I don’t know if he believes all this or if he is just trying to impress me. Either way it makes me sick. Losing hope, really losing it until you can see no future except darkness, is hardly as fun as he makes out. It’s somewhere I never want to be again.

‘Thanks for breakfast,’ I say, standing up.

‘But how, exactly, does he make them despair?’ says my interlocutor, standing too but ignoring what I said.

‘Look, this was nice but I have to go,’ I say, backing towards the open door.

‘How much, exactly, can one person take?’ he intones, smiling wider still. The door slams shut.

I notice now that the cafe is empty. Was it always? ’Mister, please, I have to get back to -’

‘Your son?’ says the man, his face stretching yet further into a loathsome grimace.

Theo walks out from behind the bar. ‘Mummy!’ I want to run over to him but my body won’t move. Then he looks at the man. ‘Dad?’

My companion has changed. ‘Stuart,’ I gasp. His face brings back memories I’d rather forget.

My dead husband looks at me mockingly. ‘Aren’t you happy I’m dead, Jean?’ he asks. His voice sounds muffled, like a poorly tuned wireless set. ‘Aren’t you happy I suffered? It’s what you dreamed of. How did it go again?’

I glance at Theo. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

My husband’s face smoulders with rage. ‘How did you imagine doing it, Jean?’ he shouts, raising a fireplace poker above his head like he used to.

Against the far wall, a huge log burning stove sputters and flares into life. ‘No,’ I gasp.

‘Theo, my son,’ says the thing with my husband’s face calmly, holding the handle of the poker towards my child. ‘Would you mind stirring the fire for me?’ Mesmerised, Theo takes the poker, walks to the stove, and opens the door. I struggle as hard as I can to stay put but my legs start moving regardless. Now I’m holding a familiar shovel in both hands, raising it slowly as I approach my child from behind. In front of the massive stove he looks tiny - its furnace could take a grown man. Pulling the shovel back, I feel my body tense as is it prepares to swing. I try to shout but my jaw is locked shut.

No! Let me die!

A pain in the top of my head like I’ve been scalped, and the scene disappears. Something sharp and wet detaches from my skull and I fall to my knees at the foot of a mountain of tendrils, a creature, if you can call it that, that I recognise instantly. Shob N’thoth, Prince Regent of the City of Despair, has feasted on the lost hopes of a civilisation and is radiant. Around him, London lies in ruins. And the sky! The sky is unforgettable.

May 27, 2013



May 27, 2013


Satellite Scabbers

You have to hunt it down! on a Vehicle - 1098 words

Our lives were about to change forever, but the only thing Big Suze and I knew about the structure we had flung ourselves towards from the airlock of the Starbucket was that we’d never seen anything like it. I was hanging from the side of a GPS node at 22,000 metres when I first saw the thing, waiting for Big Suze to finish sawing off the satellite's solar wings. From there it had looked like a dark rectangle swivelling in place against the speckled grey-on-black of the orbital debris field. Now it was clear we were falling towards a sort of cylinder, twenty metres in diameter and maybe ten long, that rolled languidly towards us, end over end, in the orbital sunlight.

If the number one cause of death in our line of work was equipment failure, I’d hazard that the third most common was attempting to board a rotating structure from a distance. The trouble was that you couldn’t have any kind of connection to your ship - an umbilical would only get twisted or snag - which meant if we missed we got to choose between taking off our helmets and running out of oxygen. But Big Suze and I never missed. We weren’t the first to realise you could make a healthy profit plucking solar panels off satellites like wings from butterflies, but there was a reason we had been in the game the longest. We were professionals. My electromagnetic boots connected with the curved rim of the cylinder, dislodging a cloud of dust and setting the stars off swinging drunkenly through my vision

‘Any ideas?’ I said.

‘Sadly, no. Whoever launched this thing wanted it to stay secret,’ came Big Suze's voice through the speaker in my helmet. She was already walking towards the far edge. ‘I can’t find data on it anywhere - not even the Area-51 docs.’ As well as being built like a tank, Big Suze was a hacker extraordinaire with a scalp full of metal accoutrements. Every leaked database that might help us locate the most valuable parts of a rig and get out before its owners found out we were there, Suze had downloaded to her brain-chips just in case. Things Suze didn’t know about were usually very secret, which tended to mean valuable, to the right buyer.

‘It seems designed to block out radio waves, at least,’ she continued. ‘These walls are thick.’

I kicked the dust at my feet, revealing a huge hammer and sickle in the glow of my helmet light. ‘Looks last century Russian to me,’ I said.

‘Perfect,’ said Suze. ‘The Soviets’ security was for poo poo.’

Reaching the edge of the wall, we got our first view of the other end of the cylinder beneath us. ‘It looks like a door,’ gasped Suze. Making the disorienting step between the two faces, I saw she was right. This whole side was bisected by a jagged cut running away from me, as if it could split and swing open like the lid of a toolbox.

The whole structure shuddered beneath my feet. Suze was pressing frantically at the buttons of one of the tools she kept on her belt. ‘Oops,’ she said. ‘I didn’t expect their security to be that bad...’ The floor in front of me shifted a little then split and swung outwards, leaving only the narrow rim we stood on. When the gap between the two doors was about a metre wide, a long dark shape flurried rapidly between them, freed from its captivity.

‘What was that?’ I murmured. I suddenly felt vulnerable like I hadn’t in years. It wasn’t a new feeling. Once, I had felt like this every spacewalk, before the unimaginable emptiness of outer space started to feel dangerously like home.

‘My God,’ said Suze. ‘Sergei, do you know what this means?’

‘That we’re hosed?’ I asked, realising we had done what we had sworn never to do. We’d got cocky, and now we’d pay the price.

‘Sergei, look at that thing.’ She pointed upwards. ‘We're rich! We just made second contact!’

The creature hung above us in the vacuum, watching. It had two dark eyes at the centre of its body and eight slender arms projecting outwards. Each arm was about two metres long and connected to its neighbours by membranes so thin I could see the stars through them. Suddenly, its whole body shook and a deafening blast of static ripped through the speaker in my helmet. Beneath it, just about audible, the sound of Suze screaming. I didn’t know how an electromagnetic blast like that would feel with all those chips in her head and I didn’t want to.

‘Suze, we’re getting out of here,’ I said. She didn’t respond. Squatting down, I manually disabled the magnets in her boots and pulled her stiff body into a zero-g piggyback.

‘We’re gonna be okay,’ I said, frantically looking around for the Starbucket. I wasn’t so sure. You know how I said boarding a rotating object was the third most dangerous thing you could do as a satellite scabber? Well, getting back to the ship was the second - and I was about to attempt it without time to prepare, with Suze in my arms, and with an unknown life-form swimming through space around me. And swimming was exactly the word for it: I had no idea how, but the creature propelled itself like a jellyfish through the vacuum, expanding and contracting its delicate body to move at velocities that would be impressive even if they weren’t impossible too.

But I didn’t have time to think about that now. because although the Starbucket was orbiting Earth at a stationary position in relation to the prison satellite, the rotation of the latter meant the former was about to pass directly above my head - relatively speaking. This might be the only chance I got. Holding my breath, I pushed away from the relative safety of the structure and out into the void. As soon as I did, my heart sank. My aim was off, and the Starbucket drifted sideways as I fell through space. Nothing compares to the dread of slowly drifting away from the only possible salvation, unable to correct your direction to save your life. I really thought I’d had it until, fumbling blindly in the dark, my hand connected with an antenna I didn’t even know was there. I pulled myself and Suze to the the Starbucket’s roof.

A second later, another blast of static blared through my helmet. I looked at the creature. When I realised what it was doing, the dread returned like never before. It was calling home.

May 27, 2013


Thanks for the fast crits you three

spectres of autism posted:

uh big suze was almost flagged for fanfic but in the end you escaped because that wouldve been dumb. She is a character in a show tho.

What show were you thinking of? Out of curiosity.

May 27, 2013


spectres of autism posted:

it was brought to my attn that its the name of a char on this

but i mean if you go thru all of fiction theres prolly a char whose called big [any given name]. didnt srlsy bug me

oh i probably did subconsiously get it from there lol

May 27, 2013


in with

May 27, 2013


Crunch Time
993 words - Prompt: Frustrated, I jello-walked back to the next generation payment platform

Maxim was perched on a coffee table with his legs crossed in front of him. ‘Lavio is not PayPal,’ he declared.

It might have been the Stimulert, or that he hadn’t left the office in 24 hours, or the worry he would soon be faced with a question he knew he couldn’t answer, but Nazeem was really starting to wish his boss hadn’t called him over for a ‘chat’ at 8AM on the day Nazeem turned 30.

‘Lavio is not WorldPay.’

Around them, the rest of the Lavio team hunched at their workstations or nestled in beanbags with their laptops. Half of them hadn’t slept. All of them were on Stimulert. Ciaran must have made a killing.

‘Lavio is not Bitcoin.’

Lavio was due to launch in just two weeks, but aside from Maxim no one really knew what it did. Initially pitched as a ‘next generation payment platform’, its functionality in transferring funds had gotten increasingly buried under whatever Maxim currently considered ‘next generation’.

‘No, those are other things,’ said Maxim. ‘And none of them are Lavio.’

The Stimulert made Nazeem anxious keep working. His legs felt like jelly. He had slipped his hand into his pocket to scratch his thigh, but as his fingers probed the itch he felt the flesh give way beneath the fabric.

‘Lavio means Lavio,’ Maxim continued. ‘Lavio is Lavio. And Lavio needs full social media integration - including Pictogram.' Finding a small hole in his pocket, Nazeem had managed to stick his little finger into his leg up to the first knuckle. It felt warm. ‘So, how have you been getting on?’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Nazeem vaguely. Fortunately the Stimulert made it easy to ignore the feeling that something had gone terribly wrong inside his trousers. More important was that he needed Maxim to like him. A bad reference from his first job in the industry could end his career before it began.

‘Come on, Naz!’ Maxim interrupted. ‘Social is the future. Pictogram is what makes Lavio Lavio. We’re counting on you - we can’t delay the launch. Can you get it working?’

‘I’m making progress,’ Nazeem lied. It shouldn’t have been difficult to let users upload images of their transactions to Pictogram, regardless of whether anyone would, but whatever Nazeem tried the two applications refused to cooperate. ‘Give me one more day, okay?’

The lie stuck. ‘Okay, Naz,’ said Maxim, ‘I trust you. Just don’t leave ‘til it’s done, alright?’

Frustrated, Nazeem wobbled back to his desk. He hadn’t expected Maxim to remember his birthday, but acknowledging he had worked 40 hours already that week would have gone a long way. At least it was nearly over. Whether Lavio dropped with Pictogram or without it, Nazeem’s contract would expire and he could find a better job - if one existed.

He covertly necked another capsule as he sank into his seat. Illegal as it was necessary, Stimulert made productivity euphoric. Nazeem could forget physiological niggles along with the passage of time and submerge himself wholly into his work. Without Stimulert, workers and businesses alike struggled to compete.



Something pressed on his shoulder. Ciaran squatted beside him, resting his hand on Nazeem for balance. ‘Working hard?’ he laughed.

‘Yeah, I was just…’ Nazeem began.

Ciaran leant in closer. ‘Listen, man,’ he said softly. ‘You feeling okay?’

The clock on Nazeem’s desktop read 12:04. How long had Ciaran been there? ‘Yeah, I guess,’ he said. ‘Why?’

‘Good. Well, it’s probably nothing,’ Ciaran whispered, ‘but if you have any of that last packet left, I maybe wouldn’t take it. Just in case, you know?’

‘The Stimulert?’ said Nazeem. ‘In case what?’ He slipped the blister pack Ciaran had given him yesterday morning from his trouser pocket. Empty. ‘Got any more?’

Then three things happened in succession. At the far side of the office, somebody screamed. Then something squelched in Nazeem’s body. Then Ciaran screamed, staring in shock at his hand on Nazeem’s shoulder. In Nazeem’s shoulder. Nazeem’s shirt was puckered around Ciaran’s wrist like an orifice, seeping pink fluid. Nazeem’s shoulder had collapsed like a sinkhole.

‘Get it out!’ Ciaran shouted.

Panicking, Nazeem started to unbutton his shirt. His chest was mottled with patches of shiny, translucent, pink - and not just the skin. Probing it with a finger, Nazeem saw his new flesh ran through him in seams.

‘Oh my God,’ said Ciaran.

He wasn’t looking at Nazeem. His hand still submerged in Nazeem’s shoulder, Ciaran stared in fear to the other side of the room where, at the centre of a slowly widening circle of onlookers, a shiny, pink pile oozed across the carpet tiles. Except for an outstretched arm brandishing a some papers it was the size and shape of a haystack, and from its rounded peak slowly slipped the flat, stretched face of a woman Nazeem knew as ‘Jenny from Marketing’. Though her mouth was full behind her parted lips, from somewhere inside her a voice bubbled out: ‘I have those printouts you wanted!’

Then Nazeem’s spine gave way and his body spilled from his chair. Turning into a jelly wasn’t as bad as he had anticipated. Really, he thought, the biggest inconvenience was that he could no longer reach the keyboard. The desire to work was overpowering. His mind felt faster than ever. Crawling on the floor, he felt godlike.

One by one, the rest of the Lavio team burst into goo around him, everyone who’d had Stimulert from Ciaran’s last batch. Soon only Maxim remained standing. ‘We’ll never make release now!’ he cried, jumping on a coffee table.

The oozes knew what to do. Fearing Maxim would stop them from working, they crawled over to him and drowned him in themselves, their bodies mingling as they did so. Maxim dispatched, the ooze gathered the laptops around itself in a circle and started prodding at the keys with countless jelly fingers. But it had bigger plans than making Lavio.

May 27, 2013


IN with a but having a hard time narrowing down my ideas, don't suppose someone could chuck me a flashrule?



May 27, 2013



Fist, a crit of Night on the Front’ by Flesnolk:


Sergeant Laurence Knight had joined the Army looking to die. A worthy death for an unworthy life. Instead he had a medal and a section of Tommies hoping to share his fortune. Okay, so when the defining motivation of your main character is that they want to die, don’t you think it’s maybe worth letting the reader know why the main character wants to die? Yeah their life sucks, but how does it suck? Failed business enterprise? Wracked by guilt cus they did something terrible? Fed up of being an incel? Tell us! Also, the idea that he is trying to get himself killed but keeps accidentally leading his troops to victory is a funny one and could be expanded out into a nice little farce, but you don’t do anything with it, and the rest of the story doesn’t seem to be the comedy that this line (to me) establishes.

Early April 1918 found them clustered around a pair of fires in what used to be (bit of a cliché, also vague) a French forest. Fourteen men were scarcely illuminated against the night around them; war had stripped the Earth of almost anything worthwhile as kindling. The rest, they’d collected themselves and prayed the Kaiser’s finest didn’t notice. This is a very clumsy few sentences, and is kinda confusing to read. The reference to the men is jumbled in with references to the wood in a way that makes it kinda unclear when you are talking about the men and when you are talking about the wood, especially in the last sentence where the men are vaguely “they” and the wood is even more vaguely “the rest”. This is made even more confusing by the punctuation of the second sentence, which confusingly smushes together a reference to the soldiers and a reference to the wood. The next sentence is all about collecting firewood so it would make more sense to work in the lack of it there, rather than alongside a clause it bears no relation to

“Forget this stupid hill,” (wait they’re on a hill now?) said Corporal Harston after an hour’s hushed arguments, glowering over strips of bacon in his pan. Fading orange light danced across long symmetrical features practically (I don’t think ‘practically’ works here) carved from Dover’s chalk, and he jerked his head west. “We should run for our own lines before Fritz remembers we’re stuck up here.” (It took an hour’s argument to reach this level of insight?

Laurence forced down cold bully beef while the other man at the fire (I thought there were fourteen men at two fires? Are twelve of them at the other one? Are Gattrell and Laurence at the same fire as Harston or are they having two separate conversations?), Corporal Gattrell, stared into the darkness. But built like a stone wall and strong enough to heft around the Lewis gun at his side as if it were a slingshot, Gattrell tended to think of himself as the sergeant even while his superior sat next to him. While Laurence chewed, Gattrell contemplated.

“We move before dawn, we could make it,” the corporal mused (Like I’m assuming this is Gattrell speaking but referring to anyone as ‘the corporal’ in a scene with two corporals in it is a Bad Idea). It was Gattrell who newsmen always mistook for Laurence. Each time, Gattrell would sheepishly correct them and they’d recoil in horror when they saw Laurence’s ratlike, lopsided form. (If they look nothing like each other, why is Gattrell mistaken for Laurence? Do you mean people assume Gattrell is in charge? The sound of his voice made Laurence want to stab him in the throat, but he held back. Not worth the firing squad.

“Of course,” he said instead. His voice was the screech of a screen door caught in a hurricane, (I’m not sure what a screen door in a hurricane would sound like, but ‘screech’ is not what comes to mind) but he could still make himself heard. “Let the lads get a last bit of food and sleep in, then we’ll move. Harston, gather up some of the men and find us a bit more fuel so we can keep warm for the night.”

Silence. In what light remained he saw them stare. He might as well have suggested the King was a giant chicken. He repeated himself. Nothing. Well then. Laurence rose, turned and stormed off the crest of the hill. Behind him, one corporal asked the other why he was even sergeant. (I thought everyone was desperate to be under his command?

“Ask Haig!”

It echoed through the night, more to show them he heard than to make a point. It hadn’t exactly been his call; a mad unarmed charge across no man’s land had been too mad for German tastes so what should have ended with a bullet in his heart instead had a whole line of trench deciding they had urgent business elsewhere.[b(]to be honest I have no idea what this means)[/b]

So did anything that would pass for fuel. The fuel decided it had business elsewhere? Pretty awkward. Would be slightly less awkward if you put ‘had’ instead of ‘did’, but still pretty awkward The silhouette of a slain Mark V (there is literally no reason not to indicate for the reader what a Mark V is so they dont have to google it) stood among stumps and stripped bark. Trees were trees to him and these had been blasted and chopped to uselessness. what do the trees have to do with anything? It is very unlcear what the character is doing here and why, and it’s even pretty unclear who’s doing it since you keep just saying ‘he’

He reached the foot of the hill when the smell reached him, pungent and metallic. It hit like a punch to the nose but he followed it until it took him to the dead tank. An anti-tank rifle had ripped into its metal hide (okay so the last time you said ‘it’ you were referring to the smell, now you’re referring to the tank – unless it’s some kind of robot smell. The smell lingered, too strong to be old, and so Laurence stepped into the beast’s innards where his suspicions were confirmed.

The floor was black and slick with petrol, and in the engine compartment, the sump had been shot loose. After spending like a paragraph building suspense it’s a bit of an anticlimax to find that this mysterious smell is just some petrol on the floor, especially when it wasn’t even all that clear that he had been looking for petrol to begin with


Gattrell stood waiting when Laurence returned and looked shocked the sergeant had actually found something. I know the prompt for this week is incompence, but you’re pretty inconsistent about how whether or not Laurence actually is incompetent. You establish that he is sort of incompetent at the start because he’s failing to get himself killed, but by itself that almost implies that he is competent, just without realising it, or at the very least is incredibly lucky. But then Gattrell appears to see him as a buffoon, even though the way you say he had ‘a section of Tommies hoping to share his fortune’ at the start implies his troops respect him. Is he a complete idiot that is for some unknown reason being rewarded by his higher ups? Or is he chancing into success despite trying to fail? The second half of the story seems to imply the latter, but to me the start implies the former. If he’s being rewarded by his higher ups without deserving it, you absolutely need to give a sense of why they are doing so – what is it about him that makes them think he can handle this responsibility, when the troops in his command evidently think he can’t?

“Where’d you get that?” Laurence nodded to the tank before he realised Gattrell, his back to the fire, maybe couldn’t see the gesture. oh my god tag your frigging dialogue better. Here it seems like Laurence is asking Gattrell the question and Gattrell is answering it, but their actions don’t fit in with that so I’m assuming its the opposite.

“That dead tank. Bit of petrol couldn’t hurt.” As he stepped up to the fire, Gattrell tensed and barred the way.

“Tank petrol? Are you mad?” Laurence tried to step around him, only to be blocked at every turn (cliche). “You can’t use that!”

“I don’t remember needing your permission.” Laurence shoved past but the corporal grabbed at him. The sump flew from his hands, (why do you hold off revealing that Laurence picked up the petrol sump until after they’ve had this whole conversation? Also I had to google what a petrol sump was but maybe that’s just me) petrol leaking from one opening. Too close to the fire.

The flames roared back to life, tall and bright, and Harston screamed when his trouser leg caught fire. A bullet from the night silenced him forever. Gattrell tossed Laurence aside and replied with a long defiant burst from his Lewis gun, while below, the section raised the alarm and returned fire. Muzzle flashes nearly turned night to day. this paragraph is okay I guess

In the dirt by the fire, the smell of smoke and petrol bit at Laurence’s throat. Oppressive heat tore at his skin, but he made the mad scramble to his rifle and did the only thing he could do. He turned on his belly, took aim, and held his ground.

Sergeant Laurence Knight had joined the Army looking to die. He would be the only survivor of his section.surely if he wanted to die so much he could just give up? Also this is hella abrupt

Okay so this is a story with some cool ideas, but unfortunately it spends little to no time on all the scenes that actually matter, and way too long on confusing conversations and one man’s short journey to get some petrol. Your main issue is clarity. Maybe I’m just dumb, but I had a hard time figuring out what was going on here half the time: what is actually happening, and why are your characters doing what they are doing? I get the impression this story made a whole lot more sense in your head than it does here – you obviously have ideas for what your characters are like and how they interact with each other, but as written here it takes way too much work to figure out what is happening, and far too many questions are left unanswered altogether. For your next story, focus on making sure every sentence is 100% clear in what it describes and how that relates to what your character is trying to do. At a flash fiction length, being too clear is rarely a problem unless you’re going for poetical artsy poo poo, and you don’t seem to be. Also I’m not a history expert but I thought WW1 was more trench warfare than squaddies camping out in a forest? This reads more like Band of Brothers to me.

For my second word bounty, a piece I like to call 'Dying a Virgin in a Field of Corn':!

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