Mirco Horror Stories 
Don’t leave the circle, the old man had told them. How long ago had that been? Two hours? Six? Twelve? Time meant little trapped in this small chalk ring.
Cindi had tagged along with Belinda in the hopes that she could get the attention of Max. She didn’t believe in witchcraft or devil worship, but she was willing to feign it if the tall hunk would give notice her.
Arriving at the deserted manor house, Cindi expected them to spend a half-hour jumping at shadows and echoes before deciding to find a cheap dive which served cheaper liquor. Then she would be able to press close to Max and feel the warmth of his arms around her.
But Belinda’s boyfriend had prepared a surprise. Using contacts through his coven, Smithy had arranged for a Satanist to meet them and perform a summoning.
Not a stranger to psychics herself, Cindi knew the routine. They would sit at a table and await messages from the departed to be uttered from the old man’s lips. She soon learned there was a difference between a séance and a summoning.
The old man had already prepared a room, drawing a perfect circle in black chalk on the wooden floor. Evenly spaced around the circle, seven candles burned. The man bade them sit in the ring, facing outward, as he stood behind them and began chanting in a strange language.
The first sensation Cindi felt was pins and needles in her backside. This had better be worth it, she thought. That bar better have plenty of alcohol.
From the corner of her eye, she saw movement in the distance. When she turned her head, she dismissed as her imagination, or the smoke wafting up from the candles. But the rasping breathing that came from the dark corner could not be blamed on a trick of the light.
Dabbing sweat from her forehead, Cindi realised the temperature was rising.
‘It’s getting hot,’ she announced.
‘As hot as Hell,’ Smithy answered in an awestruck tone.
‘Not funny,’ Belinda moaned, playfully punching him. As she moved to deliver the blow, her legs brushed a candlestick and knocked it into the room.
‘I’ll get it,’ Belinda giggled, and crawled to reach the fallen candle.
Her hand passed over the chalk line.
In an instant, a mouth that wasn’t visible a moment before clamped down on Belinda’s wrist. She did not have time to scream before the beast – a dog-like thing the size of a horse – pulled her from her friends and whisked her away into the gloom.
Smithy jumped to his feet and called out Belinda’s name.
‘Go get her, man,’ Max encouraged.
‘I would get her,’ Smithy said, ‘but I can’t leave the circle.’
‘Coward,’ Max scoffed as he stood up. He stepped to the edge of the chalk outline.
‘Don’t do it,’ Smithy said.
Shaking his head, Max strode forward.
His foot never touched the ground. Barbed tentacles dropped from above, wrapping themselves around Max’s limb. As he was yanked upward, more tentacles reached from the darkness, gripping and squeezing him. Blood poured from his open mouth, distorting his scream into a gurgling cough.
Max was lifted from sight, disappearing to the sound of tearing meat.
That was hours ago but the noise still reverberated in Cindi’s ears. The only other sound was the old man’s incessant chanting, which she now understood was the only thing holding back the creatures of Hell.
How much longer could he keep it up? she wondered.
Terry hated gardening. The back-breaking work, the unpredictable weather, the dirt that got under his fingernails. There was nothing about the chore that he enjoyed. But the worst thing, the part that made his scalp tighten in fear, were the bugs.
Even in the smallest area, there was no end to the diversity of creepy-crawlies present. From earth worms to woodlice, spiders to ants, beetles to centipedes, Terry found nothing natural about the average garden’s ecosystem.
So to find himself bitten by a tiny critter that quickly flutter-scurried away came as no surprise to him. What was shocking was the amount of pain the wound caused. His fingertip pulsed madly, throbbing in time with his elevated heartbeat.
He lifted his hand to inspect the injury and almost fainted at the sight of the puncture marks. The bite had not just broken his skin once; there were nine or ten tiny holes in the shape of a ring. Red beads og blood appeared.
To staunch the flow, Terry pressed down tightly on his finger. The resulting agony caused him to scream out. His whole finger now felt ablaze. As he stared in disbelief, he watched as something pushed against his skin. Something pushed his skin outwards as it crawled inside of him.
His stomach lurched at the thought of a creature eating at his body from the inside. He had to get it out. It was already past his second knuckle, wriggling its way to his hand.
Stomping over to the potting shed, Terry rooted around for the trowel-sized fork. He pulled out the tool and pressed the middle prong against the soft flesh of his finger, directly in the path of the parasite. He took a deep breath, then plunged the blade in.
His eyesight blurred and his head swam from the pain. He could taste blood and realised he had bitten through his bottom lip.
When his vision cleared, he looked at the damage. His finger was dangling from his hand, attached only by a strip of skin. Bile rose in his throat, but he swallowed it down with grim pride. He may well lose the finger, but it was better than allowing something nasty to live inside him.
When he saw movement under his palm, he almost wept.
Whatever had entered him had somehow escaped his attack. To make things worse, it seemed to be growing. The line that moved under his skin, less than a centimetre when it had been in his digit, was now nearly an inch in length.
His hand itched as the creature crept closer to his wrist.
Acting on instinct alone, Terry lifted the fork and lunged at the offending hand. He saw the three tines pierce his palm, heard the splitting of flesh and cracking of bone, watched the fork emerge from the back of his hand – but he felt none of it. The only feeling he had was revulsion as the thing under his skin worked its way around the foreign object and inched further up his hand.
Terry tried to pull the fork from his hand but it was stuck fast, most likely wedges against the many hand bones. But the fork had not been successfully in ridding him of the invader – he needed something better, a more powerful tool.
As the beast moved from his mangled hand to his wrist, Terry knew what he must do.
He stumbled to the shed, pulled the door open with his good hand and saw his salvation. Terry’s insane laugh of victory was drowned under the roaring engine of the chainsaw.
I can hear them outside, wailing in their multitudes. They chomp and leer in the night, bay at the moon, calling out for murder, for death. My death.
When I first moved to this picturesque, coastal town, I was taken by its charm and beauty. Cobbled lanes and stone-walled cottages. Shadowed-draped pathways sneaking between buildings, too narrow to walk two-abreast. The wooden wharf, unchanged in decades but for the occasional application of fresh paint.
Truly, it was like living in a bygone time, a century in which I felt I belonged. It was an age of innocence and purity. And yet, it was in those yesterdays that the fear of the supernatural was at its strongest.
The first body to be found was that of a young woman. Alone at night, she had left her home and wandered to the cliff edge. No one knew how she had come to an end on the rocky shore – was it intentional, or something more sinister?
Many stated it was a freak accident, a tragedy. But some whispered of dark movement in the night, of a spiteful entity attacking the girl. At first, these tales were mocked as superstitious nonsense, old-wives’ tales twisted into nightmarish design.
Until the next victim was discovered, his blood spilled on the floor about his torn and tattered body.
I began to notice the townsfolk change from that point. It started in groups of two and three, huddling together in dark corners and mumbling among themselves. As the weeks went by and the deaths continued, those muttering groups grew. Six of them gathered, eight, a dozen. It would not be long, I knew, before the whole town was converted and the individual groups would merge and, no longer being in the minority, openly assault any who had not succumbed.
I expected to have had more time to arrange my escape from the stricken town. I had belongings and crates and heirlooms I could not leave behind; fleeing in the night was not an option for me. And now I regret my lingering, for now they are here for me.
I have barricaded the door, bolted tight the windows, but I fear it will be in vain. The sheer number of my enemy, and their strengthened determination to enter my home, will overcome any barriers I can place before them.
Sitting in my chambers, I am shaking with dread. A thunder of splitting wood heralds their ingress. The cries of the monsters increase in fervour and volume as they swarm through the ground floor. The stairway is narrow, and it will force them to ascend in single file. That is a small mercy though, for still they will come. Pushing at the one in front, hungry for my blood, they will rise like a river of flesh erupting from the depths of hell. The cacophony of their voices, words lost in the bloodlust, pounds at my ears.
The horde reaches the top floor and the door to my room shudders as they press against it. Hinges whine. Wood groans.
And then they are in, falling over themselves to get at me. In their hands they clasp artefacts of their madness – crucifixes, stakes, garlic – and I know that soon I will be dead.
Dead, no longer undead.
…In A Different Galaxy Far, Far Away
When EstherFlowers1 corrected my misspelling of Chewbacca, I joked that Chewbecca was the famous wookiee’s female counterpart. This led to me consider other characters in the cross-gender space saga.
Chewbecca is first mate on the Millenium Tiercel and best friend to Ann Solo. Along with Lucy Skywalker and Jen Kenobi, they rescue Prince S. Layer (the less said about his bedroom antics the better) from the evil Darth Vera.
(C3PO and R2D2, being sexless, remain the same but they are portrayed by Antonia Danielles and Kenita Baker.)
The adventure continues when Lucy is trained in ways of The Intuition by Yolonda, and Ann and co. are betrayed by Linda Calrissian. After being frozen in carbonite, Ann is then taken by Bobbie Fett to the space-gangster Jessica the Hutt.
If the finale, the evil Empress Paula Pteen is defeated by Vera’s previous personality, Annie Kinskywalker.
The unsung heroine of the entire franchise is the double-X Wing pilot, Wedge Heel.
I suppose it’s a bit late now to say SPOILER ALERT but, seriously, is this anything you didn’t already know?
As A Beak To A Hen
Fort’or Gladio led his army through the enemy’s stronghold, every man bravely fighting back Arcus-In Imicus’s undead soldiers. Together, they cut through the sorcerer’s defences and made their way to the base of the tower. Many good men had fallen, and Fort’or profoundly felt the loss of each. But the worst loss would be that of his beloved, Vasíl Issair Oídas. The foreign queen to whom he was betrothed would be cast from the parapet unless Fort’or could reach her in time.
As he bound toward the spiralling stairway, a tremendous screech rent the air. Downdrafts from huge, leathery wings beat at the men. Their eyes turned upward and some of his army, men war-hardened in many battles, wept openly. Descending upon them was the dread sight of Storslem, a diabolical creature Arcus-In had summoned from the Pits.
Fort’or recognised that the beast had been sent to prevent Vasil’s rescue. Storslem was behind him, nothing preventing him racing up the tower to his queen. But more men would die under the monster’s crushing limbs and its horrific bite. He could not abandon them after they had given so much to his cause.
Standing at the foot of the tower, Fort’or had to choose between the life of the woman he loved or many valiant men.
Eric Scrafe closed the book and began to breathe again.
He had burned through the 600-page novel while waiting in line. That the most recent book in the Moonsetter saga had ended in yet another cliff-hanger did not disappoint him, but fuelled his yearning for the next instalment. What was disappointing was the fact that he would have to wait a year; Crescent Tears had just been released that day.
He checked his watch and felt his excitement increase. Within five minutes, Dane Kelton – the world’s best fantasy author in Eric’s opinion – would be ushered from the back of the bookstore and take his place at the desk to begin the book signing.
Eric was first in the queue, as usual. He was Kelton’s number one fan, owning every book, short story, article, interview and podcast his idol had written or appeared in. He even owned the pre-Moonsetter stories which, though it pained Eric to admit, were sub-par literary efforts.
He knew Kelton wrote the current books longhand, using the same fountain pen he had started the saga with. Eric was so enamoured with the writer, he had even spent a large portion of his savings on buying an exact replica, a limited edition eighteen-karat gold Aurora Leonardo da Vinci fountain pen.
The handle and lid were engraved with markings resembling a mystic language, one that could easily be found in the world Kelton created. Just holding the pen made Eric feel a connection to the fantasy world and, in turn, to Kelton himself.
Finally, the wordsmith made his appearance and Eric felt his stomach knot with nerves. He watched the bookstore manager intently, waiting for the nod that would indicate the signing had officially begun. Time slowed down… then the signal came.
Eric approached the table with a huge grin on his face. Kelton smiled up at him.
‘Hello, you,’ the author said warmly.
Eric’s heart burst. Kelton recognised him. Surely this was the best day of his life.
‘Hello, Mr Kelton,’ Eric replied, his throat dry.
‘Please, call me Dane.’
First name terms, Eric thought with pride.
‘I absolutely adore your work. I have everything you’ve written. I even bought a pen similar to yours.’ He pulled out the golden fountain pen for Kelton to see.
Kelton took the pen and placed it next to his own. They were identical.
‘I’m impressed,’ Kelton said. ‘I’m told they’re expensive.’
‘Two thousand, four hundred pounds,’ Eric said with a nod.
The author’s eyes widened. ‘Wow. I knew my wife loved me. Now I know how much.’
‘She gave it to you as a present, is that true?’
‘Almost,’ Kelton answered. ‘She let me borrow it once, and it’s still on loan.’
Eric laughed. Dane had a great sense of humour.
‘Is it also true Clara created Fort’or Gladio?’
‘She wrote a short story which introduced him, and I fell in love with the character. In fact, she used this very pen. Do you have something for me to sign?’
Eric passed him the pristine copy of Crescent Eyes. He always bought two copies at book signings, one to read, over and over again, and another to be autographed and kept in excellent condition. He read the inscription as Kelton wrote: “For always being first in line, and for having exquisite taste, thank you, your friend Dane Kelton.”
With a warm feeling inside, Eric took his latest prized possession and his pen and drifted home on cloud nine.
Eric awoke late the next day. The excursion to see Kelton had taken him 190 miles from his hometown and cost him two days of annual leave. The four-hour train journey, which included changing at York, meant he had had to set off in the morning and had not returned home until well after midnight.
He regretted nothing though, he thought as he stretched and yawned. Some of his colleagues regularly travelled hundreds of miles to watch their favourite teams playing away; was his love for fiction any different to that?
Having devoured the new novel again on the return journey, he planned to read it for the third time in the comfort of his lounge as soon as he’d had breakfast and checked Kelton’s website.
As he waited for the kettle to boil, he accessed the internet through his phone. He had long ago set moonsetter.co.uk as his homepage. Kelton infrequently updated his blog and, as it was written by his favourite author, Eric relished every surprise entry. When he saw that another blog had been added the previous night, his pulse raced with anticipation.
He thumbed through to the page and read the writer’s words:
Tonight saw the launch of Fort’or Gladio’s latest adventure in Crescent Eyes, book eight of the Moonsetter series. The first book signing, at Schuster Bookstore in London, was a great success and, as usual, it was a delight to meet the fans.
One such fan shared with me his Aurora Leonardo da Vinci pen and, I’m embarrassed to say, our pens were accidentally swapped. I discovered the error when I came to draft the new Gladio story.
I implore you to contact me as soon as you can to arrange the exchange of our respective properties.
Eric felt his heart fluttering. Kelton had mentioned him. He was famous. He read the entry again. Okay, he thought, so he hasn’t mentioned me by name, but he is probably protecting my identity.
This was fantastic news. He was going to get to meet his hero again, this time on a one-to-one basis.
He looked around his poky flat. Kelton couldn’t come here, not a man of his stature. They would have to meet in a public place, perhaps one of the posher restaurants in town. Eric felt his belly turning somersaults as he considered eating across from Dane Kelton. He wondered if they would discuss the next Moonsetter book.
The kettle clicked off, returning Eric to the moment. First thing’s first, he thought. I have to reply.
He entered the ‘Contact Us’ page and began typing in his message:
Im sorry i took ur pen by mistake. I look 4ward to meeting u to return it. Pls call me 2 arrange a meeting place.
After typing in his mobile number, his thumb hovered over the ‘send’ icon. He re-read his short sentences and grimaced at the inadequacies of his use of language. He couldn’t send that to the world’s greatest living author. Kelton deserved something better, something special.
An idea dawned in his mind and he laughed at his originality. He would handwrite a letter, take a photo of it and use that as a joint apology-invitation. And, as a mark of honour and respect, he would use Kelton’s own pen to write it.
Coffee forgotten, Eric marched back into his bedroom and rummaged through drawers until he found his writing pad. He took Kelton’s golden pen – barely breathing as he held the instrument with a new-found awe – carefully removed the lid and, copying the words he had drafted online, he wrote:
Fort’or Gladio stood at the bottom of Arcus-In Imicus’s tower, gazing longingly at the ascending staircase. His beloved Vasíl Issair Oídas lay at the top, many storeys above, facing death. Around him, Fort’or’s men screamed as they were torn apart by the hell spawn Storslem.
Cursing himself for the decision, Fort’or turned to face the winged demon and, with a heavy dread in his soul, leapt forward.
Some More Pantoums
Anomaly: the rejected prologue
A fractured mind will see it clear:
Places we should not dare to tread;
And creatures that ought ne’er be seen,
Some living still and some long dead.
Places we should not dare to tread
The denizens both pure and ill,
Some living still and some long dead,
With wicked schemes yet to fulfil.
The denizens both pure and ill,
To catch a lost and lonely soul
With wicked schemes yet to fulfil.
Insanity their only goal.
To catch a lost and lonely soul,
To cast a deep, unholy fear,
Insanity their only goal:
A fractured mind will see it clear.
Anomaly: the rejected epilogue
And so, he looks out at the world,
The past forgotten, the future
Unknown yet not unknowable.
He takes his last uncertain breath.
The past forgotten, the future
To be written as he sees fit,
He takes his last uncertain breath
As he sets forth to a new dawn.
To be written as he sees fit:
His life, his eternal passion.
As he sets forth to a new dawn
To embrace again things once lost.
His life, his eternal passion,
His innocence, virginity;
To embrace again things once lost.
And so he looks out at the world.
Anomaly: the epilogue
And from the imagination
They come to help the world renew;
To teach the children how to dream,
To let them live and laugh and play.
They come to help the world renew
The lust for dreams and fun and love.
To let them live and laugh and play,
And not forget the yesterdays.
The lust for dreams and fun and love,
To make the future ripe and rich,
And not forget the yesterdays;
To learn the lessons from our past.
To make the future ripe and rich
And find again the innocence.
To learn the lessons from our past
And from the imagination.
Anomaly: the last chapter
From a dead wife who had been inexplicably resurrected to days missing from the Google calendar, from the ghostly appearance of people only he and his research assistant remembered to an audience with an octopus queen at the bottom of an alien ocean, it would be fair to say that many strange things had befallen Deke Jones that day.
Perhaps the strangest was yet to come, he thought as he stepped through the centre of the extra-terrestrial teleportation device.
He had no idea where he would end up, so was not too surprised to find himself in the middle of a forest. At least he was still in his own body, he thought with relief as he immediately checked his arms, body and legs.
A yard from him was Vaughn Lynton, a man he had recently met and who he did not believe had committed the murders the authorities suspected him of. Along with Roman Zorić and three alien octopuses, they were the only people to remember a past which was ever-changing.
In the past they shared, Deke’s wife had been killed in a car accident, Deke’s neighbours had a seven-year-old son and Marika Nowicki had been employed as the university receptionist. Upon waking that morning, Deke discovered his wife was alive but neither Jayke nor Marika had existed. What made matters more confusing was that Deke could see their spirits.
As Deke, Roman and Rosemary had consulted with William Bradshaw and Esme Sinfield, Bradshaw had suddenly disappeared, replaced by a Chō Morishita. While Deke and Roman had been shocked by this, neither Rosemary, Esme nor Chō seemed affected. They had no recollection of Bradshaw. Later, when Esme had similarly vanished, Rosemary and Chō expressed no memory of her.
Clueless to the cause of these bizarre events, they had considered either a collision of dimensional planes or that sections of the past were disappearing. If the day Rosemary had been killed no longer existed, she could not have died. Equally, if the days Marika, Jayke, Bradshaw and Esme had been born were erased, they would not have lived.
It was the latter theory that Queen, the leader of the alien octopus race, had deemed correct. She had stated her scientists had confirmed the source of these time anomalies was on Earth and had tasked Deke, Roman and Vaughn with finding and stopping the thief before all of history had been obliterated. To ensure her orders were followed, Queen had permitted the consciousness of three of her subjects to join the men.
Deke looked around expectantly. He did not have to wait long before Roman arrived, appearing from nowhere. Deke had a gut feeling his research assistant would follow. Whatever was occurring, only these three men – and their cephalopod escorts – were unaffected by the changes in time. He suspected that was because of something they would encounter here at the source.
‘Where are we?’ Roman asked.
‘Romania,’ Vaughn replied. He showed them his phone. ‘GPS still works.’
‘And how do we find… whoever or whatever we’re looking for?’
‘You could ask me.’
Deke spun around. The voice seemed to have come from behind the trees ahead of him. He peered into the gloom but saw nothing. His eyes were drawn to a gnarly tree trunk and he realised he was experiencing pareidolia; the knots and marks in the bark made the impression of a face.
‘But I can’t promise I would know whomever or whatever it is that you seek’, the face said.
‘You’re a talking tree,’ Deke said. He was accepting everything today.
‘Trees don’t talk,’ the talking tree said. ‘At least, not in English.’
The entity moved and Deke saw that it wasn’t a tree after all. It had two thick, squat legs and a long body topped with a head of the same width. It didn’t appear to have a neck or any arms. All over its torso, legs and head were leaves of various shape and size, as though it had fashioned clothes from the forest around it. As Deke watched, a leaf broke free and drifted to the ground.
‘What are you?’ Roman asked.
The face of the tree-not-tree looked affronted by the question.
‘An ent,’ Vaughn said.
‘What is an ent?’ it asked. ‘Is it an ent you seek?’
‘We don’t know what we’re looking for,’ Deke admitted.
‘Wait a minute,’ Roman said. ‘You said trees don’t talk in English.’
‘It is true,’ the creature said. ‘Trees do not speak a language that can be heard by the ears.’
‘No, but why are you speaking English?’ Roman asked. ‘We’re in Romania. Shouldn’t you be speaking Romanian?’
Shaking its tree-head slowly and causing another leaf to float loose, the native said, ‘I do not know what Romania is. I am speaking the only language I know.’
‘Vaughn, check your GPS again,’ Deke instructed as he pulled out his own phone. He opened his locator app and watched as a hologram of the planet spun and zoomed in until his bearings were reported: Nova Scotia.
‘We’re not in Romania,’ Vaugn confirmed. ‘We’re in Taiwan.’
‘Madagascar,’ Roman added, looking at his own phone.
‘We’re not speaking English, are we?’ Deke asked the not-an-ent.
‘We are speaking the only language needed.’
‘Do you know where we are?’ Deke asked.
Deke felt his frustration grow at the creature’s evasive answers, but he was not sure if he was feeling his own annoyance or that of his octopus passenger. Possibly both.
‘But where is here?’
‘Here is here,’ it said. ‘The place that was, that is and that will be.’
‘Eden?’ Vaughn suggested.
‘I do not know what Eden is.’
‘Are there any other… residents here?’ Deke asked.
‘There are trees and grasses and mosses,’ it replied. ‘There are rabbits and worms and doves. There are wisps and breezes and starbeams. Who is it that you seek?’ it asked.
‘There is someone here that is destroying our home,’ Roman answered. ‘Our past is being stolen by something that is happening here.’
‘Nothing here would destroy,’ the creature said as an oak leaf fell from its head. ‘Here is devoted to creation only.’
‘You said there are rabbits and doves,’ Vaughn said. ‘They eat the grass, and berries and seeds. Do you not see that as destroying?’
Roman nodded in agreement. ‘In that fashion, it is nature’s way to destroy.’
‘No,’ the thing said. ‘It is nature’s way to dream. This is how the rabbits and the doves – and the tiger cubs and the ivies and the spiders – survive here. They live, and they create.’
‘What do they create?’ Deke asked.
‘But dreams are not stealing our past,’ Roman argued.
‘Dreams,’ Deke muttered under his breath.
In this strange forest, in a place unlocatable by global satellites, a talking not-tree spoke of a pseudo-paradise in which the inhabitants created dreams simply by existing. Could there be a place that was tied to Earth yet not of the earth? A place where dreams were born.
‘Is this place imagination?’ he said out loud.
Deke felt Roman’s and Vaughn’s gazes fall on him. The creature looked at him in silence. A maple leaf drifted away from it. Deke realised the leaves were not part of its clothing.
‘You’re dying,’ he whispered.
The thing nodded sadly.
‘We create dreams here,’ it said, ‘but this place is in turn created by dreams. Dreams not of ours, but of others. For some time now, we have felt a loss of that which keeps us alive.’
Another leaf sprang free from the entity and Deke felt the loss of something from his past. His sixteenth birthday, the time he had spent with Skye Kendrick. The night she had made him a man.
‘You’re not stealing our past,’ Deke said, ‘you are our past.’
‘I’m not sure I’m following this,’ Vaughn said.
‘This place is not on our maps,’ Deke explained, ‘because it doesn’t exist in the real world. Call it a dreamscape or a collective subconscious, this is the place that fuels our imagination.’
‘But it is fed by something from our world,’ Roman said.
‘Like… magic?’ Vaughn said incredulously.
Deke turned to face him. ‘Yes. Magic, exactly.’
‘I was being sarcastic.’
‘Of course you were. Because magic doesn’t exist, does it?’
‘No,’ Vaughn answered. ‘We have technology.’
‘And science. God, I can’t believe I was so stupid. Last month, I gave a seven-year-old boy a chemistry set. How is that supposed to feed his imagination? Why didn’t I get him a story book?’
‘Like Enid Blyton,’ Roman said.
‘Wait,’ Vaughn said. ‘She’s been banned.’
‘Exactly,’ Deke said, almost screaming with the revelation. ‘Blyton and Carol and Potter and Kipling. We’re no longer allowed to teach our kids to dream. We want them to grow up and understand the real world, the working world, and it is costing them their imagination.’
‘Which keeps this place alive,’ Vaughn said, finally catching on.
‘Yes,’ Deke agreed. ‘By trying to deny our past, we are causing it to literally disappear.’
Anomaly: the fifth chapter
There are seventeen colours in the rainbow. Modern science tells us only seven combine to make white light, but modern science is lacking in so many things.
At one time, it was believed the thundergods cleaved the heavens in their struggle for dominance of the higher realms. This was proven wrong when mankind took to the skies and, in reaching the heights only gods had previously trod, committed mass deicide.
That cruel, albeit unintentional, nature has littered our past with
The thoughts were jolted from Deke’s mind as he collided heavily with solid ground. With a head aching as though he were hungover, he opened his eyes – his own eyes, not those of the octopus he had recently inhabited – and was relieved to be back in his office. Beside him lay Roman Zorić, his research assistant, and Vaughn Lynton, a man suspected of murder, each groaning in pain.
Deke tried to recapture the train of thought, wondering if it could shed any light on the predicament they were facing. A seventeen-coloured rainbow, the death of gods and… it was no use. The ideas were fading as quickly as a dream upon waking.
Looking up, he saw the white ring which had transported the three men to the seabed of an alien world hanging motionless in the middle of the room. Through its centre, he made out the figures of Chō, Esme and Rosemary, his until-recently late wife. The worry on Rosemary’s face melted away when she spotted him. Running around the interstellar object, she rushed to his side and helped disentangle him from the other men.
‘Where have you been?’ she asked.
‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ Deke said.
‘Considering everything else you’ve told us today,’ Chō said while still intently peering at the space-ring, ‘I doubt there is anything we would dismiss.’
‘Alien octopi,’ Vaughn said in a doubtful voice.
Chō raised an inquisitive eyebrow, reminding Deke of William Bradshaw. One difference between the two of them – aside from gender, nationality and, since a short while ago, existence – was that Bradshaw would not have missed the opportunity to inform Vaughn that, as the word octopus is derived from the Greek, it is incorrect to use a Latin suffix for the plural.
Once the three intergalactic travellers had lifted themselves from the floor and ensured none had suffered any damage in their graceless return to Earth, Deke informed the others of their encounter with Queen, the leader of the alien octopus race.
‘Their scientists confirmed time is disappearing,’ Roman concluded.
‘Which explains why last Tuesday didn’t happen,’ Rosemary said, referring to the day she had died, ‘and why we don’t remember Marika.’
‘But it doesn’t answer how Roman and I remember Marika,’ Deke said, ‘or why the three of us can see her ghost.’
‘So our idea of one or more dimensions intruding on one another is wrong, then?’ Esme said, dejectedly.
‘Not necessarily,’ Chō stated. ‘All we have against it is the word of an alien creature.’
Deke felt his anger rise as the Japanese woman spoke so dismissively of Queen.
‘It was you who said the crossing-dimension theory was unlikely,’ Rosemary countered.
‘Yes, “unlikely”,’ Chō concurred. ‘But that does not mean we should categorically rule it out, not until it has been disproved. What interests me more is that these anomalies which have affected us today were felt all the way across the galaxy. Not just that, but this alien race had the time to locate the source of the anomaly and send this…’ she indicated the floating ring, ‘device across countless astronomical units, all in a matter of hours.’
Deke fought the urge to grab Chō by the lapels and shake some respect into her.
‘Are you suggesting that Queen caused this anomaly and lied to us about it?’ Roman’s voice was dripping with the same vitriol Deke felt. Eyes wide in shock, Esme glared at the man she and Deke had once called the most mild-mannered person on the planet.
Chō looked him levelly in the eye.
‘I am suggesting nothing at the moment,’ she answered calmly. ‘I am simply keeping an open mind to any and all possibilities. The only thing I am certain of in this puzzle is that, of the six of us in this room, three of us remember a different past to two of you. I’m not sure where this gentleman fits in,’ she added looking at Vaughn.
‘He remembers the same things we do,’ Deke snapped. Her words had abated his anger somewhat, but he still felt a strong animosity toward her.
‘Then three remember a Gareth-world and three a Marika-world,’ Chō said, referencing the receptionists to succinctly sum up the situation.
‘Three and six,’ Vaughn said. When they all looked at him in confusion, he elaborated. ‘I might not know what the hell is going on, but I do know that we came back with the minds of the octopi with us.’
Deke recalled Queen’s message: My subjects do not fare well on alien land. I will permit their consciousness to join you.
Of course, he thought. The feeling in my head is not a hangover, it’s the presence of another being.
That would explain his surge of rage. When Chō had seemed to speak ill of Queen, it had been her subject that had grown angry, not him.
He tried to mentally reach out to his internal companion but received no reply. It wasn’t surprising given that they were different species from different worlds. The only reason he had been able to communicate with Queen was because the body he had been inhabiting could read her body language. He doubted the passenger in his head understood verbal communication well enough for them to read each other’s thoughts, but they appeared to sense one another’s emotions.
‘Even if Queen was right,’ Roman said, ‘and the locus of the anomaly is here on Earth, we still have no idea where it is or what caused it.’
‘Or why you are the only ones to remember the altered past,’ Rosemary added.
‘What if this is not an anomaly?’ Esme asked. ‘What if this is how the universe ends, slivers of time disappearing from the past unt’
‘Not another one,’ Vaughn shouted, much to the shock of Rosemary and Chō.
As the two women looked to Deke for an explanation to Vaughn’s outburst, Deke could only stare at the pale image of Esme which stood in the place her solid figure had been. Her mouth continued moving – Deke thought he saw the words ‘until there is no more history?’ form on her lips – but her voice was gone. Esme had become a ghost in the same manner Bradshaw had.
‘No, no, not Esme,’ Roman sobbed.
Deke noticed the changes in the office. Esme’s desk had vanished, the stain on the windowsill where she had spilled coffee was gone.
‘Should we know who this Esme is?’ Chō asked. There was a fearful light in her eyes which Deke found perversely satisfying.
No, he reminded himself, not me; my cephalopod companion.
‘Esme has worked in this office with me for seven years,’ he said flatly. ‘We’ve known each other since university.’ Looking at Rosemary, he said, ‘She was one of our bridesmaids.’
Deke guessed that neither she nor Chō could remember Esme, but he knew they would be aware that someone had just been claimed by yet another anomaly in time. And if a person could disappear from memory, from existence, so quickly and arbitrarily either of them could be next.
The spirit of Esme opened her eyes wide. She seemed to realise what had happened to her. The look of dread on her ghostly face was more terrifying than anything Deke had seen before.
Earlier that morning, at the front desk when Marika had realised he could see her, she had looked lost and confused. Her spirit had no idea what was happening whereas Esme had been party to the discussions around the anomalies and their repercussions.
Deke could not comprehend the fear that comes with knowing she could no longer interact with the world or the realisation that her existence had been erased, that her life had meant nothing. Her parents would no longer remember her, her husband not graced with her love, her children… her children could no longer exist either, he reasoned with a cold shudder.
‘We’ve got to stop this,’ he muttered.
‘But how?’ Roman said. ‘How do we even begin to look for the cause?’
Before Deke could answer, the motionless space-ring began to turn. Deke felt – no, his octopus passenger felt – a swelling pride and just a touch of apprehension.
‘I think they’ve found it for us,’ Deke said, reading the emotions.
‘Who?’ Rosemary asked.
‘Queen’s octopi scientists,’ Vaughn answered. He glanced at Deke, trepidation on his face. ‘Standing around here isn’t helping. Let’s see what she found.’
With a deep breath, Vaughn jumped through the centre of the ring and vanished.
Deke looked at his wife.
‘I love you,’ he said as he followed Vaughn into the unknown.
Anomaly: the fourth chapter
Deke Jones led his guest into his office. It wasn’t until he saw Esme and Roman that he remembered he had left his wife, Rosemary, in Chō Morishita’s office. Events of this bizarre day were unfolding so quickly, Deke was struggling to keep track.
Roman appeared to have calmed down since seeing William Bradshaw vanish in an instant, but he still looked pale and shaken. Esme’s eyes widened when she saw Deke’s escort, and Deke knew she had immediately recognised him as the prime suspect in the recent murder spree.
Before she could react, Deke informed her: ‘This is Vaughn Lynton. He came into the university because he saw Marika.’
‘How…’ Esme started. Deke understood why she did not finish the question.
It was useless to ask how this man, whom they had never met before, could see the spirit of a woman who had never existed in this world. The question may be impossible to answer, but his presence might help them understand why Deke and Roman were the only other people to remember the receptionist and to have seen her ghost.
‘Can you please go to Chō’s office and bring her and Rosemary here?’ Deke asked Esme. His colleague nodded and left without a word. The more minds they had working on this conundrum, the better their chances of finding an explanation.
Directing Vaughn to a chair, Deke filled him in with the morning’s strangeness, telling him how he had first seen Marika’s spirit when he had entered the university and later discovered that Roman could also see the ghost. He added than both he and Roman remembered Marika as a living person who had worked in the reception for the past few years but that everyone else seemed to think Gareth had been there the whole time.
Deke purposefully left out the fact that he recalled his wife’s death a week earlier but had awoken that morning to her beside him, alive and unharmed. One impossibility at a time, he thought.
‘I suspect,’ Deke said, ‘that you share the same memories of the past as Roman and me. I’d like to ask you some questions to see if we can prove that.’
For all the oddness of the story, Vaughn seemed to accept it readily.
‘I just want to know why everything’s different,’ he said with a sense of desperation. ‘And why I’m suspected of murder. I’ll do anything if you can end this nightmare.’
Remembering Bradshaw’s plan, Deke switched on his computer and loaded up a news site. The first story to fill the screen was the recent murders. The photofit image rotated slowly, an uncanny copy of the man in front of him.
‘I didn’t do it,’ Vaughn said. ‘I didn’t do any of it. Why would they lie?’
‘These deaths didn’t occur in the past I remember,’ Deke told him. ‘If you and I come from the same place, I believe you.’
Moving through the website, Deke pulled up an item covering the aftermath of the tsunami that had devastated southern California ten days ago.
‘Do you remember this happening?’
‘Yes, it was dreadful,’ Vaughn answered. ‘Do you think this has anything to do with us?’
‘I remember that,’ Roman said quietly. He seemed to be recovering quickly, ready to join the discussions again.
‘So do I,’ Deke said. ‘At least that confirms we all remember similar things.’
The next news article reported how the Welsh government had been rocked by the sudden resignation of the Prif Weinidog on Wednesday. Cerridwen Owens, leader of Plaid Genedlaetholgar Gymreig, had decided to stand down following the recent scandal her husband had been embroiled in.
‘Cerridwen Owens was never Prime Minister,’ Vaughn said.
‘Not in my past, either,’ Deke agreed. ‘Roman?’
‘I don’t follow politics,’ Roman said, ‘but I’m sure I would have remembered such a major story.’
‘How about this?’ Deke asked, moving to a report on the children’s novels which had recently been deemed as unsuitable for modern times. The works of Enid Blyton and Lewis Carol were destined to follow Grimm’s and Hans Christian Anderson’s.
‘Bigoted tripe,’ Vaughn said. While Deke was not sure if he was referring to the last century’s authors or the media’s claim that their stories were sexist, racist and classist, he understood that Vaughn remembered the ongoing debate.
‘It seems that, whatever has occurred,’ Deke said with growing confidence ‘the three of us-’
He stopped when the text on the holoscreen was replaced by a video. Large, red words scrolling across the bottom of the screen declared BREAKING NEWS. The grainy image displayed a starfield, a vague sense of movement near the centre.
‘…live pictures from the International Space Station,’ a commentator announced, ‘showing the approaching object, first thought to be a previously undiscovered comet. Spokespeople for the ESA and CNSA have yet to comment, but an early statement from Roscosmos reveals that the Russian government believe this to be an envoy from intelligent life in the galaxy.’
The item in the middle of the picture grew steadily larger is it travelled nearer to Earth. To Deke, it resembled a silver teardrop. The trajectory changed and the camera moved fluidly to keep the mysterious craft in frame.
‘It appears to have changed course for the third time now,’ the news reporter continued, ‘which some believe is a sign that the object is being controlled by a sentient being. Estimations say the object will now enter our atmosphere somewhere over northern Europe.’
Deke stared in fascination at the screen. Ever since he had been a boy, he had wondered if intelligent life existed elsewhere in the universe. Why did they have to choose today of all days to finally show up? Or maybe they could only arrive in this reality, he thought. Perhaps back in my world, when last week had seven days and my wife was waiting to be put in the ground, this UFO would never have come.
The craft slowed as it entered the stratosphere and turned until its wider end was facing the planet. Beside the image being broadcast from the ISS, a second picture appeared on the holoscreen, taken from a drone high up in the sky beneath the interstellar mystery. A powerful zoom focused on the object, showing the transformation it was undergoing.
In a movement which Deke could only describe as ‘melting’, a small piece of the craft broke away and plummeted down. The ISS video showed the teardrop-shaped craft meld into a conical tube, the narrow end pointing into space, while the drone footage followed the descending piece. As it dropped through the atmosphere, it became clear that this part was ring-shaped. It hurtled through the sky at an incredible speed. The drone worked hard to keep up, often losing its quarry from frame for a half-second.
Eventually, somewhere over the North Sea, the ring slowed and the drone was able to catch up. The craft flew at a steady altitude for several hundred miles then suddenly veered down. As the drone’s camera followed the descent, Deke saw buildings in the object’s path. Though shot from an unusual angle, he recognised the area.
‘Oh my God,’ Roman yelled. ‘That’s the university.’
On the video shot from the pursuing drone, they watched the ring-shaped craft drop closer to the building they were in. It slowed as it drew closer, and turned to its left. It seemed to be being drawn, or directed, to a specific location.
Deke felt his stomach churn and his throat go dry. Vaughn made a wordless noise and pointed to the window.
Outside, the object was moving directly toward them. Though it was now travelling at a much slower speed, perhaps a jogging pace, it did not stop as it approached the glass.
Too awestruck to cover his face, Deke watched as the craft entered the office. It did not burst through the window, did not cause damage or destruction. Instead, with movement that was difficult to focus on, it passed through the glass.
Deke knew it was not possible for two solid bodies to cross paths without at least one of the bodies yielding. He also knew that all solid matter was made of atoms and that the distance between the atoms, though infinitesimally small, was more than large enough for a number of atoms to fill. Could it be that this alien technology had entered the building by slipping through the atomic gaps?
The ring hovered in the middle of the office, rotating slowly in silence. Close up, it appeared to be constructed of a smooth, white material. Stranges markings around the circumference glowed a deep green. Through the centre of the ring, a circle about four feet in width, the background shimmered like the air over a fire.
Roman, closest of the men to the object, emitted a gargled cry and drifted closer to it. Then Vaughn, though his limbs remained rigid, moved forward. Deke took an involuntary step backwards, but it was no good. He felt himself being pulled toward the ring. Some invisible force was dragging the three of them toward the floating artefact.
Being the furthest away, Deke watched as Roman was pulled through the centre of the ring – but did not appear from the other side. When Vaughn followed suit and also vanished, Deke knew his fate. His thoughts turned to Rosemary as he felt himself lifted from the floor.
And then things turned weird.
Deke found himself underwater. Panic filled his brain as he realised he may drown. He looked around frantically but could not see the surface. The only sense of direction he had came from the taste of the ground below him.
Movement a small way ahead of him caught his attention and he stared in horror as a terrifying beast lifted itself up. A bulbous sac rose above two bulging eyes. Where there should have been a nose and a mouth, the monster split into multiple strips of equal length. It stood on these eight appendages, lifting and flexing them in a seemingly random pattern. Somehow, Deke knew the creature meant no harm.
Around him he saw two smaller specimens of the thing before him.
He wanted to ask where he was, but of course could not speak being underwater. In his field of vision, he saw two tentacles, much closer than those attached to the beast before him, raise and move.
The beast responded, curving its arms and contracting its head. Deke fathomed that he was on the home planet of this creature, a being he was to call Queen.
How can I call you Queen, Deke thought, when I can’t even breathe?
The closer tentacles – there were more of then he now saw – moved again and Deke felt his own head change shape. He wondered if the feeling was a symptom of drowning.
Queen moved again, lowering her body, extending three arms, rising again and changing the colour of her skin. Deke understood that his consciousness had been transmitted across space into the body of a host octopus so that Queen could have this audience with him.
Looking down at the tentacles near him, Deke realised they were attached to his body. No, not his body – the body of a cephalopod. He was looking at the world, an alien world, through the eyes of another living entity.
Queen changed colour again, waggled more arms. You will be returned.
What do you want from me? Deke thought. The tentacles of the body he currently occupied flurried as the question was conveyed to Queen.
I’m communicating with an alien, Deke realised. His tentacles flexed and moved. No, don’t communicate that. More movement from his host’s body.
Queen’s head expanded, contracted, limbs flipped about. You were summoned to explain why you have stolen time.
One of the smaller octopuses waggled its arms. We haven’t stolen time.
The past is fractured, Queen relayed.
We know, Deke ‘said’, but we don’t know why. Or how.
Through movement and several changes of hue, Queen said, Three of my subjects have reported a different history to that which the rest of us recall. Our stargazers determined the source of the problem originated on your planet.
We contemplated the possibility of a dimensional collision, Deke’s host body told Queen.
An avenue our stargazers also considered until our historians proved the stolen time theory. Segments of the past are disappearing, altering the present.
Altering the present for some, the smaller octopus said, not all. Why are we, and those subjects of yours, not affected?
We had hoped you could explain.
The smaller octopus raised the top of two tentacles, close to where they attached to the head. It seemed that a shrug was a universal gesture.
You must discover this thief, Queen said, and stop them before they steal all our pasts.
Your technology is far superior to ours, Deke said. Surely you are more suited to this task.
The miscreant is from your world. My subjects do not fare well on alien land. I will permit their consciousness to join you, to ensure my command is completed.
Queen lifted herself from the seabed, and prepared to swim away. Before she left, she gave one final message:
It is not only our pasts at risk. You must stop the thief before they steal the time in which the universe began.