Fiction posts

Fiction: No more burying friends

I decided to have a go at one of the recent writing sparks

You are so tired of burying your friends. It’s time to make a change.

My brain took it in a special direction, and I got to play with second person and present tense, neither of which I use very often in my writing. I had fun, and hope you enjoy the result! 


Digging holes is hard work. The earth is harder than it looks, and it hides rocks for the shovel to crash into, sending shock-waves up to punish your already weary arms and shoulders. Your back hurts, more on one side than the other, so you try switching the shovel to the other side, as if that might help. All that happens is that new muscles start complaining. The hole gets deeper.

Bodies, they’re hard work, too. They’re heavier than you might think, particularly when they’re limp and useless. There’s no good way to carry them, and the dangly parts easily get caught on things as you pass, forcing you to stop and untangle them. It’s awkward work, but you’ve learned that it’s best to wait until the rigidity has eased before moving them.

After all, they must be dealt with. The holes must be dug. The bodies must be dragged out, heels scoring divots in your freshly-piled earth. The space closest to your home is full now, which means you have to drag them further and further away each time to reach your newly-dug hole. It only gets harder.

Luckily, gravity takes them down into their new home, though they don’t lie peacefully when they come to rest. You want to hop down there and arrange them in a more appropriate way, but your arms feel like lead and your legs shake with the weight of it all.

You’re honestly not sure if you could climb out again, should you go down there.

It’s easier to fill a hole than it is to dig it, but the shovel feels heavier now when you pick it up. Perhaps it is the drain of the day’s work so far, of digging and digging to make a hole big enough, because bodies require a startling amount of space to lie in, and it seems wrong to force them to fold up just so you can dig a smaller hole. They died, and they meant something to you, so you try to do right by them.

Plus you have to make it deep. Deep enough that you won’t smell the bodies turning into food for the earth; deep enough that the animals won’t smell the bodies turning into food for them. You only want to bury them once, so best to do it right the first time. Only a fool cuts corners and makes more work for themselves.

Or perhaps the shovel is heavier now because of the strain of carrying the body from there to here, so you could put them to rest. Dragging their cold shell with its clinging memories. Sometimes laughter, sometimes shared sadness, always connections. Some way in which lives intersected and forged a bridge. They made you like them, which made you care when they stopped.

You feel that weight in every shovelful of earth you pour down on them. Memories slide off the shovel’s blade and pepper down into the hole. The moment they smiled at you honestly for once. A packet of shared chips. A pat on the back that was almost a slap. You shovel and shovel, and the earth hisses as it goes down and settles, and your muscles burn with the effort of it.

When you finally tamp it down into place with the back of the shovel, your whole body trembles with fatigue. You try to brush the dirt off your clothes, but it clings and stains. You wash your face and hands, but more seems like so much effort. You drink like you’re dying, and eat because you have to, even though it seems like yet more work for your body to do. Finally, finally you fall down into the deep, dark hole of sleep with a relieved sigh.

Burying friends is exhausting work. When the next one turns up, you start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing.

Building a bonfire, you discover, is much more pleasing work. You get to walk through the woods and enjoy the freshness of the air. You don’t have to listen to the crack and slide of the shovel or the rasp of your own breathing; now, the sprinkle of birdsong lights your day, and faraway animals call to each other. Small things living their small lives.

You move about freely, selecting pieces of fallen wood as you please. When you have an armful, you wander back to where you started. A pile begins to grow. Every now and then, you drag a large branch back, and notice that you’re getting better at dragging heavy, unwieldy objects. They’re not as heavy as a body, so you start to feel good about your skills. You’re probably starting to put muscle on, too.

Sometimes, all you need to bring back is a sackful of dry leaves and twigs for kindling. That’s like carrying air. You organise the branches in a circle, throw some of the smaller ones on top, and drizzle the kindling around the base. You maybe get a little artistic with the arrangement. There’s no harm in having fun with it, right?

You arrange a lawn chair and a cooler nearby, upwind and close enough that you should be able to feel its heat, once it’s lit. There’s nothing more pleasing and restful than sitting out under the stars with a roaring fire and a drink in hand.

The sun begins to set, painting the trees in red and gold, like the promise of the flames to come. It is time to add the final piece. Setting up the bonfire was not quick or effortless work, but it was still better than digging a hole.

Dragging the body out is still a heavy, tricky process, and heaving it up onto the centre of the pyre is surprisingly difficult. You wonder if it’s possible for them to help at all, come at least part of the way before they expire, but that would be somewhat unfair to ask of them. At least you’re getting better at manipulating the prone forms with their wayward limbs, and this time you’re able to fold the arms over the chest with a modicum of respect and consideration. Your friend looks almost peaceful. That’s much better than being twisted at the bottom of a hole.

You light the kindling and watch it catch. The conditions are dry enough that the flames crackle and latch onto the larger branches quickly. Light drains from the sky and pools in your bonfire that rises and rises, and throws sparks up as if to complete the cycle. For a while, there is a friend-shaped shadow in the fire; then it, too, is turned to light.

You sit and watch and sip your drink. Perhaps murmur a few words over your fallen friend and wish them well on their way to the next place. Happiness and sadness and all the other memories that bound you to them rise away with the smoke.

Before you head to your much-loved bed, you rake and poke the glowing embers, folding them over into a concentrated heap. Bones are hard to burn but you hope perseverence and pressure will do it. By morning, the wind will have scattered the ashes.

Yes, fire is a much better way to deal with a dead friend than digging a hole. You feel good once you know this, because progress and improvement are worthy things.

It doesn’t occur to you that perhaps you should stop killing your friends when they call by.

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Fiction: The Huntsman and the Crippled Goddess

A spider with a water droplet hat! A huntsman is about 100x this size. But look at his cute little face. (Picture: not mine)

A spider with a water droplet hat!
A huntsman is about 100x this size. But look at his cute little face.
(Picture: not mine)

So, I was talking with an American friend recently and teasing her about spiders. Here in Australia, the spiders are numerous, dangerous, or just plain big and scary. My friend visited Oz and I had to chase a huntsman spider out of my house when she was there. It was easily as big as my hand and galloping all over the walls and floor.

I sent my friend a package, and the teasing happened while the package was in transit. So, of course, I told her that I may have sent her some live cargo, completely accidentally, because you just never know where those sneaky little buggers might be. And, thanks to the wonders of international postal transit, they’ll probably have time to have a couple of generations before it finally arrives (it didn’t take that long to get there, luckily!). Poor little box-spiders, travelling to the promised land.

It inspired me to write her a little story. It’s the first thing I’ve written in months! She gave me permission to share it with you all, so here it is, in all its silly, spiderly glory.


The Huntsman and the Crippled Goddess

Some fun facts and love for the glorious huntsman! (Picture: not mine)

Some fun facts and love for the glorious huntsman!
(Picture: not mine; click for details)

It was another dark day, and the Huntsman and his family were making the best of it. The nest was doing well: much silk had been spun and it was almost ready for the next batch of eggs. The Huntsman’s grandchildren would be laid soon, and hatched a little after that. He wasn’t sure if he would be there to see the new ones crawl out; it was hard to mark the passage of time in this dark journey of theirs, but he suspected that his season was coming to its end.

“Wife, have the children had their learning today?” he asked, settling himself down, legs curled close.

“Oh, eat your head, husband,” his mate replied. She was busy with the hole in the corner of their small parcel of the world. It was a tiny hole, too small to crawl out of, but with a little coaxing, prey would sometimes make its way inside.

“That’s your job.”

“Only if you’re very lucky.”

The Huntsman shook his head and cleaned his face patiently.

The children returned from their forays for prey, most with empty silk-sacks. It was slim times inside their parcel; the Huntsman wasn’t sure how long they could survive. It had always been this way for them, though, since the angel visited and told them about their destiny. There had been much light, and many bright words, and then the enfolding dark. Storms raged outside the walls of their home, shook them sometimes, but never broke inside. He was safe here with his family. Protected. The angel had done as she had promised. But pickings were slim.

The Huntsman closed his eyes. It was quiet today, the storms outside barely a rumble. The temperature was dropping, but there was plenty of insulation and softness to keep him and his family warm inside their little boxed home. He listened to the voices of his children, reciting their learnings.

They were on a journey to a goddess in a golden place, the tale went. There, prey would run to greet them, foolishly sacrificing themselves. They wouldn’t have to live in a small parcel of world: they would have huge boxes to run around in, all bright and interconnected, with delicious shadows and comfortable nooks to settle in, low planes to gallop over, tall surfaces to scale and skitter across. Prey would be so plentiful that they would have only to reach out and grab it, so they would only run to enjoy themselves, to feel the different textures under their many feet, and perhaps to chase down a wayward mate.

The goddess would be grateful for them, for the Huntsman’s prey have caused her much distress. He and his family will come and deal with the vermin, and she will be grateful, and they will live happily together.

“And how will we greet the goddess, when the time comes?” the Huntsman’s wife asked.

The Huntsman cracked an eye open to watch.

The children raised their front legs in polite salute, then dropped down and rushed towards their mother, up and over her, around and back and forth, giggling with delight. They stamped as they went, their little feet tapping out their love all over their target.

“Very good! Though do try not to trip over each other, hm?”

Two of the children untangled themselves from the heap they had landed in and crouched apologetically.

“And be sure not to appreciate her with your feet for too long. There will be hunting to be done, and she’ll be pleased if we get right to it.”

“Why does the goddess need us to hunt for her?” another child asked.

“Because she has only four legs,” the Huntman’s wife said wisely.

The children murmured with surprise and dismay.

“She is so great and so old, that she has lost many of her legs. And grown so large that she cannot hunt such tiny vermin. That is why we have been summoned.”

“But father still has all of his legs,” another child protested.

“I am not so very old,” the Huntsman growled back before his wife could answer, surprising all of them. He peeled open a few eyelids to look at them. “The angel and the goddess existed long before I was born, and will be around long after all of us are gone. They are eternal. They create the houses we live in, the doorways we crawl through, the surfaces under our feet. You must not compare us to them.”

“The goddess is proof that, even if you are crippled, you can still be great,” his wife put in, her soothing tones settling the children, who were all staring at their father. “Why, my brother lost a leg and he was a mighty hunter for a whole ‘nother season after that. Grew to a ripe old age, he did.”

“But he wasn’t chosen to come along? Because of his missing leg?”

“No, child. He was already curled around his last bit of sky when the angel came to tell us of our destiny.”

“What’s sky?”

“It’s the highest part we can see. It’s the part that connects us to the goddess when we can’t hunt any more. We curl our legs around it, and she finds us and takes us to the next place.”

“Like little brother, on his back?”

“Like little brother.”

The children looked at each other, shuffling their feet as they digested that, as if it was prey they hadn’t quite killed properly. Wriggling all the way down.

“When will the goddess take him away?” one of the littler ones asked finally.

“Not much sky in here,” the wife said, looking upwards. The ceiling was very low and the space was stuffed with fabrics of differing types. Hardly any open air at all. “It might take her some time to find him.”

“Perhaps she’s leaving him here to keep us company on our journey?”

“So we don’t forget where we’ve been.”

“Or about little brother.”

“Will she leave father with us too, when he’s ready to hug the sky?”

“Maybe he’s hunted so much that she’ll find him quicker. He’ll curl around more sky than little brother.”

“But it’d be nice if he could finish the journey with us. Even if he is curled around the sky.”

“I’m not curling yet,” the Huntsman said finally, cutting off the conversation. He scowled at the children, then turned around to listen to the wall beside him. Tiny scratches would mean that prey was near, but the wall was still and quiet. He hungered.

The children continued to chatter about the goddess and her angel. Wondering how long their journey through the dark would be, how many storms and shakings they would have to go through. How many tests they would have to endure. When their sisters would get fat with eggs and if their children would be born in the dark, or under the goddess’s light. What it would be like to be able to run, free of the confines of their parcel of the world.

“Husband,” his wife said eventually, pulling his attention away from the silent wall and the susurrus of the children’s musings. “There’s prey to eat.”

The Huntsman lowered his head, then shook it slowly. “I do not hunger.”

His wife hesitated, then turned to the children. “Eat up, now.” She didn’t hunger either, it seemed. Their season was almost done, but the children, they were healthy. The nest was almost ready for them.

One way or another, the Huntsman would see the goddess soon, and curl himself around her blessed sky. His children or grandchildren would hunt for her and keep her happy, and they would live in plenty and splendour, galloping in the golden place. He was content with that.

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Fiction: The Chair

This is a piece I wrote back in 2008. I think it started as an exercise: take a song and use it to frame a narrative. It came out creepy and strange, and darker than I had intended. And yet, I am still fascinated by it. I still hear the song in my head when I read it, eerie and beautiful.

I have been thinking about this piece a lot recently, probably because the song it is based around came on my playlist, but I thought I’d lost it. After a hunt through some computer backups from 2009, I finally unearthed it (along with a bunch of other old writings, all of which made me insanely happy).

It’s a strange little thing. I have done a little work on it this week, tidied it up and focussed the progression of the narrative a little. There are parts of it that I love – some of the juxtapositions of imagery and lyrics make me happy – and parts that I think might be too obtuse and won’t come across the way I hope. I don’t want to over-edit it, though. Some of its charm (if you can call it that) is its raw nature, so I’ve decided to stop poking at it.

This isn’t a story that I could sell, because the lyrics in it are used without permission, so I thought I’d share it here. I’m currently wondering if I should enter it in a horror story competition that is running this month (as they don’t seem to care about the rights), but I’ll see how confident I’m feeling after I’ve slept on it.

I’d love to hear what you all think!


The Chair

chair-56704_640I huddle in a room where the lack of light is close and cold. The edges of my chair pick up threads of a distant light: a bright streak across the front of the seat; glimmers on the spokes leading up the back; a hard line across the top. The legs lie in darkness.


There’s a chair 

in my head, 

on which I used to sit.


Hush. Hush, little one, don’t make a sound. But I want to. I want to cry and scream, I want to pick the chair up and bang it on the floor, bang bang, you’re dead. I want to shout terrible words just to hear my mouth make them, just to hear the walls throw them back at me, bad girl, bad girl.

Instead, I sing to myself.


Took a pencil 

and I wrote 

the following on it:


This room swallows sound. The darkness grabs it and throttles it, and spits it out again at my feet. That’s where they gather, all of my small noises: on the dirty patch of floor just in front of my toes. I try to kick them away, but they won’t leave me alone. Stupid, pathetic little sounds, the sorts of things a wounded animal might vomit up.

Silence isn’t good enough. The air is listening to the way I push and pull at it, in and out, in and out. I don’t think it likes me. It turns to brass in my mouth and I don’t want it to touch my teeth. I don’t want anything to touch my teeth; I might bite.


Now there’s a key 

where my wonderful mouth 

used to be.


I wonder what locks I might open. I run my tongue along my teeth, taste brass again, and try to think of answers to questions, so many questions. I have been asked over and over again; they’ve gone now, but they’ll be back to ask more of me. Their words hang in the air: bright black things dangling in the darkness.

I cling to my chair with its flecks of light. It is solid; it rocks me. But it cannot make a rock out of me. They ask too much. Leave me to my chair.


Dig it up, 

throw it at me,


I’m being buried under the weight of their words. Like a secret.


Dig it up, 

throw it at me.


Like my secret. It sticks to me, mud on my skin, drying and cracking and showing me naked underneath. I can’t tell; I must never tell. It’s my mud, my dirt, my crack and break. Bless me, beat me, makes no difference. It’s mine and I’ll never give it up.


Where can I run to,


I am the rabbit. No, I am the fox, and the hunt is on high. I hide in the scrub and the brush; I crouch in the basement and huddle by my chair. I am a friend of the dark, but the dark doesn’t like me. I run and I run, little circles around the chair’s highlights. Nowhere, fast, here I come.

But I am no fox; I cannot run. I cannot be what I want to be. I will never be what they want me to be.


where can I hide,


I am a monochrome bird. They have cut off my wings and bound me to this chair. It’s the wrong shape for me; I must change it.

I must be something different now.


Who will I turn to


I won’t remember my secret any more. I had one once; they keep asking me about it. But I will be empty. I am sitting in the dark, new and waiting to unfold.


now I’m in 

a virgin state of mind?


If they keep asking, will they give it back to me? Fill me up with it, stain me all over again? I want to stay monochrome – don’t grey me out and smudge me into the dirt. Keep the filth; I don’t want it.


Got a knife 

to disengage 

the voids that I can’t bear,


No more marks. No more little niggling scars to give away a past. Filthy little histories, washed away in thickening liquid. Pare me down to a bright, new nub and bring me into the light. Let it fall on me again, let it shine through me, the way it used to.


To cut out words 

I’ve got written 

on my chair,


I brush the dirt from my skin and forget it underfoot, and I am clean again. There are no secrets here. There are no answers. This space – this chair – is only big enough for me; my heartbeat fills it up and there is no more than that in me now.


Like: do you think I’m sexy?


Is it better if I’m clean and empty? If I’m polished up for the light, shined and spruced and smiling vacantly? Now I’ve forgotten what I’ve hidden away? Will that make me better? Because I feel something missing, something broken.


Do you think 

I really care?


Does it matter if I’m broken? Does it really matter if my secret breathes in the dark and the dust, crouched there dressed in the pieces of me I pared away? As long as I don’t walk there, as long as I keep my face turned away, I won’t know that I’m missing.


Can I burn 

the mazes I grow?


I’ll walk the way I’m facing, I’ll fill the emptiness with something different and I’ll never know that I’m hollow. I’ll light a candle in me to shine through my smile.


Can I?

I don’t think so.


I’ll cleave to the chair I’ve made and pretend there was never anything else. I will stand tall, even when they question me, void of their answers.


Where can I run to, 

where can I hide,


Don’t look back, never look back. I am new and waiting to unfold, waiting for their light to shine my eyes.


Who will I turn to 

now I’m in 

a virgin state of mind.


Here they come, here they come. I stand and smile and show my teeth. I shine.

I am new and unfolding.


(Lyrics: ‘Virgin State of Mind’ by K’s Choice)

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Vampire Victim Support Group


It could be like this! Only with people. (Picture by Chris Campbell)

It could be like this! Only with people.
(Picture by Chris Campbell)

This is a piece I wrote some time ago. It was forgotten until I was poking through my netbook for a piece to give to my writing group to be critiqued.

It’s the result of a random idea I had, revolving around Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, support groups, and vampires. This led me to the Vampire Victim Support Group and how hilarious that could be, charting the stories of each of the members in vignettes or shorts, maybe framing it in the context of a meeting. Awkwardness over bad coffee and donuts. Uncomfortable plastic chairs. That one member who’s not quite sure why they’re there. All the different types of reaction to a very odd kind of trauma in the context of our modern (supernatural-oblivious) world.

This piece was put aside mostly because I have a million projects already fighting for attention, as well as a web serial to write. But the idea of it still makes me smile and I was so happy to polish up this first little piece of it.

So here you are! The first (and possibly only) vignette of the VVSG. Enjoy.


VVSG – Jaime


Jaime woke to the sound of sleeping. The susurrus of slack breathing; the soft rumble of a snore; the shift of heavy limbs. The sounds washed over her like a tide trying to drag her back down. She shouldn’t be awake. She should let herself slip under again, give in to the dark whispering in the corners of her mind.

She knew that if she opened her eyes and let light into those dark corners, the headache would start. From the heaviness of every muscle and the twist in her stomach, she knew she’d had way too much to drink last night.

But who could she hear sleeping, and why did she feel naked?

Jaime cracked her eyes open and sat up, wincing. Yes, she was completely naked, and so were all the bodies lying around her. She was adrift on a sea of flesh, spotted with clumps of tangled hair like seaweed.

She was breathing way too fast. She swallowed and forced herself to slow down. Take things one at a time, Jaime. Don’t panic. It can’t be as bad as it looks. Even if it looks like the aftermath of an orgy.

One thing at a time. She was lying on a couch. She wasn’t hurt, except for the hangover and a sore spot on her shoulder. A scab: had she cut herself? It ached but it wasn’t bad. She got up, wobbling, and swallowed back the urge to vomit.

She really didn’t want to wake these people, whoever they were. She didn’t recognise a single one of them. She also had no idea where her clothes were. Her underwear, her shoes, her purse: she couldn’t see them anywhere. It made her feel more naked than ever and she wrapped an arm over her breasts, as if that might help.

She looked around, trying to locate at least the blue dress she had been wearing. Details popped out of the scenery: the antique swords on the wall; the aged brocade of the furniture; the solid oak coffee table with the girl sprawled atop it; the couple twined so tightly on the other couch that it looked like they fell asleep mid-coitus. There were more bare breasts than she’d seen since she left high school.

Every instinct in her body screamed at her to get out of there. Jaime spotted a scrap of blue fabric and snatched it up as she picked her way across the room on shaking legs, trying not to wake anyone.

It wasn’t her dress but she pulled it on anyway. She hurried through long hallways and tried random doors until she stumbled outside. The early morning silence shocked her ears and the sun hit her like a hammer. Jaime’s head spun, and when she glanced back at the house, it was looming over her, all glass eyes and creeping vines. With a confused sob, she ran barefoot down the drive and along the street, and kept going until she ran out of breath.

She was about to hail a cab when she realised that she still didn’t have her purse and that meant nothing to pay with. Should she go back for it? Her keys were in there. Her ID. Her phone. Her knickers were back there, too.

Her mind kept returning to the girl on the coffee table. She had been sprawled on her back, arms and legs flung out with abandon. It couldn’t have been a comfortable way to sleep, especially not with the way her head lolled over the edge of the table. She hadn’t seemed asleep; her eyes had been open and staring. But she wasn’t moving, not even a twitch or a blink. Not a rise or fall of her bare breasts.

Oh dear god, the girl was dead. Jaime now knew what a real corpse looked like in the flesh. Her eyes filling with burning tears. She couldn’t go back, not now. She had to get out of there, go home and lock all the doors. There was a spare key in a plant pot, money in the house…

She rushed out into the street to wave down the next cab to come along, vowing that she wouldn’t throw up until she got home.


Over the course of that day, Jaime tried to put together the night before. She wanted to call the police, but what if they thought she was involved? She had stolen a dress and run from the scene of a crime. What if they thought she was guilty?

What if the dress belonged to the naked, dead girl on the coffee table? Jaime wanted to burn it, but settled with burying it in the bottom of her bin.

It was supposed to be a simple night out with the girls. But after they got to the bar, all she had was flashes of memory. They had started on the tequila slammers and it had gone downhill from there.

She had danced, writhing in a morass of bodies that shared a single rhythm. Heat had pressed against her skin, beaded her with perspiration. Somewhere, she had lost sight of her friends. She had breathed heady cologne and warm musk. She had sung until her throat hurt, her voice lost in the thump and trill of the speakers. She had danced on a coffee table, hands high and head tipped back.

The same coffee table that the dead girl was sprawled on. No, that had happened later.

There had been a strong arm around her waist: a single, solid contact on a shifting dancefloor. He had spun her until she laughed at her own dizziness, and his kisses had stolen her breath away. He had pressed her back against a wall; they fucked fast and heated that first time, the passion thick with gasped breaths and alcohol’s buzz.

The first time. There were several more with him that night: the rest were in the room with the antiques, though she didn’t remember travelling there. Or all the other people she’d woken up with.

How many had she slept with? She only recalled one. She remembered his pale eyes and the wicked curl to his lips as he licked them. He had made her belly flop over in that good way. She hadn’t even minded when he bit her shoulder hard enough to hurt.

Now, she had two crescent marks on her shoulder where his teeth had torn right through her skin. Strangely, the wound was neat and clean, as though someone had tended to it. His mouth had spent a lot of time on the wound, as if he wanted to stop it making a mess but was too busy fucking her to fetch a dressing. Or as if he was…

No, that was just ridiculous. People didn’t actually drink blood.


The floor was a pool of people, naked and gleaming in a golden half-light. Their bodies were dribbled with fine trails of blood: released from some; devoured by others. Hungry mouths gasped for air or closed over open wounds. The sea of them rippled with pleasure.

A pale-eyed lover sunk his hook into her shoulder and drew her in. She tumbled towards him, her head swimming, let it all wash over her…

Jaime woke up abruptly on her couch, her heart pounding and throat strangling. Realising where she was lying, she scrambled to her feet as if her own furniture was on fire.

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. It was barely midday and she never napped, late night or no. She didn’t feel like herself at all. She was pale and shaky; this was unlike any other hangover she’d had. Trying not to think too deeply about the dream, she took another shower and scrubbed her skin until it stung.


There were no murders reported in the news. No stories about debauched orgies or girls turning up tragically dead after a night out. There was a three-car accident on the highway and a drunken punch-up outside a nightclub that had landed a young man in hospital. There was a robbery in another city.

Jaime should report it. She knew that was the right thing to do. She’d seen the body and the authorities had to know. But she had no idea how to explain what had happened, where she had been or how to get there. As the day dipped down towards dusk, the scene she had awoken to was becoming more blurred and surreal.

Maybe she had imagined it. She had been very out of it when she woke up. Her night was so full of holes; maybe someone had slipped her something. Rohypnol caused memory loss. There were other drugs they might have used. There might not have been a dead girl at all, just random sparks of narcotics.

Somehow, being drugged was less frightening than the idea that she had slept near a corpse. It was less horrifying than the girl’s staring eyes and the way her face had looked hollow. Someone would have found her if it was real and reported it. Someone would know.

And yet, Jaime couldn’t shake the girl’s face from her mind. She was like a stone wedged in Jaime’s mental shoe and no shaking would throw her loose.

She was making something out of nothing. It was the drug haze playing games with her. She couldn’t even remember the house she had woken up in, not beyond the antiques. She had been caught up in something beyond her control under the influence of a narcotic. Now it was over. She had to put it behind her.

The next morning, she found her knickers in the mailbox.

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Swan Song: Part 2

Would hate to keep you all waiting, so here’s the second chunk of my short story for you all to enjoy! We continue to move through the aged ships that travelled to establish the colony at Yuva.

Confused about what’s going on? Start at Part 1. Trust me, it’ll all make sense in the end.


Swan Song (cont.)

“For a hundred years, we travelled through the darkness. We slept and dreamed of the possibilities that our new home would bring. During that time, there were trials we could not know about, dangers we were not aware of. It was the dedicated officers of these ships who carried us through them.”


Kashani, Captain’s Quarters
Gliese 581 -10 minutes

“Hey, Schkotty, where areya?”

The voice crackled over the intercom, scraping through what was left of the ship’s innards. Between the quality of the lines and the slurring, the words were barely comprehensible.

Malachi Scott caught hold of a grip on the edge of the lift tube door and raised his voice, almost shouting at the intercom port on the wall. “Be back in a minute. Hold your horses.” A quivering green light showed that the intercom had picked him up.

“Hurryup,” Trotter’s voice slurred. “Ain’t no holdin’ back the schun, y’know.”

Malachi shook his head and pushed himself up to the Observation Deck level, cursing silently at the stiffness of his bad knee. It protested even in zero-G these days.

There was a net of hooch bottles floating behind him, clipped to his belt, and he cracked open a bottle as he floated along. He gulped and grimaced; the liquid burned all the way down his gullet, but he kept drinking, because hell, what was there to lose? It wasn’t like he had to fear tomorrow’s hangover.

When he thumped the trigger for the Obs Deck doors, a blast of sound and light washed over him. Music thumped and Gliese speared into his eyes from the huge sweep of ferrographite glass. The sun’s orange glow momentarily blotted everything else out. Not yet, he thought as he blinked the spots out of his eyes. Not quite yet, you bastard.

A part of him was surprised that the Obs Deck hadn’t been dismantled along with the rest of the ship, but apparently there was a flaw in the curved window that might give way and kill them all. Not good enough for the colony but fine for a voyage like theirs. So of course, this was where the party was.

Things had deteriorated since he’d departed to check the autopilot settings and fetch more hooch. The centre of the Obs Deck was a mess of bodies.

Malachi stopped and stared at them as his vision cleared. Pale, sticky limbs moved in time with grunts and mumbles that punctuated the music. His brain kept ticking over the facts – that’s the cryonic specialist, and there’s the ion engineer, how the hell is her hip not dislocating in that position, and who the hell installed sex-tethers in here? – while his skin crawled with horror. Of all the things he wanted to see on this final journey, a zero-G geriatric orgy wasn’t on the list.

“-ey, Schkotty!” Trotter smacked him on the leg with a cane and the sharp pain made Malachi blink. The old fella was clipped into a reclining couch and, thankfully, not indulging in the carnal activity. “You gonna gimme a bottle or wha’?”

Malachi shrugged. He unclipped the net of hooch bottles and nudged it towards the old fella. “Here ya go. What the hell?” He tried to gesture towards the copulation without looking at it directly.

Trotter shrugged and took a gulp of hooch. “Dunno. They wasch dancin’, then th’ten-minute warnin’ came over, an’ all of a sudden they wasch tumblin’ all over each other.” He grinned sideways up at Malachi. “You wanna bet how many of ’em pop before we hit?”

He couldn’t help it: Malachi smiled back. That was just like Trotter. “Nah. That means we’d have to watch ’em to keep count.”

Trotter gurgled to himself; it was supposed to be a giggle but it sounded more like he was drowning in his own amusement. He wriggled in his couch and swiped a shirt out of his way so he could see better.

Malachi pushed himself past a listless woman on his way to the couch next to Trotter’s.

“What happened to her?” He nudged the woman, Kerise, and she smiled, blinking slowly. Not unconscious, but definitely not there with them. She floated a short way before the tether attaching her to the wall arrested the motion. She drifted back again.

Trotter belched loudly. “Dunno. Been like that since y’left.”

The world was growing fuzzy when Malachi leaned over to grab one of her slack arms. The hooch was kicking in, softening the edges of the world, and he licked his lips. There, where her sleeve was pushed up: a pinprick. She’d managed to bring narcotics with her, probably stolen from the colony’s med centre. He felt a stab of jealousy.

When he pulled himself around to kneel over her, he barely felt a twinge from his bad knee. His skin was warm all over, faintly tingling in places. Damn good hooch. He started to fumble through Kerise’s clothing, his fingers feeling oddly thick.

Trotter’s gurgling laugh surged over him. “You too, you too! Go on, boy. She ain’t gonna mind!”

Malachi frowned; that wasn’t what he was doing. But maybe it’s not such a bad idea, he thought. Then his hand closed around a syringe in her pocket.


“We will never know some of those who made this journey possible. They watched over us while we slept; they guided us through the darkness. They were our caretakers and trailblazers, and they gave their lives for us. Without them, we would not be here today.”


Avicenna, Observation Deck
Gliese 581 -5 minutes

“He’s coming around again.”

Sara wasn’t sure who had spoken but the words pulled her out of her reverie. She glanced down at her split knuckles and thought about the cleansing nature of blood. Her hands were starting to hurt, but that wasn’t going to stop her.

The pair of hands curling around her arm and belt did, though. She looked into Dominique’s face and felt something soften inside her. Resolve, maybe.

“We’re almost there,” Dom said. “It’s enough, isn’t it?”

There were four others milling around the room, but the soft voice beside her was all Sara heard. She looked forward and frowned. The huge Obs Deck window had been replaced on the Avicenna with patches of old hull plating, with only two ferrographite glass panels to show the death rushing towards them. Tethered across each was a body: spread-eagled silhouettes against the oncoming sun.

Technically, neither of these bodies was supposed to be here. The one on the right had been accused of killing four people, including two children. There hadn’t been enough evidence to convict her and official colony justice had been forced to set her free.

She’d been heard boasting in a bar afterwards, so the story went. All Sara knew was that they’d found her lashed to the Obs Deck wall a day after they’d set out for the sun. Everyone knew her face from the news transmissions, so there was little doubt that unofficial colony justice had put her there.

Sara wondered how many compartments in the three ships held people who weren’t supposed to be on board. How many of the colony’s problems was this voyage cleaning up?

The second body sprawled across the window was Terry Butcher. He was the only crew member to ever be forcibly put back into cryo-stasis. All of those present knew why.

He had been the biochemist in charge when they had been defrosted and incorporated into the crew as teenagers. He’d been responsible for training them, and for him that meant putting his hands on all the young girls. Even after they had convinced the captain about what he was doing and Butcher had been thrown back into stasis, it had been years before Sara could spend time alone in hydroponics without suffering a panic attack.

Upon arriving at Yuva, they had tried to get the colony leaders to prosecute him: the six surviving victims and the new captain. But the leaders didn’t want to start the colony with that kind of dirt raked out into the open. They wanted to cover it up, leave him frozen until no-one remembered.

The crew wanted justice.

Sara watched the blood floating in the air, globs of coagulating pain. She wanted to hurt him as much as he’d hurt her.

She shivered as she realised that it would never be enough. She couldn’t look at him without seeing how young he was: thirty-something to her ninety-two. He hadn’t changed, and that made the memories fresher for her. There was no washing them away.

“Let the sun have him,” Dominique murmured from Sara’s side. “Let it go.”

Sara tore her gaze away from the windows. Dom was the only one who hadn’t vented her rage on Butcher’s body; the only one whose hands were clean. Maybe that’s why Sara wanted to hurt him so badly: because her partner couldn’t. Or maybe she just wished for the peace that Dom had found.

She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against Dom’s. Butcher was still a young man, but she was old. She’d had a full life. She’d made improvements on his shitty hydroponics and they’d named the new system after her. She’d seen more stars pass them by than she could count, and she’d seen alien plants crawling up the walls of human settlements. She had loved and been loved.

She took a deep breath and let it out again. “Damn you, anyway,” she said, and she felt Dom laugh softly.

“I know.”

Sara’s lips quirked and then dipped to press against Dom’s. For many long heartbeats, they clung and kissed, and parted only to breathe again. Something deep inside her relaxed and, for the first time on this voyage, she could see past the bodies in the windows.

Maybe, she thought, maybe this is what peace feels like.

(Part 3 coming soon!)

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Swan Song: Part 1

For the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in writing for an anthology that’s being built through a writer’s group on Goodreads. The anthology is charting the genesis of colony on an alien planet, Yuva, from the huge ships leaving Earth, through adapting the planet to human needs, and beyond.

My story comes after the colonisation effort has been started, roughly in the middle of the anthology, and deals with what happens to all those who worked so hard to get them there. It’s now pretty much done! Here’s the first section of the story:


Swan Song

They say there is a swan that is silent for its whole life. It grows and loves and does all the swan-like things, but it does not utter a sound. Then, the moment before it dies, it opens its throat, and not even the vacuum of space can swallow the beauty of its song.


[The image broadcast across the Yuva network is dominated by the great globe of her sun, Gliese 581. Nearing the glow, three shapes track slowly and majestically. Their silhouettes are familiar to every person looking up at them, for they are the great colony ships that carried them from distant Earth to this new colony.]

[Transmission Voiceover]

“It has been ten years since we arrived here. Ten years since we slowed our ships and woke our children. Ten years since we put a stake in this planet and said, ‘this is our new home’. This is Yuva.”


Avicenna, Bridge
Gliese 581 -20 minutes

“Final corrections made. We’re on approach vector.” Pilot Gnana Tanaq slid her hands off the controls. This is the last time I’ll do this, she thought. “Inertia will carry us in, now.”

The first time she touched this console, her hands were smooth and soft, barely out of puberty. Now, sixty-four years later, they were wrinkled and worn, though they still curled around the grips easily. Just as she had worn shiny spots into the plastic, so the grips had worn her hands into control-friendly curves. Pilots’ claws, some people called them. She bore hers proudly.

Behind her, she felt Jackson sigh and tighten his grip on his console. “So, that’s it, then.”


“How long?”

Gnana glanced down at the readouts scrolling before her. “Not long. Twenty minutes, maybe, depending on how quickly the gravity pulls us in.” She turned her chair so she could see him. “You’re the navigator, though.”

Jackson didn’t even bother to check his readings. He shrugged. “Sounds right.”

She smiled at him, dark skin crinkling around her eyes. “I know, I know: it goes against everything you believe in to navigate purposefully into something.”

He wrinkled his nose and his moustache twitched. “I keep wanting to tell you to alter course. Can’t help it.”

Gnana laughed softly, but there was no real humour in it. The forward viewports were unshuttered and Gliese filled the entire view. Its orange glow lit the Bridge as if it was already on fire.

With a sigh, she unclipped the tether that held her to the chair and pushed over to where Jackson floated. She covered his hand with hers and his head dipped slightly in acknowledgement. The sunlight was turning his hair red, like it had been years ago. Gnana used to joke that he was the whitest man she’d ever met, so pale he wasn’t even freckled. Like her, he’d spent his whole life in space behind radiation shielding; his skin had never felt the real touch of a sun. Another twenty minutes would change that.

She turned her attention forward. It was hard to look at the Bridge now; it wasn’t the home she had known anymore. She had expected memories to crowd in here, but instead, gaps were all she could see. The holes where missing stations had been: communications, cryonics, long-range sensors. The stripped-down environmental console and the bare patches of decking where chairs used to be; the only one remaining was hers, because the pilot still needed it for this final journey. Even navigation was stripped to the minimum.

This room used to be busy with bodies, full of shifting console displays and the shadows of the crew. Now, it was just her and Jackson.

Gnana glanced sideways and saw Jackson frowning. “Still angry that he chose not to come?” She didn’t have to say who she meant; he knew.

Jackson’s expression scrunched down. “His place is here.”

“It was his choice.” Gnana’s tone was non-committal; in truth, she wasn’t sure what she thought about the captain’s decision.

Three days ago, she had agreed with Jackson: the captain was a coward who refused the honourable path. They had all known this was a likely end to this journey when they signed on, but he had chosen to stay on the orbital platforms, training the colonists in… she wasn’t even sure what.

Then, the night before they departed on their final voyage, she had seen the captain at a bar. It was the only time in her life she had ever seen him drunk, and it wasn’t pretty. He had slurred goodbye to her and hugged her – hugged her – and she had seen it in his eyes. It tore him up to deny his duty but he wasn’t ready to stand on his ship for the last time; there was still living left for him to do.

She couldn’t begrudge him that. He was younger than the other captains, though his time commanding the Avicenna meant he would never step foot on the planet below. The toll of space on bones and organs meant the gravity would kill him, slowly and painfully. But he could have a life on the orbital platforms, maybe even lead the colonial effort the way he had led the ship.

She had considered staying too, but the only position applicable to her was shuttle pilot. It wasn’t anything like flying the Avicenna, though, and even a short atmospheric stay caused her pain. The last time, it had given her a bone-deep ache for two weeks, making her hands shake so badly that she couldn’t fly at all.

Besides, she was tired. This was her last flight, and it seemed fitting to her that it was with her baby, her ship, the machine that spoke to her through her hands on its controls.

With a sigh, she lifted her gaze to Gliese burning before them.

“Look on the bright side,” she said without looking at Jackson. “Maybe you’ll finally get a tan.”


“The last ten years have not been easy. We are building a new home here, and overcoming the challenges set before us. But today is not about those challenges or the heroes who deal with them every day. Today is about giving thanks for everything that helped us to meet these challenges. Today, we celebrate everyone who brought us here and everything that allowed us to make this new start.”


Taftazani, Spine
Gliese 581 -15 minutes

“Fifteen minutes, Dave,” the calm voice said through the comlink.

“It’s David, you idiot machine.” Navigator Midori had said the same thing seven times in the last hour alone and he was getting testy.

Synthetics were supposed to learn but Calvin rebelled against that idea. It’s why they’d been stuck with him on this last voyage. Just in case human instincts and weaknesses got in the way of the mission, he was there to take over and make sure their course stayed true. Of course, the buggy synthetic that no-one could fix was the perfect solution; God forbid they should sacrifice something that might be of use to the colony.

The threshold rapidly rushing up on them wasn’t helping his mood, either. “And I’m on my way. Be there in three minutes.”

Three minutes was a long time in the Spine of the ship. The comlink switched off, leaving the crushing silence of space to press in on him, and he couldn’t stop himself from looking out of the viewports as he floated along the tube.

There wasn’t much to see. The Spine used to run through the heart of the ship, but that heart didn’t beat any more. The ship had been gutted, all her useful parts carved away, reformed, and stapled onto a new body. Even many of her bones had been taken, leaving great, gaping holes in her structure. She was a partial skeleton now, bared and broken.

The only things left were the parts that no-one could use. Interstellar engines and maps weren’t necessary if no-one was travelling between systems, and the colony leaders were determined to cut off any chance of people deciding to go back to Earth. It was Yuva or nothing. David didn’t blame them for that. Yuva was not what most had expected, and a lack of options was just as good as commitment, right?

A patch of hull blotted out his view of the starscape and threw a shadow across the Spine. Most of the plating had been peeled off and applied to the orbital platforms, but a hundred years was a long time. Meteor showers, blow-outs, pressure fluctuations, radiation, flaws in the metal; all of these things took their toll on a ship’s skin. Parts of it had been patched over so many times that it was too much work to scrape off the ship’s bones. So they’d taken the cleaner skin and left the Taftazani her scars.

David sighed and pulled himself along by the handrail. He was passing what used to be the arboretum, where they’d grown food and recycled the air. Once upon a time, it had been his favourite part of the ship. He’d seduced Jaspiri behind a clump of orange trees. She’d said that she could drink him all up and, for once, that line had made him laugh. Later, he’d married her on a lawn of lemongrass.

Now, there was a gap where it had been, an open mouth screaming blackly in the middle of the ship. The arboretum had been made part of a biodome somewhere, full of Yuva’s soil and strange plants that hadn’t been named yet.

The smell of oranges still reminded him of sex.

Past the space where the arboretum had been, the ribs that once held thousands of cryo-tubes scraped at the open starscape. Severed tubes dangled in places, tangling with neighbours in an achingly slow, weightless dance, as if time travelled differently for them. David had no time for existential observations, though; he yanked himself onwards, wishing that they’d left the speed-tugs in the Spine to make this transit faster.

He passed into the aft section of the ship with a shiver of relief. The doors to Engineering swished open and three people turned to see him. All of them glanced past him and he shook his head slowly.

“Captain’s not coming. He’s seeing her in, he said.” David’s regret was reflected in the faces before him.

“Thank you for trying, Dave,” Calvin’s disembodied voice said. “Did you offer him candy?”

David frowned and opened his mouth, but an arm sliding around his waist distracted him.

“Don’t listen to him,” Jaspiri said, her warm body floating up against him with the ease of long practice. “He’s just teasing you.”

“Synthetics aren’t supposed to tease.” His voice was testy but he wrapped an arm around her all the same, pulling her close. His other hand steadied them against a bulkhead, automatically correcting their float.

“I know. I’m sorry it didn’t work.”

She was talking about Captain Bellaqua now. He’d been like a father to David, the only male authority figure he’d ever been able to respect. And, though he’d never admit it aloud, love.

“It’s his last duty as captain, and you know what he’s like about that.” David frowned, trying not to miss the old man already.

“Yes.” Jaspiri sighed. “He’s in full uniform, isn’t he?”

“Yeah. No idea where he found it.” He couldn’t help it: a smile snuck up on him. The old man knew how to do things properly.

“Come on, you two,” Parker grumbled from across the room. “We got work to do. Clock’s ticking.”

David nodded and ducked his head to kiss his wife’s neck. Her hair was still perfectly black, even after forty years together, and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little jealous. But he smiled and wished there was more time, because she smelled of oranges.

(Continued in Part 2.)

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Fiction flash: Possessions

I was reading on the train this morning, rather than writing (I forgot to charge the netbook last night, whoops), and as I got off, my mind started turning phrases over in my head. Sometimes, I just like to play with words and weave images, without any particular intent, just to see where they take me.

Today, the words wound up as a two-sentence story, and here it is:


She spent money like water and gave her affection away for free. Her husband cried when the gunshot rang out and said, “Now, I have nothing.”

I always try to make these little stories have something like a plot, and to be more than just a quirky situation. It’s a tricky discipline but that’s part of the fun.

I like the way the characters came out in this one. It seems crammed with possibilities, and I think (I hope!) just the right amount of ambiguity. The only bit I’m not sure about is the title, but it’s the best I could come up with at short notice.

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Fiction snippet: Confession

I was reading an interesting post about different methods of writing by Juliet Marillier earlier today (well worth checking out!). I appreciate authors who realise that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ when it comes to approaching writing.

It got me to thinking about sitting down to start writing a piece. It’s the enemy of every writer: staring at a lot of blank white space, teetering on the edge of fiction, trying to find that perfect way to begin. I’ve been sitting in that position more times than I like to think! Pretty much every time I set out to start a blogfic post. I’ve got my own ways of getting past that.

As occasionally happens, pondering the situation sparked an idea in my head, and I managed to scribble it down (can you ‘scribble’ when you type? I typed it down. But quickly, between chunks of work, in a tiny Notepad window no-one saw).

I had intended it to be just a tiny snippet, maybe another of those two-sentence stories that I like to play with sometimes. It didn’t want to stay to only two sentences. It splurged (a little) and I let it, and here’s what came out:


A clean white sheet is spread before me, unsullied by human emotion, desire, or blood. I must mark it, stain it, spill myself onto its surface. I must treat it with respect, ease the sheet into its scarring, and hope for forgiveness when I am done.

The start is always the hardest part: the first puncture in the dam, the first perforation to tear loose. I must find the perfect place to sink the hook, so that it it rips and spills into the correct shape. After that, it will run and run until it reaches its coughing, spluttering finale.

Never mind all that. Start with truth, a deep breath and bravery. The rest will follow, as inevitable as its own end.

“Today, I killed a man….”

I think this month’s task for my writing group will be to start a story with those (last) five words.

Must not get distracted with ideas. I have Starwalker to write (which is coming along swimmingly!). But at least I got this bit out!

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Guest post: Savannah, take 2

Back in December, my lovely friend let me play in her sandbox. I created Savannah, the candy-coloured hooker who likes to run at the mouth, in a guest post. Great fun to write, definitely something different from the stuff I was writing at the time (and now, as it happens).

Now, three months on, the story of the Inventor was in need of a spark of trouble, and so we brought the lovely Savannah back. Clover slid her into a tumultuous post, and then I got to write the hooker stumbling all over the aftermath.

It was tough to fit it in between the Starwalker writing, but definitely worth it. Sometimes it’s nice to break out and do something different. And who knows, maybe Savannah will come back later in the story and not screw things up for the poor main character. At least one of them deserves a break!

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Fiction flash: Panic ensues

So, I was settling down on the train to write last night, and was in a musing mood. It was one of those days when sensory information twists into words and phrases in my head, in readiness to be used in some scene or other.

Usually, I don’t bother to do anything with these little snippets of description, but I decided to throw them into a two-sentence story, mostly to see if I could. Here’s what I ended up with:

Panic Ensues

An empty train carriage, cool with humming fans and the faint smell of disinfectant, is quickly filled up with bodies and bags, papers and books, iPods and laptops shoehorned in tight enough for typing. As the doors squeeze closed, a woman lifts her handbag, turns to the man next to her, and asks a dangerous question: “Does my bomb look big in this?”

For some reason, things seemed to want to come in threes. It seemed fairly natural, so I let it. And okay, it’s maybe not in the best of tastes, but I don’t pretend to be PC. Enjoy!

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