Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Writing

Tradition (an older one)

By Scott Bailey 2015

Tradition is the echo of oppression
The long shadow of old power
The dark night of the poor
A back drop for wealth’s fireworks
Yet its the poor who cling
Fast to slow-moving tradition
As the controllers far above
Play their fears like violin strings

In response to the daily prompt Traditional

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Posted in Daily Prompt, Poetry, Writing

Blues Bars

By Scott Bailey 2015

It sits right down
Sits all the way down
Then flies above the clouds
Soars high above the clouds
And I
I can’t get there
Can’t weave that
Magic weave

The harmony of the heart
The harmony of dreams and thought
With the making in the world
The making of the day
I crave
Crave that path
Sweet blue path
Of blues bars

In response to the daily prompt Harmonize

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Technology, Writing

Confined

By Scott Bailey © 2015

 

Space. It stretched out before him – endless, dark, enticing. The stars were faint and blurry through the thick glass view port, moving in a slow arc across his vision.

He could feel the endless nothing all around, calling to his soul, a siren’s whisper.

Float with us. Float with us forever! Float and forget.

The dark song was as endless as dreams.

He shook his head, fighting off the draining sensation.

He needed to concentrate.

He turned away to look out the only other viewport.

This one was dominated by the dark shadow of the dead ship. It was only visible against the deeper blackness due to the fading embers of molten metal fragments of its destruction.

They too fade from sight to and die.

Like everyone inside.

He shivered.

Looking out that viewport was hurting his neck. He faced forward again. He was too cramped. He could only move his head left and right and his arms enough to use the control by his hands and the keyboards before him.

He was stuck.

Daydreams had led him here – he couldn’t let them end him here.

A beep from the computer brought his senses back to proper alertness.

It had started. The attacks were coming.

He had anticipated it, though not so quickly and not all at once.

Float….

Concentrate!

“Update”, he commanded.

The computer’s calm voice responded.

“Interceptors are on the way they will arrive in precisely 623 seconds.”

“They must be responding to the distress call from the prison,” he muttered.

“That would seem a high probability.”

Dammit! He hadn’t been able to cut that off in time.

The computer went on.

“We should send our own distress call, they will be equipped to rescue you.”

“Do not!” he commanded. “Keep radio silence!”

“Affirmative.”

They were not only equipped for rescue. They were heavily armed. Once they learned the truth – and very soon they would – weapons would their first response.

“And our firewall?” he queried.

“The outer defence has been breached but the systems have not yet been compromised.”

That wouldn’t last much longer. The authorities were suspicious already –  the presence of such a strong firewall did not to allay those suspicions – so they were hitting the firewall with the best they had.

“And my program?”

“Approximately 800 seconds to completion.”

Not enough time!

He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. There was too much at stake here to fail.

He needed more time.

“Instigate firewall program 42!”

The computer complied and ran the program for him.  That would keep the cyber attacks at bay for a little longer.

He shook his head. He had the nagging feeling that this was all just too fantastic!

Only a year ago the only thing he did on a computer was check social media and chat! Spaceships were a thing of science-fiction! Now here he was a master programmer and a fugitive from the authorities flying in space. It all seemed too unreal.

It was the stress of the situation he told himself and he could not afford to be distracted by it.

Besides he wasn’t actually flying a spaceship right now. He was drifting in what was little more than an escape pod.

But the ship he had escaped from was real. As were those bearing down on him. And these were not the only truths he had discovered lately.

He looked at the countdown on the program he was running.

“OK,” he told the computer, “prepare a distress call. But inject the virus I prepared.”

“That is against regulations,” the computer informed him. He barked an override code at it and it proceeded to prepare the distress call.

It was amazing what you could learn in prison. Hacking, override codes. The truth about the universe out there.

Putting him in prison had been their mistake.

Daydreams and curiosity had led him to that prison. he asked too many questions and that had got him into trouble at work and with the Government. That alone would probably not have condemned him but he had also an inventive streak. And a paranoid one.

When they hauled him for questioning he had snuck in a crude listening device.

It had not worked very well but he had caught snippets of conversation.

“He seems immune..”

“Is he any harm though?”

“ … control …    inherited or just a ….. “

“He is a dreamer, not a revolutionary.”

“There we go then. We make him a believer…”

Unfortunately, the listening device was discovered – and that sealed his fate. He was shipped off to a deep space prison ship.

A deep space prison ship! One day he was in a world where the space shuttle was the most sophisticated space vehicle man had created and smartphones where the best man seemed to be able to achieve – the next he was in a world of spaceships – and space police!

It was a culture shock, to say the least.

He was dumped into prison and forgotten.

And that was the strangest thing of all. In prison, he flourished.

On earth – in his old life he had been Mr Average Joe to a T. Prison should have broken him. Yet he found that he had more freedom stuck on this ship than ever before.

He learned the truth for one thing.

There existed on earth (and space) a super élite far above anything anyone even suspected existed. They had science and wealth beyond the imagination of most people.

The rests of the population were kept in drug-induced ignorance. Cattle whose sole purpose was to provide this élite with their lifestyle.

Knowledge seemed to flow freely in prison and he absorbed it all. He learnt to program and how to hack computers.

He had vowed to expose the truth and free the world.

So he had concocted his escape. It had cost him the lives of everyone on that ship – and probably his own life too but he didn’t care.

He was filled with fury. He wanted to free the enslaved population of the human race for sure. What he wanted more though was to see the smug bastards who ruled them get their just deserts.

“Distress call is ready to send.”

He nodded, he was about to tell the computer to send it when it preempted him.

“New contacts.”

“What?”

“There are two more ships, coming in from the direction of Saturn.”

“More interceptors?”

“No. They bear all the signs of space pirates?”

Space pirates? Pirates? How could pirates exist? That would imply ….

He shook his head. There were too many questions threatening to distract him. He had to concentrate.

“Program completion has been suspended.” the computer announced.

What!?

He flung his fingers at the keyboard and dove into code. They had not yet got full control but they managed to stop his program.

Which implied they knew or guessed what he was doing.

He glanced at the other screen. The pirates would get here quicker than the interceptors! And they would shoot first!

He didn’t hesitate now. He called up his virus and made a few changes, then he told the computer to prepare it again and send it.

Then he dove back in and started a counterattack against the hackers. He managed to regain control and get his program running again. He then spent the next few minutes  both fighting the hackers off and keeping his exit channels open.

While he did this he also watched as his virus took hold of the interceptors and turned them towards the pirates. They would be forced to fight each other for a bit.

The program was also done. The hackers came on in full force. He struggled to hold them back.

A fireball briefly bloomed in space. All the pirate ships and interceptors signals went dead. They had destroyed each other.

Almost there.

Now the hackers could see the program running even if they couldn’t stop it yet.

A signal flickered back to life on the screen

One interceptor had survived.

It was closing in, weapons charged.

Almost.

“Program completed!” the computer announced.

“Run it!” he shouted.

He watched the screen as the truth – all the truth – was sent out to every single person on earth.

The lies were exposed.

Come now, float with us…

No!

The interceptor would be in range soon.

He breathed easier.

He had done as much as he could for the world. Now he had to look to his own survival.

He was stranded in space, with limited resources and little time. Air and supplies running out and no hope of rescue.

After the years and years of confinement, he welcomed the challenge – relished it.

“Now this,” he said, with an almost feral grin, “is living!”

 

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Writing

Distant Clattering

A tenuous link today but …

By Scott Bailey 2014

A white wedge
Spotted in the corner
Of a run-down shop
Off the track
Joyful memories swell
And from the past
I hear the clattering
Of a metal bowl
Filling with a quarter pound
Of sherbet lemons

IMG_2054
Photo by Scott Bailey

 

A_Spring_of_Dreams_Cover_for_KindleAvailable asKindle

or hardback

from Amazon

or CreateSpace

 

 

 

 

 

In response to the daily prompt Lollipop

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Tailor Made

By Scott Bailey © 2017

Tailor made suits
Tailor made holidays
Tailor made experiences
Tailor made careers
Tailor made relationships
Tailor made friends
Tailor made lives

You know
No matter the tailor
Clothes just don’t fit me well
Consider me
The scruff
And happy to be

In response to the daily prompt Tailor

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Bumbling

By Scott Bailey © 2017

We bumble along
In this universe
Buzzing with trivia and angst
While the sun roars
Black holes yaw
And starlight races by

Life bubbles up
Here and there
Obsessed with itself
As it is wont to be
The vacuum does not care

Maybe one day
While bumbling
Life will stumble
On the correct change

In response to the daily prompt Bumble

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Buried

By Scott Bailey © 2017

In the few idle moments of the day
The few
The very few
I think
I dream
Big plans
And small
How I can achieve my goals
How I will relax tonight
A film?
A beer?
Finish my masterpiece
Find fame and fortune
And then the moment’s gone
Reality bites
Decisions are taken away
And I am the whim of everyone else again
Maybe
I should stop thinking
Stop dreaming
So my dreams
Are no longer buried
In disappointment

In response to the daily prompt Bury

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Cross

By Scott Bailey © 2000

Rapists come and go
like bills
grit your teeth
bear it
pay

Carry a dagger
close
no guarantee
a talisman
a cross

Hide in the woods
crunching leaves
above
beneath them
a thousand bones

Click, click
Bang, bang
You make it a film!
a song.
a hero’s theme

Click, click
Bang, bang
My mother didn’t pay
didn’t bear her cross
didn’t carry her cross
now lays beneath hers

My best suit
stained by the passing
the violent end
of my daughter
in my arms

Now you tell me
in your yellow coat
shining stripe
proud nation
Go back whence you came!

In response to the daily prompt Grit

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Caper

By Scott Bailey © 2017

The caper is up
The plot has escaped
From all those lords and ladies
In their ermine capes
We know their game
Time for revolution
Is that what we’ll do?
Or just carry on the same?

In response to the daily prompt Caper

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Work, Writing

The Execution

By Scott Bailey © 2014

“My patience is almost spent.”

“I apologise Mr. Dickens. The situation is complicated.”

“I have been hearing that for two weeks now! And have been given nothing! No answers! I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what has happened to me. Everyone talks strange and treats me like some kind of alien or freak show. And where are my fucking family!”

For a second the Doctor looked horrified. Then he quickly composed himself.

“Again I can only apologise.  But I will explain now. When I do you will understand our … reticence. ”

“About time..”, muttered Henry.The Doctor gave him a look of pity.

“Brace yourself. ”

Henry suddenly felt cold. The Doctor went on.

“Our records show that you were in a cycling accident.”

He pronounced cycling as if he didn’t know what the word meant.

“You suffered severe brain injuries. You were put into a coma to try to protect your higher brain functions. When the swelling had subsided the medical team tried to revive you. They failed. You remained in a coma.”

Henry shifted in his chair. His voice was broken as he spoke.

“How long?”

“Ten years.”

“I have been out for ten years?”

“It’s more complicated. While you were under the world around you changed. It got worse, a lot worse. Your wife… well it seems she was a sharp woman. She saw things clearer than most. For one thing she left us plenty of notes. That’s why we know so much.”

Henry felt a growing sense of dread. But he kept silent.

“Because she saw things clearly she prepared, took action.  What I am going to tell you will be hard for you to hear. But bear in mind that with the benefit of hindsight we can see that what she did was for her family. For your children. She took steps to protect them.”

“Protect them?” His heart was racing.  “Protect them from what?”

“From war.”

“There was a fucking war?” The Doctor flinched again, but he went on.

“Yes. It was a dark time.”

“World War Three?”

“Not quite. I mean that’s what people expected.  What your wife thought was coming. But it was not and all-encompassing war like that. No one side against the other. No. What transpired was a series of many many, small wars between countries.”

He shuddered and continued.

“You might think that would have been better than a world war, but it was not.  It was far worse. With just about every country in the world caught up in their own conflicts there was nobody to coordinate any kind of peace deal. No one to talk to anyway if there had have been. So the wars dragged on, for years,  decades.”

“Decades? I thought you said ..” the Doctor stilled him with a look.

“Your wife saw the dark times coming. She took steps to protect her family.  The first of which was she remarried. ”

“She… what? She..”

“She married into immense wealth. And she used the money to protect her children and you. We know she did this well as we know they survived the dark times.”

“They are alive! I can see them!”

“No. You cannot.  They are…. let me finish.”

A lump of dread was threatening to strangle him.

“She also tried to protect you. With all the resources of her great wealth she threw everything they had at the time towards reviving you. Nothing worked. Finally, when it looked darkest and there was no guarantee that anyone would survive she threw you one last desperate lifeline. An experimental treatment.”

The Doctor paused, looked him deep in the eye.

“She put you into suspended animation.”

Henry felt chilled to the bone.

“So no, you cannot see your wife and children. They have been dead for over two hundred years. We have only just been able to awaken you.”

“No. No, this can’t be. It’s some sort of sick joke isn’t it? There’s cameras in here. Well it’s not funny! I want to see my family!”

“Please Mr Dickens, please calm down. I know this is a lot to take in and I am sorry. But there is more. There is something else you need to know.”

“Calm down? Calm the fuck down? I want my family in this room! Here and now! Don’t give me any more bullshit.”

The doctor nodded very slightly, subtly, but Henry noticed.

It was too late.hands he didn’t see took a firm hold of his arms. Held him steadfastly. He felt a cold disc of metal against the skin of his neck, there was a hiss, then he fell swirling into darkness.

 


 

“You want me to what!?”

Henry looked at the panel before him, twelve men and women, with utter disbelief.

“Mr Dickens. We understand that you have a lot to take in over the last few weeks.”

“A lot!” Henry stared. How could they possibly understand. He has lost everything. His family, his love, his world. He had seen very little of this world but he had seen enough to know that it was not his. He was an alien here.

And now this.

“We understand that you have lost a lot. You have to understand that the world has lost a lot too.”

“I have heard all about your wars. Lots of people died. Yes.”

“They were not our wars, “ said the chairman of the panel, his voice calm and cold. “And I don’t think you have an appreciation of just how many people died, or what that meant.”

Henry didn’t see what any of it had to do with him. The chairman continued anyway.

“The population of the earth was cut by 75%. You have no idea what that did to us. There were very few people left to run things. Very few who knew how to keep things running. Power stations failed. Oil wells stopped pumping. Machines broke down. Nobody knew how to rule, how to respond to the disasters. All that had been wiped away in war after war.

“The times after the wars were darker than the actual wars. The world came close to slipping into barbarism. In many places it did.”

“And you came along and saved it,” said Henry sourly.

“We survived. We were not involved – because we were overlooked. We had no wealth, no strategic value. Largely we were forgotten up in the mountains.”

He paused, letting Henry take in his words. Henry said nothing so he continued.

“We don’t really know what triggered many of the wars, people say it was largely financial – but those are theories, based on times gone by. What we do know is that as things got more and more desperate the terms of the conflicts changed. They became more ideological. In many cases fiercely religious. This was why many of them could not be stopped, there came a point where reason stopped being any part of the fighting.

“It was another reason we were not drawn into it. As Buddhists we eschewed all the arguments for fighting. But we were also no threat to anyone. Those that were bent on converting the world, well – most had forgotten us, or were just leaving us to last.

“So in the end, we survived just by being the last ones standing. We were the only thing left close to being a coherent nation.

“And we were used to living frugally. We were in a unique position to fill the niche so to speak.

“So people flocked to us. They saw our way of life working. Saw it as a light in the dark, a hope.”

“And you made them all convert!” Henry spat.

“Not at first,” replied the chairman. “That was not our way, never had been. But it was a disaster. Trying to accommodate everyone’s views, conflicting ways of doing things. Trying to keep on top of all the old tensions, historical hatreds and prejudices. Well it almost tore us apart. And we were so fragile then, we still are.”

The chairman leaned forward.

“You have to understand something. The earth is damaged. It’s worn out, and depleted. It will never recover, not in the ways we would want it to. The comforts and luxuries of generations past have gone. If we are to survive we must change our ways. And some of those ways might seem extreme to you. They are – but so is our situation.”

“So I have to convert to Buddhism! No choice!”

“That is correct. and it has to be genuine. You must live by our ways.”

“What do you do check up on me? Monitor me? Give me exams every month or something.”

“We do not need to. The way our society is structured, if you do not follow our ways, it would be obvious. If your thoughts do not flow with those around you  – it will be grossly evident to all around you.”

“So I am not even allowed to think outside of your precious bloody ways.”

“As I said, the ways are extreme, and your manner does not fit – at the moment.”

Henry snorted in derision. Did they really think he was going to take this.

“And if I refuse?”

“We cannot allow the possibility of disruption to the balance. You will be executed.”

Henry stared open-mouthed.

“You are kidding! That doesn’t sound very like the Buddhism that was around in my time.”

“Maybe not – we have had to make our sacrifices too. But we are humane.”

“How can killing someone be humane?”

“You would die happy and fulfilled. We have our ways”

“Well hoo – fucking – ray!”

 


 

“Are you sure that you do not want to change your mind?” said the monk. Henry assumed it was a monk. He looked like the Buddhist monks from his own era but he just didn’t know any more.

He wasn’t sure he cared either.

“Why would I do that?”

“So you can live,” said the monk with surprise.

“What for? My life is gone. Everything I knew is gone. My life would be as a stranger in a cage of rules I don’t want and don’t understand. I can’t live like that.”

“You haven’t given it a chance. You have no idea the peace and joy of our lives. You are judging us by your primitive standards. You…

“Enough!” A voice of authority barked from a hidden source. The monk started and looked guilty and continued preparing the elaborate machine Henry was embedded into.

Joy indeed! Henry snorted to himself. Get on with it, he thought.

The monk appeared to comply. He stepped back, nodded at the back wall and left.

The machine hummed and enclosed further around Henry like some futuristic iron maiden. A needle swung into his vision, poised at his neck and then stopped.

The voice spoke again.

“It saddens us to do this friend. But our society, mankind, must survive.”

“Yes, yes. I can imagine the tears you are shedding.”

“You will not change your mind?”

“You will not let me live among you without converting?” Henry countered.

“No.”

“Not even for a limited time – say a month, to see if you can change my mind?” The sarcasm in his voice told them all he did not expect any reasonable answer to that.

“No.”

“Then get on with it!”

“Very well. Judge! Carry out the execution.”

Henry didn’t even take a breath. He’d had enough, reached his limit. He wanted it ended.

Nothing happened. He looked up, the needle stayed poised, he could almost see the poison dripping from it.

“Judge! What is happening? Carry out the execution.”

“No.” The new voice was quietly defiant.

“What? Judge, carry out your task, execute him.”

“No!” What Henry presumed was the Judge’s voice was louder and firmer this time. “I will not. He is right. We should give him time amongst us.”

“This is not acceptable, Judge, do your job!”

“What does it say about our society if we do not trust it to be good enough to sway him? If we are scared that it so weak that a single man can topple it? We need to start our own healing, and it should start with him. We will give him his time. One month. If he is still not convinced, I will carry out the sentence.”

“This is not acceptable, Judge!”

Something stirred in Henry. Suddenly, out of nowhere he wanted what the Judge was offering him. A chance. A chance to live.

“You will accept it. I am the only one in this world who can carry out this sentence and I will not.”

“Your apprentice…”

“Will not be able to carry it out. I have already locked him out of all the processes. Only I can release the locks. He will have his time.”

 


 

“Next up, we are talking to the sensation of the age. The man who was frozen in time and has awoken to join us in the future. The man who escaped death twice and who is shaking the world. The man the leaders fear, the man who asks questions.

“Well today, we hope, he will be answering some of our questions.”

The interviewer turned to Henry while the applause of the audience died down. Henry squirmed uncomfortably. Of all the damn things to survive into this century it had to be talk shows! And he was the fucking subject.

He had to remember not to swear too. He had learnt it was considered way more offensive in these times than his own.

“Mr Dickens, thank you for joining us, let us begin with the biggest question.

“OK.” said Henry.

“We have all heard your remarkable story, it has tugged at all our hearts, we all grieve for your losses. The question we have is, why did you refuse conversion when offered at first? Why, as it appears did you choose death?”

Henry was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions that he struggled to keep under wraps. Grieve for my losses? What could they possibly understand about his losses! The very stupidity of the question betrayed how little they could understand.

How could he answer that?

The audience did not let him. A voice shouted out.

“Why didn’t you just convert!? What’s wrong with our way of life?”

Henry couldn’t see the source of the voice. He sounded like a fanatic, a tone not uncommon in this new world he had discovered.

“I knew nothing about it, you expected I would just convert, without questioning what I was getting into.”

“What’s to question? This way of life has saved us, saved humanity.”

People clapped and cheered the questioner.

“Has it? Or has it turned you all into cattle? Sheep that blindly follow ‘the way’.”

The audience booed and jeered at him, he was a little surprised. His opinions were not exactly secret, they had been broadcast around the world for the two weeks since his stay of execution.

He was the biggest news story of the time.

Hardly surprising as very little else seemed to be happening in the world.

They had peace OK. And it was boring.

“Let him speak!” another voice rang out above the protests.

The audience quietened down, shocked that someone, one of their own appeared to be supporting him.

“Let us hear what he has to say. If our society is so perfect then what possible threat could he be?”

Henry was surprised himself to hear a small ripple of applause supporting this new stance.

He spoke.

“Sure, you have peace. Your society is a model of sustainability and balance. I admire it in many ways. But it is frozen, you are so scared to upset the balance you allow no change. You have stopped growing. You might survive for now, but when change comes – when it is thrust upon you, you won’t know how to deal with it, how to adapt.

“You are like a rose, frozen in liquid nitrogen. Beautiful, preserved for all time, but dead. And easily shattered with a single blow.”

“Why didn’t you just pretend? Just convert and be quiet?” said the original voice.

Henry stood angrily now.

“I spent the whole of my old life dreaming of being someone. Of making my mark on the world. Leaving behind a legacy beyond just my genes. But I didn’t, I was nothing. I worked, I existed, I supported my family, I loved. But nothing more than what every other person was doing around me. I always dreamed one day, one day – but that day was never to be.

“And now – you expect me to just shut up and become just another cog in the machine again. With even less freedom and liberty than before? Well fuck you all if that’s what you think.”

Savage!” a woman screamed.

“No! He is right! Why can’t we question things? Why can’t we change things?”

“Do you want war to return? Do you want our blood?”

“We can question without conflict!”

Suddenly the audience erupted. Everyone was on their feet, trying to shout down each other. Henry thought it looked evenly split but it looked messy.

The aggression was rising.

The flabbergasted host turned to his assistants.

“Get him out of here!”

Hands grabbed in and he was whisked away.

In response to the daily prompt Savage

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Keys

By Scott Bailey © 2014

Keys can lock and jangle
Hold us safe and secure
Take away liberty or open up the doors
And the doors they can open….
Silver is the primary key
That opens up our home
We do have gold but it is worn
From use and years and time
Some keys are rows of black and white
And open up our hearts
With wondrous weaving melodies
Soaring sounds from worlds apart
But the keys that give me magic
And warm my ailing heart
Dance beneath my fingertips
As dreams flow from my art

In response to the daily prompt Jangle

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Writing

The Lyrics that Pluck at You

I enjoy revisiting old favourites. Especially music. Bands, songs, albums that have lain dormant for ages – years sometimes. Neglected and forgotten about.

For the car recently I created a new playlist – a bit more mellow that normal. Instead of picking songs I just added all the songs I have from four different artists. These were Clannad, Enya, Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen.

As I listened there was a song that I have probably heard many many times before Leonard Cohen’s The Window. It passed me by, in the background – I liked it but didn’t really notice. This time it was different. This time it was one of those occasions when suddenly – for inexplicable reasons the lyric reached out and plucked at me, played me, struck me as beautiful, strange and haunting – just how they are sung. They were.

Oh chosen love, Oh frozen love
Oh tangle of matter and ghost
Oh darling of angels, demons and saints
And the whole broken-hearted host
Gentle this soul

I wonder why. I wonder what it is that made me hear those lyrics properly for the first time after I don’t know how many times before.

One of the mysteries and wonders of really good music.

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In response to the daily prompt Pluck

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Red Sails

A few weekends ago the family and I took a walk along the coast – through some marshes. On the way, I took this photo.

My wife loved it so much  – I think mainly because it signified a wonderful day out – (we don’t have so many of those these days) – that she wants it blown up for her birthday. So it is on its way now as a canvas print 🙂

Anyway – when I saw the boat something about it was portentous to me. Not dangerous but promising big changes or something. I don’t know why. The thing is, a few days later I was doing a google search on my name. I wasn’t being narcissistic, I was trying to see if SEO changes on y website had made any difference. As usual, one of the top results was a solicitor in the south who goes by the same name. The odd thing was though -= they had this picture on their website,

Now, not the same boat – but spooky……

Then today – the daily prompt was sail.  I already had the title Red Sails buzzing around in my head – the rest came naturally.

Red Sails

By Scott Bailey © 2017

The red sails are rising
In the grey of the dawn
The grey spume is parting
Before the forlorn

Drawing out passion
Promising dreams
To the young and the lost
Into the sea they stream

The red sails are parting
Tearing apart
Lovers and mothers
From the vein of their hearts

The red sails are gone
Over the blue
Long is the draught
Of its bitter brew

The red sails are empty
Of all that they took
The decks all wiped bare
Dreams all forsook

The red sails are cursed
My mother’s onshore
But none will set sail
To settle the score

In response to the daily prompt Sail

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Outside `The Daffodil and Pen’

By Scott Bailey © 1999

I wandered lonely as a brick
That sinks and dives in stream and lake,
When all at once I was so sick,
And an awful mess I did make.
Beside the lake, beneath the trees.
Splattering my stomach in the breeze.

It must have been the bread I had
Or maybe that old Milky Way.
This puddle of sick smelt so bad
Along the margin of the bay.
Ten pints I had drunk, at a guess.
Tossing my head, I felt a mess.

The waves in my head danced, and they
Dashed my weak legs from under me.
A poet could not be so gay
As the one who stood over me.
He gazed and gazed and then in glee
Threw up and fell down next to me.

Next morn when on my couch I lay
In vacant and in pensive mood.
I swore I’d give up drink that day.
And swore some more, it was quite rude.
But soon, once more, the cider spills.
I’ll sleep again with daffodils.

 

In response to the daily prompt Dash

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Carrier

Been lax – well busy – and have missed the last couple of days. So this one covers three!

By Scott Bailey © 2017

The secret passenger
Scampers around
Just looking for a snack
Innocent, unaware
Of the death that he carries

 

In response to the daily prompt Scamper and Passenger and Snack

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Sunny

By Scott Bailey © 2017

Sunny
She was
And the shadow she cast were long
We long for her
Now the winter is here
And the long long night descends
Bright was her smile
White and bright her smile
Deep and black her skin
And we wanted in
From afar
Memories of sun
In the dusk

 

In response to the daily prompt Sunny

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Mankind Limited News, Poetry, Writing

Mankind Limited Excerpt

In response to the daily prompt Wheel

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

Prologue

Darkness outside. From the expanse of his office, the Facilitator gazed down at the city spread below. Orange lights twinkled. A busy machine.

It was his. They were entwined. Both products of this still young, brave new millennium.

He smiled.

He held a powerful secret. Held it and knew how to keep it. At any cost. Just like a thousand predecessors. It was a secret born of millennia of social experimentation, refining, conditioning – almost perfect.

Almost.

He was interrupted by a rap at his door. He sighed. He keyed the intercom.

“Come in, Max.”

Max entered, carrying a red file under his arm. Unusual. Max gave nothing away.

Excellent control. Or did he have no fear? A worrying possibility but unlikely.

“Max!” He smiled as the man seated himself.

“I called you up here because I understand you are a little concerned about things. About poets in fact. A little doubting perhaps?”

Max’s eyes narrowed but he gave no other reaction. The Facilitator had hit his target. He sat down himself and steepled his fingers.

“I have prepared a report,” said Max and threw it on the table. It slid over the polished wood with a swish, stopped at the Facilitator’s hands. He glanced at it, briefly but did not open it. He sighed.

“Max, there’s no need to worry about poets and writers, artists and romantic fools. We disarmed them years ago. We turned them into whiners. Still, can.”

“Many of ‘the greats’ were laughed at in their time,” said Max.

“Ah, but did they change anything?”

He smiled at Max wisely.

“No, they did not. They were only appreciated when times had changed of their own accord and people looked back and saw their sense with hindsight.”

Max did not look convinced but kept his silence. The Facilitator couldn’t blame him.

He stood again and turned his back on Max. He stared back down at the city, caught sight of the flashing blue light of a police car screaming down a road to some anonymous crime. He shook his head.

“Max, don’t worry about it. It’s no threat. If you don’t believe me just wait and see. Then perhaps we’ll restore a little of that lost confidence, eh?”

Max went pale.

The Facilitator let him sweat for a few seconds then he turned on him with a bright smile. He leant on the desk and looked his subordinate deep in the eye.

“I have made a decision, Max! We will destroy him. In fact, you will destroy him. It will restore my confidence in you.”

Max looked up with sudden fake eagerness.

“You want an example made of him?”

“No, no. I want you to do it quietly. He must disappear with no cause for questions. Can you do that?”

“Of course,” said Max, “I’m right on to it.”

“Good.”

Chapter One

Fences

A flame. A slender orange blade raised to two points, devil’s horns. It was perfectly still, untouched by breezes.

Around it was darkness.

From the darkness, a face encroached, stealing into the faint corona of the flame. A face of strength and authority. Worn but solid. Reliable but for some undefined threat deep in the blues.

The face broke into a white smile, the eyes became sharper with malice or glee, then laughed. Laughed at the flame and puffed it out.

Marc was left in darkness, sinking slowly into a mire, a swamp of darkness that sapped his strength.

He found a scrap of will to fight, began to struggle. Feebly at first then more frantically until he was thrashing around like a trapped wild cat.

Suddenly there was a surge of power beneath him and he was lifted like a leaf in a fountain. He flew up through the swirling currents of black. The surge grew and grew as he rose. The wind whipped his hair and clothes savagely.

He was struck by a sudden fear. Where would this ascension take him? Would his rise end with a slam into a hard ceiling?

Somewhere a siren was wailing. For him? Why? He had done nothing wrong, had he? No! He had done nothing wrong. Nothing! Nothing, nothing, nothing!

Up and up and up!

He awoke with a start, sat up rigid and vomited. The fear of his nightmare pursued him into consciousness. Sweat soaked him, he was shaking. The wet sheets coiled around his limbs. He craved peaceful sleep but the wailing would not stop.

Fuck! The wailing was his alarm. Its vile red numbers glared at him with disapproval. He was going to be late!

He wrinkled his nose at the scent of vomit and sweat. He had to clear up, had to shower ready to face the day but there was no time. Only time for a quick wash and shave. He raced to the bathroom his heart beating with panic.

The razor slid roughly over his cheeks and chin. It scraped off the bristle and revealed the smooth, fresh face beneath. Beneath that, he still felt shabby. He saw through his own mask and those blue eyes looked too tired. He brushed his dark hair, wishing it was shorter. Then in frustration, he threw the brush into the water, splashing his image in the mirror, blurring the face.

This had to stop! He was getting worse lately. As he armoured himself in his slate grey suit he wondered if he were losing all his willpower. He had always been an early riser yet this was the third time he had overslept in a month. He hadn’t been late for work so far but he worried that his Team Leader had noticed. Surely it had affected his performance? All this rushing around could not be good for him. He really needed time to compose himself before facing work.

He knotted his silk tie the correct way, remembering his father’s strong hands showing him how. His father who had been the perfect citizen, the example he had been expected – indeed aspired to live up to.

Marc almost hung his head in shame.

He shook his tousled hair. He had to sort himself out. He was no good to anyone like this. No good to himself. He was going to lose his job. If he went on like this then he would drop precious points on the league table. Too much of that and he would lose this house and his status position, end up being relocated to the slums.

He had to get going. No more time for grooming. He threw a flowery towel over the pool of drying vomit, picked up his briefcase and turned his back on the stench.

He stepped out of the house, smoothed down his suit and slipped into the stream of people. The air was stifling. There was the faint smell of blocked drains.

He managed to make his hurried pace look like a determined stalk rather than mild panic. Being late he saw a different set of people. Parents leaving their children at crèche before flying off to work. A lone police officer on the prowl for anti-social behaviour or, if he was lucky, a member of one of the rebel gangs emerging from their underground hiding places. Marc watched him finger his gun with relish.

A road hygienist made his slow, steady way along the grainy street. The chain that attached his cart to his waist swung and clanked in time to his plodding stride. Marc could smell the rotting vegetables he transported. His hair was long and white and his chin bristled with tufts of a white beard. Broad flared trousers swung with his gait. Despite his age the man’s muscles were strong, hardened by a lifetime’s labour. Marc wondered if anything could stand in the way of his ponderous, unerring stride.

The wheels of the cart left tracks in the dust.

There was noise all around. The constant rumble of vehicles. The beeping of traffic control signals. Advertisements being blared from shop windows. But the people were silent. None spoke. All wore the mask of inward reflection, contemplating the day ahead and how it could be most profitably and efficiently employed. Marc wondered what was really going on behind those masks. The same mask he wore.

For whose sake was he wearing it?

He passed silently through the noise and the shadows of the lofty, imperious buildings. Implacable façades for the lofty, imperious companies and organisations shrouded behind the smooth glass and steel. Every now and then a flash of orange light from the rising sun glanced like a flame from a window then faded again as he passed.

He found that he had slowed his pace to study the world as it passed him by. The same world he saw every day. The same world he had seen every day of his working life. Why had it caught his attention now? There had been no change. It had all jumped out at him from behind a grim wall, yet it was all familiar.

He shrugged and picked up his pace again, leaving such thoughts behind. He could not afford to be late. His footsteps clicked on the concrete pavement.

He arrived at work on time. He put on his easy smile and walked through the smooth glass doors with a relaxed swing.

The smile felt empty to him. He hoped it didn’t appear so, there were too many young ‘potential achievers’ snapping at his heels. On the ladder of success, you had to at least preserve the image of a strong confident grasp on the rungs as you climbed.

He didn’t have time for a coffee, which made matters worse. He was sure that his body’s imbalances would show up at tea break, during the standard demi-scan. A coffee would have calmed him down. The rich aroma teased him. Well, there was no point in worrying, that would only increase his stress. He heaved an inward sigh, sat down at his desk and tried to forget about it.

Almost subconsciously he set his mornings targets higher than he had intended, overcompensating to hide any adverse effects of the morning’s troubles.

After several hours of sorting and finishing assignments, Marc was called to the Team Leader’s office.

Row after row of eyes cast studiously down at their desks typing, working – yet all attention was focused on him. Why had he been called to the office? What had he done? Was he about to be decorated for some dynamic deed or flailed for some fundamental failure? Marc feared the latter, wondering if his Team Leader had finally spotted his disaffection. It was vital that he portray the image of somebody who was sure of the praise he was about to receive. He walked down the grey avenue with his head held level.

His disaffection! There! It was admitted. He was disaffected and dissatisfied. But with what? With his job?

Yes. He was tired of the striving. He was tired of the climb but fearful of the fall. His legs were weary and his grasp was weakening, only vertigo kept him going.

This was not the whole truth. With a sickening feeling, he perceived that he had only touched the surface of this particular revelation. Darker things lurked below.

The revelation shook him and it took all his willpower to continue that walk toward the office and keep his mask in place. He could not afford to think about it now. He diverted those thoughts to another part of his mind where they could mill around until he could pull them out later, at his leisure.

If they didn’t break out of their own accord.

He entered the office, escaping one ordeal of general scrutinization to face another of a more personal nature.

His Team Leader was busy studying forms. She waved him into a seat and then ignored him for a few minutes. Before she turned her attention to him he glanced around the room to see if there were any major changes since his last visit. There were none. The office presented the same façade. He felt disappointed – but did not show it. Perhaps some change might have given him an indication of why he was here. Perhaps not. Whatever the case the room was the same. The desk the same clean smooth surface. The built-in console the same impersonal white, shedding unearthly green light in the Team Leader’s crease-less suit. The walls hung with pictures of storm clouds, tumultuous seas and bleak mountains, landscapes all designed to calm the stress of the top executive. All underlined with proverbs from the business world. Proverbs that were steps of wisdom towards success, so they were told. Hand holds in the climb of life, put there to smooth the way and ease the mind. Proverbs that had been hammered into them all for as long as he could remember!

Proverbs that sometimes gave him nightmares.

The room smelt of disinfectant.

“Marc,” the voice of his Team Leader almost made him jump. Her attention suddenly felt like a beam of power bearing down on him. She held so much influence over his life. She could destroy everything he had worked for, all his father’s hard work and trust. She could do it on a whim or most probably because he had lost some anonymous client some money.

“I’ve been studying your work lately and I have noticed a change.”

Alarm piled up in him but he disguised it with a nod.

“You’ve been doing a lot more, and it’s good stuff. I like that. I like to see improvement.”

His alarm crashed into waves of relief and release. He had, even more, trouble concealing that. His mask melted into the correct smile of gratitude.

“Well, I like to go forward you know. Nothing survives standing still. Without motion, forward motion, we stagnate and then it’s all downhill.”

This left a sour taste in his mouth, yet for the first time, he felt sure that there was something in the words. Something that had nothing to do with what he was telling his Team Leader.

But what?

“Quite right!” she exclaimed, “that’s why I am giving you a chance to progress. I am going to give you a major arts assignation project. Basically, I want you to examine some sculpture proposals for the town hall and I want you to recommend the correct one.”

Marc nodded with genuine eagerness. This sounded interesting.

“It’s quite a responsibility, you will have to examine every aspect and all the implications.”

“I understand,” he said simply. This was an exciting change in his life, perhaps just what he needed.

“I hope you do. It’s worth a lot on the league tables if you are successful. Well, finish your work for today. Assign any impending business to Josephine Fisher and then you can start fresh tomorrow.”

Marc almost flinched at the word fresh. Had she smiled slyly when she had pronounced the word? Had she noticed his inner turmoil? Was this some sort of test? Was she trying to break down his defences, unmask him and reveal his true attitude toward the company?

Whatever, he could not refuse the task. That would finish him immediately. Besides, he still liked the idea and the points were not to be sniffed at.

When he left the office his jaunty smile and sure step were not as fake as they had been a few minutes earlier.

However, he had to put that task out of his head and concentrate on clearing today’s work. This was even more tedious now that an alternative was just around the corner. Soon the sheer drudgery of it all had dulled his joy.

Another thought poked through these grey clouds. There was vomit on the carpet at home.

Precisely eight hours and thirty minutes after sitting down at his desk he rose a happier man. His colleagues believed he was a fully integrated team member. No hint of his bad night had leaked past his veil. His spirits sunk though when he was invited to a game of squash. He felt slightly ashamed that he found it easy to hide his frustration. What worried him most was there was vomit lying on the floor in his bedroom and he wanted to get back, before Moira. It would be difficult to explain it away and she was not an easy person.

He won five games of squash, hating every minute. He took the praise with the correct blend of modesty and gratification and spent a relaxing hour in the bar sipping drinks and discussing with fervour he didn’t feel the up coming conference. With feigned reluctance, he was persuaded that it was time to call it a day and that they should all go home. They all arranged another match time and with muscles as taut as tensed steel wire he strolled home.

Moira was there.


Disaster!

William flinched as the bark of the machine gun fire slammed around the hall. In the flashing yellow blaze, he could see the police sweeping their guns back and forth like scythes.

They were enjoying it.

From his hiding place he wept. Tears flowed unhindered for on the floor of the hall, rolling and shuddering with the impact of round after round of bullets, were his people. People he loved.

Blood sprayed everywhere.

All we wanted was somewhere to sleep in peace William raged in his mind, but he was silent. Even his sobs were muted.

He wanted to go in there! Grab a gun from someone and send that lead back into the heart of the man who was firing it!

But what good would that do? None! It would undo his life’s work.

So instead he watched from the other room, peering through a slit, praying that a stray bullet would not find its way past his cover but unable to wrench himself from the carnage and seek safety.

Suddenly a hand landed firmly on his shoulder and spun him around. He tensed, ready to strike out.

It was Oliver, one of his most trusted people. He too had tears in his eyes.

“We have to go,” he said simply. William nodded but hardly had the strength to rise. Oliver held out his hand. William took it and his friend pulled him up.

Together they made their escape and left behind them another pointless night and more wasted lives.

All for a night out of the sewers and some decent food.


Marc knelt by the pool of reeking, stagnant vomit that stained the thick carpet. Through the mess he stared forlornly at the pattern of orange flowers.

Moira was perched on the edge of the bed, still dressed in the sharp, blue, predatory suit of a solicitor. She looked down on his efforts.

The atmosphere was rank.

“You’re not happy with your job are you?” Moira’s tone was not sympathetic. Marc went on his hands and knees cleaning up, trying not to gag on the stench of it all.

“Of course, I am. Don’t say things like that. It’s not true and it could cause trouble.”

His gaze fell on his guitar, standing out if its case against the blue-grey wall. He stared blankly at the taut steel strings. Around the edge of his sight, he imagined he could sense the threats that crowded his life. Stalking him, chasing him into fear.

“Why the nightmares then? Why all the oversleeping? You are not ill; the doctor gave you a shining report.”

Of course, he had! He was fine most of the time, perfectly balanced. It was only the odd occasion that he had nightmares and overslept.

The strings on his guitar looked too tight. If he plucked one would it snap? The light in the room seemed somehow too dim.

“You need help,” she said, sounding as if she were quoting, “you need to see a psychologist.”

Marc snorted.

“If you are not happy with your job then I will have to find somebody who is,” she remarked casually.

“What!?”

“Well, I have my career to think of as well you know.”

“Of course but,” he looked up at her, unable to believe what she was suggesting, “if we separate do you know what that would do to me?

“Certainly,” she picked up the TV remote control and started fiddling with it absently. Marc was struck by the totally inappropriate thought of how attractive she looked in her suit.

“A big drop in the Personal League tables and it would certainly put your career on the line. That is why I would not do it unless I thought it was totally necessary. If you will not admit that you are dissatisfied with your job when you damn well are then I am not going to let it ruin my career too!”

Strings in his mind were being pulled too tight. The screws that held them were being relentlessly turned, stretching them to breaking point. Instead of being pulled and plucked to play harmonies and airs they hummed with tension. If they were struck they would wail, scream high notes of anxiety and discord.

Or snap.

“I am not unhappy with my job!” Marc growled.

“I’ve said that once. Anyway, where did you get the idea from in the first place? Who’s been telling you I am fed up?”

“I never said you were fed up, those are your words, not mine. Nobody has been telling me anything. I can tell, that’s all. You don’t live with someone for two years without getting to know them and their moods. Besides it has been proven that dissatisfaction at work can lead to feelings of inadequacies and that those feelings are often translated to other areas, notably sexual relations.”

“Oh, so I am no good in bed now am I?”

“I didn’t say that! But you could be better,” she shrugged and smoothed the line of her skirt with her palm.

“But then I have always thought so.”

Marc almost spat in disgust and mumbled angrily to himself through clenched teeth.

“I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”

“Don’t mumble!” screamed Moira and she hurled the remote control across the room. It hit the guitar, broke a string, bounced off and hit the wall where it shattered and landed, a pile of black shards in the pool of drying vomit.

“You are driving me mad with your stupid little habits and your nightmares! Why couldn’t I get a more decently social partner?”

“Keep your voice down!” said Marc, heeding his own advice but trying to overpower her tantrum.

“The man two doors down is a good friend of my Team Leader. I don’t want a bad report getting to her.”

“Sod your Team Leader! I bet she has noticed your decline as much as I have.”

“No, she hasn’t,” retorted Marc. Then before he could stop himself.

“As a matter of fact, she has just given me a top assignment. She has every confidence in my ability.”

“Well, why don’t you go and bloody live with her then!?”

Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up!

Somebody was dragging the edge of a plectrum across his mind. It was a wailing cacophony.

“Look, darling, why don’t we both calm down and talk about this in the morning?” He kept his voice as smooth and calm as he could.

“Don’t bloody darling me! That’s your idea, is it? Put everything off? How long for? A day? A week? For good? You are useless, you know. Totally useless!”

“Don’t say things like that Moira! We’re supposed to support each other. That’s the whole idea you know or had you forgotten?”

“No, of course, I haven’t,” she was sulky now. “Oh, this whole thing stinks. This room stinks, you stink! I am going to bed and I am going to get some decent sleep.”

She stormed off to the spare bedroom, leaving Marc to ponder the thought of sleep, nightmares and clashing chords, unaware of the flames that had started to burn within him.


Richard held up a pair of wire cutters that shone dully in the moonlight. Like the smile that she gave him, they lacked lustre.

Maybe it ran in the family she thought as her brother put the tool to work efficiently. Here they were, breaking into a high-security building (owned by one of the country’s largest water suppliers) and she felt no excitement or fear.

The fact that she felt no shame or remorse did not compensate. She felt nothing at all unless it was a slight twinge of disappointment.

Richard was the only family she had really known so she had no idea what her parent’s reaction would have been. No idea whether it was a family trait. Her parents were vague memories to her. Scarlet memories buried deep within her. Perhaps her feelings of guilt were buried with them.

It had been her brother’s idea, of course, to steal the official tests on water pollution. He was full of ideas like that and she was willing to follow, to take an active part in any plan he devised, hoping to find some way to share the excitement he derived from them. Or had once. She often got the impression that he had grown bored of them himself, or disillusioned by the lack of any real impact.

She wondered what would happen if he succeeded. What would be the consequences? Where would they lead?

Were people like Richard the seeds of warfare?

Success or not they would not give up. They were determined. They would pursue their goals in the only way they knew. Both fighting the order for their own reasons. She wasn’t really sure of her brother’s reasons, they seemed to shift and change from time to time. She reasoned that he was fighting for the sake of fighting, that no matter who ruled or what order they had been born into, he would have fought it. She could not remember him being any other way.

For herself? Well, her reasons were clear. She was bored. She found the world and its constant pressures tedious. She dreamed of ancient times when the challenges had been real and the world more clear-cut and, in a brutal kind of way, more honest. When people’s lives were more vital. They were born in the wrong time, they had told each other that more than a few times.

Now though even these adventures didn’t really excite her.

Richard beckoned her through the open fence. Her senses came alert, even without the thrill. She was merely being competent. As she climbed through she could smell the rust on the fence. She pushed aside the rough metal.

They made their way through a small side door. Its defences had been turned off earlier in the day. Richard was a genius in such things. Not only had he turned them off but the security systems still believed them to be active. Only a manual check would show that something was amiss and nobody did manual checks very often on a door as insignificant as this.

A few specialised tools were all that was needed and they were in. Bright white light spilled momentarily out into the darkness, then they shut the door. They found themselves in an empty corridor. The walls and ceilings were the cold white of medical institutions. There was the faint smell of cleaning chemicals. A trail of red tiles, inset into a grey floor, showed the way. Richard did not need them. As they entered the cool air from outside invaded the stale sterile atmosphere of the building. As silent as snowfall they stalked their goal, following the cool breeze down the passageway and around the corner.

When she had first accompanied her brother on these forays she had gently disapproved of his tactics. They should not have to break the law to attain their ends she suggested. Richard had laughed at that and asked her how she thought the people who ruled got where they were. She had been slightly shocked at this statement. The rulers had to be moral. It was a written requirement of the constitution. Surely they were not corrupt?

“If they weren’t,” her brother had said, “then we wouldn’t have to do what we do.”

“What exactly were the rulers guilty of then?” she had asked. He had not been able to answer that satisfactorily even, she felt, to himself. He just knew that they were corrupt and that was enough, enough to lead him to hunt for the evidence to damn them.

Perhaps he was just a natural predator?

Footsteps echoed – someone was approaching. They both looked around sharply. Richard’s fierce blue eyes were like a hawk’s searching for prey.

He pointed at a door and led her through it. They closed it behind them just as the stranger rounded the corner.

They were in a closet. It was crowded but they were both experienced enough not to jostle for room.

Jane watched her brother carefully as the footsteps drew nearer. He was tensed and poised for action. Jane thought that stupid but said nothing. Even if they succeeded in stunning the enemy then their chances of getting out would drop dramatically. If they were caught then who knows what the ramifications would be? Richard seemed to think that the government was involved in whatever he thought was going on here. If they were taking on the government then the consequences of getting caught were grave indeed. They might end up in jail or worse.

They might just disappear quietly. There were few people who would miss them and nobody with any influence to find out what had happened.

It occurred to her that she should know more about what was going on here. She had not read the sources that had led Richard here. Maybe that was what she was lacking. Maybe information was the fuel to his fire.

She thought all this with cool calculation as the footsteps passed and faded. She wondered if her brother were so cool. Was his heart beating fast with tension and fear? His eyes burnt fiercely and his fingers played with his gun. Was he eager to use it?

Richard cracked open the door and looked around. It was clear. They slipped out and rounded a few more corners to arrive quickly at their target. The Pollution Control Lab. In this highly protected room the company kept its scientific eye on the level of dangerous impurities in the area’s water, a growing problem throughout the country. Richard believed that the company was holding back information.

Richard opened the door. Alarms and sirens failed to go off, Richard had disarmed them earlier using his illegal access to the Internet. Breaking the rules, as he had said, opened doors and smoothed their stealthy way.

Closing the door behind them they set to work immediately. Jane slid across the floor keeping low and out of sight of the windows which adjoined the neighbouring room. There were a few night workers in there monitoring the water network and trying to earn a few extra credit points from their employer. They worked busily in the dim light, testing water. Just one look from one of those workers might blow the whole thing. Fortunately, the workers could not afford to be seen away from their tasks.

Jane immediately set to work on a safe. As she worked she noticed a rack of cultures on a nearby shelf. They were all clear except one that caught her eye. It had been marred by the track of a single growth that seemed to have crawled straight to the centre, invading the purity of the gel. She wondered what had driven it to seek out the centre with such surety.

She shook her head. She could not afford distractions. She got back to the task at hand. With her usual efficiency, she soon had the safe open and had located the correct documents and accompanying portable drive. She slipped them into her pocket and made her way back to the door. There she met Richard who was holding a box containing small vials of water for testing. Without so much as a nod, they left the room, closing the door quietly behind them. She followed her brother as the tiles blindly guided them back and within a few minutes, they were outside again.

From the time that they cut the fence until they were safely back in Richard’s Land Rover, they said not a single word.

They had succeeded again. Jane felt no exhilaration.


Marc strode through the masque, shoving people out if his way. They fell or moved aside in his wake like delicate petals in a torrent. He strode with fierce purpose towards his goal.

He was getting out! Out of this farce, away from these people with their bland masks and finery, their cloying, clasping manners.

He strode towards the exit, undeterred by the fact he couldn’t see it. He ripped off his mask revealing his maniacal grin. People held up their hands in shock or terror. He revelled in their reactions.

Then he saw the grand staircase sweeping up out of the hall. Golden steps, a glittering ladder to heaven.

He leapt over the heads of the crowd and landed on the bottom steps. He was about to bound up the steps when a hand grabbed his arm and held him.

He looked around. It was Moria, he could tell despite the ridiculous clown mask she wore because she was still dressed in her steel grey business suit.

Amongst all the voluminous ball gowns and lace, it looked like a sharp knife.

He felt a surge of hatred towards her. He pushed her away and she fell back into a tangle of arms reaching out to catch her and drag her off into the thrall.

He was getting away from her! Away from all this. He turned and looked up the stairs. Up! Up and away from all this. Up to a better life, a better world.

He took a step and stopped.

Up to what? Another ball? With finer clothes, finer manners? More pressure?

He hesitated, turned to look back from where he had come – but it was gone. Everything had gone. He was standing in sudden darkness.

From somewhere in the darkness that surrounded him there came a glow, the light shed from the stub of a candle, its wick spluttering and almost spent. Into the failing corona moved a face, a stern, fatherly face with strong eyes. It smiled a smile of glee and opened its mouth to laugh.

Marc awoke and found himself hyperventilating. He gasped his way back into control.

What the hell was happening to him? Did he need psychiatric help? He needed something.

This had to stop!

Moira was right, he needed help. He would follow her advice and go and see a psychiatrist, as much as the idea repelled him.

This had to stop.


William sat down, his back against the muddy wall of the tunnel. A cold breeze blew through. William wondered if it were an easterly wind. Easterly winds were supposed to be colder. He could not tell.

This was the best place they had found for months and a little breeze was not going to cause any complaints. William wrinkled his nose at the smell of distant sewers but again that was something that could be tolerated.

His audience, seven or eight children huddled on their haunches. In their multi-coloured rags, they looked like they had stepped out of a Dickens novel. Not that any of them had heard of Dickens. Most of them could not read.

William could and he was full of stories. He began.

“Back in the time when my family held a position higher than any that now exists, when our blood was considered special, then, we had a vast and ancient library of books. Some of these my father rescued and I have read just a few. I would like to tell you one now.”

The children of the tunnel settled down, huddling close together for warmth. They blew steam from their mouths and their cheeks were red raw with cold. But they were eager for the story.

William went on.

“There was a land, vast and wide. Where the wind played in the swathes of tall grass, leapt over tall hills and soared into the grey, forbidding mountains.

“In the winter fierce snow storms ravaged the land, leaving jagged icicles hanging at obtuse angles from the hardy trees.

“In summer, orange dust drifted over empty plains like a silent snake bringing thirst and famine.

“Despite this people dwelt here. Scattered in sparse villages, living fragile lives. They endured and they were happy.”

William’s audience smiled dreamy smiles. This gratified him for he did not consider himself a master storyteller in any way.

“They tilled the land and against all that nature plagued them with they gathered an adequate harvest each year. They survived. They huddled together and they sang songs to ward off the worst the winter could muster.

“It was here that a young man called Comm lived. He was a strong and honest youth. He was most welcome in the fields as he was free with his strength and ready to help his people in whatever way was asked of him. He had a warm smile and a rich voice – which he used often while he worked, singing hearty songs that eased the toil for himself and the many that gathered to work around him.

“He loved life and people loved him. But in his big heart, there was a special devotion for one in particular.

“Her name was Thira. He had met her one day on the way to the fields. A group of women were hurrying to a barn, carrying cloths and tools for repairs to the storage huts. One of them lagged behind and suddenly fell. Comm hurried to help her up, picking up the tools she had dropped. He helped her back to her feet and returned the tools.

“She smiled wanly at him, nodding her thanks. But as she walked back to the women she hobbled and struggled. Comm followed after in concern, holding her arm in support.

“‘Are you well? Did you hurt yourself?’ he asked. She shook her head and hid her face from him.

“‘She is of ill health,’ said one of the women, ‘illness plagues her every day.’

“From that day Comm was always there on her way to her daily task. He carried any burden she bore and supported her on her way.

“At first, she would not look at him. She hung her head as if shamed by his help, but she always mumbled thanks to him. Comm was patient, he never failed her, never scolded her, merely helped her on her way.

“After a while, she began to lift her head, a while longer and she would look him in the eye when she murmured her thanks.

“Eventually, she smiled at him. And that smile went straight into the depths of that huge heart of Comm’s.

“He worked harder in the fields and earned himself extra food and goods, these he would present to Thira’s family. They welcomed him into their home with thanks – for Thira had been a burden to them – though a burden they never shirked or complained about.

“Thus love was sown and began to bud.

“At this time too the weather was unusually kind and each year the harvest improved. For once all the village began to enjoy plenty, peace and times of rest and rejoicing.

“It was not to last. News spread over the world of the plentiful harvests in this land. And a visitor came to the village.

“One dark, stormy night a dragon descended upon the land. His name was Econ. He was as large as a mountain and his skin was the colour of brushed steel. His claws were of iron and he breathed fire with every word he spoke. The ground itself trembled under his feet.

“The villagers trembled in fear having never encountered such might before. They stood cowed as Econ explained that he had come to rule over them and that the greater part of their harvest would be forfeit to him.

“To prove his will he slaughtered all the elders of the village. Then he forced all to swear allegiance to him.

“The villagers had never had to fight before, they had no weapons or skill at war. They had no choice but to obey.

“Life went on. The fields continued to be bountiful in ways that had not been seen in living memory.

“But Econ drove them hard. He expanded the fields and planted more. The harvests were way beyond what the villagers would have needed – yet they saw little of it. In fact, they found that they had less to eat now than when the weather was worse.

“There was no longer singing in the fields.

“Life went on in other ways. Comm’s love for Thira grew and grew. In time he asked for her hand in marriage. Her family gave permission gladly and she gave Comm her heart.

“Despite the new austerity of the village, there were celebrations. The whole village gathered and joined in dances, songs and games. The couple were showered with flowers of yellow and purple. The villagers grew dreamy on the scent of the forest.

“All this was not unnoticed by Econ. As the festivities reached their height the village was suddenly plunged into shadow. The dragons wings obscured the sun as he swept down into their midst.

“He looked around at the scene and inquired what was happening. The villagers explained and seeking to flatter their evil master they asked for his blessing on the marriage.

“Econ ushered the people away from the couple with his wings and bent down to look closer. He peered at the couple, Thira looked fearful but Comm stood proud beside her.

“Econ frowned. With a flick of the tip of his wing, he pushed Comm aside. The dragon gazed deep into Thira and perceived her frailty, the illness that seeped right into her very bones.

“With a sudden movement Econ drew himself to his full, terrible height, then let forth a fierce stream of fire and reduced Thira to ash.

“‘I forbid this marriage! This creature’s weakness would do nothing but sap the strength of one of my prize subjects! No more marriages will take place without my permission. Furthermore such weakness,’ he indicated the smouldering pile of ash, ‘will no longer be tolerated.’

“He looked directly at Comm but addressed the whole village.

“‘You will return to work!’

“Life went on. The villagers lives were even harder than before but none more so than Comm’s. The dragon took every opportunity to humiliate him, make an example of him. At the same time he did not physically hurt him – he kept him working at his most productive. At times he could be seen knee deep in the thick brown mud, dragging a plough behind him. A plough that should have been pulled by oxen but that the dragon had taken delight in fixing to the poor villager.

“Comm was a patient and steadfast man. He bore what he could for longer than most. But his heart had been broken and in time his spirit broke too. Swearing an oath of vengeance he fled the village.

“It was many years before he was seen again. He was never forgotten in that time. He was spoken of fondly and by some with hope that his oath would be fulfilled. But the years went by and life was hard. Such indulgent dreams were pushed to the back of the mind.

“When he finally returned few recognised him. He rode in on a horse, clad in blood red armour. When he raised his visor there was the scarred visage of an older man. His eyes were filled with pain and complex emotion. The warm smile was gone. He only smiled when he was told of Econ’s whereabouts. That smile was chilling.

“Comm rode out and faced the dragon. He raised his lance and charged, screaming fury at the beast.

“The battle was long and fierce, from dawn to dusk it raged. Econ tried to incinerate Comm but his shield protected him, though his arm was burnt and blistered. Comm struck again and again with his lance, wounding the dragon many times. Black blood spilt on the land, burning crops. When finally his lance snapped Comm drew out his sword. Risking the sweeping claws of Econ he deftly rode in and out of the dragon’s reach, stabbing into his tough hide, drawing still more blood.

“Econ was weakening but still a challenge to the greatest of warriors. He thrashed his wings and tail, he caught Comm with his claws and Comm’s blood flowed with the dragon’s on the floor. He roared fire until Comm’s shield and sword glowed red, but he would not let go despite the searing pain in his fingers.

“Then with a sudden flick of his tail, he caught Comm’s steed. Both he and his horse were thrown through the air. The sword was ripped from his blistered palm.

“He landed with a thud in the bloody mud that he had once tilled. His helm came off and rolled away. He moved no further.

“The dragon lowered his head slowly until his flaring nostril was above the unmoving knight.

“Suddenly, Comm leapt up. He jumped right onto the dragon’s head. The dragon reared in anger, spewing fire into the air. Comm ran and kept his balance. He reached over his back to the hammer strapped there. With all his strength he raised the mighty head and swung it down, striking the dragon hard, right between the eyes.

“The dragon roared in pain and shook his head wildly. Comm fell, plummeted back down into the mud. He landed on his back and did not rise. He felt his body break. He heard the roaring stop. He opened his eyes and saw the dragon lower his head toward him. The beast was unsteady, swaying but he was also unmistakably drawing his breath to deliver a torrent of fire upon Comm.

“It did not come. Suddenly there was a yell and the dragon turned his head. With his final strength, Comm followed his gaze.

“From out of the forest, the villagers streamed. They flew, bearing axes and scythes and hammers. As one, and with the fury of years, they fell on the dragon, hacking, slashing and hammering him.

“And the dragon fell. He was too weak to resist now. Expending the last of his fire into the air he crashed to the ground and died at the villagers’ hands.

“Comm died too, hurt from his wounds. The villagers raised a statue in his honour depicting the slaying of the beast. Never again did a dragon take their freedom. The villagers returned to their simple lives but they kept the story of the dragon alive, passing it down from generation to generation so that the terror of the beast would never be forgotten.

“Likewise they kept the spirit of Comm alive too – and remembered him not only as the great warrior and redeemer but also as the kind supporter of the frail, and the simple farmer who tilled that land.

William’s audience gave him a subdued round of applause as they took in the implications of the tale.

At that point, a man came running.

“Rats!” he gasped. Everyone sprung into action, William among them. Grabbing crude weapons they all headed after the man, on the hunt for their next meal. They splashed through water that looked like weak gravy. Ahead of them was a fire. Its red light swayed, showing them the way.

As they jogged down the tunnel William wondered what the normal people above them would think if they knew there were people eating rats below their feet.

These places were the only home he had known. Abandoned underground railways and sewers and older tunnels whose uses were forgotten. He was not alone in this. He had grown up with many of these rebels. After his father had died they had been the only family he had known. He had soon become their leader.

His father had not always been a rebel. He had told William of grand palaces and castles where his family had once lived, all filled with gold and purple, jewels and crowns. The finest of which had belonged to his Grandfather after whom he was named.

William had not understood how such splendour could fall. His father had said that the economy had deposed even them in the end.

He wondered if one day he would get the chance to reclaim the palaces of his family. Would he do it if the chance presented itself?

No, he wouldn’t! The very thought of it fired his anger. That would mean abandoning his people. He could never do that. It would mean abandoning his principles. It would make him no better than the bastards who ran the country now, whose policies and ruthlessness drove more people into the tunnels every year.

Besides he believed in the rebels. They were human. They knew the value of each other. They were the germ of the future. He firmly believed that one day, maybe beyond his lifetime, they would inherit the ruins of that corrupt empire above them.

The Secret – that was the seed of all his stories. It was carried in the heart of every member of his audiences, waiting to be discovered and embraced by each of them, then passed on until it grew strong enough to bear fruit.

As the hunt heated up and everyone took their places, William thought back to his story and wondered if any such tale had ever really existed.


Text Copyright © 2013

Scott Bailey

All Rights Reserved

Available as

Kindle

or hardback

from Amazon

or CreateSpace

Now also available at Smashwords, IBooks, Barnes and Noble and many other reputable outlets.

In response to the daily prompt Pursue

#DailyPrompt, #amwriting

www.scottandrewbailey.uk

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Rested Wheel

By Scott Bailey © 2013

Why aren’t we railing?
Why aren’t we mad?
Why do we sit in silence?
In apathy so sad.

Is the sickle blunted?
The hammer dropped and cracked?
Has the guillotine lost its edge?
Has liberty backtracked?​

The peasants have moved on
From field to factory to desk.
Is it beautiful progress
Or captivity grotesque

So day after day
after day after day.
We struggle and toil
No time to play.

We hand over our freedom
We hand over our cash.
While the fat cats sleep
on their growing stash.

Where is the spirit of liberty?
The hero in the square?
The lone horse trodden woman.
Defanged are those who care.

 

In response to the daily prompt Wheel

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Drifting Islands

By Scott Bailey © 2017

Where is the local
The friendly greengrocer
Baker, butcher
The watering hole
The fire we gathered around?

Now we are islands
Floating in a digital sea
Waving to each other
Smiling, winking, liking
While we drift apart

 

In response to the daily prompt Local

#DailyPrompt, #amwriting

www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

A Blank Piece of Paper

By Scott Bailey © 2017

A
Blank piece of paper
Has
Limitless potential
To become
A plane
A swan
A hat
Or an idle doodle
Or a poem of grief
Or love
Or rage
A protest
A plea
A stiff complaint
A soft seduction
Or
The start
Of a whole new world

 

In response to the daily prompt Paper

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Fiction, Self Publishing, Short Stories, Thirteen Tales, Writing

Cycles – Thirteen Tales

In response to the daily prompt Loop as it fits.

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Cycles

How will the bravado, bluff, and hormone-fuelled ignorance of youth hold up against harsh truths, like death? Will this group of friends grow up or repeat the mistakes of youth?

Featured Image -- 7657

Thirteen Tales of Ghosts

By Scott Bailey

A collection of short stories concerning ghosts. Some are traditional ghost stories in the tradition of M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe. Other are not. Some scare, some are fun. Some play with the concept of a ghost. There are ghosts who are out for revenge and the living avenging the spirits that curse them.

Ideal for sitting around a campfire and late at night under the covers. Or maybe not if the stories themselves are any guide.

Check it out at Amazon and Smashwords and other online e-book retailers.

A paperback version is now available for those who prefer the feel of the paper while huddling by the fire – on your own – in the dark – with that noise behind you……

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Music, Poetry, Science Fiction, Work, Writing

Meddler

By Scott Bailey © 2017

We should meddle
With the peddling of their lies
We should obscure
All the surety of their spies
We should extrapolate
What they obfuscate
To find truth
We should hold hands
In bands and lands
Of support

 

In response to the daily prompt Meddle

And also for those of you who enjoy something a bit trippier – the infamous syncing of Pink Floyd’s Echoes for the album Meddle and the final act of 2001 a Space Odyssey

With an explanation here

http://www.eeggs.com/items/30914.html

Enjoy!

 

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

Spin the Bottle

By Scott Bailey © 2017

Is life just spin the bottle
As the bottle maker laughs
Or a game of hopscotch
Lines drawn in shifting sand
Children’s games and distractions
Carried over time
Methods and controllers
Programming sublime

 

In response to the daily prompt Bottle

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

Rising Tide

By Scott Bailey © 2013

From the shallows to the icy deep
Where dolphins dance and starfish sleep
Through swaying kale and shifting sand
Feel the touch of an oily hand

Where lights speed by in total dark
Where rest many a sunken ark
Where through the kale fish do slip
Feel a cold and choking grip

Where bubbles rise and currents surge
Where waters from the heavens merge
Where weight does crush both bones and rock
Feel the iron fingers lock

And here my heart it swells and roars
From roiling dark to shattered shores
And I will rise with fury’s might
And crush the hand that picks this fight

So fear the shark with jaws that rend
And the mighty swell that shall bend
Every fence and dam and wall
And drown the rumble of cliffs that fall

And when the hand has done its deed
You will curse your dirty seed
And then, at last, you will see
How small you are beside the sea

 

In response to the daily prompt Total

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

Volume

By Scott Bailey © 2017

The greater the volume
Of opinion
The more stress upon the foundation
The higher the lofty morals
The shakier the ivory tower
Oh how the papers wail
How the timelines howl
The mad feeding frenzy
Of the trolls
Who rule

 

In response to the daily prompt Volume

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Mankind Limited News, Poetry, Writing

Mankind Limited Excerpt

In response to the daily prompt Revelation

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www.scottandrewbailey.uk

Prologue

Darkness outside. From the expanse of his office, the Facilitator gazed down at the city spread below. Orange lights twinkled. A busy machine.

It was his. They were entwined. Both products of this still young, brave new millennium.

He smiled.

He held a powerful secret. Held it and knew how to keep it. At any cost. Just like a thousand predecessors. It was a secret born of millennia of social experimentation, refining, conditioning – almost perfect.

Almost.

He was interrupted by a rap at his door. He sighed. He keyed the intercom.

“Come in, Max.”

Max entered, carrying a red file under his arm. Unusual. Max gave nothing away.

Excellent control. Or did he have no fear? A worrying possibility but unlikely.

“Max!” He smiled as the man seated himself.

“I called you up here because I understand you are a little concerned about things. About poets in fact. A little doubting perhaps?”

Max’s eyes narrowed but he gave no other reaction. The Facilitator had hit his target. He sat down himself and steepled his fingers.

“I have prepared a report,” said Max and threw it on the table. It slid over the polished wood with a swish, stopped at the Facilitator’s hands. He glanced at it, briefly but did not open it. He sighed.

“Max, there’s no need to worry about poets and writers, artists and romantic fools. We disarmed them years ago. We turned them into whiners. Still, can.”

“Many of ‘the greats’ were laughed at in their time,” said Max.

“Ah, but did they change anything?”

He smiled at Max wisely.

“No, they did not. They were only appreciated when times had changed of their own accord and people looked back and saw their sense with hindsight.”

Max did not look convinced but kept his silence. The Facilitator couldn’t blame him.

He stood again and turned his back on Max. He stared back down at the city, caught sight of the flashing blue light of a police car screaming down a road to some anonymous crime. He shook his head.

“Max, don’t worry about it. It’s no threat. If you don’t believe me just wait and see. Then perhaps we’ll restore a little of that lost confidence, eh?”

Max went pale.

The Facilitator let him sweat for a few seconds then he turned on him with a bright smile. He leant on the desk and looked his subordinate deep in the eye.

“I have made a decision, Max! We will destroy him. In fact, you will destroy him. It will restore my confidence in you.”

Max looked up with sudden fake eagerness.

“You want an example made of him?”

“No, no. I want you to do it quietly. He must disappear with no cause for questions. Can you do that?”

“Of course,” said Max, “I’m right on to it.”

“Good.”

Chapter One

Fences

A flame. A slender orange blade raised to two points, devil’s horns. It was perfectly still, untouched by breezes.

Around it was darkness.

From the darkness, a face encroached, stealing into the faint corona of the flame. A face of strength and authority. Worn but solid. Reliable but for some undefined threat deep in the blues.

The face broke into a white smile, the eyes became sharper with malice or glee, then laughed. Laughed at the flame and puffed it out.

Marc was left in darkness, sinking slowly into a mire, a swamp of darkness that sapped his strength.

He found a scrap of will to fight, began to struggle. Feebly at first then more frantically until he was thrashing around like a trapped wild cat.

Suddenly there was a surge of power beneath him and he was lifted like a leaf in a fountain. He flew up through the swirling currents of black. The surge grew and grew as he rose. The wind whipped his hair and clothes savagely.

He was struck by a sudden fear. Where would this ascension take him? Would his rise end with a slam into a hard ceiling?

Somewhere a siren was wailing. For him? Why? He had done nothing wrong, had he? No! He had done nothing wrong. Nothing! Nothing, nothing, nothing!

Up and up and up!

He awoke with a start, sat up rigid and vomited. The fear of his nightmare pursued him into consciousness. Sweat soaked him, he was shaking. The wet sheets coiled around his limbs. He craved peaceful sleep but the wailing would not stop.

Fuck! The wailing was his alarm. Its vile red numbers glared at him with disapproval. He was going to be late!

He wrinkled his nose at the scent of vomit and sweat. He had to clear up, had to shower ready to face the day but there was no time. Only time for a quick wash and shave. He raced to the bathroom his heart beating with panic.

The razor slid roughly over his cheeks and chin. It scraped off the bristle and revealed the smooth, fresh face beneath. Beneath that, he still felt shabby. He saw through his own mask and those blue eyes looked too tired. He brushed his dark hair, wishing it was shorter. Then in frustration, he threw the brush into the water, splashing his image in the mirror, blurring the face.

This had to stop! He was getting worse lately. As he armoured himself in his slate grey suit he wondered if he were losing all his willpower. He had always been an early riser yet this was the third time he had overslept in a month. He hadn’t been late for work so far but he worried that his Team Leader had noticed. Surely it had affected his performance? All this rushing around could not be good for him. He really needed time to compose himself before facing work.

He knotted his silk tie the correct way, remembering his father’s strong hands showing him how. His father who had been the perfect citizen, the example he had been expected – indeed aspired to live up to.

Marc almost hung his head in shame.

He shook his tousled hair. He had to sort himself out. He was no good to anyone like this. No good to himself. He was going to lose his job. If he went on like this then he would drop precious points on the league table. Too much of that and he would lose this house and his status position, end up being relocated to the slums.

He had to get going. No more time for grooming. He threw a flowery towel over the pool of drying vomit, picked up his briefcase and turned his back on the stench.

He stepped out of the house, smoothed down his suit and slipped into the stream of people. The air was stifling. There was the faint smell of blocked drains.

He managed to make his hurried pace look like a determined stalk rather than mild panic. Being late he saw a different set of people. Parents leaving their children at crèche before flying off to work. A lone police officer on the prowl for anti-social behaviour or, if he was lucky, a member of one of the rebel gangs emerging from their underground hiding places. Marc watched him finger his gun with relish.

A road hygienist made his slow, steady way along the grainy street. The chain that attached his cart to his waist swung and clanked in time to his plodding stride. Marc could smell the rotting vegetables he transported. His hair was long and white and his chin bristled with tufts of a white beard. Broad flared trousers swung with his gait. Despite his age the man’s muscles were strong, hardened by a lifetime’s labour. Marc wondered if anything could stand in the way of his ponderous, unerring stride.

The wheels of the cart left tracks in the dust.

There was noise all around. The constant rumble of vehicles. The beeping of traffic control signals. Advertisements being blared from shop windows. But the people were silent. None spoke. All wore the mask of inward reflection, contemplating the day ahead and how it could be most profitably and efficiently employed. Marc wondered what was really going on behind those masks. The same mask he wore.

For whose sake was he wearing it?

He passed silently through the noise and the shadows of the lofty, imperious buildings. Implacable façades for the lofty, imperious companies and organisations shrouded behind the smooth glass and steel. Every now and then a flash of orange light from the rising sun glanced like a flame from a window then faded again as he passed.

He found that he had slowed his pace to study the world as it passed him by. The same world he saw every day. The same world he had seen every day of his working life. Why had it caught his attention now? There had been no change. It had all jumped out at him from behind a grim wall, yet it was all familiar.

He shrugged and picked up his pace again, leaving such thoughts behind. He could not afford to be late. His footsteps clicked on the concrete pavement.

He arrived at work on time. He put on his easy smile and walked through the smooth glass doors with a relaxed swing.

The smile felt empty to him. He hoped it didn’t appear so, there were too many young ‘potential achievers’ snapping at his heels. On the ladder of success, you had to at least preserve the image of a strong confident grasp on the rungs as you climbed.

He didn’t have time for a coffee, which made matters worse. He was sure that his body’s imbalances would show up at tea break, during the standard demi-scan. A coffee would have calmed him down. The rich aroma teased him. Well, there was no point in worrying, that would only increase his stress. He heaved an inward sigh, sat down at his desk and tried to forget about it.

Almost subconsciously he set his mornings targets higher than he had intended, overcompensating to hide any adverse effects of the morning’s troubles.

After several hours of sorting and finishing assignments, Marc was called to the Team Leader’s office.

Row after row of eyes cast studiously down at their desks typing, working – yet all attention was focused on him. Why had he been called to the office? What had he done? Was he about to be decorated for some dynamic deed or flailed for some fundamental failure? Marc feared the latter, wondering if his Team Leader had finally spotted his disaffection. It was vital that he portray the image of somebody who was sure of the praise he was about to receive. He walked down the grey avenue with his head held level.

His disaffection! There! It was admitted. He was disaffected and dissatisfied. But with what? With his job?

Yes. He was tired of the striving. He was tired of the climb but fearful of the fall. His legs were weary and his grasp was weakening, only vertigo kept him going.

This was not the whole truth. With a sickening feeling, he perceived that he had only touched the surface of this particular revelation. Darker things lurked below.

The revelation shook him and it took all his willpower to continue that walk toward the office and keep his mask in place. He could not afford to think about it now. He diverted those thoughts to another part of his mind where they could mill around until he could pull them out later, at his leisure.

If they didn’t break out of their own accord.

He entered the office, escaping one ordeal of general scrutinization to face another of a more personal nature.

His Team Leader was busy studying forms. She waved him into a seat and then ignored him for a few minutes. Before she turned her attention to him he glanced around the room to see if there were any major changes since his last visit. There were none. The office presented the same façade. He felt disappointed – but did not show it. Perhaps some change might have given him an indication of why he was here. Perhaps not. Whatever the case the room was the same. The desk the same clean smooth surface. The built-in console the same impersonal white, shedding unearthly green light in the Team Leader’s crease-less suit. The walls hung with pictures of storm clouds, tumultuous seas and bleak mountains, landscapes all designed to calm the stress of the top executive. All underlined with proverbs from the business world. Proverbs that were steps of wisdom towards success, so they were told. Hand holds in the climb of life, put there to smooth the way and ease the mind. Proverbs that had been hammered into them all for as long as he could remember!

Proverbs that sometimes gave him nightmares.

The room smelt of disinfectant.

“Marc,” the voice of his Team Leader almost made him jump. Her attention suddenly felt like a beam of power bearing down on him. She held so much influence over his life. She could destroy everything he had worked for, all his father’s hard work and trust. She could do it on a whim or most probably because he had lost some anonymous client some money.

“I’ve been studying your work lately and I have noticed a change.”

Alarm piled up in him but he disguised it with a nod.

“You’ve been doing a lot more, and it’s good stuff. I like that. I like to see improvement.”

His alarm crashed into waves of relief and release. He had, even more, trouble concealing that. His mask melted into the correct smile of gratitude.

“Well, I like to go forward you know. Nothing survives standing still. Without motion, forward motion, we stagnate and then it’s all downhill.”

This left a sour taste in his mouth, yet for the first time, he felt sure that there was something in the words. Something that had nothing to do with what he was telling his Team Leader.

But what?

“Quite right!” she exclaimed, “that’s why I am giving you a chance to progress. I am going to give you a major arts assignation project. Basically, I want you to examine some sculpture proposals for the town hall and I want you to recommend the correct one.”

Marc nodded with genuine eagerness. This sounded interesting.

“It’s quite a responsibility, you will have to examine every aspect and all the implications.”

“I understand,” he said simply. This was an exciting change in his life, perhaps just what he needed.

“I hope you do. It’s worth a lot on the league tables if you are successful. Well, finish your work for today. Assign any impending business to Josephine Fisher and then you can start fresh tomorrow.”

Marc almost flinched at the word fresh. Had she smiled slyly when she had pronounced the word? Had she noticed his inner turmoil? Was this some sort of test? Was she trying to break down his defences, unmask him and reveal his true attitude toward the company?

Whatever, he could not refuse the task. That would finish him immediately. Besides, he still liked the idea and the points were not to be sniffed at.

When he left the office his jaunty smile and sure step were not as fake as they had been a few minutes earlier.

However, he had to put that task out of his head and concentrate on clearing today’s work. This was even more tedious now that an alternative was just around the corner. Soon the sheer drudgery of it all had dulled his joy.

Another thought poked through these grey clouds. There was vomit on the carpet at home.

Precisely eight hours and thirty minutes after sitting down at his desk he rose a happier man. His colleagues believed he was a fully integrated team member. No hint of his bad night had leaked past his veil. His spirits sunk though when he was invited to a game of squash. He felt slightly ashamed that he found it easy to hide his frustration. What worried him most was there was vomit lying on the floor in his bedroom and he wanted to get back, before Moira. It would be difficult to explain it away and she was not an easy person.

He won five games of squash, hating every minute. He took the praise with the correct blend of modesty and gratification and spent a relaxing hour in the bar sipping drinks and discussing with fervour he didn’t feel the up coming conference. With feigned reluctance, he was persuaded that it was time to call it a day and that they should all go home. They all arranged another match time and with muscles as taut as tensed steel wire he strolled home.

Moira was there.


Disaster!

William flinched as the bark of the machine gun fire slammed around the hall. In the flashing yellow blaze, he could see the police sweeping their guns back and forth like scythes.

They were enjoying it.

From his hiding place he wept. Tears flowed unhindered for on the floor of the hall, rolling and shuddering with the impact of round after round of bullets, were his people. People he loved.

Blood sprayed everywhere.

All we wanted was somewhere to sleep in peace William raged in his mind, but he was silent. Even his sobs were muted.

He wanted to go in there! Grab a gun from someone and send that lead back into the heart of the man who was firing it!

But what good would that do? None! It would undo his life’s work.

So instead he watched from the other room, peering through a slit, praying that a stray bullet would not find its way past his cover but unable to wrench himself from the carnage and seek safety.

Suddenly a hand landed firmly on his shoulder and spun him around. He tensed, ready to strike out.

It was Oliver, one of his most trusted people. He too had tears in his eyes.

“We have to go,” he said simply. William nodded but hardly had the strength to rise. Oliver held out his hand. William took it and his friend pulled him up.

Together they made their escape and left behind them another pointless night and more wasted lives.

All for a night out of the sewers and some decent food.


Marc knelt by the pool of reeking, stagnant vomit that stained the thick carpet. Through the mess he stared forlornly at the pattern of orange flowers.

Moira was perched on the edge of the bed, still dressed in the sharp, blue, predatory suit of a solicitor. She looked down on his efforts.

The atmosphere was rank.

“You’re not happy with your job are you?” Moira’s tone was not sympathetic. Marc went on his hands and knees cleaning up, trying not to gag on the stench of it all.

“Of course, I am. Don’t say things like that. It’s not true and it could cause trouble.”

His gaze fell on his guitar, standing out if its case against the blue-grey wall. He stared blankly at the taut steel strings. Around the edge of his sight, he imagined he could sense the threats that crowded his life. Stalking him, chasing him into fear.

“Why the nightmares then? Why all the oversleeping? You are not ill; the doctor gave you a shining report.”

Of course, he had! He was fine most of the time, perfectly balanced. It was only the odd occasion that he had nightmares and overslept.

The strings on his guitar looked too tight. If he plucked one would it snap? The light in the room seemed somehow too dim.

“You need help,” she said, sounding as if she were quoting, “you need to see a psychologist.”

Marc snorted.

“If you are not happy with your job then I will have to find somebody who is,” she remarked casually.

“What!?”

“Well, I have my career to think of as well you know.”

“Of course but,” he looked up at her, unable to believe what she was suggesting, “if we separate do you know what that would do to me?

“Certainly,” she picked up the TV remote control and started fiddling with it absently. Marc was struck by the totally inappropriate thought of how attractive she looked in her suit.

“A big drop in the Personal League tables and it would certainly put your career on the line. That is why I would not do it unless I thought it was totally necessary. If you will not admit that you are dissatisfied with your job when you damn well are then I am not going to let it ruin my career too!”

Strings in his mind were being pulled too tight. The screws that held them were being relentlessly turned, stretching them to breaking point. Instead of being pulled and plucked to play harmonies and airs they hummed with tension. If they were struck they would wail, scream high notes of anxiety and discord.

Or snap.

“I am not unhappy with my job!” Marc growled.

“I’ve said that once. Anyway, where did you get the idea from in the first place? Who’s been telling you I am fed up?”

“I never said you were fed up, those are your words, not mine. Nobody has been telling me anything. I can tell, that’s all. You don’t live with someone for two years without getting to know them and their moods. Besides it has been proven that dissatisfaction at work can lead to feelings of inadequacies and that those feelings are often translated to other areas, notably sexual relations.”

“Oh, so I am no good in bed now am I?”

“I didn’t say that! But you could be better,” she shrugged and smoothed the line of her skirt with her palm.

“But then I have always thought so.”

Marc almost spat in disgust and mumbled angrily to himself through clenched teeth.

“I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”

“Don’t mumble!” screamed Moira and she hurled the remote control across the room. It hit the guitar, broke a string, bounced off and hit the wall where it shattered and landed, a pile of black shards in the pool of drying vomit.

“You are driving me mad with your stupid little habits and your nightmares! Why couldn’t I get a more decently social partner?”

“Keep your voice down!” said Marc, heeding his own advice but trying to overpower her tantrum.

“The man two doors down is a good friend of my Team Leader. I don’t want a bad report getting to her.”

“Sod your Team Leader! I bet she has noticed your decline as much as I have.”

“No, she hasn’t,” retorted Marc. Then before he could stop himself.

“As a matter of fact, she has just given me a top assignment. She has every confidence in my ability.”

“Well, why don’t you go and bloody live with her then!?”

Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up!

Somebody was dragging the edge of a plectrum across his mind. It was a wailing cacophony.

“Look, darling, why don’t we both calm down and talk about this in the morning?” He kept his voice as smooth and calm as he could.

“Don’t bloody darling me! That’s your idea, is it? Put everything off? How long for? A day? A week? For good? You are useless, you know. Totally useless!”

“Don’t say things like that Moira! We’re supposed to support each other. That’s the whole idea you know or had you forgotten?”

“No, of course, I haven’t,” she was sulky now. “Oh, this whole thing stinks. This room stinks, you stink! I am going to bed and I am going to get some decent sleep.”

She stormed off to the spare bedroom, leaving Marc to ponder the thought of sleep, nightmares and clashing chords, unaware of the flames that had started to burn within him.


Richard held up a pair of wire cutters that shone dully in the moonlight. Like the smile that she gave him, they lacked lustre.

Maybe it ran in the family she thought as her brother put the tool to work efficiently. Here they were, breaking into a high-security building (owned by one of the country’s largest water suppliers) and she felt no excitement or fear.

The fact that she felt no shame or remorse did not compensate. She felt nothing at all unless it was a slight twinge of disappointment.

Richard was the only family she had really known so she had no idea what her parent’s reaction would have been. No idea whether it was a family trait. Her parents were vague memories to her. Scarlet memories buried deep within her. Perhaps her feelings of guilt were buried with them.

It had been her brother’s idea, of course, to steal the official tests on water pollution. He was full of ideas like that and she was willing to follow, to take an active part in any plan he devised, hoping to find some way to share the excitement he derived from them. Or had once. She often got the impression that he had grown bored of them himself, or disillusioned by the lack of any real impact.

She wondered what would happen if he succeeded. What would be the consequences? Where would they lead?

Were people like Richard the seeds of warfare?

Success or not they would not give up. They were determined. They would pursue their goals in the only way they knew. Both fighting the order for their own reasons. She wasn’t really sure of her brother’s reasons, they seemed to shift and change from time to time. She reasoned that he was fighting for the sake of fighting, that no matter who ruled or what order they had been born into, he would have fought it. She could not remember him being any other way.

For herself? Well, her reasons were clear. She was bored. She found the world and its constant pressures tedious. She dreamed of ancient times when the challenges had been real and the world more clear-cut and, in a brutal kind of way, more honest. When people’s lives were more vital. They were born in the wrong time, they had told each other that more than a few times.

Now though even these adventures didn’t really excite her.

Richard beckoned her through the open fence. Her senses came alert, even without the thrill. She was merely being competent. As she climbed through she could smell the rust on the fence. She pushed aside the rough metal.

They made their way through a small side door. Its defences had been turned off earlier in the day. Richard was a genius in such things. Not only had he turned them off but the security systems still believed them to be active. Only a manual check would show that something was amiss and nobody did manual checks very often on a door as insignificant as this.

A few specialised tools were all that was needed and they were in. Bright white light spilled momentarily out into the darkness, then they shut the door. They found themselves in an empty corridor. The walls and ceilings were the cold white of medical institutions. There was the faint smell of cleaning chemicals. A trail of red tiles, inset into a grey floor, showed the way. Richard did not need them. As they entered the cool air from outside invaded the stale sterile atmosphere of the building. As silent as snowfall they stalked their goal, following the cool breeze down the passageway and around the corner.

When she had first accompanied her brother on these forays she had gently disapproved of his tactics. They should not have to break the law to attain their ends she suggested. Richard had laughed at that and asked her how she thought the people who ruled got where they were. She had been slightly shocked at this statement. The rulers had to be moral. It was a written requirement of the constitution. Surely they were not corrupt?

“If they weren’t,” her brother had said, “then we wouldn’t have to do what we do.”

“What exactly were the rulers guilty of then?” she had asked. He had not been able to answer that satisfactorily even, she felt, to himself. He just knew that they were corrupt and that was enough, enough to lead him to hunt for the evidence to damn them.

Perhaps he was just a natural predator?

Footsteps echoed – someone was approaching. They both looked around sharply. Richard’s fierce blue eyes were like a hawk’s searching for prey.

He pointed at a door and led her through it. They closed it behind them just as the stranger rounded the corner.

They were in a closet. It was crowded but they were both experienced enough not to jostle for room.

Jane watched her brother carefully as the footsteps drew nearer. He was tensed and poised for action. Jane thought that stupid but said nothing. Even if they succeeded in stunning the enemy then their chances of getting out would drop dramatically. If they were caught then who knows what the ramifications would be? Richard seemed to think that the government was involved in whatever he thought was going on here. If they were taking on the government then the consequences of getting caught were grave indeed. They might end up in jail or worse.

They might just disappear quietly. There were few people who would miss them and nobody with any influence to find out what had happened.

It occurred to her that she should know more about what was going on here. She had not read the sources that had led Richard here. Maybe that was what she was lacking. Maybe information was the fuel to his fire.

She thought all this with cool calculation as the footsteps passed and faded. She wondered if her brother were so cool. Was his heart beating fast with tension and fear? His eyes burnt fiercely and his fingers played with his gun. Was he eager to use it?

Richard cracked open the door and looked around. It was clear. They slipped out and rounded a few more corners to arrive quickly at their target. The Pollution Control Lab. In this highly protected room the company kept its scientific eye on the level of dangerous impurities in the area’s water, a growing problem throughout the country. Richard believed that the company was holding back information.

Richard opened the door. Alarms and sirens failed to go off, Richard had disarmed them earlier using his illegal access to the Internet. Breaking the rules, as he had said, opened doors and smoothed their stealthy way.

Closing the door behind them they set to work immediately. Jane slid across the floor keeping low and out of sight of the windows which adjoined the neighbouring room. There were a few night workers in there monitoring the water network and trying to earn a few extra credit points from their employer. They worked busily in the dim light, testing water. Just one look from one of those workers might blow the whole thing. Fortunately, the workers could not afford to be seen away from their tasks.

Jane immediately set to work on a safe. As she worked she noticed a rack of cultures on a nearby shelf. They were all clear except one that caught her eye. It had been marred by the track of a single growth that seemed to have crawled straight to the centre, invading the purity of the gel. She wondered what had driven it to seek out the centre with such surety.

She shook her head. She could not afford distractions. She got back to the task at hand. With her usual efficiency, she soon had the safe open and had located the correct documents and accompanying portable drive. She slipped them into her pocket and made her way back to the door. There she met Richard who was holding a box containing small vials of water for testing. Without so much as a nod, they left the room, closing the door quietly behind them. She followed her brother as the tiles blindly guided them back and within a few minutes, they were outside again.

From the time that they cut the fence until they were safely back in Richard’s Land Rover, they said not a single word.

They had succeeded again. Jane felt no exhilaration.


Marc strode through the masque, shoving people out if his way. They fell or moved aside in his wake like delicate petals in a torrent. He strode with fierce purpose towards his goal.

He was getting out! Out of this farce, away from these people with their bland masks and finery, their cloying, clasping manners.

He strode towards the exit, undeterred by the fact he couldn’t see it. He ripped off his mask revealing his maniacal grin. People held up their hands in shock or terror. He revelled in their reactions.

Then he saw the grand staircase sweeping up out of the hall. Golden steps, a glittering ladder to heaven.

He leapt over the heads of the crowd and landed on the bottom steps. He was about to bound up the steps when a hand grabbed his arm and held him.

He looked around. It was Moria, he could tell despite the ridiculous clown mask she wore because she was still dressed in her steel grey business suit.

Amongst all the voluminous ball gowns and lace, it looked like a sharp knife.

He felt a surge of hatred towards her. He pushed her away and she fell back into a tangle of arms reaching out to catch her and drag her off into the thrall.

He was getting away from her! Away from all this. He turned and looked up the stairs. Up! Up and away from all this. Up to a better life, a better world.

He took a step and stopped.

Up to what? Another ball? With finer clothes, finer manners? More pressure?

He hesitated, turned to look back from where he had come – but it was gone. Everything had gone. He was standing in sudden darkness.

From somewhere in the darkness that surrounded him there came a glow, the light shed from the stub of a candle, its wick spluttering and almost spent. Into the failing corona moved a face, a stern, fatherly face with strong eyes. It smiled a smile of glee and opened its mouth to laugh.

Marc awoke and found himself hyperventilating. He gasped his way back into control.

What the hell was happening to him? Did he need psychiatric help? He needed something.

This had to stop!

Moira was right, he needed help. He would follow her advice and go and see a psychiatrist, as much as the idea repelled him.

This had to stop.


William sat down, his back against the muddy wall of the tunnel. A cold breeze blew through. William wondered if it were an easterly wind. Easterly winds were supposed to be colder. He could not tell.

This was the best place they had found for months and a little breeze was not going to cause any complaints. William wrinkled his nose at the smell of distant sewers but again that was something that could be tolerated.

His audience, seven or eight children huddled on their haunches. In their multi-coloured rags, they looked like they had stepped out of a Dickens novel. Not that any of them had heard of Dickens. Most of them could not read.

William could and he was full of stories. He began.

“Back in the time when my family held a position higher than any that now exists, when our blood was considered special, then, we had a vast and ancient library of books. Some of these my father rescued and I have read just a few. I would like to tell you one now.”

The children of the tunnel settled down, huddling close together for warmth. They blew steam from their mouths and their cheeks were red raw with cold. But they were eager for the story.

William went on.

“There was a land, vast and wide. Where the wind played in the swathes of tall grass, leapt over tall hills and soared into the grey, forbidding mountains.

“In the winter fierce snow storms ravaged the land, leaving jagged icicles hanging at obtuse angles from the hardy trees.

“In summer, orange dust drifted over empty plains like a silent snake bringing thirst and famine.

“Despite this people dwelt here. Scattered in sparse villages, living fragile lives. They endured and they were happy.”

William’s audience smiled dreamy smiles. This gratified him for he did not consider himself a master storyteller in any way.

“They tilled the land and against all that nature plagued them with they gathered an adequate harvest each year. They survived. They huddled together and they sang songs to ward off the worst the winter could muster.

“It was here that a young man called Comm lived. He was a strong and honest youth. He was most welcome in the fields as he was free with his strength and ready to help his people in whatever way was asked of him. He had a warm smile and a rich voice – which he used often while he worked, singing hearty songs that eased the toil for himself and the many that gathered to work around him.

“He loved life and people loved him. But in his big heart, there was a special devotion for one in particular.

“Her name was Thira. He had met her one day on the way to the fields. A group of women were hurrying to a barn, carrying cloths and tools for repairs to the storage huts. One of them lagged behind and suddenly fell. Comm hurried to help her up, picking up the tools she had dropped. He helped her back to her feet and returned the tools.

“She smiled wanly at him, nodding her thanks. But as she walked back to the women she hobbled and struggled. Comm followed after in concern, holding her arm in support.

“‘Are you well? Did you hurt yourself?’ he asked. She shook her head and hid her face from him.

“‘She is of ill health,’ said one of the women, ‘illness plagues her every day.’

“From that day Comm was always there on her way to her daily task. He carried any burden she bore and supported her on her way.

“At first, she would not look at him. She hung her head as if shamed by his help, but she always mumbled thanks to him. Comm was patient, he never failed her, never scolded her, merely helped her on her way.

“After a while, she began to lift her head, a while longer and she would look him in the eye when she murmured her thanks.

“Eventually, she smiled at him. And that smile went straight into the depths of that huge heart of Comm’s.

“He worked harder in the fields and earned himself extra food and goods, these he would present to Thira’s family. They welcomed him into their home with thanks – for Thira had been a burden to them – though a burden they never shirked or complained about.

“Thus love was sown and began to bud.

“At this time too the weather was unusually kind and each year the harvest improved. For once all the village began to enjoy plenty, peace and times of rest and rejoicing.

“It was not to last. News spread over the world of the plentiful harvests in this land. And a visitor came to the village.

“One dark, stormy night a dragon descended upon the land. His name was Econ. He was as large as a mountain and his skin was the colour of brushed steel. His claws were of iron and he breathed fire with every word he spoke. The ground itself trembled under his feet.

“The villagers trembled in fear having never encountered such might before. They stood cowed as Econ explained that he had come to rule over them and that the greater part of their harvest would be forfeit to him.

“To prove his will he slaughtered all the elders of the village. Then he forced all to swear allegiance to him.

“The villagers had never had to fight before, they had no weapons or skill at war. They had no choice but to obey.

“Life went on. The fields continued to be bountiful in ways that had not been seen in living memory.

“But Econ drove them hard. He expanded the fields and planted more. The harvests were way beyond what the villagers would have needed – yet they saw little of it. In fact, they found that they had less to eat now than when the weather was worse.

“There was no longer singing in the fields.

“Life went on in other ways. Comm’s love for Thira grew and grew. In time he asked for her hand in marriage. Her family gave permission gladly and she gave Comm her heart.

“Despite the new austerity of the village, there were celebrations. The whole village gathered and joined in dances, songs and games. The couple were showered with flowers of yellow and purple. The villagers grew dreamy on the scent of the forest.

“All this was not unnoticed by Econ. As the festivities reached their height the village was suddenly plunged into shadow. The dragons wings obscured the sun as he swept down into their midst.

“He looked around at the scene and inquired what was happening. The villagers explained and seeking to flatter their evil master they asked for his blessing on the marriage.

“Econ ushered the people away from the couple with his wings and bent down to look closer. He peered at the couple, Thira looked fearful but Comm stood proud beside her.

“Econ frowned. With a flick of the tip of his wing, he pushed Comm aside. The dragon gazed deep into Thira and perceived her frailty, the illness that seeped right into her very bones.

“With a sudden movement Econ drew himself to his full, terrible height, then let forth a fierce stream of fire and reduced Thira to ash.

“‘I forbid this marriage! This creature’s weakness would do nothing but sap the strength of one of my prize subjects! No more marriages will take place without my permission. Furthermore such weakness,’ he indicated the smouldering pile of ash, ‘will no longer be tolerated.’

“He looked directly at Comm but addressed the whole village.

“‘You will return to work!’

“Life went on. The villagers lives were even harder than before but none more so than Comm’s. The dragon took every opportunity to humiliate him, make an example of him. At the same time he did not physically hurt him – he kept him working at his most productive. At times he could be seen knee deep in the thick brown mud, dragging a plough behind him. A plough that should have been pulled by oxen but that the dragon had taken delight in fixing to the poor villager.

“Comm was a patient and steadfast man. He bore what he could for longer than most. But his heart had been broken and in time his spirit broke too. Swearing an oath of vengeance he fled the village.

“It was many years before he was seen again. He was never forgotten in that time. He was spoken of fondly and by some with hope that his oath would be fulfilled. But the years went by and life was hard. Such indulgent dreams were pushed to the back of the mind.

“When he finally returned few recognised him. He rode in on a horse, clad in blood red armour. When he raised his visor there was the scarred visage of an older man. His eyes were filled with pain and complex emotion. The warm smile was gone. He only smiled when he was told of Econ’s whereabouts. That smile was chilling.

“Comm rode out and faced the dragon. He raised his lance and charged, screaming fury at the beast.

“The battle was long and fierce, from dawn to dusk it raged. Econ tried to incinerate Comm but his shield protected him, though his arm was burnt and blistered. Comm struck again and again with his lance, wounding the dragon many times. Black blood spilt on the land, burning crops. When finally his lance snapped Comm drew out his sword. Risking the sweeping claws of Econ he deftly rode in and out of the dragon’s reach, stabbing into his tough hide, drawing still more blood.

“Econ was weakening but still a challenge to the greatest of warriors. He thrashed his wings and tail, he caught Comm with his claws and Comm’s blood flowed with the dragon’s on the floor. He roared fire until Comm’s shield and sword glowed red, but he would not let go despite the searing pain in his fingers.

“Then with a sudden flick of his tail, he caught Comm’s steed. Both he and his horse were thrown through the air. The sword was ripped from his blistered palm.

“He landed with a thud in the bloody mud that he had once tilled. His helm came off and rolled away. He moved no further.

“The dragon lowered his head slowly until his flaring nostril was above the unmoving knight.

“Suddenly, Comm leapt up. He jumped right onto the dragon’s head. The dragon reared in anger, spewing fire into the air. Comm ran and kept his balance. He reached over his back to the hammer strapped there. With all his strength he raised the mighty head and swung it down, striking the dragon hard, right between the eyes.

“The dragon roared in pain and shook his head wildly. Comm fell, plummeted back down into the mud. He landed on his back and did not rise. He felt his body break. He heard the roaring stop. He opened his eyes and saw the dragon lower his head toward him. The beast was unsteady, swaying but he was also unmistakably drawing his breath to deliver a torrent of fire upon Comm.

“It did not come. Suddenly there was a yell and the dragon turned his head. With his final strength, Comm followed his gaze.

“From out of the forest, the villagers streamed. They flew, bearing axes and scythes and hammers. As one, and with the fury of years, they fell on the dragon, hacking, slashing and hammering him.

“And the dragon fell. He was too weak to resist now. Expending the last of his fire into the air he crashed to the ground and died at the villagers’ hands.

“Comm died too, hurt from his wounds. The villagers raised a statue in his honour depicting the slaying of the beast. Never again did a dragon take their freedom. The villagers returned to their simple lives but they kept the story of the dragon alive, passing it down from generation to generation so that the terror of the beast would never be forgotten.

“Likewise they kept the spirit of Comm alive too – and remembered him not only as the great warrior and redeemer but also as the kind supporter of the frail, and the simple farmer who tilled that land.

William’s audience gave him a subdued round of applause as they took in the implications of the tale.

At that point, a man came running.

“Rats!” he gasped. Everyone sprung into action, William among them. Grabbing crude weapons they all headed after the man, on the hunt for their next meal. They splashed through water that looked like weak gravy. Ahead of them was a fire. Its red light swayed, showing them the way.

As they jogged down the tunnel William wondered what the normal people above them would think if they knew there were people eating rats below their feet.

These places were the only home he had known. Abandoned underground railways and sewers and older tunnels whose uses were forgotten. He was not alone in this. He had grown up with many of these rebels. After his father had died they had been the only family he had known. He had soon become their leader.

His father had not always been a rebel. He had told William of grand palaces and castles where his family had once lived, all filled with gold and purple, jewels and crowns. The finest of which had belonged to his Grandfather after whom he was named.

William had not understood how such splendour could fall. His father had said that the economy had deposed even them in the end.

He wondered if one day he would get the chance to reclaim the palaces of his family. Would he do it if the chance presented itself?

No, he wouldn’t! The very thought of it fired his anger. That would mean abandoning his people. He could never do that. It would mean abandoning his principles. It would make him no better than the bastards who ran the country now, whose policies and ruthlessness drove more people into the tunnels every year.

Besides he believed in the rebels. They were human. They knew the value of each other. They were the germ of the future. He firmly believed that one day, maybe beyond his lifetime, they would inherit the ruins of that corrupt empire above them.

The Secret – that was the seed of all his stories. It was carried in the heart of every member of his audiences, waiting to be discovered and embraced by each of them, then passed on until it grew strong enough to bear fruit.

As the hunt heated up and everyone took their places, William thought back to his story and wondered if any such tale had ever really existed.


Text Copyright © 2013

Scott Bailey

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In response to the daily prompt Pursue

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

The Wriggly Giggly Worm

By Scott Bailey © 2015

Jiggly was a little worm
A cheery sort of fellow
But whenever somebody brushed his skin
He would yowl and howl and bellow

For you see poor old jiggly
Was a ticklish kind of chap
The slightest touch had him laughing so much
That his head was all of a flap

So he asked all his friends to help him
Get over his terrible curse
Before he drove them all mad with laughter
Could they his affliction reverse

The sheep all got together
And knitted a long woollen coat
The wool was too itchy for his tender skin
And the fur got stuck in his throat

The spiders spun him a shirt
Of the finest silken web
But he ended up sliding all over the place
And his spirits lower did ebb

The mice they wrapped him up tightly
In leathery leaves from the ground
But they bound him so tight that he took a fright
And rolled all around and around

The parrots extracted some rubber
From the heart of the rubber tree
Then coated him with a thin smooth layer
Which fitted as well as could be

Now the young worm was happy
He could play with his friends at last
But as he wriggled among them quite happy
Their faces all looked so downcast

For they missed the wonderful laughter
Of the wriggly giggly worm
That filled their glum days in magical ways
Like a good but infectious germ

So he cast of his new rubber skin
Baring his own to the air
And everyone tickled the giggly worm
And jiggled and laughed without care

In response to the daily prompt Tender

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Circle of Five

By Scott Bailey © 2015

One is a mother – caring and fierce
Two is wife with perceptions that pierce
Three is a woman Kind and strong
Four is a friend to help me along
Five is the lover tender and sweet
All are in one perfect – petite
One beautiful and loving wife
The five with whom I will spend my life

In response to the daily prompt Tender

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

Nostalgia

By Scott Bailey © 2013

Worn wooden floor
Distant, ancient scent
Tobacco long gone
Beer, deep red in thick glass
Salt and vinegar crisps
Pickled eggs
Pickled patrons
Warmth and welcome
Long gone like the smoke
One missed

 

In response to the daily prompt Crisp

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Posted in Creative Writing, Daily Prompt, Poetry, Work, Writing

The Dragon

By Scott Bailey © 2017

Spit and polish
Iron and wash
Put out the bins
Face awash

Head off to work
Stuck in a jam
Ground to a halt
In the program

Morally sound
Ethically cool
Questioning news
Nobody’s fool

But
Still
The Dragon
Stirs

 

In response to the daily prompt Polish

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The Silliness

By Scott Bailey © 2014

We were the wise ones.
Wandering in from all over the world.
High on the haze of laughter and drink.
Occasional lovers, always just friends.
And game after game we polished our views.

Where did it go?
That time of the silliness, the time of the laughs.
Was it all crushed by the weight on our hearts?
Of life, of the world that we woke to and joined.

In response to the daily prompt Polish

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