Monday, 11 December 2017

When you’re my age

When I was five, the universe scared me. The big encyclopedia talked about billions of years, billions of billions of miles. When I worked out what a billion was, I was terrified. “But what’s it all for?” I wailed. “Wait till you're my age,” said my mother.

When I was thirty-three, I asked her again, “So, what’s it all about, remember?” But she just said, “wait till you’re my age”.

She died at seventy-six, and now here I am, seventy-six myself, her age at last. And I still don’t know what it’s all for.

I guess that’s what she meant.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Travel

“I know you said to get off at Leyton and not Leytonstone, or was it the other way round, but anyway, I must have got off at the wrong one and then somehow I couldn’t work out which train to get to the right one, and before I knew it I was in Epping but a darling man helped me find the right train back to Leyton, or was it Leytonstone, but I must have nodded off on the train and then I panicked when I woke and dashed off and I’d only walked a short way when I realised I had no idea where I was and I couldn’t find the station again and I’d lost your address and then a policeman asked if I needed any help, well, I thought he looked rather young for a policeman, of course I didn’t say that, but I’m afraid I broke down a bit and cried and somehow he found your address in my handbag and got a police car to take me here and was it a good party?“

“Yes, mother,” I said. “Glad you could make it.”


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Fun

After the gods had created the universe, and the multiverse, and Man, they wondered what to do.

“Consider Man,” said one. “Man invents obstacles, then overcomes them. This he calls ‘fun’.”

“What is an obstacle to the gods?” said another.

“This!” said one, and split into a billion stars, each a fragment of the whole.

“This!” said another, setting to study what was, before the gods.

“This!” said a third, and placed a sliver of himself into a Man.

One day they will end their fun and return to themselves, and their creations will vanish like a dream upon waking.



This story — and indeed most of my fiction here — previously 
appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Weekly Challenge.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

When The Gods Were New

When the gods were new, they assembled together to know what they should do.

“I have made a strange thing,” said one. And he showed how out of nothing he conjured a vast universe of whirling balls of fire and rock.

Another said, “I will make a stranger.” And he punctured that universe with many holes, and inside each he showed that self-same universe reduplicated.

A third said, “I will make yet stranger.” On a single tiny lump of rock in that multiverse, he created a host of small figures that fought among themselves, and took themselves to be gods.

“This is the strangest thing,” they agreed. “Let us call it ‘Man’.”



Monday, 23 October 2017

My dear Dr. Brezoianu:

I regret that the Journal of Neurosemantic Research must decline to publish your paper, “Obstruction of Remote Memetic Excitation by Aluminized Mylar Composites”. It has been closely read by three referees, all experts in the field, who unanimously recommend rejection on the respective grounds that its results are absurd, well-known, or trivially obvious. Furthermore, I don’t care for the over-familiar manner in which you approached my wife at the Oslo conference last summer.

With best wishes for your publication, but not in any journal I have anything to do with, 

Prof. Dr. Dr. Jarogniew Grzeszkiewicz (Editor)


Humanity

The sun would soon rise, and in the pre-dawn glim a group of a dozen people were walking down a rocky path. Among them was a woman with a two-year-old toddling along beside her. As toddlers do, she toddled, and wobbled, and fell down, going all her length on the ground, then burst into tears. Without missing a step, her mother bent down and swept her up into her arms, bouncing her on her shoulder to calm her, and walked on.

Just an everyday incident, in a tribe of Homo erectus, a million years ago in the Olduvai gorge.



This story previously appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Story weekly challenge.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Life

“Are robots alive?”

——What is life?

“I don't know, but I know it when I see it.”

——That’s easy then, just look at a robot. Do you see life?

“That’s not fair!”

——It’s fair, you’re confused. How about asking one? Hey, metal man over there! Are you alive?

——What do I know about philosophy?

——Whadya think? Lifeless machine, or alive with better things to do?

“I don't know, that's the problem, how could I tell?”

——What about me, then, your perfect drinking partner? You act like I’m alive. What's your real question here?

“I guess it’s... am I alive?”

——Well...


Sunday, 15 October 2017

A Beautiful Thing

People say we lived like kings. Ha! These days, king just means a bigger mud hut and a gang of men with clubs.

We could fly round the world faster than it turned, talk to anyone, anywhere, instantly. We had men on the Moon, nearly got to Mars. We knew the age of the universe, the speed of light. You've never even seen electricity.

You don’t believe any of this. You’re stupid. Everyone's getting stupider, generation by generation.

Sure, we had wars, all that shit. But Goddammit, we had civilisation, and it was a beautiful thing, a beautiful thing indeed.



Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Room

A young woman sits on a chair, in the middle of an empty, silent room. She is of slight build, very slight. She would call herself “delicate” if she spoke, but she does not speak. She would think of herself as “delicate”, but she does not think, rather she is suspended in a single, unending moment of reverie.

Everything about this room is faded and indistinct: the wallpaper, the carpet, the curtains, her dress. The room is illuminated only by a dim light through the curtained window, too dim to discern the patterns these things must once have had.

She sits quietly, her hands in her lap, her eyes half-closed, her gaze turned inward. There is a faint smile about her lips. She does not move. Even her breathing is scarcely discernable. The chair is a plain upright wooden chair, placed in the centre of the room. There is nothing else here. The door—for surely there must be a door, for it would be unusual for a room to have no door, and there can be nothing unusual to disturb her reverie—the door never opens. The window never opens. The curtains are never drawn. No-one enters this room. For this slight young woman, sitting in silent reverie, there is nothing outside this room.

There is nothing inside but the chair on which the slight young woman quietly sits, her hands in her lap and her eyes half-closed. There is no past and no future, no elsewhere. She does not think that this room must be part of some larger house, that the house was once built by bustling labourers placing brick upon brick, hoisting rafters, laying floorboards; she does not think that the wallpaper was once fresh and new from the printing press, and was pasted up on a bright, sunny, noisy day; she does not think of the view through the window, were the curtains opened. She does not think of how she comes to be here.

She thinks of none of these things. Here in this silent room, sitting quietly with her hands in her lap, her eyes half-closed, and a faint smile about her lips, there is only an unending present. Here, at last, she finds peace.



Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Mornington Crescent

My opponent had considered her move for fully two hours, while I no less intently studied the position, tracing out glimmers of possibility.

“Ah,” she adumbrated at last. “Do you see?” She rapidly sketched on the blackboard a braided Diaconescu quincunx.

Thunderstruck, I gasped, “Excluded by Hammersmith duality!”

“Negated by Favisham's Little Theorem.”

“But the Fronsky diagram—” Her genius burst on me like a large hadron collider. “—is resolved in quine!”

“Precisely” she gesticulated, “so! Mornington Crescent!!”

We warmly shook hands. “Thank you,” I said, in the traditional acknowledgement of superior play after a hard-fought game, “for enriching my understanding.”



Image credit: British Library, Codex Arundel
This story previously appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 word Weekly Challenge.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Meaning of Life

I saw a sage, who declared to the crowd about him, “Life has no meaning!” And a second nearby shouted to his admirers, “That life has no meaning, IS its meaning!” And likewise a third preached, “Life has only the meaning you give it!” And I marvelled that each group looked fiercely upon the others, and would come to blows.

So I shouted, “Pshaw! One cannot insert so much as a cigarette paper between your philosophies!” And they united as brothers to beat me and drive me away; then returned to their strife.

That was the meaning of their lives.


Tuesday, 29 August 2017



Cookie

So I go online to order a Chinese, and there’s my own name already on the web page, and, “How about your favorite Hot Singapore Noodles tonight?” WTF? I fire an email saying “don't you tell me what I want, I tell you”. Dammit, the Singapore Noodles are my favorite but I'm not giving them the satisfaction.

It’s the cookies. Can’t deal with anyone online without them sticking cookies all over you, it’s the mark of Revelations without which no man might buy nor sell, save that he accepted the cookie.

When does Revelations say the Cookie Monster shows up?



This story first appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Challenge.

Monday, 21 August 2017

To Do Good

A man walked by a pond, where he saw that a little girl had fallen in, and would drown. But he was wearing a fine suit and did not want to ruin it by wading into the pond to save her. He was not callous, for he was about to meet some very wealthy people, to solicit donations for the charity that he ran, and they would never take him seriously if he showed up muddy and bedraggled. With these funds he would save far more lives than that of one little girl. The decision was clear.

He told himself, and —



This story previously appeared on Crap Mariner's 100 Word Challenge.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


The Return

Fighting dragons. Tricking thieves. Outsmarting wizards. Finally, discovering the long-lost treasure. Then the return: frozen wastes, burning deserts, jungles of festering corruption, pirates, wars. Ragnar overcame them all.

At last, he arrived home, and strode into the Great Hall of Books.

“I, Ragnar XLVII, have returned! Behold! The Book of the Ekskybalauron of Pandiculatory Awakenings, lost since Ragnar I perished attempting its magic!”

The Librarian examined the volume, then peered severely at Ragnar over her half-moon spectacles. “This is three thousand and twenty-six years, four months, and ten days overdue. I’m afraid there is going to be a rather large fine.”



This story previously appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 word weekly challenge.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Zaprut

Zaprut is the oldest city of which we have any record.  Only its name survives, for the city was overtaken by a calamity so sudden, and so total, that none survived to say what befell it.

The name became synonymous with disaster, and in Roman times, hearing of some military debacle, senators would angrily declare, “Sic Zaprut!” — “thus was Zaprut!” fearing that Rome itself might pass the same way.

And that is why, nowadays, when a footballer wishes to express the depth of his emotion when his team loses a match, he will profess to being “sick as a parrot.”


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A

I used to work for the Oxford English Dictionary. I got the very first word to define. It’s not just the indefinite article, it has seventy-one distinguishable uses, spread over twelve centuries. “A-gnostic”, “a-new”, “a-bed”, “a-rise”, “a-down-a-down-day”...

You know how, if you say word over and over, the sense goes out of it? After year of research, condensed into four pages of intense scholarship, I couldn’t bear seeing it.

When I retired, they gave me present, old book, “The Perfection of Wisdom In One Letter”. And the letter?  “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

So I emigrated to Russia. They don’t have word for it.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Orcs

The three orcs sat round the fire, gnawing on the bones of an elf.

“You ever wonder,” began Hrakht.

“Wonderin’s for elves an’ yoomns,” grunted Gnurgle.

“I thought...” said Hrakht.

“Ooh, thinkin’ now, izzee?” jeered Rabjagh.

“You know Hrakht ’ere’s only half an orc?” said Gnurgle. “Yoomn mother. Must have scared her when he came out!”

Hrakht remained silent. How could he tell them that he didn’t feel like an orc at all? That he dreamed of belonging to one of the fair races, like the one they had just eaten.

In his dreams, he—no, she—called herself “Jill.”



This story previously appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 Word Challenge

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


ða hrefnas
(The ravens)

A fragment of an imaginary Anglo-Saxon poem in heroic alliterative verse.

The ravens arrive thundering in thick throngs
Their wings furiously flap as they flock
Mobbing the traveller, mocking with malign caws
“Hraak, hraak,” they cry, the ravening ravens.

A faint heart is fearful of the foul birds
A weak-headed wight fares poorly against wise foes
The strong man stays his course, striving ever onwards
Doughty are his deeds in the dark of their wings
With his stout staff he lays about to strike
Nor without taking wounds does he wager to win
Surely he shatters the birds’ swift bodies.

Thus must a man make merry with death
Turning always towards it.



Image from “Roots”, a build in Second Life by Cica Ghost, December 2015.
This story first appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 word story weekly challenge.

Saturday, 11 February 2017


Robe

There were lead coins sewn into the hem, to make the robes hang better, enhancing their gravity to enhance the gravitas of the Venerable Primate. Hah! He had never felt less venerable, with the new king openly contemptuous of all outside his imported coterie. No. Gravity, gravitas, would no longer do.

“These robes,” he said to his dresser, “do not meet the moment.”

“Yes, the times are changed,” said the dresser discreetly. “Ex officio, you can wear a military coat, but...”

“Indeed,” replied the Archbishop. “But. And state mourning for the old king is out of the question.” 

“Perhaps something of a more ambassadorial style would suit better, with your insignia of office. The king is technically not your direct superior, so it would be quite proper.”

“An excellent idea,” said the Archbishop. “An ambassador of the people, meeting with the new king in a spirit of constructive accommodation. See to it at once.”

But he feared that he might not long survive the coronation.



A shorter version of this story appeared on Crap Mariner’s 100 word story weekly challenge.
Image credit: Jo Naylor (modified)

Friday, 27 January 2017


Box

“Eli and I are getting married!” the young woman said excitedly. “We’ll always be together.”

“‘Always’ is a long time, Liesl,” her great-grandfather gently chided. “They say that with modern medicine you might reach my age, and have another century still. You can forget a lot in that time.”

“Eli says we should never—”

“He's right,” he said shortly. After a while, he stood and reached down from a high shelf an ornamental wooden box.  He held it for a moment, considering.

“I want you to have this,” he said at last. “It’s glued shut, so it won’t be opened on a whim. But one day, long after I’m gone, you must open it.”

And one day, she did.



In many countries, today is Holocaust Memorial Day.