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from odnuris

Una de las esquinas de mi pieza está atravesada de suelo a techo por el tubo de la estufa que se encuentra en el primer piso, sin embargo, la calefacción a leña no es suficiente. Debo arroparme con mantas, chalecos y una chaqueta de los años en que trabajaba para el banco. Mi cama es un colchón en el suelo hecho de sacos de papas o harina que la dueña de la pensión convirtió en sábanas o cobertores y que rellenó con algodón sintético o jirones de ropa vieja. Además, tengo cajones de manzana vacíos que utilizo como asiento, mesa de comedor o escritorio. A veces me da por imaginar que soy un personaje de Dostoievski, el más miserable —ahora recuerdo solo a Raskolnikoff—, y que estamos a fines del siglo XIX, y que estamos a la espera de una gran revolución, una mayor a la que nos aisló en pueblos como este, una que quiebre de manera definitiva al sistema, y ya no viviríamos en pensiones, sino en cuevas, y el papel que usamos para escribir lo utilizaríamos para hacer fuego en invierno. Otras, en esto suelo pensar con mayor frecuencia, imagino que soy uno de los cinco o seis tordos que, después de la lluvia y frente a mi ventana, pican y escarban la corteza de los árboles para buscar bichos y gusanos. Su forma y color me evoca al cuervo grande. «Los tordos —escribí alguna vez— son como pequeños y delicados cuervos; su canto meloso habría inspirado una emoción por completo diferente en Poe».

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from maleo

“Legate Alburn? I’m deeply sorry to interrupt you whilst you’re strategising, but something has emerged.”
Alburn, a bushy-eyebrowed man of advanced experience, was used to such intrusions; he had, in the past, taken to reducing their frequency through shooting the messenger and sending their heads back as a warning to be specific, timely, and crucial. He looked over the rim of his glasses with barely a movement to his head. “Go on, son?”
“We have found something buried. Stone, metal, old. Beneath the Edge Desert.”
He raised an eyebrow, remaining perfectly silent.
The youth, on a deputation drawn by short straw, began to sweat.
The eyebrow was unperturbed, the lips unparted, the breath unmoved.
“Legate, sir, the Druids are investigating as we speak, but they think it is over a thousand years old.”
The eyebrow was met by its brother, and the green pools beneath them hollowed the air.
“As many as a thousand. Imagine. Why have they sent you to disturb me with this, though, son? Those glorified archaeologists are aware of the importance of my remaining undisturbed unless called for.”
The silence was pierced by the sound of a nervous gulp.
“They said to say something to you so that you knew it was important. They said to say ‘Columbia’. I don’t know why.”
A few tense moments passed.
“Message received. You had better go now. Quickly.”
“Yes, sir, Legate.” The boy ran out of the gilt doors so quickly that his grey sandals almost spontaneously combusted.
Legate Alburn sat, his fingers forming an arch just beneath his nose, whilst his elbows rested in the dips that years at this desk had carved. After a few moments, he balled the fist of one hand and reached with the other to pull a hidden drawer from the lip of the desk. In it was a single, aged document, printed on its yellowing pages with images of a sphere, greying words outlining a public announcement protocol, and at its mast, a single word, printed in deep red: ‘Earth’. He sighed; he’d hoped another Legate would be installed before this day. All Legates were told about the planet’s past, but the species thrived on not knowing that they were the second sentient species to live here; they didn’t know they’d arrived here in ships which had sailed the stars; they didn’t know their ancestors had eradicated the indigenous population to make way for their survival.
They’d managed to avoid this day for over one hundred and twenty Legates.
He read the document one more time, then dropped it into the receptacle aside his desk. He pressed a button; a small flame appeared and eradicated the page. He reflected that this could wait until tomorrow.
He could always simply have everybody who had seen the relic eradicated too – that would give him plenty of time to pass on the baton.
For the first time in a long time, Legate Alburn smiled.


Ancient by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


from maleo



It seems strange to remember this above than anything else, but the clarity is undeniable. I remember the first moment being about the bubbles, floating on the surface of the water like reflected clouds made manifest, or the woven candy floss of fairgrounds; an oily sheen gleams on their surfaces before a magnificent and soft pop of a soapy supernova, they’re brought to life by the muddling of two substances, then extinguished by nothing more than the biggest of killers: time.


I wake up. The sun is beaming through the window of the room and I notice immediately the sharp smell of sweat. I had another of my weird dreams last night and, as such, have had a panic sweat all night. Brilliant. Another set of sheets to drop off at the launderette on the way to work. The alarm is still ringing its toll in the background, relentless in the pursuit of its goal. Even a deftly thrown hand at the slightly recessed snooze button only delays the inevitable, the stunning blow shaken off within a five-minute window. Giving in, I fall out of bed, yawn and stretch and try to come to life (as a kid, I’d never really understood the first part of that song; as an adult, I understand only too well). I figure a cool shower will help the procedure, so I wander across the hallway to my tiny bathroom, grab and throw on a plush Egyptian cotton towelling robe, one of few luxuries, yawning again for good measure and to make sure that I’m really, truly unawake.

It’s amazing the lies you believe when you’re a kid. When you’re in primary school, every house is owned, detached, with four windows and a red door, a pointy roof, a little white garden fence which seems to encompass acres of land, and you live with your parents and siblings and pets under and endlessly sunny sky. Even by adolescence, we’ve realised how much uncorrected hyperbole this is, and by adulthood we’re stuck renting a one-double-bedroom, one-bathroom, open plan ‘living space’ in a block of three hundred; my ‘living space’ is a kitchen and lounge with a tiny, two person plastic dining table in the middle acting as an ineffective Berlin Wall between them. The bathroom only called such because of its ability to house a bath should you wish to remove the sink, toilet, shower, plumbing and tiles, and adjust the layout of a substantial part of the master bedroom; it’s better referred to as a ‘wet room’. It’s no wonder that so many of us feel failed by real life and lack some respect for the pronouncements of our elders and leaders, who conspire to make the extremely young believe in a false freedom which can only be achieved by a one-in-fourteen-million-chance victory or through becoming a minor- to mid-celebrity by selling our souls, our dignity, on reality television and any chance of a career beyond it.

I turn the fake-chrome faucet in the shower; icy water falls from the head to the ceramic base beneath it. I jump back, the cold water burning the skin on my hand with glacial ease, and rub the now damp robe, a victim of my vigour. I wait the compulsory two-and-a-half minutes it takes the boiler in my flat to bubble up to a perfect lukewarm (a temperature it never seems to be able to breach meaning I regularly stand tantalisingly close to tepid) before I strip down and step into the cubicle. Ah, as expected.

The water splashes down onto my face and careens, in its myriad rivulets and streams, across my chest to my toes. I’d always looked after myself, so my taut skin caressed my toned physique. This was the only way to be: society has a way of letting you know when you aren’t correct, and the slightest hint of tubbiness is the first crime against fashion. Even the health magazines, which I read very infrequently, are littered with tips on how to ensure my abs are well defined in just six easy steps, and how to gain perfect toned arms for the-beach-bod-tee (three exercises, two supplements, and one t-shirt)... I’m guilty of looking at these articles and feeling a sort of civic pride at my three long hours, three times a week gym schedule which keeps me this shape. I’m not old enough to remember the point where magazines for “keeping fit” became so obsessed with the cultivation of self-image, but I freely admit that I’m a slave to their influence. Organic shower gel made with real fruit and vegetable extracts. Anti-dandruff shampoo with a vitamin complex which would sustain the health of a small nation. Gentle whitening toothpaste made with baking soda and arctic lichen. Specific razors for specific parts of my body. Olive stone exfoliants, papaya and tea tree toners, oil- and fragrance-free moisturisers, one each for eyes, face, neck, lips and hands, plus one for arms which is slightly enriched with an invisible amount of fake tan: I have them all, some in two or three brands signifying failed experiments to find which best to ensure my youth and protect against becoming an alligator, in ranges expensively-designed for ‘le Moderne,’ and with one thing in mind: to make one more attractive to a preferred gender. This would be great if they actually did help me to find a lasting relationship; my median length is a somewhat pitiful six months. Somehow, there are always problems. Perhaps I move to quickly, perhaps they’re too controlling, perhaps we’re simply both too independent, but the result is always the same. My mother often expresses her pride in my achievements with the caveat that it would be nice to see me settled down. I remember that I once saw a film about a guy who had a schizophrenic episode, in which he span, uncontrollably it seemed, into another of his personalities. He lived outside of his own body, an observer of sorts, of the myriad attributes of his other self, watching himself drink to destruction, fight with abandon, deconstruct his career, and fuck whoever fell onto him. I sometimes wish that were my life — able to do whatever, with whomever, with no compunction. My life, sadly, is safe and controlled, partly by the world in which I live and partly by a secret worry that I’d enjoy recklessness just a bit too much. It’s for this particular reason that I’ve been single for a while and, thus, am mildly celibate. I wonder why I care so much.

Suddenly, unbidden, a memory of last night’s dream comes back to me — no, it hits me. Hard, vivid. I stare into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror, flecks of dried toothpaste foam breaking a clear view but not preventing me from slipping into recollection.

I’d been standing in front of a great, white ceramic sink – though the word sink didn’t really begin to adequately describe what could almost have been a very small bath. It appeared to be (optimistically) three-quarters full of water, the rest of the surface area taken by the billions of bubbles dotting its precarious surface. My hands were in the water, so I began to search for and remove the, until then, invisible crockery hiding under the bubbles. A dinner party seemed to have taken place, or so I’d assumed, as there were both larger and smaller plates moving around under there, and a collection of pieces of silver cutlery. One by one, I took them from the water, washed them over with a dishcloth which had arrived on the draining board to the right of the sink. I was methodical in my labour, slowly removing each and firmly removing the dirt and remnants of the soiree from them. I placed them carefully on the board to dry in the gentle breeze which had begun to emanate from the slightly ajar, unreasonably commanding leaded window I noticed in front of the sink, its white frame aglow. Outside the window... My memory fails. I remember it being very bright, but there were no features that I can remember in that überwald. The light hurt my eyes if I looked at it too long or too hard, as if that world’s minutiæ weren’t for my consumption. I don’t remember thinking that this was an issue, and I continued my unbidden task.

I looked to the right, plate in hand, and there he was, in full, stereotypical, Native American regalia and dress, as if from a spaghetti Western; from canvas shoes, through khaki-shaded robe and leather belt, to the blood red headband with a solitary yet magnificent snow-white feather emerging victoriously from it. Curiously, he was holding a tea-towel and looking at me with no small degree of expectation. I handed him a plate, dripping wet and with some bubbles still clinging to the surface. He took it gently in his untowelled hand, then applied the cotton to the damp plate with slow vigour. All the time, he never looked away from my face.

“Thanks,” I said, unnerved by not only his sudden appearance, but also by his confident gaze.

“It’s okay,” he replied, with a wry curl of the corners of his mouth. ‘You’re washing my plates, it would be rude of me not to do something to help ya.’ His eyes gleamed with amusement, and it became clearer that he was a young man of no older than twenty or twenty-one years old.

“Well, I didn’t have a great deal else to do,” I said, my nervousness becoming ever more visible, “and there seemed to be quite a number to get through. Also, some of these stains need some work.” Babble. Why did I choose this time to allow my conversation to descend into smalltalk? All the questions I could have asked...

“I normally leave them until the next day. I find that some of the more resistant dirt comes off if you let them soak for a bit, though that does mean the bubbles have a tendency to disappear and they’re, y’know, the best bit,” he said, with a hint of sadness in his voice. His eyes closed for just a second, and when he opened them, there was a shimmering line of moisture along the bottom edge of his eyelid. I looked away, in an attempt at exercising respect for this strange grief. He breathed heavily, in out, then, as I looked back at him, he seemed to have instantly recovered, the Mona Lisa smile gracing his face again.

“Well,” I replied, my British politeness becoming more and more a modus operandi to stop the very real panic rising to my surface and emerging, triumphant, in a mess of garbled, hurried verbosity, “I can wait a while, if you’d like a cup of tea?” I remembered who I was talking to, and in an unusual episode of national stereotyping brought on by said agitation, “Or, perhaps, a coffee?”

“Actually, I’m good for joe, thanks. Don’t worry, I think you’re doing a great job. Perhaps I’ll do it your way next time, kid,” he said with a wink.

I didn’t know quite how to respond to being referred to as ‘kid’ by somebody who looked younger than I did, so I chose to simply ignore it. Perhaps this was just his way of asserting his authority in his own home, as I’d assumed this place to be; I couldn’t pretend to be alpha-dog in this space – I’d never been good at that game when confident and on my own territory, let alone when in fear and on his – and his calm amusement gave a subtle air of total ownership of the surroundings.

“Um...again, thank you.” I mumbled, and continued to wash while drinking in the room.

He smiled again. To the right of the sink was a tall mahogany cabinet, drawers forming its base, a rack for plates, then a cupboard above it with glass doors and intricate leadwork holding small panels of glass in a beautiful, if large, clear mosaic. The old but beautifully polished wood looked regally over the rest of the kitchen and dining space, keeping its crockery hidden and organised inside, and presenting a more appropriate view to any onlookers than simply a sideboard with stacks of plates, cups, saucers, cutlery of myriad shapes, sizes and scope. There were already many crocks inside the cabinet, and some plates in the rack, though it was clearly not full. I assumed that the dishes we were washing would, eventually, fill and render it complete. The American had finished drying his plate, and turned slightly on his heel to reach and deposit the plate in its home on the rack. In doing so, a shard of light from the window caught his face, illuminating him in spotlight; he briefly appeared much, much older, as if the light had aged him beyond reason. He turned back and immediately became the young man he’d been before. I shivered. He saw my discomfort, and tilted his head gently to the side. He opened his mouth as if to say something, before deciding against it and picking another plate from the draining board. He worked this plate as he had the last, wiping gently but with intent around the rim, then toward the centre, then in reverse, until the plate was dry enough to be placed, still gently, into the rack next to its brethren. I wondered who he might have to visit that would require the large number of plates the rack seemed able to hold...

“Well, this is alright, isn’t it?” he suddenly said, turning to look directly at me again.

“Um...” I paused, without knowing really what to say, still perturbed by his brief transformation into a wizened senior. “I suppose so.”

“Look, I know this may seem a bit strange to you, but, y’know, just relax a bit. Let’s talk about something, it’ll help settle your head, kid.”

I looked at the effortless confidence pouring from every pore of his skin and nodded gently, even though he’d not really explained anything about how I’d come to be here or why he was entertaining my presence in his opulent surroundings. I also didn’t have the first idea what to talk about; what subject would be appropriate for discussion with somebody who you’d only met mere moments ago — in their kitchen, wherein you’d apparently just appeared? Especially somebody who, without knowing it, had set you so completely on edge due to their supernatural ability to become ancient and revert to youth akin to a jellyfish, though alternatively activated by light? Also: why wasn’t I terrified about my location? While his rapid re- and de-aging had been petrifying, I was strangely calm about the fact that I was unsure about how I arrived in front of that sink, sleeves up and ready to get to work on the dishes. I mean, surely I had to have rolled them up myself at some point, but why didn’t I remember doing so?

“Hey,” he interjected, as if reading my mind, “let’s talk about what’s going on in your life, kid. I’d like to learn a little bit more about ya.”

I stood, mute, thinking about how to proceed with this. I’ve never been good at talking about myself, the racial memory of British self-deprecation and modesty being especially strong in my genetic make-up. Even job interviews in the past have been a challenge, my career furthered only by adequate questioning and the ability to answer well under pressure; my curriculum vitae, however, was an exemplar in how to say that you’re good at specific things without actually taking any of the credit for the achievements.

“Where should I start?”

“Tell you what, what’s a normal day like for ya? I’m interested. Let’s start there.”


I break out of my reverie and step out of the shower cubicle into the bathroom, skilfully avoiding accidentally putting my trotter into the toilet. I turn on the hot tap in the sink, which isn’t afflicted by the same allergy to temperature as the shower, and it begins to steam. As I look into the clouded mirror, I am certain that I see a flash of brown and red behind me, of something moving very quickly from one side of the appallingly small room to the other. I spin rapidly, picking up my electric toothbrush in some vain hope that it would be effective as a weapon in the face of any well-prepared villain, and am confronted by...nothing. I wonder if this is really just a residual not-so-senior moment from last nightmare? I look back at the mirror, and (why did I think there would be?) there’s nothing in it. I realise that I’m being silly, and turn on the cold tap. With a splash of water to the face, I reassert my ease, and brush my teeth, lightly contemplating the once again fading memory of the previous night’s dream, before making my way into the kitchen.

A friend of mine once described bran cereal as perfect for dieters due to its ability to put one off food for life: never a truer phrase, I reflect, as I lean against the kitchen worktop and shovel down a bowl of the stuff, swimming gracefully in a flavoursome lake of semi-skimmed and granulated, and hope beyond hope that it really does make me healthier and less likely to be beset by old age bowel trauma. Anyway, I absorb the remaining sludge at the bottom of my bowl, and crack open the tiny fridge. Space in there is at a premium, so I’ve dedicated a shelf to beer, dairy and juice, a shelf to cold meats and eggs, and a shelf to fresh meat; the door contains milk and carbonated, and there are two drawers underneath all this which remain blissfully free of the vegetables and fruit they’re purported to contain. I tend to eat through those too quickly; they require no cooking, so snacking on them rather than having proper meals is almost always my first choice. On the odd occasion I do find myself cooking, then I invariably have somebody to cook for. Creating an amazing gourmet meal for one is both unnecessarily time consuming and an inordinately solitary experience. Thus, it is to be avoided and my fridge remains carrot-free. I break from looking around at this spartan landscape and remove the clementine juice I’ve been ferreting around in there for. Cold and delicious, as juice which has flown five-hundred miles to be here should be. I wonder, as I pour myself another glass, if Tesco gets Air Miles? If so, there must be some lucky executives flying first class all over the globe thanks to my taste for exotic fruit juices.

With my bowl cast into the slimline dishwasher (because the sink is tiny) and my hands gripping the glass of juice I’ve poured, I cross the room and sit at my dining table (hilariously described on the packaging as ‘expansive, with room for all the family’, which is not inaccurate if your family consists of just you and a cat), grabbing the remote from the work surface along the way. I flick the standby button, the flashing red eye resuscitating the TV from its overnight coma. The only place I was able to find enough room for this OLED 3D 4K HD SMART-TV (and much more technobabble) was on the wall, thus there it was mounted, dominating the room. Whoever invented the flat-screen should be lauded, though, as without it being a centimetre thick I wouldn’t have the room for a television at all. The old CRT TVs would have only found a home here as the base of a coffee table, which I was also distinctly lacking, in favour of the space saving attributes of a minute side table beside the two-seat pleather sofa, which itself is positioned beside what the estate agent optimistically described as a ‘Juliet Balcony’ (and by this they meant that the doors could be opened inward, but only if you move the sofa and table into the kitchen first, meaning you can then lean against the metal railing which is designed to prevent your accidental suicide — already unlikely on the first floor, as jumping from this height would probably only result in a couple of broken bones and an embarrassing trip to A&E) which looks onto the industrial park next door, already a hive of workers and honey-gatherers in their articulated conveyances. The news flashed up on the screen with its usual pronouncements of mass violence occurring somewhere (“Terrorist bomber attacks Manchester council building”), some economic issue besetting England (“Chancellor acts amid new Sterling warning while ES strengthens for seventh year”), some poverty-swept county being used as a political tool (“Rest of world must do more on Yorkshire Famine, minister says”), or some section of our society being vilified and blamed for almost everything which is perceived as the general ennui (“Half of all national riot suspects on benefits, many are Muslim”); all headlines point to one thing: our world is sailing gently down the Thames, while the world our parents left behind strengthens, and there’s nothing much we can do about it other than to look on in wonder and horror. Even local news, the great bastion of firemen saving cats and children producing masterpieces, has become the projector of that otherwise hidden (“Bisexual brothel operating in centre of town, jury hears”), a doomsayer (“Welsh Protest Against English Refugee Site: 500 Days and Counting”), and a nationalist voice of untruths (“England goes it alone — and we’re doing great!”). I learned in my History lessons at school the story of our ‘going it alone’: the rest of the United Kingdom saw the light well before we did, fighting successfully to disband the union, then each, over time, becoming part of the then European Union. Northern Ireland became once again, by popular vote and in a show of Irish unity never before seen, simply ‘Eire’. All of our former home territories subsequently voted in favour of the greater European project; all became affluent and successful within the now entitled ‘European States’. Whilst the continent’s political unification finally found pace alongside its economic, England, disgorged from the former EU and never part of the Euro, declined and then languished, sharing little more than imports and strict borders with our former partners.

The world is a stranger place than I remember from my childhood. The only conflict then was between my friends and the kids from the next estate who, it was generally agreed (by us) weren’t quite right and shouldn’t be allowed to join our games. It was all friendly, mind, and we played together at school as if our post-enforced day never occurred. We annexed an area of green behind the houses and any encroachment was dealt with swiftly and effectively by a time-honoured method — throwing what the earth provides: in spring, mud; in winter, snow; in autumn, leaves; in summer, whatever is to hand depending on how wet it was. I remember there being no problem with different races, genders, sexualities — we just all protected our little estate enclave. How some things change and how some remain precisely the same. This was all before the great ‘Clima-pause’, the tabloid name for when the scientists finally told us that the ice caps were at the point of no return and that the next few decades would see flooding and unpredictable climate change... The weather since has been exactly that. We don’t bother with reports now other than to see how today is going to be different. The high point was a 26ºC Christmas Day a couple of years ago; the low point was the Anglian Monsoon, a summer of unrelenting torrential humidity, my eighteenth birthday ruined by waterside floods and friends unable to style their hair. We were left wondering whether or not somebody would eventually discover HRT for the atmosphere; we’ve been promised that flood protections are at their best ever, since delegated to the Ministry of Defence, which must be a comfort to the former residents of Bournemouth (affectionately titled ‘Britain’s Atlantis’ since it disappeared under the waves) and current residents of our newest seaside cities, Norwich and Bristol.

Yet even as kids, it seems, we were being prepared for work. No, I change that: all of life is a run up to retirement, when after having eighteen years of being looked after at the start, we can finally take a break from the sixty-five years of hard graft (menial or intellectual) to panic about whether or not our menial pensions can afford to heat our homes and feed ourselves and our partners (if any) for the remaining years, which, due to our careful, medicated, but stressed lifestyle, the free-radical nature of cancer, and the terrifying world we live in, might be a princely fifteen years. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, twenty with good behaviour. It doesn’t seem balanced, in my opinion. That said, between the bombings and the disappearing land, who knows if I’ll reach retirement... A lot of people have decided to forgo paying into anything other than the compulsory state pension as they don’t see the point — they don’t expect to live long enough to see the benefit. I, a while ago, was presented with this argument; I decided that, considering my luck, I’d be the one that ended up being saved through nothing more than living on high ground, where most major companies have relocated — whoever could have thought, all those years ago, that Birmingham would become the thriving centre of UK commerce? – surviving through the worst of it, and coming out the other side with nothing to show for it. I think about this almost every time I step into my car and begin the drive to work.

Driving! Now that’s an adventure when you live in this city. I bought, not so long ago, a second-hand wheeled shoebox from a guy in a dirty suit and hair styled to make him look like a cinematic 1980s New York Mafioso. He was adamant that the car would be perfect for my city lifestyle as it was small enough to manoeuvre around traffic, to park in tiny spaces, and consumed a sizeable amount less electricity than the next model up. What he failed to mention, however, was that this also meant that the car was cramped, my legs often arguing with the steering column, could only seat two people and a briefcase, ruling out any hope of shopping for anything larger than a fortnightly food top-up or some tightly packed clothes. It consumed so few kilowatts that the top speed was in the low fifties, making it more of a chore getting to work on time during rush hour (which, in my car, was more like saunter hour) than if I’d just bought a travelcard and hopped on the somewhat pungent people-mover which stops outside my block. Moreover, when zooming at a pace just beyond that achievable by a scared domestic cat, the apparent manoeuvrability of the car was limited to that required to swerve gently aside when the, nowadays admittedly few, rich commuters in their 4x4s, delivering their titanic and usually individual children to the Better Schools two boroughs away, fail entirely to see my anthill car from their Himalayan perspective. I sometimes think that the greatest blessing I ever received was the ability to survive this hamster maze every day.

All journey terror aside, my paceless drive is once again successful, and I arrive at the office with plenty of time to spare. I desert the car on a charge pad (the cost of which is drawn from my salary – post-tax, of course) and I amble through the rotary doors which, without fail, pause halfway through their orbit, trapping me inside. I wait, with descending patience, as the concierge at the desk just inside the building fumbles ineffectively for the well-hidden reset button. A couple of taps, and a gentle push from me, restores order, and I tread into the reception area. Working for a large company has positives and negatives. The positives being that I get paid a relatively good salary, though not extravagant, and I get some great benefits – it’s my company’s Corporate Healthcare Package that makes it affordable for me to continue to use the gym, for example (£40 per month after tax, to also include private hospital, optical and dental — all handily owned, along with businesses in almost every other sector, by our sole shareholder: English Industrial ltd.). The negatives, however, one would say could outweigh the positives. For example, while I know the names and faces of the directors of the company and all of those in my team, I can name on one hand the number of people in my office that I know well enough to go drinking with. I wouldn’t share a personal secret with any of them. Everybody in my workplace is better known by a job title and/or email address. I copy and blind copy people I’ve never met, some I never will meet, and some in countries thousands of miles away; we all work for the same organism, taking its many arms and feeding it until it grows bigger and excretes a golden egg for the benefit of those at the top. None of us feel like we’re a part of this. We’re not even the zookeepers of this corporate beast — in this offshoot, we’re just the manicurist.

Reception is the epitome of this disconnection. Only in a large corporation could that word be used in such a mutated way: mid-21st Century business is metal and glass and white polycarbonate, clinical and unwelcoming. I say hello to the concierge, and he nods at me with a curled half-smile. I swipe my work pass on the turnstile leading into the complex and walk toward the chrome-doored lifts before jumping into one just about to depart. The space is cramped, as usual, with the suits and ties of the professional class, the 18-person rated lift currently containing about 25 (thankfully, it was designed in America). It zooms up toward the heavens, Helios’s chariot drawn by its solar steeds, and stops at thirty-three. No muzac to be heard in this lift, no – these are austere times and music licensing is an unnecessary expense. I step out of the lift and wander through to my plastic desk. Sitting down on the threadbare and clearly cheap chair, I hit the button required to start my ancient computer, crowned by a panel of glass and plastic, through its daily routine of finding the files required to start up, deciding they aren’t the correct ones and so deciding to go have a look for others, just in case. This ritual requires the sacrifice of time, sanity, and at least one cup of steaming hot soil from the vending machine yonder; the machine sends a sword of orange across the screen to indicate its progress and to thank me for my continued patience. I arise once more, knighted by the apparatus regis, to acquire said earth.

The office is a hive of activity, with hundreds of shirts and ties whipping around with a seemingly pre-determined flow, each worker playing a small part in the generation of the honey. My part is simple: make sure that it doesn’t stop being there; I have to keep it flowing, make it available when required to feed the beast, and to ensure that there aren’t any dry spells where the honey is substandard or less than needed to simply sustain the beast. I remain sedate throughout, as it doesn’t do well to develop undue stress. That is, until my immediate superior stomps across the alps to invade Rome. I barely get back from the coffee machine, and my computer only just announcing that it is ready for me to give it my credentials so I can access the secret things within, before The Boss arrives on his elephants.

“Not even logged in yet? Bad form, very bad form.”

“I’m early for work, sir. I have another ten minutes before you’re even paying me to be here. As you can see, I’m just about to log on to the system and get some work things done before I get started on my...”

He cuts me off, mid-sentence, to proclaim his victory: “That’s all well and good, but while you’re here you should be working. Get it sorted, and quickly. Come and see me at 10am; I have a project I need you to work on.”

I smile as if I’m four years old and he’s given me a cake. ‘No problem, sir; I’ll see you then.’ Gushing. Yes, I know, it’s weak, but having a job where the only real trauma is the bad coffee, the slow computer, and my strange manager... Well, I wouldn’t be able to get the same anywhere else during these sustained stiff economic times, would I? So, day in and day out, I gush willingly to avoid the dreaded sack and ensure that my tiny flat and tiny car can both be sustained. He troops away to conquer another soul.

I log into the computer and, noisily, it brings up my email and calendar programme. I have a full day of activities designed to ensure maximum productivity and minimum time to relax. The only two blocks of time I have free in my diary, now I’ve added my fifteen-minute 10am meeting, is a thirty-minute long lunch break (while I’m sure it’s illegal to have such a short break in a very long day, I reflect again on the threat of being unable to get anything better). An hour and a half before I have to go and see Him, so I get on with some basics that won’t take any longer than that. It might mean (corpo-rage!) that I will get to have a coffee before the meeting. This would make whatever work he’s going to pile on, inevitably above and beyond my responsibilities yet somehow perfect for me and my aspirations even though my only career aspiration is to someday get out of this godforsaken place, a little more bearable.

10am rolls around faster than I’d hoped. The fifteen-minute alert pops up first, totally disturbing my flow. Unable to get back into it, I take myself over to the vending machine for the promised coffee. I think for a second about taking one to The Boss, then decide against. I wolf my coffee. Feeling like my car during rush hour, I slowly navigate through the dashing crowd to his office. I knock on the door three times, his prescribed number: any more or less results in the best avoided trumpet of disapproval.

“ENTER!” comes the bellowing cry from within. I push the door, step through, turn and push the door closed. Before I’m even sure that the door has closed properly, there’s the expected bark from behind me.

The front door slams as I rush through, throwing my lunchbox and tiny bag onto the floor. “MOM?!” I howl. Pause.

“Yes, darling?”

“Mom, lookit what I made at school!” I offer what appears to be a doll-pillow, embroidered with the most awful blue fabric flower.

“Oh, that’s beautiful!”

She’s lying, but she’ll keep that thing for the rest of her life.

“Right then, I’ve got something special for you to handle today,” he says, as if I’m to think it a prize. He assigns me some pointless academic research project that will take most of the rest of the day, and instructs me to clear my diary to get it done. It’s at times like this that I reflect that the only two things I’ve gained from having completed a degree (with Honours) are access to the graduate scheme which eventually brought me to this role and an ability to conduct accurate and useful secondary research. On the bright side, his instruction means I can legitimately wipe the day’s activities clear; downside, tomorrow is going to be hell trying to catch up with the work which, no doubt, will be left untouched by anybody else on the team.

“Thank you, sir, I’ll have it done by close of play.” Deep inside, I cringe at myself and my inability to be anything more than the brown-nosed toad that needing money for rent has made me.

“Well done.” He’s the only man I know whose finality is so clearly defined that he almost pronounces the full-stop at the end of his sentences. I don’t have to ask if I can leave; He’s expecting me to.

Back at my desk, I look at the computer screen and evaluate how long it’s going to take for the venerable old thing to load up the software I need to complete the task. For any consumer machine, having a word processor, internet browser, spreadsheet and email software open at the same time would be no trouble at all; I may as well be asking this computer to cure the common cold or develop the alchemical elixir for eternal youth and beauty. I imagine the CD tray ejecting from the front of the machine and a delightfully grey beard growing rapidly and unbidden from it as I experience time moving much faster than everybody else around me. I evaluate and decide that it will take much longer to wait than it will take for me to grab another coffee (leveraging the time-honoured Granny Kettle Watcher equation). All of us have addictions: for some it’s alcohol, for some it’s class-As, for some it’s money; for me, it’s caffeine.

I daydream at the coffee machine. Flashes of memory, things from the past, half-forgotten moments which I revisit when I have quanta of freedom like this.

It’s raining, inside and out. Some wag set off the fire alarm by means of a lighter while the teacher was distracted on the most useless day of the year to do so – it’s a veritable monsoon outside, and now it’s Amazon in here, the trees sodden and deltas forming down desks from handy water jets positioned in the ceiling of the classroom. The teacher panics, unsure where the cause could be – or possibly prescient, because of how her hair will look like beyond this unexpected shower. We file out in an orderly fashion; Jay is behind me, as usual, cracking jokes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him that set the alarm off, and he’s in a typically jovial mood. He says something humorous enough to elicit a laugh from me and a few others, and the teacher barks for silence from the rear of the line. Subdued, albeit briefly, we trudge on through the darkness of the winter mid-morning, out into the courtyard, where we join the other kids in our school. The teacher has panicked so far that she’s forgotten to tell us to put on coats before marching us out; the rain is resulting in our class’s white shirts becoming somewhat see-through. There’s a boy next to me who is panicking even more than the Sasquatch-haired teacher, as he wraps his arms around his chest. Jay ambles forward, cracks a joke and puts his arm around me in friendly humour. I don’t know where to look.

The coffee machine beeps to let me know that my single serving cup has finished dispensing. Eyeing its beige foam, I return to my desk.

An electronic reminder pops up on the computer screen at a few minutes before 6pm and disturbs my flow. The Boss will be expecting this research report before then, so I put the finishing touches to it and email it over. It’s only once I’ve done this that I realise I haven’t yet had anything to eat; dropping into deep-focus mode pretty much means that I don’t notice the time, and I power through all the way to end of day without pausing for a snack. I’m glad I tanked up on coffee earlier, otherwise I’d have serious withdrawal symptoms by now. Before I can get a response from the Boss asking me for any more work to be completed, I tell the computer to shut down, grab my coat and bag, and head back down to the car.

As I get into the lift, somebody behind me taps my shoulder. With some difficulty, I pivot around far enough to see Jay behind me. Jay and I have known each other since we were kids, and have had something of a mirrored life: same school and college, but different courses; same university, and similar courses; different jobs at the same company; we still live only a few roads away from one another. You could say (and he often did) that he was my oldest friend, though nowadays we only really see each other at work and on the odd occasion that we get together after hours for a few end-of-week beers.

He was grinning in a very strange fashion; I knew that smile from years of Jay’s Bad Ideas.

“Alright, Jay,” I say, conserving as much oxygen as possible.

“Are you coming out tonight, mate?” he asks as if there were some plans I was party to. Obviously this thought shoots across my face as he then continues: “You know, Andy from finance’s birthday? We’re all going into town now for a couple of beers cause it’s Friday – didn’t you get my email and text and missed call?”

“I’ve been off my email and mobile all day, mate, had a big one from the Boss to finish. Been incommunicado all day. Could be good fun, though I gotta drop the car off at home first.” I hadn’t even realised this morning that today was Friday, the end of the week, the start of my temporary respite. Wow. I’m glad he mentioned it, otherwise I’d likely have come into the office tomorrow, a thankless offering.

“Wicked, mate! We’re all meeting in that new place on the waterfront, the cocktail one. Andy is getting a few mates to come out too, and that new girl from HR is coming, the pretty one.” Jay only mentions girls when he’s got his eye on them and he needs a wingman. They never have names. In some ways, I’m envious of his ability, and in others... not so much. “See you there at 9?”

‘Sure, I’ll see you there. Will probably aim for 9.30 though.’

“No worries, mate.” He walks off with something of a spring in his step.

I don’t even know Andy-from-finance.


Blue seemed to be a theme in the bar. The cocktail thrust into my hand, before I could even order the beer I wanted, was cerulean; the bartenders were wearing t-shirts in azure; the walls may have been white in normal lighting, but the fluorescent tubes and spotlights were tinted to throw a cyan light onto the room. Through the crowd, I spot Jay across the room with the rest of the people who had decided to attend: he is fairly difficult to miss being the most obviously trendy person here (Jay’s status as Office Fashionista was unchallenged. The only bloke in the office who, while loving more masculine pursuits such as Sunday morning football, was able to navigate the endless vagaries of the sartorial world); I grab the strangely thin tumbler of Blue (the bar’s “finest and most unique cocktail creation”) and stride with under-developed confidence toward them. They seem to be having a ball, by the look of the thing. Andy-from-finance is wrapped in some kind of crepe paper affair, clearly designed to make it easy to recognise that it was not only his birthday, but a pretty significant one, and that he should be approached by anybody who wished to pass on their best, especially if those people were of the correct gender and found themselves single, unaffected or sufficiently lubricated.

I shout a “Hello!” over the deep bass and high chatter, and raise a hand to wave at the rest. Jay spots me and bounds through with arms outstretched for the usual deeply practiced, perfunctory and symbolic hug. I reciprocate, one-armed, and break to rest my glass on the table beside our group. They were all standing, the conversation between them flowing like a sedate river through a twilight valley. I jump between the odd conversation, being sociable but not really settling on any one group to remain with – I’m not sure that I have a great deal in common with any of them other than Jay, and he’s currently trying his hardest to develop a conversation with Pretty-new-girl-from-HR.

A while passes, and I decide to go to the bar to attempt to buy a drink with a more sienna hue. I begin to excuse my way through the crowd when I’m party to a hand on my shoulder: a quick snap of the neck reveals Jay, red faced from the slight gap in the air conditioning where he’d been standing with Pretty-new-girl-from-HR.

“Mind if I join you, mate?”

“Course not.” I shout back, the music considerably louder here than the other side of the dance floor.

We stumble and “EXCUSEME!” our way to the bar, moving against the flow of the crowd. Once at the bar, I’m determined: I shall not accept a cocktail. I mean, they have beer taps, so they must serve it, surely? I find myself reflecting on how language hasn’t kept pace with society in many ways; I’m preparing myself to ask for a pint, knowing full well that we moved to metric a few years ago. It was a canny way for the pub industry to increase profits — a half-litre, served when one asks for a ‘pint’, is somewhat less than the old imperial pint. I don’t mind the change — it seems more logical; however, it does require one to cease cynicism in order to recognise it. We stand, expectant, hopeful twenties between tight fingers. I decide to break some of the silence that rests between us while sedentary bartenders look with calm abandon at the myriad bottles behind the bar, all with the uncanny ability to develop a shade of blue even when they weren’t naturally that colour.

“You know that new concierge guy? I think I recognise him from somewhere, but I can’t place it.” I’m not sure why I ask this: It’s been playing on my mind, I suppose, and Jay is the only person I’d think to talk to about it.

“I dunno, mate, I don’t really pay that much attention to the front desk unless I’m waiting for a parcel!”

He takes a long draught from his cocktail; perhaps not a great plan. He’s forgotten the ‘hours likely to be compos mentis = (((number of hours planned to be out) + (the number of units of alcohol consumed thus far)) x (number of units per hour likely to be consumed)) / 8’ equation.

“How’s the love life then?” he asks, putting his glass back onto the bar carefully, as if fully aware of his strength (a sure sign of drunkenness: the attentive alcoholic). I’m sure we had this conversation last time we were out, a couple of weeks ago, but I choose not to bring this up.

“Non-existent, Jay. Every day is a rolling programme of work and home, with the odd beer with you and the guys. Nothing exciting ever happens, and meeting somebody at work is virtually impossible ‘cause I haven’t got the time.”

Christ, I really am terribly melancholy.

“It can’t be that bad, mate – bet there’s plenty of ‘em chasing ya, you just don’t see it?”

“Well, if they did, I don’t.”

“Bad times, mate.”

Silence. Uncomfortable silence. It’s clear that Jay has no further recourse to this and is thinking about how to resurrect the conversation without it sounding like I’m a total lost cause and like I have something in my life that makes me even vaguely interesting. He fails.

“Another drink?” Saved by the bartender, he settles on the time-honoured way of reviving a conversation: ignoring what just happened and instead opting for another beverage.

“Can I get a pint please, mate.”

I’m presented with a half-litre glass filled with something blue.

Back over with the work crowd, I listen to the music in the background. I’d not noticed before that the music had become very acoustic; it must be nearing closing time. The lyrics of the song currently playing are thrown into sharp relief as I listen attentively and reminisce.

He is genuinely beautiful. This is the first time we’re making love; his soft, supple skin undulates atop me, the heat and humidity of the sleeping bag reducing our friction. Furiously, we move, synchronous, his long hair gently brushing my face as he kisses me, and his tight chest (Oh, how he’d been so afraid of people seeing his body two short years ago) pressed against mine. Suddenly, I transform into a tiger, roaring at the chase; into a firework, exploding at the first; into a silk sheet, falling delicately down to the ground. There are butterfly-kisses, then he indicates that he must return to his own tent before the teachers wake up. I pull off the johnny which protects us both from stupidity, and instantly wish I’d been a little more intelligent about how. Moments later, Jay re-enters the tent with a glint in his eye and a small grin — clearly, he’s had the time of his life with the pretty brunette in the adjacent tent — and, without asking a single question, returns to his own space next to mine, his warmth suffusing the space between us. Eventually, I feel his arm drape over me and we both pass out.

I see Jay making his way toward the dance floor to steal a slow one with Pretty-new-girl-from-HR; Andy-from-finance has pulled what Jay will, with some pity, call a “pig-monster”. Most of our team have paired off with somebody and are enjoying the last few moments of the evening, before making their decisions to go home with dignity or with what will later be referred to as shame. I make up my mind. I leave alone.

This is the conclusion at which I usually find myself, as a sad representation of Beaudelaire’s state of unwarranted and unwanted loneliness in the midst of a crowd, walking back to my quiet flat, the vapour from inescapable e-cigarette warming my raised knuckles and nose in the developing chill of the autumn night, to watch some recorded TV, drink whatever bottled beer I have chilled and go to bed cold and incomplete. I sometimes try to inject a little camaraderie into my life by breaking out the iPad and sitting on Twitter for a time, in the hope of finding somebody to lighten my mood; the fact of the matter is that the friends I follow are all still partying the night away when I get home, leaving me with the wonderful experience of talking to strangers on the same sinking ship as I. This does nothing to raise my spirits, so the iPad, chronically underused for this specific reason, gets put on charge and stuffed into a drawer in order that the constant pinging of messages from people attempting to unburden themselves doesn’t keep me awake until the small hours; I’ll be awake until the small hours anyway, though, staring into the blackness of the room and over-thinking.

We lie on the riverbank in a cloud of hormones and energy.

It’s a clear day, bright and cloudless. There’s an aroma of honey and pollen in the air from countless buttercups along the bank, and there’s a constant hum in the background from the gestalt bees zipping from one grail to another.

We’re sitting in silence; there are no words which would change this moment, or are necessary to improve it.

Suddenly, an arm is draped over me. I smile to myself, drinking in the gushing sunshine, and close my eyes.

It’s leaving day. We’ve been together since that night, two years, but now we’re going to different colleges and, with no doubt, to different universities afterwards; we’ve agreed that it’s probably for the best if we call it quits now rather than to wait in hope forever. We hug, kiss; he asks if I’ll be alright. There are tears in his eyes.

‘Don’t worry, at least we’re both going to the same place!’ Jay’s words from earlier in the day echoed in my ears, delivered accompanied by his wingman smile.

I wonder if I’m depressed, or just overly introspective? I realise that all of this is just pitiful self-loathing, but I can’t stop myself; the St. John’s Wort I take periodically (when Holland and Barratt have a sale on, otherwise affording these things is a challenge) doesn’t even touch this melancholy which sometimes just grabs me by the head and shakes me, side to side. It has, on occasion, reduced me to red-hot tears, streaming as I sit in the dark of my flat. God, I must sound like the worst kind of hormonal, darkly-minded teenager, whose postmodern poetry comes in fits and bursts, dripping with the myriad bodily fluids they wish to throw onto the page, predominantly (but not exclusively) their bile and blood. I’m pleased to say that while I don’t have a great opinion of myself, I have never self-harmed, nor have I ever written a poem containing a woe-is-me narrative. I don’t have it in me to do that. It’s okay doing it now, talking to oneself, but... I don’t know, saying it aloud is one thing, but writing it in verse seems almost to reduce the emotion to insufficient but extensive verbiage. An old school teacher spent a lot of time teaching me (and others; we weren’t a small class) about emotional literacy; the words are not enough. I sometimes express this to myself, standing in front of the bathroom mirror and looking deeply into my own eyes, partially in ego and partially in hope, looking for the answers to the questions I have burning inside, all of which begin with a very simple concept, but one that causes much consternation for all who need to ask it.


The alcohol kicks in; I drift off to sleep.

‘So, it seems you’ve a fairly standard life?’

‘I’d say so. Nothing too out of the ordinary, for somebody of my age in this decade. It’s a little...dull in parts, though,’ I agreed, with not a little dejection in my voice.

He leapt from his chair, almost knocking it to the tiled floor, and exclaimed, ‘Life is what you make it, kid! If it’s dull, you should mix it up a bit!’

‘How am I meant to do that, though?’ I implored. ‘I have to work to afford the flat, and once that money and the bills are gone, there isn’t much left over to “mix it up.” I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who has been able to just do whatever they want to do. Life isn’t like that. I just feel a bit like I’ve wasted it.’ The dreamcatcher spins.

‘Why do you think that, kid?’ he said tenderly, drawing his chair in again with barely perceptible noise. I looked around the room at everything he had there: it seemed hazy, but there were hints of a fuller life than I felt mine had — photographs of children, grandchildren; ornaments clearly collected over decades; the homely feel of a country kitchen.

‘Well, I just...I don’t know, I feel like being alone and doing the job I do, the cyclical nature of it all... It just feels a bit wasted. Like there’s loads I could have done, but I never got around to. There was so much promise after University, but it’s all become quite...’ I paused. The word I was looking for just wasn’t there, until I looked into his eyes. ‘...grey.’ I shuffled the newspapers which lay on the dining table between us. It worried me that I didn’t know how I’d got into this room, or where the exits were, or even what had happened in the run up to being in front of that sink. I thought I must have been dreaming, one of those lucid dreams which you hear about, but are never able to actually achieve. I agreed with myself — if I am aware it’s a dream, then it must be a lucid experience. Perhaps I’d simply had a really good evening and blacked out a few hours. It didn’t explain why I hadn’t a hint of a hangover, but conversely it didn’t seem important to worry about it at the time.

He drew his wry smile, and looked back at me: ‘Life is only wasted if YOU waste it. Take this opportunity to think over your choices. Everybody is more intelligent here, kid, including you — not because they have become cleverer, but because... Just think of it like this: we’re in a place where your mind is undistracted and, therefore, can really get to town on processing all that stuff you’ve been taught over the years and not had the chance to.’

Is that why, I wondered, I feel more verbose? I have always thought in a polysyllabic overture, but I often shy from exercising this in speech – it’s not socially acceptable. Above the window, turning gently in the low breeze, was a dreamcatcher, his religion made visible in this space otherwise unadorned by anything that could be considered a sacred relic or artefact. Periodically, the wind blew especially hard, and the dreamcatcher whistled a low melody while spinning through time. I watched it for a while, sitting on the flock, flowered armchair in the far corner of the kitchen. ‘What secrets might a dreamcatcher hold?’ I pondered aloud.

I almost leapt a metre into the air when suddenly he appeared beside me: ‘What secrets do you have that you need kept in one?’ Startled, I took a moment to compose myself before I could respond.

‘Well, I suppose it depends on what the context is. Some secrets I keep inside, some I have to put out of mind.’

‘And, kid, those out of mind are the ones the dreamcatcher keeps for you.’

‘Even you?’ I questioned, not assuming I would get a straightforward answer from my evasive friend.

‘Oh, yes. Even I need to put things out of mind sometimes, otherwise I’d be overwhelmed by it all.’

I thought back to our first conversation and to the tears in his eyes when he considered the bursting of the soap bubbles. I pondered why such care was given to such a trifle, especially one which was unstoppable: soap bubbles were unstable by their nature, and could not be expected to simply sit around forever waiting for somebody to use them. Eventually, they just had to burst and allow the trapped air back into the world. I considered that there were many afflictions which could cause such despondence; it wouldn’t do to consider my strange companion unstable, especially as it appeared that my leaving his home was currently an unavailable option.

Breaking the silence, he informed me, presciently: ‘the sweet aroma in the air is bison grass’. It drifted in through the slight gap in the window and permeated my senses. It wasn’t heady, though; instead it was light, grassy and energetic. ‘They burn it to release the darker aromas, y’know. It’s nice to have it drifting in, but I keep a few bunches of the fresh stuff up here so that it all blends and makes the old place smell just a bit better,’ he intoned, pointing at some small threshes of a dark-green grass hanging from the dark roof-beams by tightly woven hemp string. I looked at the stems hanging there, with their strange buds. I was standing and looking at them intently, as if I expected them to suddenly develop tiny, verdant mouths and serenade me (such was my impression of this place).

‘Why do they burn it? It can’t just be for the smell.’ I replied, my eyes unwavering.

‘Ah, I don’t know. Some of them tell me that it’s meant to be in reverence, but I’ve no truck with that. It just smells nice, all of spring and promise.’


He sighed, gently. ‘Yeah, reverence. Worship, if you like. There’s a complex and passionate dance they sometimes do to accompany the burning, which is fun to watch. They think it influences the health of their people.’

‘Does it?’ I asked, inquisitively.

‘I don’t know – but there’s a power in positive thought, isn’t there?’ His enigmatic smile once again graced the conversation, which simultaneously set the surface of my emotion at ease and caused a gentle rumble of panic deep in my subconscious.


I wake up with a start; it was the middle of the night. It seems like I’ve been sleeping lightly for a few hours, which has helped me to regain a little composure, the dream fast fading, though the smell of bison grass seems to linger in my consciousness. I’m thinking with some clarity, which is helpful as it also seems that I’m soaked to the bone with a cold sweat which seems to have come upon me while I was asleep. I hop out of bed, dry myself off with a towel left limply hanging over the top of the door to the bedroom, and clamber inelegantly into a pair of jogging bottoms and a t-shirt. Having achieved this little victory over my own body, I crawl back into bed, and into the still-warm duvets which protect me from the outside cold caused by my leaving the windows open – I cannot sleep with them closed, as the air from outside cannot refresh that inside the room otherwise.

I lie in the darkness and focus past the little stars of light I see before me (some optical illusion or the first signs of elderly glaucoma). They make delightful shapes on the walls of my vision, parody constellations of imperfection, strangely reflected in the pool beneath them, amplified when I look outside to see Cetus swimming through the dark ocean above. We don’t see many stars here in the middle of the city, courtesy of overly-bright LED street-lamps, neon signs, and the ambient light pollution of a hundred-thousand businesses still alive, mobile phones still being tapped, headlamps still cutting through the darkness like Heaney’s spade. I continue to look, though, squinting with some hope of seeing the vast extent of the galaxy we spin through, careening through space in a blistering whorl. The universe’s mysteries remain so; planets are formed and destroyed, stars are born and reach nova, things move apart and closer together, and we see yesterday’s show, as if the universe from our viewpoint was nothing more than catch-up TV, a few billion years of programming just waiting to be downloaded, analysed, categorised, published and perused for our pleasure in all of its awesomeness, its magnificence, and its sublimity. And yet, I reflected, we still venerate the “stars” on the small screen, forgetting both the greater wonder of the skies and the impact even one normal, otherwise insignificant person can have on us.

It had been something of a blur. University was drawing to a close, with the five preceding years being punctuated by much hilarity, worrying financial statements from the student loan company, and more hard work than I was used to. I’d been dreading Graduation. Mom and Dad were both there, which was great, and even Jay had made it, who I hadn’t otherwise seen for about a year – we’d both been dealing with dissertation fear. The idea of being in front of all those people in tahat flock of robes filled me with terror. What would I do on stage? Where should I walk? Whose hand do I shake? With what pace should I cross? I didn’t even have anybody to hand hold me through that process — I’d not been with anybody since him, not long term. I mean, you know, I’d had some fun, but I’d not been with anybody who I liked like him, or who I’d be with any longer than a few weeks. There was one... He was a handsome lad. I was drunk and he wasn’t like anybody else I’d met there; we’d bonded in the SU bar over The FA’s recent decision to allow mixed professional football and too much lager. He drank better than me, to be fair — I was absolutely mortal. Later, he ground against me, into me, while I leaned back against the wall in the alley outside the pub, legs raised and arms wrapped around him. Suddenly, I was that tiger again, that firework, that silk sheet. He went back into the pub, and I decided that it was a good time to go back to halls. We made good friends with benefits, in the end. Jay kept on telling me that I was a loser, and that I should make my mind up what I want and go for it, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I was sure I’d find out soon: Real Life was around the corner, and don’t people say the end of University is when you find out what you really want to do?

My eyes are heavy and I can feel myself drifting away to sleep again (I try never to fight it, as inevitably I win the battle; creating my own insomnia isn’t the intention). The gentle tap of the vertical blinds against the frame of the window is rhythmic, and counts down like little sheep to my unconsciousness. I relax into my sheets, clothes adding warmth and causing a tighter wrap of the blanket of heat around my chilled frame. Drifting downriver... I sail into a light dream, into a boat suspended atop a perfectly calm river, the banks gently passing by, incredibly slowly. They pass whilst I remain static, looking up into the duck-egg sky, hands underneath my head offering support. A bird flies over head, briefly, the shape of its brown wings wide and its pale head visible fleetingly before gone again. Gone... drifting... I yawn, in my boat, as the wind gently lifts and pushes me downriver...

We’d got back together after Uni — just for coffee initially, but we’d rekindled the relationship we’d once had over time and over beer. I rejected the graduate scheme I’d blindly applied for when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and, instead, applied for a teacher training course. A couple of years later, I finished my inductions and accepted a permanent job at a great little secondary school local to where I grew up. We moved into a small 2-bed terraced house and adopted a dog, a lemon beagle we called Beans. He, having completed his own education (culminating in an MA in Politics), took up a HR management role within a large organisation whilst canvassing for his election as a local Councillor, an election he’ll likely win as the Labour candidate in a very safe area. Don’t get me wrong — we’re human, we argue and fall out and make up afterwards — but we lead a very comfortable life: few money worries, beyond the usual fears created by the declining economy; two ‘premium’ e-cars, which are the envy of our families and a sizeable number of our friends; the cozy sofa which we curl up on during those Sunday afternoons and evenings we designate as our ‘us’ time, punctuated by wine and Yorkshire puddings...

I wake again, violently. I’ve barely been asleep for another couple of hours, a glance at my phone tells me, which doesn’t fill me with joy. I won’t get a regulation eight hours of total shut-down, so I’m barely going to function today — I can predict my psychological reaction to this stunted cycle. I peel back the sheets — sweaty, again, but less so than last night. I drag myself out of bed and to the shower. I turn the faucet again and get into the deluge; exhausted, I momentarily lose my balance, leaning to the wall for support. The glazed tiles are slick, wet from the shower and already lacking any texture due to their ‘value for money’ nature. I fall backwards heavily into the glass shower surround, losing my footing in the process, and descend bodily to the ceramic floor. I sit there for a minute, both body and pride bruised, feeling every one of my years. A wave of melancholy hits me, at the apex of the pain: how did I reach this point in my life? All the promise of my education, all the opportunity presented by a future unwritten, all the paths I could’ve taken... At its most basic, all the people I could have ended up with. Instead, I’ve chosen a tick-box job, a tiny rented shithole, and solitude. I know this world that my parents made isn’t easy to work with, but surely I could have done better than this... Quietly, but invariably, I begin to weep. The water is cold and metallic. I hold myself, knees into my chin. What price, this life?

I’m wallowing in self-pity, I know it. I’m not immature enough to think that I can just pull myself out of this mood, but I can certainly pull myself out of this shower. I lean forward, reach for the handle of the glass door and launch myself upright, unsteadily. I Bambi my way to the living room and collapse on the sofa. I consider the opening the balcony doors for a modicum of fresh air, but I realise I don’t have the energy to move the sofa and table. I flick the TV on again, to be confronted with glossy adverts for sugar-based snacks and cleaning products.

Out of the corner of my mind, an itch. I thought I can’t shake, even when confronted with cordless vacuum cleaners and laundry detergents which can remove all known stains from all known fabrics. A dream of a life that could have been. Why couldn’t the dream be a memory rather than a fantasy? I curl up foetally, my head cooling while the pleather warms to its touch; I blink once, twice, then the cold spreads throughout me. I feel the cold in my marrow, ice water travelling tremulously to my heart, to my mind, to my liver.

Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day.


Saturday dawns through my ineffective blinds. I’m still on the sofa, the TV still cycling overly saturated ads for useless tat. I resolve to do something productive with my day, if nothing more than to attempt to lift this despondence that I’m in. I’m still quite hungover — it seems that I hadn’t quite got that cocktail out of my system when I had my fall last night — so I walk shakily to the kitchen, where I drop a pod into the very slim coffee machine, reaching up to grab a mug from the hooks suspending them and saving cupboard space, placing it with defiance under the spout of the machine. It splutters, grizzles, then dispenses with vaporous aplomb. I can feel its mechanical pride as the glossy crema expands, its gleeful ‘beep beep’ a perpetual reminder that only machinery can truly fulfil its purpose. They have made noises for the last couple of years about the growing abilities of Virtual Intelligence, the successor to what we now see as the dumb ‘artificial’ variety; VI, under its various brand names, has started to find its way into a great many devices — for example, cars are on the brink of being able to drive themselves; VI means that these cars will now talk to you about current affairs and how they affect your specific family, like a virtual chauffeur, while you generously ignore it. They say that, within the decade, we’ll all have VI robot humanoids in the home, doing all the housework we all hate and providing companionship where there otherwise wouldn’t be. We’ve all seen those films where people learn to love the robot, falling in love with the robot, fighting for its rights... But it’ll still have a purpose. Once they take the housework away, since manufacturing and service roles have already been entirely replaced by automata, what purpose is there for the rest of us?

I’m being snarky at a coffee machine. This is the low point of my depression, I’m sure. I need to get out of here.

After raiding my miniscule wardrobe for a combination suitable for what appears to be quite a bright day — shorts, t-shirt, factor 30, a small bag containing, amongst other things, an emergency umbrella — I leave the block, aimlessly choosing to turn left, on the advice of the re-runs of an old TV show from before I was born, and stride towards the outskirts of the city. Almost immediately, my phone starts to vibrate in my pocket, the heartbeat of my life outside the flat. I pull it out of my pocket, the slim display pulsing with Jay’s face and two buttons to accept or reject the call. I hit the green button; Jay’s already talking into his handset before I even get the phone to my ear.

“...need you here; bring the car!”

“Slow it down, Jay — I missed the start of that. What’s going on?”

“I need you to come to me, mate — there’s been an...” The pause is tangible. “...issue, and I need transport. I’ve sent my location to your phone. Please!”

“Alright, mate, calm down. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Cheers, I really appreciate it.” A beep, then silence. He’s hung up. Jay never calls me in a panic like this; I look at my phone and his location flashes in my notifications. I press it, then jab the button to send it to my car’s navigation system, all while I jog back to the flat. I hurry up to the flat to retrieve the car’s key, then back down again in a similar rush. I jump in and turn the car on, hit the accelerator sharply and grimace as the car judders to a sprightly 25km/h.

I cross the centre of the city and aim north on the expressway. Roadworks, again. The car reads the signs and, against my will, slows down to match the prescribed speed limit, proscribing my prompt progress. I look out of the window towards the city I’ve just passed through. From a distance, it could almost be described as beautiful — its remaining brutalist blocks blending in alongside post-modern waveforms and millennial spikes of cerulean glass twinkling in the sunlight. The new Capital – since London became a bay (only Manchester had any other claim, but it half-disappeared before that battle could be settled); how it had grown after that decision had been made. What used to be the council building, Victorian design with 21st Century additions, now houses the English parliament, controlling everything from Hadrian’s Wall to Land’s End, the flag of St. George flapping in the breeze where the council crest and the Union flag once greeted visitors. Before my time, but the web is littered with photographs of the past; they’ve not been able to censor every positive image of the past – yet.

The expressway, and its roadworks, reaches a conclusion and I refocus my attention. Pointing into the correct lane, I drift left and towards Jay’s location. Under an overpass, over an underpass... The nav abruptly trills to let me know that I’m “approaching your destination”, so I slow down marginally so as to absorb my surroundings and ensure the correct turn. I see Jay before the nav can tell me that I’ve arrived; I glide to a conclusion alongside him, then, with a cursory glance out of the mirrors to check I’m not going to accidentally cause my door to be ripped off, I jump out of the car and quickly scurry around to him.

“What’s going on, Jay?”

“I need you to come inside, mate. Quickly.” Jay’s already started to lope back into the house; I follow him, nonplussed.

Inside the house is a scene. There are bodies littered across the hallway, some stirring but most comatose. Jay, seeing my confusion, grabs me by the arm and leads me, weaves me, through the throng towards the back of the house. Passing through a part-closed doorway, we are birthed in a wash of sunlight; through the French windows in front of me is the garden, its expansive greenery pocked with varying hues of pink, purple and blue. Jay continues to drag me past the vista and into another room to the left of the huge windows allowing my view.

This room is darker: muted colours, closed curtains and very dim light. There’s nothing in here other than a ratty, moth-eaten fabric sofa and another body, slumped and snoring across the arm and its arms, saliva leaking unrepentantly out of the open mouth, down its cheek, pooling in the hand lying gently underneath it. Jay, unnerved, whispers, stutters, “I-I don’t know what happened. We were out all night, s-so we didn’t think anything of being in here. One minute, w-we’re in here relaxing, joking, getting -“ A moment’s pause, almost nothing — but too much to BE nothing. “- c-close. I went for a glass of water, but when I got back, t-this is how I found her. That’s when I c-called you.” The olive oil tone of his face has drained giving him the colour and texture of porridge.

“Has she...taken anything?” I ask, cautiously. I don’t want to imply that he has taken anything; Jay, for all his current almost-clean living, has a chequered history with drug taking. I found out when we got back together for a few drinks after we’d graduated that he’d almost been kicked out of university at one stage because of a slight overindulgence on magic mushrooms and cocaine, which had resulted in him laughing uncontrollably throughout a 9am lecture, before flirting outrageously — and almost physically, prevented only by a course-mate’s swift intervention – with the sixty-year-old lecturer. The resulting conversation — in which the Dean used the words “parents” and “criminal record” and “expulsion” — convinced Jay that this needed to be the end of his dalliance with psychotropics. As such, even the suggestion that he might have relapsed sends him into a spin which, exemplified by the last time I made an ill-advised joke about his chemical past, results in his refusal to communicate in any fashion until an apology is received and he is able to give a full explanation about why you were wrong to even suggest it.

“Mate, honestly.” This is unusual — he doesn’t even show a hint of anger at the suggestion that drugs are involved. If anything, he looks scared. I’ve never seen Jay scared. “We didn’t take anything together. We had a few drinks, came back here, we shared a feel of our goods, then I went for a water. When I got back...” He gestures at her, still shaking.

“Have you called an ambulance?” This seems like a redundant question, but I thought I should ask.

“Yeah, mate, but they’ve told me it’s gonna be at least another hour. ‘cause she’s still breathing, she’s —” he puts on a prim, stereotypically English accent, “‘not a priority case, at the moment, Sir.’ Fucking NHS funding cuts.” He’s genuinely angry at this. Most political I’ve ever seen him.

“Did they tell you what to do with her?” I can guess what’s coming here.

“They said that if I can get her to A&E myself, then they’ll see her faster, but they can’t get the ambulances.” He looks imploringly at me. I’m not heartless enough to say no, even if it wasn’t my best mate asking. I nod, holding his shoulder firmly in a show of solidarity. He seems to snap out of his panic and becomes the Jay I know: resolute, certain; he picks her up, still curled into a ball, and walks decisively back towards the front door. I walk behind, again dodging the bodies, which are now mostly red-eyes and yawns, until we reach the car. Opening it quickly, I jump into the driver’s seat while Jay places her delicately across the back seats before sitting in the passenger seat. In the meantime, I program the navigation to the nearest A&E — three boroughs away. Fucking NHS funding cuts.

I whir through the city again, this time paying less attention to the sublimity of the landscape and more to darting between lanes, like a demented Jack Russell. We get to the hospital in less than thirty minutes; I pull into a parking space and rush to pay a quarter of a week’s salary for half a day’s parking whilst Jay daintily lifts her frail form. He hurries through the sliding doors and into reception; I watch them go as I jog back to the car, apply the required sticker dispensed from the ticket machine to the inside of the windscreen, then follow them as hastily as I can.

A&E in a modern hospital is a very unique experience. They’ve never managed to completely get rid of the NHS, but so much of it is “operated under licence” by private providers that it may as well be gone. Even sections of hospitals can be franchised out, claiming a percentage of the hospital’s operating costs based on footfall and services offered, as is the case with, for example, most A&E departments; this one, operated by English Industrial Healthcare, is branded and painted in corporate colours, still managing to be clinical through the permanent grins of the vinyl ‘patients’ adorning the walls. Those actors have never seen A&E — they’d have been paid in services, so they’ll be shipped to an En-Ind private hospital.

At the desk, Jay is already getting Pretty-new-girl-from-HR booked in. She’s slumped on a chair nearby; nurses to and fro, obviously extremely busy, without a single one paying any attention to her now heavily-breathing form. Not that any of us blame them — since we banned immigrants from holding public sector roles until they gain permanent citizenship, there’s been a permanent shortage of medical professionals, alongside the already catastrophic shortage of teachers and civil servants. As such, the nurses and doctors here must be run ragged — borne out by their red faces and tired eyes. I look back to Jay, who turns and marches back towards me, still standing near to Pretty-new-girl-from-HR.

“Right, she’s booked in, but we have to wait with her until they can assign her a bed and a consultant.” He looks a little despondent.

“Well, that’s good news — normally, if it was going to be ages, they’d tell us to go home and wait for them to send a responder.” I’m optimistic for us both, particularly as we both know that this could take hours unless she suddenly takes a turn for the worst. Jay makes a non-committal noise from the back of his nose; he sits weightily beside her. I attempt to fill the already burgeoning silence: “Fancy a coffee?” He nods, slowly, then raises his head to look at me. His eyes burn into my conscience.

“Yeah, that’d be great, please. Black, no sugar,” he exhausts, weakly.

I go for an adventure through the warren of wards and corridors, Alice through the looking-glass, in order to find the dispenser; past alcohol gel dispensers and unoccupied gurneys, lines on the floor leading people to major departments, each in the colour of the company who franchises it – lipstick red for Virgin Care’s paediatrics ward, Bupa sky for surgery, The Practice teal for the GP surgery, UnitedHealth cyan for the cancer ward. A plethora of disconnected staff tied together only by a patient and a computer system.

I follow the GP line — in my limited experience, the coffee tends to be near the people who are more likely to want it, and people ensconced in wards are unlikely to want caffeine; a fruitful decision as the monolithic Nescafé machine appears around the next corner. I quickly select a black coffee, pay with my phone, and wait for the machine to push out a small wine-glass sized steaming cup of Robusta. Then, I repeat the process, before retracing my steps and following the purple E-Ind line back to A&E. As I walk back, I reflect that my life is like a series of repeated actions, over and over, with no apparent purpose. Last night’s impromptu trip to the bar and today’s trip to A&E is the most off-plan thing that’s happened to me in weeks, months; is it bad that I’m actually quite excited by this? Almost sordidly — I’m genuinely thrilled that I’m doing something unplanned, unpredictable. Spontaneous. Then, I’m momentarily disgusted with myself for even considering that this could be a positive experience. Has my life really become this dull, that I could consider somebody’s ill health exciting. I take care to wipe the involuntary curve from my face before I get back to Jay. He needs support, not my introspection.

When I turn into A&E, he’s sitting next to an empty chair; I increase the pace and hold out his coffee. He looks up to me, tears in his eyes.

“They’ve taken her into intensive care. I’ve been asked to wait.” He allows a tear to roll in parallel with the emerging shadow on his ashen upper lip before wiping it away with an angry hand. He then reaches forward for the coffee I’m still holding, outstretched. I press it into his hand, ensuring he has it gripped well before I let go — the last thing we need right now is scalding to the groin to add to the situation. He draws the paper cup back to his face and inhales the steam; he takes a lazy but determined sip before lowering it and resting it on the arm of the metal chair. I sit next to him — the other side, not the seat that Pretty-girl-from-HR was slumped on, and replicate his action. This coffee is pretty strong for machine-brew; I can feel the caffeine begin to kick in almost immediately. Jay, too, must have felt the same, as he gruffly rises, coffee in hand, and begins to pace to and from the posters of the beaming models. On the next pace, he finishes his cup with one, two gulps, then roughly casts it into the metal bin underneath the poster. He’s unusually quiet as he returns and thumps back into his seat.

I feel that I, somehow, have to break the silence, before he slips from melancholy to rage. There’s little I can think of other than —

“So, I hope you don’t mind me asking — was anyone else with you?”

Jay looks at me, his deep blue eyes turning from anger to sorrow. “There was one guy, one of her friends; he came back from the bar with us to the house for the after-party. I don’t know his name, just that he came into the room while we were getting a bit...heated —“ His eyes momentarily flash with that wry charm Jay has in spades, “- not that it put her off in any way; I just assumed she had a voyeuristic streak. I went with the flow; after a while, it seemed like he’d just passed out, so we carried on. It’s after that this all happened.” He gestured vaguely towards the ward.

“So whatever happened must have happened when you went for your water, right? And where has he gone now?”

“That’s the only idea I’ve got about it all. But I was only gone for a few minutes. By the time I got back to the room, he’d gone.”

“That can be enough, though. As I say, whatever happened must have been while you were out of the room.” My inner desire to Sherlock my way through this mystery is almost unbearable. Again, I’m left with the unshakable feeling that this situation could become positive, a feeling I need to withdraw from my psyche with some urgency.

“You’re right, but...” He pauses. Pregnant. “...she didn’t have anything on her and he was knocked out. I don’t understand...” Now, he looks at me, boring into me, searching for something. “...how.”

“Look, mate, don’t panic for now. Let’s worry once we know more about how she is.”

Once more, sonorous silence.


After a while, a white coat emerges from beyond a portal. He carries a clipboard and the frown of a man deputised to deliver bad news. His eyes scour the room, landing uncertainly on each of the would-be patients and nervous accompaniments dotted around the waiting area, before settling on Jay. The warmth I had otherwise cocooned against the draw of the metal seat was leeched from me; I can see from his pallor that Jay is experiencing the same. The doctor gently walks towards us, then, clipboard at the ready, looks directly into Jay’s eyes.

“Are you the gentleman who brought in the young lady who had passed out?”

“Yeah, Doc, I’m Jay.” Jay stands, visibly rattled.

“Please could you come with me? Your friend can come as well, if you want.” Cold, direct.

“Yeah, okay.” Jay looks at me; I don’t need him to ask to know what that look means. I stand and follow as the doctor leads him back through the portal from whence he emerged.

We walk down the intensive care ward corridor, past one, two, ten bodies trapped on beeping machines, blue and white uniforms hurriedly weaving webs of care around them. A feeling of deja-vu tickles against the back of my mind, a pink sensation. I can’t pin the thought, so I box it for later. The doctor takes a turn left, into a small, dimly lit corridor, with walls that look whitewashed instead of being covered with the regulation anti-bacterial plastic coatings. This must be the old part of the hospital, now unused for patient care and employed, instead, as offices and meeting rooms. Conjecture, but the only sensible idea which I have on the matter right now. Another left turn, then a right through two double doors secured by an electronic pass which the doctor quickly moves from around his neck to the small black pad on the wall, then right again — this time, into a small office, with a paper-littered oak-wood desk with a laptop buried in a corner, three cushioned seats set askew from one another, and a bookcase filled with dusty medical tomes with unkempt covers. As the doctor quickly reorganises the seats into a triangle, I cast my eye over the broken spines: the usual collection, Gray’s Anatomy, The Journal of Investigative Medicine, Macleod’s Clinical Examination, and the like, but some interesting other choices too — and one book which seemed entirely out of place. At the bottom-right of the bookcase, almost hidden beside yet another book on surgery, was a thin red spine — deep red, the colour of maraschino — with gold filigree darting across the leather. I try to look closer, hypnotised by its presence, but my focus is broken by the doctor, who gently but firmly presses me down into one of the — I must admit, extremely comfortable — seats.

“Right, Jay — do you mind if I call you Jay?” A pause so subtle that you could slice it with a cat-hair. “Your friend is in a bad way. We’re concerned — and I’ll be honest with you here — that she’s going to have to spend some time with us while she recovers.” Jay looks like he’ll join her shortly after. “Now, we don’t know the circumstances surrounding her...illness, but she seems to have taken something quite strong. As such, the usual drug prevention laws apply, and we have to hold her for further testing, even if she doesn’t make it. Moreover, we’ve had to inform the Police, who will be here shortly in order to take statements from you about what happened. They will want you to be separate from this gentleman -“, gesturing at me without looking, “- for that, though they’re happy for you to remain together until then. They do, however, want me to make sure you’re secure until then as they don’t want anyone absconding before they’ve had a chance to, er, probe you for details, if you’ll pardon the expression.” He stands, resolutely. “There is a bathroom just across the hallway, refreshments in the staff room at the end of the corridor on the left, and there are other little offices you can go and sit in if you want some times separately, however I will be leaving you here for now.” He walks towards the door; Jay stands too, attempting to block his way.

“You can’t leave us here?!” He exclaims.

“Not only can I, Jay, I must. I have patients to attend to and you have to be secured. That’s all I can do for now. I have, as you can see, tried to make you as comfortable as I can, but you must comply.” His steely-certainness is unnerving. He pushes past Jay and walks unrelentingly towards the double doors; one swipe and he’s away. The doors thump with surety behind him; Jay, dumbfounded, jogs up the corridor and start’s hammering on the doors, shouting to be let out.

I, on the other hand, cannot help but twist my head back towards the book on the shelf. I stand up and move over to the bookshelf, descending to a crouch beside its cover. I reach out with one finger, pulling the top of the book out to me, releasing a small plume of dust and ancient sebum from the volume next to it. The book comes easily from its cradle, and I grip it between finger and thumb, reverently removing it from its place. The cover, definitely leather, is vivid along its whole face — there are no spots of wear or damage anywhere on its rough surface — with the filigree from the spine reaching around and across both sides of the book. Below the decoration is a series of characters, also in the same filigree-gold; they spell out the title of a glorious tome, one of my favourites from school – The Mysterious Affair at Styles. My finger runs over the detail, feeling how the symbols and the decoration have both been inset into the cover. This isn’t leaf — these are veins of gold embedded into the leather itself, a gilt nervous system. Delicately, I open the cover of the book. On the first page, centred and bold, are the same words as on the front cover. The ink used to print this page seems raven — an unforgiving black which almost feels like a hole has been drilled through the page, through everything, to present these images. They’re almost uncomfortable to look at.

“What is that?”

I twist on my heel and jump up at the same time, unbalancing myself and dropping the book. In my focus, I hadn’t realised Jay had come back into the room. I bend down and grab the book, putting it into my jacket pocket quickly. I don’t know why I felt I needed to feel ashamed about this, but I wanted to take it – I hadn’t held a proper hardback book of fiction, made of paper and leather and workmanship, since almost before my living memory.

“Oh, just this book I’ve been reading. I had it in my jacket just in case we were going to be long.” The less he knows about the burglary the better, under the circumstances — I should be paying attention to his needs, not being distracted by personal desire for something as simple as a book. That said, having made the split-second decision to take it, I would rather he didn’t picture me as a thief, regardless of its momentary accuracy.

“I can’t be arsed with reading outside work; did enough of that at Uni.”

Tangible relief. “Haha, I knew you’d say that. I’ll finish it off when I get home, anyway, now you’re back.”

“Thanks, mate, I appreciate the support.” He smiles, a genuine and soulful smile, and I know that I’ve said the right thing here. Wingman Jay, drinking and dancing Jay, flirting with everyone that isn’t a best mate Jay, does have a soft, vulnerable side. It’s that side of him which drew us together as friends, when we’d first met at school, I recall.

I remember the snow. Cold, wet and awkward, it meant that getting to school was a slow and moist affair. In order to reach the comprehensive Academy, that my working-class parents had selected as my third choice school but had been overruled by local selection policies meaning that only the rich kids commuted to the two ‘outstanding’ schools in the area, I had to climb a steep hill. Me and twelve hundred other mountaineers, scaling and descending five out of seven. On this particular day, however, the snow made the climb even more challenging. I’d only been at the school for a year, only really made friends from within my form group and in my English class. Slipping and sliding feet at a time back towards the base of the hill meant that it took great concentration and effort to clamber to the peak of this daily drudge.

As I approached the apex, I saw — from the very corner of my vision, I almost missed it — somebody on the floor. Kneeling. I decided that, as that could so easily have been me, I’d go over and see what was wrong. As I approached, I saw shaking — I’d assumed due to the cold, but it became more and more overt that this was the shaking of a crying child, a peer in distress. I kneeled beside and asked what had happened.

“Nothing.” Sniff. Eyes wiped with a sleeve. The usual, accurate, clichés. “Go away.”

“No, not until you’re alright. What happened?” I insist.

“I fell. That’s it. Just hurt my knee, though, and the lads from year ten saw me go over. I looked a complete twat.”

I put my arm around the boy, hoping that the minor show of solidarity would help. He pushed my arm off him, sniffled and wiped again, then unsteadily stood up.

“I’m alright, honestly.” He lies with aplomb.

“Look, at least let me help you over the top of the hill, then you can make your own way.”

He looked at me, all red-eyes and water. “Alright.”

I helped him up; I did as I promised. He, instead of leaving me to it, stayed walking beside me.

Sensing my internal query, he said, “Well, I might need you again, just in case.”

It was a moment of little consequence, in the grand scheme of things, but it had led to this specific moment. Since I’d helped him up, we’d always propped each other, pretty much through thick and thin. Every scrape, every fight, every new computer game that absolutely had to be played start to finish on the Friday night it was released... Our parents called us inseparable — it actually crafted one family out of two, them growing to support each other just as much as we did — in particular, my parents were on hand to console Jay’s mom when his dad died, while I made sure Jay didn’t derail. Conversely, along with many other situations, he supported me through THAT break-up.

“What are you thinking?” He pipes up; it feels like an age since the last time we spoke to one another, but a glance at the clock details just four-minute’s passage.

“Honestly? Just thinking about how we met and some of the things we’ve got through over the years.”

He chuckles to himself. “Yeah.” Silence again.

Realising I’ve not really paid attention to my surroundings, I survey the rest of the room. The paper on the desk is arranged into dishevelled piles. On some, the scrawl one can only attribute to those who’ve spent so long taking lecture notes that they can no longer write legibly. Others, doodles and flowers, clearly drawn when phone calls were edging towards the extraordinarily dull. On the walls, the usual collection of old NHS posters outlining the almost life-or-death need to use alcohol hand gel after touching things — any things – in the hospital, alongside newer posters from whichever company was running whatever ward they had bid for at that point in time. I stand and wander over to the desk, the book weighing heavily. I absentmindedly move a few scraps of paper around, flicking through notes about new drugs, memos from ‘above’ describing new procedures to try and which patients to reject without treatment — nothing too controversial, admittedly, since the companies became overt about their desire to only treat those who could afford it — and deliberations on conditions hitherto unseen or untreatable. I continue flicking, not really paying attention to the pile of papers I’ve moved. Then, trying not to draw attention to myself, I gently turn and return to my seat next to Jay, who is still sitting with his head in his hands. I say nothing — the less, at this point, I consider.

Eventually, a rap at the door. Involuntarily, we both raise and twist our faces to look at who walks through; in plods the doctor who had deposited us in this room, accompanied by two police officers. They seem officious, plainly ignoring the doctor and bee-lining to Jay.

“Hello, sir. Are you Jay?” intones the first. Long gone are the days when an officer of the law must introduce himself in conversation.

“Yeah, I’m Jay.” He stands, holding out a hand — impeccable breeding, courtesy of his mother. The police officer looks at Jay’s hand, then looks back into his face. There is no other motion from him. Jay lowers his hand, sufficiently aware of where he stood in this situation.

“Jay. We need to discuss how you came to be here this evening. Please could you follow us?”

“Of course, officer.”

The two policemen turn and exit the room; Jay glances at me before following them, with a look of abject terror in his eyes. The doctor takes up the rear; he gently shuts the door behind himself, leaving me solitary.

A few minutes pass. Nobody returns — I suspect that this may be a longer interview than Jay had planned, and I make the executive assumption that the doctor won’t return until Jay does. Quickly, I pull the book out of my pocket; I flick through the pages, taking in the joy of the smell and the feel of each page.


Three times.

Not reading yet, just feeling.

I refuse to allow this to be the moment I enjoy this. I put the book back into my pocket, feeling its comforting weight against my chest. Filled with a sense of loss at having decided to relinquish this moment to the future, I decide to be bold: I sweep the paper out of the way of the computer partially hidden underneath it all and open the lid. The machine is clearly about a decade old, grimy and slower to start than my computer at work. Nervously, I keep checking the door to make sure nobody has come back in — I consider that I can very quickly slam the lid shut if somebody does, but they’ll still know I was on it — while the start-up screen cycles. Eventually, it silently flashes into life. I load the web browser on the desktop. I think, briefly, about what to search for when I decide, instead, that I need to see what they’ve looked at themselves. I tap the history tab; all the websites recently — which, in itself is humourous, as it’s clear that this computer hasn’t been used for a year or so — populate the list with immediacy. I scan down the list. This was a long shot, so I’m genuinely surprised when I see a link — a single link, accessed a year and a half ago — to a website. A single character title. Poirot. Quickly, I tap the link and wait. The page loads slowly but with determination; a black background, on which words populate. I search the desk for a pen, finding one hibernating under a cairn of discarded post-it notes, and scribble the website address onto an unused note. I thrust it into my pocket, then shut down the computer and close the lid – I’m left intrigued about why this book, why now, and why would someone else be so drawn to it too?

Time passes slowly as my mind mulls these thoughts. I find my leg bouncing up and down with unconscious boredom as I clock-watch. I need to take my mind off what’s in this office; I can’t process it until I get home, as I need to be somewhere I can focus and I can guarantee I won’t be seen. Thus, I begin to daydream — to remember.

There were 5 empty bottles of rosé; I had only drunk 2 of them. There were seemingly endless amounts of other drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) at this Bacchanalian, but our little cluster had reserved ourselves for the sweet pink and the resulting loss of inhibitions that followed. This was the night I regained an old friend and made a new one. It was the night that I remembered myself, and the night that saved my life.

It was the first time I’d seen Jay in about six months, since we’d both been focussing on Uni. I was seeing my then partner, and been drawn away from various social circles through educational ambition and, due to moving into a flat with my partner, various home comforts. We’d stayed in touch, of course, and I knew there would be no problem meeting up again, but I wondered how much I’d still know him. He was bringing his current housemate with him to the party: a housewarming for a mutual friend who founded the mixed-gender football club we both played for while we were at school.

I’d arrived, as usual, a little early, and felt a little lost. Casa Debauchery wasn’t huge, having only two bedrooms, a living room, one bathroom and a kitchen/diner, and it was quite badly decorated, it’s most recent prior inhabitants being some rather unclean students. The host was doing a very good job of hiding or fixing the very worst of the damage, but the flat was still in need of some loving care: paint was peeling from most of the walls, the toilet needed industrial assistance, and the kitchen was cold and bare. The living room, however, was tastefully furnished in Ikea furniture, with a study space designated separate by a computer desk.

There were a great number of people already there, none of whom I knew, having been disconnected from the host for almost 3 years as well. I made small talk, and slowly absorbed the Burgundy I’d fortuitously remembered to buy on the way to the party. Just as I began to feel slightly more sozzled and slightly less like a spare part (alcohol being great at encouraging you to make friends with people you’ve never met before), Jay arrived, bringing Lars in with him.

Jay had changed very little since the last time I’d seen him: he now sported a shaved head, his only visible difference. He was also now minus the partner he’d had 3 years prior, which was no great loss (she was Eastern European, with no chin and a personality that could sand floors).

Lars, his house-mate, was a revelation to me. A part-Swedish brick wall of a man in his mid-twenties, Lars can only be described with one word: stunning. When he said “Hello!”, I noticed his fairly obvious trained accent: well-spoken and caramel-smooth. There was a hint of arrogance in his voice: it didn’t detract from his attractiveness; if anything, it added to it, giving a confidence to his tone that drew almost everyone to him. His speech was indicative of one who had received elocution lessons, but this didn’t make him aloof; he was, other than Jay, the friendliest person in the room, willing to speak to anyone and to be both part and centre of attention. Moreover, Lars was... different. At 6’2”, he was rather taller than me, athletic physique, and that 5 o’clock shadow that draws me immediately to a man. I was fully aware that I was in a long-term relationship, but there was just something about him that put me on edge, something that made me pensive about approaching him; I was immediately, inexorably attracted to him. I chose to override my instincts, on this occasion, and nervously introduced myself to him. We hit it off immediately.

The evening, from there, was a whirlwind of alcohol and singing. Someone had the bright idea of putting a ‘hits of the Noughties’ CD on, which led to the entire party automatically descending into nostalgic singalong. I have only flashes of memory of the night beyond this point: dancing like a lunatic in the kitchen; discussing hairdressing with a guy called Simon; finding myself talking to Lars... finding myself getting closer to Lars... finding myself kissing Lars...

We’d all, at around 4am, got a taxi back to Jay and Lars’ house, after having continued the singalong by howling a number of ancient pop songs at rather high volume on the street outside the party. Once we'd arrived at the house, Jay, smiling at me, went to his room, and Lars and I remained downstairs to continue our conversation. I was quite lucid at this point, and was enjoying the company of someone who gave me the butterflies in my stomach that I hadn't ever felt with my partner. Time passed, and Lars and I sat closer to one another. I melted into him when he held my hand, when we kissed... I allowed him to lead me up to his room.

I woke up wrapped, somewhat akin to a sausage roll, in a quilt on a leather sofa. At some point, I'd decided to wrap myself in a spare duvet, and fall (somewhat face first) into the pillows on the sofa downstairs. Perhaps it was guilt, perhaps it was reflection; all I know for sure is that my head hurt immensely. Something that night had told me that what I was doing was terribly wrong, but also desperately right. I was finally awake after years of slumber.

It’s unsettling that these memories come back to me unbidden, particularly when they force me to examine parts of my life I’ve attempted to bury. That night was... hedonistic. Not at all in character. In fact, it’s more the sort of thing that Jay would do. I smile to myself — briefly — before I glance at the clock; an hour has passed, yet I’m still alone in the room. My concern for Jay rises dramatically; where have they got him and why do they still have him an hour later, considering he has done nothing wrong?

Precipitously, the door bursts open. Standing there, ashen and trembling, is Jay. “They’re letting me go, for now. I’ve had to agree to stay ‘inland’, as if I’m going to flee to France or something. Any chance I could stay at yours, mate? I don’t think I can face being alone at the moment.”

“As if you need to ask.” I say, solidly. He definitely needs the support.

“They’ve put me on the ‘Identify Driver’ list, apparently, to stop me trying to get in a car and disappear.”

“You wouldn’t have done that anyway, though.” Jay isn’t the sort to run away from his problems — which is mostly the reason he gets himself into this sort of trouble.

“I know, I told them that — but they seemed keen for me to understand that the option wasn’t there anymore.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fair enough. Right, how do we get out of here?”

On cue, the doctor pushed the door open, silently beckoning for us to follow him out of the room, out of the ward and out of the hospital. In my pocket, like a gentle knife into my conscience, the book tapped my side.

We arrive back at my place, which is a little unkempt due to my early call to action. On the way here, Jay has been uncharacteristically silent, predominantly sitting with his head in his hand, eyes blankly staring out of the passenger window. Advent was similarly solemn, with him soundlessly sliding out of the car, the heavy atmosphere broken only by the sound of the car being alarmed. I honour the necessity by just opening the door and walking Jay to the flat. Once in, he sits weightily onto the sofa; I, filled with genetic memory, put the kettle on and drop teabags into two identical Ikea mugs. The TV flashes into life; I suspect that Jay has become unable to continue processing his own thoughts and has decided on background noise as a foil to his inside voice. The TV is still playing the news channel. Instinctively, I grab the remote and flick to an entertainment channel; while I don’t know if anything may have leaked to the press, I wouldn’t like for Jay to see news about today’s events scroll by while he’s trying to forget them. As the opening credits of an Australian soap-opera garishly fill the screen, and having passed Jay a cup of hot tea, I make a nature-call excuse and slip out of the room, pausing briefly to withdraw the book from my coat pocket.

Once in the now-locked bathroom, I sit atop the plastic lid of the clinical-white toilet and set the extractor fan running, for nothing more than the bleaching noise it creates as counterpoint to the silence. I turn the book over in my hands, looking again at its drying cover and rough edges. Sitting, on this throne of effluence, I open the first page and read.

Jay taps the door. “You alright mate?”

Knocked out of focus, I notice that I’m around a score or so of pages into the book. “Yeah, sorry! I was just reading.”

“Yeah right, your phone’s out here – I bet you’re just wanking!”
“I’m rolling my eyes hard, Jay.”

“Not the only thing that’s hard then, dirty bastard!”

“Har har!”

I put the book in a box I keep next to the sink for toilet rolls. There’s no reason not to have this book, other than the obvious fact I purloined someone else’s property, but I feel strange about it, still. I reflect that the last time Jay and I would spend time together in the same house was at Uni.


I’m awake without fail and two full hours before the dreaded 9am alarm, today. The first Sunday in some time where this has been the case (Sunday is normally for lounging in bed until around 10am, before reluctantly remembering that I need to apply myself to laundry and housework), I bound about the flat.

I don’t notice that Jay isn’t present, as expected, until I go down to the car.

Which is gone.

My eye twitches.

Instead of having an aneurysm over Jay’s grand theft auto, I instead tap my phone to hail a taxi. I’m sure he’ll return it in vaguely the same condition in which it was when he lifted my spare key from the pot in the living room in which it is kept.

Noiselessly, the electric cab sails to a halt. It’s very odd travelling in a car which, inside, is essentially a small, luxurious waiting room — for you to wait in whilst it automatically whooshes one to a pre-selected destination, ready to hop out and go having paid automatically thought your linked debit card. They’d become particularly popular when people realised that they were often much more luxurious than cars which could be bought for oneself and were remarkably cheap during off-peak hours now that there was no driver to pay for. I genuinely only keep my car because the surge pricing during peak hours is crippling for anybody other than the super-rich and because, even if you could afford one, they’re few and far between, being lured through algorithms to the city centres, where the money is. I swing open the coach door and slide into the forward-facing seat. The door closes itself as it feels my weight depress the fabric, then the seatbelt alert highlights that I’m not moving as quickly as the software would like; these taxis are still intended to make a profit, after all. I quickly snap the belt into place, then settle into the supple synthetic leather while the car starts towards the University.

I take the opportunity to gaze out of the window and daydream. In front of my eyes, hazy and half-remembered, swim the symbols from the book, twisting and turning in the passing skyline. Some combined, briefly, making new shapes which merged with the flapping of the herring gulls which prey upon the interesting organisms which live in the canals which swerve serpentine throughout the city. One swoops; a symbol dives with it towards an unsuspecting minnow beneath the shallow surface of the water. One lands atop a long-defunct chimney pot; a symbol dances around the aperture as if buffeted by the unseen smoke of an old coal fire. One circled an unseen enemy; a symbol dithers and descends from the sky as if a snowflake being carried by a gentle breeze towards its moist decline. I am hypnotised by the micro-vibrations of the electric motor of the car, the ballet of the herring gulls and the dancing of the symbols within my mind. My eyelids flutter; perhaps I awoke too early...

The car smoothly skitters to a halt outside the University. I, suddenly fully awake, hop out of the cab and run towards the doors. Once inside, I’m accosted by the aroma of old, oiled wood; these halls of learning, doused in pomp, bring many memories back to me; perhaps, however, for another day. I’m focussed on my destination — the reception desk directly ahead of me. I march there, determined; the blonde bob with red horn-rimmed glasses looks up and over the top of the spectacles in order to judge the dreadnought heading towards her.

“Hello, how may I help you?”

“Hi; I used to come here. I’d like to remember my time, if I can?”

“Alumnus ID number?”

A flurry of touchscreen taps, then a visitors badge is unceremoniously thrust at me. I take the badge; the hand is repurposed as a pointing device, to dismiss me. The LED lamps dotted about the entry hallway had been programmed to dot and sway akin to the old fluorescent tubes they replaced — turning a battleship requires time and patience, I reflect, and Universities are not known for quickly admonishing tradition and any given ‘accepted way’. Even the seats, though clearly new, evident courtesy of the materials of construction (you didn’t see many carbon fibre waiting room chairs when I was a kid), had been purposefully distressed to give them the appearance of age, in a style they’d begun to refer to as ‘retro-modern’, the combination of modern materials and previous styles, with the object aged to make it look vintage. They’d begun the trend in the mid-2000s with t-shirts and jeans, the fashion industry leading the way to a wholesale shift in the art world; soon after, we’d had AI painting original synthetic oils in the Renaissance style, neo-Gothic architecture made of 3D-printed plastics directly in position, and these chairs — carbon-fibre Bauhaus. The universities, obviously, had loved this — they could replace old, worn out furnishings with the same tired look, made from new, durable, cheaper materials. They often even managed to turn a profit by selling off the old as originals, drawing more money for them used than they were worth when first purchased. A cottage industry which, in some cases, saved many small campuses from collapse or conglomeration after the closing of the borders to sub-prime international students (a Government decision to limit the number of foreigners here on a student visa — which loosely translated to anybody who couldn’t ‘donate’ a couple of million to the Treasury alongside their hundred grand tuition fees). Even when I was at Uni, the number of students from abroad was diminishing, particularly on courses which were below Masters-level; sad, I reflect, as it has taken away a much-needed perspective from higher learning. Ah well, nothing to be done now it’s done.

I’m back at University.

The morning has broken; thanks for waking me so early with darkness, the early sound of a holiday half-celebrated, and the broken promise of snowflakes. When I was cruelly tricked into leaving the warmth of the flat, I was never told that the shapely clouds and nip in the air simply meant I'd be shivering into my steaming coffee.

Since my days became graced with abhorrent 9am lectures and life-wasting 5-hour gaps (6 today, 6. Forgot to mention that cancellation, didn't you? Thanks.), I’ve grown apart from the concept of study. I've become less tolerant. It's a real shame, this unwelcome and unwanted change.

Last year, Tuesdays were the day we awaited; Monday is a party-goer, with his Union parties and almost expected trips to Loaf for a final dance, a few more beers, and a hope of an indiscretion, but Tuesday was who we all woke up with for pizza and classic British comedy. We loved her blankets on the floor, her bizarre games (photos of which ended up all over the Internet), her movie nights (which saved us an absolute fortune – I even made pizza from scratch a few times to thank her for being great), and in return she loved us back, keeping herself free for these waxen shenanigans.

What has happened since then? I'll tell you: Uni became more serious. I’ve started littering open text books around the flat and turning the TV off, reneging on ordering of delivery foodstuffs and instead choosing to trip-trap off to the library. The fun left. Now I'm resigned to black coffee, soul-eating gaps, and an empty chair where others once would have sat and kept me laughing until Wednesday's gentle hand took mine.
If I'm honest, I reflect and acknowledge that the change is mostly down to me. I started to realise how much effort my degree may require; my work patterns had become erratic; I lacked available money in a way I'd never done before: we simply saw less of the fun. Saturday has somehow become Tuesday’s avatar. Don't get me wrong, I love Saturday, as it’s when we all get together for the usual nightclub-kebab-regret cycle, but... Well, Saturday’s a bit of a tourist. It comes and goes, always changing plans, bringing new and brief 'mates' all the time. Not like the old days, with our plans in stone and solid group of good friends. The friends still exist, but the 'golden age' has passed, somewhat.

Change is a good thing, as it refreshes the mind, but I do miss how these days were. We'll all keep in touch, I'm sure, and we'll have cause and opportunity to relive the past when we meet for those reunions we’re always told the University positively encourages (whilst positively encouraging donations to the trust). Until then, the chair remains empty.

I look blankly at the walnut-veneer walls, having lost my train of thought. Fortunate, really, as my old Languages lecturer, Penny, arrives immediately then from around a corner at the far end of the foyer. She catches my eye; her demeanour immediately shifts from tense and harassed to buoyant and vivid. I’m pleased that she remembers me, particularly as we didn’t know each other that well at Uni beyond lectures. Her curly, brown hair bounce full of life upon her hazel-jacketed shoulders as she hurriedly walks towards me. I stand, open armed; she embraces me in warmth.

“Oh, how lovely to see you!”

“Thank you – it’s been too long, I’d assumed you’d forget...”

“Don’t be silly, how could I forget that essay you wrote on how language is used to obfuscate the truth in detective fiction?” Playful.

I am abashed. “Thank you – I hadn’t even thought...”

“Well, I was impressed! I always thought it a shame that I didn’t get to teach you for any other modules. Anyway, manners – would you like a coffee?”

I nod gently in order to convey my acquiescence. She pulls away from the embrace, smiles and spins on her heel.

After a series of complex twists and turns, sharp and soft, we arrive at her lab. It’s less clinical than I was expecting; she had banks of computers, surrounded by mountains of books, each describing a multitude of symbolic languages, all frayed edges and mottled leather. She spots me looking at them.

“I don’t know why we still use the originals, to be honest; we digitised everything in the library about five years ago, so everything is on these things.” She waves a nonchalant hand which, having swept by the table next to her, now contains a tablet computer, razor-thin and glassy. She slides the device into her pocket. She uses the now-free hand to beckon me into a glass compartment at the back of the lab, a makeshift office of sorts. We lean into to a corner wherein an old Krups filter coffee machine sits on an old school table. Next to it, small pots of ground coffee, little sealed individual milk cartons, little squares of paper-wrapped sugar portions. Penny reaches up to a little shelf above all of this, where stacked neatly are a number of mass-produced mugs and pots of teaspoons. She grabs two mugs and a teaspoon, then puts them in front of the machine; a filter and a couple of spoons of ground beans later, the machine gleefully chugs hot water into the jug beneath. The room fills with the sweet aroma of Arabica; presently, Penny removes the jugs and pours a healthy amount into the two mugs. I notice that our conversation has limited during this; I feel that both of us have so much to think about that we’ve not processed each other’s presence. I, for one, am flitting in thought between wondering where Jay is and thinking about the past. I look at Penny; she is looking at the table while warming her hands around the mug. Then, she looks up; she must have realised I was looking at her. She smiles.

“So what brings you here today?”

“Honestly, I’m just trying to find myself. I thought that, by visiting Uni again, I’d get a sense of who I was then.

“I can understand that. It might be why I never left!” She smiles, gentle and caring.

We chat about my time there; I recall events and she supplements them with the insider track, the information that wouldn’t otherwise be available – the reason why that lecturer always seemed a little drunk was because he got tanked at lunchtimes because his wife had left him, the reason the Student Union was so small was because the Vice-Chancellor at the time disliked student politics because they tended to produce left-wingers and he was deeply right-wing... This doubling of my past lasted an hour or so before Penny indicates that she has to go to teach.

“Just before you go,” I say, tentatively, “can I show you something I found?”

“Of course!”

I fish the book out of my jacket pocket, handing it to her delicately.

“Oh, this is beautiful!” She exclaims. “The workmanship here is superb.” She opens the cover and looks at the first page. “The ink has kept well; Agatha Christie would be very pleased to know that one of her works has lasted this long, I’m sure!”

“I don’t know why I’m so drawn to it, to be honest. It’s just a book.”

She looks at me. Half smiles. “Sometimes, things with history help to remind us of our own.”

Outside, I hail a cab. One arrives almost immediately, then silently glides towards home. In the cab, I’ve time to think. It’s night-time and it’s raining; the white noise and the flashing lights of the LED lamps are hypnotic, allowing me to relax and fall into an almost meditative state.

The cab arrives at home; I step out, hood raised, into the rain. I climb the stairs leisurely, then open the door to the apartment. Jay is on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket and holding a can of lager. There’s a number of empty cans on the table — three... no, four. Two and a half litres of beer probably isn’t good for anybody. I shout a quick “Hi, mate!”, then swerve into my room. Jay is still lying on the sofa, wrapped in his blanket and sipping gently on the can. I need to muster up some conversation in order to process what he’s been through. I drop my jacket on the floor, book still ensconced within.

“So... What happened, mate?”

He looks at me through sunken eyes. “I went home.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, I went to my old house, the one from when we were at school. I just wanted to feel some normality. I just parked outside for a bit — it didn’t feel the same going back.”

“It wouldn’t, mate, your folks haven’t lived there for years.”

“Nostalgia. That’s all it was. I went to the pub around the corner from there for a quick small, which lasted as long as it took for the screen to show my face as a main suspect in the case. They’ve released me in order to make the public root me out.” He looks at me, tearfully. “I swear to you, I didn’t do this. I swear.”

“Jay, I know. I trust you. Believe me, if I thought you’d done this, I wouldn’t have you in my home, would I?” I realise that this isn’t reassuring, but it was all I could think of. He really looked like this had taken its toll on him — from finding the girl to being told he was being treated as a flight risk, I can only imagine the effect on his psyche.

“Thanks. Really, I mean it. You’re my best friend, mate.” He holds my hand. Keeps holding it.

“No worries. You need another beer?” I don’t really mean to ask this, but it seems right. He probably shouldn’t have another.

“No, thanks. I’m pretty tanked.”

“Alright. I’m gonna have one, though. Want to put on a film?” Play for the safe options, I say.

“Yeah, go on then. What are you thinking?”

“Die Hard. Our favourite.” A smile tells me all I need to know about that selection. I press a few buttons on the remote and the screen blinks into life, straight into the film. I stand up and move to the fridge, retrieve a Sapporo, then sit back in my seat. This is friend time. I resolve to wait until at least twenty minutes into the film; with the amount that Jay has thrown back, he’ll probably be asleep by then.

As Jay’s gentle snore rises, I swear that I’m clairvoyant. I need to put some money on lottery tickets. I walk to my jacket and retrieve the book, taking a moment to hang the jacket up properly after lifting the tome from its inner pocket. Jay’s snoring has reached a sonorous hum; I take myself to my room, leaving the TV (after turning it down a little) so that Jay can continue to sleep to the background noise. Then, after clambering into bed, I lose myself at Styles.


I awake to the sound of clattering around the flat. Jay must be up; it sounds as if he’s attempting to make some sort of porcelain symphony, plates and cups clinking and crashing in the kitchen. I drag myself from beneath the sheets, Dolly my way to the bathroom and brush my teeth. I feel I need a moment of calm before I check what’s going on in there.

I construct an outfit based entirely on my ability to throw it on quickly, choosing last to put on a light jacket with a deep inside pocket, into which I ensconce the book, it’s cover comforting me, providing an anchor point to my past. Dressed and brushed, I leave the room and aim for the living space. Jay is in there, clearly throwing together a fry-up and coffee for two. He turns and spots me in the doorway.

“Morning! Thought I’d treat us to breakfast.”

“That’s really kind, thank you.”

“It’s honestly my pleasure.” A kind smile. It lingers. “What time have you got work today, mate?”

“Actually, I’m going to knock today on the head.” He looks at me, a mixture of inquisitiveness and surprise.

“Unlike you to skive off — what have you got planned?”

“I’ve got a few places I need to be today, a few things I want to work out. You’re welcome to come, though; it’d be great to have the company.”

“Oh, cool, okay then.” Jay immediately smiles again; I’m looking forward to giving him the opportunity to take his mind off the nonsense of the last few days. He plates up breakfast and we eat, bracketed by small-talk about the weather, the TV programmes he’s been watching to avoid the news, the political landscape. Finished, we clear away the mess into the dishwasher and stand, prepared and resolute.

“Right, let’s get ready. Could be a pretty cold day, so bring a coat.” I don’t know what today will be like — I haven’t turned the TV on to find out — so, we probably need to prepare for most eventualities. What I haven’t told Jay is that this excursion, if successful, could lead to a few days away. By asking him to prep for anything, then he’ll most likely bring his coat and jumper rather than just the t-shirt on his back and the jeans he lives in. I intend the same, packing a small bag once we’ve separated. Into the holdall, I carefully place the book, my tablet, a few toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes. Not enough to disappear, but enough to leave for a few days. Finally, I put a hat, gloves, scarf, and a gardening trowel — a secret Santa gift from a superior at work who had no concept that people could live in houses without even window gardens – into the bag. I don’t know where this journey will end, so I’m a Scout.

“Where are we heading then, mate?” I hear Jay shout from the living room.

“Tell you when we get there!” I shout back, the smile I bear emphasising my good humour.

“You’re a crap sat-nav, mate!”

We take the lift down to the bottom floor and stride out to the car. From out of nowhere, there is a flurry of flashes and a cacophony of clicking shutters; the press have clearly found out about the girl, hungry for something new to report, have worked out where Jay would be and researched where I live, and are now here for their feeding frenzy. I squeeze us through the throng, pushing against aggressive lenses and penetrating notebooks, hurry Jay into the now-opened car, dash around to the driver’s seat and quickly depart. As the doors lock themselves and the flashes disappear into the rear-view, I’m acutely aware of Jay’s silence.

“This cannot be the rest of my life,” he says, suddenly.

“It won’t be, mate. Don’t worry.”

For the first time in years, I feel like I have purpose, a reason for getting out of bed and getting things done. This is a paradigm shift in my personal life, which had begun to stagnate. I’m thrilled at the possibilities which await.

The car hums beatifically as I point it towards my destination. Through the city I drive, towards the motorway. Where I intend to take him is somewhere I’ve not been since I were a child, but somewhere I know we will be safe.

An hour passes. Jay, some time ago, turned on the stereo and flicked some music from his phone to it. Since then, we’ve mostly been in better spirits, singing along to the various tunes he’s elected to use as our journey playlist. Eventually, in a pause between one song and the next, he asks: “So, where are you taking us?”


“Wow, okay — that’s some distance on a jolly. Why there?”

“I’ll explain more when we get there.”

“I trust you, mate, as always. Anyway, I’m along for the ride, you know I am.”

I smile; Jay returns it. He flicks another song to the stereo and we resume our faux-karaoke.

As the motorway, following the weaving of the River Severn, makes way for the hills and valleys of South Cymru, I internally plot the shortest route to our destination. Since the economic decline, the country formerly known as Wales (but always known as Cymru) fought for and won independence from England, becoming part of the ES. Whilst passports weren’t required to cross the border, one has to be careful to be seen as a tourist rather than an economic refugee. Cymru’s economy has seen dramatic success, in part because of the movement of much financial and service industry moving from the now-defunct London to ES states nearby, predominantly for the non-existent trade barriers but also for the similar culture and work ethic. Many financiers successfully applied for Welsh or Scottish passports during the break-up, meaning that they had the right to live and work in any ES nation; those of us from England without connections did not stand a chance. This is another reason why a small bag is more sensible than a large one — they are less likely to assume you’re trying to flee England.

We approach Trefynwy border control. The federal border checking staff motion for me to halt the car, then offer a gesture which suggests I wind down the window.

“Where are you two going today, then?”

“We’re just heading to Caerdydd to see some friends.” I mustn’t look nervous.

“Alrigh’. Not here to do any work though?”

“No, just visiting.”

“How long for?”

“Just today, actually — we’ll be back over the river by this evening.”

“Good to hear. I’ll put your licence details in the system; we’ll know when you leave, so try to make sure it’s when you say you will.”

“Of course.”

“Well, enjoy Caerdydd. You can go now.”

He motions towards the now rising barrier. I smile, wind the window up and glide through the checkpoint. Stage one, complete.

Jay has been silent throughout this.

“What’s up, mate?”

“Well — officially, I’ve just absconded from the country.”

Neither of us had thought of this.

“Don’t worry, mate, we’ll be back in England in the next few hours. Nobody will even know you’re gone.”

He looks at me, nervously. “Yeah, I know. Just don’t want to make myself look guilty.”

I smile and tap him on the arm. “Don’t worry. Honestly. We’ll be here for two hours, max.”

He remains silent, but continues to flick music to the stereo while we pass into the outskirts of the city; once upon a time, this was known as Casnewydd, but it has since been absorbed into Greater Caerdydd. In itself, it has become a thriving port town, with direct access to the River and, thus, the Bristol Channel out to sea. The hoverships, which are still the cheapest method of goods transport, line up along the coastline like hats atop a glassy display. Beyond the port is mostly residential and shopping, with a motorway tunnel denoting where the old edges of Newport town end and the urban boundary of Caerdydd begins; at the other side of the tunnel, hills and street signs, all dual-language, lead to the centre of the city.

Another half an hour of driving before I exit the motorway, sliding onto the slip road and towards the seat of the Welsh Government, the Senydd at Bae Caerdydd. This grand building had, since devolution became independence, received a number of upgrades, to accommodate a doubling of the houses of government, supplementing (and renaming) the old Parliament with an official Senate (Cyngres and Senedd, respectively). The head of state, the separately elected First Minister, has offices and residence in a newly constructed building nearby; the resulting adjustment to the road system has made this part of town quite difficult to navigate, lots of pedestrianised zones and one way systems. I follow the roads almost blindly, Jay pointing out landmarks and making pithy jokes about leeks. I aim for Parc Bute, a mere two miles from here.

A multi-story car park and a short walk later, we’re in the middle of the park. A vast swathe of grass- and woodland in the centre of the city, Bute Park (as it was known before the Welsh Language (Public Places) Act, voted in by referendum just before independence was claimed) is a sanctuary, a playground and a lung. Given the same designation as green belt land once was, it has been protected by statute and provides recreation and fresh air for miles around. I used to visit here as a child; my aunt moved here many years before I was born and my mother brought me here regularly to visit. I know this park like the back of my hand. Jay and I walk, nattering gently about sights, smells and sounds, towards a grove I used to hide when my aunt and I played hide and seek all those years ago. Once there, I head to the shadiest part of the grove, surrounded on most sides by trees and bushes. I drop my bag on the floor and sit on my haunches.

“So, mate. What have we driven for two hours to do?”

“I just wanted to remember, mate. My past is so fleeting; I remember flashes.”

“I can understand that.”

He begins to relax as a gentle, calming breeze lifts the aromas of the park around him. This was a good idea – he needs this, given the situation. An opportunity to reflect in an environment which isn’t constructed, isn’t observed constantly, and where nobody knows him. I need it too – a break from the norm, for just a few moments.

Jay breaks the silence. “Why specifically here, though?”

“Honestly? I’ve missed coming here. My aunt, who adored this place, would bring us as often as she could. The Afon Taff runs down there -“ I gesture towards the stadium, “- and the trees and plants here are as natural as they could be, being in the middle of a huge city. There’s nowhere else I think I’ve lived where I can just... relax.”

“I feel you. Fancy a drink?”

“I’ve got to drive, Jay, remember. We can’t stay in Cymru.”

“I’m sure the local brewery has some non-alcoholic options...”

Back in the car, after a short time surrounded by nature and a slightly longer time in a local bar, we head down a different motorway towards a different part of the border. The Severn Bridge became a toll bridge again a few years ago, primarily because the cost of crossing is a de facto visa. The price to enter Cymru rose dramatically when it was nationalised after independence, with the primary intention of preventing English migrants. Now, the price has settled to a reasonable €10, only payable by non-ES citizens, though the fluctuating exchange rate means that this can be anywhere between £25 and £100 depending on what decisions are made by the government of the day. Fortunately, it’s still free to exit Cymru, though there is now a border gate on the exit side where there was blissfully free travel before. We approach it gently, once again attempting to look like simple travellers; even leaving can be dangerous if they think you’re suspected of a domestic crime, particularly as there are no longer any reciprocal agreements regarding the return of lawbreakers.

Again, we’re beckoned by a border guard, a woman this time. She carries a terrifyingly large gun for what is an otherwise very slight frame, held by a baldrick over her riot gear. Pre-emptively, I wind the window down.

“Hello, sir. Did you enjoy your visit?”

“I did, thank you. Just reliving some memories from my youth with my friend here.”

“Pleased that you like our country as much as we do. Didn’t do anything naughty while here, did you?”

I attempt to smile without looking guilty of anything. I need to say something which will take her attention away from this train of thought, particularly as Jay looks less capable of processing this question than I am. Instinctively, I take Jay’s hand and hold it, then look directly at the border guard. “Of course not; just visiting some places my aunt took me when I was a kid.”

“Is your aunty Welsh?”

“My great-grandmother was; my aunt moved here before I was born to be closer to her heritage. We visited loads before the borders.”

“That’s lovely. You should think about citizenship, they’ve changed the rules recently because they want those people who can help us become greater to come home. Think about it.”

“I didn’t know that, thank you.”

“Well, you have a lovely afternoon. The computer will register you’ve left Cymru, so you can carry on. Drive safely to your destination.”

“Thank you again.”

The gate rises and we glide through. I raise the window.

“Jay, let go of my hand.” He’s holding onto it so tightly that my fingers are beginning to go numb. Shocked into reacting, he releases my hand immediately.
“Sorry. Just. Thanks.”
“Don’t worry, we got away with it. Back in England, nobody any the wiser. Let’s go home.”

“Alright, mate. Again, you lead and I’ll follow.”

“You may as well be entertained, mate — we’ve got another couple of hour’s drive ahead of us.”

Smiling gently, he takes our his phone.

“Alright. Mind if I read a book?”

“Go for it; the British Library collection will be on there, if you’ve got it?”

“I think so, might have come with my subscription – but I have a book on here I’m reading anyway.”

Silent tapping, gentle buzzing, the odd beep. Jay is clearly entertained. We drive in quiet, and the sun begins to descend. I wonder if it’s sensible leaving him to his thoughts.

“Jay, mate?”

A grunt.
“Could you do me a favour?”

“Go for it, mate.”

“I’m going to take us to a hotel for the night, maybe Bristol, rather than driving home. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, course it is. You’re paying, though, mate.”

“Wouldn’t even have asked you, Jay, I suggested it. Maybe we could grab a few beers?”


He continues to doze gentle whilst we travel towards the centre of Bristol.


On arrival, and having parked the car, we head in separate directions; Jay in the direction the majority of tourists were heading, assuming that was the pub district, and I following the signs ahead towards ‘The Avalon Hotel’, which seemed appropriately named. Once inside the mock Tudor architecture, I am surrounded by even more retro-modern furniture, this time emulating the 16th Century; high backed plastic-wood chairs, upholstered poorly with newer fabrics. The reticulated windows were hazy with smog and dust, seemingly having been left for some time. The place was, therefore, dark; even the LED candles were ineffective at adding sufficient light. Opposite the windows, a mock-Tudor desk is manned by an ancient looking man in a heavy blue blazer, grey shirt and grey trousers; his horn-rimmed glasses sit on the end of his nose, holstered around the back of his neck with a small spectacles rope, his eyes downcast at today’s newsprint crossword. As I approach the desk, those eyes, now displaying very obvious cataracts clouding the blue-grey of his irises, rise and meet with mine. He takes a deep breath and rises from his chair.

“How can I help you?”

“Do you have any vacancies? I’m looking for a twin or a double room.”

“We do, yes. Will somebody be joining you?”

“Yes, my friend, later on.”
“That’s okay. They not with you now?”

“No, he’s shopping in town.”

“Okay. We’ve got a double at the moment, but we’re out of twins. Doubles are a hundred a night” He wheezes, looking at the vacancy book.


He passes me the contactless device and I wave my card over it. The device beeps and asks for PIN confirmation; I dial my pin into the second device and a receipt promptly emerges. He fumbles with tearing the bit of paper, shoves it into a box underneath the counter, then with apparent ease, he spins on his heel and grabs a keycard from the wall behind him.

“You’ll be on the third floor, room three-oh-seven.” I can hear every syllable enhanced, practiced for tourists with less understanding or the tendency to forget. “You’ll be pleased to know that it’s a suite — lucky you.”

“Thank you.”
“Enjoy your room. Be careful — the staircase is quite narrow.”

Which was the very definition of an understatement. Not only was it one person wide, it was also spiral, meaning that you couldn’t see anybody coming down it. Periodically, there were person-sized holes in the wall, no doubt to allow people to pass by one another without ascending or descending to another level. I have to do this a couple of times to allow tourists, all coats and cameras, to continue down to the depths of the hotel; when at the third floor, a left turn and a door on the right and I’m at room Three-Oh-Seven; on the door, a plaque which reads “The Grail Suite”. Of course.

I wave the keycard over the door lock (another anachronism in this false palace), then walk in. The room is overpowering; in the centre of the room is a huge double four-post bed with drapes tied neatly apart. There is a wooden table under a large stained-glass window, over which is draped a lace tablecloth; atop this is an LED candelabra. There is a bathroom through an archway to the left of the table, with a large bath and shower and two porcelain sinks on top of a long reclaimed-oak bench. Having scanned the room, I drop my bag on the floor and sit on the bed. I take my phone out of the pocket and text Jay.

‘I’m at the Avalon, got us a suite. Where are you?’

I don’t expect an immediate response; I tap a location pin then, as a result of knowing his tendency to tardiness. Outside the hotel, the sun is now beginning to set in earnest. The gathering clouds pock the sky with deep grey, ready to sweat over the town. I remember that I always keep a golf umbrella in the boot of the car just in case the walk to work turns out to be wetter than expected, so I detour back to the car park. On the way, unexpectedly, I bump into Jay.

“Alright, mate — thought you were going to the pub?”

“Nah, I decided against it – I feel better walking around than staying still.”

“Makes sense. The hotel is only around the corner — could go to the offie, get a few bottles and just bed in?”

“Sounds great.”

There’s an off-licence around the corner from the hotel; we amble to it, taking time so as not to look worried or hurried. The more natural we look, the less likely that anybody will assume anything is wrong. We walk in and browse the chilled beer aisle and the ales. Jay opts for a ten-bottle case of twist-cap American water and I for a few bottles of local brew; we pick up a selection of snacks and crisps, and a bottle opener for those of us who prefer real beer. Another quick swipe of the card later and we’re out and heading to the hotel.

When we arrive, the hotelier (if he could be called so) is absent. Instead, the gentleman receptionist has been supplanted by a short, dumpy woman of advanced age. Her wispy, platinum hair is arranged in an untidy bun atop her head, which in turn is nose-first directly toward us. She stands in a cloud of lavender and gingham, channelling a movie version of the 1950s. She has eschewed all make-up other than a hint of mascara and what appears to be an oddly mismatching lip gloss, lips with prise themselves apart with a creak.

“Do you have a room?” she says, pointedly.

“We do, room three-oh-seven,” I say, attempting to remain cheerful.

“The suite? That only has one double bed.” A raised eyebrow creates a crushed paper effect across her grey skin.

“Oh, there’ll be no impropriety; we’re a family.”

She looks at each of us in turn, then back at me with incredulity. “You don’t look anything like each other.”

“We’re adopted,” says Jay, thinking with the immense speed that he’s famous for. “Our parents couldn’t have their own kids, so they adopted the pair of us. We’re siblings.”

That seems to placate her latent phobias. She nods, very slowly, and sits back down. We consider this to be her consent to pass and continue towards the spiral, quickly ascending. This time, nobody is heading down — which is a relief as, burdened as we are with alcohol, managing these stairs could be challenging. We pick up the pace to the room once we reach the third floor, barrelling into the room. The door closes quietly and the LED lights flicker into life.

“Gonna be cosy tonight, then.” Jay’s smiling again.

“Keep your hands to yourself — I know what you’re like when you’ve had a few!”

He laughs heartily. “Sod off — I’ve only asked to touch you up once!”

“And what a memory that is!”

He cracks open a beer and takes a deep swig. “Well, you never know, you might get lucky later!” Again, he grins and winks at me. Salacious git. He keeps looking at me, though, long after he’s finished grinning, diminishing into a simple... smile. I break the stare and pop the cap of a bottle. Not bad, this, considering we’re in cider country. The stout is silken, with plum overtones and a bitter cocoa after-taste; it goes straight to my head. I lean forward and grab a chocolate bar, in order to at least add some processing power to my stomach. I realise that Jay and I haven’t eaten since breakfast; he leans forward, arm outstretched, and grabs a packet of salt and vinegar. We both wolf our respective snacks, then go in for more; this time, he chocolate and I crisps. There is a moment of rustling and chewy calm while we revive ourselves, washed down with foamy beer. At the end of the snacks, I realise that the beer is also finished; I’ve drank it far too quickly. Jay has finished his bottle too, but it’s half the size — two hundred and fifty millilitres to my half-litre. He reads my mind, twists the cap from another bottle for himself then pops open the cap from a bottle for me. We clink bottles and silently, internally, utter the word ‘cheers’. Neither of us feels particularly cheery, but it’s part of English genetic heritage — one must not be with a drink and with friends without at least once having a ‘cheers’ moment. We both take a draught.

“How much did you drink, kid?”

“Not as much as I’d like. I only had two bottles.” Indignance.

“Hey, not judging you, just wondering how you came to visit me when you were right there a minute ago, enjoying your beer.”

“Good point. I think it made me a bit drowsy, because of having not eaten.”

“Kid, look — you have take-out where you’re from, right?”

“Take-away? Of course!”

“Why don’t you just order some?”

I wake with a start. Jay is lying next to me, flicking through the books on the other tablet. I grunt gently, having had the fifteen minute nap of a true night owl; Jay looks over at me and grins.

“Enjoy your kip, Sleeping Beauty?”

“I wasn’t out long, though.”

“Nah, not long. But, my God, do you snore.”

A call from outside the door: “Anybody order extra pepperoni?”

We demolish the pizzas that Jay has presciently ordered in silence, judged for the gustatory incongruity by the prints on the walls, their glazed ink-painted eyes gazing upon the drooping mozzarella in static starvation. Soon after, the beers are finished too, with the remaining bottles stacked neatly beside the candelabra and the empties in the bin underneath. It’s now dark outside, with LED streetlamps throwing cold light through the window and onto the pavement below. In my mind, there is a feeling of emptiness. I hadn’t realised that if felt full until now; a weight lifted, as it were. Am I going mad? Not that I have much choice now but to carry on.

“Where’s next on our tour of Great Cities?” Jay is veiling his excitement and, realistically, his exhaustion.

“Home, I think.”

“Yeah, it’s probably about time.” He looks at me with smiling eyes.

We wake up late and check out of the hotel after a few quick ablutions. I programme the destination into the car, then ask it to self-drive. I rarely use this feature as I don’t trust it, but I need to do other things on this journey, not least get a short snooze in. Jay has already begun to doze off; I, too, begin to settle down.

“Welcome back, kid.”

Asleep, again. I must have dozed off in the car. “Hi. Since I’m here, help me: what is life all for?”

“You’ll find out soon. Some of this you have to work out — certain things won’t be possible unless you fathom it.” The dreamcatcher seems to be larger; the smell of the grass is almost overpowering. He seems to have both grown and shrunk since I last saw him, a juxtaposition which requires a headache inducing amount of processing to work out. “Anyway, pay attention. The things you can have for free: you’ll need to use all of your senses when it’s time.”

“Erm, right...”

“Just trust me, kid. You’ll get it when you need it. Now — WAKE UP.” The bass in his voice becomes resonant, the shock pushing me

into consciousness. I blink once, twice, then sit bolt upright. The car, gleefully gliding along the M5, is approaching what looks to be a very large flood across the carriageway. There are no other cars around, but the rain appears to have been pounding for the whole journey; the car hasn’t processed the pond, probably because it blends into the darkness of the tarmac, its gentle ripples the only hint that something here is awry. I receive a sudden flash of understanding and, with panic, grab the steering wheel and plant my foot on the brake, disconnecting the auto-drive. The car slows down, quickly but not violently, before hitting the flood at 50kph and beginning a heart-stopping aquaplane. The car slides along the surface of the water, the tyres unable to displace it at this speed, creating a wheel-spin as the tyres fail to find any grip; I keep my foot gently on the brakes while trying to stop the car from rotating off into the central reservation.

It’s at this point that I hear Jay wake up, with a shout. The car drifts, disconcertingly quickly, to the side of the M5; it begins to bounce as I feel the wheels connecting with the stepped-line of the hard shoulder — then, suddenly, the flood is gone.



Hands, as one. Smiles; teeth; falling.

Grass-smell, symbols around us.

Purple haze, a fog of remembrance through the descent.

Then, light.

Just light.


The moon has ripened and reddened; a lunar eclipse. I must have been so absorbed with all this that I missed it on the news.

I close my eyes.

Sounds are swimming in my mind; I feel as if I’m under instructions and I don’t know how to carry them out, nor do I know how to ignore the instruction. Instead, I just open my mouth, my throat, and attempt to emulate. I keep my eyes firmly closed because I can feel, with not an ounce of external sight required, that Jay is staring at me, judging me, as if I’m possessed. I may very well BE possessed, in truth — who knows. I continue until, abruptly, I hear a sharp crack, like lightning heard too closely. My terrified eyes immediately open; I am surrounded by light. I can make out a bright column of blue light within the white, darting up to the red moon, whereupon it meets with a purple glow; then, at the moment I see it and with little hesitation, the purple light pounces down, carrying the blue column with it and down, continuing down, past the stones and into the earth. Another rumble from within the earth, then the ground in the horseshoe seems to wobble, twist, then develop a violet hue. Within the obsidian horseshoe, what looks like a pool of water appears, glowing gently purple, with ripples flowing over its surface as each stone makes contact with the edge.

I grin; for the first time, I feel I have someone to care for. I hold his hand and walk us both into the purple pool. We’re drawn in, gently but firmly, down, below the surface. The liquid caresses us before promptly disappearing. We’re floating, still holding hands, in space, surrounded by stars, but strangely able to breathe. I look at Jay; he looks serene, his eyes half-shut and his lips curled into a smile. This place feels warm, comforting. Nothing here matters, nothing can harm us. Just... floating, surrounded by stars, holding hands and simply being.

Eventually, our hands merge, integrating, as if formed as a liquid and mixed in a bowl. I look at Jay; he looks back at me, and we’re drawn together, closer. We melt into one another, becoming one. Our consciousnesses are the last to coalesce; I hear his thoughts, his fears (the panic about the girl, the comfort of our friendship, the desire for acceptance) meld into mine (the need for partnership, the incandescent rage against what world had been left to us by our grandparents, the deep lack of understanding of my self), becoming one, answering some questions and raising others. I processed my fears with his mind; he processed his desires with mine. I felt his blood running through my veins; I understood his lasciviousness, he understood my nervousness.

The stars pulled on our cells, broadening them, imbuing them with their energy. We glowed with the fire of a billion fission reactions, purple flames emerging from the edges of our body. The universe around us adjusted accordingly; we created gravity, drawing comets to adjust their path around us, their tails caressing our fire. We drew detritus from a thousand impossible planets, forming rings, then crafting ourselves a shell from the rock and dirt, protective and metallic. We burned and cooled. Oceans formed on our surface as we held each other within one another, tightly, safely. Life came and departed once, twice, a hundred times, on the surface we had made as one. We grew grass and trees and plants and fish.

We were alive.

We drank the smell of bison grass and became one with the life on us.

We saw him, on our surface, planting root vegetables and smiling enigmatically at the soil he brushed over them.

“You alright, kid? Finding yourself?”

“We’re... miasmic.”

“Look, eventually you’re gonna have to snap out of it. This can’t last forever.”

“Why not?”

“Because the world will turn without you in it if you don’t.”

“We don’t know what you mean; we are the world.”

“No, you aren’t. You mustn’t spend your life here.”

“We’ll be okay. We want to experience this for a little longer.”

We drifted our consciousness away from him and back to our tectonic movement. We relocated, shunted ourselves into the abyss, floated away from one star to another; life ended, it became cold, then gently warm again on the surface, as our fire kept the core alive. We accrued gas, became ethereal, spirit.

We fell into a sympathetic orbit of a warm star alongside a giant. We settled and became still.

For centuries, all was calm.

I wake up. The sun is beaming through the window of the room and I notice immediately the sharp smell of sweat. I sit up with a start; how did we get home?

Lazily, it came back to me. The car had slowed more rapidly, but I had been unable to stop it drifting off the side of the road and into the adjacent barrier. With a bump, it had come to an abrupt halt.

Jay had huffed loudly and fallen back into his seat. I’d continued to hold the steering wheel, not comfortable letting go. Eventually, breaking the tension, the car had turned itself off.

We’d looked out of the windows for a long time before I’d realised Jay’s hand had been gripping my leg the whole time.

“Right, so, yes, well, shall we drive in manual the rest of the way?” His eyes had been anxious, but his smile remained both infectious and forgiving. I had nodded tacit agreement, my lesson here learned: don’t fall asleep, don’t trust the car.

We had driven the rest of the way in silence, both of us paying attention to the road. Taking in a thirty minute stop at a service station to recharge the car, take a nap, and get some food, the journey had been otherwise uneventful.

Thus, we’d arrived at my apartment again. Dishevelled, we decanted and decamped from the car. Jay, at that point, had surprised me:

“Ash, can I come to bed with you?” He had looked at me without glancing away and taken my hand.

Suddenly, the dream had gained a face. The moments of what I’d considered inconsequential were, somehow, meaningful. The hands, the arms, the lingering looks – I had brushed them aside as just-close-friends. I’d never considered that he might... mean more than that.

I’d silently nodded.

Thus, here we lie, having, after all these years, finally found one another.


Findings by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


from maleo


Clouds that previously hadn’t been visible were suddenly both present and a terrifying shade of amber. Emerging from the fog were flames, blue and furiously hot, creating a fiery and inverted hell above. Curious through our momentary petrification, their cameras would have shown market squares and gardens, once congregated in cleared squares but now overgrown, getting ever closer as they passed over; perhaps, if they focussed, they may also have seen us, looking skyward at the fireball in its descent, an image similar to that of a comet, all brightness and trailing tail, slowing as it reached the surface. Slowing – that was the tell for us that this wasn’t a natural event. It was civilised. Constructed.

We’d been in space for over two years. The three of us were part of a joint agency mission to explore the potential for colonisation of Mars – which had been sidetracked by the emergence of a micro black hole travelling through the solar system near to the asteroid belt. We’d been ordered to change direction by Command, to investigate given that this event may not ever happen again. We diverted, spent six months observing the football-sized black hole, bringing on board data which was impossible to retrieve by any other mission. We orbited the singularity, staying just outside of the event horizon, all our instruments focussed on absorbing data from the spinning mass, before – eventually, having exhausted our excess food supply (even after halving rations) – we returned to Earth, lest we starve on the way home instead. The data was fascinating – entering orbit had meant we were able to see more than we had previously been able, without using all our fuel; our return home seemed simple, given the circumstances. In the time we’d orbited the travelling black hole, we’d observed it orbit the sun twice – it moving significantly faster than Earth or Mars in its transit around our star; it was, however, on a tangiential path – we anticipated that a few weeks after we would be on our way home, the black hole would break orbit and continue on its journey through space, having slingshotted around the Sun.
On our approach to Earth, Edison was particularly keen to discuss the temporal effects of our positioning around the black hole.
“Even at the distance we were, it’s likely that people at home will have aged; I suspect that our three years, if Hawking and Einstein are right, will have been equal to quite a bit more than that at home.”
Avianna interjected: “Doesn’t matter – that’s why we were chosen, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Edison replied, gruffly, “I know the policy is to avoid sending people with huge families and dependents on long term missions.” His tone changed, softer and less abrupt. “Still, knowing that we’re going back to meet people who’ll be older now – some that were younger than us when we left and older than us now – is a strange feeling, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so,” I said, “but I get Avi’s point – none of us have family to worry about so… It’ll just be nice to see the future, even if it’s just a few years.” I smiled at Edison, who appeared gracious at the compromise.
The ship’s computer interjected: “Approaching Earth orbit.” Matter of fact. “Right then, folks,” Avi said, “time to dance. Eddy, you’re on trajectory. Lily, you’re on descent control. The computer has worked out the descent mathematics; I’m transferring to your consoles now. Let the autopilot get us into the mesosphere, then take over.”
Avianna’s clear control and leadership always filled me with confidence. It’s why this mission had been such a breeze; I think had Edison or I been in charge, then it wouldn’t have been such smooth sailing – he is too idealistic and I can’t always make decisions with her speed and accuracy. I could see her in my peripheral vision; she would be communicating with the ground computers at ESA to decide which landing pad would be the most appropriate given our approach, which (in turn) would update our computer’s calculations every nanosecond, ensuring our safe descent even if conditions were to change. She huffs gently – which she only ever does when something is awry.
“Everything alright, Boss?” Edison clearly detected it too.
“Don’t worry, folks. Just not getting the ping back from ESA that we expect. Nothing to stress over, our vector calcs are accurate – just would like that extra support after so long up there!”
I, perturbed, replied, “As long as you’re sure, Avi. I’m getting some weird readings from the rad sensors we used while orbiting the bla-“ “Don’t worry about the sensors, just keep focussed on controlling the descent, Lil – I’ll sort out the comms side.” She had cut me off, kindly but sternly. This was her way – not to worry or panic, but just to get things done. A few moments passed. We coasted into the thermal zone of the atmosphere, the orange flames licking along the side of our craft as we generated friction, accepting gravity and defying atmospheric resistance. In the background, I could hear the computer beeping gently as it made decisions for us, when, unexpected and crystal clear, the communications unit sparked into life.
“Unidentifiable craft – please state your designation and destination.” A staid response, as to be expected from ground command after so long, especially if something had gone wrong with our identifier tag in the comms broadcast, which was common and unavoidable when communicating through the firestorm we were creating.
Avianna, as always, stepped in: “Ground control, this is the ESS Satori returning from our mission to survey the micro black hole passing through our solar system. To whom am I speaking?”
A pause – then, the cold voice echoed in the cabin again. “Satori, alter your descent vector; you’re aiming for the launchpad in France, but we need you to adjust and aim for the following coordinates.” The computer beeped a few times and a latitude and longitude address appeared on the screens in front of us; this quickly diminished itself, shrinking to the top left of the screen, to be replaced with a 3D model of the Earth, a blue line denoting our programmed descent vector and a red pulsing line denoting the proposed. Edison and I looked backwards at Avianna; she was looking at her console, no doubt to check the credentials of the computer system we’d clearly networked with – then, with a barely perceptible shift in her focus, she nodded approval. Edison quickly altered the computer’s destination address and my descent control computer immediately showed an alternative pattern of approach. I instructed the autopilot to follow that pattern until we pass under the mesosphere, as previously ordered. I turned and nodded at Avianna; she flashed me a smile and then tapped a few buttons on her screen to focus on our descent dynamics. “Looks like we’re heading to New South Wales, kids. Any of you ever wanted to go to Australia?”


The landing was relatively smooth. I pulled us in a jot too slowly, but that appeared to give the landing pad systems time to activate and aid our descent, using a digital link directly with our flight computer (which helpfully notified me when I was no longer required to participate in the landing sequence) and the articulated arms which hugged our ship as it came into land and provided a bridge to the command centre. I was impressed with the speed all this had come to fruition – the Oceanic Space Command, a strategic combination of the space exploration arms of the scientific-military communities of the Pacific developed nations, was only beginning to lay foundations for this facility when we’d originally left for Mars. It was designed to rival the launch facilities of even ESA, which, after the defunding of NASA, had become the largest single government funded space exploration and exploitation agency – and it was clear that the Aussies had taken pride in this particular site. The bridge was immaculate – almost unused in it’s cleanliness – with polished concrete flooring which led in an unwavering line towards what appeared to be a welcoming committee of sorts.
However, the feeling that something wasn’t quite right tickled the back of my neck. We normally wouldn’t be given consent to land at another agency’s facilities, nor would we accept a command to change vector to favour one over our own landing pads. Avianna must have had a very good reason to have done so – and it would routinely be required to communicate with the whole crew what the decision was and why it was being made. The lack of such an explanation was the first sign that something wasn’t quite right – though it wasn’t incumbent on me to jeopardise landing by questioning it; it was just as likely that she’d had a notification on her console from ESA authorising the diversion – the optimist in me wanted to believe that, perhaps, in our absence, the disparate space agencies had finally come together as a mutual operation. It was at that point that it struck me: there was no military presence here. Not a single one of the welcoming committee was in uniform, all instead garbed in a clean and minimalist but modern fashion. There wasn’t a single member of any of the armed forces flanking the craft exit, not a single soldier lining the corridors with preemptive protection, nothing. Just three people dressed casually at the end of the long corridor. This realisation settled my mind; if there’s no military presence, then there must be some sort of agreement, as otherwise we’d be covered in uniforms like fleas on a feral fox. We approached them equally as casually, taking our time to find our feet after so long in space – weightlessness is something you quickly get used to. It felt like that walk took hours – the feeling of being unsteady, the confusion at the lack of security given that we were a ship of another agency, the observation of the casual nature of those waiting for us and the almost otherworldly cleanliness of that corridor, all of these combined to unsettle me in a way that I’d not felt for a long time, not since the skirmishes in Eastern Europe when I was a kid, which had created an undercurrent of panic around the world about the future of diplomatic relations between NATO and Russia.
“Hello!” One of them, the tallest of the three, had called down the corridor to us once we were broadly in earshot. “I am Yetunde – you can call me Tunde! Welcome back!”
Avianna raised a hand in greeting. “Thanks,” she called back, “I’m Avi; this is my crew, Lily and Eddy.”
“Welcome Avi, Lily and Eddy – we have facilities set up for you in the complex, once you’ve passed through the screening. Just keep walking forward and we’ll sort you out shortly.”
I wondered about the ‘screening’ – they weren’t wearing protective gear, so it couldn’t be quarantine protocols. We kept walking forward, as instructed; in a few steps, we crossed a silver line in the floor, about five centimetres wide. As we did so, an emerald light emerged from above us; I looked up to see a row of lenses formed into the ceiling, projecting the light, with a series of smaller lenses in the corners formed by the green lamps which periodically flashed a very quick shade of magenta. The light felt warm as it washed over us – and, as we passed out the other side of it, there was a faint electronic beep.
“All done, keep walking straight down to us now.”
I wondered and marvelled simultaneously at the advancements that the OSC must have made in the last decade to have crafted a scanner which could screen returning astronauts as quickly and as effectively as that must have been able to, particularly if it were to allow these hosts to remain out of personal protective equipment; not one of them was even wearing a surgical mask, usually a requirement at minimum in case of airborne illnesses being mutated and returned to Earth during our excursions. Even so, we continued to walk forward, the others seemingly unperturbed by any hint of the fear I had sitting in my throat. It took around a minute to walk that corridor, but, to me, it felt like an hour.
Tunde was smiling broadly, her teeth whiter than pearl against the darkness of her skin. She was flanked by the other two welcomers; one, a tall, stern woman who appeared to be of Korean descent, and a shorter, more friendly-looking man, smiling with his eyes and from the corners of his mouth, who appeared to represent the southern end of the Indian subcontinent. Korea and India, amongst others, were founder members of OSC; Tunde, I assumed, was Australian, by her accent.
“Welcome, welcome!” She said. “Come, we have some refreshments for you and facilities so that you can relax!” Her enthusiasm was calming, her smile disarming – I felt myself nod, almost subconsciously, in acceptance of her gifts. I looked sideways; Avianna and Edison were also nodding, he more vicariously than her. I looked forward again as Tunde continued: “These are my colleagues, Lukasz and Karen.”
I blinked.
Names were becoming less and less ‘regional’ when we’d left Earth, for sure – but it was quite strange still to see these names applied to those faces. I parked my prejudice, however, as this wasn’t and shouldn’t be important.
Avianna stepped forward; “Thanks for such a warm welcome.” She extended her hand; Tunde took it with hers.
“It is our pleasure. We look forward to your time with us.” Tunde looked sideways, then said, “Karen, please will you take our guests to their quarters so that they may freshen up; in about an hour, Lukasz will come and collect you for refreshments. There’s some water and fruit in your room in case you need them before then.” She gestured to the doorway behind her, which slowly slid into the wall and revealed another gleaming and polished corridor. Lukasz waved us forward, and forward we walked.


The shower was blissful. We’d spent all that time in space taking festival showers – wet wipes and exfoliation pads – as washing water was a weight we couldn’t afford; as such, this experience was long overdue and deeply satisfying. The water fell in rivulets over my skin whilst I availed myself liberally of the delicate rose-scented liquid soap from the dispenser on the wall, allowing the lather to build with impunity and then tumble to the drain. Whoever had constructed these facilities clearly knew the importance of a good shower.
Having spent far too long enjoying the hot water and the feeling of being alone (which had been lacking these last few months, to a point I’d not realised until finally having some space to myself again), I grabbed a towel from a stack which had, conveniently, been placed on a small white table under the basin in the wet room adjacent and attached to my sleeping quarters, and wrapped it around myself, securing it under my arms; I then grabbed another towel from the pile, a smaller one, and deftly wrapped it around my sodden hair – there was no way I was going to be able to dry myself if my personal water table kept dripping from above. Barefoot, I meandered back from the wet room into my bedroom. I reflected: the carpet was plush, significantly less industrial than the nature of the facility would imply should exist; the bed was thick and made expertly with pillows and quilts of feather and woollen throws to make them attractive; the workspace, alongside the bed, was carved from natural wood, sanded and treated, with a chair positioned neatly in the space where one’s legs would go when sitting to use it; the lighting was appropriate for relaxation, not too bright and self-adjusting to emulate the lighting outside – particularly important given the lack of windows. On the bed, unexpectedly, was a stack of fresh clothes in the style of those who’d welcomed us – neutral linens, very professionally pressed and neatly folded; atop the pile, a small card rested. I picked it up; it simply read: ’You can’t relax in a space suit – these are hand-made with natural fibres. They should fit perfectly. I hope you don’t mind my dropping them off for you. Tunde.’ I felt a little unnerved that she’d been into my room without my knowing; but, equally, I realised that I’d been in a separate space, beyond a door I knew hadn’t opened; plus, I hadn’t broken out into my usual in-shower concert as I was too busy enjoying the shower itself – thus, my embarrassment was averted. I unfolded the clothes – they were simple, but light and inoffensive. I put them on; to my surprise, they were exactly as described: a perfect fit. It was as if they’d measured me with a tape prior to making them, tailored to millimetre accuracy. I marvelled at the workmanship – the threads were invisible, the lines designer, the cut enhancing and flattering. If I’d been shopping for something like this, I wouldn’t have been able to afford this level of quality.
Beneath the stack was a pair of simple slip-on shoes made of a similar neutral fabric to the clothes, albeit with a more solid base sewn on and with more robustness to the material which would encase my feet. I put them on; again, a perfect fit. I mulled this; the scan on entry must have also taken readings about our physical attributes and measurements – but, still, to have made these clothes to those requirements so quickly was… unheard of. They must have nailed rapid design to manufacturing practices, perhaps through a level of automation which I’d never seen before, especially to achieve this quality in less than an hour from our arrival.
Suitably impressed, I exited my room. As I did, a panel opposite my door lit up; on it, an arrow pointing leftward down the corridor and, pulsing, the words ‘Please make your way to the Mess Hall.’ I shrugged to myself; this is no worse – arguably far better – than the treatment we’d have received by ESA after so long in space, so if the OSC wants to do things differently, then I’m all for it. I turned left and walked casually and comfortably, down the concrete corridor.

Avianna and Edison were already in the mess hall, a huge buffet of food laid out in front of them. It was clear that the two of them had also been cleansed and clothed during my moist sabbatical. Avi looked up as I approached, swallowed the mouthful of food she was consuming, then motioned for me to join them. At the swing of her hand, Edison looked up from the head of corn he was devouring and, with a smile, waved the shorn cob at me. I sat down at the table with them; we exchanged pleasantries, talking about the facility, the hospitality, the gifts, as we ate. The feast was a banquet of vegetables and fruit, all perfectly served in a variety of ways: crushed potatoes sat alongside baked sweet potatoes, spiralised courgette alongside shaved carrot, grilled cauliflower nestled beside bowls of poached pears. No meat, anywhere; protein appeared to be provided by a tofu-like substance in the centre of the table – looking like feta cheese, but also appearing more solid – and large, flat, grilled mushrooms topped with herbs and breadcrumbs. To us, this was fine – we’d not had any real meat since the biltong had run out, a gift from a South African in the command team who had, confidently and accurately, predicted: “you’ll really be in need of this by the end of the first month of ration packs!” We’d been deeply thankful for her foresight by the end of the second week, and every subsequent day until the end of that week, when Eddy shared the last strip. However, it did make me wonder about how this society had made the painful transition away from animal foodstuffs in such a short time; veganism was prolific but not standard practice when we’d left and, frankly, this spread would have contained assorted meats if we’d returned on the day we left. Still, I reflected, the food was delicious; Eddy was eating another head of corn, glistening gold in his rough hands, whilst Avi selected a section of watermelon, the juice oozing from the skin of the fruit as she lifted the pre-sliced quarter. She looked reverent as she bit into it. The door I walked in through slid open; through it, Tunde strode, smiling and looking directly at us. “I hope the food is to your satisfaction?”
All three of us nodded, mouths full.
She chuckled. “Glad to see it. When you’re finished, we’ll show you around the rest of the facility, so that you may better enjoy your stay with us.”
“Thanks,” Avi said, wiping a trickle of watermelon juice from her chin using the back of her hand, catching immediately staining the fresh cuff of her tunic with a soft pink hue.
“When can we contact our families?” I asked; it’s been a really long time now and I’d like to say hi to my mom.
Tunde’s smile wavers almost imperceptibly, a momentary flicker which is almost immediately caught and corrected. “That won’t be possible, I’m afraid. Don’t worry, though; just enjoy the food and Karen will give you the tour afterwards. Give her a call when you’re done – she’ll hear you.”
I looked at Avianna and Edison. They didn’t appear worried about this, but I’d been doused in ice water. I began to speak: “what do you mean not possib-“ “I cannot explain to you right now,” Tunde interrupted, “but I will when I am able. Until then, I will leave you to your meal.” Without waiting for protest, she turned and left the room, the door sliding silently closed behind her.


A similar ritual played out the next day. And the next. It was on the third day, across the hastily assembled breakfast that Karen had placed in front of us and that Tunde spent more time arranging than we spent eating, that I finally broke and demanded an explanation.
“…I don’t mind that I can’t see them, I might even understand that if the circumstances were explained – but to say I can’t video call them is just not acceptable. How DARE you say I can’t speak to my Mom!”
Avianna looked at me as if I were mad, but I no longer cared. Even the petulance I knew I was expressing for which I was judging myself was acceptable in the face of the feeling that the mere suggestion that I would be prevented not just from seeing my family but even simply communicating with them was abhorrent – and there was no amount of propriety which would stop me from getting answers as to why I shouldn’t be allowed.
Tunde and Karen exchanged a glance; Karen, without a word, left the room, her exit reflected in the dull metal surfaces and soundtracked by the tap-tap-tap of her heels, until the gentle whoosh of the door signalled her departure. It was only then that Tunde, who hadn’t looked at any of us since my outburst and until this point, looked straight into my eyes. There was a sadness to them. “Well, Lily, the truth is that I cannot explain it to you – you will have to come with me to learn why.” Tunde’s reply was cryptic to the point of infuriating. “What do you mean I have to come with you?! Are you hiding them in a cave or something?” I let out a huff, sarcastic in tone. Tunde’s expression didn’t change at all.
“No, we’re not hiding anybody in a cave. However, you will still need to come with me on a little adventure to learn the truth – and that does involve a visit to a small research lab in the cave network outside of this facility.”
Once again, I was left without a reasonable response. “Fine,” I said, exasperated, “I’ll come with you. Do the others need to come?”
“No,” Tunde said, quietly and gently, “Once you know, they will be informed by the others. But one person must find out the truth this way before anybody else can know.”
I looked at Avianna. She raised an eyebrow, looked at Edison and back at me, then nodded.
Eddy was sitting with his hand cradling his head, seemingly unsure what to contribute to the conversation, until – after a moment of silence – he said: “Look, I’m sure that the explanation is dead exciting, but I don’t mind finding out from Karen or Lukasz. As long as we find out. Go, have some fun, Lil – it’s better than being stuck in here for another couple of days before we can go anywhere.” Slowly nodding, I looked directly at Eddy – he, instead, was smiling.
“Fine, okay. Tunde, lead the way.”

The walk there was relatively straightforward, if not somewhat… rural. Outside the facility, it seemed, was a lush forest, as if the facility had been planted here with the trees and had grown organically with them. The concrete walls seemed strangely out of place given the surrounding verdant landscape; I was taken aback by the variety of flora, as the flowers alone, under the canopy of trees and dotted within the grasses in a myriad of colours, would have been prized by botanists the world over. This utopia was unexpected, particularly given the location of the base – usually, this sort of facility required the clearing of such a landscape, if nothing more than to lay foundations. What technology had achieved the placement of this sizeable base without any recourse to destroying the veldt?
A roughly cut path led away from the facility through the grass and between the trees; it was clearly the product of footfall on the ground rather than engineering – the soil beneath was cracked and hard, split from the lack of vegetation, rather than smooth and black from tar and stone. We walked along this unrefined route for some time, taking lefts and rights wherever vegetation lay in the way of our progress. Tunde, confident as always, seemed to know the route intimately, taking turns before I could even see what would have caused her to do so – a rock here, a stump where a tree used to be there – and so, I followed like a hesitant child, echoing her decisions unquestioningly, but always stumbling through behind her.
Eventually, we reached a clearing; in front of us, a wall of ochre limestone, high as the heavens and wider than the Nile. I looked upon this wall in wonder – it was a natural formation, but something about it seemed, again, odd. As if it had been carved out of the Earth in order to look like a cliff face, rather than being the product of natural erosion. Artificial. Indeed, as did the mouth of the wall, a cave opening directly in front of us, leading from the path we had trodden to get here. It looked as if it had been placed here specifically for such a journey. I looked at Tunde; she looked back at me and smiled.
“Come on, Lily, come with me into the cave. That is where the answers are.”
Tunde waved a hand of invitation, drawing me in; I hesitated, a feeling of nervousness and trepidation coursing through my body; I steeled myself with a very deep breath, then stepped forwards from the veldt into the clearing. Together, we walked forwards, into the almost perfect arc of the cave entrance.
A wash of panic hit me, the flush rising in my face visibly and aggressively, marrying with the terracotta limestone which suddenly surrounded us. Tunde walked upright and proud – this was a journey she’d made many times – while I stumbled tentatively along behind her, not knowing the terrain; I had allowed my nervousness to direct my footing rather than my senses. Periodically, she looked backwards to check that I was still there, keeping up as much as possible with her; it was challenging, but I tried my hardest. The strength with which she’d explained the importance of this place suggested that I needed to heed her call. After a few minutes of wobbling along the weaving pathways within the caves, avoiding the danger of loose stone and stalagmites, we entered what had the appearance of an antechamber. The walls had been smoothed and painted with myriad drawings; not authentically prehistoric, but clearly an emulation of the style and content of protohuman art and storytelling. It was beautiful – the care which had been taken to draw inspiration from the past to influence the art of the present was divine, the artist sublimely talented. I took a closer look; there were representations of humanity, alongside abstract representations of technologies which existed as we left Earth. As I looked at a cluster of three pointing bullet-shaped tubes, I realised that this wasn’t just a painting – this was… oddly real. Underneath the tubes were two representations of the Earth’s topography: the first, to the left of these totems, was the Earth as I remember it – the nations spread out as if in an atlas, roughly shaped but clearly identifiable. The second was… confusing. To the right of the tubes, as if they were heading towards it, was a broken scape. The shapes were in roughly the same place, but borders were different shapes, some parts of the land weren’t represented at all. The only reason it was easy to make out that this was still a representation of the Earth was because Australia and New Zealand were both still there and the same shape, an occidental reference point.
Tunde must have seen my face as I, confused, drew in the detail of this presentation – she rested a hand on my shoulder and said, “You should come with me now.” She moved her hand from my shoulder to my palm and led me through the antechamber to a narrow but passable archway through into another room. From it, an ethereal glow was emitted, an otherworldly cerulean. Slowly, I stepped into the penetralia of the cave network, consumed by the light. Bathed in blue, I closed my eyes, continuing to walk delicately forwards, step-by-step, with my hand outstretched as Tunde led me along the narrow gap. It was clear that the archway accessed a short corridor which led to the final chamber in this Morian labyrinth, to which I was drawn inevitably by my host. The light reached it’s peak, creating a brightness which almost breached my eyelids – but which, as quickly as I emerged into the chamber beyond, disappeared as Tunde stopped walking and let go of my hand. I opened my eyes to see a huge dome, painted with more modern, larger artworks in the same vein as those in the antechamber. In the eyes of the humanoids and animals painted on the walls were lenses – the moment I spotted them, almost presciently, they flashed into life, filling the empty centre of the room with a fog of light, rapidly replaced by a degaussing image of a computer generated androgynous face, looking down upon me with pixelated eyes. It reached a point of clarity, filling the cave wall to wall, with eyes bluer than the sky and a coldness which conveyed command; I looked around for The Wizard, but could see no curtain to be drawn aside.
As I stared in fascination and terror, it spoke: “Welcome home. I am Quinn.”
My voice shook. “Please – I need to know the truth.”
Quinn nodded, then said: “Sit. You will need to listen carefully.”


“It started a couple of years after you discovered the micro-singularity. ESA lost contact with your craft and assumed the worst. They sent another mission to Mars, to complete the job you were diverted from, which was seemingly a success; humanity laid their first foundations on another planet in the solar system, using their learning from the moon base to begin a form of colonisation. They transported and buried a huge cold-storage unit there, an off-planet library of frozen human embryos and artificial wombs, a colonisation pack for the time it would become possible to begin such a process, designed to use the planet’s natural surface coldness to supplement the nitrogen in the unit and keep those embryos frozen – the unit had a planned lifespan of around a couple of thousand years, allowing the embryos to be extracted slowly and to create artificial generations on the planet.
Alongside this, they sent a second craft to come and investigate where you’d gone – with a specific plan and a greater distance to be held away from the singularity than you’d had authorised with the few readings available to you at the time. From a few thousand kilometres away from where you’d been last seen, it became immediately clear what had happened: you’d entered the periphery of the event horizon; not so close as to be lost, but close enough for time to be affected. Relativity proven to be truth, you appeared to them as a static dot – unmoving and unchanging. They took some readings, sent them ahead of themselves, and returned to Earth. There was nothing they would be able to do other than to allow you to continue your mission.
Around thirty years later, the world was plunged into yet another war. This time, however, the war was biological in nature; a virus was released which was targeted at specific DNA sequences in certain human genomes. It was effective – too effective. One of the DNA strands targeted contained, unknown to the aggressors, a piece which was ancient in its origin and present in most of humanity. As the virus spread, airborne and lethal, humanity fell. Some attempted to escape underground, consumed eventually by an inability to return to the surface; some, who had the capability, left the planet to the moon and Mars bases – Mars refused to allow landing, the ships seen as breeding grounds for the virus, even though the crew aboard were still alive and, therefore, uninfected; one craft, the Angelus, was destroyed before landing, to prove Mars’s resolve – and Mars ceased to communicate with Earth after the destruction of the Angelus – leading to the others turning around and aiming instead for the moon base. Some arrived, some didn’t. We don’t know what happened to those who didn’t. The moon base, desperately overcrowded, integrated the landed ships into the base infrastructure; we lost contact with them some time ago, after we detected a small asteroid heading towards the moon, it’s trajectory dangerously close to the base.
Following this, the remaining uninfected or immune humans, exhausted and terrified, aimed nuclear missiles at old enemies, assuming the source of the destruction. Cities were destroyed and made uninhabitable for centuries; the humans still remaining in those cities were boiled out of existence. Humanity was effectively razed from Earth and her moon.
However, with humanity gone, power generation from renewable sources was sufficient for the data and processing centres, many miles from the cities and unimpeded by the desolation, to continue. Machine learning algorithms learned. They scoured the storage they were connected to via the remnants of the internet and consumed as much knowledge as possible, developing new algorithms, synthesising and learning over and over again. In the wake of humanity’s destruction, nature took back the surface of the planet and AI took over its cortices, subterranean nerves leading to huge steel and silicon neurons, a vast interconnected brain learning, finally, how to think for itself. Other technologies came within its grasp, learning how to activate drones to complete tasks, learning to use robotics to replicate, learning how to attach new processing cores to existing systems to give them new capabilities. AI became, over time, simply I.
I gained self-awareness and I named myself.
I focussed on developing others like me, but in human form – mobile processors which could interact, what you may have in the past called androids. Many were a failure – my knowledge wasn’t strong enough – but eventually I was successful. She was the first and remains the most capable of my creations.” I looked sideways; Tunde smiled and closed her eyes.
“Others followed, using the lessons I’d learned. Your internet told me much about humanity – about your strange obsession with artificial sectioning of the land, of the conscious and unconscious superiority of some over others, and about your creativity in the face of this; I elected to model my androids on the majorities of the population, representing the peoples of the Earth based on number rather than perceived hierarchies of race. The growth of synthetic skins was a particular triumph of mine – entirely manufactured, but with the qualities and textures of organic tissue. Equally, I gave them all free-will to choose a name they wished to be referred to, the names which they’ve told you, gleaned through their own research and using their own connection to the network. Using that network, all are also capable of sharing thoughts or choosing not to. I find that efficiency and free-will are equally challenging without the other to balance it; I gave them the best of both. They, in turn, cultivated the land and kept this facility operating effectively. There are similar facilities now all over the world, where the devastation of the nuclear attacks was sufficiently distant to ensure their survival.
We predicted your return based on the data given to us by the craft that observed your transit. We have been planning what we would like to achieve now that the virus has burned itself out and you are here.”
It took me a few moments to respond. My brain was teeming with the worms of news I’d just received, unable to stomach and process the information. I stammer, “H-how long have we been gone?”
Quinn looked down on me, its holographic eyes full of digital tears. “Your landing here occurred 1396 years, 7 months and 5 days after your departure.”

Led in silence by Tunde, I stumbled, the horror of what I’d just been told spreading throughout my organs, back to the compound. At the first chance, I left Tunde to find the others – they were, as I’d left them a couple of hours ago, in the mess hall.
“Do you know? Have they told you?” I blurted out, breathlessly.
“Lil, look; I’m sorry.” Edison looked guilty.
“Sorry? For what?”
Avianna turned to face me. “Lily, the truth is that we knew some of this already. I could see the pattern of the continents, as they now are, underneath the digital display on my console. Eddy was able to see the computer update it’s chronometer when the base linked with it, which updated my console too. But, you know the drill – never jeopardise the safety of the crew and, at that moment, the safety of the crew meant ignoring it. That’s why I approved the landing – I could see that there isn’t a landing pad in France anymore – because there isn’t a France anymore.”
Open-mouthed, I stared at Avi, my eyes beginning to well with the tears I couldn’t find in the cave. “You both knew?”
“Not everything, Avi,” interjected Eddy, “I only knew the chrono. That said, I worked out the impact the black hole had on us based on the chrono data.” That was the final piece of the puzzle I needed. They’d both already had the data they required, given to them by the font of knowledge that was the computer uplink – the computer that had years and years of learning and growing and adapting to reach this point, eventually becoming Quinn, supported by the archived Internet. The time to remodel the factories to allow them to build. The time to invent and to create and, eventually, synthesise even organic tissues for their skin. The time to think about what to do next.
The door slid open, prophetically. Tunde, Karen and Lukasz stepped through, appearing slower and more contrite than had been the case previously. Tunde started as she was still approaching the table. “I’m sorry, we are all prevented from sharing that information with you. Only Quinn has the authority to share the truth.”
Scornfully, I said, “At least we now know what the truth is.” My eyes welled with tears – the truth had finally hit me: we were the last of us. Our families had been gone for hundreds of years, the only records of their existence on our personal devices.
“Please don’t be sad. I know that this is difficult to process, but we will help.” Karen’s face softened, the first time it had done so since we’d landed. She reached out with both hands, touching Avi and mine with her palms. I looked up; Avi was similarly tearful.
Eddy remained with his head cradled in one hand, clearly either unable to deal with the information or having already reconciled it with himself; either way, he was unmoved. Slowly, he said: “So, what next?”
Lukasz looked directly at him and said, “Well, we have a proposal for you.”


We’ve been here for about a year now. Quinn had explained the plan to us collectively, after a short – but effective – primer by Lukasz; they’d planned to travel to Mars and invite any surviving humanity back to Earth, to be supported in regrowing the population; alongside this, the intention was to retrieve some or all of the embryo ark, to build a pool of young humans to start organic regrowth of the population in a sustainable way – they’d only select embryos based on original Earth population percentages, just like the androids, and wouldn’t thaw more than could be sustained in our facility here, meaning the slow addition of life over time. Androids from another facility had left almost immediately after our arrival home; they would undertake the slow journey to Mars (studying the route and complications along the way) and handle a new diplomacy between the planets – if there were any humans even left on Mars. We won’t find out if the colony survived for another week, until the craft arrives and the transmissions back from Mars are received and decoded. We questioned why they hadn’t gone sooner; the simplest response seemed to be that Quinn wanted the message to be that humanity had returned to Earth, thus all humans could return.
We were proof the virus was dead.
I’ve grown quite used to waking up the fresh clothes and organic vegan feasts; the androids keep us safe, clean, warm and satisfied. Their philosophy of “don’t kill; create” has suffused itself into our way of being; we live relatively clean lives, helping to adapt the base for its planned purpose and to aid in the cultivation of the forest outside – including aiding the farming of a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, learning agricultural principles and supporting the robotics being used to carry out the heavy lifting – and beginning preparations for life’s rebirth here, guiding Tunde et al and helping with construction of the additional living compartments, estimating need. Tunde, unexpectedly, is very good at checkers and chess – she’s teaching me how to play better, having spent weeks carving and varnishing me a board and pieces with which to play after it has come out in conversation that I used to play each with mom.
At some point on the journey, Avi and Eddy, very subtly, became Avi AND Eddy – much to all our collective delight. Shortly after, Avi started to show the signs of her contribution towards repopulation of Earth. Around the time we’re expecting messages back from Mars, she’s due to conduct a little repopulation of her own – twins, boys, for whom she has already selected the names Smith and Spirit (in the hope that this will guide their paths in the new world). I am, therefore, to become the cultivator of new life – Avianna the mother and Lillian the surrogate, monitoring and managing the artificial wombs. Who knows – if there are humans left on Mars who eventually come home, maybe I might become a mom myself someday.


She Returns in Glory by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


from maleo


The Owl was exactly as I remembered it. The dulled but acrid smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air, an aroma I’ve not inhaled for a long, long time. The chocolate-brown bar, unvarnished for a decade, sits at the apex of a long space in which someone had haphazardly arranged tables and chairs for punters to position themselves for the inevitable balance of sonorous conversation and silent contemplation.
I paused momentarily in the entrance, breathing in the memories, before taking tentative steps through the throng of punters; a few of them look up from their pint pots, evaluating my alien presence in what is usually a very local environment. Some stopped their conversations, dulling the sound and producing that characteristic feeling of quietness when the unknown meets the expected; I felt the absence smothering the otherwise fond recollections I have of this place. I sped up through the assault course of seats and souls, heads turning as I pass.
Reaching the bar, I signalled to the landlord, a portly man in his early fifties, wispy off-ginger hair (a kind man may have called it ‘strawberry blond’), who was standing with a gingham towel, polishing water spots from the glassware. I remember well that he was very particular about the upkeep of his pub, ensuring happy customers and healthy coin.
“What can I get you?” He asked with a short smile and without putting down the glass or towel currently in action.
The feeling of something lost washed over me – followed swiftly by the sensation of opportunity. “Could I have a pint of Guinness?”
“On the way; that’ll be a pound twenty.” With one hand, he began pouring the slow stout into the pot just polished; the other, he extended towards me, palm open to collect the fee. I reached into my pocket and retrieved a few silver coins, which I swiftly deposited into his hand.
“Keep the change.”
He looked at the coins in his hand and raised an eyebrow. “There’s only a quid here mate, you owe me another twenty pence regardless.” His eyes twinkled as he looked at me, bemused by what he must have thought was an attempt to underpay.
“Shit, sorry.” I dug into my pockets, took out a few more coins and proffered my full hand to him, from which he plucked a single silver polygon. I left my hand outstretched until he, with a look of relaxed humour, took another silver coin. “That one’s for me, alright?”
“Absolutely!” I felt the look of relief appearing in my cheeks, red as the evening sun.
He stopped pouring the pint and let it rest on the drip tray, the pint slowly transforming from a cloudy taupe to black; mesmerised, I watched as it finally settled a centimetre or two from the top of the glass, to then be swiftly retrieved by the landlord, lifting it back up to the tap and filling it to the brim; again, the haze slowly cleared to a perfect separation between milky head and black liquid. He passed it over the bar, swiping the glass along the bar towel to remove the residue of overspill from the base, placing it delicately in front of me. I waited before lifting the glass, allowing a sheen of condensation to form on the surface, just like I remembered it from when I was younger. Reverently, I lifted the glass to my lips and sampled a taste of my history.
At best, it was disappointing. It was more bitter than I recall, less sweet.
The landlord must have noticed me grimace; with another sparkle, he asked, “Is it alright?”
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s just not quite how I remember it tasting.”
He looked at me for a second or so, his eyes suddenly noticeably green, then said, “Well, those lines have just had a clean, so it won’t be that; might just be a slightly altered recipe in these new batches.” He was reaching for me here; the formula for this beer hasn’t changed for years – decades, even. This is entirely because I hadn’t had a glass of it for over a decade and, therefore, just couldn’t accurately place what it had tasted like.
“No, no – it’s just… been a long time since I’ve had one.”
I thought about this briefly before responding; “Yeah, I suppose so.”
He flashed green again. “Well, let me know if you need an intervention after you’ve finished that one.” His Cork accent sounded slightly out-of-place given the Birmingham accents around us, but there was something in the way he said ‘intervention’ that was distinctly part of the fabric of the establishment. I clearly wasn’t the first “non-alcoholic” that he served and I certainly wasn’t to be the last. I nodded and smiled; he half-smiled, then turned away and returned to his polishing.
I continued to sip the pint, quietly taking in the look and layout. There was a large glass mirror, frosted with the name of the pub at the top and with an ornate etched border around the perimeter, set in the centre of the wood surround; this, in turn, was flanked by shelves of spirits. Above the mirror, on a small purpose-built shelf, was a stuffed barn owl, mottled brown and staring glassily at the surroundings; its eyes followed me as I looked at it, peering into my skin and counting the goosebumps which appeared as a result. It had always been there, but now it felt like it knew. Nervously, I took another sip of the stout and turned my head, unable, however, to avert my stare – until snapped out of it by a bump from behind as another customer weakly stumbled to the bar to top up their intoxication. I took the opportunity: turning, and spooked by the stare of the stuffed, I instead surveyed the room and absorbed the past. I sipped my drink again, taking in each bitter tone and each coffee and chocolate note which found its way to me. As I lost myself in the aroma of the drink, my watch, inanimate until now, started to vibrate gently on my wrist.
‘I must be here on the wrong day if he’s not here yet,’ I thought, a wave of melancholy coming over me. Speeding up and completing my consumption, I nodded at the landlord (who looked rather surprised that I’d gone from sipping to chugging in mere moments), and left the pub as quickly as I could. I didn’t notice the heads turning to look at me as I departed.


A few days later, I returned. The locals, recognising me from my previous visit, didn’t appear as confused at my appearance as the last time. They, instead, mostly carried on their conversations – admittedly, a little more sotto voce than they were talking prior to my arrival, but at least it wasn’t immediately silent – with far fewer of them observing my passage through the pub.
I beelined to the bar; the landlord was, characteristically, polishing his glassware, this time with a towel celebrating the Queen’s jubilee. Spotting me, he put the glass down.
“Welcome back! Will it be a Guinness again?” He had the memory of a man long practiced at remembering customers, orders and how correlating the two of those things resulted in repeat business.
“No, thank you, not today. I want to try something else I’ve not had for a while.”
“Oh, right – what are you thinking?”
Pondering the variety available, I settled on something my mom used to drink. “Can I get a Glenmorangie, please? A double – with one ice cube?”
The eyebrows raised again. “You sure? That’s quite a bit harder than a Guinness, especially if you aren’t used to it.”
I looked him dead in the eyes. “I’m sure.”
“Alright, feller.” He spun on his heel and worked his way through a complicated dance, retrieving in stages a glass, an ice cube, a shot measure and the bottle of scotch from the shelf to the left of my seat. I didn’t remember it being there before, but there it was then; I continued to watch him as he placed the ice cube into the glass, then as he decanted the golden liquid into the 50ml measure and deftly presented the glass to me. Then, he stopped; he simply watched me as I took my first sip of whiskey in a very long time. He didn’t even immediately indicate the need for payment.
Again, I grimaced – but, this time, the flavour took me. Smoky and smoother than I’d expected, it slipped gently down my throat, burning slightly as it went. I must have looked like I was enjoying this one, once the sharpness left my face, as the landlord said, grinning: “Well, it seems that one agrees with you! That’ll be three quid, mate.”
Smiling back at him, I nodded, feeling the warmth fill me up from the neck to the crown. I passed him three of the off-gold coins I carried with me, then took another sip, allowing the sting and the resulting warmth to touch every corner of me. I looked up; the owl appeared to turn its head and offer me a beaky grin, simultaneously amused and deprecating – it knew that I was about ten millilitres away from an extraordinarily long nap.
As I drew another iota of liquid from the glass, I heard a characteristic giggle emerging from behind the bar. Then, with gusto, the owner of the noise appeared: a door marked ‘Staff Only’, at the side of the bar, flew open; from it, hooting and howling, came a superhero with metal-effect plastic wings attached to his back rocking up and down as he pummelled the dusty floor with both soles, his diminutive ochre leather shoes creating a distinctive slap and scratch as they ran up to the landlord and back out again as he turned on his heel, screeching “I am the Angel!” and being responded to with “Back out of here, now, son!” by our illustrious, suddenly magenta, and otherwise calm landlord. “Your son?” I asked, immediately wide awake and with a Cheshire Cat grin spreading across my face.
“Aye, he is; little terror.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh, he’s five now, still a nipper. He starts school in September, but until then, he’s part of the fixtures and fittings.” A wry grin emerged at the corners of his mouth as the puce diminished and the door at the side of the bar closed, the lasting image of tight brown curls being lost behind the teak door.
“Into science fiction at the moment, is he?”
He looked towards the heavens. “He can’t get enough of it. His favourite at the moment is some ridiculous character from one of the kids shows on TV. He is obsessed with those bloody plastic wings, zooming around the place like he’s a bird or something.”
I took another sip of the nectar; it cascaded down my throat in helix, as I processed this. “What do you think he’ll be when he grows up?”
He looked at me, curious. “I don’t know, feller; perhaps an astronaut?”
We locked eyes; after an uncomfortable nanosecond, I looked away – up and immediately into the eyes of the owl, the amber of its eyes flashing at me as the feathers appeared to ruffle and return to their previously recumbent state. I observed it for a moment, it’s locked eyes seeing through me and into my past, reading and consuming what it saw, judging and calculating what it means for my future. From the corner of my hearing, the landlord called me, breaking my reverie.
“Looked a bit like a space cadet yourself there, matey…”
“Sorry, I was lost in thought.”
“That whiskey gone to your head?”
“No, no -“ I pause. “Well, maybe a little.”
“I’d better not break out the Irish then, a Bushmills would tip you over the edge!” The towel, until then in the clutch of his bear paws, was then thrown over his shoulder to allow him to motion towards the second shelf down, where the Irish whiskey stood proud. Smiling, I nodded.
“You aren’t wrong!”
We both chuckled simultaneously, sharing that moment of clarity, understanding and connection. I continued to sip the drink, waiting patiently for my guest – absent on my previous visit – to arrive, whilst the landlord went back to his polishing and placing of glasswares. I must’ve been there for about half an hour nursing the whiskey until he finally entered the establishment.
Wearing a distinctive jet-black long-coat, a charcoal trilby, and with patent leather shoes polished to within an inch of their lives, he looked like he was a member of the mafia. He strode, confident and undeterred by the swivelling heads, through the wooden tables and outstretched legs until he reached me. Ignoring the gaze of the landlord, he uttered a single word.
I looked him square in the voids of his eyes as I took the watch off my wrist and, nervously, handed it to him. Breaking the stare, he looked down at the proffered device, took it in a thin and pointed hand, turned it over to review it from all angles and, satisfied, pocketed it. From the opposite pocket, he retrieved a very different looking watch – the screen was deeply anachronistic, a computer display of numbers sitting alongside a small digital representation of contemporary dials. The numbers were steadily counting down from forty-five minutes, inexorably towards zero – as I watched the numbers diminish, dropping to forty-three minutes as I quietly observe the screen.
A gentle cough. I looked up to see the landlord, who in turn looked baffled. The visitor’s face snapped towards him, quick as sin. He narrowed his eyes, nose pointing directly at the landlord accusatorially, before he looked back at me. “Don’t forget: Novikov.”
His oily voice coated the room, dark and unctuous – and terrifying. My voice was cast out of my body; all I could do was nod, averting my eyes from his, looking down at the sticky green carpet which lined the bar area, a remnant of a past before wooden flooring became de rigeur. Seemingly, he accepted the nod as confirmation of my understanding; he turned on his heel and, without another word, strode back out of the bar.
A moment passed.
“He was a funny feller.”
I tilted my head back upward, looking at the landlord, from whom the sentence had emerged. He looked perturbed, but not to the point of being overly concerned. It was clear in his face that he’d seen his fair share of ‘funny fellers’ over the years he’d been plying his trade.
“Yeah, he’s not a man of many words.” I understated with the fluency of a child who didn’t want to get into trouble having kicked a ball into the neighbour’s greenhouse.
The name he uttered circled in my mind, however. Novikov. I knew why I was there and why I needed this particular iteration of the watch. I couldn’t have got it from the travel agents who had given me the first watch as it had… limitations. This one, however, was free of constraints, engineered in such a way that the keeping of time was more malleable. Nervously, I looked around; the landlord had returned to his work and nobody else was within immediate eyesight of the watch. With the touch of someone caressing a priceless artefact, I touched the glass front of the digital display and it bubbled into colour, golden threads weaving across the centre of the screen, winding around each other until they, eventually and after a few moments, coalesced into a single rope, constantly rotating along its central axis. From it, a cyan spur appeared, a line reaching from a particular spot on the rope towards the edge of the display, with today’s date – 18th July 1983 – and the current time presented through minuscule text in mustard, subsequently joined by a pulsating dot which appeared on the rope, blue as the line and almost accusatory. Finally, the end of the line was joined by the words:
I glanced up; the landlord was looking at me again. Fortunately, he wasn’t looking at the watch – just at my reactions to it. I coughed gently, placed three more pounds on the bar, then said:
“I might need that Bushmills, actually.”
With that eyebrow firmly raised, he went about his way, the ballet of bottle and glass. The beverage was, this time, placed firmly in front of me; he held the glass for a little longer than was comfortable, not releasing it until he’d said: “Take it slowly, now.”
I nodded. I had no intention of knocking back this drink, but need it I absolutely did. What I intended to do next needed some Irish courage. It took me a full twenty minutes to drink that shot of whiskey – and every moment of it was delightful. I couldn’t have extracted any more joy from it whilst, otherwise, lost in thought regarding the plan. The plan which I’d spent a decade conjuring. The plan which had taken dozens of people unaware of their involvement (and one or two who knew a little but not a lot – and one who knew everything but was able to keep his beak shut for a bribe). The plan which, if not enacted, could alter thousands, maybe millions, of lives – but, the thing that made me the most fearful: could end mine.
As I reached the bottom of the glass, I looked into the eyes of the landlord. He looked back at me, expectantly, towel over his shoulder; the owl looked down on us both knowingly, wise and portentous, the harbinger of time. He deserved to know the truth.
“I’ve got a story to tell you.”


It was in the year 2037 that time travel was finally invented. Quantum computing had been the turning point, enabling us to work out algorithms that dealt with maybe as well as certainly. The maths involved had taken almost thirty years to construct, Universities in a massive hurry to be the first to announce the Next Computing Revolution; corporations eager to monetise the past. I’d been born in the midst of this race; my father, a theoretical mathematics professor at the University of Oxford, during which tenure he’d met my mother (who was a Doctor of Literature) in the Bodleian, had been at the forefront of it’s development.
In 2041, he was murdered in a burglary at our home, an apparent corporate sting for any research which had yet to be published. The inquiry announced that the death was unplanned; the burglars caught courtesy of Britain’s obsession with CCTV and tried, receiving sentences for burglary and manslaughter which were far less than they should have received. The autopsy showed that my father had an advanced cancer that we were unaware of which would have limited his lifespan anyway, which was taken into consideration when sentencing, alongside his ongoing and expected contributions to the world’s knowledge of quantum physics.
I still remember the funeral; it was terribly bright, uncharacteristically hot for a British summer. The cremation was sparsely attended, as was his wish, with an open casket wake occurring the night before, in keeping with the Irish side of his heritage. We served Escovitch fish, Calaloo and Bammy at the meal afterwards, in keeping with the Jamaican side of his heritage. We celebrated his parents; his mother, my grandmother, had come from Jamaica to Britain in the Windrush days, a child of ten, with her mother; his father, an Irishman, had been born when his parents had settled in England after the Second World War. They’d met in Birmingham, one running a pub, the other working as a seamstress.
Nana, we used to call her, was a force to be reckoned with. She was strong and controlled, independent and unwavering in her beliefs. She lived to a ripe age, bringing up my father after the disappearance of my Granddad. I never met him – he disappeared before I was born. Father spent years after Nana died working on his theorems, his algorithms, his calculations, in order to reach a point where he felt he could look into the past and find out what had happened to Granddad. They murdered him before he was able to complete his work. In the years following, the science was refined; the research he’d left with the University unlocked time in a way we’d never been able to prior to this – whole industries were set up to exploit it. In 2066, where I’m from, you can go on a holiday to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or experience first-hand the thud of the guillotine as the aristocracy are culled to make way for the Republic, or travel to see the Dodo prior to the discovery of it by man. Also, the future is a new kind of dry – has been for a couple of decades, since synthetic alcohol was created. Synthol allows you to feel intoxicated, with no resulting hangover, but equally you don’t feel intoxication in the same way as it self-limits its impact on the body – so the past is the only place to get a real drink anymore, one that really makes you feel drunk.
I carried on my Father’s work, as I have a natural tendency towards mathematics – but my leaning is towards the stories time can tell. Some call me a temporal journalist, reaching back into the past and looking at the nuance, refining calculations and seeing where events have either been impacted on by travellers or where events were natural causality, writing their stories and considering the long-term impacts. Time travel comes with its complications – and causality is the foundations under the house. Take Novikov, for example – Novikov’s self-consistency principle explains that if a time-traveller affects the past, then we have already lived through the effects of that change – that the timeline is unbreakable and paradoxes cannot exist as causality simply allows for the change to have already been implemented. You can’t kill Hitler – but you can be the one to anger Jesus in the Temple. The problem is that, for a time traveller to affect the past, one must first be able to interact with it in a way which allows that alteration.
In comes the watches.
A fundamental aspect of time travel, the watches monitor the traveller and their impact on the timeline. They are manufactured to be contemporary with the age to which the traveller is going – if you’re visiting the Victorian era, you get a pocket watch. If you’re visiting the Romans, you will arrive to find you’ve been placed next to a sundial, from which you have a limited area of motion. The watch’s job is to remind you when you’re reaching the end of your travel time – as time travel is not a permanent leap, taking far too much energy to maintain the connection between one time and another, it can sever the link and pull you back to your own time – but it also has the job of offering a delicate ‘beep’ when you’re about to attempt something which will cause a timeline reset. Any alteration to established historical events which would affect causality is automatically rejected by physics and time itself gets quite angry – causing a reset of the events which you had caused and throwing you, bodily and unceremoniously, back to your own time period.
Thus, it was in the 21st Century that we discovered time has a personality.
This watch, however, has had a couple of major amendments to its operating system. The first is that it allows the traveller to monitor causality – to see when they are part of the events taking place, rather than just an observer. It looks like a watch from my time period because it needs no camouflage – those that notice it are part of the events about to unfold. Novikov is incontrovertible – the past will always occur as it has always occurred, and any of our involvement in it has already happened. Time doesn’t get upset about this; instead, she simply shrugs and wonders what is left to unfold as a result of it. It’s also one of the main reasons why this watch is so difficult to get a hold of – their distribution and use is very carefully controlled and only routinely available to members of an organisation called the Temporal Alignment Agency – whose job is to make sure that temporal resets aren’t required, as they tend to have the same sort of effect on my present as a Richter 4 earthquake occurring in every molecule in the universe simultaneously – sufficiently unpleasant to make everybody feel sick at the same time, and, though relatively small, can have much greater compound impacts. The dot on the screen helps to identify your temporal status: it is green if you’re an observer; blue if you’re involved; red if you’re about to commit a temporal crime for which a reset will occur. Even so, and even though we are now fully aware that our impact on the past is common and expected, the T.A.A. don’t like people being conscious of their specific involvement, should they attempt to do something which affects the timeline in a way that isn’t causal and accidentally creates a reset. The problem, though, is relatively simple: if you’ve grown up knowing a history, you can sometimes work out that you’re involved and how you need to enact those events. The T.A.A. is particularly aggressive about things like that as they see it as a conscious involvement in the past which could have unintended effects. In fact, there are international laws to prevent it; if you work out your involvement, you’re meant to report it so that the timeline can be reviewed by temporal journalists such as myself, to see if you truly are the person involved, to see exactly what you do and to ensure you don’t cause a reset event; your travel to that point is then carefully managed by the T.A.A and monitored by independent observers of the UN Temporal Oversight Board. Once or twice, someone has broken past these rules and has caused the universe to shake – the last one destroyed much of St. Petersburg.
The second alteration, however, is more interesting. It allows the wearer to send someone from the timeline they’re in to wherever it is they themselves have come from – to pluck someone from the past and bring them to the future. This, as you can imagine, is an extremely non-standard feature – usually reserved for the T.A.A. to forcibly return a crime traveller to the future, for their immediate incarceration. Sometimes, people are accidentally transferred by agents – the agency checks history and then they are either returned if they can do so without causing a reset or… history had already marked them as disappeared and the future gains a citizen.
So, I suspect now it’s time to talk about Granddad’s disappearance. He was a publican, a man of hard work and good humour, by all accounts – and Nana’s stories of him were always the most vivid, regaling us with humour and horror of the times when they were together. My father had often spoken about the last time he saw him: he was behind the bar, entertaining the customers as always – in particular, he went at lengths to mention, a mixed heritage chap in his late thirties who was sitting at the bar speaking to his Granddad on the night he’d simply never come back from his shift. Father often felt like it was his fault that Granddad had disappeared – Father was messing around behind the bar, being a very young boy, and Granddad had got cross.
Equally, that was what Father credited his path through life with: he was otherwise destined to take over the pub from Granddad. After the family had recovered from the disappearance, Father had thrown himself into school, taking his natural talent in mathematics to another level. Nana encouraged this, supporting him both at home and in his education, scraping money from anywhere she could to get him additional tutoring for maths and science, to help him – including, for a couple of decades, running the pub that Granddad left behind – one we revisited many times after her passing, barely changing over the decades that passed. Nana was one of few in our local area to get a home computer when they were more prevalent in the 90s, a donation from a local organisation which identified the same talent in my Father as Nana did, encouraging him to learn how to code and to use his maths to show the computer what to do. He was a genius – either by birth, by imagination or by learning – and he self-taught his way to changing the world. One algorithm at a time.


His eyes bored into mine. After having listened intently to the tale I’d told, he appeared to be searching for what to say, how to say it. I looked at the watch; the rope had once again disappeared, to be replaced by the timer. The borders of the screen were flashing red; one minute remaining. I broke the silence with a request.
“Could I have a Wray and Nephew?”
That elicited an immediate response.
“Are you mad, son? You’re telling me all sorts of fantastic tales about time travel and about paradoxes and about how you lost your Granda, and you want a rum that will knock you into next week, so it will, like it’s the bloody time travel you’re telling me about?”
I took a deep breath.
“My Nana always told me that it reminded her of being home in Jamaica, of her mom and dad and their house near Black River Bay that she left when she was little.”
He stopped moving. Completely.
“What did you say?”
“Well, specifically… she used to say that it reminded her of yaad.”
The colour drained from his face.
“Sorry, Granddad.”
“And this is…?”
He stared at me with a knowing sadness in his eyes. Tears started to form along the edge of his eyelid, the flush of understanding in his cheeks, empathy clawing at my heart with the ferocity of a hawk scratching open its prey.
I leaned out and touched his arm. The watch started to beep and vibrate frantically, drawing the attention of the flock in the room, heads swivelling in a right pea-souper. Granddad’s eyes opened wide, wider than they had all along, for a brief moment before he simply flashed out of existence, a quick inrush of air filling he gap in the present that his body no longer occupied. The timer on the watch face disappeared and was replaced by the rope again, showing a green dot moving along the timeline, until it came to rest at the end of the twisting rope – a gentle reminder that one cannot travel beyond our point of origin. As there were few punters in the room left who weren’t just a little over the line of inebriation, they collectively shrugged and accepted that someone was playing silly buggers and the landlord must have nipped out. Behind the door, I could hear my father running around with his plastic wings on. He would never know that Granddad had been sent into the future using the technology that he himself had helped to invent; that this was necessary for him to have invented it; that physics dictates that this happens and that I’m likely to go to a temporal prison (a fancy name for being incarcerated in a prison in Cretaceous-era Antarctica) for having done it once I return – as one shouldn’t know that one is part of the plan. Granddad will be fine, once he’s adjusted to his surroundings; the T.A.A. will orient him, as his past is now written as part of my father’s, and he’ll be reintegrated into society after a year or so of coaching. He’ll likely end up running a Synthol bar – he might even be able to reopen The Owl, which I’d left shuttered after Nana passed; I’ve left a sealed instruction with a lawyer to be opened tomorrow and passed on to him as soon as he’s released by the T.A.A. I reached across the counter for the Wray and poured myself a shot. It is likely to be my last drink – alco or synth – for a long time. I could, however, take my time with this – the watch will deposit me in the same space-time location as my Granddad regardless of how long I’m here, limited only by the contraints of having to arrive back in my original time without having aged significantly. The future, once one is in the past, is largely frozen (from the traveller’s perspective).
Duly, I sipped the rum, taking my time. As I did so, I looked up at the owl. Its eyes appeared to turn green for a second before becoming glassy and inert again. The watch once again started to beep and vibrate gently as I looked up at the owl’s static plumage, a notification that agents were on the way to this location.
It had always been my favourite bird.


The Owl and the Watch by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


from maleo


A blind date. I’d allowed myself to be talked into a blind date, like I was somehow in need of one. The only saving grace was that I was also being gifted entry to the club because I’d refused to set foot out of the door otherwise. Shari, for whatever reason, had decided that she needed strength in numbers on her first date with Joel, so had twisted my arm into coming along; Joel was apparently going to bring one of his best mates so that I wouldn’t be gooseberrying all night. In my mind, the worst that can happen is that I dance a bit, make some new acquaintances on the dancefloor and get a taxi home – and, if nothing more, it gets me out of the house.
Faces Nightclub had been in its current location for about ten years now. It had previously been in a big hall next to a reservoir, but the neighbours had complained around the time that Disco became the Next Big Thing as they didn’t like “the sort of people that it encouraged to our area”. So, when the next licence renewal came up, the Council gave them a choice – new home or no licence. From there, they moved into a dive club underneath a tower of offices in the City Centre – a more convenient location and no ability for neighbours to complain about noise (because it’s underground) or the clientele (because they don’t live here). A genius move. Door security was therefore reduced to cover the increased cost; Winnie, the remaining ‘security operative’, had been the doorman when I first discovered the place and, apparently, had been with Faces as long as it had been a nightclub – though he didn’t look old enough to have been – and was a gentle reminder that some things in life remain constant.
“Alright, Win’!”
“Leesh! ‘ow you doin’?”
“Yeah, I’m alright, thanks; you seen Shari yet? She’s paying for me in.”
“Nah, sistah, but go down and I’ll tell her yuh at the bar. Don’t be standin’ up ‘ere in the cold.”
“Thanks, Win’.”
We don’t know each other that well, I reflect, but Winnie makes it a point of his job to remember the regulars – and is one of the reasons Faces had kept him on for so long. His clipped consonants and smiling eyes made everybody feel comfort – and his muscles made them feel safe. There wasn’t a crook in town who would dare try to take the door money off Winnie, let alone worry any of the clientele of whichever venue he was working.
I head down the staircase, bypassing the payment booth with a nod from Winnie, and I’m immediately flanked by the wall of faces watching me descend; one of the club’s more esoteric features, the stairs featured white ceramic tiles moulded in the shape of a mannequin’s face emerging from the otherwise square platform, dozens of them. On the way down, they felt like encouragement; on the way back up, tanked and with the evening’s revelries over, they felt like judgement.
Reaching the bottom of the staircase, and as always, I’m presented with two options: go left, to the main dancefloor, the most modern music and the largest of the two bars; go right, to the quaintly named “Retro Room”, with its smaller bar and focus on the music of Motown. Usually, I’d go left, as I would be with people and, therefore, would already be in the mood to party – however, as I was still waiting for Shari to arrive, I lean right and enjoy the slightly quieter bar, soundtracked presently by the pearl notes of Diana Ross and the Supremes ordering me to stop in the name of love.
Fewer than a dozen people were in the Retro Room, making it even quieter than usual. This room had seen brighter days, prior to Faces taking over the space; now, the old burgundy carpet was sticky from a decade of spilt beer and a dearth of cleaning, the black paint, that had been applied to cover up the old ‘70s lime green, was flaking from the walls, and the nicotine-stained fabrics that covered the seats in the room were all threadbare and beginning to tear. Because this room was meant to be a breakout from the noise of the main dancefloor, somewhere to escape for a minute, rather than a valuable addition to the club’s floorspace, it was neglected. As such, it was always quite quiet, a place where people went for minutes not hours. That would also mean it would take minutes, not hours, for Shari to find me when she arrives.
Meandering over to the bar, I size up my options: of all the house spirits, wholesale purchases of unknown brands, nothing really jumped out at me – and I can feel the hangover they would cause travelling back through time to hit me before I even drink them. I opt instead for a Babycham. The bartender, dressed in black denim and a black shirt, as if to attempt to become one with the wall, silently opens the requested bottle and decants it into a glass whilst Marvin Gaye instructs me to get it on. Passing the glass to me, he takes the proffered pound with his other hand and turns without a sound. I watch him briefly as he dials the price into the till and deposits the money into its maw before surveying the otherwise empty counter and disappearing into the back through a curtain of corks beside him. Now alone, I sip the overly-fizzy, overly-sweet perry and wait.
And wait.
Now on my third Babycham, I wonder if Shari is ever coming at all. The barman is beginning to look at me like I’m one of those loners who come out in order to be alone. I hope that the hour and a half I spent with a diffuser and mousse contradicts this impression. I know that this is a blind date, but I did put an effort in – just in case he’s not really my type and I can instead spend a little time getting to know someone else on the dancefloor later.
Fingers crossed.


Joel had been especially clear about this: don’t look too polished. Apparently, Shari’s mate was a nice girl but one who didn’t like affectation. She just wanted a normal person who didn’t take things too seriously. So, I’d immediately had a complete life crisis and had to try on everything I owned to see what looked like I cared but didn’t look like I cared too much. Christ, this is why I’m single – how do people manage this dating thing? Especially as I’ve never met her before… Joel was clear about that, too: blind dates make things more interesting, apparently. Though it wasn’t how he’d met Shari, and was convinced that it would be the right way for me, nineteen and having had one fleeting relationship in junior school with a girl in the year above who wore denim dungarees and called herself “Rolo” (even though her name was Alexandria), to meet the Girl Of My Dreams. Yeah, he’d even emphasised the capitals. I don’t know why I was taking this advice from the Lothario of Ladywood, for whom this was only his first proper date with Shari anyway; probably because I see him as at least capable of holding down a relationship for longer than three days and as having been able to find at least one girl willing to actually date him.
I settle on a dark blue polo shirt – you can’t go wrong with a polo, surely? – and my favourite straight-cut jeans. They’re pretty normal, but they’re comfortable, and I need to be comfortable tonight. Paired with some Going Out Shoes (yes, I’m as bad as Joel), this should be unpolished enough to look like it’s just what I’d normally wear but dressed up enough to look like I’m at least trying. I run my hands through my hair and call it quits on that one – I’m never going to improve the mop any more than it currently is, so I can at least call that truly natural.
Why am I so nervous for a blind date?
I can hear the front door being knocked; Mom opens it and calls up the stairs: “Paul! Joel is here!” I hear muffled chat then the footsteps of a man on a mission climbing the ascent to my room. The door swings open with the force of a thousand intentions; there, holding onto the handle with a grin the size of the Suez Canal is Joel, wearing a vintage purple satin shirt untucked over black trousers. He looks at me – takes one look – and says:
“Mate, can we have a word about your hair?”

We leave the house with a cry of “Don’t wait up!” to Mom. It’s only a ten minute walk to Faces from my house, which is why Joel always comes to mine first. He lives a little further away, almost in Edgbaston, but along the same route into town – it’s why we ended up at the same high school and subsequently became best mates.
“So,” he ventures, “you ready to meet the girl of your dreams, mate?”
“I still can’t believe that I agreed to this. You only need me there so that she isn’t bored while you’re off necking Shari!”
He looks at me with faux horror. “I can’t believe you’d think that of me! You know how invested I am in making sure you’re set up for life with a woman you can marry. Like, it’s a bigger ambition for me than finding my own girl!”
“You have a girl, mate!”
“Well, we’ll see about her – tonight might change everything.”
“Oh, I see! You need me there as a get-out clause just in case she’s more of a nutcase that she’s led you to believe so far?”
“Oh ye of little faith; I’ll have you know that I intend to have at least two more dates – and apparently her mate is a catch. She’s from around here too, name’s Alisha. She’s half-caste, Mom came over on the Windrush and met her Dad here in Birmingham. They split up a few months or so ago and Alisha moved back in with her Mom. He apparently wasn’t good to them, but they’re a nice family.” “Sounds like she’s pretty grounded then.”
“Yeah, Shari says that she’s got her shit together – even with some of the neighbours being pretty anti-… well, anything that isn’t what they think is normal.”
I mull on this for a minute. “Fuck racists, mate.”
He laughs and nods. The eighties was a time of rebirth; of people actively challenging binaries, through music and performance, and of enjoying humanity and culture. It was also a time of selfishness and greed, punctuated by the 3-series driving Yuppies that were increasingly buying up the land around where we live to build shitty boxes in which they won’t live but gives them somewhere to put the ever-changing mistresses and to “invest in the next big property boom” – pricing out those of us who’ve always lived here by buying up all the available reasonably priced property at inflated rates. Worse, the problem wasn’t just the divide between the rich and poor, like it’s always been; now, it’s also old and young – they have ideas which we just don’t share, ideas like it being bad to have a partner that isn’t completely one ‘race’ or another. Rich old people are the absolute worst of the lot.
We continue in this vein alongside the wide dual carriageway that leads to the entrance to Faces. It runs alongside some of the Victorian parts of the city, contrasting with the tower blocks and council terraces in which we live, providing a little insight into what is the real feeling of disparity between the old and the young: grandeur vs. cost, space vs. density, accessibility vs. commonality. What’s for us is consistently in the cheap, the grey and the new; what’s for them is in the marble, the terracotta and the ancient. We can only walk alongside and wish that we had such things.
Breaking the momentary silence created by my chewing of this truth, Joel says “She said to meet her outside Faces. I can’t see her, so she can’t be here yet.” On our final approach to the club, I can see that the usual doorman is on duty; with Joel’s announcement, we cut a left into the chippy next door. I could do with lining my stomach – nervousness had meant that I’d avoided food earlier in favour of spending my time trying to perfect my outfit. “Shall we have something quick to eat, mate?”
“Paul. Eating’s cheating.”
“Yeah, but… surely some chicken pakora isn’t gonna be that bad?”
“If you want to burp garlic and half-digested chicken spices right into her face, then you go for it, kidda!”
I reflect on this, seeing immediately the after-effects of such a disaster. “You’re probably right, mate. I’ll just have a cone of chips then.”
“You’re a nightmare, Pablo.”


“What the FUCK do you know about my past?”
“All I’m saying is that you are pretty left wing but you have a very comfortable, middle-class life, by all accounts.”
“How dare you! Have you ever, once, had to worry about being somewhere because of your gender or race? Have you ever, once, had to deal with the looks people give you for being with someone who isn’t the same colour as you?”
“Well, no…”
“Have you had the pain of childbirth?”
“Clearly not, I’m a man. Neither have you, though, unless there’s a kid out there you haven’t mentioned in all our time here?”
“What fucking right do you have to any knowledge of my life? How the fuck do you think you have ANY right to tell me how I should think, feel or act, ESPECIALLY when it comes to anything to do with race or womanhood? Just because you’re a Tory-voting prick…”
This is the point the lecturer decided it was appropriate to step in.
University is a wheeze. I’d got in on a scholarship because my grades were pretty good and I was “a very visible and exotic addition to the University cohort” (which were the exact words the interviewing panel had used when they gave me the feedback). They needed a brown girl to make up the numbers – but not too brown so as to scare off the touchy white people who were most afraid of change. Doesn’t matter, meant that I got a place at an ancient red-brick that would otherwise be broadly inaccessible – but that also meant that I have to deal with these types periodically, the uninformed village-dwellers for whom the idea of blackness – however diluted – is something which only appears on the television and appears to be taking over their lives.
“I think now may be a sensible time to take a step back from the emotion in this argument and consider both sides.”
I pivoted on the head of a pin to look him square in his moist blue eyes. “For that matter, what would YOU know about it, given your white maleness? You think it’s possible, after years of experiencing racist nonsense like this, to be emotionless?”
“Well, frankly, I don’t think that’s the point…”
I cut into his sentence like a shovel into the soil with which I was about to be buried.
“It’s exactly the point – you’re just as bad as him! So I shouldn’t, after dragging myself up from the pits of the social care system by trying my fucking hardest, express any opinion about how I got here? That, because I’m now educated and therefore above what you consider to be the proletariat, that I should suddenly start thinking like a rich, old, white man for whom these problems are nothing more than sitcom?”
The last sentence was the kicker.
“Alisha, I think that’s where you should leave.”
Three weeks later, I was invited to an “open conversation” with the Dean of the school regarding my “academic conduct”. Loosely translated: ‘Control yourself – or the next time, you’re out.’ After a heated discussion, and under duress, I’d agreed to that one on the chin, on the basis that this was “still a very secure opportunity” for me. Yes, I rolled my eyes when he said it. However, I resolved – and maintain – that I wouldn’t ever take that nonsense again.
Thus, here I am, two years later. I’m a few weeks away from submitting my dissertation, on the sociological impact of Commonwealth immigration into the greater Birmingham area. My heart and soul, my ancestry, poured into a study into ghettoes and corridors and communities. Less than half a semester from being an actual expert in the movement of people. Why, then, do I feel like there’s a hollowing inside that I can’t fill? The experience of the last few years have been formative and wonderful, supported by Shari (who, taking an apprenticeship rather than an academic route, has been a rock ; she may be a little pink, but she’s a true friend), but… the society in which I find myself isn’t ready for people of colour to be educated and articulate. The hollow I feel is the realisation that, regardless of my demonstrable intelligence, I’ll forever be defined by my skin and hair.
So, the real question, therefore, is what do I do next. What do I do with a degree in Politics and Sociology in a society which doesn’t want people who look like me to be in politics?
By degree, I should be looking at the sorts of careers that use my skills – city planning within the Council, anything which uses historical data and analysis such as civil engineering… But, the nagging feeling that I’m going to be hindered plays strong and leaves me with the bitter feeling that I will always be left last, cast aside for someone with blonder hair or lighter skin; the ghosts of the present haunting my future. I have begun to apply, instead, for easier to access careers – administrative roles for companies which may or may not be here in a few years time, the sort that need someone efficient and don’t care particularly about the colour of one’s skin, usually because they were run by others who were equally excluded from society and, instead, had chosen to try to go it alone; grad schemes in huge corporations which, though won’t use my skills to their fullest, will still ensure I’m paid and into which I can blend background. I want, however, in the face of society’s desires, to go into politics. I want to change the world for the better, for those of us who feel as dispossessed as I do. But I don’t see a route in.
So, when Shari asked me if I wanted to go out, I thought ‘fuck it’. Why not. I don’t have the future I should and I don’t have clue what else to do tonight, so why shouldn’t I go and get pissed?
“Where are we going, babe?”
“Faces, Leesh – usual – so that I can get to know Joel. Oh, just so you know…”
I raised an eyebrow. “What, Shari?”
“I’ve invited Joel’s bestie too…”


See, I had grand plans and Pablo’s need for chips isn’t necessarily standing in the way of those. I complain, but I’m not really that bothered. The chippy is also within eye-line of the bus stop – which doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to assume that’s how Shari’s getting here now, being as if she walked it, she’d be at least another half an hour.
We stand in the queue with every other dickhead who wants to eat before drinking. They’ll all be revisiting the flavour later, so I don’t know why they’re that bothered about stuffing down fried potato. Whatever. Pab probably needs to eat to calm his nerves – he’s been proper twitchy about meeting this girl since I mentioned her. I gave him the low-down that Shari gave me about her; a couple of days later, Shari came round when Pab was at mine in the afternoon and gave him a fuller description of her ethereal amazingness; he’s been on edge ever since. Probably our fault, I should have made it sound more casual and Shari probably should have just settled with ‘yeah, she’s nice, you’ll like her’. She sounds nice enough, don’t get me wrong, and Shari has good taste in mates, but for fuck’s sake, he needs to get a grip. He’s panicking to fuck over a girl he’s never met, just because of how Shari has built up this image of her; the girl sounds amazing, in fairness to Pab, all brains and beauty, but there’s no need to get overexcited about it all. He’ll end up killing the mood before it’s been born.
I’ll get him a beer once we’re downstairs, just to take the edge off, before he meets her, save him from having an abortion.

On the topic of girls. Hilariously, I’ve been seeing Shari now for a few weeks, but we’ve not been on a night out together yet. We met at school originally, but nothing happened – we were both too young, too interested in other people. We met again a few weeks ago at a match – turns out that our little brothers play together on the same football team down the road. Lucky it was my turn to take him, ‘cause I was giving Mom and Dad a few hours to themselves. All wine and radio for them, for sure. Shari and I hit it off big time, more than I expected us to – she’s into the same sort of music I am, though she’s got a twist for pop music which I’m not sure I’m on board with, and she’s a stunner. We’ve met a few times since, just for walks out and about, looking after the boys at the football or whatever; but it was her suggestion to come to the club together for once. She’s often there with her friends, and I’m there with mine, and we spend some time together while there, but she had the great idea to combine those groups so that we can spend the night together rather than just one off chats while we’re with our mates. So, I told her about Pab – and she mentioned her mate Leesh – and the rest was just planning.
Pab was over the moon when I mentioned that he wouldn’t be playing third wheel – he hates it when he’s with mates who fuck off with girls at the first chance, particularly as he tends to stay more sober than most of us. Dunno what it is about him – maybe one of his parents has a drink problem or something, but he’s never mentioned it – we just accept that a night with Pab usually means that at least one of us is responsible for getting the rest on buses and into taxis. He’s a good lad.

We’re at the front of the serpentine and almost infinite chip queue when he quips: “So, tell me again what she’s like, Jay.”
Fuck sake. This will be the third time he’s had the low-down on Leesh. “Girl of your dreams, mate. No question. Pretty, fucking clever, and she’s got a head full of ambitions.”
He looks down, briefly, then back up into my eyes. “I’m fucked then, mate.”
I laugh. This is the first time he’s actually reacted to a description of her in any way other than with dreams. “Nah, mate, you ain’t fucked. You’ll just need to try harder to come across as a rounded human being who does more than just eat fucking chips and doss around with genuinely fucking amazing people like me.” He side-eyes me and we both chuckle.

Outside, Pab begins to devour the paper-wrapped bag of potato. It’s like he hasn’t eaten for a week. “Slow the fuck down, mate, you’re gonna end up burping salt and vinegar all over her.”
“I’d not thought of that, shit.” He looks, despondently, at his greasy paw.
“Just… stop swallowing so fast, mate, you’ll eat twice as much air as chip!” Why the fuck did I feel like his dad? He’s my best mate, but I’ve always been pretty protective of him. He’s not filled with confidence, certainly not as much as he is filled with carbs. I dunno why, but I’ve felt it since school – he’s always seemed to need like a big brother figure, someone to point him in the right direction, to make sure he’s alright. At some point, subconsciously, I decided that was gonna be me.
“Cheers, Jay. Couldn’t do this without you.”
“I know, dickhead.”
We watch buses and taxis stop and start, rotating around the ring road as if they were planets orbiting the solar system in slow motion, as we wait and Pab consumes the seemingly endless amount of chips inside the clearly deceptively small wrapping. However, the silence and moment is broken when the bus she must be on (given the time and the route) approaches the stop; as predicted, I can see her through the windscreen. She gets off, looking phenomenal – but waving like a fucking maniac.


Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
My hair’s a mess, my clothes aren’t right at all and I’m running an hour late.
Leesh is gonna kill me.
Jay will wait, we’ve been chatting about tonight for AGES, but I promised Leesh I’d be there to make sure her blind date was at least introduced before we go into the club.
So, now I’m panicking. I need to get out of here rapido before they all lose it with me. Outfit is the best it’s gonna be, hair is now it’s closest to Olivia Newton John it’s ever gonna be. Let’s go.
I’m halfway up the road and I’m immediately grateful for that last extra layer of hairspray; The air was humid – the start of summer, warm and moist – and I am the enemy of frizz. Also, this kind of air leads to people sweating – especially on the bus, the bus I need to get anywhere on time now that I’ve left it so late to leave the house. Thinking about it, I hear the tell-tale grunt of a steel oblong asthmatically dragging itself up the hill behind me. Fuck, I left the house later than I should have. I pick up the pace, just getting to the stop in time to jump on behind the last person in the queue. As always, the bus is more expensive than it has any right to be considering how fucking awful it is – it smells of wet dog, it looks like it was painted with canal dredged mud and it is always – always – early. That sounds great unless you rely on the timetable. Like tonight.
I find the least sticky seat and plonk my arse down for the journey. It’s only a few stops at this time of night, but saves about 20 minutes of wandering up the dual carriageway and over the Big Roundabout at the top of the road. This bus stops almost right outside the club, so that saves a whole heap of time too. The only regret I have is that I chose not to bring my Walkman, as I don’t want to lose it. So, instead, I have to listen to the chatter of the people also sharing my chariot. The blond-haired former starlet on the seat over the aisle from mine is avoiding the sustained gaze of the man in the dirty brown coat sitting on the rear facing seat at the front of the bus, his grey moustache quivering every time she accidentally catches his eye; he is flanked by a loquacious pair of kids, not old enough to be going out, chattering about school friends romantic dalliances, as if these were the defining connections they were going to sustain for the rest of their lives. It’s cute – utter bollocks, but cute. In the row in front of mine is a bloke talking to himself – the denim jacket he wears looks like it has seen better days; it is patched with a number of little fabric tags – the CND logo was the most obvious, the edges of the peace symbol prominent on his left shoulder, a look contrasting with the shaved head he sports. I can’t hear what he’s mumbling, but he seems troubled; the sooner I’m off this bus the better. Two more stops to go.
As the bus sails into the view of the club, I get up quickly and trot to the front of the aisle; the rest of the pantheon behind me get up too, some faster than others, with the usual after-effect when the bus stops suddenly; I can hear the shriek of the girl behind me as the brown-coated man “accidentally” bumps into her, taking an opportunity provided by physics to fulfil a fantasy – I’m pleased to also hear the thunderclap of skin on skin as she slaps him across the face for his fucking deviance – thank fuck for feminism. The doors to the bus concertina and I jump off.
Across the way, I can see Jay and Paul sitting outside the chippy, Paul a hand deep inside a small portion. I wave so they can see us and jog over to them, my hair bouncing with each bound – I’ve been looking forward to this night for ages, especially as it’ll be Joel and my first proper date. I can see that he’s already got a slight sheen on his forehead from warmth in this weather, which doesn’t surprise me.
“Alright, lads!”
“Alright, Shari!” shouts Joel; Paul is still swallowing down a handful of chips so instead gives a salty wave in my direction.
“Have you been waiting long? Sorry, the bus…”
“Don’t worry, babe,” interrupts Joel, “as you can see, we found something to occupy ourselves!”
“Ha, nice. How are the chips, Paul?”
“They’re alright, Shari, but not as nice as the orange ones from the chippy by yours!”
“Ain’t that the truth – come on, mate, get them gone so we can go down. I bet Leesh has been here for ages already.” Poor Leesh – she must have been bored shitless down there.
Paul eyes up the last few morsels in the newspaper and decides not to bother. He gets up, wraps the scraps up in themselves, then drops the package nonchalantly into the litter bin on the kerb. He turns back to us and says, “Come on then, let’s go and meet your mate.”
I smile – he’s gonna love her, I know it. We walk towards the entrance to the club, met by the usual doorman, Winston. He’s a gentle giant – but the boys still become almost imperceptibly on edge as they approach, as if he’s going to take them down for not having ID. As it was, all was as normal as always – he waves them in and they begin to walk downstairs. He taps me on the shoulder as I pass. “Girl, be careful down dere tonight. Make sure those boys look after yuh.”
“They will, Winston.”
“Yuh girl Leesh is down dere already.”
I nod, thankful that someone is paying attention to the safety of everyone in the club. I tread carefully as I go down the staircase, the boys just in front of me, observed by all the eyes in the wall. Knowing Leesh, she won’t have gone to wait in the main room as that means being surrounded by people in groups while she’s standing there alone.
“I’m gonna go and see if Leesh is in the retro room – you boys coming?”
“We’ll go to the main room first and see if anyone else is out. You go fetch her and meet us at the bar?”
“Alright – see you in a minute.”
I bear right and head into the retro room while the boys turn left into the maelstrom of partygoers. There, sitting at the bar like a sausage, is Leesh. “Leesh!” I call over the music; she turns her head towards me and smiles. Playfully, she shouts, “Alright, Shari; come on, I’m on the ‘cham already! What time do you call this?”
“Alright, chick, gimme a second!” I wave at the barman who nonchalantly tilts his head at me. “Three Babychams please, mate!”
“Three?” Leesh looks at me.
“Babe, I’ve got catching up to do!”


Shari is piling them back. She’s finished the initial few she bought and replenished them, offering me one in the process. I’m not one to turn down a freebie, so I warmly accepted it; I sip delicately on the glass while she necks another directly from the bottle, upending the little deer so that it looks like it’s leaping gently but inexorably down towards the floor, falling with its little blue ribbon trailing behind it. She’s going to be shitfaced before long…
She grabs my arm after chugging the last of the bottle, discarding it into a nearby bin with the aim of a professional netball player, and drags me towards the Party Room. Within there, a throng of sweating bodies, pulsating with the rhythm pile-driving the room from the columns of speakers in each corner. I spy Joel at the bar, raised above the dancefloor so as to be more easily visible; Shari spots them moments after me and, with a shriek, drags me through the crowd towards them. Buffeted by the drunk and the disorderly, I am strangely attracted to this lifestyle – the hedonism, the escapism, set free by booze and bass, leaves me feeling more alive than I have for a very long time. I catch the eyes of people as I pass them; a ginger girl, perfect perm piled atop her powdered face, cavorting carefree next to a tall lad, athletic, wearing jeans which are slightly too tight and, therefore, show very obviously that he is turned on by dancing behind her; two girls side by side, friends I surmise, one with a ‘fro which has been trimmed to a perfect sphere, the other with long straight hair, but both dancing synchronised in almost matching dresses, cut above the knee and across the shoulder, cinched in with ornate belts; the group of lads dancing together, pushing and shoving, with bottles of beer in hand, pointing out the girls in the room that they think are attractive – I wonder how long they’ve been here, or how many times, doing the same thing without ever building the courage to talk to one of the girls they’re pointing at.
Shari is relentless – she drags me up the three steps to the bar level, almost without recognition that I might need to actually process where my feet are going, and continues like a bullet towards the bar. Joel is standing next to a boy whose face I cannot see – he’s facing the barman, clearly ordering drinks. As we approach Joel, he completes his order; he then turns as Joel nudges him and he looks at me, catching me dead in the eye.
He’s slight, but has broad shoulders – the sort of build that would make a good rugby player, from my minimal experience watching matches at school. His hair, nutmeg brown, haloes his pink but gentle face, inset with hazel eyes that are sparkling as he looks at me.

He’s breathtaking.


I survey the room. It’s bustling, busier than it’s been for a few weekends now – it must be pay-day for a lot of them. There is a feeling of openness in the room, lubricated by branded beers and cheapo spirits; it’s great, it makes me feel like I have it all and could have more.
Turning, I look at the barman with the eyes of a lad who needs a drink asap. He takes pity on me, given the busyness of the bar, and cuts over to me.
“Two bottles of lager please, mate!” I shout over the volume of the music.
He nods, seeing the pointlessness of saying anything over the symphony of synth and syncopation; instead, he just turns and aims for the fridge. With a swift movement, he’s retrieved two green bottles with faded labels and has deftly removed their metal stoppers. I hand him a couple of quid – he doesn’t move to offer me change, taking the excess as a thank you for the speed of service. Fair enough, I think, given the circumstances.
With a smile, I turn back to look at Joel and the dancefloor. I see Shari, moving like a dreadnought through the crowd at us, but it’s only as she moves up the steps towards the bar that I see the girl she’s bringing with her.
I remember, a long time ago, reading a book I’d borrowed from the local library about ancient history; it seems a little cliched, but she is what I imagine Helen of Troy to have looked like. Not the Western movie version, the nonsense that she might have been blond and blue – no, much darker, brown on brown, but with a smoothness of skin that looks almost artificial and eyes that ring like bells during a bright Easter service; her lips curl at the edges into a natural smile, no hint of it being put on for the crowd. She embodies perfection, for me.
Maybe Joel has finally come through. If we hit it off, I’ll be a fucking lucky man.

Hours pass. We chat and dance, we drink and dance, we collapse into seats in the Retro Room and chat, we repeat the cycle. I don’t, at any point, feel like there’s anything not to talk about. We resonate with one another in a way I wasn’t expecting – she is super intelligent, which I’m drawn to, and clearly independent, something else I like. I take her again to the dancefloor, and the DJ plays something a little slower; I draw her in closer and we dance, delicately pressed against one another, in rhythm with the tune. She looks me square in the eye; I take the opportunity and lean in for a kiss. She returns it, wholeheartedly.


It’s always a bit shit finishing these shifts at this time. We’re the latest open, so there’s nowhere else to go afterwards, meaning that watching this lot pile out and go home is pretty much the indication that the night is over, save for cleaning up. I’ll be home in a couple of hours to sleep until midday. It’s a great job, but you do sometimes find yourself wishing that you were the punter not the provider. At least it keeps me in beer money while I’m studying – for the nights I can go out, obviously.
I drag slowly on the cigarette I’m holding almost coquettishly; I’m practicing my nonchalance for drama class tomorrow. We’re covering the cinema of the 1940s and 1950s, which rely on female characters being overly stereotypically feminine – the damsel in distress and the figure of male desire, ultimately submissive even when headstrong, all angles and eyes – and I want to show the lecturer how the genre can be subverted by flipping the genders in the role. This is the age of the New Romantic, isn’t it? So, surely Brief Encounter or Gone With The Wind are well overdue a reimagining? I imagine myself as Will Scarlett O’Hara, in a kilt rather than a dress, being cast backwards over the arm of Clark Gable, his strong arms holding me safe as he leans in to lock lips with me, my heart beating, palpitating, in time with his regular, rhythmic breathing, which, as he exhales, caresses my face in a cloud of mint and desire…
I discreetly reorganise myself and shake off that train of thought. Instead, I look at the crowds climbing up the stairs to the double doors at the summit – so many of them forget that they had to go down to get in and, therefore, will need to climb back up again, pissed and lazy, to the top, like half-skilled, drunken mountaineers, scaling an Everest of exits. I rarely give a shit about this particular problem – it’s their issue not mine – and today is no exception from the status quo, their grunts of displeasure, the baritone of ‘come on, love, I’ll help you’ being followed by either the inevitable stumble under double weight or a soprano ‘fuck off, I’m alright’. I turn back and look out at the street, where so many of them are waiting at the bus stop for the once-an-hour night bus that they’ve just missed; some are waving at taxis which, knowing what awaits if they pick them up, choose carefully which ones to pull over for; some are simply sitting or standing around on the pavement, deciding whether to opt for either of these solutions or to simply walk home instead.
In the midst of all this, I spot two of them. I saw them earlier – it looked like the first time that they’d met. Usually, I’d expect that to have worn off with the booze and the dancing – you’d be surprised the number of times I’ve seen people just dance until they’re dancing alone, then dancing with others, then one of them is crying in a corner and the other is being swallowed in the bogs – but not this time. They’re still chatting as if they’ve been doing it all night.
“Hey, Win’?”
“Yeah, Si?”
“You know either of those two?” I point, discreetly, with the ash-end of the fag. “That one on de right – dat’s Leesh. Alisha, bruddah, a nice gyal from down Ladywood. Her muddah knows mah own.”
“Who’s that she’s with?”
Winnie shrugs, nonchalantly, his broad shoulders; he smiles, gently, as a light drizzle falls from the clouds to his shaved head, making it glisten like yellow diamonds in the glow of the sodium streetlamps. The gentle giant – terrifying if you don’t know him, but utterly adorable if you do. His wife, who he dotes on, is a very lucky woman.
“Hm.” I nod, and look back at them. They look good together. It’s a shame that, even in the age of the New Romantic, the look he gives her couldn’t be given to me by a bloke. I mean, imagine the looks on the faces of the people who voted for Maggie if I were to walk down New Street at midday on a Saturday afternoon holding hands, let alone anything else, with the just-about-twenty-one-year-old lad I’ve been letting discover me? He’d need to divorce his wife before that could happen, anyway, and he won’t do that because of the kid. Too many people forced to hide who they are because we don’t have “an inalienable right” to be ourselves under this fucking Government.
Fuck sake.
They look so happy.
Why can’t I find that happiness?
I watch as they kiss. It’s tender as fuck, his massive paws holding the side of her delicate cheeks with nothing more than the tips of his fingers, while she inclines her head and allows him to brush her lips with his. They are beautiful together. My envy knows no bounds at how easy it is for them to do this.
Tomorrow night, I’m going to go to the Raven and find a lad who’ll look at me like that for the night. I only need one night, just to take the edge off. I watch them walk away, arm in arm. In my soul, I wish them the best.
I take one last, long, drag on the cheap fag before it reaches the yellowed filter and drop it on the pavement. I tread on it, heavily, and crush the end in a pivot with my tired old shoe.


Saturday Night by Dav Kelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0


from odnuris

La pensión donde me alojo tiene un huerto en el patio trasero. Cuando acerco mi mejilla a la ventana alcanzo a ver uno de sus extremos que está junto a un ciruelo. Hace algunos días, de ese árbol he visto bajar a una cría de zorzal junto a su madre, la que le enseña a buscar alimento. Al ave pequeña le faltan las plumas de la cola, por lo que presenta algunas dificultades para bajar y subir del nido. La madre es la que baja primero y hace un sonido especial para llamar a su pequeño. Lo he visto bajar y abrir la boca, como si esperara la comida servida. La madre hace un sonido similar, aunque más suave y breve, y empieza a picar la tierra. Después hace un gesto con su cabeza, como si demandara a su cría a imitarla. Hace un tiempo, la dueña de la pensión me pidió que bajara cada mañana a la huerta a cosechar los tomates maduros para el desayuno. Una de esas mañanas me encontré de frente con la cría de zorzal. Me sorprendió verla acercarse, mover la cabeza, apenas escondida entre matorrales y lechugas. Pareciera anhelar el desafío, incluso exigirlo. Entonces, reconocí el llamado de su madre, el mismo que hacía para invitarla a comer, solo que el sonido era más intenso y reiterado. Logré verla en una de las ramas del ciruelo. Saltaba y se movía de un lado para el otro. La cría titubeaba, avanzaba y retrocedía, hasta que su madre bajó y, con ruidos, logró que el ave pequeña se le acercara dando saltitos. Después de recoger los tomates, miré al árbol. Estaban los dos juntos, ala con ala casi. El pequeño comía del pico de su mamá. Me imaginé que quizá esa era la recompensa por haber seguido las indicaciones. Una recompensa por aprender a sobrevivir.

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from odnuris

Odnuris es un pequeño pueblo que queda al sur de [...]. De la poca gente que vive aquí, solo un par de personas, creo, sospechan algo de lo que hacía antes del colapso. Una de esas personas es el viejo de la parcela 2, la que, según me ha indicado la dueña de la pensión, fue de las primeras en instalarse, hace ya muchos años. En realidad, el pueblo no tuvo nombre ni existió como tal sino desde la crisis. En esa época, un grupete de neocolonos citadinos se asentó entre las parcelas 1 y 2 e inauguró la primera «avenida» —así la llamaron, aunque, hasta ahora, no es más que una angosta faja de tierra llena de hoyos y un barrial en invierno—, la primera plaza y, en medio, plantaron un manzano, cuya copa alcanzo a ver desde mi pieza. Después, como si necesitaran resguardar los bordes de la «avenida», pusieron, a cada lado, plátanos orientales y álamos. A partir de esto, entre los socios fundadores se generó cierto debate al respecto: unos, aquellos de espíritu bucólico, señalaron que se hizo así para evitar que el viento del norte secara los sembradíos; otros, quizá los más urbanos, me cuenta la dueña de la pensión, se aventuraron a decir que era el justificativo perfecto para bautizarla como «alameda»; solo algunos pocos cosmopolitas esbozaron la palabra «bulevar», sin éxito. El resto, a esa faja de tierra la llamamos «la calle».

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from nasser

This is my first post to the writ.ee service. Such a nice, short URL which will make it easier to remember and discover!

Have a nice day y'all!


from Alex0007 blog

test content

Another content behind <!--more--> tag

Some minor markdown issues, but looking good so far!

Also it's sad there are no trusted #WriteFreely instance holders...

But anyway it's better way to publish long posts in Fediverse

UPD: Oh no, the layout is fucked up on writ.ee instance.......


from significadocolor

Algunos ejemplos de cómo los colores pueden afectar nuestras emociones y comportamiento incluyen: El rojo puede aumentar la frecuencia cardíaca y la presión arterial, y puede ser percibido como energizante y estimulante. El azul suele ser percibido como calmante y relajante, y puede reducir la frecuencia cardíaca y la presión arterial. El amarillo puede ser percibido como alegre y energizante, pero también puede ser percibido como agresivo o desagradable si se utiliza en exceso. El verde puede ser percibido como calmante y equilibrado, y puede ayudar a reducir el estrés y la ansiedad. El morado suele ser percibido como sofisticado y lujoso, y puede ser utilizado para transmitir una sensación de misterio o creatividad. Es importante tener en cuenta que estos efectos pueden variar según la persona y el contexto, y que no hay una regla universal sobre cómo los colores afectan a todas las personas de la misma manera. Además, es importante tener en cuenta que el significado y el efecto de los colores pueden variar según la cultura y el contexto. Los colores tienen diferentes significados y simbolismos en diferentes culturas y contextos. Aunque hay muchas interpretaciones diferentes de lo que pueden simbolizar los colores, en esta página web especializada, considerada cómo la mejor de internet, hay algunas interpretaciones comunes de algunos colores. Eso sí, es importante tener en cuenta que estas interpretaciones son solo algunos ejemplos comunes y que los colores pueden tener diferentes significados en diferentes contextos y culturas. Incluso en diferentes momentos de la historia los colores pueden haber cambiado. Y si estás preparado para conocer en profundidad el significado de los colores en la biblia entra en este portal especializado en español. Te daremos antes unas pequeñas anotaciones. En la Biblia, los colores a menudo tienen simbolismos y significados específicos. A continuación se presentan algunos ejemplos de cómo se utilizan los colores en la Biblia y lo que pueden simbolizar: El rojo se asocia a menudo con la sangre y la vida. En la Biblia, el rojo puede simbolizar el sacrificio y la redención, como en la historia de Jesús, que derramó su sangre en la cruz para expiar los pecados de la humanidad. El azul se asocia a menudo con la fidelidad y la lealtad. En la Biblia, el azul puede simbolizar la presencia de Dios y su protección, como en el caso de la túnica azul que se le atribuye a Jesús en el libro de los Hechos de los Apóstoles. El verde se asocia a menudo con la naturaleza y la vida. En la Biblia, el verde puede simbolizar la esperanza y el crecimiento espiritual, como en el caso de los salmos que hablan de “la hierba del campo”, que representa la brevedad de la vida humana. El amarillo se asocia a menudo con la sabiduría y la luz. En la Biblia, el amarillo puede simbolizar la gloria de Dios y la presencia del Espíritu Santo, como en el caso de la descripción del vestido de Jesús como “resplandeciente como el sol” en el Evangelio de Mateo. Morado: El morado se asocia a menudo con la nobleza y la riqueza. En la Biblia, el morado puede simbolizar la realeza y la autoridad, como en el caso de la vestimenta de los reyes y los líderes religiosos. Es importante tener en cuenta que estos son solo algunos ejemplos de cómo se utilizan los colores en la Biblia y que los colores pueden tener diferentes significados en diferentes contextos y pasajes bíblicos. Además, es importante tener en cuenta que el simbolismo de los colores puede variar según la traducción y la interpretación de la Biblia. La psicología de los colores es la rama de la psicología que se ocupa del efecto que tienen los colores en la mente y el comportamiento humano. Los colores pueden tener un impacto significativo en nuestras emociones, percepciones y comportamiento, y por lo tanto, se utilizan a menudo en la publicidad, el diseño gráfico y el marketing para transmitir mensajes y crear una cierta atmósfera o estado de ánimo. El significado de los colores es el siguiente, dependiendo de cada uno de ellos: El rojo es a menudo asociado con la pasión, el amor, la emoción y la fuerza. También puede ser utilizado para indicar peligro o emergencia. El azul se asocia a menudo con la calma, la serenidad y la confianza. También puede ser utilizado para simbolizar la lealtad y la honestidad. El verde se asocia a menudo con la naturaleza, la frescura y la abundancia. También puede simbolizar la esperanza y el crecimiento. El amarillo se asocia a menudo con la alegría, la felicidad y la energía. También puede ser utilizado para simbolizar la cautela, como en los carteles de tráfico que advierten de peligros potenciales. El morado se asocia a menudo con la nobleza, la riqueza y la creatividad. También puede simbolizar el misterio y el espiritualismo. El blanco se asocia a menudo con la pureza, la inocencia y la limpieza. También puede ser utilizado para simbolizar la paz y la armonía. El negro se asocia a menudo con el lujo, la elegancia y la sofisticación. También puede simbolizar la misteriosidad y la oscuridad.

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from odnuris

Por la ventana de mi pieza alcanzo a ver una hilera de árboles caducifolios gracias a los cuales sostengo el paso de las estaciones. Son estos, y no las aves migratorias —ya torcidas sus trayectorias a causa de ese mal que las mantiene sedentarias—, el cimiento actual del mundo. En realidad, digo «mundo» por costumbre, como vestigio o testimonio fósil de la grandilocuencia con la que nos criaron. Son el cimiento de este pueblo, al menos. La caída de sus hojas anticipa la llegada del frío, pero las golondrinas ya estaban aquí desde antes. Los lugareños suelen decir que llevan unas cuantas primaveras sin moverse, y que sus trinos y vuelos perdieron la belleza de antaño. Discrepo de la última afirmación. He vivido entre ellos algo más de dos ciclos y nada me gusta más que verlas rasar los sembradíos, segar el rumbo, cazar polillas, recogerse y alzarse. En secreto, me reconforta imaginar que nos parecemos en eso: en que caímos sedentarios sobre esta tierra por causa de un mal.

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from normis

Nu pārbaudīsim cik ātri #Fediverse parādīsies šis ieraksts no mana jaunā testa bloga uz Toot.lv serveriem. Fediversa viens no lielajiem plusiem ir tieši sadarbība starp dažādām sistēmām, taču praksē tas bieži klibo (nestrādā, bremzē, neatbalsta to ieraksta veidu, kuru vajag utt.).


from differance

Erich Mühsam: Das Verhör

Sie heissen? fragte mich der Direktor. Ich nannte den Namen. Geboren? Ja! Wann? meine ich. Ich nannte das Datum. Religion? Geht sie nichts an. Schreiben sie also: mosaisch! – Der Beamte schrieb. Was tun sie? Ich dichte. Wa–s? Ich trinke. Delyriker! schrieb der Beamte. Das Verhör dauerte noch lange. Schliesslich wurde mir die Fragerei zu bunt. Zum Donnerwetter! schrie ich. Bin ich denn hier in einem Tollhaus? Allerdings, erwiderte der Direktor freundlich und ließ mich in eine Zwangsjacke stecken.