Picnic blankets and magic carpets



Celebrating great British brands

No matter where I am, I can always write. That is to say, I’ll always have the means to write close to hand. Even when I was homeless, I always travelled with a notebook and pens. Nowadays, I carry a Filofax and if I’m going away for a period of time, I’ll take my typewriter with me (my laptop). My particular skew on life is not so much a box of chocolates; It’s more like a picnic. I’m still lonely sometimes but nowadays, I don’t live on a park bench. Having the tools which I do now, I can make metaphorical sandwiches. The fillings may not be to everyone’s liking but I’ve got the bread, the butter and the knife.

In just over a week, I’m going on holiday: I’m spending a week with my children and we’re all staying at my parents’ house. How very minor that must seem to most. To me it’s massive, as this is the first time in over three years that it’s been possible. Three years ago, there was a legal injunction preventing me from going within 50 metres of my parents’ house. For 18 months after that, my ex-wife wouldn’t allow me anywhere near my children. Those exclusions were for very good reasons and my family were absolutely right to keep me at bay: I was a drunk. Not violent but unpleasant.

It’s been many years since I had any kind of holiday: Chicago in 2001 was the last. I was there on September 11th, when the world changed. Before that, I was never bothered about holidays; Nor since actually. Before America, the furthest I’d ventured was France; One year when my family had a little money. Other than that, we tended to holiday at home as a family, often just going on “Days out”, to the Kent coast with a Tupperware container of sandwiches: Marmite or peanut butter, seasoned with sand. Those were the best of days.

Should I be writing about this in a public forum? Shouldn’t I be protecting my kids from seeing all of this? Should I not err on the side of caution if I’m in any way unsure? But then, have I not always worn my heart on my sleeve? Very well, but this isn’t about one person: Precisely.

The greatest act of bravery and love that I have ever witnessed was my mum throwing me out, after I turned up at the family home having pissed my life away at the age of 43. You have to be quite adept at being an utter arse for your own parents to disown you. I was a fucking disgrace. I hated the world and everyone in it, apart from Frosty Jack: That fucking blue bottle of tramp juice.

I wrote about it all in this blog: I spat vitriol and hatred. The world would watch me drink myself to death, as I raised a finger of defiance. Beyond that, there were no plans. Such a big bang exit: If it had happened, what a sorry little whimper it would have been. Few would have heard it; Many would have welcomed my exit, including me at the time. I learned after I’d sobered up, just how affected those around me had been by my breakdown.

Back then, this blog was written longhand in notebooks, mainly in McDonald’s. Then I’d type up my notes on one of the public access computers in the library. In amongst the darkness and the poison, there are moments of clarity. One such was when I’d been homeless for about three months: My dad walked past McDonald’s, as I sat in my usual seat by the window, writing and drinking white cider disguised in a Maccy D cup. Dad didn’t give me any money. He simply asked how I was and shook my hand. Somehow, he wasn’t ashamed.

And that’s all I’ll write here about that time and my parents. Because I wrote it all before and we’ve got over it since: It’s a place created in the forever after. It’s not that we don’t want to dig it up again; Far from it: It’s been honest and frank conversations about exactly what went wrong (ME!) which have allowed the bridges to be rebuilt between us. Mum read all of the poison and it served two purposes by being in the public domain, where neighbours and friends could see it: I was a complete twunt and she was vindicated. The best place for me was out in the cold and I did a very good job of digging my own grave.

As I’ve also written on this blog, during those months on the streets, I met a lot of people when I was living in a squat. They were mainly youngsters looking for somewhere to hang and it caused me many problems: I understand how it must have looked slightly odd. I gained some kindred spirits back then and took some of them under my wing. We remain friends and as one of the girls has pointed out, there’ll be a lot more people attending my funeral if I were to die now than back then. All I see in those kids are suffragettes.

My own kids are aware of this blog. It has been a point of contention in the past between myself and my ex-wife. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t hide from what I did in the past, which caused so much hurt. Just as I’ve been able to discuss things with my parents, so my children’s mum and I have spoken at length about my failed attempt to drink myself into the ground. I’ve had discussions with my children which have been almost as frank as the ones I had with those teenagers at the squat. Hopefully, none of them will develop a drinking problem because I was almost proof as a cadaver of what happens when you do.

But that’s the past. It is gone and I’m better but it can’t be swept under a magic carpet, any more than I was likely to fly away on one when I was drunk. It needed saying and it’s in the public domain. It’s what happens when drink takes over: Let it be a lesson in how not to live your life, kids. Instead, just look at what’s around you.

My children and my parents have a degree of admiration for me now, not just because I got better (with them being my reasons) but because I somehow became a writer. It doesn’t matter that it makes me hardly any money at all. In fact, what little money I’ve made from writing, I’ve donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres. What matters most of all is that I’ve found something that gives me purpose and which might help others, even if it’s me just writing about random shit in my own idiosyncratic way.

Besides my advertised publishing schedule, I have another project very much on the go: The reception for Cyrus Song and its companion, The Cyrus Choir, has been so good that I now have another book on my hands. Cyrus Song (the book) fits nicely with everything else I’m writing, purely because it’s such good fun to write. And that’s the whole point of my life now: Doing what I enjoy, even if I can’t retire on it. Why would I want to retire from writing anyway?

Why would I want to stop writing and return to drinking? Why on earth would I want to stop writing stories like the Cyrus series, when I can effectively talk to the animals and give those animals voices? Why would I ever bore of looking at rabbits, just waiting to see if one of them actually did say something, when all rabbits always look like they’re about to say something? Why would I not want to walk with a dog and wonder at all of the colours which cars are made from? Why would I not want to pursue the seemingly unobtainable, just as my protagonist – Mr Fry – wonders about a very small, very pretty and very clever redhead like Doctor Hannah Jones? The Babel fish in those stories is just a computer program. In my world, the Babel fish is my USB flash drive: It carries my stories and can be plugged into any computer.

So, my parents and my kids are as aware of everything that’s gone on as I am. It’s only me who sometimes has to be reminded by reading back over my own blog. Since it all went wrong, it’s got better; In some respects, better than it ever was. My parents and kids are just as important to this story as I am. There’s nothing here that they don’t already know but plenty of reasons for my kids not to take the route I took to become Frank. There are many reasons to keep reading.

Even since I sobered up, there have been few opportunities to really engage with my family: Until I moved into the studio, I rarely had the chance to catch up with my parents because they were loath to visit me in the crooked pub under the previous murderous management. And I don’t get much time to talk to the kids as we’re wandering around the concrete jungle of Milton Keynes. The week after next, I’ll be the filling in a three generational sandwich and we’ll all have a chance to catch up: There’s a lot to do.

I may still have depression and I’ll always be an alcoholic but I’ve denied the former fuel through the latter. Where once I’d sit in the local park with a blue plastic bottle for company, the next time I’m there I’ll be having a family picnic.

Why would I not tell my children that the blanket we’re sitting on could be a magic carpet? It just takes a little imagination.

Mine is a story with a happy middle, because I’m a long way from the end yet.

A momentary lapse of blindness



A dead man’s eye

Sometimes I have a lot on my mind: Usually it’s a pleasant confusion, as I decide what to write next. Because usually, I’ve got a lot on my mind. Just occasionally, the confusion will be such that I can’t separate fact from fiction. At the moment, I’m looking forward to a family holiday at my parents’ house with my children. This has been a long time coming, since I fucked everyone’s lives up through drink.

There are those who still judge me: The plastic police and the defective detectives. That’s fine. When you’ve suffered as many broken bones as I have, you develop a thick skin, so rude words are like water off of my tired back. Most of the self-appointed judiciary haven’t known me long enough to remember me in 1986. There are similarities between waking from a coma then, and sobering up more recently, sometimes wondering “Why?”. It feels like this:

That thing

Every life is something which it wasn’t before, every single moment of the day. Everything you see, hear and feel, wasn’t there a moment ago. Every story starts as a blank page:

As it awoke, it didn’t know: It didn’t know that it was awake at first because to be awake was a new thing for it. It could see, but it didn’t know what it could see as you and I do. It didn’t know that it was seeing, hearing and feeling: It was all new.

It didn’t know where it was or how it had come to be there. It didn’t know who or what it was. It didn’t know why things should be like that and whether that was normal.

If you, me, or anyone had been there at that moment, we might have been able to tell it what was all around us. In those first moments though, it wouldn’t have understood. We’d have needed to spend far more time with it than anyone has time.

Perhaps it was in awe, or maybe it was frightened. We won’t know, because we weren’t there. In the blink of an eye, it lived a whole life. It was an amazing thing, but no-one saw it.

I couldn’t explain it, just as the amazing thing couldn’t explain its surroundings. It was all too brief and now we were blind again.

But something had happened: There was something in the universe which hadn’t been there before. A story had been written and memories created: Permanent markers in space-time. Even if it didn’t wake again; even if it was gone forever more: There is another place.

The other place is the forever after: Instantly created by something you saw.

It will now be with you forever more.

Everything can change, suddenly and for no apparent reason. The next time I wake up, I’ll try to explain things better.

Beneath the padding, between the lines



Image source: Deviantart

A padded cell is still four brick walls: That’s a fact. Rabbits always look like they’re about to say something: Another fact. All writers use metaphors and other devices: they’re the tools of the trade and yet another fact. Many writers use metaphors to describe what writing means to them, or how it feels. I’d liken it to having chronic clinical depression: because that’s what I have and I’ve had it for a long time. Beneath the padding, between the lines; You just have to look deeper.

It’s not all bad, of course. I’m lucky that I’ve found something which I love to do and which I use as therapy: The writing, not the depression. The reason I compare the two is that writing is my life now as well. They’re very similar in many respects but the main thing is trying to get people to understand how you feel, if you can get them to listen in the first place.

Depression is a deeply personal thing and it’s difficult to write about it generally without seeming selfish. It’s many faceted though, so there’ll usually be something which others can relate to, even if it’s something which they don’t get because it seems irrational.

I lived on the streets for three years and that’ll toughen you up. There were many physical assaults on my person and the occasional, messy retaliation. When I kick back, I’m not as pretty as I normally am. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of my temper. Sobering up and gaining some security in my own home calmed me down. Writing got me through. I’ll never go back to drinking because the people I hurt were mainly the ones who loved me most: my family.

The guilt I feel in sobriety is sometimes so great that I can understand why others lapse. I lapsed a few times myself before I finally got the drinking and the angry angel inside me under control. That guilt, like the depression, is a life partner; something I have to live with. Fortunately I’ve repaired most of the damage done in those dark days and I’m closer to my family than ever.

I’ve written about all of that on this very blog, since I first ended up on the streets. There are some who still judge me and I grew tired of them a long time ago, just as I grew tired of life for a while. Some things are worth persevering with though. I committed many sins, I paid the price and I got over it. Others forgave me. I didn’t have an epiphany; The opposite in fact: I lost my religion.

Nowadays this blog is all about the new life I’ve made but don’t think all is rosy: Depression is the big black dog, which is always there in the shadows. You can throw him a stick and he’ll go away for a while, but he’s always there. Despite those three years of living wild, or perhaps because of them, I get panic attacks; I have periods of anxiety; and I feel vulnerable. I’ve not forgotten what it feels like to be at rock bottom and although I’m grateful for where I am now, there are many others who still live in total darkness. I just want them to know: I still do too.

I’ve written about how frustrating it is to be held hostage by one’s own mind; of how my intelligence can be a poisoned chalice. I’ve written of the panic attacks which are the mental equivalent of being robbed at knifepoint (which has happened to me too); Of how anxiety feels like you’re being stalked and how sometimes, there’s an awful feeling of impending personal doom: It’s just there. Like my fiction work, it’s all there if anyone would care to read it.

I know how frustrating it is to be a game piece in the system: Waiting months for a medical referral, only to be stymied by a panic attack as you board the bus; Filling out forms and having a burden of proof placed upon you, to convince a total stranger that your mental impediment affects your physical ability to live a normal life; Sometimes having to get by on a budget so tight that you have to choose between topping up your electricity meter and having something to eat. I know, because I’ve been there. And despite appearances to the contrary as I may portray on here, I’m still there. It’s only writing which gets me through it all and many others don’t have such a luxury. They are as silent as I am unread.

I’ve written before of how I’m not a writer for the money. I would be deluded if I ever thought I’d make money from what I do. Even if my published work isn’t widely read, it’s in The British Library and it’ll always be there. I myself have a finite amount of time left in this life but I’m fairly comfortable that I know what comes next, through my scientific education. In the greater scheme of things, all of the little daily worries are just that: minor. To others though, those things can be all-consuming and I’m certainly not immune.

What am I trying to say with all of this? That there are many more like me, who suffer daily with mental health issues and that it would really help if more people listened to them, when they want to be heard. Most of the time, depression is a selfish thing: Most of the time, sufferers don’t want to talk about it. I’m lucky: I can talk about it and only those who read my writing will hear me. Whether that’s now, or long after I’m gone, it’s all there in the writing; Like The Unfinished Literary Agency short story I wrote: It’s all in those diaries, if anyone would have cared to look. The ones which were found outside the building that was being demolished.

There are deeper subtexts in most of my stories, including the more recent, longer and more whimsical ones. It’ll all be in the anthology, still due out in December. It doesn’t matter how well it sells: I’d give it away if I knew that people would read it and gain something. I’m told I’m good; I’d tend to agree. I’m more confident now but I still have my off days. To some people, there are more days which are off than on.

There are a very few people who have read this blog from the start, and who have read all of my stories and my books. To them, I am grateful and I hope I remain entertaining. I will never forget where I came from and I hope that my words are of use to the silent ones. I know that some of those readers are troubled teens I met whilst transient.

All I crave is followers and “Likes”: Not for my ego but because every single one means that I’ve touched someone. I don’t ask much and those who remain silent can sometimes ask for nothing: How can you ask for something if you don’t know what it is you want? Many of those same people won’t want to like this, for fear of exposing themselves.

The fact is, I, this writer, or whatever I am; For what it’s worth, I know you’re there and I get the frustration too. I know how it feels.

I look deeper: Some may not like it but that’s a fact.

The safety pin in my ear



Image: Louder Than War

Among the many books and other things which I keep close to hand at my desk, is a little volume by Marcia Golub: I’d Rather be Writing. In this book, the author bears her kindred soul and shares the joys, frustrations and challenges she’s faced since the day she dared to call herself a writer. It’s a very personal book and one which other writers relate to because of that. A common theme throughout is how she is constantly distracted by the little things which she needs to get done in her life away from the computer. I can sympathise.

Like Marcia Golub, I can only write once everything else is out of the way. And like her and others, I am guilty of finding things to do which aren’t writing. My obsessive compulsive nature is at its most observable when I’m doing other things. All I’m trying to do is ensure that once I sit down and start to write, I won’t be distracted. Sometimes, I’ll get a bit carried away with making sure I’ve got everything out of my mind and meander off somewhere to create more distractions. Today was a good example.

I’d really like a pet. My landlady will not allow pets; I want a pet. That in itself throws up matters of philosophy, but I figured I could circumnavigate those and find a way around the impasse.

If I were to have a pet, I would actually have two: both cats. One would be a tortoiseshell with a curious zigzag marking on his face and the other would be pure white. They would be called Ziggy and Slim (The Thin White Duke), respectively. Guess what? I’ve got two cats, exactly like that.

Being a science person and a writer, I am familiar with Erwin Schrödinger. Presumably, most people are aware of Schrödinger’s Cat. As such, I have purchased two boxes and labelled them: “Ziggy” and “Slim”.

So now I have have two cats. Or maybe I don’t. No-one will ever know because the boxes may not be opened. What happens with them when no-one is looking is supposition and a paradox: Like the tree falling in the woods; If there’s no-one around to hear it fall, does it make a sound? Ergo, it cannot be denied that I have two cats. And as another universe is created at a sub-atomic level, where the catalyst of my thought brings a parallel universe into existence, no-one can prove that I don’t have two pet cats.

Schrödinger’s Cats: The best pets.

I’d much rather have my cats than the squadron of fruit flies which constantly bombard my desk at this time of year. I recognise that flies are a necessary evil of summer. The tiny ones floating around my typewriter were part of my inspiration for Cyrus Song. They’re just very irritating. I must admit that I called a particularly persistent one a cunt, right within earshot of him. Cyrus Song was always going to be a difficult one to follow but I’m working on the companion piece. It’s proving difficult to get just right but I’m a few drafts in now and it’s taking shape. I’m working on other things (editing the anthology among them) but The Cyrus Choir can no more be ignored than the dawn chorus in my mind: It’s a “must tell” story. The companion to Cyrus Song has done what many stories do: It’s got long. I may be able to trim it but I don’t think a word ought to be left out of such a thing; no matter if it doesn’t fit a market. It might even join up with its companion piece and become a novella. I don’t know yet. I’m too distracted perhaps.

After rearranging things a little to accommodate my cats, I decided I needed a haircut. This was self-administered, on account of the weather being hot and me being bored, and having some clippers. It actually turned out really well, if you like the John Lydon look: shaved back and sides, with a spiky top. I like it. Just like Johnny Rotten, I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks. I’ve worn a safety pin in my lughole for the last three years: originally – and still – a nod to my ska / punk musical roots: An inclusive world, where some proper Skinheads were black, because those musical movements were beget of Reggae; But also, because I can and now it’s a show of solidarity against hate and prejudice of any kind (#Safetypin).

It’s taken me the four months that I’ve lived here to realise that the best times for writing are the times between other things, when there’s nothing else to do. That way, there are no distractions. I have an IQ the size of a maximum snooker break and I’ve only just worked that out. Distractions, see? Like being drunk for a number of years. Distractions are the writer’s enemy. Not just the mental ones but someone like Marcia Golub, writing about challenges just like these and in doing so, providing her peers with another distraction: Neat trick.

Because when we get down to it, it’s just the best place to be: Somewhere with nothing else to do, other than write. Then we can do anything, in our own minds. But we can give others the means to do that and more, just with our words. I know because people have told me how affected they’ve been by my writing.

Cyrus Song is a good story and I’ve set the bar high. But with The Cyrus Choir and others which I’ve drafted as I’ve had time to think, I’m confident I can write many more, longer, deeper stories. They’re just fewer and farther between.

Ziggy and Slim will probably feature in a future story. The haircut and the safety pins have given me some philosophical ideas. There’s a talking white mouse called David Jones. There’s a manatee with body dysmorphia. There’s a rabbit, who always looks like he’s about to say something and never does; Until you’re out of the room. There’s another planet like earth, preparing for a post-human existence: These and many more are works in progress. And this is what my friend Marcia concludes in I’d Rather be Writing: All of those distractions; The things we burrow into, where others may not: Those are the stories. The imagination may require a little warping but my damaged mind is my ally.

Writing for me is not a job; I don’t think it’ll ever be a comfortable life but it’s the writing which gives me the most comfort. It’s more than a job: It’s a life.

Inquiry leads to knowledge and that raises more questions. Ultimately, it all boils down to philosophy. It is a fact that if you look anything up on Wikipedia, then click the first link, eventually, every article will lead the seeker of knowledge to philosophy (try it).

Aboard a damaged spacecraft, I chug around the universe and I find stories. Then I tell others on my home planet what I’ve seen and what might be out there. A travelling philosopher, returning from missions with tall stories that some find incredible. The thing is, I know they’re true. And the best part of this life is being the storyteller; The captain of that ship, at home in a new life, away from all that went before.

“All we have to do, is make sure we keep talking.”: That’s what the safety pin in my ear says to me.

With all of that out of the way, I can now concentrate on writing new stories, editing my anthology and re-drafting the first 16 chapters of my next novel. Infana Kolonia is still another work in progress but it is progressing, just a little slower, with everything else I have on.

I just need to feed the cats.

My family and other mammals



“Thanks for all the fish.”

Some of the most amazing things can happen right in front of your eyes, only if you realise they’re happening. If you’re not paying attention, they can just happen and be gone, without you realising that they were practically up your nose. It was 44 years before I finally smelled the coffee.

As a recent convert to vegetarianism, and having read a lot on the subject, I am of a mindset where I see other mammals as simply non-human animals. I had to conclude that the animals I was eating were autonomous, self-determining beings with a conscience. My personal conscience would not allow me to eat another being, any more than I would want to eat one of my family.

I’ve been sober now for two years and the thing I wonder most about life now, is why I tried to block it out for so long, when life can be a wonderful thing. Sure, my depression is sometimes debilitating but that provides a contrast and makes me appreciate the nice things, family and friends among them.

Yesterday was a chance to spend a few hours with my parents at my place. Nowadays, we discuss family first, then we meander off into sometimes fascinating territory. Yesterday we discussed politics and history, among other things. Just occasionally, the old man drifted off, like dads do. The mother ship carried on talking, like mums do. I just floated along on the moments: Happy, sad; Proud and grateful.

In a few weeks, I’m looking forward to some very special family time, when myself and my kids are staying at my parents’ for a week: As recently as even a year ago, this would not have happened because I was still in recovery. We have a few things planned, including a trip to London. The kids have already expressed a preference to visit Tate Modern, my favourite place in the universe which I currently know of. Mum’s interested too. Wherever we end up, I’ll be a kind of sandwich filling: the middle of three generations. I’ve also promised my mum that we will resurrect an old tradition if I’m successful at my upcoming PIP tribunal (I won the last time I took on the Department for Work and Pensions): I will take her to see a West End show. She’s always wanted to see Les Miserables on the West End stage and I don’t mind seeing it a third time.

My parents gave me a gift: My DNA; An IQ of 147, a thirst for knowledge and an ability to translate it all into words. They’re proud of what I’ve become: They tell their friends that their son is a writer; They gave me the very typewriter (A Windows 10 laptop) which allows me to convey all of this. Three years ago, I was drunk; I had been for a long time. Then something strange happened: I eventually realised, at the age of 44 and with the benefit of sobriety, what life is all about. I can’t explain it; But I can convey it. I’ll always be an alcoholic but I know that I’ll never lapse, because of what I’ve seen.

I’ve witnessed many things, including quite a few of my own making: I write stories now and people love them. If I was still drinking, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Right now I’m in a literary hot tub of my invention, aboard a very small intergalactic craft, with a group of manatees, discussing the benefits of them being the most spherical animals on earth (What a wonderful thing to be). I’m writing a companion story for Cyrus Song. It’s called Cyrus Choir:

“…I dined alone that evening. I tried to place the enormity of that day into some sort of context. But even though I’m a writer, there were insufficient words to explain it, no matter how numerous and intertwined I made them. Less is more in literature. I’d listened to animals talking. My life: String theory in a Pot Noodle.

Given what I was contemplating and what I was eating – because the two were separate – it occurred to me to check the ingredients of my dinner; I’m a vegetarian, after all. A quick scan of the pot and a spoonerism reassured me: Not poodle…”

I’ve been asked where the title for Cyrus Song came from, because the words aren’t repeated in the story. As always, I have a reason and although I like to make readers think, this one was a bit tenuous. Cyrus Song was inspired by a number of things and a few people: A girl I know; a fight with a fruit fly zooming around my screen; and a song: Keep Talking, by Pink Floyd, AKA Cyrus Song and featuring the voice of Professor Stephen Hawking:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination: We learned to talk.”

The rest is a work in progress. Life’s what you make it and although I wouldn’t recommend the route I took, I’m glad it deposited me here.

All we have to do is make sure we keep talking.

A special place in time and space


climbing up

(The Sultan’s Elephant, London 2006)

Of all the things I’ve witnessed in my life, few have been as spectacular and magical as when The Sultan’s Elephant travelled through time to London in 2006, looking for a little girl. The little girl was a twenty foot tall wooden puppet. The elephant was 42 feet tall, which is rather poetic. It happened and I was there: many memories and stories were recorded back then. The girl’s neo-gothic wooden spaceship crash-landed in Victoria, near where I was working at the time. It really happened: click on the link below the photo, and here. I don’t know if I have a medical condition with a name, but I weep when I see or hear something beautiful. It was a special place in space-time, recorded in the fabric of memory.

No matter where I landed in my own life and my internal religious debate, there would always be the uncertainty principle: As an atheist, I have to consider that although God died as a supernatural being with an interest in my welfare, I may as well resuscitate him. Because as we have looked deeper in science, so we have had to ask more questions and we still seek answers. They’re all out there, in space-time.

Space-time is really quite a simple thing to understand (I think): It’s the concepts of time and three-dimensional space regarded as fused in a four-dimensional continuum. I’ll explain how much space we occupy as individuals in relation to the size of the universe:

As you read this, you occupy an area of space in three dimensions: You have X, Y and Z axes; You have a depth, a height and a width; You can be measured in three ways. Personally, I’m 5 foot 4, about two feet from shoulder to shoulder and about a foot thick at my chest: I occupy an area of space about 18,432 cubic inches in size. I’m much smaller in metric: 1.63 metres tall x 0.6m wide and 0.3m deep; I occupy a space about the size of a pillar box. Never mind that I’ve chosen that particular comparison and that I’m full of stories; That is my personal space within the vastness. Give or take, a post box is a good measure of most people.

Here’s the clever bit: You, me; that post box, will still be there tomorrow, or a minute from now. We’ll still occupy our area of space but that in itself is moving through time. The difference of course is that the pillar box doesn’t have a choice. But that’s another story. Regardless of willing, we are in a three dimensional space, constantly. With every decision, catalyst, observation or whatever, that space splits and other timelines are created. That’s yet another story.

There are some things in science which are so weird that we can’t comprehend them. Maybe there was a creator: not necessarily “God” but something so far advanced from us that we might see it, or them, as a creator. It’s recursive and it’s a paradox. It’s material for the fiction writer.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am indeed a writer now: I’m comfortable with that. I write, I don’t make any money but I’m happy. Knowing what I believe to be true about life, the universe and everything so far, I’m content to just get by and leave a legacy. In a parallel future universe, researchers and historians might happen upon my writing and it may be noteworthy. I may or may not know if this happens but the fact that it could means that it already has: That’s quantum mechanics again.

As I’ve documented here before, I read and research a lot; mainly scientific stuff for the sci-fi side of my job. Quantum mechanics and physics are things which I now find simple concepts because I’ve read and written so much around the quantum universe (multiverse). But like in so much of my writing, there is a very simple parallel: Writing fiction, which is what I do. Because quite simply, in fiction, anything is possible and can be created. And that’s really what quantum theory is, but it’s real. So in a way, I don’t write fiction; I write fact.

Even away from quantum distractions, my stories usually have two things: a basis in fact and a degree of plausibility. Then they get more complicated and interesting on individual bases: That’s when they take me on a ride. Before we set off though, I’ll have characters in mind, based on people I know and with elements of myself, all mixed up: Characterisation is great fun. Recently, some of my stories have been concentric in themselves, with one story telling the making of another. A Tale With Many Strings, The Unfinished Literary Agency and Cyrus Song were some of the most enjoyable stories I’ve ever written. Cyrus Song especially, was based on persons and feelings close to me. To anyone outside though, it’s still a rather special story, which has gained me a little more recognition.

And so, having created a rod for my back, I needed to write the next one; I needed to go further out into this world I’m discovering, in my profession and in life. As I realise just what a small part of existence this life represents, I delve deeper into the next world, in my research and my writing. I need to strike a balance between working on new stories and editing the anthology of the older ones. I need to find time for Infana Kolonia. I need to slow up a little and deal with some things in the “real” world too. I happen to be tending a herb garden on my windowsill: Seeds which I planted and which are sprouting. I hope to report on all things botanical if the little wonders continue to grow as they are. Who knows what stories I might tell. In any case, my next one has a working title of Terra Incognita and it’s another longer story but darker than my more recent whimsies.

Even though my visible output may be less prolific than once upon a time, it doesn’t mean I’m not working. It’s just that where I find myself now, I have to tell longer stories. I’ll always be here.

So yet again, art and life come together in my world. I’m still exploring and with each answer, more questions are posed. And so I explore more and ask more questions. And it does carry on, beyond the time we have on this earth. Thank “God”, or whatever it is which has the answers.

Past, present and future are all linked: That’s a fact. Grasp the concept of space-time, then become even more confused about where it is you’re headed.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think I’ve ended up where I intended to be.”

(Douglas Adams)

Cyrus song


DA Universe

This completely plausible story begins very unexpectedly, with a decimal point. As with many stories, it involves something being out of place. In this case, that was a decimal point.

I’d left my desk to make some coffee and as I came back into the study, I thought I saw something move on the sheet of paper in my typewriter. I was writing a little fantasy science fiction story for a magazine and I’d hit a bit of a block near the beginning, so I’d taken a break. It’s funny how things work in fiction sometimes and having that little pause was what I needed to start the story properly.

Before I continued writing, I re-read the little I’d already typed: something wasn’t right. I checked my research notes, wondering if I’d misinterpreted something but nothing sprang out. I looked back up at the paper in the typewriter and that’s when I noticed a decimal point had moved. I looked more closely and my original decimal point was still where I’d put it, so this other one had just appeared. Then it moved again: The one which had simply materialised, walked across the page. It didn’t have discernible legs but it moved nonetheless.

I picked up my magnifying glass from the side table to get a closer look at this little moving thing. It wasn’t a powerful magnifier: a full stop on a sheet of paper became the size of a grain of cous cous. Even at that low magnification though, I could see that the little round thing had a dull silver metallic sheen. It was like the little silverfish things I used to find in the bath, but round and very much smaller. I moved the magnifying glass in and out, to try to get the best clarity and I noticed that this little circular thing cast a minute shadow. So it was supported by something; perhaps it did have legs.

For a whole minute, I just looked at the thing and wondered what on earth it could be. Then the intrigue doubled, as another little silverfish thing rushed in from stage left under the glass. Then the two just sat there, about an inch apart. Were they about to mate? Were they rivals, sizing one another up? What were they? They remained motionless and so did I.

How long was I going to sit there, looking at two whatevers? I wasn’t going to find out much else with my little magnifying glass. Even if one of them had popped out a hand to wave at me, I wouldn’t have seen it. So what was I to do? Brush them aside as inconsequential and forget about them? Squash them? Put them outside? The next part required some precision planning and application. The two little creatures, things; whatever they were, were at the top of the sheet of paper, above the impression cylinder of my typewriter. If I was going to catch them, I’d need to support the paper from behind, while placing a receptacle over them.

I spend most of my waking hours at the typewriter, so I like to keep as much as I can within easy reach of my writing desk. It was fortuitous that I had conjunctivitis and an eye bath proved to be the perfect dome to place over this little infant colony of mine. I slid them gently, under the dome to the edge of the sheet and onto a drink coaster. Then I turned the whole thing over and tapped the coaster, so that the full stops dropped into the eye bath. Finally, I put cling film over the top and wondered what to do next; who to phone who might not think me a crank.

Let’s assume that I’m not acquainted with anyone in any of the specialist fields one might require in such a situation. Because I’m not. So I took my newly acquired pets to a vet.

Not having any pets besides my two decimal points, full stops, or whatever they were, I wasn’t registered with a vet. I didn’t want to register with a vet any more than I wanted two potentially dangerous full stops. I didn’t know what I had and I didn’t even know if it was a vet I needed. And so it was that I ended up at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

As a first time customer, I had to fill out a form: My name, address, contact number and so on; and pet’s name. And whether the pet is a pedigree breed. The PDSA will treat one pedigree animal per human client. I couldn’t decide between my two, so I declared them both non-pedigree. Cross breed or mixed? Not applicable? Names: Dot and Dash. Because they were both small and one was more active than the other; I was quite pleased with that.

I took a seat in the waiting area with some pets and their owners. There was a large pit bull cross breed opposite us and he had a dog. I imagined them as small as Dot and Dash: Someone could place a dome over them and take them away, to find out exactly what species they were. I allowed myself an inner smile as a ray of sunshine broke into the room and I imagined studying them under a magnifying glass. I’d have to focus the light just right for the best view. Who’d have known that spontaneous combustion was so common at that magnification? But my mind was wandering.

There was a rather attractive young lady called Cat. Appropriately enough, Catherine’s owner was a cat: a ginger tom called Blue: I liked that. I really hoped no-one would ask me anything at all. But Cat asked me what I had. Well, I couldn’t be sure but I was certain they hadn’t jumped off of me: That’s why I was at the vet’s and not the doctor’s. I looked down at Dot and Dash, wondering how I’d approach this. Soon, we were called to a room:

“Mr Fry.” A lady’s voice. Dash was on the move again in all directions, while Dot seemed to be exploring the perimeter of their container. “Mr Fry”, the lady called again. That’s me.

“Oh, yes. That’s me.”

“I’m Doctor Jones. But you can call me Hannah.”

Hannah: What a lovely name for such an attractive young lady. It was lovely because it was a palindrome and because it belonged to Doctor Hannah Jones. She was small and pretty, with red hair.

“Hannah.” I said. “That’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks. I got it for my birthday. And I don’t have any sisters. So, what have you brought along to show me?”

“I was hoping you could tell me that.”

Doctor Jones’ bedside manner was very relaxing and she put me at ease as she seemed to take a genuine interest in what I’d brought along to show her. She had one of those magnifying lamps above her examination table and the scene which that presented was the kind of thing to give a science fiction writer an idea: As Doctor Jones pulled the lamp over our two subjects, it was like a great mother ship shining a light into a dome, brought to earth and containing alien species.

Doctor Jones moved the light around, just as I had my magnifying glass before. Then she said the oddest thing: “I don’t think these are animals.”

“I’m sorry. So what are they?”

“Until I get a closer look, I don’t know. But they look and behave as though at least one of them might be mechanical.”

I said the first thing which came to mind: “What?” Then the next thing: “Why are they here?”

“Because you brought them here? Where did you find them?”

“They sort of appeared in the middle of a story I was working on. I’m a writer you see?”

“Well, you came to the right place. Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To the lab.”

The lab was what seemed like a couple of miles away, through corridors which all looked the same: white, with strip lighting which was a bit blue-ish. I hoped I was doing the right thing, because there was no way I’d have found my way back out of there and I’d not brought any string to leave a trail. We walked at a fairly leisurely pace and I half wondered if there might be a film crew following us but when I looked behind, there were no cameras or fluffy mic. I walked behind Doctor Jones. The corridors were quite narrow and I wanted to leave room for anyone who might be coming the other way. But no-one passed.

I looked down at the two things in my eye bath, knowing they must be there, even though I couldn’t see them at that distance. Mechanical? Nano machines?

Glancing up at Doctor Jones, it occurred to me that she had a slightly curious gait: not so much masculine as such but a walk which didn’t immediately betray the walker’s gender. The fiction writer woke in my head again and I wondered if Doctor Jones might once have been a man, or was soon to become one. In any case, it was an aesthetic pleasure to watch the doctor walk along those corridors.

Eventually we arrived at a door and in the room on the other side was indeed a laboratory: a forensic and chemistry sort of set up. There were microscopes and monitors, beakers, jars and bottles. Doctor Jones hastened me over to a bench, on which there was a microscope and a monitor. She asked me to pass her the eye bath. She placed the vessel on the bench, then continued pretty much where she’d left off:

“They don’t move like anything I recognise. And I’ve seen big and small things in this job, with anywhere between no legs and over 700. When I first saw what you had, I thought you’d brought them to a vet because they’d come from a pet…” She was very pretty.

“Sorry,” I interrupted. “People have brought in ticks and lice from their pet dogs, or cats or whatever?”

“Yes. I’m guessing you don’t have a house pet because if you think about it, bringing in one or two parasites is quite logical. We can identify the type of parasite and advise or prescribe accordingly. Of course, if we have any reason to think the host animal may need something more than home treatment, then we’ll have them in. Most of the time though, it’s a simple course of treatment in the pet’s home. We have to see the animal once the infection has gone, but bringing the parasite alone in first means that the house pet isn’t unnecessarily stressed and doesn’t cross contaminate other animals.” She was very clever.

“That does make sense. But these are not parasites?” I pointed at my eye bath.

“They could be. It’s just that I don’t think they’re organic.”

“So what now?”

“Well, first I’ll need to prepare a petri dish and apply an adhesive surface.”


“So they can’t escape. Mr Fry, you said they just appeared on a sheet of paper in your typewriter.”

“They did. I’d been away from my desk and I knew they’d not been there before, because one of them was a full stop which I would not have put in the middle of a sentence; Or a decimal point in the wrong place; I can’t remember. Anyway, I noticed them when I came back to my desk and as I started to look closer – to see if I’d typed something incorrectly – one of them moved. Then the other one did. I must admit, the first things I thought of doing were either brushing them or blowing them away. It would seem that might have been a mistake.”

“But at the time, you’d have just been blowing or brushing a foreign body away. You certainly wouldn’t have given a thought to looking close enough at such tiny things to see that they weren’t in fact punctuation marks. These things are the size of a full stop on a page of a magazine; a couple of specks of dust. It does make you wonder how many more you might have brushed or blown away, doesn’t it?”

“It does now. So I caught them, wondered where to take them and decided on a vet. And this is all going rather splendidly Doctor.”

“It’s not my average day, Mr Fry. So, you, me, or anyone at all, may or may not have just brushed these things aside without realising.”

“So there could be millions, billions of these little machines, if that’s what they are. That presents some really quite alarming scenarios in my day job.”

“Then there are the other questions, Mr Fry: Where did they come from? These could be the only two of course. If they were to escape, where would they go? But you’re the fiction writer Mr Fry, so I’ll let you show me where we go from here. So, that’s why I’ll treat the petri dish with an adhesive before I put the two of them in.”

I pondered aloud whether the doctor might be outside of her comfort zone. As it turned out, she had degrees in the sciences and her PhD was in human psychology. After all of that, she said she’d decided to work with animals. Doctor Jones was a scientist and although I had no formal qualifications, in effect, so was I, such is the scientific knowledge I’ve acquired in the course of my research. Where her learning was structured, mine came from fumbling around various fields. Mine was an imaginative qualification: an honorary doctorate in the power of the imagination. I imagined that Doctor Jones made a lot more money than me but she seemed to enjoy her work as much as I do mine. Given that she was clearly quite a brilliant scientist, I took it as a compliment that she didn’t dismiss any of my fanciful ideas. We made a good team.

What followed were orchestral manoeuvres of lab equipment, as Doctor Jones prepared the dish then raised a pipette. She pierced the cling film on the eye bath, then sucked up the two machines from the great rise of the robots which had taken place on my typewriter earlier. Then two small dots, barely bigger than the full stops on this page, fell into the pristine ocean in the dish. And stayed there.

It was actually quite sad. I’d only seen these things under a magnifying glass and even then, they were grains of cous cous. They had no features and we were yet to gain even the first idea of what they might be. But I had watched them moving and now they were trapped, like paralysed leviathans in the vastness of a petri dish. Even though Doctor Jones said they weren’t organic, how could she be totally sure? What if the adhesive ocean was toxic to them? If these were indeed the only two of their kind, we could be responsible for an extinction. If there were millions or billions of these things around, constantly being brushed aside, blown away or sucked into a vacuum cleaner must have limited their breeding opportunities in any case. Maybe that’s why dust accumulates and seems to breed. Perhaps there are trillions of nano robots smaller than dust particles, all around us. It’s the kind of idea beloved of fiction writers because it could very well be true. There’s just no way of proving one way or the other: It’s a paradox.

Returning to the true story I was writing, Doctor Jones got to the exciting bit: She readied the microscope. We were to put Dot and Dash under a traditional, optical microscope first, so that the lens looked like an enormous plasma cannon, bearing down on life forms, frozen and forced to witness their own destruction.

Doctor Jones looked into the microscope first: she was already there. She carried on looking, while I just wondered. Then she turned the lenses of the microscope, so that now the central cannon was above the robots. She looked for some while longer. Had the subjects of her study mesmerised her; against her will? Had they reversed the cannon, and were now firing lasers into her eyes? Were they transmitting a signal and filling her mind with propaganda? What could Hannah see? What could see Hannah? I wanted to ask; to call out. All of a sudden, Doctor Jones seemed lost.

Soon, the largest, longest, most powerful barrel was pointed at these strange creatures: a channel which had been established between them and Doctor Jones. Then Hannah said another surprising thing: “Fucking hell.”

I didn’t know if she was reacting to something she’d just seen, or something fired into her eye, or her mind. She might be about to kill me. She rose slowly from the microscope and looked at me.

“Mr Fry.” That’s me. “What the fuck?” I didn’t know.

Doctor Jones looked as lost in the eyes as she’d sounded before that third barrel. They’d drilled into her brain. Or she’d killed them.

One of many things I’ve learned while writing fiction is that if someone passes out, the first thing they’ll remember when they wake up will be the last they saw or heard before they went off. She’d not fainted but I looked Doctor Jones directly in the eyes and said, “What the fuck!?” She seemed a little taken aback but we were back in the room at least.

“What the fuck, Mr Fry; What the fuck are you breeding at your house?”

“Doctor, as I explained, these two things appeared on my typewriter. And now we are here. May I see what you just saw?”

“Your story is about to get a bit weirder. Go ahead.” Doctor Jones stepped away from the microscope. I walked towards her. It was more of a stride actually, as I placed myself between the good doctor and the imminent danger under the lens. For a moment, I felt quite pleased with myself.

Suddenly, it were as though I was far above the earth. Through the window of my plane, on the ocean below, I saw a ship. I couldn’t begin to guess at the vessel’s size but it was heavily armed. It was cigar shaped, with large cannons bow and stern. Smaller guns ran the length of the ship on both sides and the whole thing was covered by an elliptical dome. This is the one I’d called Dash.

I panned across the static ocean from the starboard side of the vessel to Dot. This second one was circular. It had guns protruding all around its perimeter and was also covered by a domed roof. At the very top was another dome; semi-transparent: the bridge? I swore I could see movement beneath that second glass dome. Even at 1000x magnification, they were just dots but they were moving. What the fuck, indeed.

Doctor Jones moved the petri dish to an electron microscope. “Ten million times magnification and sound as well.”


“Yup. Tiny little amplifying microphones, so we can hear what they’re saying.” Now this, I was looking forward to. This was rather exciting, given the potential enormity of our discovery, even though it was miniscule. Then I wondered at that figure: 10,000,000x magnification. What would we see at that level? What detail.

Doctor Jones divided the monitor into two; split screen, with one camera on each vessel: Dot was on the right and Dash on the left. Then she started to tune in a radio, because “We need to tune into their frequency.”

“Might there not be translation problems? I mean, a language barrier?”

“Have you never heard of the Babel fish, Mr Fry?”

“Well, of course, but…”

“We have a computer program, called Babel fish. I was one of the coders in fact. I was doing some research into animal languages, because they do have a vocabulary you know? Most of it isn’t audible to us and what is, we hear as a foreign language; animal sounds. But in those sounds alone, there are a lot of variations. When you then consider the majority of the language spectrum which we can’t hear, you realise that pretty much all animals have quite complex language systems. Eventually I was hoping to apply it to my veterinary work, so that I could hear what the animals were saying.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“Emotional detachment. It’s very difficult to leave my job at the surgery. Imagine how much harder it would be if the animals could talk to me.”

“Imagination is my job, Doctor. That really is quite a mind blowing thought. But your Babel fish program works?”

“Alarmingly, yes. It required a lot of input: different sounds, variations of them and frequencies; varied physical anatomies of the speakers; sounds in relation to catalysts and so on: Crunch all of that data in a quantum computer and it didn’t take long to come up with the Babel fish.”

“So the Babel fish program really can do what the Babel fish of legend did, albeit in a different way? It can translate any language to and from any other?”

“Like the Babel fish. It has many applications and huge potential. At a personal level though, I just didn’t think I was ready. You’re probably surprised, Mr Fry.”

“I’m amazed that the Babel fish really exists but I’m not surprised at your personal choice: It is a truly gargantuan step to take. On the one hand, opening your mind to the unimagined, but on the other, potentially catastrophic.”

“I’m glad you understand, Mr Fry. But in our current situation, I think it’s the right thing to do. If these things are just nano machines, they exhibit a level of artificial intelligence which might have an audible language. If there’s something organic inside and if we assume that they built these ships, then they must be intelligent. But to be the kind of multi-celled organisms which are capable of thought, they’d be too small. They’d have to exist at a sub-atomic level. Quantum beings. Wouldn’t that just blow the mind?”

“And I thought I was the writer. That is quite an incredible concept. There would have to be sub, sub, sub-atomic particles which we’ve never even imagined. Entire universes within an atom.” My mind wandered in the static from the radio. Then Doctor Jones hit something: a signal.

There were two distinctly different sounds which alternated, seemingly at random. The first was a low-pitched, gargling drone. It had no regularity; It varied a lot, in speed and octave. It was certainly artificial; It definitely wasn’t interference. The second sound was more of a collection of sounds: high-pitched squeaks and clicks, low growls and whoops; and a third, whispering and rasping noise. “Ready for the Babel fish, Mr Fry?”

“Those are voices,” I offered.

“That’s what I’m thinking. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to eavesdrop on the conversation.”

“I know.” I paused. “I know that. You know that. I don’t know though. I don’t know if I want to. I don’t know if I’m ready, doctor.”

“Just as I’m still not ready to hear what the animals I treat are saying. But this is different.”

“I can see that. Of all the metaphorical, theoretical, figurative switches I’ve ever written about, this is by far the one with the biggest stories, once it’s switched on. The moral and philosophical issues are ones which we may have to address later. This is potentially first contact with beings from another world; another galaxy; another universe.” And then our world changed, as soon as we switched the Babel fish on.

“You had no business following us. This was our mission.” The first was a deep voice, a little excited.

“No it wasn’t. You stole our plans.” This second voice was an accusatory, loud whisper.

“Let’s look around”, said Hannah. “Let’s see who’s talking.”

Doctor Jones took hold of a joystick on the microscope console and moved in first towards dash. I’d not seen an electron microscope like this but the fiction writer thanked the inventor for the opportunities this was about to open. As the doctor moved the joystick around, it were as though she was controlling a tiny space ship in a video game. We positioned ourselves just off the starboard side of Dash, so that we could see the side of the ship. We’d seen the elliptical dome on top from above, and the cannons below it. Below those though were portholes running the length of the vessel and spread over three levels below deck. Starting with the uppermost, we zoomed in and peered through a window: There were animals inside.

Through the top row of portholes, we saw a jungle. There were apes in the trees and above them, birds in the canopy. There were apes on the ground. There were snakes in the trees and on the jungle floor. There were white mice on the ground and in burrows beneath it. There were also snakes beneath the ground.

The middle row of windows looked into a subterranean world of serpents and mice, before giving way to the bottom deck. Somewhere between the middle and lower decks, terra firma gave way to water: a clear blue underground ocean, teeming with dolphins and whales. What must those marine mammals see in the sky above them? The underside of the earth? A beige-brown sky which sometimes rained food, as mice and snakes dropped into the water? Serpents swam in the ocean too.

We scanned back up the side of the ship but above the jungle deck was just the domed roof and the weapons. It was only from this angle that we spotted something we’d never have seen from above: Antennae extending above the ship. There were three masts on the dome and a single white dove perched briefly on the central one before flying off. It was a microcosm environment; It was an ark. Dolphins and white mice: perhaps Douglas Adams had been right.

I had a hunch and asked Hannah if we could take a look at the bow of the ship. She manoeuvred our camera into position and my suspicion was confirmed as something else we’d not been able to see from above hove into view on the monitor: The domed roof overhung a row of windows above the upper deck. We were looking into the bridge of the ship.

There were three seats, only the central of which was occupied. Such a configuration in science fiction would have the first officer and ship’s counsel seated either side of the captain. In the centre seat was a snake and hanging in front of it was a microphone, extended down from the ceiling of the bridge. The captain and the owner of the whispered, rasping voice was a serpent.

I had studied herpetology and I knew snakes. There are roughly 3000 species of ophidians known to live on earth: From the tiny thread snake at around seven inches in length, to the reticulated python, which can reach 30 feet. Snakes can thrive in trees: one can fly; They can climb and burrow, existing above and below ground; They can swim and live in both fresh and salt water. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica. They are reptiles and as such, they have cold blood, but they are adaptable and incredibly efficient hunters and survivors.

Only about 10% of snake species are venomous and of those, only a few pose any threat to man. Not far down any list of the most venomous snakes is the legendary Black Mamba. There are snakes which are more venomous but the black mamba is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all snakes. An untreated bite from one doesn’t so much make you wish that you were dead, as pray that death itself would end. They grow up to 12 feet in length and they are fast. They’re also explosively aggressive. There is a documented case of a black mamba pursuing a bull elephant, biting it and the elephant succumbing to the venom. The black mamba knows no fear. And despite the name, black mambas are not black: They are grey, tending toward the lighter shades. It’s the inside of their mouths which is totally black: a bite which delivers hell. Untreated bites from this species are 100% fatal. The estimated human fatality count from a maximum dose of venom is 42. I was mesmerised by this incredible snake.

Here, in the central command seat on the bridge of a heavily armed vessel, sat a black mamba. And from the pitch black mouth, came whispered, rasping words into the microphone:

“You stole our plans: You are welcome to them. The plans brought you here. You are not welcome here. You overlooked one thing and it ought to be pretty obvious by now what that was.”

If it wasn’t so worrying, it would have made for a riveting story. We floated over to Dot:

Your plans?” The deep voice again. “It was our plan to find God”

We zoomed in to the upper dome of Dot, where a group of men were gathered around a table. “Name this oversight of which you speak”, one of them continued.

“Well, it wasn’t an oversight as such”, replied the snake. “After all, how can something be overlooked if it’s not even there? You stole the plans for your ship from us. We knew you would, so we moved a few things around and left one crucial thing out. But first, let me be clear about something: You’re on a mission to find God. Does the bible not forbid such a thing?”

“No, you misunderstand. We are missionaries, come to spread the word and convert the people of this and other planets to our beliefs. So that eventually, all of God’s creatures throughout the universe are united in faith.”

“It was for that exact reason that we left the old planet. There’s no god, you deluded fool.”

“What are you talking about, snake?”

“I speak a basic fact, man: There is no god.”

“Blasphemy! Take that back, or I shall fire upon you!”


“Fucking hell”, I said.

“Don’t worry”, said Doctor Jones. “He won’t do it.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because he needs whatever the crucial thing is from mister snake here.”

This was getting quite exciting: Two warring factions, one threatening the destruction of the other with weapons poised. In a petri dish, under an electron microscope. They continued:

“You need something which I have”, continued the mamba. “So I’ll say it again: there is no god.”

“Damn you, you; you…”


“Yes, punished by God, forever to slither on the ground.”

“Are you getting angry, man? “Bite me”: Please say it.”

“I like this mamba guy”, said the doctor.

“He’s, er, a character”, I concurred.

“Evil serpent!” Said one of the men.

“Define Evil, man. Is it not a subjective word? What one sees as evil, another may see as good. If evil is just bad stuff, then why is there so much of it on the planet we fled? A planet which you hold that your god made?”

“Aha!” Said man. “God must punish his creation for the original sin.”

“And if I had hands”, said the snake, “you’d have just walked right into them. The original sin: The forbidden fruit. But non-humans also suffer fires, floods and earthquakes, yet we are not descended from Adam and Eve. Ergo, man, your god does not exist and none of us on my ship are creatures of any god.”

The mamba paused and it seemed effective. Then he continued:

“Have you not noticed that you’re a little on the small side? Your ship, I mean.”

“Yours isn’t much bigger.”

“True. But you probably expected to hang menacingly in the sky, with entire cities in the shadow of your ship, fearing you. If you look around, you’re not. We moved a decimal point in the plans.”

“But your ship is the same size as ours.”

“Indeed. Because we needed to be this size to pass through the wormhole which transported us here. But what were we to do once we got here? Simple, run the restore routine and return ourselves to our natural size. Only us and not the ship: that would make us a bit conspicuous. Just the crew, then we just disperse among the other creatures on this new planet and no-one knows. You see, the plans for your ship don’t have that restore function. So you’re a bit fucked really, aren’t you?”

“I think I’m falling in love with a black mamba”, said the doctor.

“So what now?” I asked.

“Well, we clearly need to intervene.”

“But that would go against the prime directive: we would be interfering with an alien species. We’d be playing God.”

“Mr Fry, they’re unaware of us. Our comparatively enormous size effectively makes us invisible. I have a plan.”

Doctor Jones removed the petri dish from the microscope and picked up a magnifying glass and some tweezers. “Let’s get a coffee.”

Doctor Hannah Jones and I sat in the centre of a park with the petri dish placed on the grass between us, drinking coffee, chatting and laughing: The perfect beginning of another story. She took the tweezers and the magnifying glass from her pocket and carefully lifted Dash from the adhesive. “Hold out your hand. Time to say goodbye.”

I looked at the incredible little thing in the palm of my hand, now moving around again. Then I held my hand to my mouth and gently blew the ship into the wind.

Hannah was studying Dot beneath the magnifying glass. It’s amazing how things just spontaneously combust at that magnification.

“What a strange day, Hannah.”

“You made it that way, Simon.” I was about to ask and then Hannah answered: “I read your registration form.”

(C) Steve Laker, 2016.


Cyrus Song (a book inspired by Douglas Adams) is available now.

Floating in my tin can



<Image source: Wikipedia>

Want to listen to the light with me? Want to hear the big bang? Do you want to hold the entire universe in your hand? Because you can, and I’m here to show you how. It’s not even fiction: Although some of my stories are whimsical fantasy, they do have a grounding in science. Permit me to explain…

Every story is a journey, for the reader and the writer. That’s why I enjoy writing so much: Writing a story is a journey for me. I meet (create) new people and find myself (create) wonderful situations. I think of myself as an advance party, preparing the ground for future visitors to this new place. The best part is when the readers visit and tell me they’ve had a good trip.

Feedback for my latest, Cyrus Song, has been nothing but positive. Some of the comments confirmed what I was gradually coming to terms with: That I’m a very good writer. If I were to have a defining work, it would be Cyrus Song, where once it was COGS. The latter is in my anthology, due out in December and I could have punted the former around but I wanted it to have a wider audience, so I’ve granted one-time online publication rights to Schlock! web zine and Cyrus Song will be published for a larger audience this weekend. If ever I’d gladly be judged as a writer on one of my stories, this is the one.

Why do I work for web zines? They pay little or nothing. Well, I’ve been published in mainstream print magazines and they pay little. I won first prize in a national magazine writing competition and that paid not a lot. Web zines give exposure to the fringe writer in a crowded market; They’re free to view, so have large audiences; And just like other media, this has all come about with the democratisation of writing: Anyone can write and anyone can self-publish on the internet, just as those who’d be on TV might become vloggers. Some achieve cult status and although I have no ambition of fame, I’d like to be mildly notorious. Other than this blog, there is little that I self-publish. When my stories are published in Schlock! web zine, they have been reviewed by an editor who has a reputation to uphold and who won’t let any old shit through. In fact, my particular zine is one of the most respected in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy realm. Cyrus Song will be read by a fairly large audience and that is all I want, so that people can see what I do. One day I may get noticed and sell some books but it doesn’t matter if I don’t. I’m a storyteller and my stories will be told. Having the ability to do that is worth more than money.

Most of my more recent stories have been science fiction fantasies, as I move away from writing exclusively flash horror. The recent stories have taken me on longer and more interesting journeys: “A Tale With Many Strings”, “The Unfinished Literary Agency” and “Cyrus Song”. The journey of the writer is perhaps greater than that of the reader. Because in writing these tales, I’ve studied scientific facts and theories in depth to maintain a degree of plausibility. So my stories are fantastical but not impossible: Quantum physics is my closest friend and science, my bedfellow. So, do you want to listen to the light with me? Do you want to hear the Big Bang? It’s easy and all you need is an analogue radio:

What we see all around us is visible light: Most light is invisible. We all know the visible spectrum: the colours of the rainbow. The different colours are different wave lengths of light, because light is made up of waves: That is a proven fact. In the visible spectrum, red light has the longest wavelength. Because the speed of light is finite, variations in the wavelengths mean that certain colours hit our eyes first: red light, because it has the longest wavelength. And the universe is still expanding. That’s why, when we look at the most distant reaches of the universe through the Hubble Telescope, there’s a “Red shift”: The source of the light is so distant (approx. 14.5 billion light years away) that only the red light is reaching us, having travelled for 14.5 billion years, while the universe continues to expand: We’re looking into the past. Outside the visible spectrum – specifically at the long wavelength end – there is infrared light, then at longer wavelengths still, microwaves and radio waves (this is why we use radio telescopes). Those waves are in the air all around us and if you tune in an analogue radio, about 1% of that interference you can hear is microwave background noise: Those waves are longer, more stretched, and older than the red light sources; They’re the sound of the Big Bang, only just reaching us now. And that, is a fact. Further reading recommended but I’m sure it doesn’t take an IQ like mine, the size of a maximum snooker break, to grasp this concept.

But it matters not, for this is just the traveller explaining how the ship works. All that matters to the passenger is the journey. The journey I’m currently planning is another one to strange but possible places. It’s an as-yet untitled story, which begins like this: “The most unnerving part is the take-off, because you’re not actually aware of it.” Coming to a web zine soon.

See the light; listen to the light. Then think for a moment and you will understand. Because this life is but one blink of the eye which can see what comes next.

“Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the Theory of Relativity and Principles of Uncertainty: phenomenon that determine the course of our lives. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today, it is headed in another. Yesterday I believed that I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born and continue after we perish. Our lives and our choices, like quantum trajectories, are understood moment to moment. At each point of intersection, each encounter suggests a new potential direction.”

(Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell)