Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Poetry Bus/Ferry Across the Styx

This week, TFE has come all over metaphysical and has asked is to write about Heaven, Hell, the hereafter and all suchlike stuff and the challenge can be found here.

I thought I'd have tons of ideas for this but when it came down to it, they all died, which may be symbolic of something or other - or else it just means I'm nowhere as prolific as I think I am.

Anyways, here's this:

Death's Ditty

Here they come, the human race
Some with rancour, some wih grace.
Running, falling, stting still.
Some with fever, some with chill.
Some are young and some are old.
Some are fearful, some are bold.
Some have died and some were killed
Some come peaceful, some are spilled.
Some are stoned, and some are burned
I am death, and unconcerned.
Some come gladly, some don’t dare
But I am death. I do not care.

And this old song that I wrote ages ago (imagine it sung to the most cheesily awful country 'n western toon imaginable).  It has occurred to me that most of us will be dammned for the petty little sins we did, rather than the great big ones like murder, armed robbery and the like, so....

I'm Not going to Heaven
Some people give to charity
Some people help the poor.
Some people murder children
Or start an illegal war.
There’s a place in heaven waiting
For all the holy saints.
And another destination
For those with no restraint.

I’m not going to heaven
I’m not bound for paradise
Cos while I’m not exactly evil
I ain’t exactly nice
I’m not going to heaven
For me it’s just too late
There’s a great big sign that says KEEP OUT!
Hanging on the Pearly Gates

I hung on to my last Rolo
I need my chocolate fix.
I told my friend what happens at the end
When he was queuing for the flicks.
My neighbour loves whodunits
He’s gonna fly into a rage.
He crossed me once and now his books
Are missing their last page.

Do as you’d be done by
The bible loves to teach.
But I used up all the loo-roll
And left the new ones out of reach.
I often squeeze the toothpaste
In the middle, not the end.
I play my drums in the middle of the night
To drive people round the bend.

So while I never killed a man
Or robbed somebody blind.
There won’t be any statues
For the good I’ve left behind.
What happens when I pass away
Only time will tell.
Cos I’m too bad for heaven
And I’m too good for hell!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 101

I'm running late this week, but I've made it at last. For more info on Wordzzling go to Raven's Nest.

This week's mini words are all associated with Dr john, a gifted regular wordzzler who died recently and who is very much missed.

The mini (remembrance, Dr. John, Agent 012, dragons, Fortress)

A blind seer has a vision about a young man coming to harm from an old man living in a tower. To try to avert this fate, she anonymously pays for him to take a holiday somewhere far away. The young man arrives at the holiday town and sees an interesting tower, which he plans to investigate. The seer has a nightmare which she believes is connected to the young man's fate and resolves to go after him. She gets to the holiday town and realises this is the very place the tower is located. She gets lost trying to locate it and bumps into the young man on his way there. The seer soon discovers that this is the very man from her vision, and asks him to accompany her to where they can have a quiet talk. His phone rings, interrupting the conversation. As he completes his call, a car comes around the corner too fast and he pushes the seer out of its path, only to be struck himself.
The young man dreams...

I’m standing in the bar of the Three Dragons pub on Remembrance Street, except I can’t be: it was knocked down two years ago. It’s just as I recall it, though, a real old spit-and-sawdust pub, no frills, no food franchises, no noisy video games and dark inside. It was always dark in that pub, no matter what the time of year; I think it was as much the spirit of the place as the lack of light coming in through the grimy windows. Gordon the landlord - as miserable a soul as you’ll ever come across - is presiding over his dingy kindom from behind his fortress of beer taps, ashtrays and shining optics. Behind the bar, a tinny radio is playing some old Dr John blues number, but the station is not quite tuned in, so it’s impossible to work out which one it is. Suddenly, an insistent beeping noise cuts through the dead air of the bar, getting louder and louder.   No-one else seems to notice: Gordon carries on calmly polishing glasses while Ken and Alf, two of the regulars who’ll probably still be sat at the bar when the place gets demolshed, carry on arguing about some old spy film they saw years ago – The Adventures of Agent 012 or something. I’m looking right at them, but they’re becoming oddly transparent and I can see beyond them or though them. ….Blinking lights are fading in... …a babble of anxious voices… …I see two people, an old man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a young woman wearing sunglasses… …sunglasses indoors? How odd… ...someone in white reaches over me and now the lights and the noises are fading again and I’m back in the Three Dragons. Gordon looks up, “The usual?” he asks.

The 10-worder (smoothness, crafty, purchase, brief, chirping, forever, shift, moonrise, lampshade, stereotype)

New to Harold? Click here to catch up.

“The crafty old beggar,” breathed Teatime in admiration, “Now all we need to do is work out what the numbers actually mean. May I see them for a moment?”

Othello held up the paper.

162.500 – 22.98976 – 95.96

“Three numbers.” Teatime mused, “ Could it be something like a map reference, I wonder?”

“I would expect that to be just two numbers,” replied Othello. “Anyway, before we get too deeply into that, we should look around and see if there’s anything else he might have left for us. Look around people, but don’t disturb anything”

The agents busied themselves around the deceased agent’s apartment, looking inside every lampshade and underneath every stick of furniture, searching for clues. Harold and Teatime were left at a bit of a loose end in the living room.  Harold wandered around, taking care not to arouse agent India’s wrath by touching Emerald’s personal things. His feet soon brought him to the corner where Othello was working on Emerald’s computer, operating it with a smothness that Harold found quite fascinating.

“You’re pretty slick with this technology, aren’t you?” Harold said, “And it looks so complicated. It must take forever to learn.”

Othello spared him a brief glance and carried on working. Slightly disoppointed, Harold thought the agent was going to ignore him completely, and was about to move away, but Othello began to speak quietly.

“I went with him when he went to buy this machine. He wanted my supposedly expert opinion on it as it was a big purchase for him. I said it was good enough for anything he was likely to want to do with it and he laughed and said I might be surprised at what he wanted to do with it. So I asked him what his plans were and he just laughed some more and said he was thinking of trying his hand at computer art.  He fancied having a go at drawing a web comic or something. I hadn’t really had a lot to do with him before that, I just assumed he fitted the usual stereotype of the dedicated bachelor agent with no time for anything but the job. Just goes to show how easily we make assumptions about people when we don’t know them.”

“But you became friends after that?” Harold was keen to keep the man talking, the story was interesting in its own right and it felt good to just be having a simple conversation with someone.

“Yeah,” continued Othello, “We’d go for the odd beer at the end of a shift or go see a play or sometimes just sit around and talk for hours. The guy could talk for his country - and he could draw too.” Othello turned the computer’s screen so Harold could see it. “Look at this.”

Emerald’s desktop background was a stunningly rendered moonrise over a fabulously turreted fantasy castle, all perfectly reflected in the gleaming ebony waters of a lake.

“It’s beautiful,” said Harold, wonderingly. “You humans are amazingly creative at times.”

As if Harold’s words had suddenly reminded Othello that he was chatting casually with a demon, the agent was suddenly all business again.

“I’m going to take this back with us.” He said, quickly starting the shutdown sequence. “I’m going to need more time to look through what’s on here.”

“Othello,” called Mercury from the bedroom where he had been looking around, “I found something.”

Othello made his way to the other room and Harold trailed after.

Mercury held up a paper wallet with a colourful airline logo on it. “Looks like he never went to Hawaii,” he said, “His ticket’s here.”

“Well that answers that question, anyway.” Othello looked round the small room. Everything was so neat and precise, not a thing out of place. He was about to go back out of the room when he stopped, frowning.
He knelt down beside the wooden bookcase where Emerald had housed his small collection of books. He had not been a particularly voracious reader and these were mostly reference titles, plus a few biographies.

Othello ran his eyes along the neat rows.

“Ah ha!” he said after a few moments.

“What is it,” cried Mercury, leaning over to see better.

“Another clue, I think,” Othello reached out and indicated a book – Basic Inorganic Chemistry by Prof. S J Chirping & Dr O N Kendrick.

“OK, I see the book, but so what?” said Mercury.

“It’s been put in the shelf in the wrong place.” Said Othello, “Everything is in alphabetical order except this one.”

“Are you sure?” asked Mercury, “That’s an awfully subtle clue if you ask me. Might it not just be a bit of carelessness?”

“Not likely,” said Othello. withdrawing the book from the shelf. “He did this on purpose.” He held the book by the spine and shook it gently to see if anything would fall out, and when nothing did, he turned it over and opened it.

“Bingo!” he breathed.

“What? “ demanded Mercury, “What?”

Othello held up the book so the flyleaf could be clearly seen. It bore an inscription “Happy 30th birthday, Emerald. Enjoy. Othello.”

“I never bought him that book – and that’s his handwriting, not mine.” Othello stood up still holding the book. “What on earth is he trying to to tell me?”

Monday, 22 February 2010

Monday Poetry Bus/Mule-train Thing

This week's challenge from TotalFeckinEejit was to create a poem about anything - or what's in our pocketses (read the full challenge here.)

This one is about when I lived in Ireland, thirty years ago.

My empty, aching head
Leads me up and down,
And up and down
O’Connell Street.
Past the shops,
Past the church
And then
Past the church,
Past the shops
Past the skinny kid begging
With no shoes
And a dress no thicker than tissue paper
To keep out the Limerick cold.
To stir the pity of pityless hearts.
I’m a little richer than she is.
In my pocket are pennies

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 100

It's Saturday and Wordzzle time. This week, one of our regular Wordzzling friends, Dr John, passed away and this post is dedicated to him.

If you would like to play, go to here for rules and guidance.

The Mini (rapid, camping, blandishments, transitory, plug-ins)

This is part of of an ongoing story.

A blind seer has a vision about a young man coming to harm from an old man living in a tower. To try to avert this fate, she anonymously pays for him to take a holiday somewhere far away. The young man arrives at the holiday town and sees an interesting tower, which he plans to investigate. The seer has a nightmare which she believes is connected to the young man's fate and resolves to go after him. She gets to the holiday town and realises this is the very place the tower is located. She gets lost trying to locate it and bumps into the young man on his way there. The seer soon discovers that this is the very man from her vision, and asks him to accompany her to where they can have a quiet talk. His phone rings, interrupting the conversation. As he completes his call, a car comes around the corner too fast and he pushes the seer out of its path, only to be struck himself.

The Seer speaks...

It’s all happened so fast! I manage to get to my hands and knees, my stick’s gone flying off one way and my bag another. The car’s engine has stopped and the driver’s rapid footsteps approach. The young man must be near here somewhere, I heard him land in the road with a sickening noise like a side of meat being dropped. If I can just reach him. There he is. I try for the pulse in his neck. It’s weak and thready and his breathing is shallow. The car driver is here, blathering It’s OK, it’s OK and other blandishments, as if to coax away the dreadful situation like a skittish horse. I yell at him to phone for an ambulance and he mumbles something about not having a phone on him but that there’s a camping shop just down the road and they might have one. His footsteps hammer away down the lane before I can call him back. The young man’s got a phone he could have used, so have I if the driver could find my bag. Never mind that, I scream at myself, he’s hurt! I run my hands over him carefully, checking for injuries, although what I’ll do if I find any I have no idea. One of his legs is all crooked, and his head… My hands come away sticky and wet. I try to remember anything at all about first aid, but the memories are transitory and flee like flocks of startled birds. Get a grip! I make a pad of my scarf and press it carefully but firmly onto what feels like a huge gash on his head - I don’t want to make it worse. Although I have located his phone, it’s one of those touch-screen things with a million useless plug-ins or apps or whatever, but with no tactile keyboard, it’s useless to me. It’s suddenly so quiet, with just the occasional tick from the car’s engine as it cools. I hope help comes soon.

The 10-Worder (transfixed, treachery, basics, fragrance, sampler, pregnant, cartoons, lark, spartan)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

Agents Othello, Prada and India all stood frozen for several silent seconds, transfixed by shock at Mercury’s news. Eventually, a frowning Othello broke the silence.

“How’d it happen?”

“The cops think it was a mugging – he was found in an alley off Spartan Street behind the Heavenly Fragrance cafe. He’d been shot at close range and his wallet was found nearby. His credit cards and money were gone”

“That’s not right.” said Othello. “He was supposed to be on vacation in Hawaii and wasn’t due back till next week. How could he have been here?”

There was a pregnant pause as this sank in.

“Perhaps he came back early from his holiday?” suggested Teatime, somewhat diffidently as he was not sure how the humans would react to his including himself in their discussions at this sensitive time.

“I doubt it,” replied Othello, “He’s talked about nothing but this vacation for months – it was a dream holiday for him. There’s no way he’d have come back early.”

“Do the cops have any leads?” asked Prada.

“I don’t think so,” sighed Mercury, “Spartan Street’s in a bad neighbourhood and they’re overworked. Emerald’s case will probably end up at the bottom of the pile in some rookie lieutenant’s in-tray. They’ve done the basics as far as forensics are concerned and nothing came up, so it’s not a huge priority for them.”

“I’m wondering if there’s any link between Emerald’s death and what we’re currently investigating.” Said Othello. “Maybe we should do some investigating of our own. At the very least I’d want to know whether Emerald ever went to Hawaii – and if not, why not.”

“Well, the police have returned his personal effects,” Mercury held up a plastic evidence bag. He had us listed as his next of kin, apparently. His keys are here, maybe we should have a quick look around his place.”
There was an uncomfortable silence: one the one hand, the agents wanted to find out what had happened to their friend, while on the other, going into his home felt like an intrusion.

In the end, though, it was decided that they would visit Emerald’s home – if only to see if there were any contact details for family members that might need to be informed of his death.

Emerald’s apartment was the first human residence Harold had ever set foot in. Standing in the small, tidy main room, his eyes were drawn to the many framed cartoons adorning the walls. Evidently, Emerald was something of a fan of the funnies and quite of few of the pictures appeared to have been autographed by the artist. Better than any tacky printed sampler, thought Harold, thinking back to the Sleezee Motel. One picture – “Larry the Lark and the Pirates of Treachery Bay” – was slightly askew, which seemed odd to Harold, given the meticulous neatness of everything else. Instinctively, he reached out to straighten it.

“Don’t touch that!” snapped India, “Keep your hands off his things.” Harold snatched his hand back is if burned.

“What’s going on?” demanded Mercury from Emerald’s bedroom, where he was looking for address books, letters or anything of that kind.

“Nothing,” said India firmly and, favouring Harold with a warning glare, she went to join Prada in the tiny kitchen.

“This picture is crooked, I was going to just…”

Othello, who had just booted up Emerald’s computer, hurried over. He took in the scene briefly then reached out and took the picture down off the wall.

“Emerald was a total neat-freak,” he said, “There’s no way he’d leave a picture hanging like this.”

“Oh, come on!” groaned Prada, re-entering the room, “This isn’t some low-budget TV whodunit, you know, where the victim leaves a mysterious clue by deliberately – “ She broke off as Othello, having turned the picture over, removed and held up a folded piece of paper that had been tucked into the frame, completely hidden when the picture was on the wall.

“You have got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.

Mercury and India came over. Othello set the picture down and unfolded the paper.

162.500 – 22.98976 – 95.96

“What on earth is that?” said Mercury.

“I have no idea.” Replied Othello, shaking his head, “But Emerald hid this, knowing that only someone who knew him really well was likely to find it.

“Oh, great,” sighed Prada, “Now it’s the DaVinci Code!”

Sunday, 14 February 2010

LURVE BUS SPECIAL - A Scientific Valentine

All aboard TFE's Lurve Poerty Bus!

I'd like to catch the moon for you, and place it in your hand
But its mass makes it unwieldy and too dangerous to land.
If it were in my power, Love, I would fetch the twinkling stars
But they're balls of flaming hydrogen, and just might leave a scar.

I wish that our two hearts could join and then could beat as one.
But the Docs won't do the surgery, they say it can't be done.
I'd say your lips were roses, your kisses taste like wine
But that's a false perception, a neurological warning sign.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? It's vague and imprecise!
A Polar daytime lasts six months and is filled with snow and ice.
Until the 12th of never, dear, I would gladly pledge my heart.
But the universe, expanding, is driving us apart.

The greatest minds, the brightest brains, cannot make sense of this
There's no objective measure for the meaning of a kiss.
There are some things, like love, it seems, we are not meant to measure.
But you are still my Valentine, my unquantifiable treasure.

Saturday Wordzzle 99

My, my, how time flies! I'm running late this week but I'm here now. If you would like to play go here for rules and guidance.

The Mini (rigid, spiritual, ribbon, web cam, vitamins)

This is part of of an ongoing story. A blind seer has had a vision about a young man coming to some as yet unspecified harm from an old man living in a tower. To try to avert this fate, she has anonymously paid for him to take a holiday somewhere far away. The young man has arrived at the holiday town and has noticed an interesting tower, which he plans to investigate the next day. The seer has a nightmare which she believes is connected to the young man's fate and resolves to go after him. She finds herself in the holiday town and realises this is the very place the tower is located. She gets lost trying to locate it and hears footsteps approaching. The young, on his way to the tower sees a blind ladt trying to cross the road. The man approaches her and they talk. The seer soon discovers that this is the very man from her vision and bursts into relieved tears. She apologises and asks him to accompany her to where they can have a quiet talk. His phone rings, interrupting the conversation.

The young man speaks...

I can feel myself going rigid with rage. When I’m angry like this I can feel it like a ribbon tied tightly around my head and getting tighter. Just how does my sister know exactly which buttons to push to get my back up? As if it matters whether I take vitamins in tablet form or get them from fresh veg anyway? Since Mum died, she’s gone all spiritual and is always trying to ‘look after’ me and it’s driving me crazy. I’m a grown man for goodness sake! I wouldn’t be surprised to find she’s hidden a web cam in my flat just so she can keep tabs on me. I snap the phone shut while she’s still talking – that’ll annoy her no end, but I’ll be paying for it in earache next time we talk. Oh well. I turn back to the blind lady I’ve so rudely left standing there and OH NO!, LOOK OUT! She can’t see the car coming round the bend in the road and the idiot driver’s going too fast to make the turn properly. She lets out a surprised shriek as I shove her roughly out of the way and oh, my days! The pain! THE PAIN!

The 10-Worder (thermometer, Pandora, vivid, languorous, Saturday, pancreas, apple dumplings, watch tower, lichen, sparrow)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning with the rising thermometer inviting folks outside in their shirtsleeves. Through a gap in the Salamander room’s blinds, Harold could see a sparrow on the lichen-draped branch of a nearby tree singing its heart out in the sunshine – albeit silently, as no sound penetrated the double-glazed window. He was getting a bit fidgety, truth to tell, the magic of PowerPoint having worn off already. Agent Othello’s carefully bulleted list of information was depressingly short: little more than some names and last known locations.
“What other things do we need to consider?” asked Mercury, watching Prada languorously completing another one of her vivid and intricate doodles.
“You might want to think about how whoever is behind this actually locates their targets.” offered Teatime, “Neither demons nor angels stand out in human society unless they choose to.”
“That’s an interesting point.” replied Mercury as Othello tapped it into the computer, “Are they using Spotting or some kind of technology?”
“Spotting?” asked Harold.
“Yes,” explained Mercury, “Some people have the gift of being able to sense your kind – India, for example, has this gift.”
A few things suddenly made sense to Harold.
“So,” he said turning to India, “Back at the railway station, you knew? Fascinating!”
“Yes.” India replied, “You made my teeth itch – still do, as a matter of fact”
“India!” said Prada, looking up from her sketch of a garland of flowers around the words “apple dumplings”. “That’s not very nice!”
India shrugged, “Well, it’s true. That’s how it feels”.
“Could whoever it is – “ Teatime stopped, “Can we please give our mystery opponent some kind of name? I’m fed up of saying “whoever it is” all the time.”
“OK, we’ll call him, her, it or them Enigma” declared Mercury, “Now, moving on, Mr Teatime has raised a very good point. So far as we know, only Spotters can detect angels or demons. It would be very handy for us if some technological means existed, but it doesn’t. It’s a gift, and a rare one at that.”
“Is it so rare that Enigma couldn’t be employing a Spotter?” ventured Teatime. “Over what range does this gift work?”
“About 20-30 feet at the most” said India.
“All of the disappearances,” said Othello, bringing up a map on his computer, “were within 20 miles of here, but not particularly close together. Unless Enigma has a number of Spotters, it’s hard to see how they could have been so successful in locating their targets.”
At that moment, there was a polite knock on the door and the fresh-faced young agent that Harold had scared earlier poked his head into the room.
“Agent Mercury?” he said, “A report from the Watch Tower has just come in and I think you should see it.”
“Excuse me,” said Mercury, making his way out of the room. “Take five everyone, get a coffee or something.”
Glad of the interruption, the others repaired to the break room.
Someone had brought in a tray of home-made cupcakes and had left them with a hand-written sign indicating that anyone could have one provided that they left a donation in the box provided. The money raised would go to fund research into diseases of the pancreas.
“These look very tempting,” remarked Harold, dropping some money into the box and snagging a cake.
“You’d know all about that,” said Prada lightly, taking a cake for herself.
“I’ll let you into a secret,” said Harold, lowering his voice in a mock-conspiratorial whisper, “I’m not actually very good at it, but please don’t tell the others, I have a reputation to maintain.”
Prada laughed.
“Your secret is safe with me.”
“Ahem,” interrupted Teatime, “Are you planning to keep that cake all to yourself, old sock? Only, being the brains in this partnership is hungry work, don’t you know?”
“Sorry,” Harold apologised, breaking off a large piece and handing to the little monkey. He bit into his own piece and closed his eyes in pleasure: these were good!
“Can you actually taste things?” asked Prada. “I always thought your kind didn’t need food…”
“We need energy, and food is as good a way to get it as any – and very enjoyable too, I might add. “ explained Harold, “Plus, I can eat anything and not get fat..”
“Now I know you’re evil!” groaned Prada, “I’ve just bought myself another 2 hours in the gym.”
“She’s being awfully friendly with that Fallen,” said India quietly to Othello as she poured coffee for herself. “Someone should have a word.”
“Prada’s an experienced agent,” replied Othello softly, “She knows what she’s about. I reckon she’ll get more information out of that one than the rest of us ever will. ‘Softly, softly catchee monkey’, as they say.” He chuckled a little at his own wit.
“Hmm, she needs to be careful she doesn’t end up like Pandora – opening up a box full of trouble.” Was India’s sour reply.
Agent Mercury entered the room, his face grave.
“People,” he said, “I’ve just received some very shocking news.” He paused to ensure they were all listening. “Agent Emerald has been found murdered.”

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Another Failed Attempt at Getting Published

Back in December, I sent off the story below to a Flash Fiction competition, the winning 20 entries of which would be published in an anthology entitled "Thieves and Scoundrels". The stories all had to be 1,000 words or less and had to be SciFi, Horror or Fantasy.

This is the same competition that Don't Feed the Pixies entered and wrote about here.  He was not successful and, gues what? Neither was I.

Anyhoo, here's the one they didn't want....

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Hello, Padre. Is it that time already? My, how time flies when you're having fun. Sorry, that's just my little joke. The condemned man can have a little joke, can't he, Padre?

No? Oh, well.

I know I'm supposed to confess all right about now and seek redemption or something, but I have to tell you Padre, I'm not about to do that.  I've lied, cheated, stolen, fornicated and murdered my way around the Ninety Worlds all my life, and if that slimeball Soleki hadn't ratted me out, I'd still be out there doing it right now.

I won't lie to you, Padre, I've done nothing good with my life - and I don't regret it.

That's not what you wanted to hear, is it? That's not how the script goes. Well I'm sorry to disappoint you, Padre, but I've loved every minute of my life!

Okay, I can see you're not buying the bravado and the bullshit, that's very perceptive of you.

There is one thing I did – a theft, actually - that I would undo if I could. Just one, mind, I'm not going soft or anything just because it's my last day.

I just need someone to know this one thing before I go. It's the least I can do.

I once worked aboard Premier Spaceways' holiday ship, Vivace.

Ah, I see you remember what happened aboard that ship. Well, that's the thing, Padre, the authorities never did work out what caused all those deaths, but I know.

It was me.

Don't look so shocked, I never killed those people, they died just the way the Tri-Dee news reported it. It was my fault is all I'm saying.

I was flat broke and in debt up to my eyeballs with all the wrong people. Back then, I had a lousy poker face, an addiction to gambling, and a misplaced belief in my own luck – a most unfortunate combination, I'm sure you'll agree.

Anyway, there was a pair of plasticrete overshoes or an involuntary stroll out of an airlock sans spacesuit in my near future when Temple Jai offered me enough money to get clear and, like a fool, I jumped at it.

Jai said the device was harmless, just some piece of alien tech-junk he'd picked up offworld. I should have known better than to believe anything Temple Jai said, the rat-bastard. I heard he once sold two of his own mothers just for beer money.

Anyway, all I had to do was get a job on a certain ship, using the fake ID Jai gave me, and take this little thing aboard with me. Each day, I was to hide it in a different passenger's cabin, then at the end of the trip, give it back to him. That was all.

It sounded like easy money.

Did I ask him what the device was? Of course I did, but he point-blank refused to tell me and threatened to call off the deal if I didn't shut my yap.

It was a funny-looking thing, about the size and shape of an egg, but very heavy with a kind of translucent pearly shell. The innards - what you could see of them through the shell – were always slowly swirling around. There was a hint of wiring in there too if you looked real close, and a couple of button-like studs on the outside that you could press with your finger.

Maybe that's where it all went wrong. Maybe I fiddled with the thing a bit, I don't remember for sure anymore. Or maybe Temple Jai knew exactly what the thing did and didn't give a shit - I wouldn't put it past him. He's dead now though, so I guess we'll never know.

We were about a week out from Lumiere when the killings began. One morning, Mrs Soraya Ahmed stabbed her husband to death over breakfast. Sarr T'kel bludgeoned his new Sarra to a pulp the next day, then the day after that, Ikk 'ut set fire to the cabin it was sharing with its mates, killing all eight of them.

Now, I'm no genius, but even I managed to work it out. All the passengers that were doing the killing and those that died were ones in whose cabin I had hidden the egg-thing. Now, I've done some killing in my time, but only people who crossed me, only people who deserved it. Killing strangers for no reason has never been my bag, so you better believe I quickly put the egg-thing back into its box and hid it in the ship's hold, well away from people.

There were fifteen more deaths after that, all from the rest of the cabins where I had hidden the egg-thing before I realised what was going on. The captain put us back to port immediately and there was a massive investigation, but no-one ever figured out what had happened.

I heard they had to scrap the Vivace not long after that: no-one wanted to travel in a boat where so many newlyweds met such a tragic end.

You see, Padre, that was the saddest part. As luck - or Temple Jai, maybe - would have it, I'd been assigned to work on the deck where all the honeymoon suites were - where the love was strongest and freshest.

The egg-thing was some kind of syphon: it just drank up all that love, every last drop. Temple Jai had an eager market for that rarest of commodity and stood to get very rich selling the love I stole for him.

The thing is, Padre, nature abhors a vacuum. When all that love got sucked out of those people, something else rushed in to fill the void, something as fierce and strong as the love had been – except it was the exact opposite of that love.

So there it is - the one thing I ever regret stealing.

You can tell the guards I'm ready to go now.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 98

What a week! I didn't think I'd get time to take part this week and those words....! Go to Raven's Nest to get the poop on how to play this great game.

Worst words: laundry list, pantry.

The mini (risque, radish, ring tone, ravishing, ruler)

This is part of of an ongoing story. A blind seer has had a vision about a young man coming to some as yet unspecified harm from an old man living in a tower. To try to avert this fate, she has anonymously paid for him to take a holiday somewhere far away. The young man has arrived at the holiday town and has noticed an interesting tower, which he plans to investigate the next day. The seer has a nightmare which she believes is connected to the young man's fate and resolves to go after him. She finds herself in the holiday town and realises this is the very place the tower is located. She gets lost trying to locate it and hears footsteps approaching. The young, on his way to the tower sees a blind ladt trying to cross the road. The man approaches her and they talk. The seer soon discovers that this is the very man from her vision and bursts into relieved tears....

The seer speaks...

Oh my goodness! Whatever can this young man think of me, bursting out crying like that? I bet I’m as red as a radish – no, it’s ‘as red as a beetroot’, a beetroot, for goodness’ sake! I do feel really stupid now though. What on Earth am I going to tell him to explain my bizarre behaviour? My emotions have always been my ruler and one of these days it’s going to get me into serious trouble. I suppose I should tell him the truth, as far-fetched as it is. I wish I could see his face! He knows I’m telling the truth, though, how else would I know about Mr Merryman the solicitor? It’s lot to take in for him, so I suggest we go somewhere quiet for drink and a proper talk.He seems a bit hesitant, as though I’ve just suggested something risque. I assure him he’s in no danger of me ravishing him and he laughs, breaking the tension a little. Suddenly, manic laughter starts up from somewhere and he apologises, explaining that it’s the ring tone on his mobile. He excuses himself and steps away to take the call. I can wait, of course, but oh dear, now he’s having an argument with the person on the other end, getting quite heated in fact, and his voice carries in the quiet lane, almost blotting out the sound of a car appraching.

The 10-worder (treasure chest, idiom, pantry, crippled, baying wolf, wind chill, time, angel, salamander, laundry list)

New to Harold? Click here to catch up.

They were gathered in the Salamader room - one of the oddly-named conference rooms at OGS. Mercury was running the meeting. Othello had his laptop open on the table in front of him connected to a projector. It was currently displaying his screensaver – animated fishes swimming all over a coral reef complete with overflowing pirate treasure chest. Prada looked bored already and was doodling on her notepad. Harold could make out the words “pantry” and “laundry list” in amongst a growing number of cartoon flowers, hearts and spirals. India, on the other hand, was leaning forward, pencil poised, all alert attentivemess.

Harold himself was quite interested in the proceedings. There were no briefing sessions in the Basement, although Harold had heard humans claiming that they thought they had died and gone there after a particularly long and boring meeting up here. Teatime sat quietly on the table in front of Harold.

“OK, I think it’s safe to assume that since both sides have lost –er – people then neither side is responsible for what’s happening. Agreed?”

A murmur of assent ran round the table.

Othello tapped his keyboard and a neat bullet point appeared on the whiteboard.

“So who does that leave?” continued Mercury.

“Humans,” suggested Teatime. India tutted and shot him a look with a wind chill factor strong enough to freeze a small bird to death.

“Well, who else is there?” he continued, unperturbed.

“Aliens?” Prada didn’t even look up from her dodles. “Vampires? Dragons?”

This was greeted with a chorus of general disagreement.

“Perhaps we should shelve that point for the moment, pending more information.” said Othello as his fingers danced on the keyboard once more.

“OK,” agreed Mercury, “Let’s record such information as we do have. Mr Teatime, I believe you have the details of the Fallen that have disappeared. Would you care to share them with us?”

“Yes, of course” Teatime assumed his schoolmasterly tone, “The Basement has lost touch with five demons
thus far. The most recent was Baron Samedi. Before that there was Crippled Tom, then Akim, a.k.a Baying Wolf, Michael Everest and Susan.” 

Prada let out a giggle.

“Susan?” she said, “Seriously? There’s a demon called Susan? What is she, the spirit of extreme bossiness? ‘Cos if she is, then you’ve just described my little sister.”

“Very funny, Prada,” said Othello, “Now, on our side, we’ve lost three: Territhiel, Auriel and Illyriel, according to the information given us by the Penthouse.”

Harold started at that last name. He and Illyriel, while not exactly BFFs or whtever the human idiom was, had nevertheless been quite close before the Great War, and it was shocking to imagine that he might be
gone for good. Even though he had been banished from the Penthouse along with all the other Fallen, Harold had, in those first terrifying dark days, taken a little comfort in knowing that former friends were still there, safe and happy.

“How can an angel or a Fallen just disappear, though?” asked India. “They can’t be killed, can they?”
“That’s right,” agreed Harold, “Our vessels are pretty much indestructible.”

“But vulnerable to electricity, or our tasers wouldn’t work.” observed Othello. “In all our dealings with Fallen, we’ve never found any other practical way of restraining them – apart from Binding, and only a few of us can do that.” He looked at Harold, “in the interests of solving this mystery for both our sides, do you have any other weaknesses we should know about, that might have been exploited by whoever is behind this?”

Yeah, like I’d tell you if I had, thought Harold. “Not unless you count trad. Jazz.” He said. “I’m a real sucker for that.”

“We’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.” said Mercury drily.

It was going to be a long meeting.

Friday, 5 February 2010

If we made cars....

I work in the department responsible for keeping our Business Intelligence (oxymoron there if ever there was one) computer systems running. From time to time, our programmers give us new versions of software to install or brand new software to set up when a new BI client comes along.  This does not always go smoothly...

You’ve probably all seen the internet joke about what it would be like if Microsoft made cars…

Well here’s my take on it for our department.

I present for your amusement a series of fictionalised but not untypical exchanges between me (SUPPORT) and our programmers (DEV), along with a comparable set between a motorist and a car maker, so you can see what we have to put up with.

SUPPORT: We can’t install the new version of the Klooluss X-5000 Decision Support System because there are no table definitions in the database for it.
DEV: Don’t worry, they’re being developed now and we will deliver them on Monday.

MOTORIST: My car has been delivered with no wheels and won’t run.
CARMAKER: Don’t worry, we’re manufacturing the wheels now and we’ll deliver them on Monday.


SUPPORT: OK, we’ve got the table definitions, but when we run the code, the program is expecting a different set of column names from those defined in the database.
DEV: Log a case in QC and we’ll look into it.

MOTORIST: OK, I’ve got the wheels now, but they're square. I was kind of expecting round ones.
CARMAKER: Please contact your dealer, have him call us and we’ll get back to you.

Later that day...

DEV: We've looked into this and it’s your fault.  We think you’re running the code against the wrong database.
SUPPORT: We’re using the one that we have been assured is the correct one.

CARMAKER: We've looked into this and it’s your fault.  We think you’re trying to fit the wheels in the wrong place.
MOTORIST: I’m fitting a wheel to each of the four corners of the car - where else would I fit them?.

DEV: Would you like a web conference with one of our team to talk you through where you’re going wrong?
SUPPORT: No need for a web conference. The definitions are wrong (see the screenshot I'm emailing).

CARMAKER: Would you like to set up a webcam and film yourself attempting to fit the wheels and one of our mechanics will talk you through where you’re going wrong.
MOTORIST: No need for a web cam. The wheels are definitely wrong (see the photo I'm emailing)

Much later that day...

DEV: Oh, it turns out that we’re developing off an out-of-date schema, we’ll need to impact this and get a new version of the code written..
SUPPORT: Hmmm, it’s due to go live tomorrow.

CARMAKER: Oh, turns out wheels are round now! Who knew? Square ones were phased out some time ago, apparently, hehe. We’ll need to go back to the drawing board on this one.
MOTORIST: Hmmm. I need to use the car tomorrow.

DEV: Sorry, we’re maxed out and have no resource to complete the work by then.
SUPPORT: Well, I’m sure the client will understand, and won’t be at all interested in demanding their money back..

CARMAKER: Sorry, there’s no way we can retool for round wheels by Tuesday.
MOTORIST: Fine, I’m sure my great aunt Aggie will understand why she can’t go to her life-saving kidney dialysis session.

Trying to get round the problem...

SUPPORT: Look, we can see the problem and can easily fix it ….
DEV: Sorry, that’s not your job. We can’t have people changing the code or we can’t guarantee our releases contain the most correct version of the code.

MOTORIST: I can see the problem and I have a spare set of wheels here that will fit…
CARMAKER: Sorry, that’s not your job. We can’t have people using wheels we have not manufactured or we couldn’t guarantee the car will work.

SUPPORT: But it doesn’t work now.
DEV: Sorry, there’s a process…..

MOTORIST: But my car doesn’t work now.
CARMAKER: Sorry, there’s a process….

There’s always a frickin’ process!

I love my job - it's the people.....!!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

I'm running late for the bus!

This weeks sees the return of Eej's Poetry Bus, as driven by the extravagantly talented Mr Dominic Rivron.

This week's challenge was to go to the website of one Simon Fisher Turner, listen to his music and write a piece whilst listening.

The music is here. The track Ghost Road Berlin is the one to listen to.

Here's my take on it. I have to say that this piece, whilst relatively inoffensive to the lugholes would not normally be my personal cup of Earl Grey, but kudos to Dominic for getting me to listen outside my comfort zone.

Ghost Road

These diaphamous ribbons of sound
Elude the ear,
Wafting near
Then far
Then near again.
Come with us, they say.
But I can't
My feet are leaden
And this body of heavy clay
Is anchored still to Earth
And the cold, cold wind
blows and blows.