Escape from Europa

I roll and bank, propelled by song, across the mustard sky,

I flap my arms to catch the breeze and spin and swoop and dive,

The constellation couples court, and dance and whirl and swap,

As Saturn’s sweet serenity approves our ceilidh hop.

 

I dance with all the girls in turn, my arms begin to tire,

Until you take me by the hand and set my world on fire,

The flames complete the ancient dance, engulf us as we spin, A night for love and merriment, a night for blessed sin.

***

Cold.

Cold and dark.

Cold and dark and wet.

Europa.

 

They said,

The roses spread outside the dome through the air filtration system.

They said,

The roses grew faster than anticipated due to my unapproved genetic modification.

They said,

The oxygen produced could cause a dangerous imbalance in Titan’s atmosphere due to the high concentration of hydrocarbons.

I grew the roses. I grew the roses for my love.

With trademark ingenuity,

I planted them in foetid leaves,

Then modified genetically,

And labelled alphabetically,

I left them for about a week,

And when I checked what did I see,

But pea green shoots from two or three,

A rose had grown where none could dream.

They said,

It was gross misconduct and criminal negligence.

They said,

It was a betrayal of horticultural principles and the trust placed in me by the people of Titan.

They said,

I had endangered those around me, had shown little to no remorse and should be incarcerated on Europa with immediate effect.

Tonight I escape.

***

Grounded by the atmospheric

Pressure I begin to run,

Short and squat with giant arms, the

Ape that Titan Man’s become.

 

Pounding down the empty tunnels,

Looking back at where I’ve come,

At the open cell doors and the

Shark man shot with his own gun.

 

Blood drips down from where he bit me,

Leaves a pattern on the floor,

Like a bed of crimson roses,

With a scent that sharks adore.

 

Something’s lurking in the darkness,

Cannot seem to shake it off,

Turn the corner straight into a

Hammer-headed behemoth.

 

Raise the gun and pull the trigger,

Gaping maw a great crevasse,

Bullet jams inside the chamber,

Stands aside to let me pass.

***

I roll and bank, with deft control, traverse the barren space,

Between myself and you, my love, to once more see your face.

The stars burn brightly, shining down their never changing pattern,

My craft begins its long descent between the rings of Saturn.

 

Our small moon comes into view and my heart sinks with shame,

Where once there was a cityscape is now a sea of flame.

My roses bloomed where nothing could, and breathed life to the void,

The void replied with great fervour; my roses were destroyed

hAppy

Zach had always toyed with the idea of using a dating app. There was some statistic that said that 80% of relationships were made in virtual space, but he still couldn’t see it as anything other than a guilty secret. It had been a hard day at work and Zach’s head was numb from hours spent fixing lines of code in wholly uninteresting and unnecessary programs. The ride home was horribly delayed so he had plenty of time for thought: the choice was between an errant sub-routine and an exciting and cutting edge dating app, so it wasn’t surprising where his mind ended up.

The app interested Zach in more ways than one. In truth he had already downloaded and installed it – he had to! As a software engineer it was vitally important to understand the current industry and it certainly was a beautiful piece of software. The user-interface was sublime and it integrated fully with all of the sensory equipment in his headware.

With a guilty glance around and a lick of his lips, Zach opened and ran the software. His wife would not like this one bit. She had always been the jealous type, she couldn’t stand to see him talk to another woman, maybe that was why he felt the need to escape.

ZING

The alert was fed straight into the sensory receptors in the brain, bypassing even his in-ear transplants. He brought up the notification, displayed in dazzling clarity imprinted on his visual cortex direct. He could have avoided all of that expensive eye surgery getting the corneal screens. Still, he always needed the latest tech.

The note was from the dating app. A response already?! Surely this was spam, or some horrible mismatch.

Her name was Roxanne. She worked at a nightclub, selling tickets. She studied fashion at university. Her favourite colour was black. She thought her best feature was her hair. Prospective partners thought her best feature was her chest. All in all she was… ok. There was nothing wrong with her; at least not for Zach’s purposes. Zach grinned to himself and made to accept her offer.

Now, there may be no such thing as fate, no meaning of life, no underlying plan, but if the universe could be said observe one law – it would be comic timing. He received a call; it was his wife. Zach started, neck snapping round, caught in the headlights. His heart rate shot up and he had to take deep breaths to calm down. It was ok, she couldn’t see him yet. Waves of guilt crashed over him. How could he be doing this? She was his wife! He had made his vows.

No, he thought, she had driven him to this. It was best for both of them. He chose this moment of strength to answer the call.

Her name was Susie. She worked at a delicatessen, preparing food. She studied maths at university. Her favourite colour was… he didn’t know what her favourite colour was. Her best feature actually was her hair, but it used to be her smile.

“Zachie?” He hated her calling him that.

“Yes Sue?”

“Where are you?” She sounded upset again.

“On my way…” he paused, looking at the avatar of Roxanne in the corner of his eye, “On my way home.”

“Good.” She looked pensive. “’Cause I really need to see you.” She hung up.

“That was strange.” Zach said out loud and then set about frantically shutting down his over eager voice recognition software. He stared wistfully at Roxanne. She would have to wait, but not for long. He deserved this. He redirected the cab and prepared himself for an uncomfortable evening.

As soon as he entered the door he knew something was wrong. All the lighting and electronics were switched off. The flat was pitch-black apart from a feint, ominous, flickering glow emanating from the kitchen.

Zach pushed the door to, cursing under his breath as it clicked shut. He padded down the hallway, hugging the wall to stay in the long fleeting shadows. His heart was pounding as he reached the doorway. Limbs pressed hard against the flimsy wall, he took a deep breath to steady himself and then peered round the corner, only to find himself inches away from the face of a mysterious silhouetted stranger. Zach recoiled, but not far enough, as the stranger darted forward and pressed him against the wall, breathing heavily on his neck.

“Oh my…” Zach started to say as soft hot lips found his. He tried to raise his arms, but the stranger pinned his elbows against the wall, letting his hands fall neatly on their waist. It took Zach a second to come to terms with his sudden and unexpected predicament, but soon enough instinct took over. He stopped staring desperately into the inky blackness and instead closed his eyes and let himself go.

The kiss ended sooner than he would have liked. She pulled away, suddenly coy, and activated the lights. It was, as he had begun to suspect, his wife. Zach looked her up and down, stood awkwardly in the centre of the kitchen, biting her lip.

“I…” they both said simultaneously and then stopped, each waiting for the other. She rocked backwards and forwards on her feet, hands clasped tightly in front of her, still unable to meet his gaze.

“I want to make this work.” She muttered. Now it was Zach’s turn to intensely study the tiling on the floor. In the corner of his vision was the sultry face of Roxanne, pouting at him. He pushed her off the display, more ashamed than he could say, and peeked up at Susie. She took a step forward and took his hands in hers, staring deeply into his eyes. Surely she knows, he thought, why else would she be doing this? He could feel his face going red: a furious blush that refused to be denied. The more he thought about it the hotter it got, until Zach couldn’t stand it. “Sue,” he began, words coming straight from the pit of his stomach, but once again she leaned in for a kiss, this time much longer and deeper.

Zach could hardly believe what was going on. He felt like he was a distant observer, watching someone else, living someone else’s life: someone else with a happy relationship. His whole body felt numb as his wife dragged him upstairs. She smiled and said something but Zach couldn’t hear her over the ringing in his ears. This couldn’t be happening; she’d always been so cold. Susie grabbed his shirt and fell backwards onto the bed. With her tumbled all of Zach’s doubts, any other thoughts that Zach might have been having and finally Zach himself, into the eager embrace of his loving wife.

To the dispassionate observer, the next hour was a sequence of groans and very bodily noises as two not particularly impressive specimens of humankind crawled over one another and sweated profusely. If there was one word to describe how Zach felt however, it was passionate. He had never felt so good, so sexy, so loved. Susie loved him. He could tell. It wasn’t just the sex, Sue loved him for him.

*******************************************

“It’s yellow.”

“What?” Zach broke out of his reverie. They were lying in bed, Sue draped endearingly across his torso, both utterly spent.

“My favourite colour,” she replied, propping herself up on one elbow so that her breasts fell lightly onto his chest, “…Is yellow.” She smiled, and her smile was the world.

Zach suddenly remembered the app. How could he have made such a mistake? Well, almost made, he thought to himself. There was no harm done in the end. He didn’t want to escape this! This was bliss. He stared down at Susie and placed his hand on her arm. “I love you,” he said, and he meant it. He would delete the app as soon as she wasn’t looking. He had to, as soon as possible. It lurked there, on his mind like an ugly scar in the otherwise Elyssian thoughts of Susie.

Susie rolled on top of him and pinned his arms down, gently teasing her skin over his. “I knew I could win you back,” she said with a triumphant grin on her face. What did that mean? Had she known all along? Zach was still trying to think of the right question to ask when she jumped up, pulled on his t-shirt and left the room. “Fancy a coffee?” she yelled behind her.

“Y-Yes please!” stammered Zach, suddenly unsure of himself. He knew only one thing: he had to get rid of that app. Whilst Susie was busy in the other room he rolled into a sitting position and fired up his visual overlay, feverishly trying to delete the offending software. After several nervous mis-clicks a small ‘connection terminated’ notification forced itself upon his vision and then all trace of Roxanne and Zach’s planned indiscretion was gone. Zach sighed to himself, relieved, although he wasn’t entirely sure why. He hadn’t done anything wrong.

Zach had a headache coming. He paced about the room, looking at Sue’s things: discarded underwear, well-thumbed books and small trinkets of little to no value. She collected little mementos from her travels. They had been to Brazil together for their honeymoon. Zach reminisced as he picked up a toppled photo frame, one hand massaging his temples. The photo was of a couple smiling in front of Christ the Redeemer. There was Sue on the left and on the right was a man. The man looked very much like Zach, but something was off: his chin was a little wider, his hairline further back, his nose stronger. Zach choked back jealous pangs and sat back down dumbfounded.

There were footsteps and a tuneless humming coming up the stairs that Zach found simultaneously familiar and yet incredibly strange. Sue entered the room, wearing nothing but Zach’s t-shirt and carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. She stopped, blinked and looked down at herself, the mugs, her bare legs.

“You should probably go.” she said, lacking all emotion. She placed the mugs on a chest of drawers and pulled the t-shirt down for modesty. Zach gathered the rest of his clothes as she stood awkwardly in the centre of the room. After finding an errant sock he faced her and held out his hand for his t-shirt.

“Oh…” she said, flushing bright crimson and desperately searching for something to hide her shame. She snatched a towel from her wardrobe and held it in front of her whilst removing the misplaced garment. She threw the shirt at Zach almost aggressively, pulled the towel up haughtily and turned on her heels. Zach stared after her as she left the room, eyes lingering wistfully on the tantalising curves at the top of her leg.

He followed her like a zombie, unable to do anything else. Questions filled his head. Where had they got married? What was her job again? Who was the other man? For that matter, who was Sue?

As she ushered him out of the door he noticed she was weeping openly; tears falling down her slightly chubby cheeks to caress her lips before plunging to the ground. He turned on the step, “Could I..” his voice cracked in his throat but he pressed on, “Could I have your number?”

She gave a sad, apologetic smile. “I don’t think so.” The door shut slowly. Zach walked down the drive, head spinning. The numbness had returned.

Tears in the Rain

In life, true inspiration does not come very often. Are you too busy going to work? Doing chores? Paying bills? Buying so called brand new cars from Chevrolet dealerships run by conmen who’d sell their own mother if they could turn back the odometer? I know I am.

Anyway, the other day, whilst filing a lawsuit against a certain purveyor of second rate personal conveyances, I had an idea. I would write a play.

A version of Bladerunner adapted for live audiences.

On my way home from work it was raining cats and dogs, and my Chevrolet was playing up, so I had some free time waiting for the AA. I fished a piece of paper and a pen from my pocket and set to work.

How did it go? The premise was there. I could visualise it, but nothing was translating to written word. In the end I gave up and went to bed with a certain dissatisfaction.

One truly inspired moment is rare enough, but two in as many days is quite extraordinary. The next day it came to me. Bladerunner: on Ice! First thing in the morning I set out to the supermarket. It was still raining cats, dogs and mice, so I took the Chevrolet. 4 miles, 3 and a half hours, and 2 tonnes of ice cubes later and my pen was back on paper.

But there was still no spark and bedtime was still a pretty depressing affair.

The following morning: a miracle. For the third day in a row, I was inspired: Animals do Bladerunner: on Ice! I ran outside, arms in the air, triumphant, but it was still raining cats, dogs, mice, guinea pigs and the occasional tortoise. I ran back inside past the Chevrolet and grabbed a bucket.

2 hours later, having caught enough heaven-sent household animals for the cast I was sat, weeping profusely in the back seat of my run down Chevrolet, gripping a guinea pig dressed as an android, grinning from ear to ear, screaming “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…” when I was inspired for the fourth and final time.

I need to get a girlfriend.

13 Down

13 Down: A bit of a fish that comes to your aid, in the end.

Alan hated the crosswords really. Either they were too easy and completely pointless, or they were too hard and made him feel like a moron. Today was different however- this time there was only one clue to go. 7 letters.

The neon digits on his wristwatch informed him that the bus was late. He clasped his wrist with his other hand to protect the watch from the rain. He needn’t have bothered, the weather was little more than an irritation and the watch was cheap and waterproof to a depth of six feet. Last year his then-girlfriend had bought him a nice timepiece, but at first he hadn’t worn it for fear of damaging such a precious gift and now it brought back too many unpleasant memories. Its batteries had run out now anyhow.

The anatomy of fish was not a subject on which Alan was well versed. Tail? Probably not, lots of animals have tails. Alan didn’t really understand cryptic crosswords, you could have the answer, but unless you understood every facet of the puzzle you might never even know. He looked around: the woman had arrived. She caught the bus every day and Alan recognised the tinny racket from her headphones as it cut through the pitter-patter of the rain on the bus shelter. Alan couldn’t help but sneak a glance as she hurried past him to huddle under the optimistically named shelter, although he already knew what he’d see. She was slim, blonde and attractive, dressed in a smart suit and skirt everything about her oozed confidence and satisfaction. She noticed he was staring and smiled at him; a smile that made him love and hate her in equal measure. Scale? Could be. Now she was here, as if on cue, so was the bus.

Inside the bus was the bus driver, proudly presented as Gary by his grimy badge. Gary was a large, sweaty, balding man who was far too interested in the other customer’s admittedly impressive receding form to care too much about Alan or his fare. “Good morning!” Alan proffered, to no avail. A few seconds, an hour’s wages and a gruff nod later, Alan was on the bus.

Alan liked to sit at the back; it was the best place for people watching. Today there were only four people on the bus: Alan, the beautiful girl, an old man and a schoolboy. The old man appeared to be asleep, and the schoolboy was playing a video game and kicking the chair in front.

What comes to your aid? Alan thought, brushing his sodden hair from his eyes as the bus pulled out of the stop. An ambulance? Too long. The old man jolted awake from the sudden acceleration, coughing gutturally. His breathing was ragged and he sounded in pain. Alan thought about going up to the old man and helping him. Maybe the pretty girl would see and think how thoughtful and kind he must be! No. That’s stupid. She’s just wants to get to work and he’s just got a cold. The man made a strange whimpering noise. What comes to your aid? Not me this time old friend. The internal joke was surprisingly depressing. Alan balked at the sight of such age and infirmity. He didn’t like to think about his own mortality, but he couldn’t help but sympathise. Who will mourn me when I’m gone?

Family? Maybe. Still a bit long. Alan peered out of the window as they crawled past his house. He couldn’t help but notice the pointlessness and futility of this moment. He chuckled under his breath and then went a bright red as the woman gave him a funny look. Friend? Maybe. Damn it! She thinks I’m weird. Just some odd stranger on the bus who can’t afford to drive to work. It’s pathetic really.

As the lights changed and the bus set off again Alan was beset by a feeling of lack of control. The bus would take him to work whether he liked it or not. He mulled over the idea of just getting off at a random stop, but what would he do for the day? He had to get to work. His job was the one constant in his life, without that he would be in free fall.

A buzzing interrupted his train of thought. Alan checked his phone and instantly wondered why he had bothered. Sure enough, the girl’s face was illuminated by the incoming message on her mobile. No doubt from some admirer or other.  Of course it wasn’t his phone; he never got texts. He knew he was being embarrassingly self-pitying, but it was irritating all the same.

The bus drove on, threading through the countryside on its normal route, swept up in a tide of angry commuters. Condensation adorned the windows, lazily dripping down to pool on the overworked heaters by the seats. In the end.

Something changed. He had the answer. Alan stood up, holding on to the hand rail with one hand and the newspaper and pen with the other. “A bit of a fish,” He said, stepping towards the old man. The others had turned to look at him now, videogame paused, phone momentarily forgotten, swivelling in their seats. “That comes to your aid,” he continued as he reached the old man’s seat, standing over him and looking down. He could smell his nervousness, his pain, his frailty. The girl had her phone raised again and pointed at him. “In the end,” he finished, driving the ballpoint pen into the old man’s chest. The old man just looked surprised and then simply stopped living.

They were screaming now. The girl fumbled with her phone desperately trying to dial with shaking hands. The boy was crying, incapable of anything else. Gary stopped the bus but Alan was on him, fingers round his throat as he slowly faded away. He was surprisingly weak for such a big man.

There was a moment of calm as the bus sat perfectly still in the middle of the road. Nothing moved. The three remaining passengers just looked at each other. Then the horns began, other impatient drivers with places to be and infinitely important things to do. Alan picked up the boy and launched him bodily through a window, backpack and all.

Finally, Alan stepped up to the girl and looked her in the eye, pen in hand. “Finally,” he said, with a satisfied sigh. He walked on past her and sat back in his seat – it was the best for people watching. That was a good crossword.

“Finally.”

The Transient Folk

Never quite there and never quite gone,

They shuffle in an endless stream,

Serving their term in preparation

For the world beyond awaits them.

 

Colleges of cold hard stone,

Guide the current on its course.

Passing every bridge in turn,

The water flows, the spirits learn.

 

And when a spirit’s time has come,

It waves to all its fellows,

Climbs atop the bridge of sighs,

And takes the plunge, in cap and gown.