Your Life: Now with More Sci-Fi

As it says on the front page, whilst Debs and I write the majority of the content on this blog ourselves, we’re also delighted to post contributions from others.  The periodic fifth Sunday in the month frequently causes consternation as we try and figure out what we’re going to be putting in that slot.  This time around, that fifth Sunday has coincided with our third birthday (time flies…), and we wanted something extra special.  This month we kicked off with a prompt we came up with in honour of James Pailly.  James runs the Planet Pailly blog, which is completely awesome, and well worth your time (once you’ve finished up here of course).  James has been a great friend to this blog, and he has very kindly written this article for us. I feel very privileged that we get to post it here.

–    David

They say we’re all the heroes of our own stories.  I always wanted my story to be a Sci-Fi action adventure with lots of aliens and cyborgs, some cool spaceships, and maybe a light sprinkling of time travel.  As a compromise with reality, I thought I’d pursue a career in television.  My dream was to end up working on the set of Star Trek or Doctor Who or some other science fiction TV series like that.

But upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in TV/Film production, I soon learned the truth about the entertainment business.  It’s just… it’s the worst.  There was no way I was going to Hollywood.  There was no way I’d end up working on the kind of cool Sci-Fi shows that I’d watched as a kid.  So I took the best job I could get: editing the news for a local TV station.  And I was lucky to get that job when I did, because the 2008 financial crisis was right around the corner.

People have pretty strong opinions about those of us who work in the news media.  Some of those opinions are probably justified, but let me tell you this: if you think watching the news is depressing, try working in a newsroom.  Every day, you’ll be exposed to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer.  Murders, rapists, dishonest politicians?  Sleazy businesspeople ripping off their customers?  Huge mega corporations laying off their employees?  It’s all just another day at the office.  You either find a way to compartmentalize this stuff or you have a nervous breakdown in the middle of your work shift (yes, I’ve seen it happen).

Was I the hero of my own story?  I didn’t feel much like a hero.  I felt pretty sure that I was in the wrong story, that I belonged in some other story world entirely.  But as I already mentioned, the 2008 financial crisis was coming, and once the crisis hit, finding another job was no longer an option.  Not for a kid like me, fresh out of college, with such an embarrassingly short résumé.

So there I was, trapped in a depressing and demoralizing job due to economic circumstances that were beyond my control.  I was frustrated.  A lot of people were frustrated.  One day I was sitting with a reporter who, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to refer to as Susan.  Susan and I were commiserating over the stresses of our jobs.  The hot story that night was a missing person’s case, except it wasn’t really a missing person’s case.

The police weren’t saying anything yet, and neither were the family, but Susan was a seasoned journalist.  She’d covered stories like this before, and she knew that this so-called missing person’s case was really a homicide investigation.  The police just hadn’t found the body yet.

“It’s like I’m from the future, and I already know everything that’s going to happen,” Susan told me.  “But I can’t say anything about it on air because that would make me look unprofessional.”  Of course I don’t remember Susan’s exact words.  I’m paraphrasing, and I’m leaving out a lot of expletives.  Anyway, the next morning we found out Susan’s prediction was 100% right.

If I’m supposed to be the hero of my own story, then I’d say Susan fits the character archetype of the herald.  She was the catalyst for change, the person who made me suddenly see things from a new perspective, the one who finally set my real adventure into motion.  I just had to use a little imagination, a little creativity, to transform all my professional experiences (and all my professional struggles) into science fiction.  In my head, journalists became time travelers.  Camera people could be cyborgs, and the stories we covered for the news–they were the great conflicts and calamities of a vast, sprawling intergalactic civilization.

The Tomorrow News Network: Bringing you tomorrow's news today.

I have to confess I do have an ulterior motive for telling you all this.  As of this writing, the first book in the Tomorrow News Network series is nearing completion.  In a matter of days, I expect to be handing my manuscript over to my editor, and shortly after that, dear reader, I will have a book to sell you!

In the meantime, if you click this link here, you can learn a little more about the Tomorrow News Network and see how they covered the beginning of the universe.

But the more important reason I wanted to share my story with you is to set up a writing prompt.  Life doesn’t always go the way we planned.  Life is full of setbacks and frustrations.  So I want you to pick something really frustrating in your life–some frustration that you’re dealing with right now–and try reimagining the situation in a science fiction setting.  What would change?  What would stay the same?  And how would you, as the hero of the story, handle the situation differently?

Or if you’re not into Sci-Fi, do it as a western, or a romantic comedy, or a film noir detective story.  Use whatever your preferred genre of fiction happens to be.

Oh, and one last thing: no matter where you are in life, no matter what you may be dealing with right now, never forget that you really are the hero of your own story.

© James Pailly, 2019 (Main text and embedded graphic)

Experimental Writing: Part 9

This is the latest installment in a story that I’ve been writing over the course of the year.  There is a prologue which was used to shape the story, which starts here, but which you can easily miss out.  The story proper starts here.

Owain had parked as he’d been taught, front facing out for a ‘quick get away’ – this was probably not what his Father had in mind all the times he’d said it whilst teaching his son how to drive.  After ensuring Esther and Meredith had their seatbelts, he started the engine, which come to life with a throaty roar.  Even as he was pulling out of the space, Meredith was providing directions, courtesy of the AI.

“Turn right out of here, onto the A40.”

A warning message popped open on Meredith’s heads-up-display.  There was some kind of tracker system on the car, and the circuitry was not of Earth origin.  The diagnostic package determined that it had been stuck to the inside of the back near-side wheel arch.

“We’ve been tagged” Meredith said to Owain.

“What?”

“Just keep driving! Whatever happens next, just keep driving away from here – don’t go too fast though, and look out for a van or something ahead of us.”

Once again, Meredith oozed out of the disguise.  This time, instead of forming into a perfect sphere, a thin tentacle like protuberance extended.  The tractomorphic ‘limb’ reached out and wound down the window – conversation with Owain and Esther in the front of the vehicle was now almost impossible over the noise of the air flowing into and around the 4×4.  Meredith oozed more of themself into the appendage which was creeping its way along the line of the window frame of the rear cabin. When the limb was directly above the wheel hub the limb made a sharp right turn and made its way down towards the wheel arch.

Owain was concentrating on the road, with the occasional glance to see what was coming up behind.  Esther had no such distraction.  Initially she’d try to see what was going on in the side-mirror, but disbelieving this reflected image she’d tried to squirm round in the seat.

“What are you doing, bach?” Owain bellowed over the noise of the air rushing through Esther’s open window. “Get your silly head back in before it gets tangled in the hedge or something!”

Quickly Esther pulled her head in and did the window back up, before trying to find a spot that would enable her to look through Meredith’s open window.  She gasped as she say the tractomorphic limb develop some fine, finger-like features.  The tip of the limb made her think of a star-nosed mole, and she struggled not to gag at the thought of the little wormy features wriggling on the front of the mole’s face.  She watched as the weird, slightly freaky ‘hand’ pulled its way to its target.  Somehow the limb was stuck to the side of the Landrover.  She surprised the desire to be sick, again, as she watched pulse waves travel along the limb, as it thinned out and extended further.

She kept up a running commentary on everything that she could see until her brother let out an exasperated “Shhh!”  In a more kindly tone he said “Put a sock in it, bet, I’m trying to drive us away from whatever’s back there!”

The ‘hand’ had now reached the rim of the arch, and Esther held her breath as the hand disappeared under the arch, so close to the rotating wheel that she thought that it must be dragged away from the electronics package that it was seeking, pulled down and crushed between the wheel and the road.

A moment later the hand came back into view carefully retracting, bulky now, with something held in its grip.  The hand eased passed the wheel with only millimetres to spare.  As it came up, the arm came loose from the side of the Landrover, as if the tracker was too heavy, and peeled away, dropping towards the road.  Even as it do so, Meredith retracted and the hand came whipping back around, up and into the open window.

Two more appendages extruded from Meredith.  One reached out to the little box and with the original hand started turning the tracker over and over.  The other one extended out towards the door and, almost absentmindedly, wound the window shut.  The immediate reduction in noise was almost startling.

“Is that it?  Is that the tracker?” Esther had turned round in her seat and was looking into the back.

Meredith reformed into something approximating a human being.

“Yep.  Give me moment.”

Bunter? How would you like some more responsibility in this organisation? Meredith woke up the AI sub-routine.  I’ve got a job for you…a couple of jobs actually.

“There’s a van up ahead” Owain said, to no one in particular.  “It’s indicating.  Look’s like it’s going to turn right onto the A479.”

“Can you close up on it a bit?”

“I’ll try…what have you got in mind?”

“You’ll see!  Don’t worry too much – look it’s just turned, quick carry straight on past the turning, but speed up quick, at least until we’re the other side!”

Meredith gave the tracker a last caress and, in something that was halfway between a lean and a slump, reached over to the other side of the vehicle and opened the window behind Owain.  As they continued past the turning, the tracker shot out of the window, propelled by a peristaltic pressure wave emanating from inside the alien.  The lorry was perhaps ten yards away and accelerating off down the road, but the tracker arced upwards and came down on the roof, where it stuck.

Release the hounds…

Bunter wondered if it was possible to change names.  In the virtual reality of the AI interface, Meredith caught an image of a man of average height in pin-striped trousers black jacket, black tie, well shined shoes, holding back a pack of large dogs that were straining at the leash.  At Meredith’s command, Bunter let go of the leads, and the dogs ran off down a gravel driveway, seeming to discorporate in mid stride.  Bunter swung itself onto a motorbike, which bore the legend “Triumph” in curly gold lettering on the black paintwork of the fuel tank and set off in pursuit of the hounds.  He too disappeared leaving nothing but a spurt of gravel.

“Right, I definitely owe you two an explanation, or at least as much of one as I’m able to give.  First off, Esther, you’d better take this.”  Meredith handed forward a piece of what looked like a thin film of plastic, but which was as rigid as a piece of glass.  The edges were lipped to prevent accidents.

“What is it?”

“A map.  We’re heading to Llyn-y-Fan Fach, and my computer reckons this is the best route.”

© David Jesson, 2019


During 2019, I’m undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of the story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  Every month there is a poll on some feature or another.

Good grief!  Three quarters of the way through the year already.  Three installments to go, so time to start wrapping things up.  Apologies for missing-out the poll last month – life got a bit hectic.  As ever, I’ll put this up on Twitter as well, or you can leave a comment.

What sort of ending do we want?

1 – A happy ending e.g. everyone gets more than they deserve.

2 – A tragic ending – Meredith is ultimately unsuccessful, people day

3 – Somewhere in the middle – Meredith wins through, but not without a cost.

4 – Other – Let me know!

See you next month!

 

#secondthoughts – Book Awards

I spotted a comment that recent Hugo awards were not such rich pickings for a particular reader as in the past. Not being a regular reader of science fiction or fantasy, I didn’t feel able to comment, as all I could offer was the fact one of my oft recommended reads To Say Nothing of the Dog was a past winner.

My own previous go-to book award as a reader was the Booker, but I started to fall out of love when it was opened up to writers from the USA, thus limiting the offerings from commonwealth countries – and as a child of the commonwealth, those are the types of books I am especially drawn to. I’ve cast about a bit for a replacement and – this year – thought I’d struck lucky when realising a number of the books I’d been earmarking on my “want to read” list were candidates for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. But, whilst a good read, I wasn’t blown away by the winner – An American Marriage. The only other shortlisted candidate I’ve read so far – My Sister the Serial Killer – was a decidedly enjoyable read, but I wasn’t blown away … and I’m generally blown away by Bookers. Indeed, I may judge Booker candidates more harshly than most for that very reason.

I’ve not found the Pulitzer a good hunting ground either. Donna Tartt’s first two books are among my favourite reads ever but The Goldfinch was a massive disappointment; I’ve hugely admired the works of Elizabeth Strout but Olive Kitteridge wasn’t amongst them. Interpreter of Maladies and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay were both enjoyable reads, but neither gained 4 stars from me – and without a 4th (or 5th) star, I remain in the not blown away camp.

So I empathised with the person making that comment, for I could see that it came from a place of loss. As a reader, it’s great finding an author you love, knowing that there’s years of joy to come from future works (or a backlist if you’re late to the party). It’s even better having a regular source of new books (and potentially new authors) that are right up your street – and book awards can be one such source. Until they change, that is …

When I last bemoaned the changes in the Booker, a blogging friend pointed out the dearth of awards for non-literary works – children’s literature in particular – and there is no doubt that literary fiction is better served. Still, I am left wondering about the value of book awards for the reader.

As a writer, there is no doubt that winning awards not only increases your profile, but also your sales. Increased sales can be measured from the moment a book appears on a longlist, and candidates progressing to a shortlist see a further uplift. Previously unknown authors, unsurprisingly, benefit the most. For more facts and figures on this subject, here’s a post I wrote elsewhere on the subject.

As a writer, who doesn’t dream of their first published work being considered for an award? Actually, who am I kidding, who doesn’t dream about any of their published works being considered for an award? We all do – and we’d be foolish not to.

But is it possible that readers are turning elsewhere for new sources of inspiration rather than book awards? Are celebrity book clubs such as Oprah, Richard & Judy and Reese Witherspoon proving a more fruitful hunting ground? Are the regular reading lists released by the likes of Barack Obama and Emma Watson finding growing audiences? Is reading to a theme another way to go?

In all honesty, does it matter? Despite a number of readers being drawn to book awards for their next reads, they’re surely not in the majority, for how often does a Booker or Hugo winner top the bestseller lists? I’ve long assumed that alongside the support and acknowledgement of authors, the important factor about book awards is to elevate the sales of non-bestseller type books?

Just so long as readers keep on reading, and loving what they read … eh? Personally, I have to admit this year’s Booker shortlist is calling me again.


© Debra Carey, 2019

We nearly ran him down …

The old man crossing the road that is. I wasn’t driving fast – luckily as it turned out – for he just stepped right off the pavement in front of us, pulling his wheelie suitcase right behind him. I slammed on the brakes and my car did that cartoon thing of almost standing on it’s nose. But we didn’t hit him, or his suitcase.

He looked surprised to see us, but I thought the fact he was heading towards the old people’s home may’ve been a clue. We stayed in the car and watched his slow progress across the road, up onto the pavement on the other side. He had a fair bit of trouble with that case, so much so my boyfriend was nearly out of the car to give him a hand till a couple more old men rushed out and helped him with it, waving us on our way.

So, we did just that, we went on our way.

The local news channel ran a story a few days later. Police were investigating the copious amounts of blood found in the village reading room. The odd thing was there didn’t seem to have been any attempt made to clean it up, but there was no body to be found. Given the amount of blood, they expressed surprise there’d been no bloody footprints at the scene either. The public were asked to contact them if they had any information.

That night, I lay in bed with my boyfriend and we speculated. Had those old men and that wheelie suitcase anything to do with what had happened? He’d been right outside the reading room when he’d stepped out in the road in front of us. We speculated if the missing body had been in that suitcase and whether that’s why he’d had so much trouble getting it up onto the pavement. We pondered back and forth for a few days and finally decided it was better to say something than keep stum.

They didn’t seem to take us seriously – the police – and who could blame them? But they did follow it up – or so they said. To be honest, we forgot all about it once we’d done our civic duty.

The following summer we were at the airport, waiting for our flight – delayed due to the French traffic controllers being on strike. It was a regular occurrence, so we’d gone prepared. We were reading our books in the coffee shop when they came in – those three old men. I thought I was imagining things until I saw the look on my boyfriend’s face. We sat whispering to each other, feeling really daft. But we couldn’t help ourselves – one or other of us kept a watch on them. Until our flight was called that is, when we decided enough was enough, we were going on holiday and would forget all about it.

We duly checked in for our flight. I’d all but put it out of my mind when we passed the first class check-in area, and there they were – with their brand spanking new luxury luggage, and not a wheelie suitcase in sight.

I swear he winked at me too – the one I’d nearly run down – but I must’ve been imagining things …


© Debra Carey, 2019

Now with added Sci-Fi

Regular readers will recognise this as the story that I wrote for last month’s ‘Cluedo’ prompt – but now with added #scifi.

The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches with 4D kinetic product, and the smart long chain polymers caused the hair to twist and curl up at the ends.  He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days.  He looked in the e-mirror, through habit rather than necessity.  As he knew they would be, the moustaches were perfectly even. He was more concerned that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever, although he’d turned off the mapping function that would have confirmed this.  It might be time to start a treatment.  Either that or he should shave it all off.  He didn’t like the idea of that though, because it would show off the implant scars, which he really didn’t want to do.  At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright alertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.

He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years.  In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been.  Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information?  He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him.  Had they been in the background directing the operations against him?  Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?

He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought.  Time to dress for dinner.  Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so.  There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too.  All sorts of things that were difficult to get hold of under the current legislation, like meat, were standard fare for Black.

The Colonel completed his preparations.  A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed.  Now it was a positive itching of his subconscious.  True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to the Chief Constable.  Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment.  There were any number of ways that the information could have been forwarded, none were terribly secure, but the Cardinal cypher was as close to unbreakable as you could get, especially on the limited timescale available.  The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a gun from the drawer of the desk.  By rights it should have been his Service blaster, but the Webley 500Z, whilst able to drop a battle-droid at 30 meters  was too big and bulky – it would have complete ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious.  Instead he slipped a slimmer Beretta Sorpresa into his jacket pocket.  This was more subtle, elegant even, if no more civilized: this was a flechette pistol, recoil-less, and capable of delivering either a single large needle at a velocity that the Webley could only dream of, or a cloud of smaller needles so fast it would make a fighter pilot’s head spin.  In for penny, in for a pound: he slipped a couple of spare ammunition clips into the opposite pocket.

Capes had come back into fashion for some reason, and his valet entered with a plain black one draped over one arm, anticipating that his Master was ready to leave.  Plain it may have been, but it could absorb the whole gamut of physical threats, however much kinetic energy they had on arrival.  The valet, as was traditional, was his former batman, not so much reprogrammed as…augmented.  The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door and into the summonsed taxi-pod.  It would be some time before he returned home.

© David Jesson, 2019



I went for a different tack to David, writing a new story. A normal one – for me – about people, life, emotions … and then added a #scifi event. That’s the great thing about prompts & writing – we all go off in our own different directions :o)

The nausea in the pit of his stomach was back – ever present at this time of year. Angus absolutely hated September, for with it came the first day back at school. An army brat, Angus had never experienced anything other than being the new boy. Everyone else had been going to the same school all their lives and knew each other. Knowing they’d soon be off again, local kids largely ignored army brats. After all, there was little point making friends – unless you were looking for a pen friend.

Lots of army families bought a house near one central base – giving wives the company and support of their peers, their children a settled run at school and the opportunity to develop friendships – while fathers travelled to ever changing postings. Angus had begged his parents to do so this time last year. His Dad had seemed to understand, but his Mum just said “maybe” and “your Dad ‘n I will think on it.”

The next day, his Dad said “sorry mate, I tried …” before heading out. Angus pursued his Mum, trying to talk about it, but she kept fobbing him off. Desperate, he locked himself in his room, refusing to come out, to eat or drink. His Mum just kept saying is “you don’t understand”. Finally, the CO’s wife visited. She’d made it clear he had to support his Mum as she was having a difficult time. Angus had no idea what she was talking about, but he was army, and when the CO or his wife spoke, you didn’t argue.

It’d been a quiet summer in the new posting. With his Dad away on exercise a lot, it was just him and his Mum. She was off doing stuff with other wives, spending evenings at the NCO’s mess, so Angus was left largely to his own devices. They’d bought him off with the promise of an X Box for Christmas but, till then, he’d been making the most of the local library. When the weather was half decent, he’d go off on hikes. The surrounding countryside was made for walking and the library was stocked full of books about local places to explore. Catching the bus with his rucksack packed for the day, Angus often didn’t get home till just before dark. His dinner on the kitchen table with instructions for warming up, he’d go to bed having spoken to no-one all day. Sometimes he’d catch himself staring at the other kids on the bus, joshing and joking amongst themselves, almost overwhelmed with loneliness.

His parents were arguing a lot. But one night it all blew up. Starting out as a low rumble, it quickly became scarily loud. Soon the neighbours were round, knocking loudly on the door. After a while, things calmed down and he heard his Mum leave with Jennie from next door.

Angus didn’t sleep much that night, so was up early the next morning. Finding his Dad’s by the front door, his stuff all packed up, he’d cried out “why’re you going back on exercise so soon Dad?”. He’d got a shrug from his Dad and a “I’m sorry son, you know it’s got nowt to do with you, don’t you?” Without the faintest what his Dad meant, Angus stood there bewildered – how could his Dad going away on exercise be anything to do with him? “Your Mum’ll come over when she sees I’ve gone – she’ll explain.” With that, he gave Angus an awkward hug and left.

It wasn’t his Mum who explained in the end, but Jennie from next door and the CO’s wife. His parents were having a trial separation. If things didn’t get better, there’d be a divorce. Hiding in his room, Angus kept away from his Mum for the rest of the day. When she went to the NCO’s mess with Jennie that evening, the CO’s wife appeared at the door – this time with a scruffy young lad by her side. She introduced him as Matt – her nephew – staying with them for the next few months. She asked Angus to take him out on a hike the next day.

While out there, they got talking. Turned out Matt’s Dad was in the army too. He’d been sent home with a serious injury, so Matt was staying with his aunt and uncle to keep him out of his Mum’s hair. Angus could see Matt was pretty cut up about it, so shared his own bad news.

Having someone in the same boat as him – in the same class – made September an easier experience. He and Matt got along pretty well as it happened. Matt was a reader and a walker too. He’d gone camping regularly with his parents, so they were soon allowed to get away on overnight camps at the weekends – so long as they’d done their homework.

As the weather turned cold, Matt’s aunt insisted their camping trips would soon have to stop so they decided on one final trip to a favourite destination where they could shelter inside a cave. Having gathered a huge amount of fallen wood their previous visit, they’d be able to keep warm and dry. Packing up their supplies, they were successful in cadging a lift from the CO’s driver so didn’t have to lug their heavy supplies too far.

The little stream which ran past the cave was useful for fresh water, but – as Matt mused out loud to Angus – it didn’t half make you go more often. Laughing, they’d gone off to their separate spots. Hearing Matt yelp, Angus assumed he’d tripped over something and chuckled, till he heard his name being called repeatedly and urgently.

Hurrying to Matt’s spot, Angus found him crouched down behind some brush. “What’s going on?” his voice sounding more high pitched than he’d like for, while they both carried mobile phones, the signal wasn’t always that great near the cave. Matt pointed into the darkening distance. Angus could make out some lights – pulsing regularly on and off. But they were white, rather than blue or red – so, not emergency vehicles then.

“What is it?” he hissed.
“Dunno. It came in over my head, ‘n made me jump …” Matt pointed to a wet patch on his lower leg.
“Eew!”
“Yeah I know, but … what should we do?”
“Hide? Call home? I dunno, what d’you think?”
“Shall we get closer and try to take a look?”
“Is there an exercise going on?” With his Dad living in baracks, Angus had no idea when exercises were scheduled.
Matt shook his head “Nothing planned, although could be one of those snap inspection thingies.”

They retired to the cave and stoked up their fire, agreeing to take turns to keep it going. If there was an exercise – for what else could it be – that would ensure they were seen and be safe. Neither slept well, to be honest, so when dawn arrived, they ventured out to the brush for a look see. There seemed to be a fair bit of activity in the distance. They still couldn’t see much, but they could hear the sound of vehicles and people moving around.

Agreeing it must be one of the snap exercises the army is so fond of, they returned to the cave for breakfast. When it was properly light, they took their day packs and headed off to investigate, being careful to stay in clear sight. Striding along the path, chatting quite loudly to each other, they found their path blocked by a couple of guys in NBC suits as they rounded a corner. Stopping and holding up their hands, they expected masks to be ripped off and a bollocking to follow. Except, it didn’t. Gesticulating with their weapons, the like of which neither boy had seen before, they were frogmarched into a clearing.

In the clearing were loads more men in NBC* suits, all rushing about. Several turned and looked at the boys, making Angus wonder if one was his Dad – with those suits on, you couldn’t recognise anyone. Passing a bunch of strange looking vehicles, Angus realised why they were so odd – none seemed to have wheels. Exchanging decidedly worried looks, they were dragging their heels now, Angus admitting to himself he was actively hoping to face an angry Colour Sergeant, even a furious CO.

Pushed right into the centre of the clearing where there was a veritable blur of activity, they saw brush and branches dragged and heaped up over a large … something-or-the-other. On and on they were pushed towards the something-or-the-other, through an opening to face lights so bright they were blinded. Shading their eyes with their hands, they were pushed through a doorway, and pressed face-down onto separate bunks. As Angus tried to turn, he became aware of a prick in his thigh and … the world went dark.

When Angus came to, the lights had been muted. He saw Matt stirring and swung his legs over the side of his bunk to walk across. An ear splitting alarm shrieked out, not stopping till he lifted his feet clear of the floor. Matt, now fully awake, Angus warned him the floor was alarmed. Both boys started fidgeting. “Need to go?” asked Angus, Matt nodded. The door opened, an NBC suited man walked in and handed each some sort of bottle-like receptacle, gesticulating how they should be used. The man waited till they had, then took both away.

When either spoke a need out loud, they were met by a wordless NBC suited man. No explanations, no questions. Just silence. At what seemed the end of a day according to their watches – two men entered. Folowing a brief prick to the thigh … darkness. This happened for three days. On the fourth day, having finished eating, their NBC suited visitor was collecting their plates and glasses, when – much to their surprise – he dropped everything and ran. “What’s going on?” Angus exclaimed just as Matt – nearest the door – asked “Was that gunfire?” Deciding the safest thing to do was lie flat on their bunks, the boys waited.

They heard a lot of noise outside but, it being muffled, they couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on. Both hoped it would lead to their release – but from what and who exactly – they’d no idea. Eventually, the door started to glow as a small opening was cut. It seemed like an interminable wait till the hole was pushed through, setting off that ear splitting alarm. “Now” yelled Angus, and they rang for it, climbing rapidly through the hole.

The CO and Angus’s Dad were in the group of armed men waiting on the other side. The boys were whisked away in an armoured Land Rover, spending the next week in the Medical Centre, being poked, prodded, having blood taken and multiple x-rays. In between all the medical activity, they were asked a lot of questions by the CO.

It rapidly became clear that although they were curious and had seen some stuff, they didn’t know what it was. He told them very seriously that everything they’d seen was Secret. They’d have to sign The Official Secrets Act and couldn’t talk about it – to anyone. Not even to their parents.

“Was it a flying saucer?” Matt asked cautiously.
”Is that what you saw?” replied the CO.
Matt nodded “When it first flew over.”
The CO looked enquiringly at Angus who shook his head. “I never saw it properly – it was either dark, too far away or covered up. Are they gone – the … people?”
The CO nodded.

Life returned to normal, as it’s wont to do. Matt’s parents came to collect him and Angus’s parents got divorced. Angus attended the same school for the next 5 years, before heading to University – where he joined Matt. For they’d become firm friends.  They’d shared something big – very big – and they couldn’t talk about it to anyone else.

They’d returned to the cave to camp every summer since. They’d never admit it to anyone else, but there was hope – a small one – that they’d be there to witness the return visit. For they were sure there would be one.

© Debra Carey, 2019

*NBC suits are protective gear worn in the event of potential nuclear attack.

#FF prompt – Now with added Sci Fi

Back in November 2017, we set our first picture prompt (a rather lovely nightscape of Durdle Door in Dorset, with a particularly science fiction/space opera feel to it).  In October 2018, our friend James Pailly said that he’d started a story based on the prompt, and it hadn’t been working for him, and he left it to mature and eventually come up with a three part story due to his new writing rule: ADD MORE SCI-FI.

Make of this what you will…

 

Word count: up to 2,000
Deadline: by 2pm (GMT) on Friday, 7th June 2019

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.