The Planets Series – Mars

I’m writing this on the eve of my 25th birthday.

Can you imagine every miniscule detail of your life being documented on a daily basis? Think of some of the stupid shit you do every day when no-one else is around, then think about everyone you know watching you do it. Bad huh? You might pick your nose on your daily commute. Chat to yourself whilst you pee. Trip up over a pavement then do that little run/jog thing that people do then look around to see if anyone noticed, remember to laugh so people think you’re a good sport. Yeah that would suck right? Now think about not only everyone you know watching you but everyone on the planet watching you. No, everyone on the planets!! That’s right, planets – PLURAL. That anxiety-inducing thought I’ve just introduced to you is my life. You see my name is Martel Venson, you probably know me as Marty or ‘Mars Boy’. I’m the solar system’s first ever Martian.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a green skinned little guy with three eyes who flies a saucer shaped ship. No, nothing like that, it’s much more straight forward than that. I was the first child to ever be born on Mars.

In 2040 when humans officially began to migrate to the Red Planet, my parents were part of one of the very first groups to make the momentous trip. Two twenty-somethings with very little money, not much prospects and one very real bun in the oven. After they miraculously won Elon Musk’s Willy Wonka-esque Red ticket competition they were inducted into an intense life changing experience which whisked them away on a one-way journey to Big Red.

Dad had been a great manual labourer on Earth and despite his modest upbringings, he had become instrumental in helping to develop and build the societal infrastructure which we now live in today.

Fast forward 3 months and I was ready to make my first appearance. 10 or so years had gone into prepping and colonising Mars before the first group of travellers embarked on the journey with health and medical care at the forefront of developments. Thankfully therefore, the medical care both me and my Mother received in the Neuralink Royal Medical Centre was technologically groundbreaking and so beyond the medical attention we’d have received had I been born on Earth.

By my 6th birthday the population of Mars had exploded to 4 million. More new migrators were arriving annually whilst the birth of Martian children increased year on year. Even so, The Red Media Team (RTM was our planets flagship mainstream broadcaster) had never forgotten Mars’ favourite son. Luckily for me, my parents in their infinite wisdom, had decided to sell away the rights to my life. ‘Marty – Mars’ First Son’ would be an innovative reality television show which would document, yep you guessed it, the life and times of the first person to be born on Big Red. The 25 year, multi million Musk deal (Musk was the Martian currency, modestly named after the man himself) had dramatically changed my parents fortunes and had cemented me as the planets premier megastar.

I’ve never ever been able to come to terms with strangers approaching me to tell me how thrilling it was to share with me my first bath, my first feed, taking my first steps or horrifyingly my first kiss. It’s absolutely mind bending. And, for me, completely inescapable. On my first ever trip to Earth in my teens I had concocted a foolproof plan to escape the film crew and disappear into anonymity on the planet for the remainder of my days. Foolishly I hadn’t realised RTM broadcast the show into the TV screens of Earthlings too. As I had tried to slip away into a crowd I was chased down a street by a bunch of screaming Earthling teenage girls as they sang in unison the theme song to ‘Marty’. “Mars Boy, Mars Boy, You’re Our Favourite Mars Boy” they sang. Eventually I gave into the inevitable and posed for the selfies they craved.

It’s so incredibly odd how people, Martians and Earthlings alike, treat me as a commodity. An object they want to attach themselves to so that they can post a video or photo online to gain internet points from strangers. Others believe they know me, feel that I’m part of their own family. They’ll stop me and tell me they’ve grown up with me and laugh and joke about some horrible experience of my life I’ve since tried to forget. But I don’t know them. I don’t really know anyone. I don’t have any friends. And I certainly don’t have any girlfriend. I soon learned in my late teens that the type of girl who gravitated towards me wasn’t doing it for my rugged looks and charming personality.

So, although tomorrow I’ll be completely free of the blood sucking agreement which has literally followed me around my entire life, I’ve come to the realisation that I’ll never be free.

“Marty? Where are we going?” enquired the cameraman as Martel Venson put down his pen and slowly walked out of his bedroom, down out of his front door into the enclosed night, safely breathing the internal Martian air. “Marty?!” he asked again, this time with a little apprehension in his voice. Martel approached the emergency doors and typed in a code. He bypassed the external Bio suits hanging by the doors and opened them out into the gravelly red field. He quickly sealed the doors and paced forward. “MARTY!!” screamed onlookers.

Martel Venson, Mars’ first son, fell to his knees sucking for breath that would never come. As he lay alone beyond the transparent quadruply sealed glass a large group of Martians gathered, watching him from inside. They wailed and weeped uncontrollably as Mars’ first son who had shared so many firsts with his fellow Martians shared with them his final ever smile. He was finally free.

A Divine Vacation

“Shit”

He looked down at his phone to see the last name he wanted to see calling him, this could only be bad news. His vacation had been just what he needed after such a tumultuous time at work and the last thing he wanted to see flash up on his phone was “Boss” calling.

His doctor had suggested he take the time off after a smattering of problematic conversations in which he’d sobbed his way through his work issues. His boss had grumbled but was ultimately content for him to take the time off with the proviso that he could guarantee his staff could take on his workload. He had entrusted his two best members of staff with the reins and departed with a spring in his step. He hadn’t even thought about work once as he lay back with his feet up. After four decades of what felt like constant graft, he could finally relax safe in the knowledge that things were being taken care of.

He took a deep breath, braced himself and swiped to answer. “Hi Jay!” he cheered “how’s things?” “How’s things?!” spat Jay down the phone incredulously in a tone which suggested that things weren’t entirely great. Someone clearly needed their own vacation he thought. “How’s fucking things?! Do you have any idea how long you’ve been on vacation for?” He thought about this for a second, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was a rhetorical question. “To be honest, times gotten away from me Jay, I’ve been focussing on me for a change and trying to just take the time to relax, how, uh, how long has it been?” he knew he was expected to ask but given the tone of the conversation, he really didn’t want to know the answer. “Times gotten away from you” muttered Jay under his breath. “It’s been six fucking decades mate” Jay said bluntly. A pregnant pause hung between them. “Did you hear me?!” Jay shouted “six fucking decades. And those two buffoon’s you left in charge have made an absolute shit show of things. My Dad is furious, man. Things are going to shit. Get it together, get back here and meet me at 10am tomorrow. Sharp.” Jay went to hang up then jumped back on “Oh and Peace, don’t bother speaking to those two fools you left in charge before tomorrow, I think it best if you just come in blind, it’s going to be a bit of a shock to the system. Bring coffee.” He hung up without any pleasantries.

Peace looked down at the phone, shook his head and looked in the mirror. Six decades, he thought. What could have possibly happened? When he left things had looked good. War had been quiet, knocked back down to the small time criminal she’d been in the very early 1900’s. Yes, she’d been responsible for the 2 biggest events in human history to date but Peace had taken her to task and beaten her to a bloody pulp, sent her off with her tail between her legs. The people had even come up with a little sign for Peace’s name, they were all throwing it about, it was like the new way of saying ‘goodbye’. His name was literally on everyone’s lips. He’d felt he’d left things on a high. Bowed out at a perfect time to hand the reins off to someone else. ‘Buffoons’ Jay had called them. He’d had full confidence in Tranquility and Serenity to keep things ticking over, yes they were young but they’d come up under him and he’d thought they were ready to lead.

He began packing his things, trying to maintain positive thoughts, he wasn’t ready to throw away all this good work just because of a bad phonecall. Tomorrow was another day.

He hadn’t slept well. He’d been tempted to phone Tranquility or Serenity during the night but had thought better of it. The way Jay had spoken to him was enough to give him the feeling that today wasn’t going to be a good today and, even worse, he’d mentioned his Dad being furious, probably best to play things straight. Not the greatest idea to piss off for six decades then go against the boss’ wishes when you get summoned back to a supposed ‘shit show’.

He checked his watch, 9:59am. At least he wasn’t late he thought. He punched the ‘up’ button at the lift and jumped in, making sure not to spill the two coffees he was carrying. He pressed the illuminated ‘T’ for top floor and slowly paced the lift until it chimed. The doors opened presenting a beautifully lit corridor, filled with bright, oddly shaped lamps. At the end of the corridor just in front of a large wooden door stood the silhouette of his boss. “Come on then” said Jay as he opened the large wooden door to his office and beckoned Peace in.

“Chill man, it’s OK” said Jay as Peace bent to lay the two coffees down on the large faux-mahogany desk in front of him. He had noticed the numerous beads of sweat dripping down onto the glass surface. “I realise how I sounded on the phone last night and I apologise for that. I’d just had my ass chewed out by my Father and passed that onto you. Yes, things are in the shitter, but I’m hopeful we can sort it out today. Do I have your forgiveness?” Peace wiped his forehead, picked up Jay’s lofty name tag reading ‘Jesus H Christ, 2nd in Command’ which he had knocked over in his haste to put down the hot coffees and pursed his lips to blow out a long deep breath. “Of course” he said, smiling at his boss and longtime friend.

They had sat for an hour or so sipping their coffees exchanging small talk and catching up on the last 60 or so years before Jay had stood up and started throwing down files across his desk like a Vegas blackjack dealer. It never seemed to end. He couldn’t believe his eyes. That son of a bitch Evil, who had been small time for years, had unleashed this guy Charles Manson just after he’d left, ambushing Tranquility and Serenity. Evil and Terrorism had put their heads together and birthed the 9/11 attacks, he could imagine that puppet master Death kicking back in his office chair revelling in the chaos.

War had reared her ugly head again, years after he’d left. She’d been busy – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, The Falklands, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria. She’d been everywhere it seemed. He winced each time he apprehensively opened another file. Regret filled him like an air tight blow up mattress. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. How could he have been so selfish?! How could he have disappeared for so long with no inkling that this was going on? Jay had talked him down, reassured him that he’d left things in a fantastic state of affairs after decades of battling with that jezebel War.

Jay bent over the desk and dramatically slid all the files off the desk. The discarded paperwork made a dull thud as they dropped off the edge of the table and flopped across the shiny wooden floorboards. “OK, I know that’s alot to take in but bear with me” said Jay. “I’m not telling you all this to bum you out and to make you feel guilty. No, all of that sets the foundations for what I’m about to now show you. I need to introduce you to a few of the newer guys on the scene. These are the guys I want you to concentrate on, just like you did War all those years ago.” Again, Jay began dealing out the files, throwing out names as the files hit the desk. “Bigotry, Narcissism, Climate, Ignorance, Disease, AI” Peace looked them over, taking in the names Jay was reeling off. “I suppose I’m not surprised about Disease, he’s always been an asshole. But Climate? Why’d she switch sides?” he asked. Jay scoffed “Yep, you’ll probably need more coffee for her, that’s a big file.” He had spent the rest of the day reading about social media, fake news, humans’ love affair with technology, the abuse of antibiotics and issues of race and religion which he thought he’d eradicated when he defeated War decades earlier. His head pounded and the pit of his stomach ached with regret.

It was now late and much to his surprise 12 hours had passed since he had walked into Jay’s office. He had his work cut out. He knew that. But he had a good team of people who he would link back up with tomorrow. For the first time that day he booted up his laptop and opened his emails. He drummed his fingers as the 4.25 million unread emails filled up the screen before him. He clicked on ‘compose’ and began scrolling through his address list, he clicked on his most trusted of colleagues that he knew he would now need with him to fight this forthcoming battle. He just hoped they were still up for it. He plopped his fingers onto the keyboard and began to write:

To: Unity; Inclusiveness; Love; Empathy; Hope; Intelligence

CC: Serenity; Tranquility

Dear Friends,

I know it has been many years since you have heard from me and I know that you are now facing battles well beyond what you faced when I was last in office. Today I have received a whistle stop tour of the last 60 or so years from Jay. I understand that his Father is mightily concerned. He believes he is losing the battle with the Red Prince. Having read Jay’s files today, I understand why.

I am confident, however, that with you by my side we can slow the plans of that nefarious bastard Death. We know we’ll never stop him, but we cannot allow him to achieve his ultimate goal. If he does, we will no longer have a purpose. His master will have won. We cannot allow that to happen.

If you are with me, meet me tomorrow at the usual place. I have a plan. We can do this.

Your trusting friend,

Peace.

My Shadow

The idea for this story, if that’s what you want to call it, came from an unexpectedly tough counselling session I attended today. I’m hoping getting this down in black and white helps me to wade through some of the mud in my mind.

shadow:

an area of darkness;

to shadow (noun) is to follow a person during their day to day life.

My shadow begged me not to publish this.

My shadow thrives in the darkness. However it often appears when the sun is shining at it’s brightest. When I’m happy, my shadow is there to remind me not to enjoy it because the sun will be setting very soon.

Ironically, my shadow would prefer it if I lived in the darkness eternally. Would this mean it would disappear? No, I don’t think so. In the darkness is where it thrives.

In the darkness my shadow whispers to me that I’ll die one day. They often tell me it’ll probably be soon.

In the darkness my shadow tells me all about terminal illnesses. They talk to me in hushed tones about the symptoms. They can spot them in me expertly.

In the darkness, my shadow wakes me to remind me that I’m a terrible person.

In the darkness my shadow is a perfect judge of character. It reminds me that people are probably just being nice, it’s unlikely that they genuinely care for me.

In the darkness my shadow can fill any silence.

In the darkness my shadow gives me useful advice. It tells me that it’d be better if I had nothing to care about, that way I’d have nothing to lose. They tell me that I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to have people who care about me.

In the darkness my shadow makes me feel so much. Self doubt, self hatred, exhaustion and muscle aches. My shadow has visited me a few times to remind me that suicide is an option.

In the darkness, my shadow sets my brain on fire.

I want to live in the sun, I often do. I have amazing family and friends. I know what to do and where to go to live in permanent sunshine but often my shadow will reappear to darken the light. It’s OK, I can handle a little darkness. It’s in the darkness that my shadow bleeds into the shadows of my family and friends. I don’t want to let it anymore.

I want to live in the sun.

DRI 5154: Part 2

Before starting Part 2, you can read Part 1 of DRI 5154 which was published here

Junior United States Senator of California, Kane Woodbridge, emerged into the golden sunshine of downtown San Diego from his chauffeur driven blacked out SUV. It had been an atypical day for him, certainly a slightly different one from his normal routine of shaking hands, kissing babies and passing laws. Woodbridge’s decorated career as a lawyer and politician had been a hugely successful and rewarding one. He had served as the 28th District Attorney of San Francisco for a period of 8 years and then as Attorney General of California for a further 4. Today had been momentous though, he had officially announced his campaign to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2024 election.

It had been far from the normal reaction. Woodbridge was the poster child for a future America which would no longer be split by blue or red. He was America’s golden boy. Democrats and Republicans alike gathered to cheer for this shining ray of hope for America. After years of prejudiced hate-filled campaigns and Presidential reigns, Woodbridge represented a shift for many Americans. A shift to an attitude of unity, of grabbing the two petulant American children by the scruff of their neck and telling them to get along or else. Let’s sort it out together. The public lapped it up.

Woodbridge was considered to be the top contender for the 2024 Democratic nomination for President. He had been coy to begin with, refusing to rule anything out but maintaining that he had a job to do for the people of California before he could think about anything else. He had published his memoirs soon after, detailing a life of dedication to seeing the good in people. His parents had raised him to see the value in everyone and he’d very much implemented those principals to the fullest as a young man, through college and into his professional career. The memoirs were a huge hit, a New York Times Bestseller which couldn’t be stocked fast enough.

So when he officially announced his candidacy, the country had rejoiced almost as one. In a country as large and fractured as the United States of America, that was literally unheard of. By the following night he had obliterated the record for the most money raised in the day following an announcement. Over 50,000 people had been there to see him announce his formal campaign in his hometown in Oakland, California. His support continued to meteorically rise day by day. There was no question as to who would be the next President of the United States, it was just a matter of time.

As he sat down behind his large desk in his US Senate office, he paused for a breath. This was something of a rarity for a man who felt like he hadn’t stopped to smell the roses since he had left college. Today though, those roses smelt like a beautiful summers day, the most beautiful of summer days. He got back up, closed his office blinds, shut the door, kicked off his Salvatore Ferragamo Italian calfskin shoes and threw his feet up on the desk in front of him. He closed his eyes and took a deep, revitalising breath.

And just as quickly as the moment had transpired, it was over. He was in his shower, the hot massaging water beating down on his aching shoulder and back muscles, relieving an ounce of the tension he’d built up over the last day, week, month, year, life. He was in his Tom Ford Navy Checked Wool Suit and in the back of the SUV again. This time he would address 2,000 wealthy potential campaign supporters, he would assure them of his policies, he would smile, shake hands and treat each and every person in that room like they were the only person there. Woodbridge had the wonderful ability to shine a light on whomever he was speaking with. It was very rare that a person would come away from personally speaking with Kane Woodbridge and not feel like the belle of the ball. Army veterans, football players, US Congressmen and women, musicians, foreign diplomats and leaders alike- they all talked about his charm, his genuity and his intellect.

As he stood behind the navy blue curtain by the side of the stage, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and placed it back in his pocket. He smiled at the chief makeup artist who gave him one last touch up and thanked her politely. She giddily skipped away biting on her lip like a schoolgirl who had just spoke to her latest crush. He was introduced on stage to a rousing, flag-waving audience, they hung on his every word. He addressed his policies, he joked about the LA Rams who had a few representatives in the crowd, he discussed his childhood citing his parents as his heroes, the two people he said who had helped him to believe that everyone matters and that everyone deserves a chance to just be. An “everyone matters” chant began t0 buzz across the crowd, very quickly the whole audience were on their feet chanting it at him. He stood back to take it in and applauded them, indicating how much this all meant to him.

As he scanned the rapturous crowd, blowing kisses and patting his chest his gaze stopped on a solitary man stood at the back of the room. He didn’t clap. He wasn’t chanting or singing. He was just stood there, fixed on Woodbridge. He stood out for many reason. He was tall – 6 foot, at least, thought Woodbridge. Unlike his fellow audience members he was in a white muscle t shirt and combat trousers, the thought that this was strange attire for a formal event flicked across Woodbridge’s mind. He appraised the tattoo sleeves and shaved head. Despite his appearance, the main reason that this man stood out from the rest of the crowd was the M24 Sniper Weapon System he had just removed from the black briefcase which lay discarded at his boots. Woodbridge strangely pondered if he was the only one who could see this man. Was he a figment of his overly worked imagination? A demon from the back of his mind here to remind him to get some more sleep and drink less coffee?

The crowd continued their ovation, during this time Woodbridge nonchalantly waved. Smiling and acknowledging the praise. But he couldn’t take his gaze away from the man at the back of the room. He considered addressing him personally but feared the ridicule he would receive if this was in fact a figment of his imagination. However, he had no choice when the man raised the rifle to his shoulder though. “NOOOO!!” screamed out Woodbridge. The crowd, unsure of what this part of the performance was, followed his line of vision. Gasps and screams erupted, people threw themselves from their chairs to the floor or trampled their way towards any door which could conceivably represent an exit.

Only a matter of seconds had passed from the point that Reynolds had lifted the rifle to his shoulder to the point at which Woodbridge’s vision had faded and his brain matter had decorated the podium and stage. But it was in those tiny few seconds that the future of America had shifted on a dime and history had been changed forever. Or so Reynolds, Kellerman, Pendergast and Watson hoped.

My Pet Raptor – A Dinosaur Story for Kids

Some people have dogs

Some people have cats or

Birds or snakes but who has a raptor?

I have a pet I can ride to school!!

His name is Reggie, he’s super cool!!

Some people have parrots but not my friend Doris!

In her garden she has a Brontosaurus!!

It eats from the trees, it’s a herbivore

And gives the best cuddles which we both adore

Some policemen use dogs, but not our local cops

They ride around town on a Triceratops!!

It stops the robbers with it’s massive horns

Then munches on leaves, grass and corns

Some people ride horses but not my cousin Bex

She gallops around on a HUGE T-Rex!!

It looks really fierce but it’s really a cutie

It’s tiny little arms can’t scratch it’s own booty

Some magicians say shazam!! and hocus pocus!!

But I know a wizard with a Diplodocus!!

Sitting up on it’s back, he does his spells

But when it farts, it REALLY smells!!

I love my pet raptor, he’s really the best

I chase him around and lie on his chest

I tell him stories and we cuddle at night

He’s the best to snuggle when Dad turns out the light

Night night Reggie!!

The Mirror

Introducing Scarville, Iowa.

Scarville, Iowa has a creepy, Disney villain-themed, name. Unfortunately the truth to it is less extravagant than the name suggests. The town is named after Ole Scar, a local landowner in the 1800’s. It’s a small, old fashioned town where everyone knows everyone and local businesses depend on their customers for survival. The name of the town might be less than remarkable, but the incidents which occur within this quiet, isolated American town could be described as nothing short of terrifying.

“Hey Annieeeeeee, want to come an adventure?!” The cheeky face of Perry “Pop” Johnson stuck his head in through the window of Annie Hardy’s front porch. He swivelled his head around to see if anyone was around. “I’ve told you before Perry Johnson, the next time you appear through that porch window will be the last time, you done made me spill my coffee!” Janice Porter, Annie’s mothers’ live-in carer, chuckled as she laboured her way through to her favourite chair in the weathered looking sitting room, before she sat down she turned and said “Annie’s upstairs, go on up and see her son”.

Pop dashed in through the front door and flew up the stairs, taking them two at a time, he slammed against Annie’s closed bedroom door, landing face down on her carpet. “Ouch” he muttered. He picked himself up and looked around the empty room. “Annie?” he peered out her bedroom door and tiptoed along the dark corridor, standing for a while to regard the only other closed door upstairs. “Annie?” he inquired, quietly. He placed a tentative hand on the door knob and began to turn, just as he did the door flew open and Annie slipped out of the room into the hall. She made a “shhh” noise with her finger to her lips and they walked back to her bedroom and closed the door. “Sorry” said Pop “Janice said you were up here, I just thought…” . “It’s OK” said Annie, her back was turned to him as she opened her double-doored wooden wardrobe and threw on a coat. “How’s your mom?” he asked. “Fine” was all she could muster. She turned, keeping her awkward gaze on the bedroom carpet. Just as quick as the awkward encounter had started, it ended. “I’ve found something crazy cool” enthused Pop.

Although having just turned 15, Pop looked around 12. He was short for his age and his baby face didn’t do him any favours at making up for it. His mother always told him he’d welcome it when he hit her age but he had never understood.

“OK” said Annie. She was quiet but, as was often the case, Pop’s enthusiasm for whatever new idea was that day warmed her up. Although some of the teenagers in Scarville thought of him as childlike, Annie enjoyed the distraction his little schemes and adventures brought her. “Where are we going then?” she asked him. His excitement radiated throughout the room, he was speaking so fast he was incomprehensible but she got the gist. “…shediedandsomekidswereatherhouseandfoundthismirrorand….” “Cool”, she said “lets go”.

They said their goodbyes to Janice and promised to be back for dinner. They made their way through the football-pitch-sized fields of corn which were adjacent to the back of Annie’s garden and stopped at the precipice of the old railway line. “How much farther?” she asked him. “Only over the line and then through the tree’s, that’s where the house is” he said. He was still in a state of complete excitement.

He’d explained to her as they were walking that he’d been out for one of his “recce’s” and had come across old Mrs Samson’s abandoned house. When he was there he’d met two older kids who had told him that they’d been checking over the house for anything ‘cool’. “They had backpacks of it, mainly old jewellery and stuff though” he’d said. Annie had thought this was pretty gross but Pop didn’t seem to notice as he was bubbling over with his excitement to tell her the next part. The two kids had told him that in the loft of Mrs Samson’s house they’d found a mirror and when you stood in front of it, it showed you your biggest fear. “Bullshit” she’d laughed. “They were having you on Pop! There’s probably nothing but rats and mice in the loft, maybe some dusty china that was kept for a special occasion that never came.” But he’d protested, the two kids had told him what they’d seen. “The first guy, Marlon, he’d saw himself standing on top of a high rise building, a huge gust of wind had hit him and he’d fallen from the top. He said he could feeeeel the cold air as he was hurtling to the pavement Annie.” Pop’s eyes bulged and Annie was slightly concerned they might actually fall out his head. She laughed again. “Pop, you ever wonder why it is that you end up in these sort of weird situations with people telling you odd things that have happened to you?” “NOPE” he replied marching with purpose onwards to the abandoned house. “So, the other guy, he’d saw himself trapped in a cage with massive snakes, he said he could feel it biting him!! Can you believe that?!” The two boys had explained how they had had to pull each other away from the mirror to stop the terrifying ordeal continuing. “Right, sure” said Annie sarcastically. She rolled her eyes at Pop but he was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice.

They finally arrived in front of the old house. They stood together looking at the front door, which rested open. The house sat alone in front of the the old commuting road which linked Scarville to the rest of American civilization. “Right, let’s go find this magic mirror” snarked Annie. She was willing the sarcasm to dominate the fear creeping over her back and crawling into her ear. She’d thought this was just another one of Pop’s usual silly adventures, something to do on a boring Sunday afternoon. But when she saw the house sat on it’s own in the middle of nowhere, crooked old front door sat open almost beckoning them in, something felt a little off to her.

They made their way in through the front porch and into a dark creaking hall. The wooden walls were bare and a small table with an old looking telephone next to it lay knocked over on the floor. “Through here” whispered Pop. His excitement had been usurped by fear and in the dark of the hall his pale complexion looked ghostly.

They came to a set of wooden, makeshift stairs, 10 or so high which disappeared off into a pitch black square hole in the ceiling. Pop turned to Annie, half smiling, half terrified and nodded his head. They both clambered up, one after another into a dusty, murky loft. Pop pulled out a small torch which illuminated the immediate foreground. Cobwebs and dust dominated their vision. They held hands, creeping into the darkness. Just as Annie was about to declare it was time to abort this particular adventure, she bumped into the back of Pop who had stopped dead in front of her. “Look” he whispered. He shone his torch in front of them, lighting up a giant mirror. It must have stood 7 foot tall and was facing away from them at a 90 degree angle. “Holy shit” Annie whispered. Pop began to nervously laugh.

They had decided that if they were going to do this, that they needed a plan. Sat on the dark, dingy floor of the loft, whispering as they conspired, they had agreed that if either of them looked like they were in danger, that the other would grab them and pull them from in front of the mirror. As a failsafe they had agreed that if they couldn’t pull them away for whatever reason (Pop had offered the example of him being seduced by a female Vampire who looked like Angelina Jolie) then they would smash the mirror using a brick they had found lying on the floor.

“OK, here goes” said Pop. His voice shook nervously. He left go of Annie’s hand and walked to face the giant mirror. For the first few seconds he stood staring, his face unchanged staring deep into it, as if he were looking way into the distance. Annie, feeling as though she were sat alone on a deserted island, sat holding her breath only a few feet away. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Just then, Pop’s face contorted in horror, he let out an ice tingling shriek, flicking at his face as though he’d just disturbed a bee hive. He began to run on the spot, looking over his shoulder at nothing. He screamed. “GET THEM OFF ME, JESUS CHRIST, GET THEM OFF” he continued to run on the spot, picking up his pace. It looked to Annie as if he was running flat out but uncannily he stayed on the spot, thumping on the wooden floor beneath him. “ANNIE!!” he screamed “PULL ME OUT, IT’S COMING!!” Annie was frozen to the spot, she tried to speak but her voice caught at the back of her throat. Regaining some control over her body, she slowly approach Pop and just as he screamed “NOOOOOOOO” and covered his hands over his head she pushed him as hard as she could. He thudded to the floor out of the mirror’s vision and the room fell silent.

“Pop?” asked Annie, in whispered tones. He groaned as he pulled himself to his feet. “I really hate spiders Annie” he said, fixing her with the most serious look Annie thought she had ever seen from him. “Spiders?” she asked. “They were all over me and this massive one was chasing after me, it was 8 feet tall with gigantic fangs!!!” his haunted face burst into an electric smile and he shook with elated laughter. It echoed all around them. “That was AWESOME” he shouted to the sky. Annie realised that her whole body was sore, she had been rigid with fear. As Pop excitedly recounted the giant spider chasing him through a jungle, his face and body covered with them, all shapes and colours, she exhaled and relaxed slightly. “That sounds horrible Pop, how can you even be laughing at that?” she asked him. He was giddy “Honestly Annie, it was awesome, really. Come on, I can’t believe this thing works!!” She shook her head and proposed they leave, they’d tried it, it had worked and now it was time to go, she should get back for dinner. Pop was having none of it. “Come on Annie, it’s your turn. It’s not that bad at all and we can end it any time, I’ll either push you or use the brick.” He’d won her round. “OK” she conceded “but please, push me away from it as soon as I say” He held his hand to his head and sarcastically saluted her “aye, aye captain”. She took a deep breath, turned her body and stood to face in front of the giant mirror.

After a few seconds of peering into the mirror, staring at her own reflection her vision became water-like, as if looking into a whirlpool, she felt dizzy as the mirror started to swirl round and round. She blacked out and after a few seconds she slowly opened her eyes. She was lying on her back in a brightly lit room. She thought she was in bed which was confusing. Must have been a dream, she rationalised. Something niggled away at her hand, she grabbed at it to feel an IV tube snaking it’s way beyond the side of the bed, looking down she could see she was wearing old looking traditional pyjamas. “Mom?” said a voice. She looked up to see four adults sat around the bed, two men and two women. They felt familiar to her but she couldn’t place them. “Who are you?” she asked, she jerked up and sat facing them “Where am I?!” “Mom, it’s me, Toby” said the oldest looking man, he took her hand and stroked it. “We’re in the hospital remember? You’ve been here for 3 years now Mom, it’s Mothers Day so we thought it’d be nice to have lunch with you.” She was panicking now. “I don’t like this Pop” she screamed. “NOOOOO!! POP!!!” I DON’T LIKE THIS!! NOT LIKE THIS” “There she goes again” sneered the other man “always talking about goddamn Pop, who even is he?” he was shaking his head and looking at the others around the bed. “No-one knows” said one of the women “the nurses told me that she shouts for him at the same time every day, something about pulling her away.” Annie felt faint and thought she was going to pass out, she screamed at the top of her lungs “POP!!! SMASH IT!!! SMASH IT NOW, POP!!”

Pop, stood in the dark loft, had watched this whole ordeal unfold. He had watched her lie down in front of the mirror, pull out her hand involuntarily as if someone else was holding it and he’d watch her scream in horror, shouting his name over and over. He had tried to push her but every time he got next to the mirror he saw himself with a spider on his face and had gotten scared. As she began to scream for him to smash it, he about turned and made for the brick. He picked it up and with all his might he threw it as hard as he could at the mirror.

The four adults were attempting to sooth her as she spiralled further and further into a terrored panic. Just then, a huge crash of glass rang out in the hospital ward and all four adults jumped in fright. “Sorry everyone” said a nurse as she slumped to her knees and began to pick up large shards of the test tubes she had dropped. “POP?!” shouted out Annie. “POP!!! ANSWER ME!!!” The four adults shook their head and slouched back down into their chairs. “man this is hard” said one of the men. “I know” said one of the women “But she looked after Grandma when she had the same, it’s just something we need to do”. Annie was crying, blubbering for Pop over and over through shallow breaths. “Mom, we’re going to go now” said the oldest man “I’ll come by next week” Annie looked up, feeling caged in a body she couldn’t escape. “He said he would smash it” she repeated to them, over and over. “love you Mom”. They all took turns to give her a kiss on the cheek or cuddle and turned to leave.

As they were walking to the ward entrance she screamed at them with all her might. “HEY!!!!” they all turned, their faces stunned at the outburst. “Where’s Pop?” she whispered “we agreed he would smash it.” Their heads all dropped as one and they turned away towards the entrance.

A Writers Regret

“He’s had an illustrious and decorated career. Enjoying stints with Kerrang, NME and Mixmag. He was senior editor at Metal Hammer Magazine for many years and mostly recently he’s occupied the same position with us. Congratulations on a wonderful career, Jamie, we’re really going to miss you. Friends and family, please raise your glasses to a wonderful journalist and an even better man, here’s to Jamie.”

I was never a fan of these sort of things but this was momentous, I thought I may as well savour it. Anyway, it was just a nice little gathering – my wife, kids, family and colleagues new and old. It was great to catch up with some of the old faces from the past. I hopped up onto the stage of the Bowling Club function room and took the microphone from Catherine, my old boss.

“Wow, thanks Catherine and thanks everyone for coming” I started. It was lovely to look out at all the beaming faces. “As you all know, I’m not great with words….” that got a few chuckles “..so I’ll keep this short and to the point. I love music. I could not live without it. It has the ability to take you on a journey back in time, to plop you back in your teenage bedroom dreaming of your first kiss or transport you across the world to a sweaty beer hall in Sweden full of hulking, head-banging Vikings….” even more laughs “….so to have been able to write about it for the last 35 years has been such a privilege. I want to thank everyone that’s joined me along the way, I love you all, thanks!”

I wiped the trickling tears from my cheeks and took in the applause of the room. My wife, Grace, was in bits, bless her. This was perfect, a perfect way to go out, I thought. Just as I was about to hop off the stage, my old buddy Mike Hargreaves shouted out “any regrets mate?!” he chuckled in a jokey manner. His wife, Janet, elbowed him, hard in the ribs and scowled. “What?!” he protested to those round about him, scowling at him as well. “No, no, no, no, it’s OK Janet, I don’t mind.” Addressing the crowd again I said “I don’t have many regrets, I’ve had an amazing career. Maybe I only have the one though.” I noticed a few groans and matters from the crowd but didn’t think anything of it.

“Regret is maybe too strong a word though. You know, if I inspired him to write that song, then I’m happy about that. It’s a fantastic, successful song. It’s just the sentiment, you know? I’ve been around bands all my life. I’ve had many a pint with Robert Plant, a few wild nights with Ozzy and done a fair few other things with Tommy Lee” This one got a good few laughs, phew I thought, got them back onside. “But, we really clicked. With the exception of Grace I don’t really think I’ve ever been so close to someone. That year that I travelled with them round the world was the best year of my life. By the first month we’d forgotten I was even there working. We did everything together; we shared breakfast chatting about music, morning walks discovering whatever city we’d landed in, sat sharing coffee chatting about our childhoods. I loved that man, I loved him and I know he felt the same. How could he say he wanted to SHOOT ME?!” I was aware I was now shouting but I couldn’t control my voice. “I wanted that tour to go on forever but I had a job to do. When I got back I needed to write something about it. I couldn’t “tell it like it really” was. I’d have lost EVERYTHING!! So, to answer your question Mike, yes I do have bloody regrets and they all involve that bastard Kelly Jones, he ruined my bloody life!!”

I looked out at the desolate faces, heads shaking, muttering to each other, some looking at me with utter disdain. My wife’s whole body seemed to be convulsing as she sobbed into my daughters shoulder. “Anyway…” I said, “who’s for cake?”