The Planets Series – Uranus

I had been climbing for just over an hour and stopped to catch a breath. Below me was a white mist of nothingness. I had no idea how far I’d come but had estimated before I started that the full climb would take me around 2 hours.

Surprisingly my feet felt fine. I wiggled my toes inside my stiff leather knee-high protective boots and felt some joy in being able to still move them. The sharp crampons pointing from my toes held my weight assuredly against the ice, fighting against the 250 mile per hour winds which were trying to tempt my large rucksack, and by association me, out into the cold white abyss below.

Both arms, wedged into the solid white ice in front of me, were fitted with sharp axes on the forearms to assist against the winds. My hands, protected from the biting cold with specially designed gloves which hugged my wrists in a tight, warm embrace, clenched tightly two steel ice tools to help me on my vertical trek. My grip felt great, no cold and thankfully no sweat either. The insulated gloves were doing their job perfectly so far.

With my feet, arms and hands wedged firmly into the ice, I let go with my right hand and pulled my protective face mask around my mouth open ever so slightly. I swung my upper body almost 180 degrees to face the drone which flew level with my face. “1 hour down!” I shouted against the wind, giving it a reassuring thumbs up. I quickly pulled my mask back over, swung back round to face the ice which held me in place and grasped my tool with my right hand. I was ready to start, what I hoped, would be the 2nd half of my record breaking climb. I had agreed to document this momentous, WI8 graded climb, using a state of the art drone which was live streaming my progress directly back to a PPV paying audience back home. The lucky folks sat in their warm living rooms on Earth would be getting a live stream which included a constant monitoring of my mapped progress, my current health vitals including blood pressure and heart rate with some beautiful panoramic shots of the surrounding landscape for good measure.

When I’d initially announced via my social media sites a year earlier that I intended to change the ice climbing game forever by scaling the great Titan Wall of Uranus, there had been much hilarity and guffawing in the dirtsheets about my ambitions to “climb on Uranus”. The laughing soon stopped when I sold the live streaming rights for $4 million. With an endorsement deal signed with Arc’teryx soon after and an agreement in place with SpaceX, my dream had quickly become a reality.

The eerie whistling of the wind filled my entire face mask as I continued the slow lumber upwards. My hands began to shoot with cramping pains and the fear of being caught by the increasingly powerful winds refused to release itself from the tightening in my muscles and the knotting in my stomach. The hardest thing to overcome with ice climbing was never the actual wall you intended to scale, it was the fear. Fear of falling. Fear of missing a foothold. Fear of the crampons slipping and taking you tumbling downwards. This fear radiated around the body, often leaving you feeling like you had competed in a much more physical, violent sport in the days after. Unfortunately for me, once I reached my summit I would still have a solo flight home to navigate, albeit with the assistance of SpaceX’s finest remote pilots guiding the way.

In the last few minutes I had began to feel a peculiar rumbling in the ice. A kind of vibration as I stabbed my tools, arms and feet into it. As it increased I felt as I was scaling some sort of giant speaker belching out a repetitive rhythmic bassline. Increasingly my body shook in time with the force of the pattern.

Just as quick as it had arrived, it stopped. My head snapped forward in a whiplash-like motion and I tightened my grip on my tools. Looking up I could still see nothing but white, however when I reached out to plunge my tool in there was no more ice to meet it. With a rush of adrenaline I pumped my legs upwards and threw my aching body onto a solid rocky ledge. I threw my rucksack off my back and jumped up and down, screaming out into the white sky. I pointed at the drone which buzzed along level with me and threw up the V for Victory sign.

I turned to take in the breathtaking panoramic view around me. As I did, I bumped hard into something solid. Looking up, I gasped and stumbled backwards as a large man, maybe 9 foot tall towered over me. His long red robes and large, thick majestic grey beard blew wildly in the winds.

“wh, wha, whaa” I blurted out incoherently.

“YOU STAND BEFORE I, OURANUS, THE PRIMAL GOD OF THE HEAVENS. YOU HAVE SCALED THE TITAN WALL OF MY PLANET” he bellowed out into the world.

“NOW THAT YOU HAVE CONQUERED MINE, IT IS ONLY RIGHT THAT I NOW CONQUER YOUR ANUS”

As he began to unbuckle his robes, the last thing I remember was his bellowing laughter shaking the entire mountain as I dived off the side into the depth of the white below.

The Game

Sam Thompson removed his jar of coffee and ‘Mr Grumpy’ Mr Men mug, placing it on the cabinet above him then emptied his pockets, placing his phone, wallet and keys into his small locker.

Zombie-like he trudged through to the clinically white small kitchen area and filled his mug with boiling water from the communal urn. Slamming the fridge shut he spun round and filled his large mug up to the top with milk.

It was 8 weeks since Sam’s wife had given birth to their first child, Harry. The period of paternity leave had been dream-like as Sam and his wife Holly had existed in their own little bubble, changing nappies, sharing feeding responsibilities and making lots of tea and coffee for excited visitors. The little guy had quickly become the centre of their world and at times Sam couldn’t remember what life had been like before Harry had come along.

One thing he could remember, however, and had been fantasising about since Harry’s Moses basket had replaced his bedside table, was how good it had felt to wake up naturally after a sleep longer than 4 hours. He was happy to split the baby responsibilities with Holly, he wouldn’t have had it any other way, but he missed his bed. He missed a decent sleep.

“Hey Sammy boy!!! how goes it?”

Jack Fennel flew into the kitchen area like a cyclone, slamming cupboard doors, throwing his tupperware lunch into the fridge and spinning to look at his workmate.

“Aye, not bad Jacko, how’s you” muttered Sam. It was as auto-pilot a response as you could get. All over their office-space you heard variations of the same conversation. Pleasant morning greetings followed by hollow small talk as people started their days. One of these days someone will answer that question truthfully, thought Sam, and the person asking the question probably won’t like the answer.

“Excellenttyyyyy” Jack replied enthusiastically in a faux Spanish accent. He was a morning person, everyone in the office commented on it. As sure as it was likely to rain in Scotland’s capital city where they worked, you could guarantee Jack would be bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning.

“Well?” Jack prodded at Sam’s shoulders as he trudged from the kitchen to his desk. “Well??” he repeated. Sam, concentrating on the task of not spilling his coffee during the walk, ignored him and slumped down into his chair. He unlocked his computer and turned to look at Jack. “What are you saying pal?” he asked.

“Wellllll???” asked Jack, a giant smile on his face and jazz hands shaking directly in front of Sam’s tired eyes. “Did you watch the game last night? It was amazing! What a masterclass from Messi eh?”

Football had been Jack and Sam’s common interest when they’d both started together at the company on the same day. It was an easy conversation piece to break the ice and as much as Sam enjoyed watching games when he was younger, in recent years he’d fallen out of love with football.

The outrageous sums of money shelled out by British clubs who were predominantly owned by Russian oil barons and Saudi Prince’s to kick a ball about had left him soured. In a world where his newborn child’s children may not even have a planet to live on, he couldn’t swallow watching talentless athletes being paid £100k a week to flop and roll about on the floor feigning injury in an attempt to con their way to a victory.

If Sam had a fiver for every time he had been asked this question by Jack – “did you watch the game last night?” – he’d have been able to pay to take Harry and Holly to Disneyland for his 1st birthday.

Whenever he was asked about the game which had been on the previous night, Sam had politely feigned interest with enough vague knowledge of some of the players Jack was enthusing about to hold a convincing conversation. After 10 minutes of an expletive filled rant from Jack about the influence of Italian defending on the Chelsea back line, Sam would nod, shrug his shoulders and turn back to his computer. This, he had learned, would signal to Jack that the conversation was over and he’d bound across the office starting up the same conversation with whatever poor soul was stupid enough to make eye contact with him. He was like an energetic puppy. But even the cutest of puppies urinate on carpets and tear apart your brand new sofa.

They had been going through the motions of this conversation about ‘the game’ for 18 months now.

“I’m saying” replied Jack in a mocking tone “did you see the game? You must have surely?”

“Do you know me and Holly had a kid 8 weeks ago mate?” replied Sam.

Jack looked at him blankly. “Uh, yeah. Enough about babies though! That’s women’s chat!” he laughed. “Did you watch the footy last night?” He shrugged off Sams question and pursued his opportunity to wax lyrical about Argentina’s greatest gift to the beautiful game since Diego Maradona.

“No mate. I was in my bed by 8 o clock. Holly stayed up to do the late feed and then I was up again at 2am to feed Harry. I didn’t get back to bed until 5am so I’m really quite knackered. Do you mind if I just crack on here? I’ve got things to do and I really need this coffee.”

“You didn’t watch the game?” Jack said, his face contorted in disgust. “It was the Champions League semi finals, how could you not have watched it?” he was incredulous. It was as if Sam had said he’d went into town and beaten up a few homeless people then burned down an old folks home for good measure. Jack took a minute to let this information sink into his hyperactive brain.

“Sam” asked Jack sheepishly. “Yes, mate” Sam replied without looking up from his computer. “Did you really watch the game or are you having me on?”

Sam’s heart thumped in his chest as his blood bubbled to boiling point . His sleep deprived brain sent adrenaline flushing throughout his body. Jacks mouth gaped wide open as Sam’s mouse disintegrated in his bright red hand. He flopped back in his chair before Sam grabbed him by the badge-covered lapels of his jacket and screamed in his terrified face. “I. DIDN’T. WATCH. THE GAME. YOU. IMBECILE” he raged. “I’M TIRED AND JUST WANT SOME PEACE. PLEASE JUST SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!”

He threw Jack back down into his seat and stormed off to the kitchen area. Breathing hard, he filled his coffee cup, slowly coming to the realisation of what he’d just done. Four of his colleagues popped their head round the kitchen door to ask if he was OK and to congratulate him on finally shutting Jack up. He assured them he was fine and just needed five minutes. He wasn’t proud of himself for losing his cool and felt bad for Jack, who just wanted someone to chat to. He shuffled back round to his desk with the intention of apologising.

“Listen Jack” started Sam in a low voice, his head dipped in regret “I’m really sorry about that, I’m not sleeping well since..”

“It’s fine!” interrupted Jack, puppy-like excitement had returned to his face and he was smiling erratically at Sam. “Did you watch the game though? You must have!”

By the time the twinkling shards of glass from the 3rd floor window had stopped raining down around Jack’s lifeless body which lay contorted, leaking pools of scarlet on the car park below, Sam was in his car and already out of the office car park. He opened his window and flicked on the radio, allowing the breeze to cool his adrenaline sapped face.

“This is BBC Radio 5 Live.” said the soothing voice of the radio presenter. “So, Maureen, before I ask you about what weather we’ve got coming this weekend, I have to ask you…” “NO!” screamed Sam. “DON’T YOU DARE!!” he shrieked.

“….did you watch the game last night?”

An Everyday Scottish Villain

Before A tell ye my story, there’s somin ye should know. A didnae ask for this. A didnae ayways want tae be like this. A didnae create some mad serum in a lab to give ees super strength or build a mental technological suit to help ees fight crime. Christ, A barely even looked after myself. A wee 5km run there, a game of 5’s wi ma pals if they were short o’ bodies there. Maybe a’d half-arsed try tae diet if I noticed the auld capital D graun in the mirror but that was it.

And listen, am no writing this tae ask for yer apologies, for ye tae turn up at my door an’ say “it’s awright mate, aw is forgiven”. Am dain it cos A wantae be left alone. Aye A ken how that sounds but it’s true, A wantae be able to sit aboot in ma kegs playing FIFA or just gaun oot wi a bird to the cinema withoot some arsehole interrupting the film tae tell ees am their hero, or worse, expecting ees tae save their fucking granny fi dying eh cancer. So, here gauns.

First time A ever flew was the night A tried tae top myself. A was absolutely fucked, A’d been on ma ain aw day listening to depressing as fuck music, drinking aw the bevvy in the hoose until A’d drunk it dry. By the end ae it, A’d decided A’d had enough.

So, there a was, stood in the pishing rain, greeting ma face off, pish staining the front o’ ma joggies and shite running doon the back of ma leg. What a fucking pathetic excuse for a human being. A felt sorry for the poor cunt that had tae wade oot for what was left o’ ees the next day or even worse scrape ma brains up fae the side ae the water. Sorry mate, A thought, shouldae stuck in wi yer exams though. What a fucking weird thought that was eh? My last ever thought and am critiquing some poor bastard coonsel workers life choices.

A looked doon intae the dark unknown and stepped off the edge. It’s true what they say mind, as soon as e dae it, ye regret it. A’d have geen anythin tae have reversed that decision. Lucky for me A never hit the concrete wall ae water 50 feet beneath ees then eh? aye lucky boy, that’s me right enough.

A opened ma eyes and looked oot at the darkness. A could see fuck all, a wondered if a’d somehow woken up in a fuckin box. That’d have been the perfect fucking end for a fuck-up like me, couldnae even dae that right, A thought, a’ve ended up waking up in my fuckin coffin destined tae fuckin rot tae pieces. As it turned oot, A could tell that A was getting soaked tae ma skin, so A kent A was still ootside. A felt the pulsing waves beneath ees tickle ma feet through the cauld ae ma trainers. A looked doon and if a hadnae shite ma’self awready, A’d have done it right there and then. A was stood, naw that’s no right, I was hovering half a metre above the waves. Then, just as easy as it is tae get oot yer wankin chariot in the morning and shuffle through for a pish, A took off toward the edge o the water, landing on the safe, solid concrete. As A hink aboot it now it sounds ridiculous. A wouldnae believe it if some cunt started slaverin oan about how they were takin their dug for a walk and suddenly they realised they could shoot lasers oot their eyes.

Fae there A developed mare hings. A could lift anyhin A wanted. A could run fast as fuck. And aye a could shoot lasers oot ma eyes. Ma body started lookin like one o them erseholes on the front o Men’s Health magazine. Ripped as fuck. Like Hulk Hogan on even mair steroids than he was on when a was a bairn. Even if A ate 7 chippies a week I was still ripped tae fuck. Listen, superpowers or no, A wisnae planning on ditching ma king rib suppers fae Sergio’s.

Efter realising A was the only person on Earth wi superpowers I did what maste folk would dae. A got fuckin steamin and sterted textin aw ma auld birds selfies eh ma 6 pack and muckle biceps. A got a class yin o me shooting lasers across ma kitchen, burnt right through the front o ma fridge door tae. Course the replies were pretty much aw the same. “Aye gid yin dickhead” came the first. “Nice special effects app, whit yin is it?” came another. The best one though “Haha, there’s mare chance o me graun a muckle cock than there is o you being ripped like that”. Aye, cheers Big Courtney.

The final hing A realised A could dae was heal hings though. I say hings cos A only realised it when A was oot running fast as fuck and belted straight intae this wee dug. A went right through the wee bastard, blood and guts awwhere. A went ower and picked up his wee heid, greeting an apologising like it’d make the blindest bit difference. Except, it fuckin did! The next hing a knew the wee bastard was licking ma face and kicking his wee back legs intae my stomach.

After the dug A decided tae dae a wee experiment. A waited until the middle o the night and ran doon tae the cemetery. A took a wee wander roond in the pitch black, shining ma laser eyes tae illuminate the grave stanes until A came across a tiny wee yin. Some poor wee laddie that had deed at 8 yer auld. A’d love tae tell e A stood there debating the moral consequences ae what a was aboot tae dae but to be honest a couldnae have started shovelling the dirt up fast enough. Quite literally. A had the wee coffin up in nae time wae ma mental strength and fast as fuck airms. A ripped the top off and grabbed the poor wee laddie in ma airms. He can only have been deed weeks or months cos he wasnae rotten or that but he was grey as fuck and he was definitely fuckin stinkin. His dusty wee eyes flickered open and he started breathin fast as fuck, shiting umself. “It’s awright wee man” A says tae um “A’m healing e.” Poor wee bastard almost passed oot straight away, thankfully eh managed tae croak oot where eh lived before he slumped back intae ma airms. A flew um hame and left um in his wee bed, still aw made up.

If yer reading this e probably ken much o the rest. The parents woke up, shite themselves then sterted posting photaes eh the wee fellae on social media. Cos nothing’s every really happened unless e post it online eh? Fuds. What seemed like the whole world, had set up camp ootside this families hoose in Bathgate. Fae aw kinds ae media, tae cults dedicated tae the wee fellae, tae religious freaks thinking this wee boy was the second coming o whae-ever. The family were making an absolute mint off it. And fair play tae wee Andy he never said what happened tae him. Maybe ae couldnae mind but A suspected he wanted tae keep me his ain wee secret.

A gave it a few weeks before A eventually came forward and contacted the BBC tae tell them what a’d done. They immediately banned ees fae contacting their social media accounts and somehow managed tae cut off ma phone line and broadband efter contacting them that way. A wouldnae have believed ees either of course. They left ees nae choice but tae make a wee surprise appearance on the 6 o’clock News. A rushed past security, flew ontae the screen and picked up the tidy wee lassie dain the weather. She was lovin it, nae doubt about it. Efter A stopped the bullets fae the security and they stuck the cameras back oan, a was able tae tell ma whole story. A telt yees aw aboot ma superpowers and how A found oot aboot them. It was class. I was living the high life. Getting sent aw this designer stuff tae wear and getting DM’s fae aw the top models.

For aboot a week, that is.

Then it started. Locally to begin wi. Folk fi ma auld school knocking doon ma door asking me to heal their maws arthritis or take a look at their da’s prostate. They didnae even have the decency tae try and get on ma gid side either. No even “awright mate, mind that time a knocked e oot behind the bike sheds cos e looked at ma bird in fourth year”. Naw. It was mare like “Haw you, heal ma maw.” “Hoy, dae what ye did for that wee laddie tae ma Uncle’s deed budgie”. A ended up just flying away up tae the sky and thrawn stanes at them. A obviously didnae mean to kill that cunt wi that stane, a forgot ma ain strength. And a flew doon and healed him onyway, a never understood what the big deal was.

Soon efter the Government were doon ma throat, getting me tae dae wee missions for them. “it’s yer duty son, for Queen and Country” they said tae me. Flying intae war zones and lasering fuck oot ae these mad Barbarians and jihadis. I soon realised that it was up tae me tae make that decision though. This isnae Gotham City. There isnae the good guys and the bad guys. And there’s nowt tae say that the Government are the gid guys. In fact there’s alot o evidence tae suggest otherwise. Why should a knock off wee Kimmy Jong just cos some posh toff cunt tells ees tae? How div a ken he’s no sound? He hings aboot wi Big Dennis Rodman so I reckon he must be awright like.

That’s why a did what a did. A realise now that it was a bit extreme but if you were a miserable wee shite that wanted tae top yersel then ye turned intae Superman mixed wi the Hulk, ye might gaun a wee bit power hungry tae. A ken A shouldnae have done it, but a did. Folk need tae get ower it.

Am sorry for slaughtering aw they MP’s awright? Is that what ye want tae hear? Am sorry. A was steaming again. I flew doon tae speak tae them at Westminster, they started freakin oot and condescending ees and a lost it. The lasers came oot, heids started rollin and my thirst fur blood turned ees a wee bit mad. These things happen. Well they dinnae anymare obviously cos av calmed doon a bit. There’s nae point sending the airmy, there’s nae point the Yanks trying tae fuckin nuke ees again cos none o it works. So please just leave ees alane. If ye want tae say awright or gees a wee high five when e see ees that’s fine, a’ll try no tae break yer wrist like a did that wee laddie in Washington. A was still learning then.

Am no a Villain just cos a dinnae want tae heal the world like Michael fuckin Jackson. Am just a normal guy. So, please, next time ye see me dinnae ask ees tae bring yer wee guinea pig back fae the deed, dinnae ask ees tae assassinate that fanny in the White Hoose and for the luv o fuck dinnae ask ees for a selfie, am fed up payin oot for new phones. Stupit fuckin laser eyes.

Oh aye, and for aw the folk asking online: no am no single, aye A am gaun oot wi Margaret Boaby, Hamilton’s very ane Margot Robbie Impersonator and naw, nae amount o superpowers stop e fae blowing yer load prematurely.

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?”