All stories copyright xoggoth


Never go Palermo

On the bus, the no 49 from Purley to Crystal Palace to be exact, the same one I always got from work. Another wet grey day.

A large muffled gent with a muffled foreign voice sat next to me. Please, bus go Palermo?" Palermo? Wasn’t that in Italy? "No sorry, I don't think so I said It goes to Crystal Palace via Croydon. Palermo nice he said, always sunny Palermo. He made a disappointed noise and wandered back to sit next to someone else. I heard him asking about Palermo.

I broke my bus journey the next day in South Croydon. Something I needed at the big hardware store there. There was a big bloke at the bus stop, made even bulkier with what looked like two overcoats, several scarves and a woolly hat on top of a balaclava. Palermo? Palermo?" Gesticulating south. I was a bit wary. Was he mad? Er, no, try asking at the bus station just up there I said pointing vaguely.

No sign of Palermo Pete, as I had christened him, for the rest of the week or the following week and I had forgotten all about him. The next time I saw him I was coming out of the Black Lion in West Croydon. Pete was walking up the 'No pedestrians' underpass waving at the speeding cars. Between the horns and above the engine noise I could just make out Go Palermo?" Clearly something not right in the guy's head.

I went to a party that Saturday and had to walk home, my anticipated lift having got lucky. It was nearly 2 am but there was a familiar bulky figure on the broken park bench. I started to give him a wide birth; big guys with mental problems were best avoided. But I didn't in the end. Maybe some effect of the wan streetlights or the courage of the alcohol in my veins but despite his size he looked small and lost and his shoulders were heaving.

He looked up, the tears running down his lined face. I no find, no find. Always happy Palermo, always happy, always sunny. I never go again Palermo. Never go home. He put his head on his knees and shook with silent sobbing. I looked at the grime of Croydon, the grey office blocks, the wind blown arcade, the wet and dirty roads, the garish orange street lights, the gutters full of the remains of half eaten takeaways and the litter blowing in the wind and thought what it must be like in sunny Palermo. I would probably never go to Palermo either, and probably it was just the alcohol, but I put my head on my knees and cried with him.

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Mementoes of treasured occasions

Thought my business was going under last year; simply too much competition these days. I have that hopeless temporary secretary to thank for my change of fortune. I was in a rush to get to a wedding and had left her to type out the new large size ad for the Echo and get it off to them by their deadline.

It was only when the paper came out that I realised that below the caption A Edwards, Photographers for all occasions it said Capers a speciality. Well, that's what I thought you had written whined Tracy. I exploded Capers?, why would I write Capers? it's Babies! you..

I got my first call the following Thursday from a taciturn guy who would give very little away. I was to meet him in Sutton Park. The job was a big one and the top boss wanted a proper record to show his cronies at the mobster's summer conference in Tokyo. I was a bit reluctant, surely I would be an accessory to crime, but on the other hand I was facing bankruptcy and you know what they say about desperate times.

Tony placed himself discretely in a parked car outside. With some trepidation I made sure I was inside the prestigious West End jewellers at the right time with the small video hidden inside an attaché case. It was hardly our most professional work, the video shook visibly because I was terrified, but given the circumstances it was not too bad. The big boss was delighted anyhow and we got a decent bonus, after the visit from his heavies to make quite sure we had retained no copies of course.

You would have thought, wouldn't you? that the last thing criminals would ever want would be someone taking visual records of their crimes as they happened, but I suppose there are never any limits on human vanity. As we gained experience we developed methods of obtaining great mementoes for the criminal to treasure while being totally discrete. It was Tony who came up with the idea of the little incendiary devices in the cameras and videos and that was a big selling point with our clients. Should the filth twig that we were taking pictures, one press of the little button and the evidence was gone.

Business is booming. Just came from the Krayson's place where we presented the video of their youngest son's first ever big heist. It was a joy to see the pride on Mrs Krayson's face while she dabbed at her tears with her hanky. Ah look bless, she kept saying, see how steadily he holds the piece, as though he's been doing it all his life or Oh look Ron, doesn't he look so handsome in his balaclava, just like Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy. I knew what she meant.

I like my work. It is very satisfying to bring joy to people by preserving all these treasured moments in their lives. I like the money too.

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The news terrorists

It was a sensation. A hundred thousand people opened the first edition of the Times that morning to read, above the image of a smiling Blair returning from his US trip, the headline "I fancy little boys admits PM".

In theory it could not possibly have happened. On every major newspaper the content is checked thoroughly before print begins, the first copies off the line are thoroughly checked by the assistant editor and another sample of copies are checked by staff before distribution. It had to be an inside job involving several people but the Times's extensive enquiry never established who, although a number of staff were disciplined for their failures of duty.

Given that there was no deliberate intent by the Times the PM did not sue but an undisclosed payment was made to selected charities in an out of court settlement. Of course there were inevitably many who wondered why anyone would want to print such a thing, unless of course there was some truth in it?

Rather surprising that the second incident happened so soon afterwards, you would have expected them to take more care. My sex and drugs hell blazed the Sun. The story, of heroine taking and S&M orgies, should have been about the once popular comedian and presenter John Truscot. But someone had substituted a picture of John Prescott, changed Truscot to Prescott throughout the text and altered several other details.

The damages paid by the Sun were considerable. They made it totally clear that none of these sordid details applied to the sober and upright Prescott. Nevertheless, the man in the pub was fond of pointing out that the story rang true as the locations and people in the story fitted with Prescott's life. What did that prove if the story had been deliberately falsified to discredit him? asked the more rational. Once smoke had been sighted of course, the man in the pub was not so easily convinced that there was no fire.

There were no newspaper incidents after that as there were more security staff on the average newspaper print room floor than there were at Heathrow. Clearly, the person or persons who engineered the next incident on the Channel 4 news had planned it meticulously and had a great deal of technical know how. Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy had both been struck down with severe sickness, almost certainly something slipped into their coffee, and been replaced at short notice by two inexperienced newsreaders. Their earphones, the teleprompter and the news item pictures had been electronically subverted. By the time anyone on the production crew had realised what was being put out and that the newsreaders could not hear their frantic messages the damage was done.

The nation was solemnly informed that Gordon Brown had personally diverted some of the money he had taken from the put-upon taxpayer to finance a chain of luxury hotels in the West Indies and elsewhere. As before, the details, all except the actual embezzlement of the money of course, tallied rather well with those of the accused. His brother in law did indeed have a foreign registered company of that name with business links in those areas. Well, said the man in the street, whoever did this seems to know a thing or two about the chancellor's affairs and if those details are correct who is to say the rest of it isn't?.

This latest outrage, like the others, was a total libel. The PM, the deputy PM and the chancellor were all decent, normal and honest family men of unimpeachable reputation. Well, yes, said Mr and Mrs Average, but...

The news terrorists were never found and they were never heard from again. The Blair government lost the election three months later.

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The cruel smile

In nearly every woman's novel since the dawn of time, the hero who eventually wins the heroine's affection is an arrogant inconsiderate bastard (a tall, dark, handsome and rich one of course) whom everybody including our heroine initially loathes.

His character is usually shaped by the emotional pain he still feels at the death of/betrayal by some great love of his life. Love for our heroine will of course gradually break down this sense of loss and by page 645 his true qualities will shine through. He becomes a caring character (although still very masculine and forceful), promises never to kick her dog to death again and she walks up the aisle with him two pages later. The end.

The hero is initially equipped with that essential thing that makes every woman's knees go weak - a CRUEL SMILE. As a very spotty pubescent yoof I just loved the concept of the CRUEL SMILE and would spend hours practising it in the mirror. I was the only bloke I knew who was privy to this miraculous bird attractant and I knew one day it would get me shags aplenty. Women would fall over themselves just for the chance to tame me and replace my CRUEL SMILE with a caring simper.

Came my life's first attempt at trials for the mating game. I was 15 or 16. Henry's School of Dancing in West Croydon. Went with a couple of mates as one of them had heard it was a good place to find lots of birds. Actually it wasn't, although my mates got some reasonable females. Due to lack of partners and much to my embarrassment I ended up having to dance with someone who said she was fifteen but looked about twelve.

I deployed the CRUEL SMILE anyway. She put up with my silence and lopsided leer for about five minutes and then asked Excuse me, have you got some sort of paralysis thing with your face?

I don't understand them any better forty years later.

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The past catches up with Dr. Isaac

Dr. Isaac specialised in past life experiences. He claimed to be the best in the business and that he could take you back further than anyone else.

Mike had been sceptical at first but no longer. He had experienced glimpses of many previous lives in the months he had been seeing Dr.Isaac and he felt it was worth the several thousand pounds it had cost so far.

Among other things he had been a Victorian sea captain, an Elizabethan bishop and a Druid in the Roman era. Tonight he was going back into prehistory. Under hypnosis he went back, back, back and found himself a primitive man, a near animal, fighting tooth and claw under a glowering sky.

As always he returned to the present with the recollections and feelings from his past life experience uppermost in his mind, drowning out present day reality for several minutes. Now he was blazingly angry and Dr. Isaac looked very familiar.

A minute later Dr. Isaac was dead, his head crushed. Mike stood over him wielding the ornate lamp stand like a club. You bastard, you tore my best leopard skin!

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High noon

Bit old fashioned like, but me and Trace 'ad just got back from Balham registry office where we'd got ourselves 'itched. Trace was a bit funny like that sometimes and if we'd left it another week she'd 'ave needed a baby sitter.

Heard from Mickey that H got out of stir last week and had promised that at noon today he was gonna pay me a visit and get me back permanent for snitching to the filth about his little deals. Well you gotta look after number one ain't yer? Now the f* was coming and he had it in for me.

Trace had her usual cow face on, chewing the cud on a wad of gum. Yeah, whatever, well we better beat it before the bugger gets 'ere 'adn't we?. When I hesitated Well I'm off any'ow even if you ain't

(Do not forsake me, oh my darlin' On this, our weddin' day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin'
Wait, wait along)

I wasn't sure. H was a nasty bit a work and maybe it was daft to hang around but I ain't exactly no soft poof shite myself and I didn't wanna show lack of bottle in front of Trace. Or the unborn sprog. Stupid innit?, but I hated to think it would know its old man was just a yellow streak of piss.

(I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave)

I was unsure. I ought to stay and face the bastard. I thought I could handle him anyway. But what if he brought some mates along? Maybe I should get some of mine round just in case. I looked at the clock; there wasn't time. Trace said Are you comin' or not?

(Oh, to be torn 'tweenst love and duty
S'posin' I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin' high noon)

What was he gonna do anyway? I mean the twat's just got out of pokey for drugs an' GBH and he's gonna risk going straight back in just to carve me up? He ain't that much of a complete dildo. The filth wasn't gonna have much trouble knowing who to finger for it was they? It didn't make no sense. He wouldn't. Would he? Trace tugged at my arm.

(He made a vow in Brixton prison
Vowed it would be my life or his'n
I'm not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?)

It was five to twelve. Trace was getting in a right flap. Come on, we gotta go. When I did not move Fine, if you wanna get done in that's ok by me, but I ain't staying around, I got the kid to think of. She left the flat, slamming the door. Bitch.

(Do not forsake me, oh my darlin'
You made that promise as a bride
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin'
Although you're grievin', don't think of leavin'
Now that I need you by my side)

I watched her waddling down the road, her pregnant arse wobbling like a barrage balloon. Stupid fat cow!

(Wait along,wait along, wait along
Wait along, wait along
Wait along, ,wait along, wait along, wait along)

The door was kicked open behind me. It was high noon.

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The wife's cupboard

I have mentioned the wife's cupboard before but have never managed to convey the real wonder of it.

Twenty years ago I cut through the plaster partition and extended the cupboard out over the stairwell. Back then it was just a parallelipedal volume off the spare room with a folding door.


It is a place where the normal conventions of space no longer hold.

It is a place where things are stacked in the most impossible ways, piles of papers on top of footballs, stacking boxes (all empty) on top of broken remote control cars, empty trays for paper on top of the paper they are supposed to contain, a miracle of low density and high voidage. Not simply amorphous but the very opposite of ordered.

And yet despite or perhaps because of all this enormous voidage it is never full. It is always nearly full and always has been nearly full since the first day the mistress of chaos possessed it. But it is never quite full. One can always shove a little more in it and squeeze the folding door shut. Nothing ever comes out because nothing one needs can ever be found in it but more will always go in.

It is a place where the normal conventions of time and sequence no longer hold.

It is a place where the things that go in are not in order of their placement. Things at the tops of the confused piles are things that were old and have been for years. Essential maths papers requiring urgent marking that went in in 1995, work sheets that the shifting curriculum made obsolete fifteen years ago. Things that went in last week, if you do not need them, may sometimes be seen migrated towards the back and the bottom. Many things have gone in, the things one needs of course, and after mere days have been lost forever, never to re-appear until they too have no purpose in this world.

It is a place where perhaps no conventions properly hold.

On occasions inexplicable things have bubbled to the surface, things my wife does not recognise, bizarre notations on strange and oddly shaped materials, weird objects of strangely indefinable colour that appear to be not from this universe at all. Where have these come from?

Sometime when I go up the stairs I think of this Terrestrial black hole above my head and remember that, as I had thought it to be just a teacher's store cupboard rather than a violation of all the laws of the universe, I only sank the joists about a half inch into the breezeblock on the other side of the stairwell.

Is it a place where the normal conventions of weight and gravity hold?

I truly hope not.

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Comments on an author

This fragment of an alien exam paper came to light in the wife's cupboard when she was looking for Aleisha Maynard's SATS paper. This sort of thing is not particularly unusual. See just above. Somewhere in the dimension of %hHH there is doubtless an alien equivalent of my wife with a parallel cupboard wondering where Aleisha's paper came from. You may ask why it is in English. Obviously it passed through the inter-translational dimension of Zarg. That usually does it.

Class 4a
x@uty-h examination

Question 4

Write a short commentary in not more than 400 words about the work of one of the following authors:

WWgkk pp_Tw kark+

A short review of the work of author Iw.

Iw is not a popular Science Fiction writer, his ideas are simply too bizarre and incomprehensible for most tastes, although he has a significant cult status among the impressionable. Some would say among the unbalanced.

Much of his fiction, and most notably his best known work 'Terran Trilogy', is set in a strange world with the outré name of Earth.

Earth is in some incomprehensibly different dimension and peopled by weird beings who are not immutable and eternal as we are, but somehow come into being by a strange process Iw calls 'birth'. These beings then mutate oddly in size and strength throughout an existence which is actually limited in time span before ceasing to exist in another event Iw calls 'death'. Apparently this 'death' can also be precipitated by chance events.

These notions are strange enough, and some have questioned Iw's sanity for being able to imagine such things, but he gets stranger. None of the normal rules of physics apply on Iw's Earth. H££4d's fundamental law, for example, which states that the speed and direction of two objects after a collision will be determined solely by their relative radiative intensities and polarities, is stood on its head. On Iw's Earth they are determined by original speed and direction and some fictional quality Iw calls 'mass'. Because of all these nonsensical rules most events involving material entities are rendered virtually incomprehensible to the sane. No wonder much of Iw's popularity is rumoured to be among regular users of oo@kXZ.

An even more incredible feature of Iw's strangely limited creatures is they can only exist in a single spatial and temporal position. As most know, even the primitive Xsfs can exist in up to 8 simultaneously! Nor can they even change this single position as they require; they are compelled to move serially through both space and time. This concept is hard to grasp I know, but just imagine if we could not pass from xht to kkf89 without at some point being physically present at every point in between. Crazy!, as though anyone would want to pass through the gas clouds of ttelkq_e.!

Earth's inhabitants are also subject to all sorts of weird forces over which, quite ludicrously, they have no control. Apparently there is something called 'gravity' which is forever pulling them in the direction of the nearest planetary instance and which they have to ceaselessly try to resist. This would clearly be exhausting. It is also perfectly obvious that it would be utterly impossible to undertake even the simplest physical task if one were not able to move freely in all twenty-seven directions at once.

Purely as a mental exercise I suppose one could entertain some of these ideas. It is the notion that a civilisation could ever emerge in a species so utterly handicapped that is surely the most preposterous of all Iw's notions and proves that imagination is not sufficient in science fiction if the writer does not have sufficient grasp of science and logic to create a credible story line.

In summary, one can conclude that although Iw undoubtably has great imagination, it is the imagination of a cgzz and his incomprehensible fiction can scarcely be expected to appeal to the more sophisticated and the sober.

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A decent man

The war had been going on for two years, two years of stalemate in the desolate mud of what had once been lush jungle, when suddenly it all began to go wrong for them. In the confusion of the retreat, a mad scramble through the mined and trenched and pitted waste of mud and putrid flesh, the captain's platoon was cut off.

The enemy took no prisoners. Their position seemed hopeless; the best they could do was to hold out as long as possible with their diminishing ammunition and hope that they would be relieved. Given the total collapse of their army they all knew that would never happen.

The corporal had been to look over the trench they found themselves in and returned excited. There was no food or ammunition, but there was a small stockpile of gas mortars. The wind was blowing in the direction of the retreat. With a bit of luck, said the corporal, we could use these to clear out the enemy behind us, wait a bit for it to disperse and then make our getaway.

The captain hefted one of the yellow canisters. These things were illegal and had never actually been used in the war by tacit mutual consent. What they did to a man was very unpleasant. No worse than blowing his limbs off or burning his skin to the bone with a flame thrower perhaps, fates dispensed millions of times over since the war began, but still, it was a banned weapon. Quite wrong to use against an enemy armed with conventional weapons.

He would not do it. It would be a criminal act. Perhaps, he explained to the corporal, under cover of darkness, they could seize the chance to slip away without resorting to such immoral weapons. The corporal was puzzled, but even faced with the certainty of his own imminent death he was a soldier. Yes sir, he said and hurried off to organise the rations.

Of course they never had any chance to slip away, the fires and voices of the enemy, quite confident in their superiority, were all around them. By daybreak the wind had shifted and the chance was gone. The enemy attacked soon after. Most of the platoon was wiped out by the initial mortar bombardment and the few left were slain by the wave of soldiers that followed.

The captain met his own death bravely. Just before his darkness he reflected on his decision. It was easier to go out knowing he had done the right thing.

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Sex life of the amoeba

Alice the Amoeba had those urges again. It was reproduction time. And so she retired bashfully to her little hole in the dead spirogyra (1) cell and thought naughty division thoughts while palpating the gusset of her little pink nucleus. Uh, uh uh,uh uhhhhhhhhhhhh went Alice. Then Arnold and Anthea (2) lay back and had a smoke and got their breath back before oozing away.

Within an hour (3) of course Arnold and Anthea started to get those same unspeakable urges themselves. Arnold went back to the spirogyra cell that Alice had thoughtfully left him in her will (4). He got out his microscopic copy of Razzle and began looking at all the naughty pictures of single celled organisms. He stroked his pseudopodium. Some were posing with their contractile vacuoles (5) held open; some were even openly using their flagella (6). He was approaching his cytokinesis (7) aaaaahh!

Afterwards Algernon and Angela lay back and had a smoke and told each other it had been really great, probably their best division ever. Angela told Algernon his pseudopodium was one of the largest she had ever seen. Algernon told Angela she had a really great pair of pseudopodia (8). Vowing to keep in touch they oozed off into the pond.

And so it went on really, Algernon begat Aaron and Agatha, Aaron begat Arthur and Anastasia, Arthur begat Adam and Anita, Adam begat... (9) and so on down to the 1000th generation. Which took them well into teatime the next day (3).

Technical footnotes

1 That green slimy algae that you get in ponds. Especially ponds in chalky areas with plenty of sunshine and old lager cans.

2 All amoebas have christian names beginning with A. You are probably thinking this is just typically childish alliteration on my part but it is an established genetic fact. When amoebas split, the genomes are genetically identical to those of the parent amoeba except for a single strand of DNA that determines the amoeba's name. The first RNA fragment in this strand is fixed, hence the A. Similarly, Parameciums (10) have names beginning with P and Euglenas have names beginning with E. The fact that the scientific names and christian names begin with the same letters is a complete coincidence of course. It is very odd that this coincidence applies for all 6 million species but there you go. The rare Xenogium has quite a problem and scientists suspect this is why it is rare, the DNA division is slowed while the nucleus tries to come up with another unique name beginning with X. Most of them die of old age before they manage to reproduce.

3 This is a gross libel on amoebas. They are not nearly as promiscuous as that; the daughter cells are not ready for mitosis for another 24 hours. But my version sounds funnier.

4 Wills and legal contracts generally are defined by another DNA strand. This is consistent with the previous point that all DNA strands except name are identical. Obviously Arnold and Anthea had identical copies of the will; there would have been all sorts of legal complications otherwise. I do not know why Anthea was cut out of Alice's will. Science does not yet fully understand the emotional life of these primitive organisms.

5 For those of you who do not have O or even CGSE level biology, a contractile vacuole is a space within the cell of some single celled organisms that collects excess water and expels it periodically by contraction in order to maintain osmotic equilibrium. You can find similar dry scientific descriptions for various body parts of people. That does not alter the fact that these parts are VERY RUDE and casual examination of them and their functions is not done by nice people or nice micro-organisms whichever applies.

6 For the educationally challenged again (good grief, I bet some of you do not even have a DEGREE!) flagella are whip-like organelles used for locomotion by a class of protists known as the flaggellata. You may say, if these are organs of locomotion, that my approach, as usual, is just the sign of a prurient and dirty mind. Don't come the innocent with me sunshine, you know as well as I do, it's how you use these things that counts. You may be sure the subjects of such magazine pictures were not going for an innocent swim around the duckweed. Not with those leather masks on anyway.

7 Final cell division. Don't you know anything????? I really cannot be bothered to explain things even a child should know. Please refer to the definitive paper on this subject. Cellular Mitosis in Eukaryotic Organisms By Srulagna Chatterjee and Joseph Heinkel, Department of Biochemistry, Raisa Institute, CA, USA.

8 Well of course they both had pseudopodia, they are amoebas. What did you expect, human naughty bits? Maybe you are confused by the fact that one had a boy's name and one a girl's. This is just another facet of their genetic chemistry that science has not yet unravelled. It does not mean anything. My use of he or she in this learned treatise is just a convention.

9 I do apologise to any female readers for only following the male line but it would be very difficult to actually follow both lines. 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 etc. work it out for yourself. This post would go on from now until the apocalypse. Anyhow, if this approach was good enough for the bible (Genesis 25) it's certainly good enough for a humble atheist. If you have any complaints take it up with him upstairs.

10 I very much doubt you would know this one (good grief!) but the group protozoa is polyphyletic. That means it is not a well defined group of closely related creatures like birds or reptiles but just a rag bag of totally unrelated tiny things that the biologists could not be bothered to classify properly. Nowadays in fact, they just tend to lump them all with single celled algae and call them protists. Doesn't anyone even care about doing their job properly these days? Anyhow, to get to the point, paramecium is much more advanced than amoeba and can reproduce by conjugation in which two cells exchange nuclear material before splitting. Yes, it's practically proper rumpy pumpy as we know it! Paramecium are just visible to the naked eye but I hope this revelation will not cause you all to hang around your garden pond hoping to catch a glimpse of these goings on. Give the poor little creatures some privacy! I have a microscope myself. Fnaar fnaar. Saves me wasting petrol driving to the car park in the local woods.

Photo micrograph reproduced courtesy of Cytographics Limited

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Alternative strategies

A few years before, the worst natural threats facing mankind were an expected flip in the Earth's magnetic field, that meteor and global warming. Although the principle evidence for the last was the rather mundane and tangible one of rising temperatures, it took scientists decades to draw firm conclusions and decades more to convince people the threat was real.

Hardly surprising therefore that a far worse catastrophe started to happen long before the scientists begun to understand it, since the only evidence was to be found in minute fluctuations of stellar gravitational fields and almost infinitesimal apparent errors in atomic clocks.

In early 2008 time began to fluctuate perceptibly. Gatwick to the M42 on the M25 still took two hours in the rush hour, but there was no longer certainty in cause and effect. The different consequences flowing from any event after the first unfelt changes about 10 years earlier suddenly became interchangeable.

Effects varied from the irritating to the profound. You could spend a weekend painting your house and find it unpainted days later or suddenly find yourself in hospital as a result of the alternate possibility that you had fallen off the ladder.

Strange things had already happened but had been treated by the press as silly season stories. The first major occurrence in the UK came with the 2008 world cup scheduled for the new Wembley Stadium. Three days before the event it disappeared and a brand spanking new National sports arena and football stadium appeared on a green field site near Birmingham.

The significance of this event was also missed as everyone assumed it was just another case of New Labour incompetence and indecision.

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Lonely - 2

As he filled Saffy's water bowl he thought about the day ahead. He was very lucky to have such a full life and to have so many friends.

The clatter of bottles followed by the doorbell told him that the first of his day's visitors was here already. Hello George. Lovely weather. Yes said the milkman, that's £12.80 please. It was so nice to start the day with a cheery human contact.

An hour later he went down to the Post Office to get his pension. He hung back pretending to look at the stationery alongside the queuing aisle, until he heard Cashier number five please. He liked Joanna; he knew her name from her plastic nametag; she reminded him of his eldest whom he had not seen since she went to live in Dundee. He told Joanna he expected to hear from her very soon; and from his sister in Basingstoke he had not heard from for over four years. "That'll be nice" said Joanna. The light over her counter went on. Cashier number five please.

Back for a spot of lunch before getting changed to go to the presentation. The invite had come in the mail. He got so many nice invitations in his mail. Only last week he had gone to a lovely membership presentation at a health club, and two weeks before that to a hotel for a free review of his finances. People were just so kind. Today's was from the local Honda dealer about a new car deal.

The video about the new range was very interesting. Afterwards, when he was standing with his glass of sweet white wine the salesman asked if he had seen anything of interest. "I can't possibly afford anything like that on my pension" he said. The salesman was very pleasant. "No problem, You just stand there and finish your wine" he said. So he stood and sipped his wine and watched the other attendees talking to the salesmen. When they had all gone he put down his glass and wandered home.

He fed Saffy but must have been a bit slow as she snarled and nipped at his hand. Never mind, it had been a good day and he had met so many nice people.

The dustmen came tomorrow. He must be up early to greet them. Maybe the post would bring something interesting.

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Lonely - 3

His family was sports mad. Not actually playing sport, they were couch potatoes and he was easily the fittest one in his household. But they loved watching it, tennis, football, swimming, skiing, rowing, athletics, snooker, cricket, and even golf on occasions. Hours and hours on end. They knew everything there was to know and would talk about it endlessly.

They had sat all evening watching athletics, apparently important as a run up to some really big event, World Championships or something? They were constantly analysing, so and so has not has a good season, someone else is past their best and should retire while he's on top. He would have liked to join in but the athletes all looked the same and he did not know who was who. He cast about for something to say; something to make him feel included. Is that Yank woman with the long nails running today? His family ignored him, it was time for the big race and he was talking nonsense.

He went out, sat on the garden seat and listened to the birds while the crowd roared Dwayne Chambers home on the television.

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Barry’s DIY murder class

Good morning DIY killers.

Are you bored with the same old methods of murdering your spouse? do you long for some really novel method? Well you can put away that oh so 1980s Paraquat or that positively Victorian axe because today I am going to show you a really super little method that costs very little.

I call this the Sarah Bernhart method. I'm afraid you do need a rear wheel drive car for this one although I will be showing you a front wheel drive alternative a little later in the series. The only significant expense is about 12 feet of seat belt webbing, you should be able to get this from your local motor factor for about £15.

Fasten the seat belt on yourself and mark the point where the belt touches the buckle. Now carefully glue one end of the webbing on the back of the belt at that point and put two rivets through unobtrusively to secure. Now make a slot in the car floor just above the prop shaft and wide enough to take the webbing. A metal nibbler attachment on an electric drill is ideal for this. If you don't have one, drill a series of holes and join with a hacksaw.

Use a file to smooth the slot, this is important to avoid cutting through the webbing, and cover the edges with duck tape. Tape the other end of the webbing around the prop shaft and wrap it round with a brief pull on the starter motor with fourth gear engaged. Finally, arrange the belt so it is as unobtrusive as possible and the webbing will be drawn across the body when the seat belt is put on.

Now when your spouse drives away after fastening the seat belt the webbing will tighten around the prop shaft, which in turn, with the other end firmly secured at the seat belt buckle, will tighten it around his/her neck.

Next week: inexpensive methods of incinerating your children.

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Tolerant Britain

I was taken short the other day but the son was having one of his two hour baths and the wife was in the downstairs loo. I hurried out to our dusty but still functioning outside toilet.

There were two blokes having sex in there. Nice little cottage you have here said the one with his mouth free. Thanks I said, glad you like it, but, er, look chaps, I don't want to deny your human rights or anything but could I get to the facilities? I'm desperate Ok, said free mouth but don't be too long and make sure you leave it clean. Lets go outside for a minute Joe, its's my turn anyhow. Nice blokes, not bolshie like some would have been.

Stopped off at a little shop for a few things the next day. As I was waiting at the counter a skinny bloke in a suit walked up. Tolerance Enforcement he said, showing me his id card. One of the 16 million public servants in the UK who make their living ensuring a fair and inclusive society. I notice you have only brought a small packet of cornflakes sir he went on whereas one would have thought a large packet would be more cost effective. Could your purchase of a low value item be at all connected with the fact that the proprietor of this establishment is from an ethnic minority?

No really I babbled, I just like to eat different cereals every week rather than the same thing for two weeks, I mean... The said proprietor had an embarassed 'sorry about this' look but knew better than to interfere. In the end I left with five jumbo sized packets of Cocoa Pops. I hate Cocoa Pops.

When I got home there was a bloke in the kitchen helping himself to our best cutlery. I have a complaint he said, taking me through to the lounge. He tapped the little sign 'valuables' on the left hand cupboard door of the dresser. I wasted my own very valuable time looking there he said when in fact your valuables... holding out my father's gold watch and the antique silver milk jug, ...were in the right hand cupboard. You are aware of the provisions of the burglar's rights act 2008 are you?

I'm really sorry I said, I don't know how that happened, I'll make sure, if I ever get any more valuables, that their location is properly labelled in future. See you do he said, picking up our video and walking off.

The other week we had the village fete which is always enjoyable, if a bit low budget and tatty. The local brick works and building firms kindly supply the lorries for the procession of floats that goes up our road. The procession was headed by the float with golden stars representing EU unity. Very professional; they get an EU handout I believe. Then the black Britain float, the Islamic Britain float, the gay pride float, The cultural diversity celebration float, the Jewish Britain float, the.... .

The last float, Hindu Britain, had gone by. I wondered aloud why the school or the parish church was not doing one this year. They wanted to said the manager of a local building firm standing next to me, but we ran out of lorries

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Deja vu

Not quite sure what is was he gave me. Not the stuff we normally took anyhow.

The high did not last long at all and after a short time the sense of unreality stopped and things seemed normal. Disappointing considering what I had paid. I just felt drowsy and soon nodded off. I woke up.

I was sitting in the old comfy chair. The evening sun was shining in through the window and my leg had gone to sleep. I got up stiffly to go out. And woke up.

I was sitting in the old comfy chair. The evening sun was shining in through the window and my leg had gone to sleep. I got up stiffly to go out. And woke up.

I was sitting in the old comfy chair. The evening sun was shining in through the window and my leg had gone to sleep. I got up stiffly to go out. And woke up.

I was sitting in the old comfy chair. The evening sun was shining in through the window and my leg had gone to sleep. I got up stiffly to go out. And woke up.

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A capital fart

It was the beginning of the thirtieth year of world recession and of the many great ideas advanced for cheering the population up, it was the one selected by the UN secretary general, Richard Reid. (Formerly the 'shoe bomber', I told you our boy would make good).

An international farting competition between the world's capital cities.

No, not another boring human farting contest, it was the city itself that had to produce the loudest and most realistic fart. There were certain rules; no electronics or purpose built sound devices, a maximum budget of £10k and, most importantly, the sound had to be produced by employing a well-known landmark.

Kuala Lumpur was a hot favourite with their idea for a big greased rubber sheet between the Petronas towers. It was reckoned that when the central orifice was opened with the wind blowing off the Klang river it would top 120 dB and sound like the emission of the finest gaseous products that the curries of the region could have engendered from a million synchronised bottoms.

The contest was wholeheartedly supported by London's dribblingly demented nonagenarian mayor Ken Livingstone. A great contrast from his killjoy attitude during the millennium celebrations but then Alzheimer's had greatly improved his character; everybody said so. London was the first to come up with the tube method, much to the vexation of several other cities including Moscow, New York and Paris who wished they had thought of it first.

The underground was largely in mothballs, there having been almost no employment in the city or anywhere else for decades, not paying enough to justify the cost of a ticket anyhow. An army of half starved volunteers worked round the clock for the glory of their city (and the free bread and soup) to convert it into a huge metropolitan farting machine. They blocked and sealed all the tube's entrances with wood, mattresses, plastic sheeting and anything else they could get their hands on. They made huge sealing discs of similar materials to fix to the front of the trains to make, as near as possible, an airtight seal to the tunnels walls.

The requisite orifice was to be the Post Office Tower, which had similarly stood empty for decades. They cut through the basement wall to connect it to Goodge street tube station, blew out all the famous rotating restaurant windows and removed the lifts and the top and bottom doors from both lift shafts. Finally, they partially blocked these passages again with mattresses dipped in old engine oil for that realistic sphincter vibrating mucusy sound.

It was ready. Four trains joined together departed from each of the farthest flung corners of the network, from Amersham and Cockfosters and Upminster and twelve others, and travelled towards the centre at full speed. As they passed certain points others started off from different places on a similar radius. It was a masterpiece of scheduling and organisation that London Underground and its alter egos had only dreamed of when they were supposed to be supplying a service.

The pressure gauges at Goodge Street showed little at first, then began to rise faster and faster as all the rushing trains, one in every tunnel, passed into zone 2. Would it hold? Air began whistling from inadequately sealed entrances. As the trains roared into zone 1, the current meters topping out as they struggled against the backpressure, the huge makeshift doors to the Post Office Tower were flung open. The enormous release of air roared up the lift shafts and the emergency stair wells over the oiled mattresses.

The colossal fart broke all the windows within a radius of 2 miles, killed all the pigeons in Trafalgar Square stone dead (some said that was the senile Livingstone's secret agenda all along) and was heard as far away as Reading. The sound slowly changed, bubbling realistically and dropping in tone until...

A huge fountain, thousands of nauseating tons of it, a tidal wave of black water and mud and asbestos dust and vomit and old newspapers and spit and sweet wrappers and fag ends and chewing gum and discarded shoes and old McDonalds takeaways and dead rats and missed bits of suiciders and every conceivable sort of litter and detritus and filth from a hundred years of history burst from the PO Tower windows and rained down burying the abandoned and boarded-up shops in a radius from Tottenham Court Road to Saint Pauls.

Old London had followed through.

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A man in Hemel Hempstead invented a working time portal and invited bids for it from the world's major companies. The commercial potential of such a device was incalculable and there were few large companies that did not attempt, either alone or as part of a consortium, to win the bid.

In the end there was no real contest. We all know there is one world beating company that is so enormously successful, so collossaly rich, that it could buy up the next eight largest companies. Cresse and Blockwell.

C and B knew exactly what it planned to do with its acquisition. Soup division profits had been slowing in recent years and they desperately needed a new range. What better than that fabled soup of all soups? the one everyone on the planet had heard of but nobody had ever tasted. Primordial soup.

They sent the portal back, through the Cambrian period (they were to licence an inferior later product to a smaller rival, it sold in the shops as Cempball's Cambrian soup) and on into the Precambrian until the suction pipe finally came to rest in the thick substance they sought.

Primordial soup was high in protein and low in fat, thick and creamy and totally delicious. Not really being either animal or vegetable it appealed to vegetarians and others alike. It was totally organic and free of additives and it sold by the millions of gallons.

The more sensible warned against destroying the source from which we all sprang but, well, you all know what sense is worth when there is money to be made by big companies. There was little effect at first but as the huge oceans of the soup began to be drained so too did the variety of genetic material leading down through the aeons to our present day begin to diminish.

Diversity on our world started to fall at an accelerating rate. Everyone and everything started to look more and more alike. Elephants were no longer huge things with big ears and trunks. They were moderately sized round things with slightly larger ears and noses than the smaller round things that were men.

The thing about changing history is that nobody can possibly know it has been changed. So as the decades went by the commercial men among the increasing spherical and liquid entity that was man, now almost indistinguishable from all the other rudimentary plants and animals on the Earth, continued to scorn the unsubstantiated scaremongering of the scientists.

And so it came to pass that as mankind enjoyed its rich and delicious soup, all of life on earth disappeared back into it. As the first day dawned on the twenty-second century, the sun shone down on an Earth devoid of any life whatever. Scattered in the seas and on the rocks and among the curious artefacts of unknown origin there was only primordial soup that would perhaps, just possibly, one day, give rise to it.

That was very unlikely. After all, the soup had been there unchanged since the start of the inaptly named Proterozoic and nothing had ever evolved from it.

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Road signs

It seemed singularly pointless.

Some vandalism is half understandable; having a go at a public phone box when it contains the third non-functioning phone you have tried; those big swirly letters which I suppose represent some form of creativity to the morons that produce them; and having once been a small boy I can certainly understand the thrill of a well aimed stone through a window.

But this was really stupid. Someone had gone along my regular route in Sussex altering road signs. If the results spelt out anything remotely funny or rude I could have understood why somebody would go to all that trouble, but they didn't. The sign for the B2192 to Ringmer read 'B ngXer'. 'Ringme 'or 'Bin me' would at least have been very slightly funny. Same with the sign to Uckfield, instead of the obvious it had 'Ook i ldX'

I didn't think too much of it at first, but on every trip there was at least one more altered sign and I got to wondering if there was some pattern to them. So I began jotting them down in the back of the little mileage log I keep on the dashboard.

It was only when I had to put my business mileage into my accounts spreadsheets at the end of the quarter that I looked again at the pages of scrawled names. I had not seen a new one for some weeks so the sequence, if there was one, was presumably complete. I typed the names into Excel. There were about 50 names beginning:

Ringmer B ngXer
Newick N wiokX
Heathfield HXathA e d

and so on..

Odd they all had that X. I spent many days trying to figure out the puzzle before I solved it.

It was actually very trivial in the end and I can't think how I missed it. I made up a column of the positions N of the Xs in the original word using the FIND function.

Ringmer B ngXer 5
Newick N wiokX 7
Heathfield HXathA e d 2


Then I used REPEAT and LEN functions to pad all the altered names to 12 characters and the IF and MID functions to take the Nth non blank character not counting the X.

Ringmer B ngXer 5 r
Newick N wiokX 7 space
Heathfield HXathA e d 2 a


Finally I sorted all the rows by original name. After days of trying, success. The 4th column spelt out a message:

You sad bastard havent you got anything better to do

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The fly and...

Darn it to smithereens. Always liked those old horror movies but never expected to be one. I am living 'The fly' in real life. Well, not 'The fly' exactly, but the reality doesn't have the same ring to it so 'The fly' will do.

Wife ordered me to throw away all my beloved accumulation of junk; my collection of washing machine parts; all my old hobby electronics bits; the spares for much loved vans and motorcycles I had in the 70s; the ancient tennis video games and so on that I just knew I would need some day. Says we can never find the barbecue utensils or get the lawnmower out with all 'that junk' in the sheds.

So I resolved I would use it, all of it down to the very last 7400, to make something really spectacular. Watching 'The fly' with Geoff Goldbum on TV gave me the idea. Matter transporters are no problem to us geniuses (or is that genii?) and I soon had the prototype set up in the back garden.

I did not want to share Geoff's fate so I cleaned the primary chamber (made from two old washing machines) thoroughly and then checked again, after I closed the door, that there was nothing in there with me before I pressed the button.

Sod. The stupid film got it wrong or my transporter did not work in quite the same fashion. Mine was two-way. As I transported to the secondary chamber (made from three old spin dryers) which I had not swept, the collection of creepy-crawlies in it was transported the other way and of course our molecules all got mixed up in the middle somewhere.

One fly? Where do these people live? Here in Sussex in the summer you have to empty the wildlife out of your shoes in the morning. Through my plethora of tiny insect (and arachnid and crustacean and myriapod) eyes I could see bits of me running and hopping about all over the garden.

My left foot bumping against the fence (the tiny woodlouse brain in charge had not quite got the hang of it) started next door's dog off. It came bounding over jumping against the fence and knocking over the primary transporter. Triggered something. The darn machine went mad, sucking in everything in range of both transporters, mixing them all up and spitting them out of the other one.

That Goldblum was lucky! half man, half fly indeed! Now I find I am sharing my body and my mind with five flies, two mosquitoes, ten garden spiders, fourteen earthworms, three millipedes, several centipedes, eight slugs, three garden snails, numerous woodlice, an earwig, seven sparrows, two starlings, two blackbirds, a cat, next door's dog, two grass snakes and that old plum tree that never produces any plums.

You wait till the wife gets home. I shan't half give her a piece of my mind. This is all her fault!

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All stories copyright xoggoth