All stories copyright xoggoth

 

Guess what I've got

She had cupped hands. Guess what I've got. Dunno. Go on guess. I really can't think. Oh go on guess. Erm, a very small Allosaurus. Oh don't be silly, go on have a proper guess. Oh, erm, a pencil sharpener. Why would I have a pencil sharpener? go on guess properly, its something you'll really really like. Catherine Zeta Jone's bumhole. I shall get really annoyed in a minute and you shan't have it. Erm, is it er, um, a watch?. Wrong, look!. It was a very small Allosaurus. I said that!. Oh sod, I thought it was a T. Rex, I must have picked the wrong one up in the shop.

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Fractals

Fractals are dangerous things. As the ancients knew so well; some symbols have power, power to change, power to dismiss, power to summon. With patterns of every conceivable combination being generated on Mandelbrot screen savers around the world it was only a matter of time before the final pattern was cast that was to be the opening, and soon after the end of all things. It happened in Warsaw, the pixels fell into place and it was free. The world was gone.

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Copies

Copies are often better than the originals. Cheddar cheese from Cheddar is rubbery, Pizza from Italy is dull compared to the familiar US derived product and Swiss cuckoo clocks are complete crap. Saddam Hussain found this out ten years ago when he went to a meeting and found 5 guns trained on him. We're sorry Saddam, said his generals, but your no 1 double has a silkier moustache than you and he has promised us Luncheon Vouchers. Unknown to American 'Intelligence' there have actually been 8 SHs since the first Gulf war.

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Taking the biscuit

Being an incorrigible cheapskate I often rent some very cheap dives when away on contract.

I distinctly overdid it once in Chatham. It had seemed pleasant enough when I viewed the bedsit on a sunny day when the windows had been open, but when I moved in on a cold dismal day, the dark tattiness of the place and the stink of dry rot told me that I had fallen below even my very low standards.

I always enjoy the first few weeks of a new contract, trying out the local pubs and so on, but I was distinctly dubious of going out that evening and leaving my brand new laptop around in that place; perhaps I could conceal it somewhere. Casting around for a hiding place I lifted up a loose floorboard section I had noticed in the closet.

There were three biscuit tins beneath, all McVities Summer Mix, one between each of the floor joists. Rather gingerly, half expecting to find used syringes, I pulled one out, pulled off the sellotape sealing the lid and opened it. I was really not sure what it was at first, but then I did not get a proper look initially, the stink was awful. With the box on the sill of the open window I looked again. Something black and shrivelled among some dried up flowers; a German sausage? a dead rat? I shook the box and the tiny head and empty sockets came upright. A human foetus. Or a premature baby, I was not quite sure where the one ended and the other began.

I never got to stay there a single night. The police arranged a B&B for me while they pulled the place apart. I heard there were seven of them altogether, all in identical biscuit tins. After a lot of argument I managed to get my deposit back off the landlord and got somewhere rather more expensive but a lot pleasanter the next week.

And that was it, or so I thought, just a macabre contractor's away-from-home tale to break the monotony of the usual boring contractor's away-from-home tales, like how it once took 5 hours to drive from Sussex to Birmingham.

The sequel came three years later in Cambridge. I rented quite a decent place in a shared house there and had high hopes for the fortyish woman upstairs. To my total amazement an encounter in the shared kitchen led the few short stairs to the intended destination. Being so rarely in luck these days I was not equipped but she did not seem bothered.

Afterwards we chatted about nothing in particular, what we did, places we had lived and so on. She had once rented a crummy place in Chatham too. I was a bit worried we had taken no precautions. She was nonchalant, she said there was no need to worry about that.

She offered me a McVities Summer Mix biscuit.

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The loss of the Anna Deerie

The late September sun sparkled off the gleaming white paintwork of the Anna Deerie as she rounded the harbour wall. She was exactly fifty five years old and her condition was a testament to the care his father had lavished on her. He knew her age to the day because, as his parents had told him so many many times, his father had collected her, brand spanking new, from the boatyard in the morning before rushing off to the little island hospital for his delivery, fifty five years ago today.

He turned South, screwing up his eyes in the sun sparkling on the water and felt optimism for the first time since his mother had gone two weeks earlier. He had come back for his father's funeral eight months earlier, intending a brief break. Walking the stone promenade that bleak winter he realised that he had nothing to go back to and had quit his city job to run deliveries between the islands as his father had done. Maybe in time he would find some of the contentment his father had had.

He passed Caipel Tor, its head still shrouded in morning mist. As a boy it had seemed a mysterious place. Although he had climbed it more than once and knew the view across the water to Claenig so well, he had always felt when approaching it, that, this time, there would be an uncharted land of strange adventure beyond the peak. In a sense there was, the last time he had stood up there. It was on the eve of his departure to London and that had seemed, to an eighteen-year-old from a small island, like an adventure indeed. Back then he had had everything, good money, a great career before him, girlfriends and a frenetic social life in the big city.

Approaching Claenig. Attracted by the unseasonably sunny weather there were a few families, locals and a few die-hard late tourists, in their sweaters and anoraks on the small beach at the top end of town. Once he and Charlotte had played with their own children on a small beach in the Caribbean. Once too, he had cruised with them off that same beach in a rented cruiser, watching well to do families playing with their children just as these families did now on the beach of this small Scottish island, promising that one day the cruiser would be their own and they would be able to afford exotic holidays every year.

He tied up in the little harbour and trundled the sack barrow up the steep granite road, delivering the mail from the mainland and the personal items he ferried around the islands. They were friendly although as an outsider, his BBC English scarcely touched by re-immersion in his boyhood roots, he never felt entirely included. But then after those early years of bachelorhood and the newness of his marriage he had never felt entirely included anywhere. He recalled the excitement he had felt when he was in the running for promotion to management. In Mile's office. "I'm sorry your application has not been successful this time round, you are one of the company's most valued employees, it was just that we felt that you're not quite ready for it yet" There was always that "we felt" or "but" or "it's just that". He knew what they meant. It was a people thing. He was well liked in the office and had friends outside, but.. he just ran out. He would laugh, joke, argue, and persuade but then some reservoir inside would run dry and there was nothing that could refill it but time alone. His friends and colleagues tolerated his occasional moodiness, "H is on one of his blue periods again" but it did not go unnoticed at the higher levels.

"Take care now, there's rain coming" said Mrs. Blunt the postmistress as he left. He untied the Anna. Charlotte had said something very like that to him as he left for a meeting in Leicester on the very last day of his marriage. He knew they were in a rut, isn't that the norm with every marriage of twenty-five years? He knew too that she was disappointed that the promising young man of twenty-one she had met that night in the West End had turned into a man of fifty who was going nowhere. He still had hopes that with the children gone they could make a new start. When he got back the next evening she was gone. She had made her new start with someone else and he had never even noticed the signs.

He headed North past the Scallop Rocks. The rain had started to blow in from that direction and the sea was broken in sudden pattering squalls. There was nothing but grey ahead. Soon it closed in until he inhabited a little world of grey. In every direction. He shut off the engine and went into the cabin to finish off the whisky bottle. When he was sufficiently drunk he opened the locker and took out the axe.

The shower passed over in a very short time and the late September sun sparkled off the gleaming white paintwork of the Anna Deerie as she slid beneath the waves. She was exactly fifty-five years old and her condition was a testament to the care his father had lavished on her.

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Providing for Sarah

I have done all I can. Sarah came to me back in 05 or 06, forget which. Just so tired now and my mind is hazy, dimming toward a final extinction.

It was summer then too. The bell rang; too insistently to ignore. The bloke was smartly dressed, elderly and looked as ill as I have seen anyone look outside of a coffin. Even in the bright July sunshine his complexion appeared dull grey. He held an expensive looking bunch of flowers. "Hello" he said "Sorry to bother you but I wonder if I could look around, I have..." He paused, apparently searching for words "...connections here"

"Its not really convenient at the moment". It was of no interest to me if this sick old bloke was an improbable conman or thief and I no longer gave a damn if people saw how I lived, the discarded underclothes, the unwashed plates, all the dirt and detritus and stench of a existence spent mostly in sleep. Since the wife died and then the illness I just never wanted to see anyone. In the beginning I had had intentions. Eating out of a tin, I would say to myself "Tomorrow, for sure, I'll start to get myself out of this". Before going back to bed. After a few months I just ate from the tin, skipped the intentions, and went back to bed, It saved energy.

"Actually" he said, "Its really just the garden I'd like to see". Some spark of interest was left in me. "Well ok" I said "come round the side". He seemed to have a purpose and with little conversation made a slow halting path to the bottom of the overgrown garden. Looking around as if to get his bearings he laid the flowers just behind the greenhouse with its broken panes and then stood silently looking at the ground. After a minute he came to. He gestured at the long unkempt grass. "Sarah". And walked off a little quicker than he had come, as though some burden heavier than the flowers had gone from him. I just stood staring at the ground.

Maybe I should have called the police; not really sure why I didn't, but for some odd reason the whole affair seemed like something private. I spent a couple of hours that afternoon with the fork and spade but found nothing more macabre than broken glass and earthworms. It was the most effort I had expended in a year and it left me aching but less depressed than I had felt in all that time. That evening I watched the news on TV. Does not sound much I know, but it was the first time I had had any interest in the world for so long.

Next morning I walked down there and, standing in the mud, felt less alone. "Who are you" I whispered "and why are you here?" Although there was no sound except the rustle of the wind in the Beech hedge and the murmur of traffic on the main road, an amused female voice "Sarah and I'm here for you". I started to stop by Sarah's place several times a day after that. I left little bouquets of the nicer weeds. I told her of all my grief and my loss and loneliness as I had never been able to tell anyone living or real. Sarah listened and understood and comforted and it seemed with every confidence another little piece of my cloud lifted from me. Within six months I had started to live in the world again, get out, rebuild friendships. I kept on talking to Sarah, my new life's steady companion, leaving proper flowers from the improving garden, sitting by her little patch come rain or sun, no longer conscious of any strangeness in talking to a square of earth with nothing under it but earthworms.

I had five or six good years with Sarah. Two months ago they found the cancer was back and it's everywhere it seems. Nothing they can do and I have been discharged from the hospital. Sent home to die. I told Sarah of course and as usual she was my strength and helped me to accept. When I awoke this morning to the July sun the certainty was solid inside me. It was the last time I would ever wake. So hard to get out of bed. At the window I looked at the garden and the little area behind the greenhouse. Panic, not for myself, I am resigned to it now, but what will happen to Sarah when I am gone? Left alone down there. Who else will understand, bring her flowers and talk to her?

There is a chap in the next village who lost his wife a few months ago. Sees nobody and has really let himself go I heard. It took me almost an hour this morning to make myself presentable in my decent suit and as long again to make the short walk to the bus stop. I walked up the weedy front path, carrying the flowers Mrs. Avery gave me and rang the bell. After a long delay, my fourth ring brought an unshaven man in a dirty vest to the door. There was a stale odour of unwash.

"Hello" I said "Sorry to bother you but.."

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Suitable Applicants

It was only the total unpopularity of the established parties that let them in. People still remembered Blair's New Labour far too well. The brief and scandal ridden Conservative term of office after that ended in a vote of no confidence and brought back all the bad memories of the Tories too. The Lib-Dems were far too pro EU for what was now a totally anti-EU public.

Who else was there?. The Rainbow Coalition gained power. It comprised the Animal Democratic Party (the political wing of the Animal Liberation Front who had only recently joined the democratic fold by putting their wire cutters beyond use) and the Monster Raving Loony Party. They produced a flood of new legislation to ensure equality for previous victims of gross discrimination and these were difficult times for business owners.

I ran a small office stationary supply business and needed a new secretary. The applicants were a person of unknown sex called Mr. Yaffle Yaffle Cream-Cake-McToasty and a small golden hamster named Doris. I currently had 100% sane human staff and knew I would have to choose one of these, or someone/something very similar to avoid penalties under the Employment (Non human and Insane Persons Anti-Discrimination) Act 2009.

I interviewed Doris first. Doris's application had been written on her behalf by her assigned local government Anti-Discrimination Officer and was quite impressive considering. Doris was one year old and very inquisitive. She liked to eat bran flakes and Dandelion heads, to run in her wheel and chew the carpet.

I cleared my throat "What does Doris..." and received a sharp frown from her ADO. "Oh sorry" I muttered "Now Doris, what qualities do you think you can bring to this job?". Doris continued grooming. "Erm, where do you see your career going in five years time Doris?". Doris started stuffing apple chunks into her cheek pouches.

I showed them out. "Thank you for coming Doris, we will be in touch very shortly."

I had a problem understanding Mr McToasty's application. It consisted of a pork pie inside a goldfish bowl with HAMMOCK written on it. I had to interview him in the corridor because he refused to stop sucking the fire hose. "Thank you for coming Mr McToastie. Now, tell me about your career so far". Mr McToastie beamed and played with the cabbage tied to his pony tail. Then he closed his eyes (his lids had eyes drawn on them in coloured felt tip pen) and shouted "Damaraland, Namaqualand and Helligoland, yes please cheese please"

I took Doris on, she seemed less trouble. She was no good at all at any secretarial duties so I had to do all her work myself, but she was company during all the evenings I had to work late to catch up.

Happy days!.

In the next election of course, the two party coalition lost their majority and only retained power by bringing other minority parties on board. The Green Party, The Extreme Disability Party and The Children's Democratic Party.

Doris is elderly now of course, she sleeps on her keyboard most of the time. Mr X, an anacephalic, is in charge of despatch. His iron lung gets in the way of the packing machine although it does not really matter as he does no packing anyhow, just drools. Melissa answers the phone, except when her mother had to feed or change her of course. I gather the few potential customers that ring in now mostly ask for deaaah, dah dah dah. Pity we don't have those in stock.

My business is sunk unless my salesman can bring us in some big orders, although as he is a small rainforest in the Amazon Basin I am not holding my breath.

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Back to the garden

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
"Woodstock" Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Creation myths. Never had much time for them when it might have mattered. Odd how very similar many of them were, Chinese, Greek, Mayan, Aborigine. Man created as a brutish animal. Some god or gods takes pity on him, Prometheus or Inca, it doesn't matter, and brings him the precious gift of knowledge that raises him above the other beasts, takes him from innocence and out of the garden.

Maybe it was people like me, the rationalists, the thinkers, the ones who will never believe what they don't see, who did the damage. We forgot the Inca's words, we forget the Inca; the one thing he had commanded us never to do. And with our scorn we made those others forget it too.

Dumbing down. That's what they called it in the beginning. The lamentable tendency to follow the lowest common denominator of education and intelligence. Back then it seemed no more than a marketing ploy by the fast buck companies, appeal to the common man, appeal to the commonest type of man, and make the most money.

It has accelerated frighteningly since then. Music was the first to go. All those talentless bland singers, the monotonous rap music. Not just the symptoms of a poor state education or youthful rebellion as we first thought. Towards the end we did not get even that. I saw some of the last live acts of tuneless humming and whistling on TV before it went out for good because nobody knew how to make it work any more.

The spark has gone from nearly all of us all now. Old Ted has done odd jobs for us for years. Came to fix a broken window yesterday. It was still broken an hour later. Ted was sitting by the pond with the glass and putty. "I don't know what to do" was all he could say, over and over. I reached to put my hand on his shoulder but the gesture triggered a snarl and a baring of teeth. I watched him shambling off back to his den on the other side of the village, a village of broken windows, overgrown gardens, of dirt and the beginnings of decay.

There are still many men left. They find sustenance in the derelict shops and supermarkets and the untended fields. Like birds who return each day to feed at bird tables; taking without understanding the source of the bounty. When those are empty the dying will begin. Maybe it is for the best.

I am the last real man that I know of. Perhaps the rationalists like me were left to last so we could see what we had done. Maybe the last of all men, who knows? I sniff the wind and think of food. It is hard to really think of much else today. The Inca has finally come to take back his gift from me too.

Vague memories of words circle in my head before they too are gone.

Earth to earth
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

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Your little god is pooh and creepy too

It must have been about my third week at St. Crispin's Middle School. I remember complaining bitterly to my mother that weekend about the unfairness of it all.

I got scant sympathy. The matter I was complaining about was just an insignificant part of the strangeness that was tearing the adults' world apart in those early days leading to the second big bang and before the revelation. Every certainty, every rule, every scientific fact, every universal law was being torn from them and they had no idea, when the last faint illusions blew away, what would be revealed. Most of them clung to their daily routines because they did not know what else to do.

We kids took it all in our stride of course. That was just the way the world was. And what it was, just then, I wailed, was SO UNFAIR. Most of the other kids had proper little gods. All I had, pointing to Buddy whom I had previously loved dearly, was that fat little man in a nappy. Buddy showed no sense of insult. He just floated there in mid air, a slightly transparent Buddha about 18 inches high in his customary lotus position. As always he smiled serenely. Serene was all he did. Occasionally he would look up and smile serenely at me. On a very few occasions he opened his hands in a world encompassing, serene gesture. Mostly he just sat in lotus position looking serene.

Jason had a Pan. It made him the most popular kid in the class. Jason's Pan, usually drunkenly egged on by Krita's bloated little Bachus with its veiny red nose, would taunt Miss Akram something awful. It would sit on the little chalk shelf below the blackboard fondling its disproportionately large willy or perch on her desk and waggle its goaty bottom at her, the hairy cheeks held open with two cloven hooves to afford a better view of its wrinkly fundament. Poor Miss Akram. A devout Muslim, she did not last long, unable to cope with the salaciousness or the implied idolatry of the things she desperately pretended not to see. I heard much later she had had a breakdown. Lots of adults did then. We did not learn much in school in those days, but then it hardly mattered any more, nothing did.

Kelly had a Zeus. Zeus was darn good at Miss Akram baiting too. Aaron had brought his rabbit Kylie in to show us that day. Miss Akram was explaining how rabbits play a part in the food chain when Zeus descended in a yellow shower ("that's piddle that is" said the uncouth David West), materialised into a buck rabbit and had knowledge of Kylie in front of the entire class. "Please Miss, what's it doing?" Miss Akram was crimson. "It's er er scratching its back for it because it was itching" It didn't half scratch quickly. Learned later that Kylie was actually a he, but Zeus was not the sort to be too concerned about that. Kylie gave birth to identical twins, a raven and a small hat-stand named Clarence. There was little sense left in the world even in those early days of the end.

Nearly all the other kids had proper little gods. Ahmed's Loki was brilliant too, always playing nasty little tricks on Miss Akram and hiding her chalk. Peter H had a hideous looking Kali; her and Sandy's equally ferocious Shiva were always fighting, hacking bits off each other with swords in a way we found endlessly fascinating. Falon's Jahweh was awesome on the few occasions it appeared. Always somewhere high up, from which it dispensed its wrath in tiny thunderbolts. We all escaped the Geography SATS test when it inflicted the exam papers with a plague of boils. Some kids had little gods that nobody could identify but they all looked decent or did something interesting.

It was only me and George that had rotten little gods. "Do you know why your god always looks like that?" demanded Ray. "My mum says it's because he's serene and is at peace with the universe" I tried. "No it isn't. Your god looks like that because he's busy POOING into his nappy!" They were all laughing at me and I was near to tears again.

Only George had it worse. At least Buddy just sat there. George's Jesus was more active. Instead of a serene smile it had a perpetual look of love on its little bearded face. Whenever some kid got upset about something, Jesus would float over and lay a hand on their shoulder or arm and gaze at them with an expression of love. The verdict was unanimously scathing. "Your god is GAY". "It's like one of them pervy blokes mum warned me of" opined Kelly, "them that wants to look at your knickers". Some of the other boys had already looked at Kelly's knickers in the little place behind the skip that we weren't supposed to go. Boys with crap gods had no chance. Looking back I think that was the greatest injustice of all.

I am ashamed to say that in a desperate attempt to be one of the majority I joined in the condemnation of George's little Jesus. "It's really creepy" I said "at least mine doesn't want to look at girls' knickers". It did not bring me the included status I desperately wanted. "Oh yes it does" shrilled Kelly "It's thinking of girls' knickers right now, and boys' pants too. It's just too busy at the moment POOING into its nappy to do anything about it!"

So me and George were outcasts and it threw us on each other's company. We would skulk around the edge of the playground, careful not to go too near the chuckling abyss that went in every direction but orange, and play lonely little games of tag. We talked of our welcome back into the fold when our gods would do something interesting that was not creepy or pervy or poohy. We indulged little fantasies about how Buddy and Jes would do something brave and save us all from a horrible fate so the others would all say how marvellous they really were and Kelly would show us her knickers.

In time the situation would have been resolved but those were not normal times and time itself was no longer normal. The adults went mad in increasing numbers. There were no places left in psychiatric hospitals; they had filled up early when concepts like full and empty meant something. The grown ups saw every certainty they had believed and trusted in torn up and they could not cope. In those last days before the revelation you could count your fingers and then count again and no longer get the same result nor even be sure if they were the same fingers nor even what and where your fingers were, nor even if fingers existed.

Us kids didn't care so much, we couldn't count too well anyhow. For us kids to begin with, as long as we could still go home to our parents and have our tea and watch Sponge Bob Square Pants on TV it was enough. When you are very young and so much in life is still strange a little more strangeness makes no difference. After a while none of us had homes to return to. There were no teachers now. In some way we did not understand we were cared for. There at St. Crispin's Middle School formerly on Westgate Hill in Crawley. We played and sat in our classrooms. In the evenings we would wander forlornly to the school gates and gaze out through the railings to see only ourselves gazing out. Nobody came.

The revelation was only for us children and came soon after that. I was in an infinite space filled with the presence of my Buddha and felt at peace. Were the others with their own little gods now grown to encompass a whole universe? I knew it was so. I knew only children had the innocence, the open mindedness to accept the way that things really were and in so doing to create their own future. Only children could be totally honest.

I felt enveloped by the Buddha. I felt his serenity. I smelt... The Buddha shuddered and opened his eyes. "Sorry to have ignored you love", he said "but I have been somewhat preocccupied of late with having this most enormous dump in my nappy". His hand crept into my pants.

Far away a booming laugh like a roll of thunder. The laugh of a Zeus. Beneath it the voice of a common Crawley girl.

"Told you so" said Kelly.

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A disappointing man

It was roughly roundish and, in the brightly coloured shiny red paper, looked very mysterious. "Oooh" she said "thanks every so much, you are thoughtful". She unwrapped it eagerly. It was a plastic salad storage container. I am a sensitive man and I could could see she was only pretending to like it.

The following month there was that new Ray Bloomberg play on, his first in six years and his best ever so they said. She was really keen to go and kept mentioning it. Told her I had a surprise in store for her on Friday, something she had been wanting to go to. She was all dressed up for the West End theatre when I picked her up and as excited as a kid as we drove in that direction. She did not even pretend to be interested as we wandered around, which I thought most ungrateful. "But a couple of months ago you said you wanted to go late night shopping at the Blue Lake complex"

She reminded me of it when we were packing for our holiday. "I'm not going to get kitted out for Barbados and find myself in Bognor am I? I was a bit offended at that. "Don't be silly love, we planned this trip together didn't we?. Look, says Birmingham to Grantley Adams on the tickets doesn't it?" I gave her hers before the check in. She couldn't believe it. "What do you mean it's no longer valid?" Hers was one I had got off a mate who got taken sick at the last minute when he was planning to go last summer. I spent her half of the money on the banjo. "I can't think how that happened, must be some mix up at the travel agents" I gave her their address. No point having both tickets go to waste, mine was non-refundable too and it was hardly safe for her to go alone. I was sure she would be able to sort it out and we would meet later in Christchurch and have a laugh about it. Just in case. I gave her the address of my sister in Bognor. "They'll be really pleased to have you"

She was not speaking to me when I got back a fortnight later. I was so sorry. I had been so very insensitive. That combined with some really bad luck. More probably stupidity on my part, yes that was it, stupidity. I had been so stupid and thoroughly thoughtless too. Could she ever forgive me? Took me a while and a lot of humble pie to get back into her good books. A lot more humble pie with cream to get back into her bed. Not that I had any doubts. The joys of reunion. We had a very loving few months after that. Good nights out. Great nights in.

As she liked to say, her biological clock was ticking. Of course I understood. I pride myself on understanding women. Like I said earlier I'm a sensitive man. It was her birthday, her twenty ninth and it fell on a Saturday. Time to make a committment, make it a double celebration. I had arranged it all. Fancy forgetting I had an invite to stay with Graham in Edinburgh that week. Apparently they had just got back from the registry office. She was sitting, still Miss Cassidy, on the sofa with her friends when the roses I had sent her arrived. Really expensive they were and I had gone to a lot of trouble composing the message. "Have a nice birthday. Nice weather up here."

I did not see her again for thirty five years. What a very silly mistake on my part turning up at the hospice with an expensive box of mints for a close friend and then finding he had popped his cloggs some months earlier. What a happy coincidence finding her there. Well not happy exactly, finding her in that hospice of course, but I was sure she knew what I meant. Time heals and she was moving into that resigned phase. She had never been that bitter anyhow. "You always were a very disappointing man and I suppose I never expected much better so it didn't hurt all that much". That hurt. Still, I was glad I had not really hurt her. Maybe I had been a bit thoughtless and selfish. I had been young, we all learn don't we? I would make it up to her in her final weeks, try and be what I should have been to her all those years ago. She was alone in the world then and I went to see here regularly. I know it became a great comfort to her to know I would be there at the end.

She had only a little time left. Only the nurse was beside her as her remaining breaths on Earth counted down into single figures. I was in the pub. Time for another drink and then I really must be off. I looked at the shiny package on the bar stool next to me. A plastic lunchbox. I would have preferred a salad storage container for old time's sake but the little corner hardware shop had been out of them and I hated the parking in town. Maybe everyone was buying them, they made a nice present. I hoped she would be a bit more grateful this time.

Then again, probably not. I chucked it in a waste bin on my way home. Her imagined disinterest annoyed me so I decided to put off my visit till next week. Got back just in time for the start of the final on TV. In this life you can only do so much to try and please people I reckon.

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Intimate moments

Ah yes! Saturday mornings in bed. You know why I love Saturday mornings. Oh yes, I do like that. Turn over then. Oh that feels great! Ouch! What's this? A cheese grater! Do you have to put that there? I could have done myself a real injury. You're just getting back at me is because I haven't built that extra kitchen cabinet yet aren't you?

Put me right off that has. Go on then, turn over on your back. Hey that new diet is really great! Lost a bit too much off the top though if you ask me. You look like a skinny old bloke. Wait a minute. Where are my glasses? Oh hi Mr.Webster. How are your roses coming along this year? Sorry about that just now. No of course you can push kitchen utensils wherever you like, I wouldn't dream of letting the pupils at your Sunday school know. Not sure it does your little problem much good though. A bit more warning would be useful next time that's all. I know it's sometimes called a pencil, but I prefer not to have it sharpened thanks.

Oh there you are. What is the old bloke from over the road doing in our bed? And Who is that one? On a Saturday? And in that case shouldn't he be doing something actually connected with the washing machine? That doesn't even seem to be the right tool. The top has cross headed screws I recall. Sorry, yes, yes, of course I trust you, I really do. It's just, I don't know, little things that set off this unfounded jealousy. And who is that one with the gerbil? No, sorry, just forget I asked.

I do wonder though if you are going off me a bit. Don't you find me attractive any more? What do you mean I have some funny ideas? Oh that! Well when the good lord made some of our parts dual purpose he never said anything about them only performing one function at once did he? I was just trying to save some time. And that? Well same comment really. I do pride myself on my efficiency.

I know what you'd like. Hmm! How come you never taste of fish like women are supposed to? No I'm not really complaining. I really like Hyenas on the Attenborough programs, they are easily the most interesting carrion feeders in the Serengeti and rolling in lion dung like they do looks like real fun. I'm just saying that h's like haddock or herring are a bit more traditional that's all. You know I find you really sexy just the way you are.

Ooh that was a sneaky one, hardly heard a thing. They are always the most deadly. Actually I rather like it when you do that. No I am not a disgusting old pervert. Nothing abnormal about that at all. Bet lots of blokes do. A bit overpowering though, what with that and the Water Buffalo carcase, I feel a bit queesy, oh .... Damn. That was the last of the cornflakes too. Only Shreddies left and I'm not keen on them. Really sorry about that. We won't need the KY jelly this morning anyhow.

Enough of the foreplay, let's get to it. This is just so great isn't it? Just you and me together. Plus a few neighbours and tradesmen. As good as it ever was thirty years ago. Well, ok, not exactly. I can't feel a thing either. Think I'm about three inches short of the mark if I'm truthful. Yes alright, I never pretended to be Long Dong Silver, did I? but it was adequate back in the days when you were still slightly on the petite side of Dungeness B and the missionary position was not akin to riding the big dipper at Blackpool while still trying to buy a ticket at the pay booth. No, sorry that just slipped out. I didn't mean that either, I do still find you ever so attractive. Hang on a sec.

Hello again Mr.Webster. About your Sunday school. Ah yes, you've got the idea. You are a skinny little chap aren't you? Of course I don't make a habit of this sort of thing, I am a very normal sort of bloke as I daresay you are and I am thinking about women this very moment you understand and my wife in particular whom I love dearly, but we have a little practical difficulty. Ah.. that's better. Of course you can put the grater back if you like. The garden gnome too. Let me give you a hand.

Time for another cup of tea. Whose turn is it? Anybody? Sunday mornings are good too, can't wait for tomorrow!

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A little place of her own

As a girl Alison used to hide for hours in the dark hidden little space between the old Hawthorn tree and the garden shed, a lonely refuge from numerous bitter parental rows that turned her home upside down. She would lie curled up, her knees drawn to her chin, smelling the damp earth and dream of having a little place that was all her own and of being able to stay there until the world she knew went away.

It was almost an obsession; one which in the years to come seemed destined to have no existence outside her dreams and the pages of 'House and Garden' and the other property magazines she brought. On graduation she started a small interior design business with a uni friend. It was a natural step, a way of enjoying the rich abodes of others by proxy. Every one of their clients' luxurious homes became hers in her mind.

In just three short years her dream came true. Their design styles and fashion coincided in a most fortunate manner and the business in Shrewsbury took off in a way they had never dared to hope. She had to mortgage herself to the hilt to buy the little chocolate-box cottage on historic Arack Hill near the Welsh Border but it was everything she had dreamed of in those melancholy hours behind the old Hawthorn tree and dreams never come cheap.

Arack hill was green and leafy and very well-to-do; a small village atop a geological peculiarity, a 400-foot limestone hill that rose steeply from the generally flat countryside, an odd abberation of a long-gone wayward glacier. It was a historical curiosity too, having the most westerly known Roman fortification. It boasted some fragments of the quarters of the sixth legion, scarcely distinguishable from the surrounding earth, and a small museum that housed the relics found there. Even in the tourist season, few visitors ventured the few miles off the A5 to spend the fifteen minutes needed to browse the tiny collection that barely filled three cabinets.

Her nearest neighbour was the curate who was charged with the not very heavy responsibility of looking after the closed museum in the off season. A wizened elderly man with an enormous enthusiasm for all things historical that almost succeeded, when neighbourly politeness compelled her to accept his invitation of a viewing, in making the drab little accumulation seem interesting. There was not much. A few coins, some incomplete wine flagons, stones bearing the graphitti of long dead legionaries almost obliterated by time. All spread thinly through the cabinets with the usual padding of maps and imaginative reconstructions of how it might have looked. At the far right of the last cabinet some objects in slate of a different and cruder style. "Oh those are from an earlier time" said the curate "the people who used to live here before the Romans came". He was suddenly in a rush to get back, some service he had to prepare for.

She learned the details in rather less dry fashion at the pub. The hill had an older association with a druid sect who made human sacrifices to strange nature gods. Performed dubious sexual rites in their honour too. Presumably why the curate had been anxious to avoid discussing the matter with a young lady. Apparently the Romans had viewed this particular sect with such abbhorence that they crushed them with even more enthusiasm than they generally brought to the task of druid crushing, burning the priests and blocking the caves associated with the worship. There was little information about the nature of this sect, just those worn reliefs on slate of men bowing before shapeless round blobs and some cryptic references in the writing of Tacitus the Elder.

The house itself was a small ivy-festooned nineteenth century cottage built on the site of something much earlier as a very little of one outer wall indicated. It was in good order and, importantly for her mortgaged-to-the-hilt status, in fair decorative condition with fitted carpets throughout. A distinctly middle aged style for a trendy young lady, but it would do until she had saved some more money. The only major defect was a noticeable depression in the carpet in a corner of the lounge which gradually got worse in the following months.

Over a year later she had just enough funds for some DIY redecoration and found out what it was. Beneath the carpet was a basin-like depression where the concrete had cracked and crazed. About six inches down was a layer of much older crumbled brickwork, and right below that a roughly circular lid over two feet in diameter that flexed when she pressed down on it. It took half an hour to prise it up, releasing an updraught of mould tainted damp air. The shaft beneath went straight down into the darkness.

It was exciting but worrying too. She lay awake for hours thinking of her much loved cottage collapsing into ancient mine workings. It seemed very noisy that night, full of bumps and creaks and the mouldy smell was strong. The next morning she got the decent torch out of the car and peered into the hole. A little way down, the shaft opened out before bending round. Not a well then. It was not obviously a mine shaft either. There was no brickwork and no tool marks on the wall, which appeared to be of the same dirty grey fibrous and rather pliable material as the lid.

She went next door to Phillip, the old curate. He came to have a look and dismissed it as of being of no real interest at all. "It's a lekpit - late eighteenth, early nineteeth century version of the fridge.", he said, "People who couldn't afford an icehouse would have stored food here to keep it cool in summer" He poked at the fibrous lining. "Just rotten wood. Best not to mention it to anyone else unless you want a lot of historians poking their noses and delaying things. Just get it filled in with no fuss". She was so relieved to know she was not perched over some underground abyss. After he had gone she reflected how his manner seemed to contrast with his disinterested words. Queer old cove. And if it was just a Victorian larder, what was causing the draft? She had forgotten to ask.

She covered the hole with some old blankets and put the dustbin lid on top of it to seal the stale draft in. After a short while with the windows open the air was fresh again. When she returned from the pub later with her friend and business partner Cynthia, the smell was back. The windows had been closed when she went out of course but also the dustbin lid did not quite cover the hole. She thought it had. She centred the lid properly. There was a small sound beneath, she must have dislodged a stone.

Cynthia, somewhat the worse for drink, stayed the night on her sofa but had already left when she got up the next morning. The hole was uncovered and the stale smell was strong. Why on earth had she done that.? She replaced her makeshift draft seal. Cynthia was not at work, she had to finish off the proposal for the Colwyn House project on her own and missed lunch. Damn it. C was off a lot with hangovers recently, she would not half get a piece of her mind when she turned up. Cynthia did not turn up the next day either. She phoned her home. "Haven't seen her", said her flat mate, "staying with Brian I expect". She did not have Brian's number. It was a bloody awful day spent making excuses for postponed meetings.

She got back late in a foul mood. The dustbin lid did quite not cover the hole. She replaced it, opened the window first and a new whisky bottle second. She unwound watching Match of the Day and was feeling a lot more relaxed when there was a tap at the backdoor. It was Phillip. The old guy was not averse to a whisky. They talked about the leckpit, life on Arack hill, his ministry. For a dried up little old church man he was quite entertaining. After several large whiskies anyhow. Hers. He sipped at his although she did not notice that.

She remembered her question. "Where does the draft come from?" "Oh, they always had some sort of drainage, there'll be a channel opening out a bit further down the hill". The little man removed the dustbin lid and shone the torch down. "There, look!, see how the bottom slopes off that way." She rose unsteadily and peered down.

She was at the bottom with the lack of harm you can only acheive when you are drunk, unsure if he had pushed her or if she had overbalanced. "Give me your hand" he said. She reached up but he seemed to be keeping his just out of reach. Hovering, waiting. For what? The four foot diameter body that came out of the pit behind her was round like a ball. Like those carved slates. Even in her drunken confused state she recognised the thin legs that were merely hinted at on the reliefs. The so spidery long thin legs. Venom dripped from the crimson palps.

In the little light filtering in from the hole, before the curate replaced the dustbin lid to stifle her diminishing screams, Alison saw the cave she was in with its heaving eight eyed and eight legged inhabitants, the bones and mummified corpses of the legionaries and other victims, the barely living body of Cynthia swaddled in its silken sheaf.

The curate was ecstatic. At last. After two thousand years they were back and he was the most blessed. All the generations of servants like him who had watched and waited in this place and they had returned during his ministry. He must seal the pit, cover it with the carpet and wait for the search to blow over. Then in a few months the old religion and the old ways (he was looking forward to the old ways, he wasn't quite past it yet) could begin again. It was hard work for an old man, carrying the rubble and cement through the dense woodland behind the houses to avoid attention, but at last it was finished and there was no trace of the pit. He lay panting on his bed from the unaccustomed exertion. Such an awful stitch. The stitch became an agony that engulfed his chest and travelled down his arm and he knew that after all, the second coming would not be in his time.

What of the discovered and now lost again gods? Perhaps the robed bipedal beings would bring them unending delicious meals in return for the excrescences that brought such ectasy. Perhaps those others would come, the ones with the hard plates and stabbing swords to slay them as they had before. They were only dimly sentient and really did not care. They had plenty of time to wait until things went their way again. Their metabolism could be slowed to almost a stop and they could lie without sustenance for centuries. With a larder of prey to sustain their occasional and tiny needs, prey similarly preserved by their venom and barely alive, they would lay dormant for many millenia or until the next time they were disturbed. For now they had fresh juicy food which would sustain itself and them for another two thousand years. The last of the legionaries, now scarcely more than a husk, was dispatched and disgarded and replaced by their second ripe acquisition in two days.

As the curate passed away on his bed above ground Alison was secure in her coccoon deep below it. The venom had started to slow her life processes and her thoughts with it. Soon not even the best medical apparatus would be able to discern life in her attractive young body. She was thinking. It was a thought that would then have taken days to complete. It was a thought that, as the preserving venom permeated deep into every cell of her body would actually take twenty years to complete. The damp fibre of the coccoon on her back felt like that old hawthorn tree so many years before. The darkness like the shadows of that little space by the shed.

Her life passed into a dream. A dream of having a little place that was all her own and being able to stay there forever until the world she knew went away.

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An interview from a better future

As officer in charge of cell block D that day I was proud to do my duty and escort prisoner m125785PG to the electric chair.

I still recall, when I was very small, my great grandmother telling me of what things were like when she was a little girl. How people could go out and leave their doors unlocked and nothing ever got stolen. I remember too my mother telling me how it wasn't really quite like that, that the old lady had a tendency to guild her memories a little. Fact or an old woman's fantasy? Who knows? What I do know is that those words come damn near to describing Britain the way it is today and we have the Basics Party to thank for it.

All those decades of rising crime by the 'misunderstood' and the 'underprivileged'. Nobody felt safe anymore. Hardly surprising that decent hard-working law-abiding citizens had had enough and voted for the Basics in droves when they heard their message. Darn good slogan too, borrowed from some liberal leftie government of the early noughties as I understand, and turned around to really mean something. "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime - the criminals". It spelled out that there was to be no more blaming society and circumstances. People had to take responsibility for their own actions.

The Basics knew how to halt crime. Zero tolerance that really meant zero. Bringing back proper punishment. In three years they had halted the rise in crime, especially the unchecked juvenile crime that was making people's lives a misery. In ten years Britain was a safe and decent country again.

The electric chair was a vital part of the reform. Of course the bloody liberals complained, said that the death penalty was an outrage and that the electric chair was a particularly barbaric form of execution. Sure it is. I've seen them live for ten minutes with their brains frying and the blood boiling in their bodies but why don't these stupid pinkos get it? That's the whole point! That's why we chose it, for its deterrent factor! And it works! That's why we have a nearly crime-free Britain!

So I had no misgivings when we secured m125785PG to the chair. I placed the death cap on his head and checked the connections. m125785PG was crying. These oh so tough little tearaways always blub in the end. Pity they never spared a thought for the misery they caused others when it might have mattered.

It was time. "Please mister, I didn't mean to fief them apples". He could tell from my eyes that it just didn't matter. He put his thumb in his mouth and hugged his teddy, looking even younger than his seven years.

I had heard something like it a hundred times before. "Of course not son" I said "you never do".

I pulled the lever.

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Getting his way

Damn bitch.

What else were women good for anyhow? But as soon as they got their claws in you could wave goodbye to any interesting sex. They never wanted to do anything good any more. Stuck with bloody boring missionary position stuff.

Well, damned if he was going to put up with it. He left. He came home after three days. She loved him and to keep him she gave in although it made her gag.

A few weeks later he fancied something else. She would not do that for anyone. He knew what to do now. When he came back a week later she gave in again although it made here so sore.

A few months later they watched a TV documentary film about Christie. The thought of such utter passivity excited him. This time she really drew the line, she would not be drugged into unconsciousness for his gratification.

After he had gone she knew she was fooling herself. He had no love for her. She went to the bathroom cabinet and poured out all of her antidepressants and sleeping pills. When he came home ten days later she was on the lounge floor and the smell of decay filled the little semi.

He slapped his thigh in an expression of triumph and licked his lips in anticipation. Dammit, it worked every time.

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The last evil

I was holidaying, alone for the first time in years, off the beaten track in the Greek mainland near the small town of Sanocai, trying to shake off the stress of an acrimonious divorce.

Mooching around the quaint old part of the town in the sun. "Iss, iss". I gathered I was being spoken to by a thick set chap just outside a small nicknack shop. He showed me a carved wooden box. "You buy iss? iss Pandora box, only 40 Euro.". Not THE Pandora's box I assumed but it was attractive and would make a decent present for my sister. Just for once I would not forget her birthday. I beat him down to 30 Euro and took it away. It had to be a modern copy, the price told me that, but it certainly looked genuinely ancient.

Back at the hotel I couldn't open it. There did not seem to be a lock, only an ornate brass catch, but however much I fiddled with it and tugged at the lid I could get nowhere. So I stuck it in my suitcase and forgot about it. Back home, equipped with a bit of WD40 and a rubber mallet, I opened it without damage. Empty. Well it would be, even if it was THAT Pandora's box, we all know that was emptied of its evils thousands of years years ago.

Not quite empty. There was a black slug-like blob stuck to the bottom in the middle of a black stain. I scratched at it with my fingernail, It felt soft and rubbery. I scraped at it with a table knife and it moved. And flowed. And flattened. And spread with sudden rapidity over the bottom of the box and burst upward like a big black butterfly on tattered and irregular wings and was gone.

It was a most strange thing. I sat and rationalised. Some sort of moth? I knew that was nonsense. Just my imagination then, that was more plausible. It was a most strange thing. A most strange thing. A most strange thing. My mind was repeating and I was not at first sure why. It was the repetition of a mind trying to understand something, an idea that was so alien that if I did not keep hold of it it would slip away for ever. I was confused, the last confusion I would ever know. Not about what the thing had been, I suddenly knew that with total clarity as I knew everything with total clarity. But why I ever had any doubts as to what it had been?

Like everyone else in the world I knew my future. I knew everything that had ever happened in history and exactly why, and everything that would ever happen. I knew of the downing of a Congo butterfly in a sudden hailstorm and of the fates of empires. Of the reason dying swans sing, and of the death of suns in far flung galaxies. Of the thoughts of new born mice and of the underlying patterns in chaos.

Out of that sudden new dawn, men went forward into a great new age, an age without misunderstanding. Without misunderstandings there were of course no wars, no conflicts, no class struggles, no power struggles, no one upmanship. No ambition, no yearning, no sense of achievement, no love, no desire, no longing, no appreciation of beauty.

Neither was there hope. The ancients had that wrong. Hope did not remain in the box to comfort man, what they saw as hope was merely the absence from the world of the one thing that makes hope pointless. It was truly a brave new world. Were I to think as I once did I might have said that I had released the very last evil, the eighth and very worst of the deadly sins.

certainty

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Everything happens in threes

Things happen in threes. Yes they do, I am telling you.

Most superstitions are nonsense, walk under a ladder or break a mirror and misfortune hardly ever follows. But that thing about threes seems to work every time above a certain level of significance. If somebody steals your wallet with 50 in it, you can almost guarantee that two more monetary mishaps of similar consequence will happen within a couple of months. Perhaps some cowboy company will pocket your cheque and not send the goods or perhaps you will lose your credit card. It will cut no ice with the law of triples that you have had one for years and never lost it before.

It applies infallibly to the big things. Get one plane crash reported on the main news and you can be certain that somewhere in the world there will soon be two more similar tragedies in as many months, followed by a year or more with none. At one time I had never thought about this too deeply, I had other things to do. Just coincidence surely? But then with unemployment and much time on my hands, I decided to do some research. I made up a long list of events that would appear in the news from time to time. Government resignations, earthquakes in populated areas , terrorist bomb attacks, celebrity sex and drugs scandals and so on.

I set pre-conditions on all of them that would avoid any subjectivity on my part. It would be too easy to get two incidents and then cast about for a third that did not really fit the pattern. On the government resignations for example, I specified that all had to be important enough to make the BBC or ITV news - the third could not be some obscure official in the Welsh Office reported on page 5 of the Telegraph. Based on my research I also stipulated that all three had to be within 5 months of each other and that there should then be no more for a year. I made up a list of fify events with similarly objective criteria. After that all I had to do was sit back and wait and watch the news.

In early August three years ago there was a sinking of a Ferry in China with the loss of over two hundred people. Late September and a cruise ship capsized on the Nile with the loss of eighty. Just a few weeks later the tragedy of the Tyneside Star here in Britain. Remember what happened with Julia Roberts? Some rap star arrested a week later, forget his name, not my scene, but it met my criteria. Then that thing with Trevor McDonald, who would have thought it of him? So it has gone on, my log book filling with positive confirmations. This is not mere superstition or coincidence, it is a universal law. People must know about this. Maybe if we recognise the truth we can work to avert some of the worst consequences.

I have sent my results to newspapers, to scientific journals, and I hear nothing in return. I phone my councillor, my MP and they listen politely, tell me to put it in writing and they will look at it. Humouring me. I write and I hear nothing. Only a few listen. On the internet, intelligent sensitive people like me, who are not encumbered with the mind destroying routine of jobs or the cloying cotton-wool of friends or family. Who needs them? We talk late into the night, we liberated few who see how truly mankind is enslaved to forces he cannot control only because he will not recognise their existence.

As for the rest. Dull-minded cretins. Like all of you on this board with your dull computer careers, your greed and your trivial obsessions. But you will believe me. My dossier is almost complete and the evidence is overwhelming even to the likes of you. Not quite complete, just one item left on my list. There have been two terrorist bomb attacks in the UK within four months. When the next one comes today my case will be proved absolutely.

It is getting late. From the window I can see the crowds of young people beginning to head towards the busy pubs and clubs off the town square. The young men in their white shirts, still pleasant and sober. The girls in their flimsy short skirts and halter tops, arms clasped round ample bosoms against the September chill. I see the same thing every Saturday night when I look out, resting my eyes during brief periods away from the computer. Just this one night I will join them. I have spent several weeks getting ready to go out tonight. I pick up the heavy rucksack.

Things always go in threes. I am not wrong. I will show you I am not wrong.

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Marital aids

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Benny in the shopping mall.

Saturday in the mall. His mind was quite clear now. Nothing was what it seemed, not the shops, not the shoppers, not Benny himself and not the knife beneath the grubby brand new coat he had not yet got round to buying.

Maybe it was all the years on the weed or maybe the acid but Benny had been losing it. Life had become a mist of fixes and sleep and vomit. Reality was disappearing as fast as the voices accumulated.

Until that previous Saturday, just a couple of days before this one, when he awoke as bright and cheerful as the morning sun shining across his soiled bed. The voices and the confusion had all gone. He could not believe it; his mind felt as clear as it had before the long slide. In the park the May blossom was starting to bloom. "It symbolises my return to a normal existence" he thought. It was a good day. It was Halloween.

Around seven thirty that evening both bells rang, each sounding higher than the other, and he opened the door to a little girl in a long pure white dress. Benny looked up and down the endless road for an accompanying adult but there was none. "What are you supposed to be? a ghost?" "I symbolise the innocence you lost" lisped the little girl in one of those so irritating 1950s oh so sweet Hollywood little girl voices. It seemed she even had an unnatural 1950s Technicolor glow to her. Symbol or no, she was too obnoxious to be borne and he crushed her skull with the mattock that had lain, just waiting for this moment, in the cupboard under the stairs. "I didn't think you'd understand" she simpered. He buried her beneath the damp concrete floor of the cellar. "Will you be my daaaddy and plaaay wif me?" came almost inaudibly from beneath the rubble.

He awoke just as alert the next morning and his conscience struck him like a mattock. He was reaching for the phone when the bell rang. It was the police. He was almost relieved. Relief turned to puzzlement when the two policemen sat on his bloodsoaked sofa in silence and drank his tea. "Why are you here?" "We symbolise benign authority sir" He killed them with the axe his mother in law had nearly brought him for Michalmas in accordance with the usual traditions. He would have buried them beneath the cellar floor too but when he had finished digging a hole of suitable size he came back to find no trace of the bodies.

It seemed a shame to waste a perfectly good hole so he asked old Mrs Perkins next door around for a drink. The old lady never went out or had any visitors and was pathetically pleased to sit on the bloody sofa with a cabbage juice. "I symbolise the mother you never knew dear" she whispered. "Of course you do" he answered, wielding the only crowbar he had never known. After he had buried her he had another three hours to kill before he could score off Laurie. He was in a cheery killing mood and it seemed a shame to waste a perfectly good hole so he dug old Mrs Perkins up again and killed an hour. "I symbolise the devoted and affectionate wife you always longed for" murmured the old lady as he reburied her.

"Will you be my daaaddy and plaaay wif me?" came almost inaudibly from beneath the rubble. So he dug the little girl up and played with her until it was time to go to Laurie's.

Just as he was going out a man arrived in a clean but misty boiler suit. "What do you symbolise?" "Pardon me sir?" said the man "Your landlord asked me to come and look at your boiler". Benny showed him where it was. When he came back half an hour later an enormous gleaming machine of steam and cogs and cylinders and rotating wheels and wires and circuit boards and copper pipes occupied most of the house so he was barely able to squeeze past to reach the kitchen. "It symbolises an uncaring society sir" said the man. "I see" said Benny.

He killed the man with his own pipe wrench which to his inexpert eye appeared to symbolise a thing for wrenching pipes. It would not do to use the mattock or the axe or the crowbar again after all. He pushed the man's body into one of the many hatches in the gigantic machine. It reappeared from another hatch further up, was drawn upwards along a spiral cable into another hatch. It kept going in here, along there, out somewhere else, never the same hatch twice, indeed there were no hatches that stayed in the same place for even a second so that would have been quite impossible. The shattered face popped out right on front of him. "I symbolise your inability to cope with the complexities of life" it mumbled through leaking brains.

The next day he still felt quite unatturally alert and cheerful. After his fix he went for a wander around the shopping mall. People were scurrying backwards and forwards, up and down the escalators, in and out of shops but never buying anything. "We symbolise the pointlessness of existence" intoned the housewives and anoracked men and jumpered children. He looked at the adverts in the shop windows and knew they were all symbols, as do we all know, symbolising the sex that had never been willingly offered him, the success he had never had, the respect that had never been shown to him. And it seemed like an infection spreading outward. The shops, the goods for sale, the precinct, the piped music, all the inanimate objects were symbols too although they could not say so.

Benny in the shopping mall. Benny standing there.

If everyone and everything was symbolic of something else surely there had to be something real left for them to symbolise? A young women carrying a toddler stood in front of him. Where was the reality in this symbol of hope for a future that would never come? He had to start somewhere and it was as good as any. The knife went in. Was the opening in the child real? Was the opening in the woman real? One to the other back and forth. Benny began to stab at the people around him, trying to cut through the replicas, the symbols, the archetypes, the icons and find the happiness he had never enjoyed, the success that had eluded him, the love that had always passed him by.

In some dark and quilted room he is cutting still but has never found these things. For some or perhaps all, these things do not truly exist, there are only symbols. Benny keeps on trying. If this was a philosophical tale rather than just a story of one man's psychosis one might think that that too was a symbol of something. It is not. There would be no point.

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The day they patented sex.

21st June 2011. The writing was probably on the wall at least a decade ago but even those few of us who had reasons for concern about the impact on our livelihoods never saw the wider implications. If the idea did occur to anyone, it would have been nothing more than a good notion for a joke. Something so far fetched could never really happen, could it?

The passing of the European Software Patent Law along the lines of that already in place in the States was a triumph. For big businesses anyhow. Now any simple technique, regardless of how well established or commonplace it already was, could be patented by the companies with the money. In practice the small men did not have the time or the money to mount an effective challenge. Naturally there were the usual soothing noises, both from those with vested interests, and from those others too stupid to have learned that in this life, where a conspiracy is possible, it probably exists. It was hardly going to be worthwhile for the likes of Microsoft or Adobe to take action on thousands of software programs produced by small companies was it? Given the costs of inspection, the legal actions and of recovering the money, the idea was ludicrous. "Mark my words" said these deluded anti doom mongers, "a few years from now and we will wonder what all the fuss was about" Doom was, of course and inevitably, exactly what we got. If only we had been more assiduous in our mongering. There were two major factors which we all overlooked.

The first was the unholy self-seeking alliance between government and big business. Strange we should overlook that, since what else was behind the passing of this law in the first place? The companies stood to profit hugely, so the politicians who enabled them to do so could profit too. Both in legal but unethical ways, and in illegal and unethical ways. (There are no other valid combinations of these qualities with politicians) The EU Compensation Recovery Act of 2007 laid the foundations. This extended the existing powers of the tax gathering agencies to automatically deduct amounts due in respect of fines to cover civil awards and to take all necessary steps to enforce payment. With the major risk of having to spend more than was owed to recover small sums out of the way, the big corporates began to issue writs for infringement on a daily basis. The small men, with limited resources to defend themselves against these action, increasingly capitulated and paid the fees necessary to continue producing the same programs they had been producing before the patents had even been applied for. In effect the large corporates could levy their own taxes on small software companies throughout the continent. The robber barons were back; within the IT industry at any rate.

The second factor was that big business is very quick to learn lessons. The big conglomerates in other sectors viewed what was happening in IT and lobbied hard for a similar relaxation of patent laws in other areas. For those unfamiliar with patent law, the guiding principles are that an invention must be novel, useful, and not of an obvious nature. The liberalisation of patent laws within IT by jettisoning those outdated concepts of novelty and obviousness had seen much increased profits to the big companies concerned and this prosperity was something that benefited us all, wasn't it? Governments would be failing their citizens if they ignored this chance to liberalise trade. The EU Patents Regularisation Act of 2009 liberalised the patent laws and brought them into line with needs of the modern global economy. At the same time the cost of obtaining patents was raised so high that few individuals or small outfits could afford to apply. As with the Compensation Recovery Act, similar laws were passed in all the leading economies within a few years.

The patenting of the wheel by General Motors was a major landmark that made the front page of dailies throughout the world. The avalanche of patents by big companies continued. The public soon lost interest and patents such as "The principle of cooking food within a metal or other container by application of an external heat source", the "..device consisting of a heavy mass of metal on the end of a handle of wooden or other material for the purpose of impacting other objects" or "... an implement with at least one sharpened edge and having a handle to enable safe wielding by the user" went largely unremarked. The costs to every small business of the levies on every item they made did not. It was of course a price worth paying for the huge boost to the global economy (which benefits us all, let me remind you). The owners and employees of the small companies that struggled under the additional costs did not see it directly of course. Neither did the general public who saw the costs of so many items rise. Neither even did the employees of the big companies themselves since they closed many of their less profitable manufacturing plants. Why bother to manufacture things yourself when you can let others do so and cream off their profits? The big bosses and politicians did very nicely and we all know that wealth is a good thing and trickles down.

So it was inevitable. US patent 81993786, granted soon after in 30 other countries, covers:

"any use of... ...biological or natural devices, primarily but not exclusively, for the propogation of human and other species or for the furtherance of pleasurable feelings as may accompany such use. These devices consisting of, but not necessarily confined to, in the first part, for ownership and use by males, a self erecting device attached .... (text omitted here in the interests of brevity) on the second part for ownership and use by females, a recepticle..." Various addendums cover all uses "for the furtherance of pleasurable feelings" by either the first part or the second part in any combination or in conjunction with other parts.

How could they possibly know what we owe? we wondered. Even the government can't be in every bedroom checking up on us. We soon found out that the Inland Revenue had sewed that principle up decades ago. In the same way that waiters are assumed to receive so much untaxed income in tips. I suppose, being a bit older than some of you, that I have it a bit easier as the IR charts show I am statistically at it a bit less. It's a small victory that I still manage a bit more than that and therefore manage to get one over on them. I have to be grateful for these little victories as there isn't a lot of satisfaction left in life now the modest profits my company used to make are largely swallowed up by the patent levies.

Ah well. It's a nice day outside anyway. Smell that fresh air. At least that's free.

Today.

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