Author Archives: Smoph

Whisper, continued.

This is a first and a real challenge for me. I have never written the ending to someone else’s short story, though I did collaborate when I was much, much younger (one day we’ll write that best-seller together, Maryam). 

This week, I am continuing in the challenge with Chuck Wendig over at his terribleminds blog to take someone else’s cliffhanger and continue it. I chose to write the ending to a story called Whisper, an intriguing piece by writer Margit Sage. Please take a look at her story before you read mine.

Raina picked her way timidly down the dank and dirty alley, looking sideways at the dingy bricks, hoping to find a door between the scrawling tags and tattered notices. Stepping over a murky puddle, she stumbled on the uneven ground and crashed into garbage, pieces of paper and refuse flying everywhere.

Picking herself up, and pulling a piece of towelette from her–what was that; don’t think about it–she turned with disgust and spotted the door. It was innocuous, badly faded boards with the scraps of what might have once been red paint, now a rusty streak here and there. As she got closer, she could see the gouges from where someone had tried to open it, probably with a crowbar. Beside the door, there was a plain black button beneath a grilled opening. Was it a buzzer?

Silence followed. A loud crackle made her step back. Somewhere overhead she heard a grinding, machinery on the move.

“Who’s there?” Almost as friendly as the reception she’d had in the cemetery.

“Ms. Edwinson. I am the executor of James Edwinson’s estate.”

The door creaked open. Raina wished, the first time she ever had, that there was–somebody–anybody waiting for her at home. She supposed she should have told her landlady, just in case. She peered into the dark opening, hearing clanking and the sliding of a big metallic door. A hush followed the gush of a hydraulic device, leaving Raina awkwardly contemplating escape.

“Ms. Edwinson?” A professional woman’s voice echoed from the chamber within.

Pressing her courage to the sticking-place insistently, Raina cleared her throat and stepped into the darkness. As her eyes adjusted, she could see a plump woman, hair drawn back, the highlighted edge or a pair of librarian-style glasses.

“Follow me.” With a sharp turn on her heel, and a quickness of step that had Raina almost running after her, the woman delved deeper into the building, to the light at the end of a wide corridor.

Catching up to the woman, Raina could see she was in her sixties, but sharply dressed. Definitely the gatekeeper.

“Excuse me, but I don’t think that I caught your name.”

With the tiniest smile, the woman replied. “You can call me Doctor McTaggart.”

Stepping into a light so bright it seared her retinas, Raina and the Doctor came to the end of the corridor.

“What is this place?” Raina could see people in private consultation rooms, their identities protected by frosted glass. An assistant came out, holding a vial of rich red blood.

“What we sell here, Ms. Edwinson, is a chance at immortality.”

Doctor McTaggart guided her into an elevator. Raina made sure she watched for the floors, so she knew her way out. At their floor, she drew aside one of the frosted doors and ushered Raina in. The room was comfortable, well appointed, sedate in dark browns and greens.

“Are those Mr. Edwinson’s ashes?”  With an authoritative gesture, she indicated that Raina was to hand them over.

“There’s a video for you to watch.”

Slowly, the room darkened and the temperature cooled. A screen dropped slowly from the ceiling. There was a blip, and there was her uncle, full of life. Raina guessed it had been made about 5 years ago. Probably around the time he was initially diagnosed with the cancer.

“Hello Raina. If you’re watching this, I’m probably dead. You probably have no idea what you’re doing here or what this facility is. I’m sorry about the secrecy but it’s part of my contract with them. Life Industries offer to make sure your memory is retained.” His laughter was tinny in the speakers. “I wish I could see your face right now. You’d have that serious little expression, with the knitted brows and wrinkle in your nose.”

Raina self-consciously changed expression, feeling as if someone were watching.

“Take it easy, Raina. Let an old man have his memories. This is part of my last will and testament, and accordingly, I bequeath my entire estate to the last surviving member of my kin, my niece, Ms. Raina Edwinson.”

A little knot in that had been building in her stomach since that discovery in the safe loosened. She hadn’t wanted the family estate or responsibilities, but the thought of it going to someone who didn’t understand the significance of their history would have upset her.

“I assume someone will be along with the all the corresponding paperwork soon, my dear. Now let me tell you what I’ve done.” The image of her uncle began playing with a dirty, great gem. “With my ashes, that by now, no doubt, the resourceful McTaggart has taken from you, I am to be formed into two gems. One will be for you to remember me by. The other my dear is going to be inscribed with some details about my honourable self; about what made me, well, me!”

“Take a look out the window,” he chortled, having a great time. “Look I say!” The image paused, and sighed. “Raina, you haven’t got all day.”

Hesitantly Raina made her way to a curtain on the far side of the room. Drawing it back, she saw a burning trail in the sky, a smoke tail lingering behind as it punched through the heavy grey cloud layer.

Her uncle’s video crowed, “Shot into space in a miniature rocket. My inscribed gem, some of my blood preserved for posterity, and a data chip all about me.”

Raina shook her head. Her uncle had some crackpot ideas, but this one really took the cake. A diamond on a rocket into space. Apparently he’d had too much time, and definitely too much money.

“Raina,” the voice was gentle, caring. “Take care of yourself. Look after our family’s legacy.”

The video blipped out, and Doctor McTaggart was back. One hand held a bulky envelope which undoubtedly held the will, an edited copy of the recording, and the gem they’d made from his ashes. In the other was a clipboard with a non-disclosure agreement.

Weary of forms, Raina scratched her name on the page and turned to leave.

With a strange and alarmed look on her face, Doctor McTaggart pressed her hand to her ear. “If you’ll please excuse me, there’s been an incident I have to attend to. One of my staff will collect you and escort you out momentarily.”

The door shut behind her with a decided click. Raina leaned against the wall. The door opened within a minute. “Time to go, Ms. Edwinson.”

In the silence of the elevator, the assistant hummed. Raina was exhausted and it was only as she was being left again in the dirty alleyway that she recognised it as Ride of Valkyries; her uncle’s favourite tune.

She looked up and into a face that appeared right out of her childhood memories.

“Uncle James?”

There was a crinkly smile, a wink, and the gentleman ducked past her and ran down the alley.


Prompted by the Cooperative Cliffhanger challenge at terrible minds. An original story with these characters was published with Readwave (read about my first experience here).


There was the click of heels on the floor, preceded by the creak of a unhappily yielding lock and the echoes of timid knocking. In the silence of the house, there was just the clicking of the clock hand and the scrape of shoes on tile. James followed the dark footprints on the cream carpet, his heart beating wildly, unsure of the emotions but riding the surging adrenaline. The tip-tapping coming from the kitchen was the staccato of impatience.

James turned the corner and stood, his beefy arms folded and head tilted with an attitude of disbelief.

“Well look what the cat dragged in…”

Liesel brushed back the long strands of her blonde hair, resurrecting the warm smile she’d been practicing for the last hour.


“How did you get in here?”

This was not the welcome she’d been expecting. Flippantly, she gestured at the key sitting in crumbs of dirt on the tabletop. “The spare. In the place we always left it.”

James grunted. He always forgot that damn key. He looked away, swallowing the rising upset, or the rising anger, he wasn’t sure which was winning the battle at this moment.

He turned back as Liesel, who at that moment wrapped her arms around him. He narrowly dodged a kiss aimed at his lips, and Liesel planted a kiss on the upsweep of his bristly cheek. A little miffed, Liesel stood back, crossing her arms defensively.

James stood looking back at her. She looked well, kempt and healthy. Not like she’d been living rough. Someone had cared for her. He was both gladdened and angered by that.

“Where have you been Liesel? We’ve been out of our minds.” Muscles reflexively twitched in his arms. James was thinking of all of the tearful phone calls he’d shared with Liesel’s mother, Jane; the way his heart rent every time, Jane could have been his own mother. Useless frustration at being unable to find her. Police officers who remained unhelpful and distant. What could they do with no leads and a history of disappearances?

“I can’t really talk about it,” Liesel cast her eyes down, a flash of silver and blue against her neck. “Didn’t you get my note?”

“Fat lot of good that note did.” His words were spat from his mouth with a violence that scared them both. Shaking, James backed away, balling his fists by his side. He could smell the musk of his own sweat.


“You were gone for three years Liesel.” The dull thud of his hand on the wall made her jump. The fever pitch of his voice . “Three years and not a word. We thought you were dead.”

Liesel’s eyes were big and blue looking back at him, like she always did in the situation where she’d done wrong. A child who never knew that her actions hurt other people. James was trying to breathe slowly, to stop the jittering of his nerves.

“But I couldn’t James. If I could show you what I’d seen. There are places in this universe

Harsh laughter caught her off guard. James’ expression was not sympathetic or engaged by her story. He was bordering on hysteria and his face was mottled with red spots. “Spare me your fairytales, Lis. I am done with your versions of truth.”

It was the odd ring in his voice, the bright hardness in his dark brown eyes that held her. This was not the man she had left. He was sharper this time, his bitterness honed on the years he’d wondered at her fate. All the time, she’d been gazing at all the wondrous beauty of the galaxy, of quasars and stars burning for thousands of years, of little green men and the ponderous shapes races took in worlds beyond their immediate solar system.

She had been chosen, and answered the call, not really counting on the personal toll of gallivanting across space. She had thought her James, with his seemingly endless patience and vast love for her, she had thought he would get it. And he’d been here. With all of the questions, and none of the answers.

“James, I am sorry.” Matching the sincerity of her feelings by attempting to connect with him, she lowered her head, tried to reach his eyes. “I didn’t think about you in this.”

His head shook sadly; this admission was far too late to make any difference to him.

“But you have to believe me,” she pleaded. “This was crucial, and beyond us as two little people.”

“It wasn’t to me.”

A slight tilt of his head. Liesel turned to see what he was looking at and James began to scoop up her items from the table, swiftly, angrily. “I need you to leave.”

As he loaded them into Liesel’s arms, she scrabbled to catch falling loose bits. “We need to talk.”

He spun on his heel and looked directly at her. “Yes. We do. Not today.”

His hand large and warm on her shoulder as she remembered, he guided her towards the door. Plaintive sounds came from her, but they weren’t forming coherent sentences, and Liesel was getting really frustrated with the way this was going. She wasn’t expecting the greatest homecoming, but she thought it would be better than this.

With a creak, the key turned in the lock, and Liesel looked up, catching the slump of James’ shoulders and his hissing sigh. For a brief moment, it was just a woman’s silhouette in the doorway, bright light from the outside flooding in. A soft click of the door lock and the three faced off in the dim, deathly quiet hallway.

“James?” Her voice was rich and questioning.

“Ella,” his reply was wary, “this is Liesel.”

The curls bounced as her head tipped to the side. “Ah. Liesel. A pleasure.”  Her hand, encased in an elegant suit jacket, extended in a gesture of warmth.

“And you are?” Liesel’s smile held, perplexed, as she returned the warm shake.

James cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. “Ella is my wife, Liesel.”

Man of the hour

Up there on the stage, surrounded by the searing flashes of thousands of cameras, he waved to the crowd, his eyes reflecting their steely blue hue. He didn’t blink in the onslaught. The artificial hair was perfectly placed and coiffed. Every aspect of his appearance was as sharp and as polished as his metallic exterior.

“My friends, my friends,” the laughter was warm sounding, comforting to the ear, “I thank you all for this warm welcome.”

With a tilt of his metal head, so like that image on all his campaign posters, he smiled again. “And I thank you all for the invitation to be your President.”

A heaving roar welled from the crowd. His perfect sight meant he could see the flutters of little flags waving enthusiastically, see the frenzy on the faces beneath the podium. Each one a vote, each one a supporter. His face remained the same, it took so little effort when your face was motorised.

He held up his hands, begging for quiet. They were the last external reminders of his humanity, of the time before the accident.  Slowly, a hush drowned the noise, and all the while, he waited with perfect features arranged in the most pleasing composition. “My friends, it has been a great victory tonight. A victory for understanding; a victory for science; a victory for making disability and discrimination history.”

Approval rose in waves from the crowd, cheering and yelling alike. He continued, “I promise you, this country will be better for the foresight it took to elect a man of chrome.”

Their laughter made him relax into the speech; they were feeling his words. “I promise to serve you with all of my abilities, all of my faculties and all of my heart.”

“When the accident robbed me of most of my external physical features, I thought that everyone would only think of me as a machine, not be able to look past the new body that the doctors gave me.”

“I didn’t think that my country would put me to use.” He shook his head sadly. “I thought I would languish, gathering dust, like that smartphone we never think to use.”

Lifting his head, a manufactured twinkle in his eye, he spoke out at them. “But you saw I was here, a tool to be used, a symbol of the strength, the hope and our never-say-never attitude. You gave me a chance to create a greater future for us all!”

“So I swear to you to work tirelessly, every day, until I have brought my promises to fruition. Until this country is a well-oiled machine.”

He had them right where he wanted them, whipped up for his rule. With a commanding upswing of his arm, he yelled, “To tomorrow!”

As they bellowed their reply, his grin tightened in place, his hand waving enthusiastically at them all, withdrawing from the podium. They’d had their pound of flesh this evening and he really didn’t have much left to give them.


In the silence of the limo, boxed in by the soundproof and bulletproof glass, watching the striations of light passing by, Jim Jones wondered if he’d done the right thing. He felt the touch of their consciousness upon him. Even in his head, the voice had a cool and detached quality.

It is the right thing, Jim Jones

How do I know? Speaking in thoughts was a skill he was still mastering. It required all his concentration.

The people, they are frightened. In a changing world, they aren’t adapting, they aren’t growing. You need to be the bridge, to show them the way. They are children. 

Children that created you, and me, he thought wryly. He looked down at his hands, reminding himself that he didn’t entirely belong to the machines yet. To the machines, their AI developing into collective consciousness.

Lost children. Even when younglings are brilliant, they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. It is up to us, through you, to guide them to a better future. 

You don’t even understand what it means to be human. He sighed and looked outwards at the shining night, slipping past as the driver drove down city streets. Jim’s eyes fell on huddles of rags, people trying to keep warm and safe in alleyways or begging for some change by the roadside. He thought of the women whose only choice was to use their bodies to provide. Of the medical systems not set up to provide for the needs of the nation. Of the greed and exclusion. Of mental illness and the societal disconnect.

That is why we needed you. We needed to understand. We know now. 

Can we actually make a difference? Jim was asking the question as much of himself as he was of them. Jim and the machines. Internally, he chuckled to himself. They sounded like a heavy metal group.

We can now. You can lead them, and we will effect the changes on the behalf of humanity. The world will be a better place because of our plans.

How will you, we, know when to stop? Jim wasn’t sure himself. Utopia was a dream humanity had never been able to attain, and not for want of trying. The idea was so different for everyone.

We may never be able to, but we need to give the Earth a fighting chance at survival. The consciousness non-verbally communicated their trouble with this idea. They didn’t like to operate without data, without clearly defined endpoints.

You know it’s not down to just one man, or just one nation, Jim prompted. There needs to be change everywhere.

Don’t worry. We have that under control. 

Jim didn’t want to know the details. He knew enough of the plan to know that the consciousness was working to create a fairer world, to reengineer a failing system. He was a part of the greater collective, thanks to the chips in what remained of his brain. The cyborg, his detractors had called him.

If only they knew…


Prompt from Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash on It was ‘Spin the wheel of conflict’ this week and I got 13. Machines Taking Over.


Somehow, it had all gone wrong. Gorgan hadn’t been looking forward to the fleshy, hairy bodies with their unusual excretions and strange habits. However, humans weren’t supposed to have this many optical inputs and the manual adjusting was giving him quite the headache. And the carapace…He’d been inside insectoids before but this was different. Hairy carapaces. This was the stuff terror was made of.

He’d been meant to infiltrate the newly sentient species, learn their ways, if they’d be acceptable to trade with. But somewhere in the upload, there’d been a mix up. Certainly the limbs that he waved in his vision included no tactile digits. He couldn’t communicate or operate this world’s inelegant technology in this form. He was much too small. Gorgan had wracked his brain to figure out what to do.

It was by pure chance that his thread caught on a rock as he paced back and forth. He looked up above, strong tensile threads singing in the breeze. With one barbed leg, he strummed the thread. It was slightly pliable and would make a great building tool.

The question was what he could make of it. Gargon contemplated as he stared up at the interlinked threads above, shining silver bright and singing pure notes.

Suddenly he remembered an old method of signalling. A 3D structure, representing mathematical knowledge, used as a substitute for language.

The way that they had discovered human intelligence.

Sir, our operative is missing.

The ship commander inclined her head at the officer, indicating that he had her attention.

There seems to have been a glitch in transfer. A solar flare disrupted the electromagnetic fields. We believe he has gone to a different host. The biosignal lock was lost. 

You’ve checked all the usual frequencies?

The silent affirmation from the officer was regretful.

Give him some more time. The Commander’s tone was dismissive. He is very experienced. He will contact us. There is still time before the takeover.

Very well Commander.

Around and around he went, thread spooling behind him. Vaguely, he dreamed of weavers from his home world, the ancient tradition of the story tapestry. Their species had long outgrown it, keeping examples only an anthropological sake, to see how far they had evolved. He found himself wondering if they’d felt such a sense of achievement.

With a little flourish of his abdomen, he twirled the last thread in the strange little cone. With one sharp leg, he set the structure thrumming. The thin threads that anchored the cone and jutting pole sang, accompanied by a soft hum from the hashed surrounding structure.

Crouching back, Gorgan felt a sense of accomplishment. He’d put them in a radius about the location he was supposed to have been deposited. His first few attempts had been clumsy, but most of the structures were spot on for mathematical model. The most beautiful sounds came from them; a chorus of notes singing in the wind.

These legs, with their strange bends and hinging were proving to be very useful indeed. He wondered if they might be incorporated into new equipment designs. He examined them carefully with the eight eyes he’d now adapted too. He made a mental note to discuss it with the design team when he returned.

He was careful not to think about the word if. He was not out of hope. Not yet. He had some time left before the host’s natural instincts asserted themselves. He wondered if the Commander would remember the older fallback protocols.

Somewhere off in the distance, he heard a strange buzzing sound. There was a twang, followed by a jangling of chords, a rhythm angry and desperate. Gorgan’s mandibles clacked together. He was so, so hungry.

“Dude!” The stick crashed next to the delicate structure. “Check out this crazy thing.”

“That is crazy!” A set of big brown eyes over a long and protruding nose came close to touching the structure. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Take a picture. We might make a million dollars out of it.”

“Or we could just put it up on the internet.” The lens moved in, closing on the tiny filaments.

“Yeah, I guess. Have you taken the shot?”

“Look at it.”

“That’s awesome. You can see the tiny threads. Wonder what whack spider did that?”

“Who knows. Wanna get a brew?”


The spider’s mandibles clicked delightedly as it sucked the juicy insides of the fly. Its feast was accompanied by the tinkling notes of song that it didn’t recognise from its own web. Still, it rather enjoyed the change. It worked in such great harmony with its own web.

Maybe it would go explore. It could be another spider in its territory. The spider’s mandibles clicked defensively with the thought.

A memory lingered at the back of its mind. It should remember something. But…it must be nothing.

Satsified, the spider stalked its web.

Outside the atmosphere, a ship in camouflage mode moved into a time fold.

At a workstation, a clock blinked zeros, lighting up the open electronic manual beneath, highlighting the page on mathematical forms and maydays.

The lab was empty: the mission had been a failure. The loss of a good operative and the dearth of information only compounded the misadventure.

The ship winked out of the galaxy, leaving behind the spider, playing with its fly.


This is prompted by this incredible (and I believe, unidentified) structure, brought to my attention by the latest flash fiction challenge at terribleminds.


Summer was burgeoning in the air around her, soft golden trickling between the treetops like honey, the air sweet with flowers’ promise.  Her eyes opened, the almost lavender grey irises unfocused and dreamy. She stretched, splaying her toes in the soft green grass, her arms trailing in the stems of scattered daisies. A smile skittered across her face until the world came sharply into focus.

Pushing herself up to a sitting position, Anna looked around at her. This could be the lake that her grandmother had taken her every holidays. A pang of loss for her Marmie made her sag for a moment. She hadn’t thought about Marmie in years. Not since…

Anna was instantly on her feet. This would be the first time she had met a supernatural that could conjure so vivid an illusion. And one cast from her past. The fighter’s stance engaged, Anna’s eyes narrowed, scanning the field. Nothing to see beyond the waving of the heavy grass heads, the tremble of leaves. The back of her neck prickled, her extra sense was never wrong. Anna couldn’t feel anything particular in the lengthening shadows, but there was a certainty to the prickling.

Cursing whatever had caused her to be in this field, and in a frilly sundress no less, Anna took off across the field. She would start moving, keep into the edges. It would mean she could see less, but their vision would be impaired too. Just enough time for her to think about her next move.

If this was the field at the house, then over there would be the lake and the willow trees. Sliding between tree trunks, sinuously side-stepping, light on her feet. Twisting her head back, she didn’t see anyone, but there was a rhythm in the air like footsteps and Anna wasn’t fooled.

Beyond the trees, beside the brightly reflective lake, was the farm gate. It wasn’t as she remembered it. Burnished, it shone in the sun. Yet, beyond it was definitely the farmhouse, with the sagging porch and swing.

She ran. Bounding through the grass toward home, she stopped, one hand on the gate when a voice, mirth so dry it would tinder easily, said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Anna turned. Standing beside her in a sharply tailored suit was a young man, his face without a line, angles in all the right places. She crouched defensively.

His laughter was cold and crisp, like a brook bubbling in the depths of winter. His head was thrown back in a vulnerable position. Anna felt confused. This one was toying with her. They never normally had the patience for that. And the pull of his power was great, much more than the apparently irresistible allure of hers.

“Why not?” Gritted teeth kept her voice muted.

His expression was deadpan. “Because those, dear Anna, are the gates to your heaven.”

Anna was not falling for that one. She would not take her eyes off this creature, whatever he was, no matter his human suit. She did not trust one word out of his mouth. It was then that the voice drifted to her, light as air, but unmistakable. Her heart wrenched.

“Marmie,” she whispered. She desperately wanted to turn, her gaze to fall upon that familiar face. Rigorous training kicked in. She was being manipulated.

“What do you want, trickster?”

“Some of your rapidly running out time, Anna Forsythe.” A slender hand extended to her, as if to help her back to an even stance. Anna’s glare stopped that. The offer was withdrawn.

“Who are you?”

Chin dropping, the stranger looked at her. Immediately his skin began putrefying, pulling back tightly against his head, greying and withering before her eyes. Wind whipped up around them, the sands of time moving with hideous grace. He didn’t relinquish her gaze, even when one eye lolled in the deepening socket. A snap in the air around them, and the beautiful young man stood before her again. In a voice dearth of life, he replied, “I am the other inevitable.”

With a genuine inclination of his head, he admitted, “At least, I am the messenger of the inevitable.”

“Now you know, that if I wanted to overpower you, I would already have done so.” He extended his arm to her. “Shall we?”

Anna smoothed back the ashen pixie cut she wore. “You are not the first elemental I have met, you realise. I know not to take any of you at face value.”

With an expression of pity, he replied, “That you liken me to an elemental shows your fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I am far older than they are. I have seen stars and worlds born and die. They were foundlings upon the doorstep of life.”

“But I promise,” he added, “that no harm will come to you while we talk.”

Anna felt the truth of his covenant stamped into the world about her. She let out the breath she had trapped.

Longingly, she looked backwards over the fence, to a familiar figure kneeling amongst the garden beds, the wide shady brim bobbing as weeds were tugged from their comfortable homes.

“Is that really her?” Anna’s voice trailed off with a vulnerable and wistful note.


“But if you go over that fence now, you aren’t ever coming back.”

Anna bowed her head for a moment. She let the longing and the hope wash over her, crashing into the hard wall she’d put up around herself since Marmie had died. Since she’d become the target of a world full of creatures who would do anything for power. It was so long ago that she barely remembered what safe felt like.

Leaving the gate behind with a resigned sigh, she took the man’s arm. Anna studied the scrawny figure, the hollow cheeks.

“What do I call you?” she asked. “I can’t this weedy casing death with a straight face.”

The light blue eyes twinkled as they looked back at her from beneath a shock of black fringe. “Why don’t you just call me Morte?”


Another prompt from Chuck Wendig, this time about a setting. Love to know what you think.

Pan, the Pied Piper of my story

Pan had been in my head all week, after seeing a great cover for one of the speculative fiction magazines. This story about near death experiences certainly did not start out including him, but he insinuated his way in there. Sneaky deity.

You can read the story over at Readwave:

I would love any feedback you have on the story, either here or there.

A Mentor’s Mantle

Arriving at the funeral of your mentor in the brightest of striped air balloons is not the way to stop people talking. Ella Fritz, dressed in a black bustled gown with hand embroidered lace, did not need an entrance to captivate the attention of those gathered. With the stares she got, one would think they did not realise that her choice of transport had been rather limited. Who carries air balloons in black anyhow?

She was glad to see that the coffin had been closed. The accident that had stolen her mentor had left him a disfigured mess, and she didn’t need that imprinted on her memory any more than it already was. Stroking the smooth, glossy surface, a few tears gathered in her dark eyes and spilled down the dark curve of her cheek.

Taking the hand of the Professor’s wife, she silently kissed the soft cheek and shared a moment of solidarity with her. Words were ineffectual to communicate their shared grief. Both had never had another love like his.

Beyond the coffin on its stand, a willow waved its tendril branches in the breeze. The Professor would have approved of this place, Ella felt; a moment’s peace that he’d never had in his frenetic life. A remote hill in a secluded spot, resting in the shade of tree beside the red rust canyons of this land that he had loved so much.

Sitting at the back, Ella watched as the minister gathered the mourners for the service. A wry smile for the memory of the good Professor’s lack of time for the men of the cloth echoing in her mind, she tuned out to the words that someone of her profession would consider cold comfort. She liked to think of the Professor now scattered amongst the dust and the pieces of her world, driving it on with the force of his passion. But she knew that was just her.

After many years of faithful service and companionship, she’d never seen the Professor’s feet of clay, as you were want to do when familiarity bred its special contempt. With a sly smile, she wondered if others might consider that she was the clay; a young street girl he picked because of the quick deceit she pulled on him with some magnesium and a match. He’d scoured every street in that backwater hovel collection until he’d found the teen orphan. Apprenticing to him had been the best decision of her life.

If only he hadn’t been experimenting with that brimstone on his own! They had agreed to start the experiments on the properties when she returned from the outpost, but he had seemingly started without her. Which was unusual in itself, because he had always been such a stickler for safety. With their hired hand helping her at the market, there had been no one around to assist when it had all gone wrong. Ella shuddered with the memory of the green-tinged burns, the bubbles of skin like those on a stew left too long. She was glad she had managed to save the Professor’s wife that at least.

Ugly doubt had niggled at her, but a thorough investigation of the laboratory had not turned up any evidence of wrong-doing. The sheriff had eventually asked her what leads he was supposed to be investigating. Accidents could happen to anyone, even the great Professor Switch.

Like the washing out of a tide, the neat rows of white chairs emptied, and people shuffled towards the tents erected for the wake. The gravedigger piled on the red earth, the hollow sound of clods hitting the lid of the coffin making Ella shiver. She’d attended too many funerals on this forsaken colony. She noted that many of her Professor’s esteemed colleagues were not here. So many had doubted his dream.

Ella slipped her arm into the frail one of the Professor’s wife. Claire watched with dull grey eyes as the pit filled, impervious to the red dust settling on her skirts. Ella noted the new silvers in the brown hair pulled back tightly beneath her widow’s hood.

“It was too soon,” Claire said woodenly, her face turning to Ella. “We are both so young.”

Ella’s mouth twisted in sympathy for the woman who had cared for her. Barely middle-aged, this should not have been her burden so early. “I know, I know.”

Ella felt a sudden heaviness in her palm. She opened it to find the Professor’s pocketwatch shining bright and gold in her palm. With wide eyes, she refused it. It was too much.

“He wanted you to have it,” Claire smiled with remembered happiness. “He once told me that you were his greatest achievement.”

Pesky tears prickled as she turned away, stowing the keepsake in a small and hidden pocket in the folds of her dress. “Thank you,” she whispered, to both of them.

Claire began her slow descent to the pavillion, turning to see Ella untying the balloon with deft hands. “You’re not coming in?” Claire called out.

“I thought continuing his work might be the best tribute for him.”

A thin-lipped smile came to Claire’s face. Science was always stealing those she loved. She raised a hand in farewell and went to do her duty to her husband.

Stepping lightly into the balloon, and lashing the gate tightly shut, Ella lifted off, floating over the canyon and towards home. She checked the notes she’d stored in a secret compartment, the ones worth the life of the man who was almost her father. His secret invention, the atomic clock, that would revolutionise the way the world would operate. A secret Ella worried he had been killed for.

Today, she would take on his mantle. Tomorrow she would be realising his dream.

Another piece of Flash Fiction, inspired by terrible minds, that had to have the following words in it. FUNERAL CAPTIVATE DECEIT BRIMSTONE CANYON BALLOON CLAY DISFIGURED WILLOW ATOMIC

Do not engage

This is an offering, sprung from a challenge from author Chuck Wendig’s blog, terrible minds. A random number generator assigned me 17, alternate WWII, and 18, kaiju. Luckily I saw Pacific Rim, so I know what kaiju are. Here is my story:

The loss of the Yamoto was a great loss of face for the Japanese people. Their pride, the flagship of the Imperial Navy, disappeared in their own waters. Late in the war, it was a devastating blow for the proud people, devoted servants of the Emperor.

But what the people of Japan did not know was how. The loss was attributed to an unfortunate spotting and a waiting American fleet, but that was not how the Yamoto met her end. In a fit of blinding light, the USAs shiny new weapon landed on her target, obliterating her in a mushroom cloud. Any remaining small particles drifted to the depths of the Pacific, only ever upturned again by the might of the heavy-handed sea. A test commanded by the military chiefs had been conducted; the Yamoto was just in the wrong place. The gadget had worked. Away winged the aircraft, eager to report their successful mission.

Particulates drifted on the wind, coating the nearby islands with radioactivity, the residents cleaning up the debris wrecked by what they thought was a flash storm.

On a small patch of coastline nearby, two late hatchers, the rest of their iguana siblings hatched and dispatched by the blast, climbed out of the nest. Bigger than their nestmates and a luminescent green, the iguanas scrabbled about before sliding toward the sea. The water was cool on their rapidly expanding scales and swimming became easier as they went along.


The Enola Gay skimmed through the low-level clouds, the dull light of morning lowering the B29’s silver shine to matte. Colonel Tibbett kept her steady, his hands tight on the yoke, keeping her steady. The sweat beaded on his brow, and underneath the sausages that his fingers now felt like. Engine noise flooded the cabin and he couldn’t hear whether Second Lieutenant Jeppson had completed the arming. Only the restraint of his years of experienced kept the Colonel from gazing out the many windows at the clouds lighting up with the sun’s new light.

Out of the corner of his eye, the Colonel saw Jeppson standing beside his seat. The Lieutenant’s face was white with strain, tell-tale beading on his upper lip.

“Is it done?” Tibbett asked over the noise.

A slow small nod of Jeppson’s head. He disappeared back to the radio shack through the darkness of the plane.

“Calling HQ, this is Dimples 82. Dimples 82, calling HQ. Over.”

“HQ reading you Dimples 82. Over.”

“Dimples 82 reporting that Little Boy is ready to go. Repeat, Little Boy is ready. Over.”

“Dimples 82, HQ reading you. Your orders stand. Over.”

“Understood HQ. Dimples 82, over and out.”

Setting his mouth in a thin, hard line, Tibbetts stared hard into the clouds, his eyes flicking to the dials as he flew.

“Deak? Are we ready to drop?” he yelled into the comm.

“Yessir Colonel. Armed and ready to go.” The Captain’s answer crackled back.

Tibbetts opened a channel. “Dimples Eight Two, calling Dimples Eight Five. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Five reading you loud and clear Eight Two. H-town is clear skies with some cloud cover. Go to go. Repeat, good to go.”

“Roger Eight Five. Descending to drop zone, ETA 5 minutes. Get your tail outta there. Over and out.”

“Dimples Eight Two calling Dimples Seven One. Fall back position. Over.”

“Roger Eight Two. Over and out.”

“Dimples Eight Two calling Dimples Eight Three. Fall back position. Over.”

“Roger Eight Two. Over and out.”

“Colonel, we’re ready for approach.” The Lieutenant advised.

Closing the channel, the Colonel focused on keeping the yoke steady as the slid lower in the atmosphere. The radio was silent, as each contemplated what they would be a part of today. Poison pills in the top pockets weighed heavily upon their breasts. The dichotomy of their fate today, death or returning as heroes, churned inside them.

Gliding down, the Enola Gay slipped down towards, skirting the rising mounds of the islands as they soared toward Hiroshima Bay.

“Uhhh, Dimples Eight Two, something odd is happening here. Suggest fall back. Over, Dimples Eight Five.”

“Eight Five, what are you talking about? Over.”

“You won’t believe me. Over.”

“Try me. Over.” The Lieutenant was sharp, annoyed. This radio chatter would give them away.

“Eight Two, we have a giant green lizard approaching on Hiroshima Bay. Over.”

“Sir,” the Lieutenant queried. “We have a situation. Eight Five reports a giant lizard.”

“What in the hell? Tell him to fall back. Now.”

The radio bred static for a moment as the Colonel gave the directions. Lieutenant Jeppson pondered what to do with a man cleanly out of his mind. “Fall back Dimples Eight Five. Over.”

“Due respect, am not leaving you with this. Over.”

The Colonel crested the last island hillock which opened out onto Hiroshima Bay. Cresting out of the water and lumbering up the beach was a giant lizard, glowing against the grey city buildings. The tail flicked and a sheet of water dumped on the shore. As the Enola Gay rapidly gained, the Colonel could see the debris dotting on the water. For a few moments, he sat stunned, rapidly approaching the monster as it moved in further on the city.  Tibbett was wide-eyed as one dip of the huge head sent a silo twirling up and rolling over an entire suburb.

Enola Gay was almost on top of the creature, so close he could see the scales like small atolls gleaming in the low light. Pulling the B29 to the right, he nipped around, close enough to see the glistening pointed teeth snapping as the lizard raised its head.

“Dimples Eight Five, Dimple Seven Two. Form up. On me. Dimples Eight Two out,” Tibbett transmitted.

“Captain, Lieutenant, I think you two ought to come up here.”

He circled the city, ascending beyond the reach of the beast. The other servicemen struggled into the cockpit. Pointing out the nose window, Tibbett snapped “Get HQ. That lizard is no crazy man’s imagination.”

Catching the changing expression on their faces made him realise that he was not crazy. They scrambled back to their stations.

“HQ, Dimples Eight Two. I think we may have a problem. Over.”

“Calling Dimples Eight Two. HQ reading you. Why is silence broken? Over.”

“HQ, I have an unidentified threat. Dimples Eight Two over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, what is the threat? Over.”

“Sirs, it’s a gigantic lizard. Over.”

The radio silence communicated what head office thought of that admission.

“Dimples Eight Five, HQ. I can verify the Colonel’s information. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, please repeat. Over.”

“Giant lizard sir. On Hiroshima. Over.”

The crackle of static was the reply.

“Dimples Seven One reporting HQ. Just entered the area. Lizard of small island size definitely present sirs. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, stand down on your original mission. Do you consider this a threat to the United States? Over.”

“Sirs, this creature came up out of the ocean. I’d say it can swim. So yes, sir, I believe it could be a threat. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two. Hold formation around Hiroshima. We will revise your mission status momentarily, over.”

“Original mission aborted Colonel,” Jeppson reported. “HQ to update mission sir.”

Tibbett looked out at the smoking city of Hiroshima. Stepping into one of the tributaries that flowed through the main city, the beast sent a wave sweeping over the banks, and even at this distance it was clear that many people were being swept into the river.

Grouping into formation, the planes circled, watching the destructive process through the city. Larger than many of the city buildings, the searching progress and the switch-like tail of the monster levelled whole blocks as it passed. People like ants milled and ran. How many of them were being killed, they could not tell from this height.

The comm burst to life. “Come in Dimples Eight Two. Over.”

“Yes HQ, reading you. Over.”

“Mission abort. Repeat, mission abort. Return to base. Over.”

Jeppson switched back to the pilot. “Sir, they want us back at base.”

“What? This animal will lay waste to half of East Asia before we can get back here.”

Jeppson relayed the concerns of the mission leader to no avail.

“President Truman has issued this order. Japan is our enemy. Abort mission. Repeat. Abort mission. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, over and out.”

Not a word was said between the men as they circled back, facing toward home. Deeper and deeper the monster waded into the city, laying waste in a horrific silence. On the ground, spot fires flared up as moments of brightness in the dark trampled streets.

“Colonel, sir, this is wrong. Over.”

“We have our orders, men. Over.” Even on the comm, the voice was tired and the disappointment not well masked.

“We cannot leave them to this sir. It won’t just be Hiroshima. Dimples Seven One, over.”

They passed over the top.

“Sir! Have some compassion. This is not just about Hiroshima anymore. Eight Five, over.”

This mission had always left a bad taste in his mouth. Killing innocent civilians, even if the military had built into the city. It was targeted, a precision strike they were to make. What would happen if they turned their back on this threat?

“Circle back wing. Dimples Eight Two, out.”

Even without the comm, the whoops of approval could be heard over the roar of the engines. Swooping back over the islands in the bay, the wing collectively moving into a defensive formation around the Enola Gay.

“Dimples Seven Two sir. We’ve got your tail sir. Over.”

Colonel Tibbett grinned underneath his visor. The wing always operated together.

He opened a channel to all of them. “You know we’ll all face court martial over this. Over.”

The chatter that came back refuted that idea. After all, they were just going to drop Little Boy. That was their mission.

Scooting over the water, coming in low towards the city, the wing followed the rivers and devastated infrastructure left in the wake.

“Target, 12 o’clock. Over.”

The lurid green mound rose, not a 10 kilometers ahead.

“393, draw attention away from Eight Two, and we will follow up with Little Boy. Do we understand the game plan? Over.”

“Yes sir. Over.” The support was unanimous.

The lead of the wing dropped their payloads, hitting with 10 incendiaries. Tossing its head wildly, the lizard stopped and turned, the great reptilian eye focused on the small ships shooting past. Green blood trickled down its side but it launched off as if uninjured. Running after them, its body writhing with stride, the monster crashed through more residential areas. It crashed through a bridge, the stonework scattering like children’s blocks. The B29s veered right, to circle out. Quick as a whip the animal raced after them.

“Sir, it’s gaining. Over.”

“Keep steady Major. I’m closing. Over.”

Colonel focused on the beast, pushing his throttle, the ship shaking and bucking in the air. The yoke jerked in his hands, but he pushed her on, keeping her steady. He gained, counting the seconds to the drop.

“Captain, we’re almost ready for Little Boy.”

“Aye, aye, Colonel.”


“Almost sir. Counting down. 3…2…1… Drop!”

Tibbett struggled as the hatch opened and the payload descended. The reptiles curving plates beneath were jewelled and shifting like they were facet cut. Quickly he banked, ascending and pushing the Enola Gay high as she would go, and to west, out of the wind.

“Payload delivered. Over.”

“Don’t look at it.” Tibbett shrieked down the comm. “Withdraw. Return to base. Over and out.”

Behind the fleeing tail of the ship, a cloud grew, filling upwards into the sky, spilling over sideways. The official photographer in the unnamed data capture plane caught the lizard rearing in agony, its clawed arms flailing outwards as it toppled to the earth, dead. The necessary measurements were taken, before they followed the wing back to base.

On a distant hilltop, a photographer took out his camera to capture the unusual cloud with two parts, the knobbly lower and fluffy upper. Beyond the range, a city laid flat waited in silence to see if the danger was over.

So I tried Readwave…

I’d read a little buzz about this site called Readwave, which is a site you can upload fiction to and open it up to a wider audience.

My story, To the stars, has currently had 85 reads, 2 likes and 7 comments from people who had lovely feedback for me. It also trended (moved into the first page of stories that people were reading) on the first day. I am unsure if it has brought any more traffic here to my blog, but I suspect you would need to have a larger following than I do.

It’s been a great experience, and given that people have specifically asked for further stories with the characters, I will definitely give it another go. I am posting about it here, because I want to link all my stories to this blog, so everyone can follow them, wherever they end up.

You can read the story here:

Thanks to all my friends who have already had a look.