Sunday, 17 November 2019

Fiction Point Episode Eleven: The last mammoth

The sun was yellow, then it turned red, and grew very quickly into a very large ball. That was the beginning of how everything changed.

The herd took notice. Up on the hill, their proud leader looked across the open plain and navigated a route as far as his eyes could see. They would head further South. As they bent their knees and fought the wind, some wondered how much hunger they could stomach? Then cold got stuck in their frozen furs and fatigue drilled lines into their faces. They did their best to follow the trumpet call. On and on, day and night, through grey dawns and dusk, through great tall valleys and over hard high mountains; on and on, until they lost sight of where they were running, and the long march turned into a fragmenting line.

Those who could keep up, kept going, and those who were struggling, slowed down, and those who laid down, never got up again. First, it was the old and the infirm, the end of their tired lifecycle only slightly premature. But it was when the first young fell, that deep fears of how things were going to be, undermined their spirit. Eventually, only a few could keep going, until they too came to a stop, because they had got to the edge of the world. In front of them was a thick green sludge stretching up to the horizon, a swill of algae which could not be crossed and could not be drunk. There was no going forwards, and no going back. There was no food for miles and miles around, and what was left of the herd had no strength to forage.

So, it was not long before they too lay down in the strange comfort of the snow, the ice-wind blowing into their veins and shutting down their arteries. One by one they fell asleep, shut their eyes and felt it best to dream. One by one, they knew there was no point in holding on. They faded away in little huddles. Until, there was only one left: young, still fit, still standing, still wanting to believe. He moved away from all the dying, tracked east and then west, trying to find a way to keep living. He went inland and hoped to find something. He went back on himself, and hoped to find survivors, but even he, like the last mammoth, began to realise there was only extinction.

He stared one more time at the few remaining stars, pin-pricked in the dense cloud. Then he stripped off his fur, felt his skin freeze and the frost-bite takeover. He drifted into a dream, and took one last breath, before life came to an end.


Simon Marlowe 11th November 2019

Monday, 26 August 2019

Fiction Point Episode Ten: The old man and the cold sea

The wind swept across the beach from east to west, cooling the skin, rippling the sand and watering our eyes. But even on the hottest day of the year, the North sea was cold, and kept the kids from playing too long in the water. My wife warned me about putting sun cream on my face, whilst pointing at an old man in the sea, who held a young girl in his arms, swinging her gently through the waves. ‘It might be his last wish,’ she said, ‘to go in the sea and hold his grand-daughter.’ Then I turned away to check on our own two kids, who were lying flat in a channel flowing down to the sea.

‘Oh look,’ my wife said, ‘he’s still got his trousers on.’

And the old man, with his wrinkled body, slowly waded out on to the beach. We watched him tread like a robot with iron feet, little by little, back up to the beach huts. He then disappeared behind a giant ice-cream cone. My wife wondered: would he shut his eyes for the last time, content he’d had his last moments with his favourite grandchild. ‘It’s like the cycle of birth and death,’ she said, ‘and he’s had his last wish.’

In the heat, laughing, splashing, screaming all around, we noticed a younger man, shouting at the sea: ‘Danielle… Danielle! Danielle… Danielle!’ This time my wife’s instincts changed.

‘I can tell,’ she said, ‘he’s lost his child.’

Although I was reticent, and said we should wait and see, my wife insisted we should help; she could tell by his face, he was desperate. And soon a crowd had gathered, offering to search the beach, search in the sea, call the police.

I kept my children by my side, wrapped them in their towels, and explained a little girl called Danielle was lost, and mummy was helping the policeman because we had seen an old man playing with a little girl in the sea. They wanted to know if they could go back into the water and cried when I said it was too late. I gave them a drink, a cookie each, and told them how much mummy and daddy loved them both.

I stayed in the car with our children who had fallen asleep. The beach was lit by powerful arc lights all the way down to the sea. A police tent went up, an ambulance came, and parents gave statements, including my wife.

And back in the car, ready to drive home, she whispered to me, so as not to wake the children.

‘They found a little girl who drowned,’ she said, ‘but no one says they saw an old man in the cold sea…’


Simon Marlowe 26th August 2019

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Episode Nine:  There are too many books

Nicholas Potts thirst for knowledge knew no bounds, devouring facts and theory, fiction and hypothesis with an insatiable appetite. He was on an upward trajectory, academically and professionally, when he unexpectedly announced to friends and colleagues: ‘there are too many books in the world, all shouting at once. We must have less, control more, so the best voices are heard.’ Unperturbed by people who considered N. Potts to have suffered a psychological breakdown, he set about implementing a plan to reduce and eliminate text and re-establish with one foundation source (i.e. Nicholas Potts): a distillation of all human knowledge, to drown out the noise and focus people’s attention.

The destruction of books, was an onerous task, but made simpler, so Potts thought, by the insider knowledge that the British Library kept a copy of all published works.
And fire, he determined, was the most effective tool for all formats. Unsurprisingly, Potts failed to even light a match in the Reading Room, or the vast vaults of voluminous archives.

He realised his project faced some practical barriers, which needed to be overcome. A recruitment campaign produced only one willing but able disciple, a na├»ve and impressionable young man, who appeared to both worship and love Potts in equal measure. Such was John Crestfall’s enthusiasm, Potts felt the need to act on his sexual impulses, which were mutually exchanged with Crestfall. However, less time was spent plotting and more time was spent indulging both men’s proclivities. In order to mitigate the impact, Potts decided the solace of love and friendship would enable him to work on the Year Zero text, required to launch the Less is More virtue, for future intellectual enquiry and publication.

As the years passed, technology and age overwhelmed them, and Potts last few years were spent fighting cancer, whilst retired in a quaint English cottage.

Fortunately for Crestfall, he was bequeathed the unfinished scared text, sealed in a box and to be opened after Potts funeral. So, Crestfall, left alone in the depositor’s room, anticipation coursing through his veins, unlocked the metal container and levered out a bulging box of A4 manuscript. This was it, he told himself, the inheritor of his master’s plan, the book to supplant all other books, the text to eradicate all previous text.

He lifted the lid and read the title: A concise encyclopaedia of all human knowledge. Crestfall, turned the page and smiled at the dedication to himself. But the next page was blank, no contents, and the page after that, and the page after that… in fact… every page was blank.

Crestfall, felt the walls close in on him, the despair and disorientation cut like a knife into the decades dedicated to a man who had proved to be a fraud. But it was at this moment, believing his own life an associated deceit, that his past years with the flawed genius, meant only one thing. And so, he took out his pen, went back to the first blank page and hoped one day his voice would be heard above all the others.

Simon Marlowe 11th July 2019

Monday, 27 May 2019

Episode Eight The haunted dollhouse

‘Every little girl deserves a dollhouse,’ Ella’s dad had said, as he placed it down on a large chest by the window, causing his daughter to dance and clap with joy. But the well-intentioned present was to reduce the family to a strange accommodation.
It was Ella, who some weeks later, said her dollhouse was haunted. Houses maybe, said both her parents, but not a toy. And just to reassure Ella, her mother opened the dollhouse and checked inside. The interiors were modelled on Edwardian grandeur, but like an old house needing a bit of a makeover, it was worn and tired, frail and dusty. Ella pointed to the maid in the kitchen, a mummy and daddy in the drawing room, a butler walking up the stairs, and the daughter laying down in her bedroom. ‘But there are no ghosts,’ her mother said reassuringly. ‘Of course not,’ Ella replied, ‘they only come at night.’ 
After failing to convince Ella the supernatural was all make-believe, her dad decided to inspect the dollhouse while she was asleep. He could see Ella had put mummy and daddy in their bed, and the butler and maid at the kitchen table. He was satisfied his adult reasoning was correct, when suddenly, the gas lights flickered in all the miniature rooms. This was odd, because he knew there was no electric for any moving parts. Then he heard his daughter’s voice behind him: ‘I told you there were ghosts!’

Ella’s dad was ready to tell her to go back to sleep, when he heard a loud crack, followed by another, and another. ‘They slam the doors daddy, when they are angry, and they spit at you.’ As Ella said these last few words, he felt an acute stinging pain on the side of his face. But this was only the beginning. More stinging, more spit, came flying out of the dollhouse, burning through his clothes and into his flesh. He grabbed hold of the Edwardian snake-pit, more to protect Ella than himself, but recoiled, screaming out, as he felt both his eyes receive blinding wounds.

It was Ella’s mummy who dragged her husband to the bathroom, whilst Ella calmly closed the doors to the dollhouse. In the morning, after they had returned from A&E, with bandages over both her daddy’s eyes, Ella revealed what she had been told by the residents of the dollhouse.

‘They told me they were really sorry and just want to stay. You must promise to look after them and they won’t do anything wrong. But they said, if you try to sell them like the other family, they will never forgive you.’ And what would happen, Ella’s parents asked, if they did? ‘They wouldn’t say, but it won’t be very nice.’
After much discussion, and the willingness of Ella to play with the dollhouse, and the commitment by the parents to redecorate the interiors, it became part of the family, but cared for more out of fear than love for a potential treasured heirloom.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Episode Seven - The Family By the Side of the Road

I met this family by the side of the road, late at night, at the bottom of a lane, which they said led up to their house which was on fire. But when I looked up above the tall pine trees, there was no smoke drifting across the full moon above the canopy. Dressed in their night clothes, the mother and her two children pleaded with me to help save Dougie, their pet dog, who was trapped inside. How could I say no? ‘We’ll wait here,’ said the mother, ‘for the fire engine.’
The lane went on for a long time. I could hardly see in front of me, and all I could hear was the odd crack and rustle of the wood on both sides. Strangely, no smell of fire touched my nostrils. It was only when I got to a clearing that the house appeared, and was raging flames and radiating heat, which immediately scorched my skin.
A man was kneeling in front of the house and I assumed it was the husband. I put my hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked up at me, tears and anger in his face. ‘My family are dead,’ he said, ‘I was too late, even though I ran through the woods.’
That explains it! ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I have just spoken to your family by the side of the road.’ At first, he didn’t believe me, then he sprang up from where he knelt and started running back down the lane.
I was rooted to the spot for a few seconds, before running after him, hoping his grief and trauma would be short lived. But when I arrived, there was only my car and the confused husband. It was not a cruel trick on my part and I suggested they may have gone back through the woods. He was anxious, frantic to be reunited with his wife and children, so shot-off into the woods to find them. Were it not for my own anxiety about his well-being, I might have stayed to flag down the emergency services, but there was something of a desperation in his voice which worried me.
I tried my best to follow, shouting for him to slow down, but he was elusive. Foliage constantly blocked my way; a sense of direction was impossible with no path. Eventually, I was left with a quiet eeriness, back to the same sounds and dullness which had followed me when I had first walked up the lane.
Just when I felt I was thoroughly lost and bemused, I noticed lights from my car and another poking through the trees. As I stepped out of the dark a friendly face greeted me. I reassured them I was not in distress, but there was a family and husband whose house was on fire, and they had gone missing.
‘That family,’ he said, ‘up the lane… the mother and two kids you say? They died six months ago. The husband was too late to save them… off shagging his mistress instead. He hung himself in those woods only a few weeks back... sick with guilt they say...’ As I shuddered all over, I heard barking in the back of his car. ‘That’s their dog,’ he said. ‘Someone had to look after it…’

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Episode Six - Meeting in Purgatory

You might think, if you are more rational than spiritual, more literary than practical, that purgatory (the assessment and waiting room for entering heaven or hell), is not real but imagined. Perhaps you may have loosely used the term to describe tedious moments, laborious conversations, Christmas with the parents or in-laws, or a regular commute. It is purgatory, because each second, minute and hour, is a painful drain on your precious time and resources.
And finally, some of you, who have a job and career which requires you to attend and sit in meetings, may have found the need to express yourself internally with the term: purgatory! But what would you do if it turned out the dreaded meeting was that gap between heaven and hell?
As is the case in all large corporations, I meet with people who I have never met before, who introduce themselves with grand job titles, which mean nothing to everybody present. This is where I find myself: in a windowless room in the basement of the offices, with no mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity, having listened to the loud-mouths having mouthed-off and the quiet ones spoken sensibly.
In fact, we all thought it had been a good meeting – which meant none of us were any the wiser on a range of unrelated subjects to the initial purpose. It was only when we were ready to leave, that a voice through the spider phone (which had not been working), stated that none of us could leave until a decision had been made.
Initially, we all blamed each other for failing to come to a decision, but once we had decided that a decision was unlikely, we agreed to reconvene the meeting. However, the heavy metal basement door would not budge, even when we banged and kicked it. We were, in effect, cut-off from the world, and so implemented an emergency response to our situation.
We established that we had no contact with colleagues in the office, the world beyond the office or satellites circling the earth. We had a half bottle of water in the water cooler, which we started to ration. As the hours passed, we discussed the notion that our incarceration was a consequence of failing to come to a decision. As inhuman as it may sound, it was not implausible to some, although neither was it credible. Having utilised a matrix drawn on a flipchart, brain-storming, amateur counselling, combined with leadership and team building exercises, we concluded that this was, purgatory, real and not imagined.
One by one we revealed our sordid lives: the affairs, the drug and alcohol dependency, the physical and mental abuse inflicted or received, the drowning of a cat, the neglect of elderly relatives, and a possible homicide.
So, we wait, to be assessed, evaluated and allocated to heaven or hell. And I returned to my laptop; only just now to be interrupted: ‘What are you doing?!’ exclaimed a woman, who I believe disliked me from the beginning. ‘Writing a story,’ I said, ‘Exercise Six, Management and Training manual.’

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Epidode Five - J Randell’s Schadenfreude

J Randell and Felix Metric were both successful authors of the dark and disturbing, but they developed a rivalry which was to lead to the demise of one and the imprisonment of the other. Their titles always topped the best seller lists, with sales at the high end and sometimes stratospheric. For their agents and publishers there was nothing not to like, especially when a little competition created positive publicity.
It was only when Felix Metric tweeted that much of his life was spent staring at a blank screen, that their rivalry moved up a level.  J Randell could not resist the opportunity to respond with some mischievous mockery. Incensed, Metric set a challenge that he knew his fellow author would eventually struggle to complete.
They had a year, he said, to see who could successfully publish more stories in the short form, either published or submission approved for publication. The forfeit for the loser would be a substantial financial donation to a charity of the winning author’s choice. Moderated by their agents, on the first day of the New Year, the starting gun for their write-off began.
At the first quarter, J Randell was able to prove he had taken a lead of four stories to one. Metric, well known for his sanguine demeanour, knew time was on his side, predicting J Randell (notorious for his mood fluctuations), would struggle to compete come the mid-way stage.
Six months in, they were neck and neck, but J Randell faced a dilemma all authors fear: 
Creative block.
Now normally this crisis could be overcome, given time, reflection and therapy. But the one thing J Randell did not have was time. He needed stories, fast and furious, and took a dangerous step from imagination to reality, to fill the creative hole.
His agent noticed the marked change in J Randell’s writing. There was a harshness, a coarse realism which punctuated each new story he produced. It was as if, his agent remarked: ‘the stories were true.’ But J Randell was on one, locked in creative mode, in the zone and not to be disturbed on any account.
However, come the third quarter it seemed Felix Metric had taken an unassailable lead, and by the final quarter nothing was heard from J Randell until a few days before New Year’s Eve. It appeared he was seeking a magnanimous ending, when he arranged with Metric and their agents, to attend dinner at his home on the top of the hill.
Unfortunately, this is where J Randell was to demonstrate how far he had departed from sanity, how far he had become absorbed in his own distorted reality. After Metric was crowned the undisputed winner, J Randell announced he had a great story to read, to round off a year of literary achievement. As they listened to his tale, he laid bare how he had committed the crimes in the stories he had told. Then, to their horror, the final scene revealed the poisoning of the food and wine at their celebratory dinner, to complete J Randell’s schadenfreude.

Fiction Point Episode Eleven: The last mammoth

The sun was yellow, then it turned red, and grew very quickly into a very large ball. That was the beginning of how everything changed. ...