Only 5 more stories left! Hot diggety dog!
This week’s suggestion comes from Edward Murphy, who you may recall from earlier in the year of getting stuck up a mountain fame.
His idea is: ‘The entirety of modern civilisation was a fever dream in the mind of an 11th century minor noble. They wake up.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
“Selfie! YOLO! Glamping!”
Lord de Bonneville sat up in bed, cold sweat clinging to his body, drenching the sheets.
“What is it, my Lord?” his wife asked, waking up at his outburst. “Hast thou had the dream again?”
“Forsooth, it is the third time this week alone.”
“What didst thou see on this occasion.” Sitting up in bed, Lady de Bonneville caressed her husbands chest soothingly.
“Men riding metal horses at high speed. Oxless carriages roaming the streets. Buildings twenty times the size of the castle, made entirely from glass.”
“Fortifications of sorts?”
“It is hard to say. A glass tower would be surely indefensible.”
“It matters not, my love. Sleep now, and we shall consult the herbalist on the morrow.”
Lord de Bonneville spent the rest of the night tossing and turning uneasily. The dreams he was having were so lucid. They felt so real that he could not dismiss them.
He saw huge settlements, built from glass, metal and a strange sort of stone he had never encountered before. Wars fought on a scale that even his mighty King could not consider possible, and with such weapons that rendered the swords and armour of the day useless. People walked around in strange clothing, the likes of which he had never seen.
There was more. So much more. The dreams had been coming several times a week for weeks now. It was sweet of Lady de Bonneville to be so kind, but the herbalist had tried her remedies already, and they had failed to make a difference.
He wondered what the dreams meant. Were they prophecy? De Bonneville knew just how the King felt about prophecy. If word got out to his Lord that he had been having visions of the future he would undoubtedly be executed for witchcraft and heresy, and probably his family too for good measure.
There was nothing he could do but to keep it hidden from everyone. It was a risk telling the herbalist, but his wife had insisted that they at least try some of her remedies. Even his own children could not know about his affliction, lest word reach the King, and he send an army to bear down on the city walls.
Sure enough the herbalist’s balm had no effect. The very next night Lord de Bonneville experienced his most vivid vision yet. He saw a family gathering around a strange box that projected images of people and places on to glass for their amusement.
Rapt, he had watched in awe as the family enjoyed a 30 minute long performance about a talking dog. Lord de Bonneville did not understand the appeal, but the family had seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience. He was sure that entertainment in a box would never trump the thrill of a live performance.
Over the weeks that came the dreams intensified, and every prophecy was imbued with some new wonderful custom or contraption that was compl tell unknown to him.
The strain of keeping the secret was starting to show. The Lord barely slept 2 or 3 hours a night before his fever dream woke him, and he was constantly tired. He would fall asleep in war council meetings, and his attention to detail had dropped significantly. Little mistakes were starting to creep in and it wouldn’t be long before the King started to notice.
Eventually it became too much. After a few particularly bad nights, when he had barely slept a wink in nearly a week except to dream of the prophecies, Lord de Bonneville could finally take no more.
On the fifth morning of the week he rose, feeling fresher than ever. Choosing his robes of state to wear he strode to the castle courtyard, and ordered his herald to summon the peasant folk to listen to him speak.
When a sizeable group of the castle’s inhabitants had gathered, Lord de Bonneville cleared his throat to speak.
“Imagine,” he began. “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us…only sky.”
The herald glanced at one of the guards who had accompanied the Lord.
“Fetch Lady de Bonneville,” he said. “My Lord speaketh in tongues!”
“My lady, come quick!” the guard said, bursting in to the drawing room, where Lady de Bonneville was teaching her son numeracy.
“What is it, Perkyns?” she asked, startled by the intrusion.
“It is your husband, my Lady. He spouts heresy to the townsfolk!”
“What do you mean heresy?” Lady de Bonneville became flustered, dreading the possibility that the secret might be about to come out. “My husband is the most pious, God fearing man I’ve ever met.”
“I swear to you, he instructed the peasants to imagine that there was no heaven. He speaks in riddles. Methink him possessed by the devil!”
“How dare you!” Lady de Bonneville roared, rising from her stool. “Aedelwise,” she said to her son. “Go and play with the servant boys awhile.”
The little boy scuttled off, ducking between the guard’s legs. The soldier’s eyes never once left his Lady’s face, however, which by this point had turned beetroot red.
“How dare you accuse your betters of such nonsense. I’ll have you hanged for this.”
“Ma’am I implore you to trust me. Come and see for yourself. He doth rant and rave like a lunatic.”
“Very well,” Lady de Bonneville replied, calming down a bit. “But if you speak falsehoods I shall have your head.”
“Ah, my Lady,” Lord de Bonneville said as his wife approached. “Did you know that I am the walrus. Coo coo ca choo.”
“Husband dear, what hath gotten in to thee?” Lady de Bonneville replied, with a poorly faked smile on her face. In addition she hissed more quietly, “We discussed thine not acting up in public, dear. If the King gets wind…”
“Oh but dearest the King is dead. He died on the toilet eating a cheeseburger.”
Lady de Bonneville could only stare at her husband in awe. It had all been too much these last few weeks and he had finally snapped. Her dear husband. The King, who was very much alive and to her knowledge had not perished eating on the privy, would hear about this and the Lord would be sent to the asylum at best, or at worst executed.
“Yes dear,” she replied eventually. “So I believe.” She led her husband off to their private chambers, that at least he would be out of the public eye.
Sure enough it was only a matter of days before the King found out about the outburst. Lord de Bonneville was doing better, but had been lying in bed proselytising at length about the virtues of something called a Ferrari versus something called a Lamborghini, and why someone named Kanye from the West was the most important artist of this or any other age.
Before he could make enough of a recovery to be fully lucid, however, the King’s men had come to cart him off. Thanks to her begging and pleading that her husbands life be spared, they agreed that he would be admitted to the King’s asylum in the capital.
Lord de Bonneville sat in his cell, singing a song that none of the guards or other inmates at the asylum knew.
“Heyyyyyyyy,” it went, “hey baby. Ooh. Ah. I wanna knoooow – will you be my girl.”
“Feeding time,” the gaoler said, pushing a tray of slop under the door.
Lord de Bonneville was utterly ravenous, and devoured it immediately, all the while singing, “Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut,” to himself.
The ‘food’ came with two blunt instruments that loosely resembled a knife and fork, but they were so useless that using the, would have made eating more difficult.
Despite this, Lord de Bonneville pocketed the knife. The gaoler didn’t notice when the tray was removed, and shortly after the imprisoned Lord got to work, slowly, methodically but surely carving in to the wall of his cell.
“Here,” the archaeologist said, standing up in his trench. “Dave come have a look at this would you?”
“What is it, Terry? Found something big?”
“You could say that mate,” Terry replied. “I’ve found the lyrics to ‘Imagine’.”
“The John Lennon song? Where? Just like on a bit of paper.”
“No you berk, not on a bit of paper,” Terry said, folding his arms. “I’m hardly going to ask one of the world’s foremost medieval inscription specialists to come and have a look at some open mic night print out of a John Lennon song am I? It’s inscribed here, on a bloody wall.”
“You’re pulling my leg,” Dave replied sceptically. “This is to get me back for that time I baked a Roman skull in to your birthday cake isn’t it?”
“I am not pulling your leg. Just come and look.”
Abandoning his own trench, Dave went and joined his colleague to look at the wall.
“Well bugger me with a fish fork,” he said, brushing some dirt away from the wall with his fingers. “It’s ‘Imagine’ down to the letter. But it’s not signed John Lennon. It’s signed Lord Francis de Bonneville, 1096.”
“So Lennon is a fraud then?”
“I always knew McCartney was the one doing all the work.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time an artist nicked their lyrics. I heard Aethelred the Unready wrote Bohemian Rhapsody…”
One more week down, now only a handful to go. I can’t believe that in less than two months this will all be over. I couldn’t even picture the final stretch of this challenge in the first few months and times it felt like I was never going to make it to the end. I mean, I still haven’t, so let’s not tempt fate, but it’s getting close.
Anyway, this week’s story was suggested by my fellow Liverpool sufferer, Lola Smith-Welsh, whose suggestion was as follows: ‘New kitten is not just a ball of fluff, but an interactive bugging device placed in the home of a suspected terrorist by security forces. Bonus points if the cat can talk.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Francis looked at his packed bags and, finally, relaxed. He had been waiting six months for this holiday, and all the preparation was finally complete. His bags were packed, his passport was in his coat pocket and he had canceled the milk. All that was left was one final sleep, then he would be on his way to Barbados.
On the table, his phone buzzed. Francis picked it up and read the text message from his mum, telling him to have fun. He closed the message, fired up Twitter and read his feed for a bit.
After a while of reading, he decided to compose a humorous tweet in advance of the flight.
‘I hope my flight to Barbados leaves on time tomorrow,’ he wrote, ‘or else I’ll be forced to take drastic action! Lol!’
His tweeting completed, Francis climbed the stairs and went to bed.
The next morning, Francis awoke to a loud banging on his front door. That’s odd, he thought, looking at the clock. The taxi isn’t due for another two hours. The door rattled again.
Sleepily Francis rose and went downstairs to see hat all the commotion was about. A third knock on the door, even louder this time, was the final straw.
“Now see here…” he began as he opened the door. He was discouraged from embarking on his rant by the automatic rifle barrel being pointed directly at his face.
“Francis Charles Hughes?” the owner of the gun barked.
“Y…yes,” Francis replied.
“Get on your God damn knees!”
Francis panicked and slumped to the ground as ordered.
“Francis Charles Hughes you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack,” the man said, lowering his gun and cuffing Francis.
Several hours later, Francis was released from custody, his ego slightly bruised. Police had questioned him and conducted a search of his house and his person, and determined that he didn’t pose an immediate threat to anyone. They warned him, despite his protestations that he had only meant he would write a very stern letter of complaint, that further tweets of that nature would be taken very seriously indeed.
Worst of all he had missed his flight. The airline didn’t have another one going out for another four days, and the customer services agent had been less than inclined to help when Francis had explained the reason for missing the plane. ‘I was indicted for threatening to commit international terrorism’ doesn’t tend to go down well with most airlines.
So, defeated and demoralised, he headed home, determined to fly out on the next plane and enjoy a shortened, but now thoroughly deserved holiday.
Upon arriving home Francis did a quick check up and down his street for any suspicious looking vans marked ‘Meals in 5′ or something similar, but it appeared that he was not actually being watched by any government agencies. He swept the house for bugs, just to be sure.
Francis looked despondent at his packed bags, that would have to sit there unused for another few days. He should have been well on the way to sunning himself on a beach by now, but he was stuck back home. It’d probably rain soon just to confound his misery.
Slumping down on to his sofa and preparing to sink in to a pit of despair, Francis’ attention was drawn to the window as he heard a mewling outside. Looking over he saw the most adorable kitten sitting on the window sill. It looked sad, as if it wanted to be let in.
Outside, the kitten turned slightly away from the window, so it could not be seen properly by Francis, and lifted its paw to its mouth.
“Alpha alpha, I have made contact with the suspect,” it said in to a concealed microphone. “Will update again soon. Over and out.”
Francis duly opened the window, and the kitten strode in confidently.
“Oh, you are a cute one,” Francis said once the cat was inside.
“Miaow,” the cat replied, before cleaning itself.
“I’m afraid I haven’t got any milk to give you, little one. I was due to go on holiday today, you see, and it would have gone off by the time I got home.”
The cat stared at him, nonplussed by his excuses.
“Oh!” Francis said. “I know. I’ve got a tin of sardines in the cupboard.”
As he ran off in to the kitchen to get the tin, the kitten raised its paw to its mouth again.
“I have infiltrated the premises. The mark seems oblivious to my true identity.”
Quicker than expected, Francis returned from the kitchen with a plate full of sardines. The kitten immediately began licking its paw to cover up its actions. It miaowed for effect.
“Something wrong with your paw there, buddy?” Francis asked, putting the plate down on the coffee table. Fearing it had been rumbled, the kitten stopped licking its paw and tucked in to the sardines.
There were some perks to the job, at least.
“I can’t believe im not going to get to go on holiday for another 4 days all because of one stupid tweet,” Francis said, sitting back on the sofa.
The kitten, on hearing this, perked its ears up to listen more closely. This could be it, this could be the information it had been sent to collect.
“But what do you care?” Francis added. “You’re just a kitten. You don’t even know what Twitter is. You probably just think that’s it’s a noise that the tasty birds make.”
The kitten frowned. It hated being patronised. It was much more than just a single minded kitten, focussed only on murdering innocent birds. In fact, it quite liked birds. It much preferred murdering mice instead.
Overcoming its displeasure, it noted that Francis had tailed off. So close, yet so far.
“Oh,” Francis noted. “You’ve finished your sardines. You must have been hungry. Who do you belong to?”
Francis picked the kitten up, much to its chagrin, and inspected it for a collar, finding none.
“No collar eh? Are you a stray?”
The kitten miaowed in protest at being held for so long. Of course if it wanted it could ask him to put it down in plain English, but that would have had the unfortunate side effect of giving the game away.
Instead it had to subject itself to this ignominy. It had a good mind to tell its superiors at MI5 that this was no way for a cat with a genius level intellect to be treated. All the sardines in the world weren’t worth being treated like a common house cat.
Of course, all the genius was down to the chip in its paw that it used to communicate with HQ. Without that chip, it would be just that, a house cat. Remembering this it decided that perhaps piping up wouldn’t be too smart a trick after all. It decided to get back to the job at hand.
Using its best pleading and understanding look, it sat and glared at Francis, hoping that the simple creature would understand that it was there to listen.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” Francis asked. “I told you I don’t have any milk, and that was my last tim of sardines.”
The cat continued to stare at him.
“Alright, fine,” Francis said. “I’ll go and buy some milk. I’ll need it anyway if I want a cup of tea for the next 4 days.”
As Francis grabbed his coat and keys, the kitten hit its paw up against its face and let out the kitty equivalent of a sigh.
Half an hour later Francis strode back on to the house, a blue plastic bag in one hand. The kitten had timed its latest check in report to MI5 poorly, and was calmest caught in the act. Once again it had to resort to licking its paw to divert attention. Unfortunately, this time it did not work.
“What’s wrong with your paw, little buddy?” Francis asked, placing the bag on the coffee table and picking the resistant kitten up. This was too close for comfort. The cat had worked too hard and too long to get discovered now. It spit and hissed as Francis tried to examine it.
“Come on now, I know it must be painful. You’ve been licking that thing every to,e I look away. Whatever’s in there must be causing you some awful grief.”
Finally the sheer size difference told, and Francis managed to stabilise the kitten for long enough to do a search of the paw. He finally noticed the small, black box attached to the cat.
“What’s this? Did you step in something and it got stuck? No wonder you’re in such a flap.”
Frantically the kitten licked the last ditch mayday code in to the device in the hope that its superiors would intervene.
This is it, it thought, this is the moment where my cover is blown and miaow.
The last part of the thought had been completed in the immediate aftermath of the device’s removal from the kitten’s paw. Miaow, it continued to think, having been reduced back to the intelligence of a normal house cat. Purr.
“There we go,” Francis said, throwing the device in to the bin without even glancing at it again. “Much better.”
He tickled the now docile kitty, who purred enthusiastically in response, before affectionately attempting to claw his eyes out.
“Well, if you don’t have a collar that probably means you don’t have an owner. How would you feel about living with me?” Francis asked. “Unless, of course, you are secretly a spy cat sent here to keep watch over me by MI5.”
Francis laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion.
“I bet that thing I just pulled out of you was a secret microchip that gave you super powers. Hah, listen to me. I’ve been watching too many James Bond films. Perhaps I should call you Bond. My little spy kitty.”
The kitten, as if it needed to live up to its new name, performed a death defying leap, claws first on to the curtains, hanging there for a minute before falling off.
All this distracted neatly, if accidentally, from the spontaneous combustion in the bin of the now compromised secret device.
“Stand down, 007,” Francis said, in a terrible posh accent.
The kitten miaowed, and for a second Francis could have sworn that he saw the cat salute reflexively before moving on to clean his leg.
First of all a piece of non challenge related news. A few weeks ago I was alerted by a couple of people (thanks guys!) to a whole list of writing competitions that had upcoming deadlines.
I decided that I didn’t want to enter any of my current stories to the competitions as they are, and I really wanted to do the editing for them all next year. However, there were a couple of contests that required me to write something new, which I have entered.
One of these entries was for a travel writing contest, which has since been published here. Publishing does not, unfortunately indicate that I have won. I’m still waiting to hear about that. But still, it’s another thing to add to my list of “places where my stupid opinions are on the Internet”.
The other contest was a flash fiction (less than 100 words) competition, which has not yet closed for entries. I’ll keep you updated as and when I know any more about that one.
The final competition update is that I forgot to mention the results of the other two competitions I entered. Unfortunately the bad sci fi contest seems to have just vanished, which is a shame, really. It was still an interesting exercise in having to write deliberately bad prose, which is harder than it sounds, so that’s something at least.
The other contest, the Llandudno Writing Group one, did not result in a win, sadly. I didn’t come in the top 6, who were the prize winners, but one of the stories, the one about the flood, was published in an anthology of the best competition entries online. I expect regular readers have read the story here before, but there’s some other good ones in there, so check the anthology out here.
Anyway, on to this week’s story, which was suggested by the delightfully funny Sebas (check him out on Twitter – @ohlookbirdies. He does come with an extreme pun warning, however). His idea was: ‘It turns out there is no such thing as outer space. Earth is surrounded by an orb of some sort. “Space” travellers are fed false information, and truly believe they went to space.’
I had to drop the last bit because I ran out of space, but I feel like I got the gist of it. Here it is:
2014 – A Year In Stories
The Order of the Orb
The Georgian science minister fiddled with his tie as he prepared to step up to the podium outside 8 Rustaveli Avenue, the address of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
He was a little nervous. Only a junior minister by the standards of some of Georgia’s political elite, many of whom had been in post since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was sure that there were those who had been involved in the running of Georgia long before that, too.
Still, they had chosen him to make this announcement. It was one of the most important moments in his country’s history, and he supposed that the government wanted to present the youthful, media friendly face of the regime in this age of instant global news reporting.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present the Minister for Science, Georgi Kakhaladze,” the announcer on stage said in to the microphone.
Georgi stepped up on to the podium and surveyed the crowd. Many journalists were present, and Tbilisi residents who had been walking past had stopped to see what all the commotion was. He cleared his throat.
“People of Georgia, and the world. I am proud to announce that within the next week the Georgian government will be ready to launch our first unmanned space flight. We are sending a rocket to space.”
Two hours later he walked back in to his office. The announcement and subsequent clamour of questions from the gathered media had been a success, he thought.
His secretary looked harangued, and there were a number of unfamiliar people sat on the chairs in the waiting area outside the office, all looking very uncomfortable indeed.
“Any messages, Jeti?” he asked.
“You could say that, sir,” his secretary replied. The people sat down there all wish to have an audience with you, urgently, and Vladimir Putin himself rang the office about 20 minutes ago.
“Ah, I expect they all want to congratulate me on the endeavours of the Georgian government,” Georgi said.
“I don’t think so, sir,” Jeti replied. Before Georgi could respond she had picked up the phone, only a millisecond after it had started to ring.
Georgi turned to the gathered throng of nervous looking individuals.
“So,” he said, clasping his hands together. “Who is first in line to offer their congratulations?”
It turned out that the gentleman at the head of the queue was named Marceaux, and he was the ambassador from France.
“Minister,” he said, as they both took chairs on opposite sides of Georgi’s desk. “The government of France protests most strongly at your government’s pursuit of a space programme without consultation with the United Nations or any other government.”
“What is to protest?” Georgi asked. “Surely it is only to the benefit of all mankind that more of our nations are able to reach our fingers in to the void of space?”
The French ambassador wrung his hands together.
“Alas, Mr Khakhaladze, it is not that simple. Monsieur Hollande insists that you cease plans for this unmanned space flight immediately. The consequences of your continuation will be…most regrettable.”
After Mr Marceaux left, Georgi saw the remainder of the visitors to his office. All of the meetings trod a remarkably similar path to the first.
Disappointment in the lack of cooperation with authorities that had been exhibited, and vague but nonspecific threats of consequences of the warnings were ignored. The whole thing left Georgi feeling drained.
At 4pm, with the last ambassador having offered up his warning, Georgi left the office. He decided that Mr Putin could wait until the morning.
Georgi walked along his street, in a quiet neighbourhood in western Tbilisi. As he approached his apartment building he noticed something suspicious. It seemed as though a black saloon car was following him along the street.
Without missing a beat, he recalled the training his secret service guards had given him, and dived down a side alley. He heard the car’s doors open and slam, and several feet giving chase. Turning a corner, he kept running, but stopped short when he ran in to the enormous bulk of a man dressed in all black.
“Nice try, Mr Khakhaladze,” the man said, before grabbing Georgi by the scruff of the neck and lifting him off the ground. The next thing he knew the lights had gone out, as someone had thrown a sack over his head.
Some time later, after much jostling and confusion, the bag was removed from Georgi’s head.
“Where am I?” he managed to blurt out, before one of his captors stuffed a gag in his mouth and tied it behind his head. He was also. He noted, tied by the arms and legs to a chair.
“Mr Khakhaladze,” a female voice came from behind him. “You will do us the service of listening to what we have to say.” Taking note of Georgi’s unsuccessful attempts to swing his head around and see his captors, the voice added, “You do not need to know who we are. Suffice it to say that we are what is known as the Illuminati.
“You must be wondering why we have brought you here. Well, it is no coincidence that it happens to be the day of your big announcement. We applaud your government, even we, with our wide reach had no idea you had gotten this far.
“We understand that there have been some naysayers visiting your offices already, making nonspecific threats of consequences if you proceed. They make these threats because they are scared. They know what the consequences of an unapproved nation achieving space flight are. In short, Mr Khakhaladze, they know that they will be revealed as frauds.”
Georgi was trying his best to say something, but the gag in his mouth made it impossible.
“Take the gag off him,” the voice instructed, “before he hurts himself.”
“What do you mean, revealed as frauds?” Georgi asked, after the gag had been removed.
“Space flight,” the voice continued, “is a lie. No one human being has ever left the atmosphere of this planet.”
“Come on,” Georgi scoffed. “I’m not that stupid.nwhat about the moon landings? Yuri Gagarin?”
“All faked, quite elaborately as well. An international conspiracy to keep some nations powerful by appearing vastly technologically advanced, and other nations weak.”
“Faked how? And why? Surely if a tiny country like Georgia can develop the technology, they would have had no trouble at all to get in to space.”
“Oh yes, they developed the technology. It is theoretically possible. The fix had to look convincing or no one would believe them. But they couldn’t do it for real.”
“Why not? If they had the technology surely it was easier to do it than to just fake it at that point?”
“They didn’t do it because it would have ended…badly.”
“Look, I understand that you’re the Illuminati, and that you’re supposed to be elusive, but this rope is starting to chafe my wrists so I’d appreciate it if you got to the point.”
“As you wish, Mr Khakhaladze. The attempt would have failed, as there is a giant orb surrounding the earth that the ship would have crashed in to, exploding in to a fireball and killing all on board.”
“What?” Georgi managed, after an uncomfortably long silence. “Who installed the orb?”
“Regrettably, we did.”
“Why would you encase the entire planet in an orb?”
“To save it. Several hundred years ago we detected the presence of an upcoming solar flare, the radiation from which would have wiped out all life on Earth. We had to do it to save humanity and the planet. So, we employed the greatest scientist and inventor of the day, Leonardo da Vinci, to build us an orb to protect us from the harm. It was so technologically advanced for the time, we were even able to project images of the sky on to it.”
“Why haven’t you taken it down?”
“The radiation levels have only recently subsided below acceptable levels.”
“But what about the United States, Russia, the International Space Station countries? Why did you let all this happen if you knew about the orb? You said that these countries using this as a way of gaining power. Why aren’t you stopping them?”
“We had to tell them. When Russia and America started their space programmes, we had to tell them before they crashed a ship in to the orb. It would have let the radiation in and killed us all. When they found this out, they knew we were powerless to stop them. We couldn’t stop them, lest they reveal our existence, and we couldn’t destroy the orb without destroying the planet.
“But your government’s space programme has fallen at a rather fortuitous time. They are scared. They know that the orb is no longer required. That their power will be broken if it is removed. Their programmes have fallen in to disuse because their position was so secure. Georgia is the first nation since the 1960s to develop its own space programme. You can be the first country in to space. You can break their domination of the world.”
“But how?” Georgi asked. “Surely the rocket will hit the orb and explode?”
“It will, but it will compromise the orb’s integrity. Pieces will start to break off and float away in to space, leaving enough room for a second rocket to go through.mwe know nothing about your space programme, but conventional wisdom would suggest that you at least have a backup rocket in case the first one fails.”
“And what of their threats?”
“Empty,” the voice replied. “They know that to declare war for such a trivial matter would be diplomatic suicide. They were merely hoping to dissuade you from your actions.”
“Very well,” Georgi said. “I will go along with your plan. Now will you please untie me?”
One week later Georgi sat at the newly unveiled Georgian National Space Centre, just outside Tbilisi. He was sat in the control room alongside the ambassadors of all the other spacefaring nations, whom he had personally invited to the launch.
They sat and watched as final preparations were made to Georgia’s first spacefaring rocket. After all checks were complete, the countdown began.
“Here we go,” said Georgi.
The rocket took flight, accompanied by silence in the control room. Less than a minute later, the rocket exploded in a gigantic fireball as it hit the orb.
“What a shame,” Monsieur Marceaux said, completely failing to conceal the smug look on his face. “The experiment was a failure.”
“Oh, we aren’t done yet, Monsieur,” Georgi replied. He turned to the controller, and added, “Davit, if you don’t mind?”
The controller pressed a number of buttons and a hangar door in the complex opened. Another rocket trundled out along some rails and took its position on the launchpad.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that first rocket was one big step for man. This next one will be one giant leap for mankind.”
This week’s story comes courtesy of my sidekick Josh Orr, and is about ‘A group of friends playing Monopoly, who discover that the transactions are taking place in their own bank accounts.’
2014 – A Year In Stories
Do Not Pass ‘Go’
“Do we HAVE to play Monopoly?” James asked. “We have an entire set of bookshelves filled with board games and you’re choosing to play bloody Monopoly?”
“Yes,” Harriet replied, removing the game from the shelf, where it had sat unused and unloved beneath a copy of Settlers of Catan since they had moved in. “It’s a classic. Sometimes you just need to crack out the old favourites.”
“But it isn’t Christmas, and none of my family members are around to punch if I lose,” James protested in vain. He could tell that her mind was made up.
The doorbell rang.
“That’ll be Mark and Gemma now,” Harriet said. She had already unboxed the game and laid the money out in neat piles on the table.
James went to answer the door. Sure enough it was their friends Mark and Gemma, with whom they did a games night every other Thursday. They chose the games on a weekly rotation, and James secretly dreaded every time it came round to being his girlfriend’s week to choose.
She had been brought up on the ‘classics’ like Monopoly, and would always choose something from her childhood, and so the best he could hope for was a nice game of Risk every now and then. James would always say her picks were entry level games, and Harriet would call him a board game snob in return.
“I brought some Doritos!” Mark said by way of a greeting.
“I hope you brought enough,” James replied. “We’re in it for the long haul tonight.”
“I’ve decided that we should play Monopoly tonight!” Harriet exclaimed. Mark and Gemma exchanged a look. They were more used to meeple than Uncle Pennybags.
“Interesting choice,” Gemma remarked. Standing behind his girlfriend where she couldn’t see him, James shrugged.
With greetings exchanged and coats hung the foursome sat down to play. Mark picked the boot, Gemma the car, James the iron and Harriet, who was always the dog, picked the dog.
Play got off to a slow start, as it often did in Monopoly, with people jostling for property based on their bank balance, and taking pleasure in screwing others for rent prices.
After about an hour the game showed no signs of abating, and James read the mood of the room, or at least the mood of their guests, and declared a short break to order some pizza.
“Yeah,” he said to the girl on the end of the line. “Can I get 2 large pepperoni with stuffed crust, and one medium veggie feast?”
“Don’t forget the garlic bread!” Harriet hissed in his ear. Gemma and Mark nodded in agreement.
“Oh yeah, and two orders of cheesy garlic bread. Do we get any dips with that? OK good.”
He waited a few seconds while the bill was totted up.
“£35.47?” he said, repeating the girl’s words. “OK, here’s my card number…”
A few more seconds of silence passed as the payment was processed.
“What do you mean the payment was declined? Did you try again?”
“Not enough funds? Are you kidding me, I just got paid this morning. Hang on a second.”
He held the phone away from his ear and turned to talk to the group.
“Sorry, can one of you front this? My card has been declined. I’ll get the pizza next time.”
“Sure,” Gemma said, fishing her debit card out of her purse. A few moments later and the transaction was complete.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the game any more,” James said, once he had hung up the phone, “but I’d better get on to the bank to find out where all my bloody money has gone.”
James spent a frustrating half an hour on hold to the bank, although mercifully it was half an hour he wasn’t playing Monopoly. Eventually he got to speak to someone; a chipper sounding fellow from Scotland.
“Hello, welcome to First Bank Customer Services, you’re through to William. How can I help?”
“Hi William. My card has just been declined for lack of funds, but I know for a fact I got paid this morning, and I had some credit before that too.”
“Let me just bring up today’s records and see if any charges have been made. Ah yes, it seems that first of all you put down a small deposit of £3,500 on a house on the Old Kent Road, which sounds very good for a house in London, I might add. Oh, it seems there’s a few charges marked here as ‘rent’ to a Gemma Rogers, a Mark Jones and a Harriet Ringer.”
James nearly dropped the phone.
“Excuse me one second,” he said to the call centre rep, placing his hand over the phone. “We have to stop playing Monopoly!” he said to the group. “Whatever we are buying or charging rent on is happening in real life. According to this guy I’ve just bought a bloody house on Old Kent Road, which is where I’ve got my only house on the board. He also said that I’ve paid you all ‘rent’.”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous,” Harriet said. “Look James, I know you don’t think Monopoly is fun or interesting enough for board game nights but I do. If you didn’t want to play that badly you should have said something rather than making up this nonsense.”
“I’m not making it up!” James protested.
“He’s not either,” Gemma added. “I’ve just checked on my banking app and look, rent payments from you all.”
“Oh bloody hell!” Mark said, also looking at his phone. “I’m £25k in the red because of all the houses and properties I’ve bought.”
“I guess the lack of funds doesn’t apply to the game…” Gemma noted.
“What are we going to do?” Harriet asked.
“We should sell the houses and properties back to the bank first of all,” James said, before hanging up on the bank representative.
“But they buy them back at a lower rate. We’re still going to be thousands in the hole,” Mark said, looking as though he was beginning to panic.
“Leave it to me,” Harriet smiled. “I’m an expert Monopoly player. If we play sensibly there is a way to cheat the system so that everyone comes out up.”
“Are you sure it will work?” Gemma asked.
“Positive,” Harriet replied.
The gang all sat down again and, under Harriet’s instructions, began to play the game of their lives. Property and money changed hands only when and how Harriet directed it.
Another half an hour went by and things were starting to look brighter for their bank balances. James, who had lost the least, was back in the black, with Gemma and Harriet not far behind. Mark, who had been doing the best at the time the game had stopped, was still some way off, but Harriet was in the middle of using some of James’ excess to pay it back.
“Come on guys,” she said. “We’re almost there. Just another £3000, and we’re set.”
“I have to say, Harri,” James said, “this is actually kind of fun, playing Monopoly with real money. It’s kind of a thrill.”
“Yeah!” Gemma agreed. “This must be what it was like to be one of the Great Train Robbers. You know they played with real money after they turned over that train?”
Harriet, who was concentrating, and Mark, who was still several thousand pounds in debt, failed to join their partners in seeing the funny side of the situation.
“Come on guy, let’s focus,” Harriet chided. Mark grunted in agreement.
A few turns later and they were nearly at the magic number.
“Come on, James,” Harriet said encouragingly. “A 3, 5 or 6 will land you on one of Mark’s greens and you’ll be back even.”
James, his hands shaking, rolled the dice. The whole room breathed a sigh of relief as a double 3 came up. James forked over the money, and everyone was all square again.
“We should quit while we are back on track,” Mark said.
The other three were all too happy to agree. Breaking even again was one thing, but when your own money was on the line in such large amounts, gambling even more didn’t seem like a good idea.
“But wait,” Harriet said. “We can’t finish here. James rolled a double and so he has another go. We have to wait until the end of his turn.”
Nervously, James picked up the dice again and with a last glance at his friends rolled them again. The four all looked on in horror as a double 1 came up.
“It’s ok guys, it’s only a chance,” Harriet said.
James tentatively picked a card and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Second prize in a beauty contest… But I still have one more turn because I rolled another double.”
Once again the gangster watched in anticipation as the dice bounced on the table. A hush fell over the room. It was another double.
“What does that mean?” James asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Three doubles in a row means that…you go to jail,” Harriet answered.
At that moment there was a loud knocking on the front door.
“It’s the bloody fuzz!” James shrieked. “They’ve come to throw me in the slammer!”
Harriet slowly approached the door and, meekly asked, “Who is it?” There was no reply. A few seconds later, the knock was repeated. James cursed the lack of peephole in the door.
“Just…just answer it,” he said. “Get it over with already.”
“Are you sure?” Harriet asked. The knock came again, and James nodded.
Harriet took a deep breath and opened the door wide.
“Pizza delivery!” the delivery driver exclaimed cheerfully. His expression dropped when he saw the look of horror on the four’s faces. “What happened?” he asked. “It looks like you thought I was coming to arrest you all.”
“Not all of us,” Harriet said, taking the pizza and slamming the door. “Not all of us.”
Another week goes by, and of course another story appears. I’ve only got nine more to go which is a bit scary. When I started out on this I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to twenty, let alone forty, let alone forty three. But here we are.
This week’s suggestion came from my cousin, Robert, who is getting married in the new year, which is exciting. His idea was ‘a man contracts a rare disease, whereby various parts of his body keep swapping with each other. His future looks bleak and uncertain, until he meets a girl with the same condition.’
And here it is!
2014 – A Year In Stories
Arse From Elbow
Joe was exhausted. Hot and exhausted and thirsty. He had been walking around Rome all afternoon in the blistering heat of a summer’s day, and, like a genius had forgotten to bring his water bottle with him.
He had tried and tried to dip in to a shop to buy one, but every time he tried the tour guide had moved on, and he didn’t want to lose the group.
Finally, the tour had stopped at the Trevi Fountain, and it looked like they would be stood still long enough for Joe to quench his thirst. Seizing his opportunity, he strode in to the nearest vendor’s and made for the fridge.
Joe was taken aback.
“Water is how much?!” he asked out loud.
“4 Euro a bottle,” the shop owner replied.
“4 Euro a bottle?” Joe repeated.
“That’s what I said, are you stupid or something?”
“I’m not paying that for a bottle of bloody water.”
“What, you think it will be cheaper elsewhere? This is the Trevi Fountain, everything is inflated around here.”
Joe struggled long and hard with his principles, and in the end decided that he never pay another person £3.50 for the privilege of drinking half a litre of water as long as he lived. Sometimes sticking to your guns was more important.
Going back outside to join the tour group, Joe licked his dry lips. If he couldn’t buy water he would have to get it some other way. He scanned around and then it hit him. There was a fountain right in front of him the whole time. All he would have to do would be to scoop up some of the fountain water and he would be ok.
Striding down to the fountain, he cupped his hands and pooled some of the water in them, raised them to his lips and drank deeply. Blessed relief.
“Mummy,” a nearby British child said. “Why is that strange man drinking from the fountain?”
“Don’t look at him dear,” the mother replied. “He only wants attention.”
But Joe didn’t care about the attention. He was gulping down the water by the handful. Whilst it was relieving, Joe noticed that it did taste rather metallic. Probably something to do with all of the coins people threw in to the fountain to bring them back to Rome. He didn’t care, though.
His thirst sated, Joe rejoined the group and went on his merry way, thoroughly enjoying the rest of his walk around Rome that afternoon.
The next day, Joe woke up in his hotel room and yawned deeply. The yawn sounded distant, as if it was coming from further away than normal. These old palazzo rooms must have unusual acoustics, he reasoned.
He had another busy day of sightseeing ahead of him. The forum was on his agenda today, followed by a trip to see the Protestant cemetery, where Shelley was buried.
Joe swung his legs out of bed, and went to stand up. But, instead of finding himself up and ready to face the day, he found himself down and very definitely facing the floor. When he had gone to stand up it was almost like one of his legs had been…missing.
Putting it down to a dead leg, he attempted to haul himself up off the floor, but where his hands usually were, he felt what appeared to be a nose.
“What the?” he said. But Joe didn’t hear his voice was if it was coming from his face. He looked down at his errant leg, and noticed that where his foot used to be, his mouth had now taken up residence.
“That isn’t right…” he said, watching his mouth move as he spoke. The effect was very strange. “This must be a dream,” he concluded, still wat hing the mouth, his mouth, speaking every word from the end of his ankle. If he wasn’t dreaming, he must be sporting the world’s most impressive set of vocal chords.
With his remaining active hand, Joe pinched himself, and it hurt. What was happening to him? He decided that he needed to see a doctor immediately. The forum would have to wait.
Dragging himself over to the phone proved difficult,my it eventually he made it. He went to cradle the phone against his ear, but the receiver merely slapped against his other hand. He eventually found the ear halfway down his back, which made phone logistics somewhat difficult.
A short but complicated conversation that had involved a lot of shouting with reception later, and Joe had arranged for a doctor to come up to his room.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on Joe’s hotel room door.
“It’s open,” he called out through a mouthful of hair, as his mouth had recently decided to relocate itself to the top of his head.
“Mio dio!” the doctor declared as he walked in and saw Joe’s condition. “This is the worst case or cartegomititis I’ve ever seen!”
“Cartegomititis?” Joe asked, worried. “What is that?”
“It is an extremely rare condition where your body literally, as you English put it, does not know its own arse from its own elbow. Do you understand?”
“Not really, that’s just an old expression.”
“Ah not so, many of these old expressions they have some grounding in reality, yes? This is the case here as well. Cartegomititis causes your body parts to wander around, as it were. Your features will go walkies.”
“Why is this happening to me, doc? What did I do to catch this?”
“Currently the only known cause of the disease is drinking water contaminated with a high copper level. Do you think you could have done that recently?”
“Yesterday I drank from the Trevi fountain…” Joe admitted.
“Idiota!” the doctor barked at him. “Why would you drink water from a fountain like that? People throw all sorts in there.”
“In my defence I was really, really thirsty.”
“This is bad news. I’d never heard of a case in Rome before, but it seemed that the fountain is contaminated. We must have access closed down immediately. The public’s health could be at risk.”
“How do I get be…ugh. What’s that smell?” Joe asked.
“What smell?” the doctor replied. “I can’t smell anything.”
A second later Joe realised what had happened. His nose had rather unfortunately decided to move to a new home right where his coccyx normally was, and was thus hovering right over his arse.
“Never mind,” Joe replied, trying his best not to throw up through his hair. “How do I get better?”
“I’m afraid cartegomititis has no known cure.”
“So I’m stuck like this forever?” Joe asked, anguished.
“Not necessarily. It has been observed subsiding in patients after two years or so, and most people who recover have their body return completely to normal. A course of physical therapy in the meantime will keep active muscles that you may struggle to use day to day.”
“You’re welcome, now I must warn the city council immediately before we have an epidemic on our hands, or on whatever replaces our hands after we contract the disease.”
With that the doctor left the hotel room, and Joe was alone once more.
Joe elected to curtail the rest of the holiday and went back to England on the next flight out. A week later after having been signed off sick from work he turned up at the hospital for his first physical therapy session.
He lollopped his way over to the chair, because that was the only way he could really describe his movement these days thanks to the constantly changing position of his legs and feet, and sat down.
Joe was disappointed to find himself as the only person at the cartegomititis clinic. He had rather hoped that he might have found solace in others.
Taking a seat rather awkwardly, Joe picked up a magazine and tried in vain to read, but it seemed as though his arms and eyes were being uncooperative at this point, and so he gave up.
“Excuse me,” came a woman’s voice from behind him. In a motion that was surprisingly graceful under the conditions, Joe swivelled around in his chair. “Is this the cartegomititis clinic?”
The voice was owned by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Most importantly. She was also suffering from his own affliction. He had a compatriot.
“Yes, you’re in the right place,” he stammered out of his elbow.
“Good, this hospital is so confusing. It’s like a labyrinth!”
“I guess that makes me the monster at the centr of the labyrinth, then,” Joe replied, immediately cursing his crap attempt at humour. But, to his surprise, the girl was laughing.
“My name is Grace,” she said.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Grace. I’m Joe.”
“Looks like it’s just the two of us,” she observed.
“Looks that way. Is this your first session?”
“Yeah, I only found out I had this thing last week.”
“Do you mind me asking how you got it?”
“Not at all,” Grace replied. “I was really thirsty,” she went on, “and I decided to take a drink from a nearby wishing fountain…”
“Say no more,” Joe said, interrupting her. “Say no more.”