Monthly Archives: March 2015

Rambles: The Book Six that never was

“Never apologize and never explain–it’s a sign of weakness.” – John Wayne, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, attributed.


But then again, why not?

I’ve done one of these posts before in 2013 (The Book Five that never was), so since I’m now into the flesh and bone of Book Six, I decided to do one again.

So, anyway, there was going to be a Book Six, but it was going to be very different from the one I’m writing…more of an odyssey than the one-location tale it is now.

However, the ideas I was developing weren’t wasted (as they weren’t when I did The Book Five that never was) – most of them found their way into what would become Medusa, and I don’t want Australian fellow writer Anna Hub to think her feedback was wasted; I took it all on board.

Sometimes the stories do get away, but that wasn’t the problem here. The problem was that I wanted the protagonist to have a new voice, something different.

So I abandoned it and started again. It’s a shame; I think it’s one of the most powerful openings I’ve ever written, and I would have liked to have known where this path through the forest went.

But as the song says: Let It Go.

I get the feeling sometimes I have to do these little opening chapters to warm myself up for the main event. That’s why they call them drafts, folks. 🙂

Anyway, The Book Six that never was:

Day Four
I shot a man tonight.
I handled the rifle the way my dad taught me: Pushing the stock hard into my right shoulder, steadying my racing heartbeat and squeezing down on my rushing breath, sighting down the barrel so the world shrunk to only him and me.
Still he came towards me, convinced I wouldn’t do it perhaps, or just desperate for our supplies, coming on almost as though he didn’t hear my warning or care one way or the other. That was possible; he could have been one of the last of the Sueys, after all.
I squeezed the trigger and the rifle bucked and rose to the left, enormously loud, as I knew it would. I pulled it back to the right and down again, already lining up for another shot. The man spun a half turn, a hand rising to his shoulder. The echo of the shot came back from the mountains, scolding me.
I didn’t wait for him to turn back to me, aiming between his shoulder blades. This time there was a spray of red and white as the bullet blew him open. He fell to his knees, still facing away from me and his head dropped. He seemed to sigh.
Then he fell forward onto his face without putting his hands out to stop himself and lay still.
I just killed a man. Shot him in the back in cold blood. Took his life.
It did no good to justify it, to say to myself that it was him or me, it was him or us. It did no good to say that everyone left on the planet will be dead in a few days anyway. If I used that argument, there was no reason he couldn’t have shared his last meals with us, no reason for me to take his life.
Maybe all he wanted was not to die alone.
I just. Shot a man.
The shaking started then, the delayed shock of what I’d done rising from somewhere in my stomach. I tossed away the rifle as though it burned and my outstretched fingers convulsed, flexing and relaxing, flexing and relaxing. Bands of steel tightened around my spine and spiders rose towards my neck, ice spinning behind them. My stomach convulsed and turned, the gorge rising into my throat. Every muscle in my body loosened and shook, and I fell to my knees, staring at the stony ground between my hands, not feeling the harsh rocks cut my knees or palms.
The remains of dinner brushed the back of my throat, and I vomited and vomited until bile burned and it mixed with my sobs and mucus from my running nose, my whole body shaking and thrumming like a man in a high fever, my body a shaking wire. I couldn’t stop myself, couldn’t even look up at what I’d done.
Beside my hand, a familiar pair of boots appeared, then dad’s grip was on my shoulder and pulling me up. I fell into his shoulder, still sobbing as he led me back to the cabin, his voice full of singsong reassurances that meant nothing.
I shot a man tonight. I have to find a way to live with that in the few days we have left.

Writing Whimsy: First Flight

I was there when it first happened. The first time he ever did it, I mean. The first time he saved someone.

The media were all over it the next day, of course. With that many smartphones in the city, there were no shortage of eyewitnesses who caught him on the move. A million hits on YouTube in the first hour.

The footage is all the same in essence: Shaky, blurry movement as the camera pans up and up the side of an apparently endless skyscraper. Then it steadies, and the eye can focus on the shape falling. A second later, and it becomes clear the shape has arms and legs and long hair streaming behind her, arms and legs that are flailing at nothing, trying to grab air as though it will save her, her mouth a black hole and her eyes wide. On the good phones, the sound of her scream follows her down like a merciless harpy. Then an updraft smashes her into the unbreakable glass of the building, and the screaming stops. The arms and legs become limp, the left arm twisted to an unnatural angle. At least she won’t feel the ground when she smashes into it at a hundred miles an hour is your cruel and merciful thought as you watch, powerless.

Then the impossible: The grey blur rising from the bottom of the screen, nothing more than a smudge. But it slows as it nears her, and it becomes obvious that this blur also has arms and legs, ones that are under a lot more control. And then the blur slows and slows, and it snatches her from the air as easily as I would catch an apple falling from a tree.

From below, the screams turn to disbelief, disbelief turns to laughter and finally become relief as he reaches the ground and lays her on the cold cement that should have killed her. Then he is gone, rising and rising into the evening sky, breaking every law of physics that humanity has ever known, and everything we knew about the universe changed with him. Everything we thought we knew was blown away. Even something as simple as gravity couldn’t be trusted anymore.

We knew a man could fly.

There were the usual cries of fake and hoax, as everyone expected. Then he saved that oil tanker, and then there was no doubt who he was and what he stood for. Not after something that big.

Comic books – or graphic novels, if you wish – would have painted him in bright reds and blues. We all knew what to expect from our superheroes after all, even if they didn’t actually exist before he appeared.

He wasn’t anything like they would have you believe though; no cape, for a start. And he managed to wear his underwear under his clothes. At least, I imagine he did; I don’t believe any reporter he’s ever spoken to has ever asked.

I know something about him though, something no one else knows. I watched the first steps he took. I saw the look on his face when he saw that woman falling to her death. I saw what it took, that first time.

I was checking the stock on the deal I’d just signed in a boardroom forty stories above me, my head down when I came out of my office. So I didn’t really pay attention when someone pushed me back out of his way. Not until I looked up into his eyes.

He wasn’t even looking at me, but at the building across the street, his eyes raised and calculating. The brightest shade of blue I have ever seen, like a Caribbean sea in the mid-day sun. As I said, no bright blues and reds here, no capes or symbols across his chest. Simple grey boots and a tight grey outfit. The spandex was the only part that looked right. Nothing that made him stand out in a crowd or blend in. Apart from his eyes, so intense and focused.

It was one of those odd empty gaps in the city crowds, and of course, by now everyone was watching the woman drop from across the street. So I was the only one who saw him, the only one who saw what happened next, the next few seconds that decided whether that falling woman lived or died.

He stared at his feet and the ground between them as though willing something to happen, taking in a breath and clenching his fists until the knuckles were white. His jaw clenched and shook and the muscles in his arms and shoulders jumped and danced; there was no doubt that what he was doing required his every ounce of strength. He inhaled once more and his eyes closed. And there was no doubt, at least to me, that he had never done this before.

Then it happened, something I had never seen before, something that no one on the planet had: The man I was staring at rose an inch from the ground, then an inch more, wobbling as he did. He spread his fingers as though to steady himself on invisible supports.

Then he smiled, and his face was transformed. His eyes opened and his arms spread wider. Only now seeing me, he winked once in my direction, then was gone across the street.

Everything changed for the world that day. But it changed for me as well. I watched someone try something they had never done before and succeed. And the result was a difference between life and death for us all.

It took a long time – years – for me to track him down, and took even longer for him to teach me what he did that day. But he was patient with me, and tonight I’m ready to fly. To claim my place beside him.

He’s going to push a man out of a window across the street from me in five minutes, as his predecessor did for him. A rite of passage for me, and my first flight.

I hope.

Writing Whimsy: The Man of Your Dreams

Heston Strongthigh strode into the room. Heston always strode; to describe his method of getting from one place to another using his feet as walking would be like describing the Pacific Ocean as a bit of damp.

Heston always strode because the wardrobe he had for the…shall we say, lower part of the body…was always tight. Tight enough to inspire jokes about reading coins in his pocket and other witty ripostes I feel should not be mentioned in polite company.

“Woman!” Heston roared towards the female in the room.

The female in question rolled her eyes, inured to his shouted proclamations after three months. She found it particularly annoying when she was the only woman within a hundred yards and Heston issued his shouts from right beside her.

Heston stood with his feet far apart and thrust his stomach forward, his hands on his hips. This had the unfortunate effect of emphasising part of his anatomy that needed no emphasising, which is why he did it. Constantly. When he wasn’t striding, he was thrusting, if you know what I mean.

“Woman!” he roared again. Heston was also a fine one for roaring, if you hadn’t already guessed.

She sighed, barely flicking a glance in his direction before she carried on what she was doing (which we will get to in a minute). “My name is Jennie, Heston. How many times do we have this conversation?”

Heston rolled his head back, opened his mouth and roared with laughter, the cords on his strong neck popping out like high voltage cables. The rolling of the head wasn’t really necessary, but it did give you a nice view of his very flat and very muscled stomach and pectorals that would put The Alps to shame. Heston inhaled and almost ripped his shirt in two. It helped that it was already split down to the navel.

Heston raised one thigh and slapped it with the flat of his hand. “Thou art so amusing, wench. What is thy bidding?”


“Thoust did call me from my slumbers. Doest though wish to dance the dance of love?”

At this point Heston did something with his hips and hands that doesn’t bear describing.  Jennie sighed again. Despite his pantomime antics, she had to admit Heston was good at the dance-of-love thing. She smiled. Heston was very good at the dance of love thing, actually. She felt a tingle down her stomach and decided to throw Heston a bone. As it were.

“Mmm, maybe later. Right now I need you for something else.”

Heston faltered. His hips stopped doing the thrusting thing and he seemed to shrink.

“There…there is something else?”

Jenny studied him. She really shouldn’t have played around with that magic kit and that Barbara Cartland book when she was drunk. But it seemed so harmless…have the man of your dreams, just a little bit of dust blown on the pages. She’d woken up the next day with a huge hangover and a huge over hung man beside her.

Not being able to go out with him in public was the worst part. She got stares and children pointed. Adults pointed, for that matter. And they pointed at things they were not supposed to point at.

She reached beside her and threw a dishcloth at him. It was time to domesticate this beast. “Can you dry these dishes?”

He looked at the shiny wet things beside her. “These?”


He blinked. “I rub them with the cloth?”

“You rub them with the cloth until they are dry, yes.”

Heston pondered this for an ice age or two, looking from the cloth to the pots and back again. He pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Then we dance the dance of love?”

Jennie sighed through her nose. Men, she thought, always one thing on their mind.

“Yes, then we dance the dance of love.”

Heston smiled, his teeth a brilliant white against the dark tan of his skin. He thrust his stomach out again and Jennie regarded the proffered part of his anatomy.

Could be worse, she thought. Could have been reading Inspector Morse.