Short Story – Two By Two

 

“Come on lad, get a move on, rain’s starting.”

“Ouch! It bit me!”

“What did?”

“I dunno what it is dad.”

“Just stick it in a crate and get in.”

Ham carried the small, shelled animal at arm’s length. Its tiny, pointed mouth waving to and fro snapping the air.

A final check all were on board and everything that needed tethering was, and the doorway was hauled shut. Blackness. Murmurings, rustlings and bleating’s filtered through the darkness. When the eyes adjusted, a tiny patch of light could be discerned some thirty odd cubits above.

“Let’s get a couple of lamps lit.”

“Yes dad.” Came the three voiced response. Ham, Shem and Japheth busied themselves with lighting the tiny, clay lamps. Three flames, no longer than a little finger, glowed in the immediate darkness. Noah looked at his sons yellow lit faces. They were nervous, he didn’t blame them. Japheth scratched at his neck.

“How long will it take dad?”

“Forty days and forty night’s lad.”

A collective groan went up. Noah chivvied his sons away and went to survey the collection, his fragile flame illuminating only the nearest sections of the interior. His hand found a warm muzzle, something snorted. Noah jumped.

“Noah! Noah!”

Noah’s head sagged a little as a tiny grumble escaped his lips. Then as another flame closed in he bucked up.

“Ah Naamah, light of my life, honey on my tongue, sunsh – “

“Yes, yes.” Snapped Mrs Noah. “Where are we supposed to sleep? I’m not sharing with Shem’s wife, you know how she snores. And where am I supposed to hang the laundry, never mind how it’s going to dry. And washing and, the other. How does that work? Did you think of that? Eh? I bet you didn’t did you? Did God give you any instructions on how to go about that? It’s all very well building an ark for the animals, but what about us, the people? I hope you don’t expect me to feed the tigers and I’m certainly not clearing out their –“

Noah slunk off, scratching his stomach, leaving his wife shouting criticisms and grievances at his back. He bumped into something in the darkness.

“Oo, sorry Mr Noah.” A female, one of his son’s wives, he couldn’t tell which one it was and didn’t recognise her voice instantly in the strange environment.

“It’s alright love. Listen, could you just go and have a little chat with the missus. Got herself in a bit of a tizzy.” He gestured about him with his hand. “All this, it’s a bit, you know –“

“Different?” she offered quietly, helpfully. Ah, it was Adataneses, Japheth’s wife. She was a good girl, she’d keep his wife quiet. For a while.

The rain pounded like rain had no right to. Noah, his wife, their sons and their son’s wives huddled amongst straw covered in blankets. A female voice cried out as something creaked ominously.

“It’s alright lass.” Quavered Noah. “God’s watching over us.” He pressed his wife’s hand tightly as he continued to mouth his silent prayers.

After what felt like an endless wait, the boat creaked and tipped as it was lifted from its temporary crib. A chorus of exclamations, bellows and shrieks filled the vessel.

“Bloody hell!” exclaimed Seth. His mother slapped him smartly across the head,

“Mind your language.”

“Sorry mum.”

The animals were making a cacophony. The smell of fart and faeces rolled through the decks until reaching the family, who covered their noses with loose clothing, headscarves or straw. Noah struggled to his feet, “Best check on them.” He sighed, itching his armpit.

While the women tended to the living quarters and the birds, Noah and his sons made rounds of the stalls that contained the larger animals.

“Dad.” Said Japheth, scratching at his nether regions. “What do we feed the Oryx?”

“Grass son.”

“What about the antelope?”

“Grass son.”

“And the snakes?”

“For goodness sakes Japheth! Use your head. What did they eat in the wild?” They worked in silence for some moments then.

“Da-ad.”

Noah sighed heavily, closing his eyes. “Yes son.”

“Why have we got so many sheep?”

“Weren’t you listening at the meeting? God said two of each sort that were unclean, male and female, and seven of each sort of clean.”

Japheth seemed to give this some thought, shrugged, scratched his head and bent to the task of putting straw and grass into the nets hung against the walls. It took the whole of the first day to feed the animals. By nightfall the family were exhausted and fell into each other’s arms, almost oblivious to the rain thrumming on the roof.

The following morning, Noah stuck his head out of the window on the top deck, he needed some air, and he needed his ears to have a rest, even if he did get wet. Pulling the shutter down, he returned to the task of the day; which meant not only feeding the animals, but shovelling up huge quantities of waste. They scooped it into buckets and carried it all the way to the top deck in relays, then tipped it from the window. Sometimes the wind caught it and dragged it off into the floodwaters, sometimes bits blew back into their faces.

“Ptah!” Spat Ham. “There must be an easier way to do this dad.” He moaned.

“Shut up son and keep shovelling. I think one of the camels has the shits.”

Ham gagged. His mother came up with two fat mugs of tepid tea. Lifting the end of her apron, she licked it and applied it to her son’s face. “You’re covered in muck son.”

“Mu-um.” He gently pushed her hand aside.

By the end of the first week, the family had settled into a tolerable routine. The smell became a background accompaniment to their daily lives of feeding, cleaning, prayers and sleep. The constant drumming of the rain lulled them to sleep at night. The rocking of the boat was the cradling of God’s arms. The flash of lightning was occasion to see their surroundings lit bright.

At the end of the second week the wives began to bicker.

“It’s mine Sede!”

“No, it isn’t, yours is the pale blue one, this is grey.”

“How can you tell!” screeched Nelatamuk. “They’re all the same colour in this light.”

“I cleaned the hens yesterday.”

“No you didn’t, you collected the eggs.”

“I cleaned them too!”

“If that’s what you call clean, then I’ll eat my scarf.”

“Who let the genet out? It’s trying to eat the guinea pigs?”

“Not me.”

“Nor me.”

“Well somebody did and it certainly wasn’t me.”

“Put it back then.”

“You put it back!”

“It bites.”

“I’ll bite you if you carry on whining.”

“Me?! Whining?! You’re the queen of whining.”

Noah sat on a bale of hay, head in hands, thumbs pressed over his ears. He didn’t know how much more he could take. He looked up beseechingly. “God, give me strength.”

“Is it nearly over dad?”

“No Ham.”

“How much longer dad?”

“Seven days Shem.”

“And then can we go home dad?”

“No Japheth.”

His sons looked sharply at him. Noah regarded their tangled hair, muck streaked faces, arms and legs. They were good boys, he told himself. Not too bright, but well meaning. And their wives, well they could screech as well as the caged birds, but they too had good hearts. Noah itched his head and took a breath.

“Listen lads. When the rain stops, then we’re going to be in the middle of a huge flood. Water everywhere. Understand? There won’t be any land, there won’t be any homes, there won’t be any people, and there won’t be any animals. There won’t be anything except water as far as the eye can see.”

“So, we’re not going home?” said Japheth.

Noah groaned, raised his eyes heaven wards and took a breath. “No son. We have no home. There’s nothing left. There’s just us.”

Someone sniffed a wet sniff. Noah stood and wrapped his arm around Shem’s shoulder. “Come on son, it’s not that bad. New beginnings and all that.” He gave Shem’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze. “Just think. God chose us. Us. Out of all the people in the world, we get to live and start a fresh new life. There’ll be a new land with loads of space. You can have your own land to farm with Sede, raise children and live a ripe old age.”

Shem sniffed, “Like you dad? How old are you now?”

“I’m five hundred and ninety nine son. And you’ll live longer.” Said Noah proudly.

“What about me dad, can I have a farm of my own?” wheedled Japheth.

“Farms for all!” Noah shouted, spreading his arms wide. He did a mad little jig. His sons laughed.

“What’s going on here?” called Mrs Noah, ducking adroitly beneath a wooden beam draped with damp laundry.

“Oh look out.” Noah said as an aside to his sons.

“Have you cleaned the cattle deck today?” She said.

“Yes my love.”

“Did you brush the camels?”

“Yes, oh blossom of the dessert.”

“How about those mad dogs?”

“All sorted, oh light of the moon.”

“And stop scratching!” she reprimanded.

“I wasn’t.”

“You were, while you were expounding. You were scratching your –“. She pointed.

“Well, my love, if you washed the clothes properly, then we wouldn’t get so itchy.”

There was a sudden, chilly silence. Ham, Shem and Japheth lowered their heads and sidled away between straw bales and beams, into the shadows beyond.

“I beg your pardon?” Naamah said deadly and low. Noah raised both hands, about to apologise but she beat him to it, she often did.

“If I washed the clothes properly?” her voice higher. “If I washed the clothes properly?” higher still.

“Now now, my queen of the night.”

“Don’t you ‘queen of the night’ me! I’ll have you know that me and the girls work hard keeping everyone’s clothes clean. How do you think we warm the water? Eh? Eh? God doesn’t do that Noah! Oh no, it’s, gather unto me all the animals and, I am not finished speaking, all the filth and the stink and the spillages. We work our fingers to the bone scrubbing your pants and this is all the thanks we get.”

“My love. I did not mean to upset you. I know you work hard, you and the daughters, and we do appreciate it, I appreciate it. It’s just –“ He paused.

“What?!”

“Nothing.”

“Go on, what were you about to say?” Noah pursed his lips and watched her.

“You just scratched.” He said.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes. You did, Look, you’re doing it again.” He pointed. She was indeed having a good old belly scratch.

Mrs Noah stared in horror at her husband. “Two by two did He say?”

Noah stared at her.

“Oh, bloody hell.”

Game Over – reviewed by James Lovegrove of the Financial Times

http://on.ft.com/1JGPsKw

Absolutely delighted to see this. Although I am not mentioned by name, the fact that I am rubbing shoulder’s, so to speak, with these other respected authors, thrills me immensely. Thank you James Lovegrove.

‘Game Over’, edited by Jonathan Green

The stories delve beneath the clunky graphics to find paranoia, madness, murder and ghosts. Jonathan Green’s first outing as editor, Sharkpunk, was an anthology with bite. Game Over, the follow-up, is an anthology with byte. The theme is classic arcade games, which will appeal to anyone with fond memories of spending countless 10p pieces on Space Invaders, Pac-Man and the like.

The authors Green has selected, though not household names, are respected in their fields or notable up-and-comers, and their stories delve beneath the clunky graphics to find paranoia, madness, murder and ghosts. There are three standouts: James Wallis’s Tetris-referencing “The Russian Effect”; Simon Bestwick’s “The Face of the Deep”, which fuses HP Lovecraft and Frogger; and James Swallow’s “Screen Burn”, where a long-lost game becomes a lethal urban legend.

Game Over, edited by Jonathan Green, Snowbooks, RRP£8.99, 304 pages. can also be found at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions – 

A Foray into Sci-Fi – Field Notes from the Hunt for Life on Mars – A Story

Field Notes from the Hunt for Life on Mars

Science Volunteer Smith’s log, Caseo Research Dome, Mars, 2166

Science Volunteer Smith’s log, 28th May    Our communications system has clearly been tampered with and yet there is no sign of a breach as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, I don’t have the skills to sort it out. I will attempt to continue our mission, despite Clancy and Kozlov having not returned. I thought I spotted a signature on the scanner this morning, but after double checking, it seems I made a mistake. The second team will be arriving in a month’s time. Meanwhile I am studying the samples the mini rover brought back. Today I am listening to Bach’s Cello Suites.

Science Volunteer Smith’s log, 30th May   Where can Clancy and Kozlov be? Surely it cannot take three days to retrieve the damaged probe. We realised early on, not only had life been here in the past, as suspected in the early missions- it’s absolutely everywhere. The fossilized Stromatolites were just the beginning, which is why they brought along a herpetologist, me. I’m going out to check on the UV boxes – see how the organisms like it under there. It just occurred to me, maybe Clancy and Kozlov went to Vedra Valles Research Dome, but why? Today it is Rachmaninoff.

Volunteer Smith’s log, 2nd June  I want to go home. I wish the second team would arrive and take me home. I wish Clancy and Kozlov would just get back here, I am not qualified for this shit. Something must have happened to Clancy and Kozlov. 2nd June, supplemental  Oh, dear Lord. What is out there? I went to check on the micro-organisms under the UV boxes then decided to have a look around. I followed the rules to the letter; remaining within the flagged boundary, passing through the bio-shower on the way out and back in and taking all prescribed equipment. At the farthest boundary point I scanned with the in-helmet binoculars. At first I passed over it, then I saw it. The rover probe lying on its side. It wasn’t so far away, I knew I could easily walk there and back in an hour. So I did. My skills are in reptiles, not machines, I have no clue what is wrong with the probe. There were marks in the dirt around it. It seems incredible, almost fantastical. I swear it is true. There were footprints and not just from Clancy and Kozlov. I ran back as quickly as my suit and gravity would allow, I tipped over four times and it felt like my Re-breather was running out of oxygen. If there were locks on the Dome – I’d lock it.

Volunteer Smith’s log, 3rd June  Listening to music all day – loudly. The place is filled with it, from the access bay to the botanical dome. I am not working…

Volunteer Smith’s log, 5th June  I need to pull myself together. It is clear now that I am alone here, at least until the second team arrive. I am sure that I could drive one of the Landrider vehicles, then I could drive to Vedra Valles. I’ve never been, but there are maps. I was going to check Kozlov’s records on his terrain work, but it’s all in Russian. Who writes in Russian on a mixed nationality research unit in the field? God that man is so annoying. I have checked the maps and find that it is about 100 kilometres away, it will take about 4 to 6 hours, I’m not sure of the Landrider’s top speed. I will need to ensure I have enough pure oxygen for the Re-breather. And my music, never go anywhere without it.5th June, supplemental   Midway to Vedra Valles, there was an odd effect in the sky. The red planet turned blue around its horizon momentarily, somewhere out where Phobos and Deimos orbit. I seem to remember Clancy mentioning some similar event before he headed out with Kozlov. Why didn’t I look at Professor Clancy’s logs dammit? Mind you, if he returns and finds some no-mark has been reading his logs, he’ll be mad as hell, he is a stickler for hierarchy. I bet the pair of them are whooping it up with the Valles lot, probably having a good laugh at my expense. The Martian Newbie they had called me. I stopped the Landrider to see if the blue glow would happen again. Listening to Gustav Holst, The Planets, makes me feel a bit like a warrior from past times. I wonder why people have always associated Mars with war.

Volunteer Smith’s log, 20th June (or thereabouts) I am not absolutely sure of the date. It seems an age since I was last here at Caseo. Time has passed strangely. I have met them. Martians is what we would call them on Earth. I cannot begin to describe the sensation. Obviously, intense fear was my initial response. However, these beings are as like us as a rose is to a volcano. They are slender of stature but weighty at the same time. Bipedal, with a reptilian quality, their skin shines golden like polished brass. I believe that it was my music that drew them to the Valles dome. Valles was empty when I arrived, no sign of life at all. The strange beings attempted to communicate at first by copying the music. Then they switched to what I can only surmise was their form of speech; an odd sound like a cross between whale song and clicks and pops. Then they attempted a kind of sign language. I remembered my basic sign language from school, it seemed to dispel any misgivings they harboured about me. Over time, I learnt their story. A sad tale of the self-destruction of their planet, Ta’al, is how it sounds. They have lived in dwindling numbers on, or should I say, beneath the surface of Deimos, for centuries. They fear us, we humans. They fear our arrival, our space vessels, our research facilities; our take over. They believe it will come – eventually. We humans believe we have the right to travel anywhere and everywhere. Which is why I must destroy the research stations – all of them.

Game Over – Snowbooks Released Today

Game Over

 

Game Over

Game Over

Jonathan Green

Size: 198 x 129mm • 304 Pages • ISBN: 9781909679573
Publication: August 12, 2015 •

Trade paperback

Published today, August 12, 2015!

  • £899
  • No reviews
Default Title

Default Title – £8.99 GBP
Or see: Ebook £7.99

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Molly Brown, a runaway orphan heads out to sea as the unlikely Captain of a Pirate ship. Meeting new and unusual friends on the way, including a talking cat, she is a fearless, imaginative and feisty girl. Aimed at readers aged 8 to 12 years.

TheUnsinkableMollyBrown

 A number of years ago a film hit the big screens – a story of love, bravery, inspiration and the British class system – that film was Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. I thought it was a disaster – much like it’s theme of the titular, doomed vessel. It began me on one of my mini obsessions. I began reading about the real Titanic, its construction, the men involved in its design and realisation, the great day of launch and the journey. A huge, stylish floating village with everyone in his or her place. The nobs at the top, the poor Irish in the lower decks and engine room. We all know what happened. But one person really stood out for me, Margaret Brown (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932). She  was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous because of her survival of the  of the Titanic disaster.  She took command of the lifeboat she was placed into and demanded the crew of the lifeboat to return to look for survivors.  She became known after her death as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, and her image loomed large in my mind. Wasn’t this the sort of role model/heroine our young girls should look to, not the skinny models and ego fragile celebs flaunted daily in the media? And so I wrote my book for my daughter. It took a long time – too long. By the time I decided to self-publish, she was too old to read the printed copy, but she did act as my proof-reader when she was a child. Bless her.

First Time Interviewed

Author and fellow contributor to Game Over, Simon Bestwick, is conducting a series of interviews with the authors of said anthology.

The Lowdown with… Alexandra Peel

Today’s Lowdown continues to shine a spotlight on the contrbutors to GAME OVER. Today’s victim is… Alexandra Peel. Alexandra is a visual artist turned author. She has a degree in Fine Art, Sculpture and has been a freelance community artist, painter, graphics tutor and book seller; she currently works as a Learning Support Practitioner in a F.E./H.E. college. The author of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a pirate adventure for children, she has also created a series of Penny Dreadful style stories under the heading, The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler, about a pair of miscreant treasure hunters based on hers and her daughter’s Steampunk alter egos. She is a member of Wirral Writers and can be found on Twitter and at her blog.
1.        Tell us three things about yourself.
I hate pulses; I have a kind of horror of the ‘gritty’ texture of beans, especially baked beans. When I was a toddler, my father –in his wisdom as a new parent – made me eat a bowl of vegetable soup; I threw up all night and my mother forbade him from forcing me to eat vegetables again. So I grew up eating all my veg raw – carrots, cabbage, swede, etc. I have a black belt in Tai Kwon Do, hard earned as I am rather heavy around the ‘beam-end’. I harbour a secret fantasy that I am actually not my parents daughter.
2. What was the first thing you had published?
When my generation was growing up, parents were very hands off in their child rearing. I spent a lot of my early years alone in the back garden, or in the shed. I loved the shed, it smelt like an ironmongers shop. Here I drew a picture on a blackboard of a horse and a girl. My mother, when I showed her, sent me away to write a story about it – she was too busy doing laundry to appreciate my emerging talents! ‘The Princess and the Pony’ was printed in that week’s edition of the Liverpool Echo.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
I wrote a story (unpublished) called ‘Beneath the Skin’. Set in an alternative 19th century. I began it at a writing workshop run by Sam Stone at Lincoln Asylum, Steampunk weekend. It began with an idea of a serial killer and grew into two parallel stories that contrast then collide. It is my first full length novel.

4.        …and which makes you cringe?
Lots. I’m relatively new to this. I’m learning. I tend to get over excited when I’m ‘on a roll’ and forget all about the technical aspects of the English language; I string lots of adjectives together like a badly made, colourful bunting.

5.  What’s a normal writing day like? I don’t really have one. I have a ‘real’ job which takes up four or five days a week, however, it is part-time. Sometime I write for hours for days at a time, other times I do a short story and leave it at that. I am quite possibly the most undisciplined person in the UK, I’m naturally lazy. I carry little notebooks around with me to scribble ideas in; my work bag was stuffed with torn strips of paper at one point, collected over a period of weeks, I had to collate it all together – and then I ignored it for another few weeks.

6.Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? I reckon a visit to my Blog. The stories are short, accessible and, like candy floss, require little effort of the part of the consumer. All the stories are about the same two characters – Lucy Lockhart and Theodora Doppler – a mother and daughter treasure hunting duo. Set in a ‘Steampunk’ alternate 19th century, Lockhart and Doppler are miscreants, opportunists and serial bed-hopper in the case of Lockhart. Frivolous fun in the style of the Penny Dreadful.
7.        What are you working on now?  A couple of things at once – I have the mind of a butterfly. A short story for an online submission about being stranded on a desert island. A 500 word piece for the writing group I am a member of – Wirral Writers – which I am struggling with, we get given a title, or a sentence, or selection of disconnected words and have to come up with something along those lines. Another story about Lockhart and Doppler for my blog. Plus, the second part of ‘Beneath the Skin’.

http://simon-bestwick.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-lowdown-with-alexandra-peel.html

Game Over

GAME OVER cover - 27.07.15Delighted that I have been accepted for inclusion in this anthology; a selection of horror stories based on the 8os arcade games. A broad spectrum of writers included, from the well published Simon Bestwick and Michael Carroll, to newcomers like me. Edited by the talented, and extremely busy, Jonathan Green for Snowbooks.

Untitled – exercise in very short story writing

Finally. The day is winding down. The guests have all retired, except the raven that coughs on the watery branch above. The dense dark descends, a too huge blanket on a frail child’s form, damp and suffocating pressing the day down and down towards and into the earth. Another and another and another will come.

My senses diminish with what I used to call time. Time, that smoky, tissuey thing that cannot be held or stored or made to bend to our will. That intransigent thing that slips through our fingers as sand, regardless of how much we scrabble and scurry, save and check. Make all the clocks in the world – you cannot hold time.

I burrow into my bed, a tick in winters nest, I am pressed in snug and still. A stranger has come to my bed, no longer a stranger. Here I lie, lie lightly, cossetted in white windings. A sumptuous enveloping of satiny embrace. I turn my eyes to look at the non-stranger beside me.

“How long have you been waiting?”

“Forever.”

I should feel cold but I don’t. I should feel something, but, do I? It does not seem to matter, I have no regard for feelings. Feelings for those in their snug homes who chafe and rage, feelings for those who keen and sigh, feelings for the once spectacular morning skies lit sapphire that caresses the wing of the coal-black raven and dapples the cheek of the merry child. What need have I for feelings?

A memory stirs. A man, I remember a man. Through a veil his image strides forwards, arms held as if awaiting an embrace. He is a solid man, a worthy man. A man who meant something – once. And his features make the back of my mind tickle, like a surgeon with his electrode as he probes the exposed brain to stimulate a response. I am not aware of a response. All there is, is white and dark. White windings and the non-stranger.

“What now?”

“I cannot tell.”

I turn within my cocoon, hugging me to myself, hugging the non-stranger to myself, if I could smile I would. And the once me sinks lower under the sod. I sleep in my narrow trough.

Writing under a pen name

I have a BlogSpot page that is devoted to a Steampunkesque, alternate 19th century series of short stories.
http://lockhartdoppler.blogspot.co.uk/ are a mother and daughter duo; treasure hunters, thieves, scoundrels. People who have read these stories seem to quite like them.
I’m going to devote this site to all the other stuff I write – and try not to allow the dastardly duo invade here too…