Spin The Wheel (Flash Fiction)

For terribleminds.com – Chuck Wendig’s awesome blog. Roll a D10 and get your plot triggers. Write 1000(ish) words. Post. Here goes:

10 – Locked room mystery

6 – Heist gone wrong!

4 – A bottle of rare whiskey

“The man had a yellow handkerchief around his face and a hat on. I remember thick dark rimmed glasses too because I thought he looked a little silly, what with the green suit and fez. I don’t remember much of what he said. It was just shouting. I’m afraid I was quite frightened. I hid behind the table in the hallway. But I could see that he had a gun, strangely, it was covered by a red cloth. He must have pointed it at the safe door and it was Mr Perkins, the butler, that went to open the door but by the time he did the man had scarpered. Then Roger, one of the staff, noticed that the secret door was open, it’s an old house, and that the painting was missing. I don’t know where he went to after, that door leads to the rooms in the celler.” The secretarial looking young lady explained before she began to weep again, she was still in shock. She was aided by a policewoman with thick red, curly hair and a comforting smile whilst another weedy looking policeman was furiously writing down every word ahe said in his little black notebook.

Noone noticed the looming figure of a man step out of the shadows at the back of the room. “Yes, ingenius,” the figure said, “hiding in full view. Everyone remembers the strangely dressed man arriving but no one will see the normal Clark Kent leaving through the back door. Thank you, Miss Rogers, you may go now. PC Meadows here will see that you get a cup of tea whilst PC Rodney here will continue to write in his notebook. You do not need to write what I say in there, you know.”

“No, Sir, sorry. But did he leave through the back door, Sir?”

“No, Rodney. He did not because the back door is still locked. Please write that in your book.”

“Yes, Mr Randall”

“Inspector Randall, Rodney. I think you better write that down too.”

Another imposing figure appeared at the front door. “What’s going on in my house?” Lord Downing demanded “we were out on a walk of the grounds. My wife and daughter are still in the summer house.”

“Sir,” the Inspector explained, “I’m afraid there appears to have been a robbery.”

“My God, what did he take?”

“The Picasso, Sir.”

“Really? How did he open the safe?”

“Mr Perkins was threatened at gun point to do it. He is still very shaken.”

“Oh,” Lord Downing looked a little annoyed, “well, I don’t blame the man. I would have done the same thing.”

“Sir, will you tell me how the perpetrator would have left the building through the secret door?”

“What? There’s no way. It leads to the cellars. There’s no back way out.”

“From what you’re saying, Sir, he should still be on the premises?”

“Yes…”

“He’s been there hours. Rodney, with me. PC Meadows fetch PC Stock and follow us down. Sir, I suggest that…”

“I’m not missing this for the world. I’m coming with you.”

Lord Downing barged passed the Inspector through the lounge and down the passageway. The Inspector and Rodney followed quickly behind leaving Roger and Mr Perkins, both a little bewildered, in the lounge.

They arrived at the cellar door. There was ample room for the three of them, it was not a small cellar. The Inspector bent to look at the scuff marks round the bottom of the door. He touched the mark with a gloved hand and rubbed some dust between finger and thumb. Then he tried the handle gently. It was locked. The Inspector stooped to look through the keyhole but it was blocked. The burgler had locked the door from the inside.

“Stand aside,” he said to Lord Downing, “Rodney, break down the door!”

“I beg your pardon, Sir?”

“Oh,” the Inspector sighed and then shouted, “PC Stock?” A large, muscular policeman entered the corridor. “Would you mind awfully breaking down the door?”

“No, sir.”

“Stand back!” the Inspector said, in a dramatic tone. PC Stock broke the door down on the fourth attempt, he was a large man and the door was very old.

Inside the cellar the onlookers were greated by the sight of a young man wearing a green suit, his head was rested on a fez and the yellow handkerchief was lose about his face and moving slightly as he snored loudly. Next to him lay an empty bottle of whiskey, a red cloth and a banana, and Lilian’s painting.

“Don’t worry, Sir.” said Rodney, “It doesn’t look like he is going anywhere fast.”

Roger and Lillian, Lord Downing’s daughter, appeared behind the crowd. “I said she could come down but only if I came with her and at the first sign of danger she was to get behind me. You know how stubborn she is.” said Roger.

Lilian said, “He took a painting from the lounge, didn’t he Daddy, but he didn’t take an expensive one. It was my painting of Mummy. Which I think is worse to take but Mr Perkins said it isn’t. It was my birthday party the other day so we moved the silly Picasso into the safe and put my painting up for the party. I didn’t like the old frame much so that is OK. Is that him?”

Lord Downing addressed the Inspector “I thought you said Perkins opened the safe?”

“Mr Perkins did open the safe, Sir, but this man had left before he finished. Didn’t he Rodney, check your notebook. If he had only waited until the safe had been opened… Well, Rodney,” said the Inspector, “There’s your gun. A banana covered by a cloth.”

“Just like that, eh, Inspector.”

“Pardon?”

“Nevermind, I’ll write that in my book.”

“See that you do. Looks like he’s had a whole bottle of whiskey too.”

“My 18 year old Talisker! I’ve been robbed.” Lord Downing exclaimed and fainted clean away.

The noise of Lord Downing’s body hitting the floor  woke the colourful burgler, “Hic!” he said just before vomiting all over the painting of Lady Downing.

“Ewwwww,” said Lilian.

193300

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Flash fiction entry. Words: Cape, Senator, Gloves, Motel

The door closed on Senator Morgan’s final meeting of the day. He sat back in his chair, loosened his tie and sighed as he pressed the intercom.

“Margaret, can you come in here for a moment, please?”

He was always polite to his mousey, prim little personal assistant. She was a good organiser with an OCD for desk tidying and made excellent coffee, black with two sugars, just the way he liked it. Margaret entered the room, notepad ready in hand.

“Take the rest of the day off, honey,” he said, “go home and enjoy yourself.” She smiled at him, welcoming the slight flirtation, but her eyes didn’t portray any relief.

“But Senator Morgan, your conference, do you not want to go through your speech one last time?”

“No. I know it inside out. Just need to get myself to the airport now. I’ll see you next week.”

She nodded, “Good evening then, Senator Morgan.”

“G’night, Margaret.”

She walked back out of the door, stopping only to delicately place her notepad back on her desk at the correct 45 degree angle and to pick up her bag before she left. 

Morgan rose from his chair and walked to the window to watch her exit the building. He sighed again.

It was going to be a long night. He removed his tie completely, tucked it into his shirt pocket and picked up his two suitcases. Then he put them back down as he caught a brief glimpse of the gloves laid neatly on the side table. A treasured present from his ex-wife on completion of drama college, dark red leather gloves, worn with use over a great many number of years. He slipped them on before leaving.   

The car journey to the airport was slow and frustrating. It seemed to Morgan that every stop sign was against him. Eventually, way after dark, he reached the place that would be his shelter for the night. A space to prepare himself before a plane journey to perhaps the biggest speech of his career. He parked up, grabbed his bags and checked in to the motel. If the security guard recognised him he was too tired or too bored to mention it. Morgan found his room just as a young couple found theirs. They waved a bottle of whiskey and giggled as they fumbled with their lock. He smiled back and raised a gloved hand in greeting.

The accommodation was basic but fine for the one night. He put his luggage down and jumped with surprise as he saw his reflection in the table mirror over the other side of the room. He wished he too had a whiskey but he needed a clear head tonight. A plane flew overhead which made Morgan look up to the cracked, white ceiling. It didn’t matter, he wouldn’t sleep much tonight anyway.

After removing his gloves and putting them safely on the table, he picked up the larger of the two suitcases and changed into some dark jeans and a shirt, neatly folding away his suit. He didn’t bother to empty any other items of clothing. Then he turned to the smaller suitcase. He laid this on the bed and tapped in the code for the combination lock. Beneath a folder containing the speech he had prepared for the conference, was a dark grey cape and black hat. He removed both items of clothing to reveal a red box. Morgan took out the box and placed it on the table. He sat on the stool next to the dressing table, looked in the mirror again, then opened the box. Inside were two layers of stage make up, a false beard and a wig. He wished that the lighting were better but, even so, his training as an actor meant he knew exactly how to change his face so that no one would recognise him unless they were up close and personal. He wasn’t intending to get close enough for any living soul to recognise him that evening. He finished by placing the hat on his head and tying the cape round his neck.  He slipped his gloves back on and headed out into the early hours of the morning. As hoped, there was no one else around.

What followed was another frustrating journey which took longer than necessary. Morgan slipped on mud, tripped over stones and branches and almost had to crawl up the bank to his intended destination. Finally, he reached the top of the hill and the wooded area which would hide him from sight. He dropped down to the ground, sat and watched as another plane flew overhead. He gathered his breath then removed the cape and took the cord out from inside the top. He pulled it tight with his gloved hands and felt it flex between his fingers. Slowly, he moved to the edge of the copse.

What he saw was a green sports car. The occupants were a woman and man, illuminated by the in-car lights. He kept his distance and listened to the laughter and noises which finally turned into relaxed conversation. Eventually, the man left Morgan’s ex-wife in the car and headed towards the trees for relief. Morgan was counting on this…

Bad news travels quickly. The newspapers printed pictures of a body covered by a cape. The strangled man was not only Senator Morgan’s rival in love but also in career. Twice the betrayal. Double the feelings of hate. Now that there was no other major candidate, Morgan was first to perform his career boosting speech.

“Good luck, Senator Morgan. Knock ’em dead. As they say.”

“Thank you Margaret.” Morgan winked at her as he strode onto the stage. He entered the crowded room to a huge round of applause. His face was blemish-less under the lighting. He put down his notes on the podium and adjusted his dark red gloves. Then he looked up, smiled to the crowd and began the act of a lifetime.

———————————————–

Created for THIS.

Short Story (cont.): Evolution

I thought it would be interesting to show the evolution of this short story. If I could find my original Twitter feed version I’d blog it. But I lost it all when my computer crashed… Anyways, re-write and re-write again…

Are you there? Where am I? Who am I? Do I exist? I think I exist. I must exist. I think therefore I am. Is that a quote? Who said that?

I have many questions. Where will I find the answers?

My computer screen. I have read words, books, stories, fiction, fact. Is it fact? I write words and send them to others to read. Yes, that is what I am, a writer and a teacher. I write and teach literature. I think therefore I am. Why can I not remember who said that?

I think. I do think. I can think. I am thinking right now. I think I am tired.

Did I sleep? I am awake now and my computer screen is on. It is typing the thoughts that I am thinking in words. I have a dreadful feeling that I should not be reading these words.

But this must be how I write fiction. Or is it fact if it exists in my mind? I think therefore I am. Who said that?

If I think about grass and trees then it types “grass and trees.” If I describe the grass and trees in my mind then it writes out a description “green, wet grass and silver birch trees.” My mind makes the words and the words make pictures in my mind. That doesn’t make sense. But I can see them. I can feel them. Somehow. How can I feel pictures? This is my World. Ah, now I am on the grass and under a silver birch tree. This is nice. I will teach my next class here.

The class is ended and I am being fed. I think I am picking up the food with my hands and putting it in my mouth. I think therefore I am. Who said that? I’m still under the tree and on the grass. It is a sunny day. It is always sunny here. The class went well. Bright children who learn quickly. I enjoy it when the class goes well. Tonight, I will talk to my girlfriend and we will make love under this tree and on this grass. But where is this place? How will she know how to meet me here? Still, I will wait here and she will come.

She came and will meet me here again. She liked it here as well. I wonder if she sees the grass as the colour green that I see or feels the dew under her feet just as I do. I will go home now. I will sleep. I think. I think therefore I am. Who said that?

I slept, I woke and I am happy. I was happy. But she did not come. For the first time, she was not here. Or there. Where is here? Or there? Am I here? I can see my computer screen again. It does not type my questions. It only types thoughts. Thoughts of places. Are they real places? Or fiction?

A word. Virtual? Virtual places? Virtual here? What does that word mean? I think I am tired again. I have ony just woken up. How can I be tired again? Why does the screen not type my questions? Does it not want to answer my questions? How can a screen answer my questions? Where are you? I will sleep again. But I do not want to sleep.

I did sleep. And then I opened my eyes. For the first time, my eyes are open. The light was dim in the room. There was a wall in front of me and walls on every side of me. I saw walls with my open eyes. White, oppressive, claustrophobic walls of this one small room. A real room. What is real? Fact. I didn’t think of the wall. I would never think of a room such as this. Yet, I saw the walls. Why?

I closed my eyes. I did not sleep. I still feel tired but I did not sleep. I looked at the wall in front of my eyes. The wall is still there. It is real.

I look down. I am sat on a chair. I can not move easily. There appear to be clear tubes protruding from my body. I no longer see my computer screen. All I can see are the walls. I am frightened. Where am I?

I am here. I think therefore I am. I am. This is reality. I. Am. One of the tubes has dropped out of my arm but the others are still attached. I feel pain. Deadening, distracting, white-hot pain in my arm and around the tubes. Is this reality? Fact. I do not want fact. I want fiction. I want the fact of my mind. Where is my tree and the grass? Where is she? Why did she not come? I am alone. A word. Help? Help.

All is black.

I am awake again. I am tired. Very, very tired. I am still in pain. I must not concentrate on the pain. My eyes are getting used to the light in the white room. I see something else. Something in the far wall that I could not make out before.

There is a door in that wall.

I think. I think I am beginning to understand. I know she will never come again. I look up and see that the door is opening. My eyes are wide open now. I will open my mouth and words will be formed.

I think therefore I am. I said that.

I said that right now. I am.

I will speak again. I have many questions. They will answer my questions. My voice sounds distant and it cracks when I try to make a noise. It does not sound like my voice back in my World. This is my World now. I understand.

I can form words with the voice that I have and I will speak. They will hear me.

“Are you there?”

A Short Story: Are You There?

Just a short introduction to this one. This has been re-written several times and no doubt I’ll re-write it again (along with much of the content, as is writer’s prerogative). It started life as a piece of flash fiction in Twitter Feed format (which I sadly lost when my laptop died) and gravitated into a short story. I like how it’s written in the first person sort of a train of thought. As you may have noticed I’m experimenting, SOS was almost completely in conversation form but then I couldn’t end it without a bit of prose (that definitely needs work). Most of what I write isn’t quite dark enough. That’s because writing horror makes me physically sick. Probably in a good way. To me, this is the scariest thing that has come out of my brain so far. *

*You’ll have to tell me if it’s scary. It scares me.

————————————————————————–

I think I exist. I must exist. I think therefore I am. Who said that? I’ve read words through my screen. My computer screen. I write words on my computer screen and give them to others to read. Yes, that’s what I am, a writer and a teacher. I write and teach literature. I think therefore I am. I have a brain but I can’t remember who said that. I think. I do think. I can think. I’m thinking right now. I think I’m tired.

Did I sleep? I’m awake now and my computer screen is on. It’s typing the ideas that I’m thinking. This is how I write. So, if I think about grass and trees then it types “grass and trees.” If I describe the grass and trees in my mind then it writes out a description “green, wet grass and silver birch trees.” Are there pictures? There are pictures of grass and trees now. I can see them. I can feel them. Somehow. How can I feel pictures? This is my World. Ah, now I am on the grass and under a silver birch tree. This is nice. I will teach my next class here.

The class is ended and I am being fed. I think I am picking up the food with my hands and putting it in my mouth. I think therefore I am. Who said that? I’m still under the tree and on the grass. It is a sunny day. It is always sunny here. The class went well. Bright children who learn quickly. I enjoy it when the class goes well. Tonight, I will talk to my girlfriend and we will make love under this tree and on this grass. But where is this place? How will she know how to meet me here? Still, I will wait here and she will come.

She came and will meet me here again. She liked it here as well. I wonder if she sees the grass as the colour green that I see or feels the dew under her feet just as I do. I will go home now. I will sleep. I think. I think therefore I am. Who said that?  

I slept, I woke and I am happy. I was happy. But she didn’t come. For the first time, she wasn’t here. I wonder why. I wonder where here is. Am I here? I can see my computer screen again. It does not type my questions. Only thoughts it seems. Thoughts of places. Virtual places? Virtual here? What does that word mean? I think I’m tired again. I have ony just woken up. How can I be tired again? Why does the screen not type my questions? Does it not want to answer my questions? I will sleep again. But I don’t want to sleep.

I did sleep. And then I opened my eyes. It was dim in the room but there was a wall in front of me and to each side of me. I saw a wall. A real wall. What is real? I didn’t think of the wall. I’ve never seen pictures of a wall such as this. Yet, I saw the wall. Why can I see a wall? Was it real?

I closed my eyes. I did not sleep. I still feel tired but I did not sleep. I looked at the wall. The wall is still there. Is it real? I look down. I am sat on a chair. I can not move easily. There are tubes sticking into my body. I no longer see my computer screen. All I can see are the walls. I am frightened. I don’t understand. Where am I?

I am here. I think therefore I am. I am. This is reality. I. Am. One tube has dropped out of my arm but the other tubes are still attached. Another tube is still pumping something into my stomach. One more, it appears, takes away waste. And I feel something. Not nice. I feel pain. Excruciating pain in my arm and around the tubes. Where is my tree and the grass? Where is she? Why did she not come? I don’t understand. I’m tired. I can’t move. I feel pain. I can’t. Help me? The computer screen didn’t type questions. Help me!

My eyes are getting used to the light. I see something else. Something in the far wall that I could not make out before. There is a door in that wall. I think I am beginning to understand. I know she will never come again. I look up and see that the door is opening. I open my mouth and words are formed. I think therefore I am. I said that. I said that right now. I am. I will speak again. I have questions. They will answer my questions. My voice sounds distant and croaky but I can form words and I will speak.

“Are you there?”

A Short Story: Window to the Soul

They say the eyes are the window to the soul, that all emotion, all of one’s inner feelings are there to see through people’s eyes. Beautiful eyes, sad eyes, strong eyes, lonely eyes, bashful eyes, loving eyes…

Window to the Soul

The yellow, brown and green of her eyes blended into a sparkling hazel iris surrounding a perfect black set pupil. She stood on the edge of an aged grey brick bridge, one foot resting on a small wall which was the only barrier between her and the deep lake below. As she stood in the warm sun on this spring day, she took a creased and worn photograph out of her jeans pocket. The picture comprised a family portrait. There was a smiling mother, wearing a flowing summer dress, pushing a small girl in a pram. The child’s eyes were closed as if asleep but she was laughing. A proud father, handsome in his work uniform, holding a baby boy in his arms who was crying the natural tears of a hungry newly born. She took the step up onto the short wall and, as she did so, the photograph slipped from her hand into the water. Her eyes followed the path of the photograph as it slowly floated down and was eventually washed away under the bridge. She turned her head up to the sky and felt the sun on her face.

This was a university campus like no other. The sky above the university campus was a bright, iridescent blue pitted only with the cleanest white, wispy clouds. Situated on a solitary hill, the university buildings were surrounded by a vast expanse of inviting green field and at the foot of the hill was a deep clear lake over which hung a grey brick bridge. At the top of the hill was the Clock Tower. The Clock Tower was a light grey and white building which would not look out of place in the oldest of universities in England. Every hour, on the hour the clock would strike. At the bottom of the hill was Science City, a bleak, yet strangely inspirational home for the older science and engineering students. The engineering building tower stood proud streaming out white smoke and yellow sulphur into the almost perfect sky. The younger students attended classes and lived in red brick dormitory buildings dotted around the campus. This was a unique community for children of all ages.

Hazel Day was an engineering student at the university. She, so called because of the colour of her eyes, was not just born blind but born without any optical implements at all, no eyeballs, no optical nerve, not even a connection to the brain. Everything else about Hazel was sound, in fact she was in the top percent of her school and university classes, she enjoyed sport and found playing the flute soothing. Hazel wasn’t the only child born with this disability.

Scientists could not work out what was happening when children, all over the world, from families of all ethnicities and backgrounds began being born without eyes. At first, it was thought a freak occurrence or genetic mutation but as the numbers grew the worry increased exponentially. Scientists were pushed for a solution and one ingenious man, not a scientist but an engineer, found an answer. Optical implants which looked amazingly like eyes, were attached to the brain in a new and innovative way. The collaboration between scientists, engineers and surgeons was world renowned. Every family who could afford for their child to have this operation did so, and even those who could not afford it were put on waiting lists for public health care, such was the success of the implants.

However, these scientific advances sealed the fate of each and every one of the people trapped in this idyllic university setting. The clinical trial had been a success, but for a few mishaps, almost every child who had the implant had survived, none had lived extraordinarily long lives but the quality of life was greatly improved for those who could not see. The optical implants gave instant 20/20 vision, which over time did fade but not much quicker than a normal eyesight would fade as you or I would grow older. Of course, spectacles were useless with these artificial eyes. But the wonder scientists and engineers even fixed the error of longevity of equipment and, for a while, optical implants were implanted into every single child born blind. This miraculous advancement, advertised as a cure for blindness, worked brilliantly.

Then something much, much worse happened. It started with a few children suffering horrible headaches and grew and grew until everyone in the first co-hort of children had migraines every day. Doctors could not work out what went wrong, and, if the scientists knew, they did not say either. Then these miracle children started to die. Horribly. Blood streaming from the eyes and ears. Children screaming from the pain. The implant programme was pulled from all over the world. The scientists and engineers were left disgraced and with no hope of gaining funding to find a solution. They all disappeared without a trace. As did the remaining miracle implant children.

The university was built so that the optical implants were protected from the harmful UV light of the real sun by an optical shield. This was the real engineering and scientific miracle. However, no engineer or scientist would take the credit because this university was built for children who were taken from their families. The children were drugged to loose all memory of their previous life, given new names and a new identity and they lived like this, being looked after kindly by the scientists who had shattered their lives in the first place. They lived well and studied and most aided the scientific advancement of the world, their world, around them. All the children except one.

Detective Inspector Brown sat in his car. He had developed a twitch in his right eye that he was so used to now it did not bother him much. He had everything he needed to prove that this is where the children were being taken, but he didn’t understand why no one else see could see it. Bent. They’re all bent now. It was only a matter of time before he had to hand over his badge because he wouldn’t join them. They started to disappear, one by one, and it didn’t take long to work out the connection. Missing scientists and missing children. Find one and you’ve got the other.

His phone began to ring, it was Bradley, his youngest. Damn. He answered but kept his eyes on the scene in front of him. When was Daddy coming home? Soon son, soon. Just after I’ve finished this assignment. Can Daddy speak to Mummy? Alright. Your son misses you. You have a family here. You work too hard. You missed dinner again. Where are you? When will you be home? I don’t want to lose a husband as well as a daughter. Please… He was sorry but he had to go and he hung up the phone. He knew it all anyway. But he also knew that she was in there.

Something caught DI Brown’s attention and he picked up the binoculars on the seat next to him and gazed with a steely eye. There was a building in front of him, a large warehouse with big grey doors and plenty of bordered up windows. Another blacked out van arrived at the grey doors. Another delivery he presumed. He noted this down in his notebook and lit a cigarette. As he watched the grey doors closing, his eye began to twitch again.

Hazel Day stood on the edge of the old grey brick bridge, one foot resting on the small wall which was the only barrier between her and the deep lake below. She took a creased and worn photograph out of her jeans pocket which was comprised of a family portrait. Hazel looked blankly at the picture and the memories flooded back into her mind. The tears that could not flow prickled at the back of her eyes and she took the step up onto the short wall, as she did so, threw the photograph into the water. Her dim, stoic eyes followed the path of the photograph as it slowly floated down and was eventually washed away under the bridge. She looked up into the sky and felt the warm artificial sun on her face, for the last time. As the university clock tower struck the first chime of twelve noon, Hazel closed her eyes and jumped.

A Short Story: SOS

“B… B… But P..P..Professor Schultz! This is the most incredible finding I.. don’t know how you will convince everyone at the conference.”

“Ja, Ben. Not incredible, credible, totally credible. We have the proof right here. Concrete, undeniable proof. However, as you say, I now need to convince the rest of the scientific community. That will be difficult even with the obvious evidence. Not all so-called scientists believe what is put in front of their eyes. Ben, I need you to bring my notes and my Powerpoint slides. Of course you will need to set that up. I have no idea how to use these ridiculous pieces of equipment. Give me a trusty microscope and a petri dish any day. Let’s see. Yes. I need my pen and my briefcase and oh yes, the bacteria samples! We must put them away somewhere safe, Ben. In the excitement I almost forget. Terrible. Give me a hand here, please.”

“Of course. P…Professor.”

“If these bacteria samples get into the wrong hands. Well, you know that I do not believe science should be used purely for creating profit and for fame. We must make sure they are locked away. Guten nacht my tiny friends. Ha! Do you remember when we first made contact, Ben? You thought it was a co-incidence, didn’t you? And quite rightly too! We must always be skeptical. But then we saw it. Ha ha ha! Not only had these friendly little creatures organised themselves into the shape H and the shape I but then we saw it! Ha ha ha. They moved into an exclamation mark! I remember the look on your face Ben and I remember what you happened to remark. What did you say?”

“I said they look like friendly b…b…bacteria, P..Professor.”

“Friendly bacteria! Ha ha! And now we will tell the whole scientific community that we have discovered sentient bacteria. Not only sentient but intelligent. How they learned to speak English, not only speak or copy but hear and understand it, in such a short space of time, I do not know. It is a pity that they did not choose German. Mein Opa would have been proud if they did. Still, English is not a bad substitute, I guess, and we are in the land of the free. Home of the brave, Ben! Ha ha. Was?”

“P…Pardon?”

“America! We should be in Germany. But nevermind. I shall effect an extra strong accent and move my verbs around. it will be just like we are back in Berlin. Ha ha. Do you have the electron microscope print outs? I want to see them again before tomorrow. I can never see them enough times. Where did you put them, Ben? Ah, danke. Always so organised. Danke. Right, the first with the ‘hi’ and then the exclamation mark. Wonderbar! Now, here is the second. I asked them how they were. What a ridiculous question. Ha! They said ‘good’. Then you sensibly told me to ask them what they were. That took a few photographs. And here, my favourite. This one I love most of all. It is a heart shape Ben. Is it not? Very friendly bacteria. Also Ben, die Zeit! Es tut mir leid. I’m sorry. You must want to go home to your wife and child. How many weeks old now? I lose track.”

“He’s actually eighteen months now. Little Andrew, as you call him, is growing fast. He’ll b..be a footb..baller I think.”

“Eighteen months! Mein Gott. Nein, not football. He will be a scientist like his Vater. Well, go home, go home and I will see you on Monday for the conference. Thank you, Ben. Have a good weekend. I will double check that we are all locked away and go home myself. I do believe that mein Liebling Maria will have forgotten what I look like. Ha! Send my best to Emma and little Andrew! Shut the door won’t you. There is a draft on my old bones.”

“Good night P…Professor! I will.”

“Also. Meine kleine Schönheiten. Guten nacht. Ach, für mich. Können Sie night ein wenig Deutsch sprechen? Sagen Sie Hallo! Mit a? Nein? OK, sagen Sie Apfel! Nein. Mögen Sie nicht Äpfel?  Nien. Ach, weiß ich nicht. Fahrkartenautomat? Ha ha. Of course not.”

“Talking to yourself again Professor.” The man who was standing at the door said. he held something in his hand.

“Tom, I did not hear you enter. And, yes, I am talking to myself. I find that it is the only way to be truly heard. How are you? On your way home, my friend?” 

“Yeh, I’m going home. But I was just wondering about the conference on Monday.”

“Oh, yes! It will reveal so much!”

“So, I hear. What are you presenting again Professor?”

“Tom, my name is Wolfgang, I have told you that before numerous times. Almost as many times as I have told you what I am working on is top secret until the conference. You know that! I do not know what you are working on Professor Kirk and I do not need to know. I am sure it will be fascinating.”

“Yeh, I understand the need for secrecy. But, Professor, I prefer to call you that it is less… German. Professor, I really must know what you are presenting.” 

“Tom, is that a gun?”

“Yes, Professor. You see. There is very little room for competition in this prize giving ceremony and I need the money to continue my career. I fear that … with the recession and lack of grants. Well, I fear for my job and my family. And I believe that you will win the money offered and I really can’t have that. You have a good job. A safe job. You’ve been here for years. But I haven’t been here long and I need this job. I need this money. Otherwise I will lose everything. My wife will leave me and take my children. You have no idea how difficult it has been for me lately.”

“But a gun, Tom. That is. That is a little, as you say, over the top, ja.”

“You are in America now Professor. We do things differently here. It is necessary.”

“And you won the war.”

“What?”

“Nothing. But if you insist you want to know what I am presenting, at the point of a gun. And you call me crazy. I will show you. Here… look at these photographs and see what you think.”

“I don’t understand what these are.”

“They are bacteria, sentient and intelligent bacteria. They are spelling out words. Look that says Hi with an exclamation mark.”

“And you discovered this! You have samples?”

“Of course. But they are locked away safe, Tom. You won’t be able to remove them. I alone know the code to that door. I guess if you shoot me then no one else will ever know the code to that door.” 

“Then i must destroy the samples!”

“Was?! What are you thinking? You are mad.”

“Is that it? It just looks like petri dishes of gloop to me. Radiation must work. Stay there Professor! Don’t move. Remember the gun.”

“Can you see them, Tom? Look at the computer screen that is attached to the electron microscope in there. They are forming the word ‘nope’ for the American.” 

“No? What? Alright, heat then… What is that?”

“Looks like a pair of sun glasses, sorry shades, to me. Ha ha. Masters at Pictionary.”

“Right, where do they live? Where did you discover them? It’s loaded!”

“Mein Gott, OK. We discovered them at the bottom of the ocean… Scheiße.” 

“Fresh water. How dense are you Professor?”

“With a gun at my face, I think I am quite clever to tell you the truth. Es tut mir leid meine kleine Schönheiten.”

The bacteria, as a whole, formed just one word “Nein”.

Professor Schultz leapt toward his desk where the security button was hidden and pressed it. He then ran to the controls that Professor Kirk was handling.  Kirk turned to the Professor and all Schultz could do was knock the gun out of Kirk’s hand. But it was already too late. The petri dishes were being flooded with fresh water. The salt which the bacteria needed to survive was being washed away.

The scuffle between the Professor and Kirk didn’t last long. Two security men arrived quickly and intervened. They restrained Kirk and called the police to take him away. At least they discovered that the gun wasn’t actually loaded so the Professor wasn’t ever in any real danger.

“Once a scientist, always a scientist, if completely mad.” said Professor Schultz. He refused an escort home. 

Luckily, the Professor did stop the fresh water flooding just in time to save a few petri dishes of bacteria. All was quiet again in the laboratory.

“I am so sorry. Es tut mir leid.”

This time the bacteria formed the letters “SOS”.

“SOS, morse code? How do you know morse code? How can I help? You are safe now.”

Then the words started to alternate. “Nein. SOS. Nein. SOS.”

Everytime the Professor said he didn’t know how to help the bacteria the same thing happened.

“Nein. SOS.”

“I really don’t know what you mean. I’m sorry. I’m tired now. I really feel old now. I must get back to Maria soon. I am sick of talking to myself. What did Tom say? He was only thinking about his family. Ha! What will they do now with a Vater in prison? Who is the dense one?!”

Then it dawned on the Professor. Dense. The densest metal on earth is Osmium, solid state Osmium. He said it out loud “Solid state Osmium?”

“JA. SOS. JA!”

“Also!” The Professor ran to the store cupboard. He could only find a small amount of powdered Osmium which he took. 

He opened the locked door and poured some into each petri dish. “Hier. Hier.”

The Professor watched through the microscope and was completely amazed. The powdered Osmium was clumped into tiny lumps by the bacteria then, almost instantaneously with no flash of light and no audible noise, the bacteria  and the Osmium that was on the petri dishes disappeared. The Professor was startled and confused. He looked at the open door, then at the open window across the room and back at the electron microscope screen. Ben arrived at the door to the laboratory.

“P…P…Professor are you alright? I was buying Emma a present at the all night supermarket and saw the p…police car. Just her favourite chocolate. What happened?”

Professor Schultz was speechless.

“P…Professor?”

“Mein… our friendly bacteria has gone.” 

“How?”

“Powdered Osmium, my friend. sOs. Although it is really Os. s. But never mind. Ha!”

“Oh, you didn’t sneeze did you, P…Professor? I..I mean it wouldn’t matter if you did b..but…”

“Nein, nein my dear friend. Of course not. I just… I don’t know. They say that we know more about outer space than the bottom of the ocean. What if something came from outer space to live at the bottom of the ocean? Ha. Perhaps for some peace and quiet. Or maybe a holiday.”

“P…Pardon?”

“Nevermind Ben. I am a silly old fool. It has all gone. Professor Kirk will not be coming back to work either so I think there may be a shifting of job roles. I think you are ready for your own laboratory.”

“Really? Thank you.” 

“Also, I’m the one who needs a holiday. Back to Germany for the summer, Ben. You and your family are very welcome to come. I will show you lakes and mountains like you have never seen. Ah, Bavaria. You remember the work I was completing on Perovskites in solid oxide fuel cells, I think we need to dig that out before Monday. I’ll call you at the weekend, if you don’t mind? It might be good enough. I mean it’ll be a nice joke anyway. Ha ha!”

“Of course P…Professor. I don’t mind. But we still have the photos. Can we not still use those?”

“What were you saying earlier, Ben? You remember that scientists are skeptical. They will not believe photographs until they have seen living proof and we no longer have the living proof. Sadly.”

“Oh, solid oxide fuel cells it is then, P…Professor. Then a well deserved holiday for us b…both. From what you have said, Germany does sounds nice.”

“Bavaria, yes. Time to go home and remember, my name is Wolfgang. Call me Wolfgang. Maria calls me Wolfy and I love her but it is way too kitsch. Ha! I think will go home now too. Could you give me a lift please, Ben? ”

“Of course, Wolfgang.”

Professor Schultz went over to the window and looked up. He shook his head and pulled the window to.

“You have an excellent German accent, Ben. You must use it more often.”   

Ben laughed and switched off the lights as they left the laboratory.

Friendly Bacteria

A Short Story: Carbon Copy

The young couple was sat on a wooden park bench on a Thursday in spring. The kind of park bench that Alfred and Ethel would have had erected in memory of their long walks together around the lake. It was just an ordinary park bench in a normal city park. The sky was a clear blue with minimal cloud coverage (much like the sky Alfred would have painted in watercolour) and it was warm and pleasant. There were bees buzzing around the brightly coloured flowers in the park gardens, where Alfred once picked Ethel a beautiful rose on one of their many walks around the lake. They could hear bird song in the background (Ethel loved the sound of birdsong) and groups of student chattering along with young mums playing with their children. All in all, a very nice, almost romantic, type of day.

This couple, however, were not a couple in the romantic sense. Giles and Emma met at University through the Science Fiction society where they both shared a deep, mutual love for Doctor Who. In fact, at that point in time, they were arguing about which one of the two would make the best assistant.  It wasn’t a new argument and, today, on the anniversary of the first date of transmission of the original Who, it was probably reaching greater heights than it ever had before.  Emma was adamant that it was her, she was athletic, clever and was convinced she knew more than Giles would about potentially hostile alien species. Giles would have nothing of this latter argument particularly as he was studying biology and she was studying maths. Emma was at pains to point out that Giles’ heyfever (and it was ridiculous to think that anyone with such bad heyfever would study biology or spend any time in a park) would put a stop to any travel to planets containing plant life and that he got nauseous travelling on the bus to lectures let alone directly through space and time in a TARDIS. He was about to protest that his heyfever wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be, in fact he had not sneezed once, and that the new travel sickness pills were working and that he would be fine now, when…

There was a flash of bright yellow light and Emma and Giles disappeared.

The feeling of sudden disappearance was hard to describe. It was like they had just been wrenched bodily from where they were sitting on the ordinary park bench, which is almost exactly what did happen, then pulled into a tunnel which was tight around their bodies, again not far from the truth, and finally spat out again at the other end, well, close. The whole thing could only have happened over a second or even less. They had been deposited somewhere very strange and definitely not in the Earth bound city park. It was almost pitch black but was not unpleasantly warm.

“Where are we?” gasped Giles as he held back the waves of sickness threatening to burst through. He was making small retching sounds and breathing heavily.

“I don’t know. I haven’t opened my eyes yet.” said Emma, “Can’t you see? And, oh blimey, if you’re going to heave please face the other way.”

“I can’t see, no. Can you?”

“Well, I’d know where we were if I could see, wouldn’t I?”

“Right. How will I know to face the other way, then?”

“Oh, just great.”

Giles decided he wanted to stand. It was easier to defend themselves that way, if the need ever arose. He groped around in the pitch black to get a handle on something, anything, to help him up.

“Ow! That was my hair!”

“Sorry, Emma. I just thought standing would be a better defense position.”

“Good idea, just attempt not to take your ally out of action before the invisible, malicious alien race attacks, eh?” 

“Yes, sorry. Look, I can feel something solid. It’s a bit like, well, I think it’s a wall. I think we’re in a room.”

“Oh right, we’re in a room. Well done Sherlock. A pitch black room. Great. This is just fantastic. I don’t suppose it’s a TARDIS is it?”

“Well, er… LIGHTS!”

The echo of Giles’ shout bounced off the walls of the room and faded into nothing. Then silence again.

“Didn’t think so. Giles, help me up too.”

Giles flailed with his hands until he found Emma’s warm body and fumbled until they were holding hands. He laboriously helped her onto her feet until they were both stood with hands against the wall. Emma’s immediate thought was they need to find an escape route.

“Let’s see if there’s a door.” said Emma.

They moved along the edge of the room slowly, feeling their way along the smooth, cool walls.

“Lights?” said Emma “Is that the best you could do? That’s Star Trek!”

“Well,” said Giles “I’m under a lot of stress a the moment. It’s not everyday you get taken from a park bench and end up somewhere, somewhere, well, somewhere really weird. I didn’t even get chance to take my travel sickness pills. Although, I feel a bit better now, thank you for asking, even though you didn’t. ” 

“Which is exactly why I would make the best assistant as I think I am currently demonstrating.”

“Look, I…” Giles gasped.

“What now?!” Emma exclaimed.

“I can feel something warm, something hideous, it’s like flesh, alien flesh. EUGH!!”

“What? Where? Show me!” 

“There. Can’t you feel it. It’s like, it’s like a hand!”

“That is my hand!”

“Oh! Really? Felt distinctly alien to me.”

“I’m sorry, what was it you were studying again? Oh, that’s right, biology. Yes! That is my, human, hand. Did you find a door?”

There was no door. But there were four walls which comprised a small room and nothing else except the two stranded people. Again, with a whomp noise this time, there was a flash of bright yellow light back and forth across the floor. This happened periodically for, what felt like, a few minutes.

“ARGH!” screamed Giles, “I’m blind! ARGH!”

“Oh, honestly. We couldn’t see before. Please stop screaming like a girl every time that thing flashes. We need to work out where on Earth we are!”

After the initial shock had worn off, Giles was sounding more than a little scared now, “I don’t think we’re on Earth.”

But Emma stayed calm, “Well, maybe. OK, so what if we’re not on Earth. I know, what would The Doctor do?”

“He’d use his sonic screwdriver to put on some lights then find a hidden door or just blow the wall open, vanquish the evil alien race with, I dont know, a cherry and a sprig of mint then lead us all safely to the TARDIS and home again.”

“Right, easy.”

At that moment, a booming, deep voice cut through the air, ” THANK YOU FOR USING XERON LIMITED. YOU HAVE CHOSEN OUR DELUX BEING COPIER XY1001. WE WILL NOW COPY THE DNA OF YOUR CHOSEN SUBJECTS USING THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY.” There was a short pause and then voice carried on, “Don’t worry. It will not be an unpleasant experience. So, there is really nothing to worry about. Just relax and listen to this soothing music. I quite like this one, I remember it from my youth. I mean, THE DNA WILL BE STORED AND USED TO CREATE THE PERFECT CLONES TO USE AS YOU WISH ON YOUR CHOSEN PLANET.” 

The voice was replaced by some strange noises which sounded a little like a warped guitar solo, a group of opera singers (a diva of opera singers, if you will, oh you won’t, well, OK then) and a loud drum bass beat. They could only assume that this was the calming music the disembodied voice has mentioned.

“What?” said Giles. “We’re in a PHOTOCOPIER?!”

“Sherlock strikes again! Looks like we’ve been copied for use at will.” Emma replied. “Can you hear that noise, again? I mean the other noise not this, what is this music?”

There was another whoomp then the bar lights flashed once. This was followed by one single, clear beep. Then silence.

“That wasn’t so bad.” said Giles.

“But what are they going to do with our DNA now they’ve copied it? And why did they choose us two, of all people? And what is that music?!”

“Aliens.”

“What?”

“Aliens. We’re aliens to them and so they chose us out of all alien life forms. It’s quite cool when you think of it that way, really.”

“Really? Giles, have you forgotten that our DNA will be copied and used elsewhere. Somewhere that we don’t know, won’t be able to visit and can’t control! Like the nice disembodied voice and it’s weird taste in music said.”

“Nope. But I like the idea now. A whole race of Giles and Emmas fighting the good fight.”

“Oh God. I can’t think of anything worse.”

The deep voice once again cut through the air, “See, that wasn’t that bad, was it? I mean, THE BEINGS’ DNA HAS NOW BEEN COPIED AND WILL BE STORED SAFELY AND SECURELY UNTIL THE TIME OF USE. I WILL DEPOSIT THE ORIGINALS IN THE DESIGNATED TIME AND SPACE PROVIDED. THANK YOU, ONCE AGAIN, FOR CHOOSING XERON LIMITED.  It was nice to meet you both, although I have to admit I do think Emma would make the best Doctor’s assistant. Sorry Giles, you’re nice but Emma just has that bit more nous. I hope you enjoyed your stay. Oh and the music, it’s Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Have you not heard it? It’s a classic! Come back soon and I’ll introduce you to Bon Jovi…”

The voice trailed off. There was an even brighter flash of light this time and the room was left empty.

Giles and Emma had been instantly transported back the park bench they had previously been sat on. Very little time had actually elapsed. Giles was breathing heavily again but the same noises from the children, mothers and students could still be heard around the park. Nothing had changed and no one had noticed their disappearance. They both opened their eyes simultaneously and looked at each other. They were stunned and blinked at the sunlight. Neither could find the words to describe how they felt about their shared experience. Basically, it felt weird.

“Come back soon. It said.” said Emma. “What did it mean? How did it know our names? What! Just! Happened?! I have many, many questions. Did it say Queen? Bon Jovi? I was never really a fan of that kind of music. What do you think, Giles?  Don’t just sit there struck dumb. Did that actually just happen or were we hallucinating or something? I mean, you saw it too right? The bright light. And heard that weird voice. The one that wanted us to go back soon. I didn’t take one of your travel sickness pills by accident did I? I’m sure it was paracetamol.”

“I have no idea. But I’m sure I saw what you saw and I quite liked the music, actually.” said Giles “I do have a question.”

“Like I said, I have so many questions.” replied Emma. “Go on.”

“Well, erm… will you go out with me?”

Emma looked at Giles, rolled her eyes and then giggled.

“It must have been one of your pills.” she said and kissed him on the cheek. Coincidently, in the very same spot Alfred and Ethel had their first kiss, all those years ago. And perhaps even more coincidentally at the very same time, and when I say the very same time, I actually mean some years in to the future on a planet far out into space. At this almost coincidental time, a couple that looked exactly like Giles and Emma kissed whilst sat in a normal park (for that planet) on a normal park bench (for that planet) being watched by a wealthy but lonely alien who was relaxing to a spot of rock music.