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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part 3

Hi everyone, hope you’ve all had a great Friday so far. 🙂

I’m back with the third and last part of Paul Byer‘s excellent SF short story, Annihilation; so far (in part 1) we’ve met the crew of a sub that was tasked with finding and tracking a new and potentially dangerous Chinese sub, (in part 2) they were returning to base, unsuccessful in their mission, whereupon they discovered that Pearl Harbour had been wiped off the map (as well as some other, more mysterious discoveries), and now in Part 3 we get the conclusion. 🙂

Before that, though, I thought I’d post the last of Paul’s guest-blogs, and don’t worry, there’s aren’t any spoilers! 😉

***
I primarily writer action thrillers but Act of God is a return to my roots, so to speak. I started out writing science fiction and I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing this kind of genre. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it.

Today’s sci-fi audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their stories. Everyone has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.

The genre of science fiction as evolved from its early beginnings of Buck Rogers and little green men invading earth. Today, the genre has grown and expanded to encompass so much more than just flights into deep space.

With new technologies, the stories have blended with the techno thriller and military themes have relied heavily on technologies and are often woven into sci-fi stories. Touches of fantasy as well as the ever popular use of robots and medical manipulation of DNA have also grown more prominent in today’s science fiction, making it the mainstay of the modern genre.

But whether as a writer you are drawing on proven and known technology or creating your own universe, and whether you boldly go where no man has gone before or create a theme park where no expense has been spared (where the attractions eat the guests) science fiction is a great way to tell great stories.
***

Annihilation – Part 3

“Officer of the Deck! I’m receiving a signal!” The radio operator called out.

“Locate and identify!” Hollis ordered. “And Collins, go get the Captain!”

Just then Captain Deacon strode into the control room. “No need,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.” He walked over to the radio station and leaned over the operator. “What have we got?”

“It’s a simple message that’s being rotated on different frequencies in Morse code. Half of it is just random letters, but buried in the middle of all the jumble is a request for acknowledgment.”

“Acknowledge it then.” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, acknowledging.”

The entire control room waited for the reply. At last, they might have some answers. The radio operator scribbled down the reply, then turned to the captain.

“I’m sorry sir, but this doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“The reply. It says: Time: James Bond. Freq: Total inhabitants of Gilligan’s Island and length of cruise. Full count. And that’s it, the transmission has stopped.”

Everyone was puzzled by the riddle. Was someone playing games or was the sender just crazy. Suddenly Captain Deacon snapped his fingers.

“That’s it! It has to be!”

“What’s sir?”

“It’s a recognition code. A specific time and frequency. Something only we would know. During World War Two, if the G.I.’s suspected someone of being a German spy, they would ask them questions only an American would know. Something like who won the World Series or who a famous movie star was. These questions are something only we would know.

“But sir, James Bond and Gilligan’s Island are seen all over the world, not just in the U.S.”

“My point exactly. WE could figure it out because we’re from earth.”

“You mean E.T. sir?” The radio man asked looking at this captain with fear and confusion on his face.

“It’s just a theory, son,” Deacons said to the radio operator, “just a theory.”

Deacon clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. “Okay, let’s see what we have. James Bond is of course the indomitable 007, so broadcast will be at 0700 tomorrow morning.”

“And there were six castaways on Gilligan’s Island who were on a three-hour tour that stretched into four seasons.” Hollis joined in.

“Excuse me sir, but there were seven castaways.” The radio man said.

“I think the XO is right, there were only six.” One of the engineer mates piped in.

“Seven.”

“Six.”

Suddenly the control room of a United States Navy Nuclear Attack Submarine was filled with the sound of men humming the theme song from a 50-year-old television show.

Almost in unison a soft chorus broke out, “…the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan’s Isle.”

“You’re right Hollis said matter of factly. “I forgot about the Professor.”

Deacon burst out laughing.

“What?” Hollis said.

Deacon just shook his head. “Never mind. Okay, now that we have that settled, the only ‘full count’ I can think of is a three and two in baseball which make five, so the frequency must be 735.”

“Easy for us. But not so easy for whoever is listening.” Deacon said.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m still having a hard time believing that someone other than inhabitants of good old Earth blew up Pearl.” Abe said.

“I hope I’m wrong too,” Deacon confessed. “It would make it a whole lot easier to deal with if I’m wrong.”

“Amen to that.”

At 0700 the next morning the control room was packed with every man who wasn’t on duty. Deacon thought about clearing the room, but decided against it. They were all in it together and they had a right to know. The room was silent; no one dared make a sound as they waited for the mysterious transmission. Suddenly the radio crackled, and as if scripted in a movie, everyone in the room held his breath.

“Do you copy?” Were the garbled words that came through the speakers.

Deacon picked up the microphone. “We read you. Please identify yourself.”

“Negative! And do not identify yourself. This will be a one minute transmission.”

“We have been out of circulation. Can you tell us what has happened?”

“You’re kidding right?” The voice said in astonishment.

“Negative,” Deacon thought for moment, “we’ve been visiting Dave Jones.”

There was a brief pause. “Understood. The earth is in complete shambles. Forty-three days ago the Ninjas arrived, catching our defenses completely off guard.”

“Ninjas?”

“Sorry, that’s the nickname we gave them because of the black suits they wear. We don’t know what they call themselves or where they came from. The Ninjas are an alien race that has devastated the planet. There are scattered pockets of resistance, but they are few and far between and falling fast.”

“What about the military? Couldn’t they do anything to stop them?”

“The Ninjas knew exactly where and what to hit; we didn’t have a chance. There were a few minor victories, but nothing to stem the flow of the Ninjas.”

“What do they want?” Hollis asked. “Have they made any demands?”

“Demands? Why? They’ve already beaten us. I suggest whoever you are that you find a place to hide and hope they don’t find you. Maybe they’ll take what they want and leave. I will not transmit again. It’s getting too risky for me. Good luck to you! Over and out.”

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the control room. Everyone was stunned. The Earth they had left just a few short months ago didn’t exist anymore.

“Chief of the Boat, make depth for 800 feet,” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, make depth for 800 feet.”

“Conn, sonar. I just picked up a surface contact! Bearing 287…range 10 miles. It’s a small craft, sir.”

“Belay the last. Helm, reduce speed to five knots, make depth 400 feet, heading 287. Any emissions from the contact?

“Negative sir. It appears to be dead in the water.”

“Very well then, we still need more information so I’m going to take the risk and board her. We’ll move under her at 100 feet then release two teams of divers to board her. You up for a little swim, Abe?” Deacon said looking at his XO.

Hollis smiled. “Yes sir.”

“Good. I want you to lead the boarding party. Pick three volunteers and prepare to depart in one hour.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

Fifty seven minutes later, Hollis led the team of four divers through the LOT (lock out trunk,) a way to enter and exit the submarine while still submerged, from the warmth and security of the Texas and into the unknown of the cold, murky waters of the Pacific. Each member of the team was armed with an M-16/M4 converted assault rifle and the Heckler & Koch HK45 as their sidearm, along with several clips of ammunition in water proof pouches.

Everything looked calm and peaceful as Hollis looked up from fifty feet below the hull, seeing the outline of the ship silhouetted against the surface; but he also knew looks were deceiving. He motioned for two of the divers to go to the starboard side, while he and his partner went up on the port.

As they surfaced, they could see that the ship was a 110 foot Island Class Coast Guard Cutter. Although it was built for the open ocean, Hollis thought it strange to find one this far out at sea, but then after the events of the last few days, nothing surprised him anymore. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the two teams slipped over the railing and quickly hid in the debris scattered on the deck.

The ship was listing to port and Hollis could see that it was in shambles, having taken quite a beating recently in a storm.

Hollis lay hidden behind the twisted remains of a Zodiac, watching, waiting, listening. Satisfied that the deck was clear and that they hadn’t been spotted, he signaled for two men to go up the starboard side while he covered them. His heart was pounding and his mouth dry as he rested his assault rifle on the Zodiac and watched his men make their way to the superstructure.

He had been in danger before, he had been in the belly of a steel beast, directing 7800 tons of muscle and machine in harm’s way, but this was different, this was personal combat. He was in the thick of it, no electronics, no early warning systems and no inky depths to hide in. Here, he was face to face with danger.

His men reached the stern of the cabin with no trouble and they signaled for him to join them. Taking a deep breath, he nodded to his partner and they made their way as quickly and quietly as they could up the other side of the ship. As he came running up he signaled and the first two members of the team opened the cabin door and Hollis rushed in.

Three steps into the cabin, they were stopped in their tracks by an overwhelming stench that none of them had ever experienced before. Immediately the man beside Hollis threw up, and it was all he could do to keep from doing the same. The room was in as bad a shape as the deck outside; papers, furniture, and other debris were scattered around with puddles of standing water everywhere from broken windows. The room was empty of any human crew but they found three figures lying on the floor, all dressed in black. Ninjas, Hollis thought as he shoved the barrel of his gun into each of the bodies, making sure they were dead.

With the room secured, they split up and searched the rest of the ship. After ten minutes, all reported back that the ship was deserted. No more bodies were found, human or alien.

The men gathered around as Hollis took out a small flashlight to examine the bodies.

They all wore black body suits including a head cover, looking very similar to black wet suits. He could see why the name “Ninjas” had stuck. There were no exposed portions of the alien’s skin except through tears in the suits. Prying up one of the tears, he could see that the skin underneath looked like it had been eaten away, as if acid had been poured onto the flesh.

When Hollis reached down to examine the body more closely, water from his suit trickled down his arm and into one of the tears. Immediately, a reddish-blue foam oozed out of the opening.

“Would you look at that.” Hollis exclaimed. “Brask, go take your mask and bring it back here full of water.”

Brask left the cabin and returned shortly with the full mask. Hollis took the mask and began pouring water into each of the tears on the suit, with the same results: a reddish-blue foam appearing as the water dissolved the alien flesh.

“What do you know?” Hollis said. Water must act as a corrosive on the alien flesh. No wonder they wear these full body suits. “I’m going to call the captain and have him surface the boat and get these bodies on board. They could prove useful later.” As he walked out of the cabin, he found a small case. He opened it and found sheaf’s of papers with what appeared to be alien writing on it. “This could prove to be interesting.” He said as he shoved them inside his wetsuit.

An hour later with the alien bodies in the boat’s freezer, Hollis was sitting with the captain in his cabin.

“That’s quite a report, Abe. Did you get anything from those files you found?”

Hollis shook his head. “A quick glance gave me nothing but I haven’t had any real time to study them yet. But what gets me is if water is so harmful to them, then why go after a planet that’s 75 percent water?”

“Maybe to them, the 25 percent land we do have is a lot, which gives me an idea. Militarily we have been defeated and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

“That’s what’s so frustrating. We have such tremendous firepower aboard this boat and there’s nothing we can do prevent these “Ninjas” from taking over our planet. Maybe we should have polluted it more so they wouldn’t have wanted it.” Hollis said in a faint attempt at humor.

“I’ve been thinking, and maybe there is something we can do.” Deacon replied.

“Sir?”

“There’s only one way we can get the Ninjas off our world, and that’s for there to be less of it.”

“Less of it? I don’t understand.”

“We have a full complement of Tomahawk cruise missiles on board, don’t we?”

Hollis nodded.

“We go to maximum range and launch one at the polar ice cap, then run like hell.”

“I don’t understand? What’s at the polar ice cap?”

“Ice. And when the heat of the nuclear explosion hits, it will melt it, thus raising the water level around the world. We’ll create our own global warming. With less land, more potential ‘acid,’ there’s less of a reason for them to stay.”

“That’s quite a gamble sir. Do you know how many people we may drown?”

“I know it’s a risk, but if we don’t do anything at all, I know exactly how many people will be left. None. It’s a gamble all right, a long shot at best, but a long shot is better than none at all. I’m going to take the boat deep and head north. Let’s both get some sleep and see how we feel about it in the morning.”

“Good idea, I’m beat. Good night sir,” Hollis said as he got up and returned to his cabin.

Deacon turned off his lamp and lay in his bunk, a thousand different thoughts running through his mind. He closed his eyes, and tried to relax and get some sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t tonight.

Early the next morning Deacon found his Executive Officer in the galley with a cup of coffee in hand. His eyes were tired and bloodshot and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all.

“You look how I feel,” Deacon said, grabbing a cup of coffee.

“Looked in the mirror lately?” Hollis replied.

“Not much sleep for you either, I see.” Deacon smiled.

“I was up half the night trying to decipher those plans we found. As a kid I always liked solving riddles and crossword puzzles. I even took a couple of classes at the academy in code deciphering. The other half of the night I was thinking about your plan. To tell you the truth I don’t much like it, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. I don’t know, maybe we’re moving too fast. Maybe we should try to raise COMSUBPAC or the civilian authorities first.”

“I’m not crazy about flooding the earth either, but it’s the only way to drive the Ninjas off our planet. The longer we wait the more of them there’ll be. We don’t have time to get confirmation. I did some rough figuring, and I’ll qualify all my answers right now by saying I’m no scientist, but if we melted all the ice at both caps that would raise the sea level between 200 and 250 feet. Even if we got half that amount, say around 100 feet, the results would be catastrophic. Hopefully that would be enough to get the Ninjas to leave.”

“When do we launch?”

“We’ll be in weapons range in about three hours.”

“I don’t have duty until the mid-watch, but I’ll be up when we launch. I think I’ll go back to my puzzle book and see if I can unlock the mysteries of the Ninjas. Don’t launch until I get there please.”

“Good luck.” Deacon nodded then poured himself some more coffee and wished he hadn’t eaten the last doughnut.

Hollis went back to his cabin and began working on the Ninjas’ log book. He really didn’t think he had a hope of deciphering it, but it would keep him busy, and that’s what he needed right now. He began by looking for any words in English, words that the Ninjas might have translated already. Then, he looked for words that were repeated often. He found the word “Earth” several times, followed by the same phrase or one very similar. After two hours he had made little progress. Seeing he had time before the launch, he decided to take a look at the Ninjas themselves, hoping their uniforms might provide a clue. He headed to the ship’s freezer where the bodies were kept.

He took out one of the bodies and slid it onto a service cart. He carefully examined the outside of the suit and found very little that would help him. Next, he cut away the suit to examine the body. He smiled. He felt like one of those CSI investigators on TV as he peeled back the suit. The skin was grayish and had a very coarse texture; it reminded him of the skin of a shark. Several years back he had been snorkeling and had scared a nurse shark off the bottom and it had brushed up against his leg. The shark’s sandpaper-like skin was so rough it had scraped off some of the skin on his leg. This Ninja’s skin felt like that.

He cut away the black suit to examine the rest of the body, but there was not much to see because of all the corrosion caused by the acid of the sea water. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female, with no recognizable organs. Next he tried to examine the hands and feet but they were the most badly corroded. Wanting to clear away some of the loose skin so he could examine the bones, he took a glass of water and poured it into the wound. Nothing happened.

Puzzled because there was no corrosive foam, he did it again, only this time pouring the entire glass on the wound. Still nothing.

Staring intently at the wound, he went to set the empty glass on the counter and it slipped off and fell to the floor. As he reached down to pick it up, his arm dragged across the body bag. When he stood back up, he noticed that there were traces of the reddish-blue foam seeping out of one of the wounds. He noticed that several drops of seawater had dripped from the bag into the wound.

Puzzled, Hollis took a sponge, mopped up some of the excess water then squeezed out over the wound: instantly, the reddish-blue foam appeared. Suddenly the passages in the log book became clear. They were talking about two kinds of water: salt water and fresh water.

A sickening feeling began forming in his stomach. He had noticed earlier some loose skin between the fingers of the Ninjas but thought nothing of it, thinking it was just flesh melted away by the water, but now…. Quickly he moved to tear open the other two body bags. This Ninja’s hands and feet were in worse shape than the first corpse but the third body still had its gloves on. He ripped off the gloves and stared at the hands. The stunning revelation was staring him in the face. That wasn’t just loose skin between its fingers, they were webbed, like a duck’s foot.

The Ninjas didn’t come to Earth because they wanted more land; they came because they wanted more water! Only they hadn’t realized that there was salt water here and that it would act as a corrosive to them. Suddenly a second and even more powerful realization hit him.

He felt faint; the polar ice was fresh water, not salt. If they melted it, it might dilute the salt water enough for the Ninjas to survive. He had to get to the control room and stop the launch. He looked at his watch; he still had a couple of minutes. He ran through the corridors, shouting to stop the launch. He rounded the last hatchway to the control room and tripped just as he entered, hitting his head hard on the metal deck.

Slowly Hollis opened his eyes. His head felt worse than any hangover he’d ever had. Suddenly he remembered. “We’ve got to abort the launch, we can’t launch that missile.”

“Why?” Deacon asked.

“The Ninjas aren’t here for the land; they’re here because we have so much water. They don’t have salt water on their planet so they didn’t know our oceans would be dangerous to them. They need fresh water. If we melt the ice cap the fresh water will dilute the salt water enough so they can survive. If we melt the ice, we will be dooming the earth instead of saving it.”

Deacon stumbled and fell back on the floor as if an unseen prize fighter had delivered a roundhouse punch. “You’ve been unconscious for the past half hour,” Deacon stammered; “we launched five minutes ago.”

End

🙂 What an ending, huh? I zipped through Annihilation when I received it from Paul; from the beginning I enjoyed the setting (thank Tom Clancy for that) and I knew that -considering where the story took place- there would be plenty of tension, and I wasn’t wrong – I like the way the tale builds, as Paul doles out the information piece by piece, gradually building an alarming picture, and I also liked the characters and how they interacted. The scene where Deacon is complaining about the apparent lack of donuts had me chuckling. 🙂 This tale also reminded me of the SF episodes of The Outer Limits in that it was well-balanced between the characters, the building tension, and the way it made me curious. If Annihilation is anything to go by -and I’m sure it is- then Paul’s collection, Act of God, will be highly enjoyable, surprising and imaginative. 🙂 Excellent tale!

To order your copies of Act of God, click here for Amazon US, and do check out Paul’s site for more info on him and his work. Since today is National Buy a Book Day (in the USA, at least, though I’m sure it’ll grow to be a world-wide event!)

Logo by Clifton Hill

go ahead and treat yourself (and Paul) to a copy of Act of God, or two or three (why not?) for SF-loving friends. 🙂

I’d like to sincerely thank Paul for allowing me to host and post Annihilation – it was well worth it! 🙂

Until next time,
Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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Fiction Post: Hater Chapter Two

Thanks to Zeitghost Media, I also have the second chapter of David Moody‘s novel, Hater, for you. 🙂 Enjoy!

2

THERE’S A GIRL WHO sits on the other side of the office called Jennifer Reynolds. I don’t know her very well. I don’t have much to do with her from day to day. In fact I’ve only spoken to her a handful of times since I was transferred into the PFP. She’s not here today and I hate it when she’s out. When Jennifer Reynolds isn’t here her duties get shared between the rest of us, and the job I have to cover today is the worst job of all—Reception. The postal address of the PFP isn’t actively broadcast but it’s on some of the correspondence we send out and it’s in the phone book and it doesn’t take much for the general public to find out where we are. We get a lot of visitors, too many in my opinion. If someone comes here it’s almost always because they’ve been fined or clamped. They’ve probably already tried to get the fine overturned or the clamp removed and, by the time they reach us, coming to argue their case in person is often the only option they have left. So those people who do turn up here are likely to already be seriously pissed off. Shouting, screaming, and threatening behavior isn’t unusual. The first place these people reach is Reception, and the first person they get to scream at, shout at, or threaten is the poor sod sitting behind the desk.

So here I am, sitting alone at the Reception desk, staring at the tatty bronzed-glass entrance door, watching anxiously for any visitors. I hate this. It’s like sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. I’m constantly watching the clock on the wall. It’s hung just above a large bulletin board covered with unread and unhelpful council posters and notices. Just to the left of the bulletin board, equally unread and unhelpful, is a small sign which warns the public against intimidating or attacking council staff. The fact that it’s there doesn’t make me feel any safer. There’s a personal-attack alarm stuck under the desk but that doesn’t make me feel any better either.

It’s four thirty-eight. Twenty-two minutes to go then I’m finished for the day.

I’m sure Tina enjoys making me come out here. It’s always me who ends up covering for Jennifer. Being out on Reception is a form of torture. You’re not allowed to bring any paperwork out here with you (something about protecting confidential data) and the lack of any distractions makes the time drag painfully slowly. So far this afternoon I’ve only had to deal with two phone calls, and they were just personal calls for members of staff.

Four thirty-nine.

Come on clock, speed up.

Four fifty-four.

Almost there. I’m watching the clock all the time now, willing the hands to move around quickly so that I can get out of here. I’m already rehearsing my escape from the office in my head. I just have to shut down my computer and grab my coat from the cloakroom, then I’ll sprint to the station. If I can get away quickly enough I might manage to catch the early train and that’ll get me back home for…

Damn. Bloody phone’s ringing again. I hate the way it rings. It grates like an off-key alarm clock and the noise goes right through me. I pick it up and cringe at the thought of what might be waiting for me at the other end of the line.

“Good afternoon, PFP, Danny McCoyne speaking,” I mumble quickly. I’ve learned to answer the phone quietly and at speed. It makes it difficult for the caller to take your name.

“Can I speak to Mr. Fitzpatrick in Payroll please?” a heavily accented female voice asks. Thank God for that—this isn’t a screaming member of the public with a complaint, it’s just a wrong number. I relax. We get a few calls for Payroll most days. Their extensions are similar to ours. You’d think someone would do something about it. Anyway I’m relieved. The last thing I want is a problem at four fifty-five.

“You’ve come through to the wrong department,” I explain. “You’ve dialed 2300 instead of 3200. I’ll try and transfer you. If you get cut off just dial 1000 and that’ll take you through to the main exchange…”

I’m suddenly distracted and my voice trails away as the front door flies open. I instinctively move back in my chair, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and whoever it is who’s about to come storming into the building. I finish the phone call and allow myself to relax slightly when I see the front wheels of a child’s stroller being forced through the door. The stroller is jammed in the doorway and I get up to help. A short, rain-soaked woman in a green and purple jacket enters Reception. As well as the child in the stroller (which is hidden from view by a heavy plastic rain cover) two more small children follow her inside. The bedraggled family stands in the middle of the Reception area and drips water onto the grubby marble-effect floor. The woman seems harassed and is preoccupied with her kids. She snaps at the tallest child, telling him that “Mummy has a problem to sort out with this man, then we’ll get you back home for something to eat.”

She takes off her hood and I can see that she’s in her late thirties or early forties. She’s plain looking and her large, round, rain-splashed glasses are steaming up. Her face is flushed red and there are dribbles of rainwater dripping off the end of her nose. She doesn’t make eye contact with me. She slams her handbag down on the desk and begins searching through it. She stops for a moment to lift the rain cover (which is also beginning to steam up with condensation) and checks on her baby, who seems to be sleeping. She returns her attention to the contents of her handbag and I make my way back around to the other side of the counter.

“Can I help you?” I ask cautiously, deciding that it’s about time I offered. She glares at me over the rim of her glasses. This woman has an attitude, I can sense it. She’s making me feel uncomfortable. I know I’m in for a hard time.

“Wait a minute,” she snaps, talking to me as if I’m one of her kids. She takes a packet of tissues out of her bag and passes one to one of the children at her feet who keeps wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve. “Blow,” she orders sternly, shoving the tissue into the middle of the kid’s face. The child doesn’t argue.

I glance up at the clock. Four fifty-seven. Doesn’t look like I’ll be getting the early train home tonight.

“I parked my car at Leftbank Place for five minutes while I took my eldest son to the toilet,” she begins as she repacks her bag. No time for niceties, she’s straight into her complaint. “In those five minutes my car was clamped. Now I know that I shouldn’t have been parked there, but it was only for five minutes and I was only there because it was absolutely necessary. I want to speak to someone who has the authority to sort this out and I want to speak to them now. I want that clamp removed from my car so I can get my children home.”

I clear my throat and get ready to try and respond. Suddenly my mouth is dry and my tongue feels twice its normal size. It had to be Leftbank Place, didn’t it. It’s an area of waste ground just ten minutes walk from our office. Sometimes it feels like just about every other car that’s clamped in this town is clamped at Leftbank Place. The enforcement team who cover that area are notorious. Someone told me they’re on some kind of performance-related pay scheme—the more cars they clamp each week, the more they get paid. I don’t know whether or not that’s true but it doesn’t help me now. I know I have no choice but to give this woman a stock response from procedures. I also know that she’s not going to like it.

“Madam,” I begin, tensing up in anticipation of her reaction, “Leftbank Place is a strictly no-parking area. The council…”
She doesn’t give me a chance to get any further.
“I’ll tell you about the council,” she yells, her voice suddenly uncomfortably loud. “This bloody council needs to spend less time clamping people and more time making sure that public amenities are in proper working order. The only reason I had to park at bloody Leftbank Place was because the public toilets in Millennium Square have been vandalized! My son has a bowel condition. I didn’t have any choice. He couldn’t wait any longer.”

“There must have been other toilets…” I begin to say, instantly regretting having opened my mouth. Christ I hate this job. I wish I was back dealing with rubbish collections, rat infestations, or even broken street lamps again. My biggest problem is that it sounds like this woman has been genuinely hard done by and I’d probably have done exactly the same as she did if I’d been out with my kids. It sounds like she’s got a fair point and there’s nothing I’d like to do more than call off the clampers but I don’t have the authority. My options now are bleak; follow procedures and get yelled at again by this lady or get yelled at by Tina Murray if I don’t do things by the book. Chances are I’m going to cop it from both of them. Before she can react to my stupid comment I try and cover it up. “I understand what you’re saying, Madam, but…”

“Do you?” she screams, this time loud enough to wake the baby in the stroller who starts to whimper and moan. “Do you really? I don’t think you do, because if you did understand you’d be on the phone to someone right now getting that bloody clamp removed from my car so that I can get my children home. They’re cold, they’re hungry and…”

“I need to just…”

“I don’t want excuses, I want this dealt with.”

She’s not going to listen. This is pointless. She isn’t even going to give me a chance.

“Madam…”

“I suggest you go and speak to your superiors and find someone who’s prepared to take responsibility for this shoddy mess and come and sort it out. I was forced to park at Leftbank Place because of this council’s inefficiency. I have a son who has a medical condition and I needed to get him to the toilet urgently. If the council had done their job properly in the first place and had made sure the public toilets were in full working order then I wouldn’t have been parked there, I wouldn’t have been clamped, and I wouldn’t be standing here now talking to someone who clearly can’t or won’t do anything to help me. I need to speak to someone who’s a little higher up the chain of command than the receptionist so why don’t you do us both a favor and go and find someone who is actually prepared to do something before my son needs to use the toilet again.”

Patronizing bitch. I stand and stare at her, feeling myself getting angrier and angrier. But there’s nothing I can do…
“Well?” she snaps.
“Just give me a minute, madam,” I stammer. I turn and storm back into the office and walk straight into Tina coming the other way.
“What are you doing in here, Danny?” she asks, her tone of voice as patronizing as the woman outside. “If you’re in here, who’s manning Reception?”
She knows full well there’s no one out there. I try and explain but I know it’s pointless.
“I’ve got a lady out in Reception who…”
“You should have telephoned through if you needed help,” she interrupts. “You know the rules, you’ve been here long enough now. There should always be someone at the Reception desk and you should always telephone through if you have a problem.”
“There is someone at the Reception desk,” I sigh, “and she’s having a real go at me so can I tell you what her problem is please?”
She looks up at the clock. Damn, it’s gone five. I’ll probably be stuck at the station until six now.
“Make it quick,” she sneers, making it sound as if she’s doing me a favor.
“This lady has been clamped because she parked at Leftbank Place…”
“Tough! You can’t park at Leftbank Place. There are bloody big signs up everywhere telling you not to park at Leftbank Place.”
This isn’t getting any easier.
“I know that, you know that, and she knows that. That’s not the issue.”
“What do you mean, that’s not the issue?”
I pause before speaking again. I know I’m going to have a battle convincing Tina that this lady has a genuine case. For a moment I consider giving up and taking my chances outside in Reception again.
“This lady tells me she parked at Leftbank Place because she needed to take her son to the toilet.”
“What kind of an excuse is that?”
“She needed to take him to the toilet because he has a medical condition and because the public toilets in Millennium Square have been vandalized.”
“That’s not our problem…”
“No, but her argument is that it is the council’s problem. She’s demanding we get the clamp removed. Won’t go anywhere until it’s done.”

“She can’t go anywhere,” Tina laughs to herself. “We’ll get the clamp removed when she pays the fine.”
I’m not surprised by her response, just disappointed. I want to go home. I don’t want to go out there and get yelled at again. What annoys me most of all is that we both know the longer this lady stands her ground and makes a noise in Reception, the more chance there is that the clamp will be removed. I can’t stand all this bullshit and pretense. I can’t help but say something.

“Come on, Tina, give me a break. You know as well as I do that if she shouts long enough we’ll let her off.”
She looks at me, chews her gum, and shrugs her shoulders.
“That’s as may be, but we have to try and take the fee from the client first. You know the procedure. We have to…”
There’s no point listening to any more of this rubbish. I can’t be bothered.
“I know the bloody procedure,” I sigh as I turn my back on her and trudge back toward Reception. I wonder whether I should just keep going? Should I walk straight past the woman and her kids and just leave the building and the job behind?
I open the door and she turns around to glare at me. The expression on her face is pure evil.

“Well?”
I take a deep breath.
“I’ve had a word with my supervisor,” I begin dejectedly, knowing what’s coming next. “We can get the clamp removed, but we must insist on payment of the charge indicated on the signs displayed at Leftbank Place. We can’t…”

And she’s off. She explodes again, shouting and yelling at me. The force, velocity, and ferocity of her outburst is remarkable. It’s an incredible (but not at all unexpected) rant and I have no defense. I can’t argue because I happen to think she has a valid case. If she’d just shut up for a second I might be able to…oh, what’s the use? I don’t know why I bother. The more she shouts at me the less I’m inclined to listen. I’ve given up trying to follow what she’s saying now. Her words have just become a constant stream of noise. I’ll wait for her to take a breath.

“Madam,” I interrupt quickly as she pauses to inhale. I hold my hand up in front of me to make it clear that it’s my turn to speak. “I’ll go and get my supervisor.”

I walk away, ignoring the muttered comments I can hear about “speaking to the organ grinder, not the monkey.” I’m long past caring. As I reach for the office door Tina pulls it open from the other side and barges past me. She stops just long enough to hiss a few venomous words in my direction.

“Well handled,” she sneers sarcastically. “You’re bloody useless, you are. I could hear her shouting from my desk. Now, what’s her name?”
“Don’t know,” I admit, cringing at the fact that I haven’t even managed to establish the most basic of details.
“Bloody useless,” she sneers again before fixing a false smile on her foul face and marching over to the bedraggled woman and her children. “My name’s Tina Murray,” she says. “How can I help you?”
I lean against the office door and watch the predictable charade being played out. Tina listens to the complaint, points out to the lady that she really shouldn’t have been parked at Leftbank Place, then makes a phone call to “see what she can do.” Ten minutes later and the clamp is removed. Tina looks fantastic and I look like an idiot. I knew it would happen like that.

Five thirty-two.

I run to the station and reach the platform just in time to see the next train leave.

Pretty damn cool huh? 🙂 Looking forward to reading this book big-time! 🙂

Be Fantastic!

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2009 in Fiction Post

 

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Fiction Post: Hater Intro & Chapter One

Thanks to permission from Zeitghost Media, here’s the intro and first chapter of David Moody’s soon-to-be-bestseller-and-movie Hater! 🙂

THURSDAY
I

SIMMONS, REGIONAL MANAGER FOR a chain of main street discount stores, slipped his change into his pocket then neatly folded his newspaper in half and tucked it under his arm. He quickly glanced at his watch before leaving the shop and rejoining the faceless mass of shoppers and office workers crowding the city center sidewalks outside. He checked through his date book in his head as he walked. Weekly sales meeting at ten, business review with Jack Staynes at eleven, lunch with a supplier at one-thirty…

He stopped walking when he saw her. At first she was just another face on the street, nondescript and unimposing and as irrelevant to him as the rest of them were. But there was something different about this particular woman, something which made him feel uneasy. In a split second she was gone again, swallowed up by the crowds. He looked around for her anxiously, desperate to find her among the constantly weaving mass of figures which scurried busily around him.

There she was. Through a momentary gap in the bodies he could see her coming toward him. No more than five feet tall, hunched forward and wearing a faded red raincoat. Her wiry gray-white hair was held in place under a clear plastic rain hood and she stared ahead through the thick lenses of her wide-rimmed glasses.

She had to be eighty if she was a day, he thought as he looked into her wrinkled, liver-spotted face, so why was she such a threat? He had to act quickly before she disappeared again. He couldn’t risk losing her. For the first time he made direct eye contact with her and he knew immediately that he had to do it. He had no choice. He had to do it and he had to do it right now.

Dropping his newspaper, briefcase, and umbrella Simmons pushed his way through the crowd then reached out and grabbed hold of her by the wide lapels of her raincoat. Before she could react to what was happening he spun her around through almost a complete turn and threw her back toward the building he’d just left. Her frail body was light and she virtually flew across the footpath, her feet barely touching the ground before she smashed up against the thick safety-glass shop window and bounced back into the street. Stunned with pain and surprise she lay face down on the cold, rain-soaked pavement, too shocked to move.

Simmons pushed his way back toward her, barging through a small crowd of concerned shoppers who had stopped to help. Ignoring their angry protests he dragged her to her feet and shoved her toward the shop window again, her head whipping back on her shoulders as she clattered against the glass for the second time.

“What the hell are you doing, you idiot?!” an appalled bystander yelled, grabbing hold of Simmons’s coat sleeve and pulling him back. Simmons twisted and squirmed free from the man’s grip. He tripped and landed on his hands and knees in the gutter. She was still on her feet just ahead of him. He could see her through the legs of the other people crowding around her.

Oblivious to the howls and screams of protest ringing in his ears, Simmons quickly stood up, pausing only to pick up his umbrella from the edge of the footpath and to push his wire-framed glasses back up the bridge of his nose. Holding the umbrella out in front of him like a bayonet rifle he ran at the woman again.

“Please…” she begged as he sunk the sharp metal tip of the umbrella deep into her gut and then yanked it out again. She slumped back against the window, clutching the wound as the stunned and disbelieving crowd quickly engulfed Simmons. Through the confusion he watched as her legs gave way and she collapsed heavily to the ground, blood oozing out of the deep hole in her side.

“Maniac,” someone spat in his ear. Simmons spun around and stared at the owner of the voice. Jesus Christ, another one! This one was just like the old woman. And there’s another, and another…and they were all around him now. He stared helplessly into the sea of angry faces which surrounded him. They were all the same. Every last one of them had suddenly become a threat to him. He knew there were too many of them but he had to fight. In desperation he screwed his hand into a fist and swung it into the nearest face. As a teenage boy recoiled from the sudden impact and dropped to the ground a horde of uniformed figures weaved through the crowd and wrestled Simmons to the ground.

1

LUNATIC. BLOODY HELL, I’VE seen some things happen in this town before but never anything like that. That was disgusting. That made me feel sick. Christ, he came out of nowhere and she didn’t stand a chance, poor old woman. He’s in the middle of the crowd now. He’s outnumbered fifty to one and yet he’s still trying to fight. This place is full of crazy people. Fortunately for that woman it’s also full of police officers. There are two of them down with her now, trying to stop the bleeding. Three more have got to the guy who did it and they’re dragging him away.

Damn, it’s three minutes to nine. I’m going to be late for work again but I can’t move. I’m stuck in this bloody crowd. There are people bunched up tight all around me and I can’t go backward or forward. I’ll have to wait until they start to shift, however long that takes. There are more police officers arriving now trying to clear the scene. It’s pathetic really, you’d think they’d show some respect but people are all the same. First sign of trouble on the street and everyone stops to watch the freak show.

We’re finally starting to move. I can still see that guy being bundled toward a police van on the other side of the street. He’s kicking and screaming and crying like a bloody baby. Looks like he’s lost it completely. The noise he’s making you’d think he was the one who’d been attacked.

I know I’m a lazy bastard. I know I should try harder but I just can’t be bothered. I’m not stupid but I sometimes find it difficult to give a shit. I should have run across Millennium Square to get to the office just now but it was too much effort so early in the morning. I walked and I finally got here just after quarter past nine. I tried to sneak in but it was inevitable that someone was going to see me. It had to be Tina Murray though, didn’t it? My sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch of a supervisor. She’s standing behind me now, watching me work. She thinks I don’t know she’s there. I really can’t stand her. In fact I can’t think of anyone I like less than Tina. I’m not a violent man—I don’t like confrontation and I find the very idea of punching a woman offensive—but there are times here when I’d happily smack her in the mouth.

“You owe me fifteen minutes,” she sneers in her horrible, whining voice. I push myself back on my chair and slowly turn around to face her. I force myself to smile although all I want to do is spit. She stands in front of me, arms folded, chewing gum and scowling.

“Morning, Tina,” I reply, trying to stay calm and not give her the satisfaction of knowing just how much she bugs me. “How are you today?”
“You can either take the time off your lunch hour or stay late tonight,” she snaps. “It’s up to you how you make it up.”

I know I’m only making things worse for myself but I can’t help it. I should just keep my mouth shut and accept that I’m in the wrong but I can’t stand the thought of this vile woman thinking she’s in control. I know I’m not helping the situation but I just can’t stop myself. I have to say something.

“What about yesterday morning?” I ask. I force myself to look into her harsh, scowling face again. She’s not at all happy. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and chews her gum even harder and faster. Her jaw moves in a frantic circular motion. She looks like a cow chewing the cud. Fucking heifer.

“What about yesterday morning?” she spits.

“Well,” I explain, trying hard not to sound like I’m patronizing her, “if you remember I was twenty minutes early yesterday and I started working as soon as I got here. If I’m going to make up your fifteen minutes for today, can I claim back my twenty minutes for yesterday? Or shall we just call it quits and I’ll let you off the five minutes?”

“Don’t be stupid. You know it doesn’t work like that.”

“Maybe it should.”
Bloody hell, now she’s really annoyed. Her face is flushed red and I can see the veins on her neck bulging. It was a stupid and pointless comment to make but I’m right, aren’t I? Why should the council, the city government, have it all their own way? Tina’s staring at me now and her silence is making me feel really uncomfortable. I should have just kept my mouth closed. I let her win the face-off and I turn back around to sign on to my computer again.

“Either take it off your lunch hour or work late,” she says over her shoulder as she walks away. “I don’t care what you do, just make sure you make up the time you owe.”

And she’s off. Conversation’s over and I don’t get any chance to respond or to try and get the last word. Bitch.

Tina makes my skin crawl but I find myself staring at her rather than at my computer screen. She’s back at her desk now and Barry Penny, the office manager, has suddenly appeared. Her body language has completely changed now that she’s speaking to someone who’s higher up the council pecking order than she is. She’s smiling and laughing at his pathetic jokes and generally trying to see how far she can crawl up his backside.

I can’t help thinking about what I’ve just seen happen outside. Christ, I wish I had that bloke’s umbrella. I know exactly where I’d shove it.

Sometimes having such a dull and monotonous job is an advantage. This stuff is way beneath me and I don’t really have to think about what I’m doing. I can do my work on autopilot and the time passes quickly. It’s been like that so far this morning. Job satisfaction is nonexistent but at least the day isn’t dragging.

I’ve been working here for almost eight months now (it feels longer) and I’ve worked for the council for the last three-and-a half years. In that time I’ve worked my way through more departments than most long-serving council staff manage in their entire careers. I keep getting transferred. I served time in the pest control, refuse collection, and street lamp maintenance departments before I ended up here in the Parking Fine Processing office or PFP as the council likes to call it. They have an irritating habit of trying to reduce as many department names and job titles down to sets of initials as they can. Before I was transferred here I’d been told that the PFP was a dumping ground for underperformers and, as soon as I arrived, I realized it was true. In most of the places I’ve worked I’ve either liked the job but not the people or the other way around. Here I have problems with both. This place is a breeding ground for trouble. This is where those motorists who’ve been unlucky (or stupid) enough to get wheel-clamped, caught on camera violating a traffic rule, or given a ticket by a parking warden come to shout and scream and dispute their fines. I used to have sympathy with them and I believed their stories. Eight months here has changed me. Now I don’t believe anything that anyone tells me.

“Did you see that bloke this morning?” a voice asks from behind the computer on my left. It’s Kieran Smyth. I like Kieran. Like most of us he’s wasted here. He’s got brains and he could make something of himself if he tried. He was studying law at university but took a holiday job here last summer and never went back to class. Told me he got used to having the money and couldn’t cope without it. He buys an incredible amount of stuff. Every day he seems to come back from lunch with bags of clothes, books, DVDs, and CDs. I’m just jealous because I struggle to scrape together enough money to buy food, never mind anything else. Kieran spends most of his day talking to his mate Daryl Evans who sits on my right. They talk through me and over me but very rarely to me. It doesn’t bother me though. Their conversations are as boring as hell and the only thing I have in common with them is that the three of us all work within the same small section of the same small office. What does annoy me, if I’m honest, is the fact that they both seem to be able to get away with not doing very much for large chunks of the working day. Maybe it’s because they’re friendly with Tina outside work and they go out drinking together. Christ, I only have to cough and she’s up out of her seat wanting to know what I’m doing and why I’ve stopped working.

“What bloke?” Daryl shouts back.
“Out on the street on the way to work.”
“Which street?”
“The high street, just outside Cartwrights.”
“Didn’t see anything.”
“You must have.”
“I didn’t. I didn’t walk past Cartwrights. I came the other way this morning.”
“There was this bloke,” Kieran explains regardless, “you should have seen him. He went absolutely fucking mental.”
“What are you on about?”
“Honest, mate, he was wild. You ask Bob Rawlings up in Archives. He saw it. He reckons he practically killed her.”
“Killed who?”
“I don’t know, just some old woman. No word of a lie, he just started laying into her for no reason. Stabbed her with a bloody umbrella I heard!”
“Now you’re taking the piss…”
“I’m serious.”
“No way!”
“You go and ask Bob…”
I usually ignore these quick-fire conversations (most of the time I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about) but today I can actually add something because I was there. It’s pathetic, I know, but the fact that I seem to know more about what happened than either Kieran or Daryl makes me feel smug and superior.
“He’s right,” I say, looking up from my screen.
“Did you see it then?” Kieran asks. I lean back on my seat in self-satisfaction.
“Happened right in front of me. He might even have gone for me if I’d been a few seconds earlier.”
“So what was it all about?” Daryl asks. “Is what he’s saying right?”
I quickly look over at Tina. She’s got her head buried in a pile of papers. It’s safe to keep talking.
“I saw the old girl first,” I tell them. “I nearly tripped over her. She came flying past me and smashed up against the window by the side door of Cartwrights. I thought it must be a group of kids trying to get her bag off her or something like that. Couldn’t believe it when I saw him. He just looked like a normal bloke. Suit, tie, glasses…”
“So why did he do it? What had she done to him?”
“No idea. Bloody hell, mood he was in I wasn’t about to ask him.”
“And he just went for her?” Daryl mumbles, sounding like he doesn’t believe a word I’m saying. I nod and glance from side to side at both of them.
“Never seen anything like it,” I continue. “He ran at her and stabbed her with an umbrella. It was gross. It went right into her belly. There was blood all over her coat and…”
Tina’s looking up now. I look down and start typing, trying to remember what it was I was doing.
“Then what?” Kieran hisses.
“Idiot turned on the rest of the crowd. Started hitting out at the people around him. Then the police turned up,” I explain, still looking at my screen but not actually doing anything. “They dragged him away and shoved him in the back of a van.”

The conversation stops again. Murray’s on the move. For a moment the only sound I can hear is the clicking of three computer keyboards as we pretend to work. After looking around the room and staring at me in particular she leaves the office and Kieran and Daryl immediately stop inputting.
“So was there something wrong with him?” Daryl asks pointlessly.
“Of course there was something wrong with him,” I answer. Christ, this guy’s an idiot at times. “Do you think he’d stab an old lady with an umbrella if there wasn’t anything wrong with him?”
“But did he say anything? Was he screaming or shouting or…?”
I wonder whether it’s even worth answering his half-asked question.
“Both,” I grunt.
“Was he drunk or on drugs or…?”
“I don’t know,” I say, beginning to get annoyed. I stop and think for a second before speaking again. In my head I can still see the expression on the man’s face. “He looked absolutely fucking terrified,” I tell them. “He looked like he was the one who was being attacked.”

Look out for Chapter Two tomorrow! 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2009 in Fiction Post

 

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LAUREGALIE

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