The Wind and The Rain novel – Out Now!

The new cover for my first first novel, The Wind and The Rain, based upon the short story I wrote on this website back in 2015 is available now.

It has taken about 2 years to write and has been an immensely enjoyable experience.

The book is currently available to buy on paperback or Kindle and you can also download it for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member. Please find below links to the relevant regional Amazon pages:

🇬🇧 United Kingdom
🇺🇸 United States
🇩🇪 Germany
🇫🇷 France
🇮🇹 Italy
🇯🇵 Japan
🇪🇸 Spain
🇳🇱 Netherlands
🇨🇦 Canada
🇲🇽 Mexico
🇦🇺 Australia
🇮🇳 India
🇧🇷 Brazil

I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it as much as I did writing in and that Ana’s story enthrals and inspires people!


Martin O’Brien

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The Casbah Christmas Quiz

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared – and battle come down
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out – and draw another breath

“What is the capital of Mongolia?” the husky voice calls out over the pub hubbub.

“Easy,” Big Steve says, “Ulaan Bataar,”

I carefully scribble down the words after the big feller speaks even though I know the answer already. 

“We might have done it this year,” Tony says, nodding in the direction of our rivals at the other end of the pub, “They don’t look happy,”

“Didn’t you say the exact same thing last year, Tone?” I reply, keeping my eyes fixed on the three dapper gents who call themselves the Zombies of Death. 

Tony chuckles and Big Steve, a stereotypical gentle giant from the town of Kendal in the Lake District pipes up:

“I really hate those wankers,”

Tony and I burst out laughing; Tony then knocks his pint which spills over Big Steve’s shorts which causes Steve to give Tony a pretend dig in his ribs. I couldn’t ask for a couple of better pals. Absolute clowns, but I love them. I notice Errol, the quizmaster amble over to us to collect our sheets.

“Is this year gonna be your year, pal?” Errol says, picking up our answer sheet.

“God knows, I hope so or them lot will be crowing like nobody’s business,”

Errol walks off shaking his head, probably amazed at how competitive we are. I predict the Zombies will be equally combative when he reaches their table. The annual Christmas quiz at the Casbah has become a tradition with my friends for 5 years in a row now. It is the culmination of the monthly quizzes that the boozer holds. Our first year we were sporadic attendees but ever since, we have been the dominant quizzing force in Battersea.

Every year we have won at least seven of the monthly quizzes. But for the last three years, on the big Christmas stage, with a £1,000 jackpot prize, we have failed. The first year we lost by three points after a disaster with the music round. I still hold Daphne & Celeste responsible for us falling apart not to mention for their musical crimes against humanity.

Two years later, Big Steve’s overconfidence cost us as he proclaimed George Orwell wrote Brave New World despite my Huxleyite opposition. It turned out, he had given a wrong answer for another question and we lost by two points to the fucking Zombies, I lost my shit. Well, I told him to study more for next year and asked if he wanted a Jägerbomb.

Last year, things got more surreal as we managed to get every question but one wrong. We had absolutely no idea who Taylor Swift was, never mind naming any of her albums. When Errol read out that the Zombies had answered every one of the eighty sodding questions correctly, my stomach heaved as though someone had punched me straight in the gut.

That little twat Osbourne on their team came jumping over like a preening, Fred Perry-clad pompadour lording it over us.

“Awight boys, better luck next year!” 

“Fuck off, you cheating shit,” Tony said and stood up to to confront him. Me and Big Steve pulled him away and the tiny prancer went back to his friends to count their dosh. 

Three years in a row and three bloody grand missed out on. Not this year, please Lord.

Big Steve has been to the bar and brought a couple of pints of Landlord for Tony and himself and a Camden Hells for me.

“Cheers Steve, how do you think it went?” I ask, fearing the worst already.

“I think we bollocksed up the music round again,” he says, “and I’m sure the telly round gets harder and harder,”

“Yeah,” Tony adds. Tony is a man of few words from the Finance team at work, hailing from a little town in Nottinghamshire called Arnold where half of the pubs are named after characters from Robin Hood, the mad bastards.

“It’s all shite on the box,” I reply, “No wonder I don’t know the answers. I don’t watch anything these days,”

“Look, Errol’s back on the mic,” Tony says.

All eyes in the pub turn to Errol, uncannily all at pretty much the same time causing him to appear mildly embarrassed and confused. The intensity of the Casbah Xmas Quiz can’t be matched. Not when there’s a thousand beans on the take. Errol coughs self-consciously and begins to speak:

“Hello all, I’m sure this gets bigger every year. Seventeen teams entered which is a new record so thank you all for coming. I know you don’t want me to waffle on endless so here are the results,”

Errol runs through the list of also-rans and never-rans before arriving at the final five. My stomach is churning but I’m not sure if that is because of the quiz or the innumerable packs of scampi fries that we have gobbled down.

“And now, to the business end of proceedings,” Errol displays a rare gleam of panache and holds a dramatic pause.

“In fifth place we have Operation Entebbe with sixty-seven points,”

“I don’t think we have got much more than that, and they are only fifth,” Steve whispers to us. He’s right, this doesn’t bode well for our chances.

“Fourth spot goes to Girth, Wind and Tyres who amassed sixty-eight points,” The hush around the pub is broken when a couple of young lasses walk through the front doors chatting loudly until they are shushed by virtually everyone in there so they do an about-turn and leave.

“With seventy points it is…Burn in Hell, Cilla Black,” The hush turns into a rising sound of low talking. Everyone knows that is now the Zombies of Death versus the Faraway Towns.

“So, we are down to the last two, it’s unbelievably close as it is every year,” Errol says, Tony can’t avert his eyes from the Zombies while Big Steve has his head in his hands. 

“The Faraway Towns have scored seventy-three,” 

No reaction from anyone – until the other score comes up, our score exists in a meaningless galactic vacuum.

“The Zombies of Death have scored…” Errol once more exacerbates the tension, “…a whopping seventy-three,”

A moment of silence descends on the pub goers before they realise it’s a tie and the place erupts with noise.

“Play off, play off!” comes the chant from the crowd. Errol, generally the stoic face of calm is caught up in the drama and grinning. He raises his hands and quiet is restored.

“Nine years ago, this happened and I can confirm a play-off was held between one member of the two tied teams. The same applies for this year. Come on boys, take a breath and send someone up,”

I know Osbourne will come up for the Zombies. Big Steve still has his head in his hands. Tony has gone even more withdrawn.. 

“Guess it’s me then,” I say, Tony nods and Steve finally takes his hands from his face which has been drained out of all colour, His face now has the appearance of a big white thumb. He can’t even speak.

I stand up and immediately feel like I weigh as much as an elephant. Each step towards Errol is through a field of glue. Errol’s face is masked with concern for me. He asks if I’m ok and I can only nod. 

Osbourne faces me, his upturned hair and drooping, smirking lip antagonises me but I try to remain calm. It’s one question, one question.

“Listen boys,” Errol says to us, and to the rest of the boozer, “I will ask one question. The first person to answer correctly will win the prize. If you get it wrong, the other person gets a turn and this will continue until I have the right answer. I ask everyone else to please remain quiet for the duration of the play-off proceedings,”

He needn’t have said anything, there must be a hundred people in the pub and everyone is silent including all the bar staff.

“Right, here we go! Constantine, founder of the city of Constantinople, bringer of Christianity the Roman world was crowned Roman Emperor by his army in which English city?”

I stare at Osbourne, for once he is lost. He doesn’t know the answer and a tiny thrill passes through me. But neither do I. Is this going to be a case of us naming cities until we get it right?

“Is it Gloucester?” I say. It’s the nearest city from my home town of Tetbury. Errol takes on the demeanour of the Tetbury town crier as he surveys me.

“No, it is not,” Errol says, my guts drop and the crowd ‘oohs’. Errol gestures to everyone to be quiet and everyone complies.

Osbourne’s mug suddenly changes from lost to smug. He knows the answer. He fucking knows the answer. Once again, my world is collapsing.

“Errol, I believe the answer is London,” Osbourne says and glances to his team-mates and fires a wink at them. Errol holds a dramatic pause for a needlessly long time.

“That is also incorrect,” the crowd responds again, the Casbah has an atmosphere of a Wimbledon tennis final where the umpire struggles to contain the emotions of the spectators between rallies.

Osbourne is crestfallen. I hear Big Steve shout something incredibly personal at him but Osbourne doesn’t notice. He is in the Quizhole, a place of darkness I know only too well. The empty well where knowledge and pride should be.

The onus is on me but my mind is blank. A memory of a school trip pops to my mind. Of walking past city walls. Roman walls. Arriving at a huge church and in front was a statue of a man on a horse. I asked the teacher who it was, did the teacher say Constantine? I stare at Osbourne, his empty eyes showing nothing. I flick to Errol and gently nod.

“York,” I say. 

Errol stares at me for countless seconds, possibly years. 

“That is the correct answer,” he says.

The crowd explodes, beer flies. I am embraced by Tony and Big Steve. Even Errol has wrapped his arms around us as we jump about in ecstasy. 

This could be the greatest achievement of my life. I don’t think anything can compare to this moment.

The celebrations go on for another hour or so before I have to return home to my wife and kids.

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The Revolution of the Sky

They’re givin’ you the business and puttin’ on a show
You’re a million dollar man that ain’t got no dough
But critics still continue to plaster
My name and discredit my fame

“Good morning, my name is David Ariadne. Today marks a turning point in human history, a day when the world becomes both smaller and greater. A world where anyone can explore with ease. My thanks go out to everybody who invested in helping me develop the Petrad. I hope that the twenty thousand of you around the world who will receive your Petrads will be honoured as contributors towards a revolution in modern transport and society. There is no more for me to say, except thank you all,”

I upload the video to the Petrad YouTube channel and await the bombardment of comments in response. My last video attracted the record amount of comments the site has ever witnessed. ‘Go live’ day is tipped to smash all previous records. 

Nothing had prepared the world for the sight of a Petrad in its full majesty. Nothing had prepared the world for the imminent revolution. The system has gone live, the time is now.

Comments begin flooding in within seconds of the upload. I am used to the deluge now. Within five minutes there are thousands of comments, likes, dislikes, abuse and praise. 

I start reading the most ‘liked’ remarks. 

‘You’re a genius, Dave!’

‘They’ll come for you mate. The elites will bring u down’

‘I hope you fucking crash and burn, you lying bastard’

The abuse bothered me at first but now I find it amusing. Once you’ve received your ten thousandth death threat and no one has tried to hurt you, you tend to ignore them. It is quite frightening to think about the hatred coursing through some people. If only they could direct those powerful emotions in more practical ways then who knows what they could achieve?

Ten years of planning, of eighteen-hour days engineering and refining the most amazing product. But it nearly all crumbled following a television appearance. Some say it was an ill-fated decision but I learned more that experience then all the positive feedback I received from friends and family.

The show was called ‘The Creators’ and it featured all kinds of inventors trying to win funding to bring their products to market. I was confident. Actually, I was over-confident and forgot to check a vital system before taking my prototype on the show.

I followed a woman who had presented a teddy bear that could teach languages to children. I’m not sure why they were in such a sour mood but the three judges seemed unimpressed by my idea.

“It’s just a drone,” a female journalist for a shitty tabloid said.

“Well, it’s a type of drone but with the safety features and reliability of a family car.” I said.

“This is nothing new, I’ve seen this in China,” said the engineering expert, a tall socially abrupt man. 

“The difference is in the engineering. If you look at the Ehang drones, the blades are unwieldy and stick out of the vehicle. I have invented a system of incredibly powerful mini-blades that are efficient and sit underneath the vehicle. Even if five of the six mini-blades fail, the Petrad will still be able to safely reach the ground.”

“What does Petrad mean?”

“Personal Transport Device,” I replied, “If you would allow me to demonstrate?” And with those seven words, my life was turned upside down. Quite literally.

Within seconds, I managed to somehow tip up the Petrad and thump hard onto the floor. My plan (and my ego) was in tatters and as I lay on the floor I knew this would be going viral and that my head bloody hurt.

The media picked up on the story and began hammering every aspect of my character and my idea. I was labelled a charlatan, a bullshitter, a snake oil salesman. 

But as the attacks on me grew, something else happened. Visitors to my website vastly increased and they could see the quality of the product. People were pouring money in to help fund my design and within three months I had the finance in place to build the first batch of Petrads.

Seeing the little beauties come off the production line was like watching my children graduate. The Petrad official app was released to accompany the machine. By placing your smartphone in a gap on the dashboard you can fly and manage the mechanics of the machine simply by using the touchscreen. 

By using the app, you can arrange for the Petrad to fly autonomously to your destination so you don’t even have to be in the vehicle to control it. With enough luggage space for two suitcases the potential uses multiply. And my patented electric battery means the machine can fly for over five hundred miles without re-charging. 

As the hype built, the media stepped up their attacks on me. The aviation and car industries began spending billions on propaganda attempting to undermine my invention. They tried raising questions about the safety of the Petrad. In response, I uploaded videos showing the results of independent studies that proved how incredibly safe it is. The videos were hugely popular and helped to counter their message. No matter how much paid bias was splattered against me, by messaging the world directly, the fatcats could not gain the upper hand in the publicity stakes. 

Once governments began to question the legality of the machine, it only amplified the revolutionary nature of the Petrad. When I announced the first release of twenty thousand machines to my investors, the investors in return pledged to all fly on the opening day. How could the authorities fight against that? With the second tranche of vehicles being built right now, no government could stop progress. The government was backed into a corner and they confirmed the product was legal with strict controls for flying near sensitive areas such as airports and prisons. I created a map which showed banned locations so every flyer would be aware.

I check the comments on YouTube and customers are already sending links to allow people to view their first flights thanks to the onboard HD cameras. A seventy year old man in the South of France is posting footage of him flying above blushing vineyards. A young Chinese woman is flying around San Francisco Bay. As the camera pans to the Golden Gate Bridge I almost want to cry.

I switch to my website and I see orders are flying off the scale. Sixteen thousand more orders in the hour since official release. I switch back to YouTube and hundreds of people are showing off footage of their Petrads. Streams can be watched of beach resorts on the English coastlines, the train stations of Tokyo, the favelas of Brazil – the world is in the hands of the people.

With a joy in my heart that I sincerely believe has never been rivalled by anyone else, I decide to head out to my own personal Petrad. It has been charging overnight and is now ready for a spin. I exit my apartment by the Thames and as I step outside my joy reaches unfathomable new heights. The sky contains about twenty or thirty Petrads buzzing around. 

On the roof of the apartment I enter my Petrad and place my phone in the dashboard slot. I power up which takes a few seconds and begin rising into the air.  A low hum is the soundtrack of my ascent. The thrill of flying never ceases to amaze me.

The laws regarding how near flyers can get to airports have been clarified and I can see no one near London City Airport. People are simply enjoying the delight of flying around their city. I see people on the ground pointing up at the circling Petrads.

I swoop past Canary Wharf with workers agog at the windows of the skyscrapers and bring my craft back over the river. I start looking at Twitter to see if we are trending. Number one in the world ahead of the latest crackpot meanderings from the American President. 

As I swipe through the comments one of the tweets catches my eye. It is from an account called the Society of No-Fly Warriors and states that they have hacked the Petrad app and will be ending the unnatural machines within minutes. I almost start laughing at their daft tweet when I see a comment from a girl flying over the Barbican Centre nearby.

She is claiming to have lost control of her Petrad account. I switch to her livestream and she is shouting:

“Oh my God, I can’t control it. I can’t control it!”

I’m puzzled and shocked, what is going on? The woman states that the machine is heading in its own direction. She must be lying or doing something wrong. I switch to the Petrad app and a popup comes on screen and tells me this vehicle is now being controlled by the Society of No-Fly Warriors. 

My stomach lurches, then my Petrad lurches too. Nothing I try to do on the controls is changing anything. I have lost control. The Petrad turns nearly one and eighty degrees and heads off in a direction seemingly of its own volition. The woman on the livestream is shrieking. I switch screens back to her and I see her vehicle is flying over the Thames in the direction of Big Ben and Westminster.

Somehow, my stomach lurches even deeper. I know now where she is heading. Many of the abusive messages I received were from people saying I was trying to destroy the fabric of society, that I was a new age Guy Fawkes. 

The hackers are going to destroy my invention. Who has paid them? The government or the industrialists? 

On screen the Houses of Parliament grow larger. The girl is whimpering and she opens the door and leaps out of the Petrad from a thousand feet above the river. In the distance another Petrad has crashed into the roof of parliament. A large explosion rocks the building and I can hear it roar from my position near Blackfriars Bridge.

Did the girl survive the leap from the Petrad? Her vehicle continues towards parliament and within seconds the screen crackles and goes blank as it crashes into the Big Ben clocktower.

I flick to a twenty-four hour news channel and they are showing footage of Petrads flying in to the seat of government every few minutes. Fighter jets have been scrambled to take out other threats to life.

My Petrad is now on a collision course with parliament. The huge Gothic building is now engulfed with flames, it is a truly astonishing sight. The roof is a carpet of roiling flames. The knowledge that I am about to enter the inferno scares me shitless. The news is stating that vehicles have crashed into the United Nations building in New York and the Élysée Palace in Paris.

Everything has fallen apart. My dreams of freeing man to fly as the birds do have disintegrated. Do I accept my fate and burn up in the flaming parliament or try my luck plummeting into the Thames? I open the door to my right and see the river flowing below. I can’t jump but I know I have to. I raise my eyes and stare out of the window. In the distance I see the shape of a fighter jet heading towards me. Perhaps the decision has been taken out of my hands.

by Martin O’Brien based on Show Business – A Tribe Called Quest

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Thinking About Tomorrow

Running down a central reservation in last night’s red dress
And I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath
It’s like living in the middle of the ocean
With no future, no past

I hear his voice calling my name but I don’t turn back.

“Eminya! Eminya!”

I sprint in to the main hall past the morning crowds of shoppers on the bottom level. Nineteen stories of balconies full of shops and services rise beyond the scope of my eyes on each side of me.

“Come back Eminya!”

His voice is fading. If I turn around and look at him, I think my heart will explode. The songs I would listen to as a child flood back to me. The voice of Louis Armstrong telling me that skies are blue and trees are green. I have never seen a blue sky before or a forest of green trees. Up on the top-deck viewing platform all you see is endless black with millions of bright dots.

Yet, for a couple of months the words had real meaning for me. The love I felt for Yorzanos was vivid and real. Colours filled my brain and made me forget about the monochrome existence I had grown up with.

I first saw him teaching a yoga class on Deck 25-H. He was lithe and athletic and he was so bewitching it almost tempted me to actually attend the class. Instead, I peered through the glass and watched him contorting his body and I admit that I felt a raw animal passion. I had never been with a man before. On the ship, privacy is at a premium. You live with your family until you are in a position to marry. Until that point, you are celibate, restricted and closed off. 

Some people make arrangements with friends to fake-marry each other to gain access to their own place. I had no friends I was that close to, to start pursuing that route. I spent my evenings fantasising about escaping from this ship, simply wishing to be anywhere else in the universe than on this ship relentlessly careering through space. Being back on a deserted Earth was more alluring. 

I must have been in a trance at the glass as in what seemed like no time at all, the yoga man was speaking to me:

“Are you joining us tomorrow?” he said and I spluttered and I knew my face was hotting up.

“I think I’m allergic to yoga,” I replied, feeling really massive and stupid. The yoga man laughed and said something that I can’t even remember. His eyes were big, hazel beacons entrancing me. I was utterly powerless to fight his charm.

The yoga man, who it turned out was named Yorzanos, asked me out for a coffee. I was so astounded, I couldn’t speak. I grinned foolishly and we agreed to meet later that day. 

I attended my classes in Theology and Geography but I couldn’t concentrate. Hearing about all the old religions and nations of Earth meant nothing to me on that day.

Finally it was time to meet Yorzanos. We spent three hours chatting and laughing. Everything shifted, Yorzanos became my anchor and we spent every day meeting up. After a couple of weeks, I visited his apartment – his fake-wife was out partying in Sector 9 for a few days. 

That was where I became a woman, he was wiry yet very strong and he knew exactly how to please me. I was utterly infatuated and so it continued for the last two months. Last night, I had planned to ask Yorzanos if he would like to marry me and I could become his real-wife.

I couldn’t pluck up the courage in the night. I had bought a wonderful crimson dress from one of the boutiques in Sector 1. Yorzanos loved it and he loved me in the way I wanted. We drank and danced and everything was perfect. Until this morning.

“About our future…” I said, unsure of how to broach such a major decision. Yorzanos was playing with my hair, wrapping wisps around his finger and then dropping the hair back on my collarbone, making me tingle each time it landed.

“Stop thinking about the future, my sweet girl. Enjoy the moment,” he replied.

“You are my future and my present, I can’t separate it Yorzanos. Without you, I am nothing,” I said. I had never talked in such an open manner to him but I wanted him to know how important he was to me.

“Eminya, in all honesty, your plans for the future are probably not the same as my plans,”

I wasn’t sure if I had misheard him. I lifted my head up and stared at him.

“I’m twenty-two years old,” Yorzanos said, “You’re seventeen. There are a million people on board this ship plus the other hundred ships in the convoy so I’m not looking to settle down yet.”

“You must be joking?” I shouted, anger and embarrassment coursing through my body. 

“Don’t act surprised, you know how these things work,” 

Clearly I didn’t understand how these things work. This man had ripped my heart out of its cage. 

“I can’t…If you can’t commit to me then we should stop seeing each other,” I said and Yorzanos offered a pathetic shrug. 

I have never seen such a dismissive, antagonistic gesture. I screamed a noise of no known language and jumped off the bed and put my shoes on. 

Yorzanos seemed to recognise how much he had upset me with his flippancy and tried to grab me and prevent me from leaving his apartment. 

“Hey Eminya, don’t go. I’m sorry,” I glanced at him and almost believed him. The realisation  dawned on me that this man was not my future and that was when I ran out of his place.

I exited the sector with Yorzanos running after me, which is when I entered the Central Plaza and the crowds of people with him hollering my name in the distance. 

I continue running the three kilometres along the plaza and I can no longer hear Yorzanos. I hunch over and there is a pain in my chest – is this my heart breaking? 

I raise my eyes and see hundreds of people staring at me. The offspring of people who lived their whole lives on this craft. The offspring who would similarly spend their entire existence travelling on this metal box. It would be their children who hopefully would have the chance of founding the New Earth somewhere in the Trappist system.

The faces betray no emotion, people have learned to hide their feelings. In a closed community, one simple mistake and you are tarnished. Running through the plaza and being chased by my boyfriend, that is my card marked. My Review Card will state this incident and finding a good job following graduation will be almost impossible. I will be classed as impulsive and a potentially deviant member of society.

I press the button to open the door to one of the elevators that will take me to the top of the Plaza Hall. I place my face against the glass as the elevator ascends. The gloomy faces stare back at me. Their disapproval only antagonises me even more.

The elevator arrives at the top so I walk out onto the balcony and the people look like miniatures down below. I stare out of the viewing windows and the eternal darkness outside. Ninety years of speeding through space and we are no more than halfway to our destination. A destination I will not see. I climb over the balcony railing and allow myself to fall.

Heading to the ground, I finally sense an ending to my journey. As I approach the ground the faces of the people remain impassive. The moment before impact I am finally at ease – control of my life is in my hands as I plunge into the dark sacred night.

by Martin O’Brien based on Central Reservation – Beth Orton

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The Essex Gargan and Other Friends

The boy is hit, lit up against the sky, like a sign, like a neon sign
And he crumples, drops into the gutter, legs twitching
The flood swells his clothes and delivers him on, delivers him on
Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul

The last thing I expected to see when I joined the army was to be in the centre of London facing a three-hundred foot angry lizard creature. I think back to my training at Catterick and learning the basics of battle drills and field craft. It’s a struggle to remember any courses about dealing with colossal, fire-spitting, raging balrogs. 

Islamic terrorists, yes. This feller, no.

I fire a quick burst at the giant beast and duck back in to the steps down to the station in front of Lilywhites. A gigantic roar obliterates every other noise in the vicinity. The noise of artillery, shouting and falling masonry are drowned out by the prehistoric bellowing. The guy next to me, Jonny Field is in tears. All of us are acutely aware that this is most likely our last day amongst the living. I’m surprised no one else has broken down.

The sound that comes out of its mouth is quite simply the most terrifying sound you could ever hear. It’s an equal pitch but the volume is truly incredible. Where the hell have these creatures been hiding for thousands of years?

Last week genuinely feels like a lifetime ago. I was so proud following my graduation, my mum watching me pass out in Harrogate. Her face during the parade made me think I was now a man, the man of the house. It took literally one day before the creatures emerged from the sea and angrier than…well, angrier than anything ever seen on Earth.

Shouted instructions are flying around but no one appears capable of paying heed to them. I lift my head up above the wall and see a sight of unreal carnage. Thousands of troops are firing at the creature but it is having no effect. It has scales that must be armour-plated they are that hard. Nothing has made a difference, the cost of the operation must be in the billions already.

Rapier missiles fly metres above my head towards the creature which emits a huge fireball that engulfs the missiles resulting in massive explosions. Dozens of troops are incinerated at the base of the Shaftesbury Memorial, their screams cut in half as they turn to ash.

I don’t know how we can beat these things. They are indestructible.

It all started four days ago off the Southern coast of China. An enormous, ancient thing crawled out of the sea. It looked like a long, muscly snake with ten legs and a head reminiscent of a komodo dragon. Only a hundred times the size. 

It emerged out of the Shizi Ocean and immediately began wrecking the city of Guangzhou. We were at the base watching Sky News and it felt like watching Godzilla or some mad video game. Factories and warehouses along the river were being simply swished down with a thrust of its tale or a sweeping paw.  

I have to admit, the lads at the barracks found it quite funny despite the obvious human cost. For many people it was seen as karma for the Chinese government. For the rest of the day we gormlessly stared at the box as the Chinese armed forces tried to stop the creature. The attempts to censor the footage were futile as Hong Kong TV helicopters swooped in and filmed the action.

By the time midnight approached in England, morning was rising in China. Also rising were three more creatures and a global panic. One of the entities sprung from the basin of the River Plate, another off the coast of Malta and another near Angola. 

All of the monsters were gargantuan, beyond the comprehension of anyone. The theories about where they came from abounded. Were they the results of the pollution of the oceans, an American genetic experiment gone wrong (or right), or a punishment from God? Literally everyone on earth was discussing it and the fear if more beasts emerged.

Grim fascination enraptured the globe as armed forces of varying lethality battled with the monsters. The Chinese government were bombarding the serpentesque creature with immense firepower. The creature simply evaded the missiles and ducked back under water. The might of the Red Army was having no discernible impact and they were caught off guard when a huge leonine animal was destroying Shanghai’s central business district.

In Angola, government troops were soon overran as a blocky animal, like a bison multiplied in size by six hundred, wildly rampaged. Television cameras showed hundreds of people being flattened. Stampedes occurred in Malta too as people fled from a half-eagle/half-kangaroo resulting in a huge loss of human life.

I glance up again over the wall and within a second I see a soldier being flicked by the hand by the creature, He flies off, almost comically, head first through the “E” of a giant Netflix neon sign at Piccadilly Circus. Exploding shards of glass spatter down upon the street. For a moment the firing stops as people watch the solder being embedded headfirst into the giant screen with his legs dangling down. 

I notice a few troops staring up at the monster and making the mistake of looking into its eyes. After a few seconds firing erupts from all angles and I duck down below stairs again.

Please, please don’t say they have made eye contact with it. Jesus, no,

More and more of the creatures began appearing – Alaska, Vladivostock, Seoul, Helsinki, Alexandria, Chennai, Mogadishu, Providence, Genoa and the rest. That was when strange things began happening. It started initially in Angola where impromptu uprisings began in the vicinity of the monster and within hours enormous gun battles raged across the country. Most people assumed it was a coup within the chaos of the monster attack. Angola was now in the midst of civil war as well as trying to stop the berserk ogre destroying downtown Luanda.

It was in the footage from Malta where the incomprehensible truth emerged. Maltese troops were halting in the presence of their abominable creature, not shooting at it. They would drift into a brief, hypnotic spell. Within a few seconds the soldiers would turn around and commence firing on their own side. It was almost as if the creatures had telepathically converted the soldiers by bending their minds to their side. Valletta had turned into a battleground of street-to-street combat. 

And thus it was around the world. The two monsters attacking Guangzhou and Shanghai had not only turned thousands of troops onto their side battling government forces. But the events had inspired uprisings across the country with Tibetans, counter-revolutionaries, Uighurs, and democrats all engaging in armed battles throughout the country. China was truly ablaze and quickly imploding.

By the time our monster, nicknamed the Essex Gargan by the press, had appeared in the London estuary the heads of the armed forces were as ready as they could be. Strict instructions not to make eye contact were rammed down our throats. The whole of the British Armed Forces were drafted in to deal with the creature and any others that may arrive. There were fears that the brooding scorpion that was tormenting Amsterdam by firing flames from its five stingers would hop over the channel.

Thus, for over twenty-four hours we have been fighting this creature in the streets of London. The Olympic Stadium was obliterated in a bizarre effort to lure and trap the creature in it. However, our defence was as porous as the West Ham back line that usually plays there. The stadium and the nearby aquatic centre were destroyed within minutes and the beast headed towards the centre of London.

My commanding officer is ordering my regiment to attack the left leg of the creature, rumours are abounding that the creature is hobbling. The regiment on the other side of the square is engaging in a firefight with the dozen or so men who have flipped to the creature’s side.

We rush out of the tube station and I look up at the man implanted in the neon signs when he suddenly drops to the floor and crashes to the ground. Instead of going limp, his limbs begin twitching violently and he almost rolls away on countless thousands of shell casings. As he drifts away like an electrified corpse I am stunned by the sight.

Shooting is coming from all sides and the monster has retreated back to Golden Square. Have we got it on the run at last? A rush of adrenaline kicks in and knocks me out of my haze. I run down Sherwood Street and something inside me says this is going to be the end but I am going to try and take out this bastard’s leg before I do.

I reach the park and I see the monster is much closer than I expected, it is barely thirty metres away. I stop, flick my head round and notice that my regiment are still some way behind me. 

The incredible roar once again powers out of the creature’s mouth. It is staggeringly loud and I helplessly shit myself and I feel five years old again. I lift my head up and the monster is hunched over and his face is barely ten metres away from mine. 

I am unable to resist gazing into its eyes. As I do so, everything slows in my mind and I can see my whole past come to life. My mind starts spooling through all the moments of my life – from being born in a hospital in Leeds, my first day of school and meeting my new pals, the Boxing Day when my father walked out forever when I was age ten, my first kiss with Stacey Longbottom in Year Seven, my first proper fight in Year Eleven with some scrote from a rival school, up to my passing out parade a few days ago.

These thoughts seem to last for hours, all the amazing times, the sheer emotional journey is invigorating and I can only be thankful to this creature for sending me this gift. I understand everything it is about being human, from the bitter lows to the joy and passion of the highs. Life can never be the same again.

And all these other humans are trying to murder this creature simply for existing. They are unaware of what they can do for us. I will not accept the death of these glorious, quintessential beings.

My senses for the real world return and I am startled by the explosions erupting nearby. I turn around and see members of my regiment running towards me. Now they are my enemy, the enemies of humanity. I reload my SA80, close my eyes and pledge my life to keep these creatures safe. I open my eyes and head in to battle.

by Martin O’Brien based on Sometimes – James

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Gargoyles & Peacemakers

A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped-up phone booth
Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol

Is this Manchester?

The Manchester that we knew can only survive now in the memories of Mancunians. Piccadilly Gardens is now a warzone, there is no other word for it.

The burnt-out shell of a tram smoulders in front of what used to be the Parker Street bus stops.The Tadao Ando wall is pock-marked with bullet holes, the concrete front against the troops.

Will they call this the Battle of Piccadilly? Riot is not the word for the scenes that I witnessed last night. The debris and bodies cover the Gardens like a carelessly dropped trifle with no square inch spared.

It was half past two in the morning when the National Defence Force pulled out of the square to a raucous, animalistic response from the protestors. Mournful for their fallen comrades yet feeling the unshakeable euphoria of their victory over the oppressors. Fires were blazing in the upstairs windows of the Primark store, the City Tower and over by the recently built glass-fronted buildings towards Oldham Street.

The protests began three weeks ago and with each passing Saturday they increased in intensity and numbers. The opposition leaders’ speeches were met with anguished cheers and indignation spewed towards the government.

Two million jobs gone in Britain in two years, the ban on under-30s receiving unemployment benefit and the part-privatisation of local councils with conglomerates holding a certain percentage of seats. People had finally had enough, roused away from social media and consumerism to be reminded of what it means to be a citizen.

I woke up early this morning, God knows how I fell asleep after a three hour gunfight. I wander around the Gardens like an Hesychian monk in the desert. It feels like twenty-four hours ago was another world.

People were saying fifty thousand had attended last week’s speech which resulted in a small riot and the shooting dead of an eight year old boy and his father by police.

They had not been able to quell the discontent and on Friday night the people began barricading the streets off Piccadilly as rumours abounded that the government would send in the soldiers. Aytoun, Mosley, Portland, Lever – the barricades were named and manned by different organisations. By the time Saturday came round ten thousand people were ready to stand together and demand the resignation of the government.

The North had been forgotten once more. My job as a teacher had ended as the government introduced Automated School Programming in the test areas of Greater Manchester and East Yorkshire. Classes were now “taught” by robots and computers and half the teachers were “re-assigned” to becoming “Classroom Supervisors” on 60% of the wage. More euphemisms than on one of the shite, retro comedies they have on the now privatised BBC.

The early signs that social upheaval was becoming a major issue was with the Hull Riots two months ago. Over two days of violence including widespread looting due to  the lack of a police response then led to the prison and three academies being burnt to the ground.

This prompted the government to bring in a ban on all political protests and gatherings. This easily passed through a compliant parliament and protests began to spread with Glasgow, Sheffield and Liverpool seeing mass disturbances.

The early morning is the coldest for a while but steam is still rising from the soaked concrete floor, and the smell is beginning to embed in my nostrils. A metallic taste at the back of my throat makes me feel nauseous and I need to sit down.

There are no benches remaining on the ground so I sit down and lean on the wire skeleton of a bus shelter. My ears are beginning to tune in to the real world.

What I thought was an eerie silence was surely the shock of waking up in the middle of a battlefield. Wails are coming from isolated bodies, I look to my right and ten foot away an NDF soldier is calling to me. He has no lower legs left, both have been ripped off, presumably from an explosion.

I meet his gaze and look at him. Desperation in his eyes. I feel no empathy, he is an enabler of the regime. I bet he was one of the bully boys beating teenagers to a pulp in Oldham last week.

“Please, please,” he raises his voice so I can hear what he is saying, “Please kill me,”

It’s like the old war films where the opposition will put someone out of their misery. This lad must be fucking insane if he thinks I’m going to do that for him. I get up and stand over him, the urge to inflict more pain on him is almost unbearable and I can feel tears welling up, from anger or hate or pity I can’t tell. Maybe all of those emotions and more.

I walk off away from him. Am I callous? Almost definitely. Am I right? It’s not for me to decide.

The videos that have gone viral around Britain these last few weeks have disgusted me and every other right thinking human.

The lone 84-year old man protesting outside the Houses of Parliament where protests have been banned for a decade. The moment a huge NDF bloke in full armour butted the man with his rifle end is our Tiananmen Square Tank Man.

The teenagers in Beverley fighting for their right to an education, not an elite-led experiment for their robot supply companies. The NDF sprayed them with rubber bullets and then water cannon. Two kids died from related injuries and six were blinded.

And so it got worse, drone attacks in Burnley, the sinking of a fishing boat by the police off the coast near Southend.

I feel my phone buzzing. I forgot I even had it with me. I take out the phone and my spirits lift again. The EuroNews app is our only source of unbiased news. The government have tried banning it but cleverer folk than me can get round the firewall.





The tide is turning. Please God, make it so. It has felt like the momentum finally shifted to our side yesterday. But you never know if that is just the camaraderie and spirit after what happened last night.

NDF troops had poured in to Piccadilly Garden on a tram. Not just a normal tram but one they had armoured up like some bizarre cross between Mad Max and Coronation Street. The tram crashed through the Aytoun Street barricade and it pulled up in front of the bus stops. Hundreds of troops burst out of the doors in unison but were immediately repulsed by our Mega Molotovs.

The vanguard were cut down as huge bright orange fireballs engulfed them. Their crossfire took a good number of our lot but they were on the defensive straight way. The second phase of attack were held up by the bodies of the first soldiers.

However their top class training recognised that they had to retreat back into the armoured tram. From there the firefight began in earnest. Gradually their numbers were dwindling, our snipers were helping to pick soldiers off from the top floors of Primark.

Following one final attempt to shoot and run which had only a minimal impact, they received the order to pull back. They were in disarray as they ran off back down Aytoun Street. We didn’t have the energy to chase them down, instead we made as much noise as a packed Old Trafford or Eastlands on derby day.

“The city is ours! The city is ours!”

We could see that hundreds of NDF troops had been killed or badly injured. This was a rout. People began to collapse in euphoric tiredness. We didn’t know what to do. A lot of people went off to see family, almost in an apologetic manner.

Some of us stayed and actually began to fall asleep in the middle of a bloodbath.

As the bell tower from the Town Hall chimes for six I can see the square is beginning to fill up. This time it is a range of people – old folk, families are showing up in defiance of the Sunday curfew.

This is beginning to add a layer of surreality for me, this is no place for a day out but I can see the people are finally rising up – if this is happening around the country then it’s time up for the government.

I walk off towards Market Street in an aimless manner. I look across and sat leaning on the wall outside Burger King is a familiar face. The surreality increases.

“Alright, our kid,” his voice brings me back to reality.

My brother, the NDF scum of my family.

When he told us a year ago at the dinner table at my parents’ home in Withington my dad just went silent, my mam began to cry and he tried defending his decision, at first spouting the clichés about defending the nation but moving on to all kinds of emotional blackmail about protecting the family.

I told him he was a disgrace and he looked at me, almost through me, and said with a sneering contempt in his voice: “We’ll see how long you last with that attitude you brainwashed prick,”. I couldn’t even respond to his jibe about brainwashing, I went to swing at him when my dad pulled me away. I left the house and haven’t seen him since.

“You look like shite,” I reply, blood has been pouring out of him. He is sat in a puddle of it and he has taken his armour off and his white t-shirt is also covered in it, like a snide United top bought off Longsight market.

I walk over to him and go on to my knees to face him eye to eye.

“You think you’ve won eh, kid?” still the snarling obtuseness, “They’ll be sending over the jets to bomb this shithole any moment,”

“It’s over,” I reply with a barely disguised chuckle, “It’s spread all over the country, every city has rebelled, the revolution has happened,”

“The revolution,” my brother spits out blood and starts to cough, “You think you’re fucking Che Guevara, you muppet,” Contempt fires out of his eyes, the righteousness of the good fascist. I stand up, there’s nothing to gain from this encounter.

I take his handgun lying on the floor a few feet away and walk back to him, my flesh and blood.

I point the gun between his eyes.

“The city is ours, the country is ours,”

I pull the trigger.

by Martin O’Brien based on That’s Entertainment by The Jam.

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Nibblers, Nukes and Noodles

Hiding summer’s age no more
No more leaves in summer sky
Turning dark on empty car lots
When summer was my only friend

I always wondered what Spanish folk called the Spanish Flu back in 1918. The Flu? Spanish Flu? Or did they go for something like French Flu the way we used to say the Italian disease or Dutch courage?

Actually, I once looked up the word for “flu” in Spanish. “Gripe” is the word. I guess it isn’t pronounced how it looks.  Ah, well it’s pointless thinking about it. Spain, that is, considering it doesn’t exist anymore.

Or any country to be fair. Well, that’s not strictly true. Iceland is still there, fishing around happily, cut off from the world.

Now Chinese flu, that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Bingdu. The Chinese Virus, handily monikered by the Hong Kongese, who soon perished.

That was a big one. Boy, was it big. My grandfather told me that it was a punishment from God. The waste and wars, the disregard for nature caused Him to smite us beginning with the Godless communists. Funny kind of commies though, I thought, seeing as the Party had collapsed two decades prior and the even more rapacious oligarchs had taken over.

But Gramps wouldn’t be told. He said the Chinese Virus was just the beginning. And he was right, the old bugger. I read the books at the library and it doesn’t seem real. A world where we had it all and threw it all away.
The islands in Hawaii covered in plastic bottles, the genocides of the Shia peoples, the burning of books, however symbolic that was in the digital age.

Strange now, that books survive whilst the computers, phones and touchscreens are consigned to history like the Communist Party of China or Tesco-Asda.

Which is funny as that’s where I am sat right now, in my local Tesco-Asda, in the car park eating a Super Oogo Noodles pack, cooked on my portable mini-stove, on my own surrounded by decaying buildings, rusting cars and other local nibblers.

I read a lot. What they used to call dystopian fiction. My favourite will always be The Stand by a writer called Stephen King. His portrayal of a collapsing society under a manmade virus is amazing. I often dream about the characters from that book. Harold and Nadine, Stu and Glenn, Mother Abigail and the Dark Man.

The other nibblers talk about creatures they see in the night. They think a devil is chasing them around and will kill them and all the other survivors.

I know better, there is no demonic presence going to eat us. Just Mother Nature. And let’s be fair she has given humanity an immense fucking kicking in the last few years. In a lot of ‘end of the world’ fiction there is a lot of violence over the scarcity of food and water. Not in what’s left of Britain.

After the Chinese flu came the nuclear annihilation. This wasn’t even a nuclear war, it was some of the abandoned nuclear plants going haywire once most of the population had died. Once a bunch of meltdowns occurred across the whole Northern hemisphere any semblance of normality was gone.

It was followed by a succession of other diseases that spread including the plague and Icelandic flu. This had nothing to do with the Icelanders who had closed their borders early and with great success. It was just another flu pandemic that wiped out most of the already low number of survivors.

In my city of 300,000 people it appears that only a few hundred survived. Taken as a rough estimate, it appears about 0.1% survived throughout the pandemics and meltdowns. With all the food in the supermarkets hoarded up, there is plenty to eat and drink. In fact, alcoholism is the next big killer as the nibblers spend most of their time loading up.

I can’t blame them, I spend my time reading and what good is that? Some of the youngsters speed around in supercars which looks great fun. I don’t have a licence and for some reason I’d feel bad about driving around without one, especially if I crashed and ended up with my leg hanging off and my arm flopping around twelve feet away from my body.

Am I someone who needs laws to obey? Is that the same for all humans? The nibblers could do with a firm hand to set them straight. But it won’t come from me. I actually enjoy watching them eating their packs of crisps in this weather. The silence is the big thing that marks out the post-flu world. Sound travels in a way you wouldn’t believe.

Even the nibblers in their groups often will sit in silence and awe listening to the world around them.  A Ferrari being driven into town will be heard from miles away.

The sunsets also bring people to reverential quietude, the end of pollution mixed with the remnants of nuclear fallout lead to incredible red skies with streaks that range from blue to green on an evening.

Time has barely any meaning now. It’s the early evening tonight and half the nibblers are just waking up and having breakfast. In the nine years or so since society collapsed the numbers of survivors seems to dropping. I don’t know even know if people can still have children. Thinking about it I can’t remember the last time I heard a baby’s wail. It must be five years or so.

This thought makes me immediately sad and waves of emotion hit me like no time since parents died as Bingdu ravaged my hometown. Even though I knew they were gone once they were first diagnosed (the survival rate for the infected was virtually zero) the shock when they passed within twelve hours of each other was incredible. The sense of loss made my stomach hurt for weeks and I’m getting the same feeling now.

Many of the nibblers have drank themselves to death or gone off to an isolated spot to kill themselves. I can now understand why they do this. The enormity of the realisation that humanity is edging towards oblivion bears down on me. In The Stand, the survivors work together to re-form society, compelled by higher powers.

If the survivors have learnt anything it is that the only higher power is nature itself. Deep down, we feel that humans deserved what happened to us which is a terrible, sobering realisation.

I think back to when I was a nipper. I remember my large driveway at home as a boy and racing round in my go-kart. Dad would tell me to avoid the flowers on the edge of the grass while Mum would bring out ice pops, the cola ones were my favourite. Racing around enjoying the thrill of the speed and the feeling of being out of control.

Do humans have an innate, grim trait which leads us to galvanising self-destruction?

I place the noodles down on the floor and spot a white BMW M1 in the gloam of the car park. One of the young tearaways left it here a few days ago before tearing off on a motorbike.

I walk over and examine the car. It is in great shape although the back and right hand side have a few dents. I sit in the car and turn the engine on, it thrums to life immediately. Fair play to the Germans, they knew how to build a car. Shame they couldn’t have crafted a cure for Chinese Flu.

I drive the car out of the car park. None of the nibblers acknowledge me even though we have congregated in this area for years now. Away from the not-so-maddening crowds I start testing the BMW to its limits through the deserted city streets and head for the motorway.

After leaving town the long straights of the motorway stretch out in front of me. A sign of the advancement of society many years ago, they are now the arteries of a corpse.

I speed the car up faster and faster. A voice in my head tells me not to give up but I increase the pressure on the accelerator. The trees and sky blur into one like a speeded up video and I tell myself I am driving home. Where home is for me now I can’t say right now but I think I will have an answer very soon…

by Martin O’Brien based on Autumn Tactics by Chicane.

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The Inferno of Passion

3:36, it’s cold, I know I’m growing old
With life’s best side on the downward slope
Done it before, do it again
Early morning cold taxi.

Thirty-six, I am too old for this shit.

I open my eyes and look across her bed to my right. Christ, she’s older than Bob Geldof. My head hurts and all I can hear is Roxette belting out “It Must Have Been Love” on the stereo. I snort out loud at that jarring un-synchronicity and suddenly worry that she’s woken up.

Nope, she’s sparko. Must be exhausted, poor thing. I wonder what her name is, what her story is? All I can remember is her repeatedly telling me about her forthcoming trip to Turkey. I think I replied about Bernard Matthews, scourge of the turkeys.

Actually, I couldn’t care less. All I can think of now is getting out of here and snaffling some food. From laying in the bed I gently sit up and spy my clothes in a pleasingly neat pile.

Bloody hell though, I need a piss. This means an extra complication in Mission Get-The-Fuck-Out-Of-Here. I decide to prioritise putting my clothes on first before taking a leak. I think I will reap the benefits of this plan.

I take one last look at the snoozing creature (Betsy? Pam?) beside me and edge out of the bed. My silken feet touch the soft carpet and I manage to dress in a well-rehearsed, complete velvet silence.

I look at the clock and it’s now past 3. I can feel my head begin to spin as I calmly walk out of her bedroom. Now for the tricky part. I like to shut the door when I retreat from the scene of a hasty post-coital departure. I have a little thing for not letting the door latch catch the lock or bang on the jamb.

The perfect door closure is a wondrous moment.  A fleeting glimpse of perfection like a well-executed Cruyff turn or the precision bombing of an alleged munitions site in a packed Middle East urban area surrounded by markets, schools and hospitals.

I close the door with consummate precision. I award myself an inner standing ovation and move on to Mission Take-A-Massive-Piss.

The hallway is cold, a sign that winter is coming. Never my favourite time of year. There’s enough light for me to reach the bathroom and the switch is a nice quiet flicker, not one of the those pull cords that always seem to turn on the world’s loudest extractor fan.

I sit on the john and it’s one of those pisses where you audibly exhale and say “ah, that feels good”. I finish and head to the sink to wash my hands and check I haven’t got the old bird’s make up all over my face.

Man, I look like shit. My hair is receding and my nose is blotchy with tiny blood vessels showing everywhere. My beard is turning grey on the sides and around my mouth and my eyes are bloodshot. To be honest, there’s more red in there than the white bits in my eyes. I should probably be quite concerned at Time’s harrowing effect and what is happening to my clearly rotting insides..

My skin is strange mixture of greasiness and paleness that makes me look like a confused teenage vampire. My breath smells of Jack Daniels’ arse. I spit in to the sink and it appears that he might have shit in my gob too.

Twenty years of doing this has taken its toll. I don’t know how many times I’ve quit drinking or promised myself not to go back with these old, usually married women. But I can never resist their openness and compliments. Yep, always the compliments. That’s what does it for me.

“How are you still single?”

“You’ve got really nice eyes!”

“You listen to me, unlike my hubby,”

It’s a little dance, an act. I know within a minute or two whether they like me and if they are going to cave in and take me back. Sometimes, if they really love their bloke they’ll stop and go back to their mates. To be honest, they may still love him, but they still drag me back to their gaff.

Somebody once said ‘remorse is beholding heaven and feeling hell’. I’m always fascinated by these pull factors and the animal instincts at the heart of it. People desire such short term gratification and all of society’s morality and sermonising can’t stop it. In a perverse way that’s what increases my lust to pick away at the scabs of convention.

One last look at my face. One last stare into those fucked-up eyes before I go. I used to enjoy these escapades, the chase and the sex and the getaway. Now I just feel tired; tired all the time.

I leave the bathroom and turn the light off. I don’t even bother creeping downstairs pretending I’m a cat burglar like I normally do. I just walk downstairs, swipe a cheeky twenty quid that I see on the table near the front door and put my shoes on. I hear a rumbling upstairs. A voice perhaps or a good old 180 degree bed spin.

I don’t care anyway. I open the front door and the chill of an early Sunday morning hits me. It’s nice and sobering and I check my phone which states it’s 4 on the dot.

Luckily this lass lived two minutes from town so I decide to head back to the high street. This is the bit I like, walking in the early hours. The cold air enveloping my face like a mask. The empty roads and silent houses. I imagine I’m the only human left and the thought exhilarates me.

It doesn’t last too long as soon as I hit the high street. The raucous night is coming to a close in town and the contrast is bewildering. Sirens and lights flash from ambulances and the dibble, girls in tiny dresses are sat on the street munching shit-in-a-tray whilst lads in terrible shirts are are messing about with their mates pretending to be Connor McGregor, hoping the burger-scoffing women notice them.

I head straight for the hackney cabs, bollocks to queueing with the hordes of kebab-munching leaky tosspots. I hail the nearest cab and enter in the passenger seat.

“Busy night?” I ask in the obligatory manner, after telling him my destination.

“Yeah, very busy tonight chief. Bloody non-stop, you’re my last fare though, then back home. I don’t live far from town which is handy,”

“Ah that’s not too bad,” I respond, “I’ll try not throw up everywhere then,”

The taxi driver laughs and the car speeds off to my end of town.

“Big night tonight?” he asks.

“Only a quiet one, met up with a friend. Got a few days off work to recover!”

“Haha, good stuff. I’m on holiday too next week with the wife. Can’t bloody wait, I tell you,”

“I can imagine. Going anywhere nice?”

“Yeah, a week in Turkey. Had it booked for ages,”

“Turkey eh?” I struggle to focus on the road ahead, for some reason my eyes are watering and my head is hurting. I can only croak “I hope you have a great time mate,”

“Thanks mate. Just down here is it?”

“Yeah, you can drop me off here,”

I pay the driver and for some reason I stand and watch him drive off, knowing full well where he is going. I feel empty.

I clearly need pizza.

by Martin O’Brien based on Early Morning Cold Taxi by the Who

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Journey to the Heavy South

You leave in the morning
With everything you own in a little black case
Alone on the platform
The wind and the rain

I wonder what he did?

He stands there looking out to sea, stood on the platform like a lighthouse, eyes starkly watching the drizzly horizon.

The weather is filthy, but that’s no surprise these days. The so-called “Storm of the century” five years ago was followed by three further ones since then. The portents of the society we have created?

His case gives him away. A small, black cube with a silver handle. A sight that shocks most onlookers in to embarrassment. Not me though, I’m numb to it now. I know he deserves what he has got coming. Myself and the other Watchers monitor him closely, as we have ever since his conviction one week ago.

Some of the identities of the Convictees we know such as the ones that garrotte women in back alleys or set fire to churches. Is this man a political terrorist? We seem to be shipping more and more of those types off to the Heavy South.

The man maintains his gaze over the grey sea, waves are crashing upon the shore and seawater comes over the flood barrier onto the platform. Is he contemplating jumping in? Probably.

However, if he does 66,600 volts will penetrate his body via his neck. All four Watchers on shift have their fingers just half a second away from pressing the fizzbutton. They all try something stupid once. Rarely do they attempt a second time.

According to the shift-log this guy hasn’t tried once. He doesn’t look the type. Square-jawed, darkly handsome with close cropped grey hair. He looks a strong bugger. I’m not sure how long that will last.

The log also details his fears and phobias. This is the bit that still turns my stomach. I defy anyone who has seen what I’ve seen to not feel the same way. The Watchers are a grimly professional bunch but what awaits this bloke…

The train has slowly made its way to the platform without me even noticing. There are six Convictees and twenty four Watchers in today’s batch. None of the Convictees look well known. It seems the days of serial killers and political assassins are over. The Convictees are all men, as are the Watchers.

The only women are stood on the opposite platform. I can see them through both sets of train windows. Family members perhaps, or the oglers off to see the condemned men pay for their crimes. They all stand in silence as we all do on our side of the platform as the electric train arrives almost silently.

Six carriages – one for each Convictee. Our man finally breaks his gaze with the sea and turns and walks straight into the train. Most of the other Convictees do the same.

I glance to my right and one of the Convictees is on the floor shrieking that he doesn’t want to go. No need for the fizzbutton, two Watchers simply lift him up by his arms and carry him on to the train. A third Watcher pulls the case on board.

WIthin seconds of everyone embarking, the doors slide shut and the train quietly departs. A rather underwhelming departure when you consider where we are going and also compared to the crowds 19 years ago when the first Convictees were sent for their diabolical punishment.

I remember the day well. I was twenty-three and the second youngest of the Watchers. Due to the crowds there was twenty Watchers for just one Convictee as well as thousands of soldiers. The press called him the Demon Priest even though he wasn’t a priest, just used a lot of religious imagery in his killings and his letters to the media.

As the country had polarised and splintered crime had began to rise to record levels. After a lull of decades, mass serial killers returned to the streets. And none were worse or more gratuitous than Mark Marsh. A rather rubbish name for a renowned killer, I always thought.

Over four years thirty-three teenage girls and boys were murdered. They were always left in public places and heavily disfigured often in sickening biblical poses. As public and press intolerance of criminals escalated the Demon Priest became the most notorious murderer since Jack the Ripper. The government and police brought in ever more draconian laws. As the murders continued and became even more brazen the government brought in a radical punishment once he was caught and for any other serious criminal.

It was almost a game for the Demon Priest. His letters to the newspapers announced he had one more murder to go. The uproar in the country was at fever pitch and then it happened.

The nine year old Princess Elizabeth was found decapitated and her body placed in front of the royal palace. As the guards found her body they also saw the Demon Priest holding the young child’s head in his arms stroking her hair. Her eyes had been removed and placed on either side of his body facing the world.

Marsh was remanded in custody until the new punishment centre was built at a staggering cost. The day he departed to the Heavy South was a day completely unlike today.

An estimated three hundred thousand people had descended in forty degree heat to see the train depart. Pandemonium ensued and over six hundred people were killed in the riots, stampedes and shootings by soldiers that followed.

The Demon Priest laughed all the way there on the train. The next time I saw him three years later and all the times since he no longer laughs. Justice came to him. What about these guys here today?

It isn’t forbidden to speak to the Convictees but it is frowned upon. As group leader I have never spoken to a single one about their lives, just ordered them around.

I look at the impassive face of the man, trying to read him. It’s impossible and today won’t be the day I speak to him. The whispers around Watch Base 4 are that people who speak out against the government are the ones they are shipping away now. The threat of being sent to the Heavy South has seen crime drop to new lows.

The government may deny it but the papers are unable to find enough crime stories to print these days. They just reprint tales of the Demon Priest and others to keep the people scared of crime, encouraged by the government. I have it on good authority that there was less than sixty murders in the last year. Twenty years ago it was over eleven thousand.

We head underground and the gradient decreases drastically. We are travelling seventeen miles below ground and every time I make this journey a little part of me dies. Only five months until retirement for me and I can’t wait. Speeding ever further underground, the red lights illuminate the way.

After twenty minutes we arrive. The doors open, the Convictees disembark and see the sign, in standard railway station font which simply states: “HELL”.

The impassive man’s face is no longer the stoic countenance it once was. He is breathing heavily, although the oppressive heat might also be a contributing factor.

The entrance level is like any standard police station with strip lighting and bureaucracy to endure. The anguished screams beyond this vestibule belies the apparent normality.

Our Convictee is led to the Hellguard, a wiry woman of around thirty years.

“Log,” she says to me. I hand it over. She glances at the top page.

“Heights,” she says, and a small, pursed smile passes her lips, “I think you know where to take him.” He drops off the black case. All his possessions had earlier been destroyed. The only thing it contains is a letter containing his sentence. 1000 years here in Hell.

I’ve clearly being doing this too long. My job is to walk the Convictee to his circle where he will spend the rest of his life. The Hellguards will take him from me and will monitor to him twenty-four hours a day.

As we prepare to enter the Great Hall a sign above unsurprisingly quotes Dante and still makes me shudder when I see it: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. So, so apt. The Convictee sees it, glances at me and we hold our gaze for a few seconds. Perhaps he can see in my eyes what is through the doors. His eyes are watering and he breaks my gaze as the doors slide open.

I keep a hand on his shoulder as we enter the new Hell. It looks like a demonic shopping centre. Nine huge ringed levels with virulently vivid colours and noise. It is quite easily the most overwhelming place in the country. It comprises about seven hundred individual cells and all the cells are open and visible to everyone.

The impassive man is sobbing now as he can see some of the sights as I walk him to the guardrail of the first ring. An old grey-haired woman is sat on a chair surrounded by what looks like thousands of squirming snakes. She is frozen in the chair as they slither round her beige leg, bleeding from multiple bites. I know she has been here over ten years.

A young lad of around twenty is being repeatedly dunked upside down into a pool of water. I tell the man almost robotically that this form of waterboarding happens to him about nineteen hours a day, every day.

Another young man is covered in a plastic spherical bubble with only his hand and feet outside. Inside the bubble are a multitude of bees. He runs around his cell screaming and collapses on the floor. The bees are stinging him repeatedly. A bunch of hellguards in protective outfits take him out of the bubble and pacify the bees.

“In an hour he will be placed in another one,” I say.

“It’s inhuman,” the man replies.

I don’t say anything but lead him up the levels. The man witnesses a multitude of abhorrent sights. Brutal sodomising of sex offenders is a common theme, a man scared of fire being in a room constantly surrounded by flames, a man being crucified upside down, a teenage lad strapped to a chair being slapped by a succession of young girls, a woman blindfolded in a room with an uneven floor full of scalding radiators.

We reach the top level where a fat male Hellguard takes the impassive man. He looks around at me.

“What will they do to me?” he asks, his voice cracking like the sound of walking on winter leaves.

Before I can ask the hellguard pushes the man off the ring. I watch him fall and hear him scream. He lands about eight metres below the bottom level. There is a safety net at the bottom and Hellguards will bring him back to the top for his punishment to be endlessly repeated. They will vary the punishments each time, tying him up or leaving him dangling for hours, if not days.

As I prepare to leave the Great Hall I head to see the oldest serving prisoner. The Demon Priest is held in a special cell behind the first ring level. Upon his initial entry into Hell his tongue and vocal cords were removed. He would no more utter his filth.

It had taken multiple experiments to find his weak spot. His love of masochism meant a lot of tests were run. This was not unique and the creativity of the Hellguards never surprises me.

During the days of testing, a strip of skin was removed from his arm leaving his bare flesh exposed. The reaction this received was manna for the Hellguards. They had found his weakness and his demeanour changed immediately from brash egotist to a very scared man.

A special germ-free, heated room was built and Mark Marsh was flayed over a period of weeks and kept under constant supervision. Despite his every attempt at killing himself by self-harming he was prevented from doing so.

I arrive at his cell and look through the window at him. He no longer looks human which befits a monster like him. By removing his skin his humanity has been stripped away. Nineteen years of this and he is beaten and broken. I always wondered if the public saw an image of this man would they say “no more”?

I head back to the train and wonder what the impassive man had done. The righteousness of what has been done to the Demon Priest has always quelled any unease I felt at the actions committed here. As the voices of despair fade I wonder if the atrocities we are committing now are the right thing to do and if there is anything we can do to stop it. Is there something I can do?

by Martin O’Brien based on Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat

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A Dealer In Hope

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared – and battle come down
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out – and draw another breath

“London calling, London calling – please respond,”

For two years and seven days this message had come through the radio. For every one of the seven hundred and thirty seven days since then it has been ignored.

Only McDermott had visited London. He’s dined out on the stories ever since. Forget a pinch of salt, you need a lorry for some of the tales he has about the great floating city of the south.

McDermott claims the city is anchored to the Big Ben clock tower. When I questioned him on how a immense raft holding eighty thousand people could be attached to a crumbling 700 year old building he just said it’s symbolic and that the city is moored all across the old city. And one is actually tethered to Big Ben.

Locals lap up his stories and he can’t get enough of the attention but I’ve seen McDermott when he’s on his own sat in his garden. He looks a different man, his hands shake and his already pallid skin looks almost transparent.

Occasionally the facade will crack. After a night on the spudwine about 8 years ago he told me about the time he was setting sail back up to Bradford laden with goods he had traded for food.

As his longboat pulled away from the floating city an immense ship hoved into view against the blood-red sky. McDermott said the ship was at least fifty metres high and rather blocky and square. He couldn’t believe it could float.

When it approached their vessel McDermott saw things on the ship that rocked him to his core.

Well, I should say he heard things initially. An incredible piercing wailing that travelled across the water to his boat. His shipmates Fallon and Harris stood at the bow with him and wondered what on earth it was.

As the square ship drew parallel to theirs the three men said the noise had become intolerable, like Halifax gunpowder oil in the ears. It was hard to keep standing and your bearings too.

When they could finally focus on the ship they could see men, or creatures to be more precise, lined up and manacled around the boat.

They had no hair or clothing and their bodies were disfigured by deformities, lumps and missing body parts. And in some cases extra body parts. McDermott saw one man with a suppurated hunchback that started at the top of his head all the way to his arse.

The man stared at him and howled, pus was dripping out of sores on his bald head and running down his malformed back. Other men had arms and facial features missing and a few literally had holes in their chests.

McDermott claimed there must have been over a thousand of these pitiful creatures onboard and they were being sailed into port by around twenty tanned-skin men wearing red Napoleon hats. As the ship sailed past the noise could still be heard for 2 hours as they headed north.

McDermott had told me the story a couple of nights after Fallon had killed himself. Suicide in the isolated towns was common enough but McDermott said Fallon had never been able to stop thinking about the noises emanating from the ship. Zombies was the word he used but these men weren’t dead. Instead they were victims of the war four hundred years ago. The offspring of radiation victims.

What kind of things were happening in London? No one within 200 kilometre knows. Centuries ago, news was available immediately. Some of the books and magazines at the library show the world as it once was. 11 billion people on earth living in great nations like the United States and China that no longer exist.

Ironically it was once thought that water shortages would be the cause of the big war but in the end it was shortage of land. As the sea levels rose and the eastern coasts of China and the US began to disappear. Eventually, and no seems to know definitively who started it, a nuclear warhead was launched and obliterated the city of Moscow in a country they called Russia.

And that was that. It was the largest war in human history and one of the shortest. The world was engulfed in flames and pandemonium and within days it was all over. The armies and the governments had been disintegrated.

Scattered populations survived the war but the planet simply kept heating up. No one knows how many people live on Earth now. Possibly a few tens of millions, maybe less than ten million.

We regressed, I can see that from the books in the library. The Burj Tower and Wembley Stadium, feats of engineering and brilliance that you don’t see now. All we see now are flood barricades. In London a city was gradually built from the materials 150 metres below the sea. McDermott said it is a wondrous sight after seeing only isolated islands as you pass what was once the Chilterns.

A land of mechanical ingenuity rising into the crimson sky and stretching out now across the old city like a tentacled, recycled monster. London has risen again, McDermott likes to say.

The total population of the five “Faraway Towns” of Northern England sits at around fifteen thousand. Bradford, Halifax, Bacup. Buxton and Sheffield and a few smaller communities in the Moors. The population is shrinking still – the unrelenting heat and poverty is too much for most people. Grafting in the fields or fishing around the polluted waters is life for virtually everyone now.

I only keep sane by reading books and believing that humans will find a way to civilisation again. Contact was lost with lawless London many decades ago. Only trading happens there now. We trade them food in return for rarer items. McDermott says that it is a dangerous place filled with rapacious, amoral thieves. Wanton violence is a plague on the city and that if he wasn’t a big strong man he wouldn’t dream of stepping on the “deck” of the city.

“London calling, London calling – please respond,”

As I have done every single day since we started receiving that message I have contemplated responding. The other members of the council urge me to reply. They have yet to supply me with a valid reason. I asked McDermott what they could want when the other members had departed.

“I’m not sure. It could be as innocent as trade contacts. Or…” his voice drifted off.

“Or what?” I replied, annoyed by McDermott’s love of dangling his knowledge on a string. My annoyance lifted though as I looked into his eyes. His eyes were moistening and his hands were trembling again.

“The people there, they…” McDermott was struggling to find the words, “they have two faces. They talk of peace but the brutality on the streets is astonishing. And when I was there, there was talk of an invasion.”

“An invasion?” I nearly fell off my stool when he said those words.

“Yeah, against the mutant men, the irradiated ones. I don’t even know where they come from, and no one there would tell me. I told you, they have two faces, they won’t help anyone. Everything has a price. Even dignity,” McDermott left the council chamber and looked close to tears.

“London calling, London calling – please respond,”

I said at the last meeting if they want to talk to the Faraway Towns they will have to get in a boat and sail up to us.

Today will be no different.

by Martin O’Brien based on London Calling by The Clash.

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