Drafted Emails (A Story)

writing email

Dear —–,

I am gravely concerned to hear that you are considering withdrawing funding. Our vital work cannot continue without the support of backers such as yourself. Pressure from

#

Dear Mr —–,

I am dismayed to hear you are considering withdrawing support for our attempt to mount a legal challenge against

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Dear fuckwit,

Sorry you’re too much of a coward to stand up to Murphy. Yeah the long-term viability of life on Earth is at stake, but you got a fraction of the nasty emails and demonstrators I get and it’s scary so fair enough, piss off then.

Sincerely,

Morgan

#

Dear Ellis,

I am dismayed to hear you are considering withdrawing support for our venture. As you know, the Federation’s proposed warp rail through local space may threaten planetary

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Dear Ellis,

I am aware the Federation provides enormous opportunities, and can relocate humanity and key components of our biosphere to a terraformed colony in the event of meltdown. However, I quite frankly have an irrational attachment to this planet and cannot meekly accept

#

Dear Murphy,

No damn it Morgan this one is a -bad- idea

#

Dear Sir,

I am dismayed to hear you are considering withdrawing support for our venture to mount a legal challenge to the Orion Committee regarding Prop. Sol A14D. As you know, probationary members of the Federation have curtailed access to legal aid, making it all the more vital that both on and off-world concerned citizens assist us in

#

Dear Ellis,

I implore you

#

Dear Ellis,

I am disappointed to hear of your desire to withdraw from the project. Morgan has been placing pressure on all of us to let the issue go. It’s shameful that world governments are sticking their heads in the sand over both Prop. Sol and the behaviour of its high-profile supporters, and I can understand your desire to protect yourself.

However, might you consider taking a more back-seat role rather than dropping out? Again, I do appreciate your personal safety concerns at the moment, but this is so much larger than any of us that I must urge you to consider other options. We need all the help we can get.

Regards,

Morgan

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The Coffee Machine

Lovecraftian image
Source: https://bit.ly/2UbtbS4

The office dipped briefly into darkness, as Orothein the Thousand-Limbed swarmed in front of the sun then returned to His nest on the moon.

‘Active today, aren’t they?’ Mark said, sipping coffee from a giant mug. ‘Reckon there’ll be some claims coming in soon.’ He ran a hand through his hair, leaning in close to the computer screen and squinting at the spreadsheet.

The return of the Old Ones had its impacts. Those hibernating under the earth or in the sea had caused earthquakes and tsunamis when they rose, with regions tainted and lost to madness, mutation, and decay. But humanity was permitted to exist, and the Red Box Insurance Company gained substantial market share by pioneering policies covering their influence.

Tom put his coat on the back of his chair, sitting next to Mark. ‘Ugh, chaos out there!’

‘Trouble on the Tube?’

‘Non-euclidean geometry at Bank. It’s like an Escher painting in there, bloody paradoxes.’

‘Hate when they’re antsy.’

‘Took ages to figure out. Had to go up the same escalator three times then run down it once to get to the exit.’ Tom sighed, switching on his computer. ‘Good weekend, Mark, Jill?’

‘Saw that new Tom Cruise one,’ Jill said, swiveling at the opposing desk. ‘He’s not been the same since he joined the Cult of Skartel.’

‘Yeah. Better off in Scientology, really.’

‘Something you’d never expect to say,’ Mark said. ‘I didn’t get up to much, just lazing about all weekend.’

‘Those are the best,’ Jill said. ‘Still no Sandra, by the way.’

‘Hope she’s okay,’ Tom said. ‘I knew she had financial worries, but… ah, shit. Forget I said that.’

‘What?’ Mark said.

‘Stumbled into her rat-arsed at a club a few weeks back and she said something about it. Forget it, I wasn’t supposed to say.’

‘She’s in accounts, and she can’t…’

‘Mark,’ Jill said.

Mark put his hands up. ‘Say no more.’ He put in his headphones and got to work.

Jill made eye contact with Tom, glanced at Mark, then rolled her eyes. Tom smiled and shrugged. ‘I need coffee,’ he announced, getting up.

‘Same,’ Jill said, following to the machine.

‘Don’t pay too much attention to Mark,’ Tom said, rooting through cupboards for mugs. He passed one to Jill, gesturing for her to go first.

‘Thanks. He’s a bit of a dick, isn’t he?’ she said, pressing buttons.

‘Yeah, that’s just his way, his sense of humour.’ Coffee poured into her mug. She leaned on the counter blowing to cool it down while Tom set up his mug.

‘Had enough edgy comedians at my last job. The woman’s got a problem and hasn’t showed up for a while, you ought to feel bad… I heard some people downstairs saying she’d joined the Old Ones.’

Tom snorted. ‘Office gossip.’ The machine whined, struggling to trickle out at half the usual speed. ‘Damn thing acting up again.’

*

Signs put up in and around Bank Tube Station by the Human Defence Force told commuters how to travel through the distortion to their destinations, while they waited for an HDF squad to restore normality.

Sandra ignored the signs, barging against the stream of the crowd. She walked with purpose up a set of stairs, arriving at the bottom of the same set of stairs but with a new door on the left, went through the door and appeared on a ceiling, took a set of stairs back to the top of the original staircase, and went down them again. She went to the right and knocked on the wall, appearing in a cavern inaccessible through the three dimensions.

Water lit green by bacteria dripped on her head, splashes and footsteps on rock echoing around the chamber as she walked to the lectern at its centre. Her breath steamed in the cold, the only heat coming from the book. As she got closer the water became warmer, and she felt like she was getting sunburn.

Sandra stood by the rough-hewn stone lectern, water steaming at her feet, staring at the book. An item so ancient, its mistress sleeping from before the dawn of man until recently, yet bound in a patchwork of human skin.

She touched it with her finger, expecting her skin to burn. A tentacle slithered into her mind, filling it with a language older than the tongue. She opened the book and began to read aloud.

*

Mark was on the phone with a client when darkness fell again. ‘I’m sorry, Mr McCarthy, but your policy doesn’t cover second-hand mutations caused by thralls of Solowen.’ Mark glanced out the window, listening, as Orothein floated in front of the sun longer than usual, the gaps between his tendrils backlit red as they swayed.

‘Because it’s an exponentially growing effect. We can’t realistically provide that sort of cover in your region unless the premiums are astronomical.’ People were starting to gather at the window. Mark watched them whispering to each other, while Mr McCarthy continued. Cars below turned their lights on.

‘I’m sorry you’ve got extra ears, but I don’t see what I can do for you. I’m looking at the emails here, and I can see it was clearly stated what you were and weren’t getting covered for. I can pass you on to another claims operator if you like, but they’ll tell you the same thing.’

Orothein roared, a roar that somehow passed through the vacuum of space to buffet the earth. Everyone flinched. It was starting to get cool from the impromptu eclipse. ‘Okay, Mr McCarthy. Thanks, have a nice day.’ Mark passed the call up to someone else. ‘Today’ll be a tough one, I can feel it.’ He went for another coffee.

‘Glad I got one of these,’ Jill said to Tom, flashing an HDF self-defense pamphlet.

‘Ah,’ Tom said. ‘What sort of stuff is it?’

‘Nothing too hardcore. Simple glyphs for holding thralls off, preventing them speaking, the basic cross-running-water stuff.’

‘I’ve got one stuck in the sofa somewhere.’ Orothein allowed daylight to return.

‘Well, you never know.’

The coffee machine made a whirring sound, pouring out warm water. Mark groaned. ‘Come on!’ He fiddled around with it, not noticing the reaction of the office as Sandra strode from the lift.

He yelped, thinking boiling water had splashed on his hand, and saw Sandra, hair lanky and eyes too focused, her shoes dripping with green muck, holding a book close to him. He backed away, knocking a glass from the counter, the heat reducing as he got away from her.

She opened it and read out barbarous words that made the coffee machine shiver and spark, her hair turn into snakes, and everyone in the office see a vision of the earth forming as Orothein nudged fragments together with a thousand limbs, a swarm of Old Ones assembling from beyond the stars to bear witness. The carpet became sodden in cold water, beginning to glow green.

‘Behold!’ Sandra said. ‘Emeris, Lady of Secrets, calls on you to know Her wisdom, the forbidden, the ancient, the unspeakable truths kept from the eyes of man, the-’

She stopped talking as Jill slashed her hand with a pocketknife and drew a symbol in blood on the wall, then was rooted to the spot as she drew another. Tom gave Jill some paper towel and rang 999, asked for the HDF, and said they had a thrall with a book.

Mark straightened, nudged the glass shards to a corner with his foot, and said, ‘Nice one, Jill.’ He tried the machine again – which worked perfectly – and took the steaming mug back to his desk, his hands shaking a little, shoes squelching on the wet carpet.

An HDF team swiftly arrived to cart Sandra away, gagging her and packing the book inside a lead-lined case. They scoured the taint of Emeris with a rite before they left, the carpet steaming dry. Gradually people returned to work.

After a while, Mark spotted something on a spreadsheet. ‘Holy crap.’

‘What?’ Tom said.

‘Sandra took out a policy, last month. Juicy payout too. Unless it’s dismissed for fraud.’

‘Seriously?’

‘It’s right here.’

Jill inspected her cut hand. ‘You think she arranged-’

Mark sipped coffee. ‘Maybe. I said there’d be claims coming in, didn’t I?’

Exodus Project Application

FORM 14B

BUREAU OF EXODUS AFFAIRS

APPLICANT INFORMATION

#

NAME                Kelsey Graham
AGE                    43
GENDER           Female
PROFESSION   Biologist
ID CODE            A467B/ZQ9

#

APPLICANT STATEMENT (MAX. 500 WORDS)

#

I know this form won’t get read, but it’s something to do on the commute. Most of the people on this train also work at the Bureau, but don’t know the AI’s already decided. It’s gone through everybody’s records and decided who gets a ticket, but it’s better for morale to let people ‘apply’.

Will I get a spot? Feels like I deserve it. We wouldn’t have the hibernation cracked yet without me. But is my science rating high enough to make up for the age? There’s bound to be a bunch of damn biology genius/artist teenagers with six-packs and zen monk psych profiles more worth keeping.

If I thought this form was real, what would I write? Listing achievements and personal qualities for a job application is one thing, but when it’s for the chance to live? To live, instead of a million other people? I’m alright, but am I better than a million people? What sort of person could believe they are?

Shinzen quit to be with his family. Not a bad choice if you have one. The pods are pretty much done anyway. It’d be good to have time to properly test long-term hibernation. Hopefully the lucky few will still have their marbles at the other end!

Even with modern automation, it’s a miracle enough people are still working to keep civilisation going. Going quite well, for the most part. Money is worthless now, so people just get what they need. If a job is worthless, which a lot were, people don’t do it and the useful ones get divided up. People have more time, but they’re filling it with things. It’s easy to forget what’s coming sometimes. Why did it take this to make us collectively get it together?

Not that it’s all kumbaya until the end. Tensions come out. Like Grace broke down today, demanding a ticket for her kid. Had to be sedated. No idea how she got the gun in there. Far as she knows the Director selects who from this sector gets on board. She’s been seeing him in the office every day, thinking he could save her kid. Of course she’d be willing to shoot a bureaucrat to flip that ‘no’ to ‘yes’.

Of course no person can choose. There’s far too many people to sift through. And the AI isn’t biased. Shouldn’t be. Hopefully the programmers didn’t put their own issues in there.

Too much of this relies on hope.

I’m thinking of quitting myself. See if I can patch things up with my sister. Time I sat back with her and Bob and the nephews and niece. They’re in Hawaii. Warm sun and sand and surf.

If you are reading this, AI, I hope you know what you’re doing.

a

a

a

#

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST. THE BUREAU AIMS TO RESPOND BY T-3 MONTHS.

#BELOW FOR OFFICE USE ONLY#

CULTURAL    1   2   3   4   5
SCIENTIFIC   1   2   3   4   5
PHYSICAL      1   2   3   4   5
PSYCH            1    2   3    4   5

DECISION      YES   NO

spaceship icon

BUREAU OF EXODUS AFFAIRS

Resolutions

The pulse of activity in the pub skipped a beat when Eve and Pete walked in. Graham’s hand grazed his belt then skipped back to his pint, Nora’s face puckered like she’d bit into a lemon, Brian’s lips pursed. The moment passed and George waved them over from behind the bar, handing Tara another glass of wine, as everyone carried on enjoying themselves.

George pulled Pete’s pint then turned to Eve.

‘Just a coke, please,’ she said softly, tracing her fingers along the bar’s wood grain.

George and Pete glanced at each other. ‘I’m sure your dad wouldn’t turn me in… given the occasion,’ George said, leaning forward with a conspiratorial tone.

‘That’s okay.’ She looked up, smiled. ‘Thanks.’

‘Only a few months ‘til it’s legal anyway, Evie,’ Pete said. ‘When I was your age I’d already pushed my limits plenty of times.’

‘Ain’t that right,’ Richard said, nudging him in the ribs. Tara leaned into Richard’s shoulder, grinning at Eve.

They shifted through the crowd to stand along a wall, as far as possible from Graham’s group, resting drinks on the mantelpiece. The exposed beam opposite them had used to have an Oscar Wilde quote about drinking painted on it. That had been roughly painted over to say, Never split up. Be vigilant. Eve turned to face away from it.

Tara snapped her fingers in front of Eve’s face. ‘Eve?’

‘Huh?’ Eve said.

‘You sure that’s just coke? You seem pretty out of it,’ Tara said, flicking Eve’s drink. ‘I was asking if you’d made a resolution.’

She shrugged.

‘Well,’ Richard said, checking his watch, ‘Best think of one soonish. Not long to midnight.’

‘Honestly, this last year can piss off,’ Pete said.

‘Amen to that,’ Richard said, glancing through the milling crowd at Graham on the other side of the pub, staring at Eve with a rigidly set scowl.

‘God, what’s she done to herself?’ Tara said, pointing out a girl at the bar with an array of piercings and bright purple hair.

‘Lisa,’ Eve said.

‘What?’ Pete said. He angled his head. ‘Blimey. It is. Go say hi then, unless you’d rather hang around with us old folk.’

Eve called out to Lisa as she hid away the hip flask and drank her lemonade, pulling a face at how strong she’d mixed it.

‘Bloody hell,’ Lisa said, slamming the glass down in her haste to hug Eve.

‘You got it all done, then,’ Eve said, breaking contact eventually.

‘Yeah. With everything going on I decided to just go for it, y’know?’

‘Fair enough. So why am I only just seeing you now?’

‘Well. We were in France on holiday when it all kicked off so we stayed out there… then we were actually considering just not coming back. But here I am!’

‘I’m glad you’re okay. And you came back.’

‘And you’re okay, then? I heard – y’know. And your mum. So sorry.’

‘Yeah. I’m alright,’ Eve said, looking at her feet, rubbing her left sleeve.

‘Dan and Elliot are in the garden,’ Lisa said, taking Eve’s hand and leading her out the back door.

Pete, Tara, and Richard watched them.

‘More like her mother every day,’ Pete said.

‘And more like herself,’ Tara suggested.

‘It’s gonna take a long time to fix everything. Not just meaning her,’ Richard said.

Pete sighed. ‘That first day in the treatment centre. God. When I saw her then I thought…’ he took a long draught, wiped the head from his top lip.

‘It’s tough,’ Tara said, patting his arm.

‘The Grahams, Noras, Brians of the world aren’t going to help going forwards,’ Richard said.

‘They’ll get over it,’ Tara said. ‘It’s been rough for all of us.’

‘Hmm,’ Pete said, as Nora shuffled towards the garden.

Eve let Lisa tip a little from the flask into her coke. They sat on the wall next to Dan and Elliot, in the warmth and orange light of the heaters overhead, breath steaming in the air. The beer garden was just as packed as the inside, benches all taken up and with even more villagers jostling around. Dan fidgeted with a piece of brick, Lisa leaning backwards to watch the moths.

Nora shuffled down the steps beside the wall, rolling a cigarette one-handed.

‘How’d she make it?’ Lisa whispered, setting Elliot into a fit of laughter.

She reached the grass and lit her cigarette, turning to glare at them. Elliot set his face into an innocent look but Nora glared at Eve instead, tutting. Eve felt a weight pull downwards in her chest.

‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Nora said.

Dan snorted. ‘Where else should she be?’

Nora shook her head, turning away.

‘Ignore her,’ Lisa said.

‘Damn,’ Elliot said. ‘She hates you even more than me. And I’m the gay black guy.’

‘Maybe she’s right,’ Eve muttered, watching Nora smoke by the pond.

‘Nah,’ Dan said, standing up. ‘Nora, Brian, Graham. Not worth your time. They haven’t moved on.’ He rolled his shoulders, stretching, then downed his drink. ‘C’mon, let’s get out of here for a bit. Yuppie camp?’

They finished their drinks and followed him out of The Nag’s Head, telling Pete they’d be back ‘later this year,’ chuckling at the joke. As they went uphill along the high street the sound of the pub gradually faded. The front gardens all had vegetable patches and the village green still had a cow and sheep there, with some crops fenced off.

Before long they were out of the village, crossing the planks across the trench. Lisa bent down to touch the tips of one of the spikes in its base, a fire-hardened stick.

‘Someone should really get rid of those,’ Elliot said, as they crossed a second trench surrounding the empty ramshackle camp bordering the village.

‘Yuppie camp?’ Lisa asked.

‘Yeah,’ Dan said, reaching over to heft the heavy bar locking an abandoned hut’s door. ‘Some of the people escaping London wound up here, built this place. They’ve pissed off back to Brick Lane now, but -’ he retrieved some bottles – ‘good hiding place.’

‘I knew there was a reason I came back to this dump,’ Lisa said, opening a bottle.

Dan held one out. ‘Eve?’

‘Better not,’ Eve said. ‘Thanks. They don’t know how drinking over a few units might interact with…’

‘No worries,’ Dan said, handing a drink to Elliot and opening one himself.

‘This must be super weird for you,’ Elliot said to Eve.

Lisa coughed. ‘D’you remember any of it?’

Eve winced.

‘Sorry.’

‘Bits and pieces. Fragments come back, here and there.’

‘Jesus,’ Dan muttered.

‘It wasn’t quite so bad in France,’ Lisa said. ‘Not to the point of spiked trenches or shanty towns. Hell.’

Eve rubbed her left sleeve.

‘Enough of that,’ Dan said. ‘New year soon. Putting all that in the past. Moving forwards. Have we all got resolutions?’

They got back to the pub at half eleven. The village’s grumpier figures had succumbed to the joviality of the coming year and George’s liquor, attempting moves from their earlier years. Eve was getting a lemonade when the bustling activity nudged her into Graham, spilling his pint over his shirt.

‘You -’ he said, turning a beetroot shade. There was a hush around them.

‘Sorry,’ she said, rubbing her left forearm. ‘I’ll get you anoth-’

He glanced at her arm and suddenly grabbed it, pulling the sleeve down. He grunted, inspecting the crescent bite mark left by her infected mother, as she tried to pull away and Pete rushed over. She felt giddy, pushing away the unwelcome memory of someone’s flesh in her mouth, a deserted supermarket, distant screams.

She focused on Graham and felt a jolt of pity wash away her rage and fear. He was scared. Fingering the dagger at his belt like a lucky amulet, the only one still carrying a weapon for protection from shambling hordes.

Pete wrenched him off her. ‘Unhand my daughter, you twat. Do that again and we’ll find somewhere else to sheath your dagger.’

‘Holy crap, Dad,’ Eve breathed, holding him back.

Nora and Brian looked chastened. Graham sat back with them, drumming his fingers on the table, defeated. George put on ‘Come on Eileen’ and got people singing along, the incident swiftly forgotten.

‘Sure you’re alright?’ Pete said; Richard, Tara, Lisa, Dan, and Elliot crowding round.

‘Yeah. He’s nothing,’ she said, feeling something long-lost inflate within her. Moving forwards. She glanced at Graham, silent in the corner, and decided on a resolution.

As the clock approached midnight, Eve wandered towards Graham, Nora, and Brian. When the church bells rang in the new year and everyone in The Nag’s Head crossed arms for ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ Eve got a thawing Graham on one side and a thoroughly drunk Lisa on the other.

Negotiations Reached an Impasse

Dawn came to the motorway with a mottled red flush, bleeding through thick grey skies. Coarse yellowed grass growing in the tarmac’s scarred and pitted face drank in the meagre light, as the sun rose higher and it mellowed to a dirty orange like the rusted husks of the cars.

Some trees clung on in the forest by the roadside, gnarled and tough like old leather, their leaves grabbing all of the twilight they could. Many had collapsed into flaking wet wood coated in lichen and billowing with mushrooms, rotting in the dark undergrowth.

The remains of vehicles stretched both ways down the road for mile upon mile, a traffic jam with no impatient muttering or honking horns. Silence reigned also in the forest overlooking the road, broken only by the rustle of leaves and the calls of birds now distant from each other. Silence flowed along the breeze down the road out of the forest, pooling in the city.

Wind whistled through rubble and broken windows, a gale clearing the sky’s grey cataract to give a glimpse of the blue hidden above, waiting to be revealed. Sunlight shone down as it had before, warming the ground. It reflected from scattered fragments of shattered glass and sparkled on the fuzz of frost on the streets, casting deep shadows under the rubble.

Further into the city skyscrapers had been bent, twisted, shattered, like trees in a ferocious storm. The closer to the centre they were, the more their edges had been melted; smeared like putty; dripped to leave puddles of metal dotting the ground, gleaming in the burst of sunlight. Towers had been uprooted, welded together at the edges into wild and precarious structures overhanging tarmac and concrete which had also melted, and re-set into rough peaks and valleys.

The sun reached its noon height above the city centre, where there was nothing. It had been shredded and scattered in fragments over fifty miles, leaving a shallow bowl of scorched concrete and bare soil where not even lichen or moss grew.

A heavy bank of dark grey cloud cast its curtain back over the sun, restoring the perpetual rust-tinged dusk.

The other side of the city rose up towards a bank of steep hills. Frost rimed the yellow-green grass at their base, the new long winter making puddles on their summits freeze. The stream trickling down the hills’ far side, embarking on the long journey to the sea, now had icicle fangs in its little waterfalls.

Growing broader, deeper, and warmer as it went, the stream trickled through more forest steadily changing into a mushroom farm, with trees losing to the weak light as the remains of their trunks densely shaded the undergrowth. But as the stream became a river, the decaying forest gave way to fields released from the brown uniformity of cultivation, populated with green life – smaller and rougher than before, but continuing to feed and house stubborn wildlife.

Roads crossing the region stood quiet, nocturnal animals undisturbed by streetlamps as the sun set and night fell. Patches of clear sky revealed glittering bright segments of the milky way, undimmed by artificial light; while other areas captured all starlight in sooty cloud – cutting constellations into segments of light scattered among pitch black darkness.

The river meandered past a rusting derailed train, through an empty town with a tank standing sentinel on the bridge overhead, picking up speed as the land swooped down to the coast. It joined the sea at a beach with shells and fish bones slowly eroding in the surf.

Out over the roiling waves lightning whipped across the sky, bringing early flashes of daylight to the night, booming thunder against the world’s new quietness. As the first glow of light rose again in the east, the storm reached land. The first fat drop of rain splashed into the sand, releasing a speck of fallout carried back down from the clouds.

An Epitaph

Here lies Jeremiah Mordaunt
1838-1944
Rest in Peace

Dear reader, doubtless you are wondering what drew you so to my grave – what force pulled you to this unassuming corner of the churchyard. The more pressing issue, of course, is how these words are appearing upon the headstone.

Well, let yourself settle on the grass – yes, that’s it – and your questions shall be answered.

I was the youngest of three sons and four daughters. On the eve of my thirteenth birthday my older brothers decided to spook me with a fake séance. As it happens, the spirits were displeased with their insolence. They had meant to use parlour tricks to frighten me, but all three of us swiftly fled from that basement.

My brothers found ways to dismiss the matter. I, however, became obsessed. I’d had a glimpse of the world behind the curtain and was determined to unveil its mysteries. My search was most vexing. For every genuine crumb of occult powers there were a thousand charlatans, maniacs, and superstitious fools. I studied the works of the reputed greats, seeking to apply their experiments, but Agrippa and the like concealed their understanding so well that I often began to doubt their authority on these matters.

I shall do you the courtesy of explaining what is happening to you, but forgive a late old man his digressions. Opportunities to converse are rare, but I shall hurry.

Suffice it to say that, despite the challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff, I slowly opened the curtain and tapped the forces beyond. I brought the spirits of the Goetia to heel, journeyed beyond my flesh, and slowed my ageing to keep me almost suspended in the middle of my years. Almost.

Even my extended lifespan would not permit me to complete my work. A mortal life was insufficient to bring as much clarity to these realms as a Newton brings to ours. Thus, as decrepitude forced itself upon me, I searched ever more intently for a lasting solution.

I can feel you becoming heavy and cold as you read my words, unable to look away, your muscles wrested from your will. Dear reader, have patience. My tale – and your own – will be over soon.

On this matter all spirits I summoned were ignorant or refused to speak. There was little to guide me but legend and rumour. I felt the grave opening up before me, saw the pallor approaching closer in the mirror each day. When the Third Reich called upon me to aid their own occult obsession, I put aside my disdain for their foolish preoccupation with the spear of destiny and took the opportunity to avail myself of their resources. My senses were dimming, the delayed fate at hand.

And at long last, I found my solution hidden among meaningless rituals in recovered ancient documents. I was unable to complete my magnum opus before my flesh at last failed me, but I did achieve the vital first stage. I sequestered a portion of my spirit in a ring, anchoring myself to this world. The ring still on my finger now, in the coffin beneath you.

It is the echo of power in my ring that has drawn you here, and has been leaching you of your life since you began reading. I feel you becoming ever so weary. Save yourself the effort of trying in vain to stand, to look away, to call out, to run. It’s too late.

I wish you no ill will, but this is a necessary sacrifice. My work must be completed. Each life brings me one step closer to being able to continue, and you happened to be one of the unfortunate few amenable to my influence.

Your heart is beginning to slow, soon to stop. I can see through your eyes as your vision darkens at the seams. Let it wash over you. I can assure you from experience that it doesn’t hurt. I myself haven’t had so much as a headache for over seventy years.

I have no intention of following my own advice, but as for you, dear reader – rest in peace.

Trying To Talk

Jack paid for his groceries, ignoring the voice as he took the bag and walked out into crunching snow. It was something that had started to happen a while ago.

Mum dropped by with Brian earlier. She brought back some fans – the folding paper ones? He’s sweating like a pig.

Jack snorted, shaking snow from his boots before stepping indoors. That was Jessie’s voice, as it usually was. Sometimes it was Mum or Dad, and occasionally strangers. At first he’d been really worried; but it was only now and then, they weren’t saying anything nasty, and he knew it wasn’t real. They connected to form a loose sort of story – Mum meeting some bloke called Brian, recently them having gone to China or somewhere for a holiday. Apparently they were back now, and it was summer.

Next morning he stepped outdoors to slush trickling down the hill into gurgling storm drains. The grey sky had cleared and birds flocked overhead. Jack put on his leathers and rode out through the countryside.

You’re doing well. The sound of Jessie sighing, merged with the roar of the wind and the bike’s engine to ghostly effect. Remember when we pushed Mum in the pool? I think that was Tenerife. She screamed like the Wilhelm scream and the three of us couldn’t stop laughing. Then Dad came along and – he throttled past a tractor, missing the first few words of what followed – they broke up. Don’t blame yourself.

He stopped at the side of the road and took off his helmet. He frowned. So something had put their relationship under stress, something to do with him. Maybe this was the voices beginning to take a turn. He shook his head, rubbing his ear as though that was where they came from. He turned back, recalling the day last week with Mum, Dad, and Jessie. They were fine. That was real.

When he got home he splashed his face and looked in the mirror. He messed up his helmet-smoothed hair and stared into his reflection, leaning on the mirror with corded forearms.

‘Look,’ he said to himself, ‘you’re not going crazy. You’re just hearing stuff sometimes, that’s all. Ignore it. Nothing worth worrying about.’

Hey, Jack. Brian here. I’m looking forward to meeting

Jack turned the shower on full blast and sat on the rim of the bath, jamming his fingers in his ears until the voice stopped. The mirror frosted with steam. Jack drew a motorbike in the condensation then went downstairs, opened a beer with his teeth, and sat in the armchair by the fireplace drinking and tapping the electric fake coals with the poker, staring up at a cobweb on an exposed beam.

The next few bottles he used an opener for. Jessie always said that one day he’d chip a tooth. He’d done it last week to chuckle at Mum’s wince, then Dad did it too and she left the room. He set the empty bottles up like bowling pins and flicked them down. He turned the telly on to have some background chatter while he sank in the armchair, half watching, half listening to the rain outside the cottage pounding slate and asphalt like a stream falling from above. Sitting curled up in the flickering light of the TV – though he didn’t remember turning the lights off – he sank under with his last thought being that maybe he needed a change of scenery.

Jack woke up once to a loud buzzing and a stranger’s voice saying promising neurological activity, then went to bed. In the morning the air was crisp, the edges of leaves rimed with frost. He rode towards the coast, finding the roads remarkably clear. And free of potholes.

He parked his bike near the beach and sat with an ice cream watching the roiling waves. Yesterday’s upset seemed daft now. Getting so bothered about hearing something he knew wasn’t real. Though maybe it couldn’t hurt to get looked at. He nibbled the flake, spilling chocolate fragments on himself, then stood, brushing them off, and wandered along the stony beach.

They’d probably have a pill to shut it up for a mild case like this, he decided. It was just a bit of an annoyance. He heard Jessie for real on the phone enough.

After lunch he started to think about heading back and looked for his bike. It wasn’t where he’d left it. He went up and down the road checking he hadn’t remembered it a little off. Groaning, he went down a few alleys to make sure before he would call about a stolen motorbike. And all of a sudden, every parking spot in sight had a motorbike. His model.

His heart sank. It was getting worse. Visual, now. He went back to where he’d parked and that was the one spot left empty. He nodded to passers by, pretending nothing was the matter, and decided to head back to the cafe and wait until this spell passed. If it didn’t, he’d have to cross that bridge when he got to it.

The brisk walk around searching for the bike had made his feet ache, and his heart beat a furious tempo. He sat back in the cafe with another coffee, facing away from the street and its row of identical bikes. Looking at a kitschy little painting of a sail boat on the wall, he sipped coffee slowly so that by the time he finished it and turned round again this episode would be over. Once he got home he’d see a doctor. It was going too far now.

‘Jack!’ Jessie cried from the door. She sat opposite him, ruddy and windswept from the cold bluster.

‘Oh. Fancy seeing you here,’ he said. Assuming she was real.

‘Yeah. How long have you been here? Shame we didn’t know. I was going to warm up a minute and head back.’

‘Look, um. There’s something I should have told you…’

She frowned. ‘What?’

‘I think I’m -’ he said. She disappeared. He felt sick, hollowed out. He went outside. The excess bikes had gone, at least. His real one was where he’d left it. He got on and headed away.

As he sped past another Jessie at the side of the road, he heard her say wake up, throttled harder down the empty road hoping that it actually was as empty as it looked. Please just wake up. She sobbed and it started to rain. He pulled over, removing his helmet and letting himself get soaked. This was becoming all too much.

The leathers at his elbows and side started to peel away, eroding all the way through until there was a trickle of blood. He heard a phantom squeal of brakes and the helmet cracked in his hands.

I don’t know if you can hear me.

Wait. They’d had to sell Granddad’s old cottage. Why was he living there now? He dropped the helmet. A crowd of Jessies appeared and one gripped his hand. ‘They say it could be any day now,’ she said. Days. How many days had it been Saturday for?

He understood. A dreaming mind, skipping over the cracks in its imagined world.

He heard the beep of a heart monitor. Jessie gripped tighter as this world blurred like vaseline smeared on a camera lens. It was a warm, bright summer’s day as Jack opened his eyes.