Saturday, 28 February 2015

Suprise pictonaut bonus!

For in strange aeons, we all get a nice surprise and a potentially slightly more up beat ending but still with hideous connotations because reasons!

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The FINAL story.

I hear stories. Don't I? I've heard so many now. Everybody has one. Young, old, good evil, man, woman, child. They all have a story to tell, and have heard them all. All but one. This will be my last tale.

The teller, my last charge, my first, it’s all the same, is a child no more than six years on this Earth. She glides onto my little vessel without a glance to me, without a word and I settle in to my final journey. The oars strike the water silently as I wait for the child to begin.

She might as well remain silent, for I know her tale by heart before I hear it. She will be good, or evil; she will be proud, or ashamed. The details are inconsequential. But then, so are their tales, the final outcome is the same. The child will be incarcerated, left with nothing but herself until herself dissolves into nothing.

This one, though, I know the details. Without a word said by her, I know the father who went to wage war, the enemy who ordered her destruction, the man who arranged, the mother who committed it. The girl need not utter a sentence. But she will; they all do. Don't they?

I row on. The child stares ahead, as silent as the grave. Her continued quiet is beginning to become unsettling. They all talk. She might be mute, deformed or unlearned, but it would not matter here, not on my boat, not on my lake. She would speak, if she would but try. Yet she does not, and for the first time in all my long memory, which is extensive at the least, I am left solely with my own thoughts.

She is the last, and if she does not speak she will break a line of perfectly successful tradition, the extent of which she cannot imagine, that I can barely comprehend. Now I come to consider it however, what import can there be in tradition if you are the last? What harm can be done if she does not speak. It is her place to speak, but as a member of her race. What place does she have, what responsibility, if she is alone?

It is my place to ferry her, but if I will ferry none past this day, why must I ferry this girl? Why must I continue my charge at all? Who is there to harm if I let one child, one tiny, mute girl, go free? And what other chance would I have to find out?

For time immemorial, I have undertaken my role without question, without doubt, without variation. I have known nothing else from one end of existence to the other. And when it is over, so is my purpose. So am I. If it is to be that way, why should I know act, just once, just at the end, in this my final act, of my own free unfettered will? To just once feel that blissful freedom that humanity has had and squandered, would be sublime.

We have arrived and the small wooden box that has consumed all that have gone before her looms over the child. I should let her climb the ladder, I should close her inside, I should play my role. Yet I think now of what her mother said to me, and of all the stories I have ever heard, and I find that I do indeed pity this child.


And so I touch her gently on the shoulder as her foot lands on the first rung of the ancient wooden ladder, and slowly I move her aside. As I close the door of the cell upon myself, I wonder what it will be like to be unmade, to suffer the same fate as every man, woman and child, which is truly each and every one, that I have entombed here. But I think more of the child, of the kind of world she will return to, alone, frightened perhaps, but alive and free. A world without her parents, without her friends or her enemies, without rule and without order: a world without me, a world without death.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Pictonaut Feb 2015 Part 4

And so we finally say goodbye to the pictonaut, perhaps for all eternity. On the plus side, I have finally written a story with a happy ending. Oh no, wait, that aint me at all...

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The Final Stories 4

I hear stories. Four stories. Some light, some not, some long, some not, some sad, all important, none of consequence, all individual, none unique. This is not my task, but it is my lot and I accept it as the tellers must accept that they will tell. They always tell. Really, they want to and I wonder, in the lulls, in the silence between the words, do I want to listen? It has never seemed to matter to me before. If I want to or f I don't, they will tell and I will listen without judgement, without opinion.

This surprises some. They expect that it is my place to judge, that this is why I ferry them to the other side of the lake, to their fate. Perhaps a few even believe, all the way down to their core, rather than on the surface as most do, that if they tell a good tale, a true and righteous story, that I will turn around, that they can go free. It is not in my power to fulfil this desire though, even if I would wish it. I never wish it. It would be against nature.

This one, a stoutly young woman who has no place here in her own eyes, has hope that I can change the winds, but the belief is not there. In its place I can see the gaping chasm of her loss, and when she speaks, it is like the wind blowing through the bones of the dead.

"Oh, oarsman," she moans. "Pity me."

"I do not know how," I answer. It is true but still she lacks belief in my conviction. This one is sceptical but not by nature. She has been made that way.

"Then I shall teach you. I was married once, to a great, powerful man. He was wise and fair, true and bold. There were none who would think to pity such as I. And our daughter, oh she was magnificent. Golden hair and a smile to rival the sun. We were happy and our land was plentiful and free. But such good fortune draw jealousy like sweetmeats draw wasps, and with it comes the sting.
"The war was bloody and terrible thing, I know. You must be aware of this, you must have seen so many, the victims of this treat injustice, the prisoners of our enemy. Our fairy tales are lies, fantasies for our gullible children. War is not a pastime for great men. It is the regime of the fool and the coward. Many good people have died for our lost cause, and perhaps they should gain your sympathies more than I. But I ask of you now, who had more to lose?
"It's okay, I don't expect a response. I am selfish I know. When I think of all those who have given themselves in protection of our way of life, only to fail, I know that it is we, their rulers, who failed them in not laying down arms and seeking a peaceful solution. There can be no winners in war.
"But despite all this oarsman, I deserve your pity still, for the things that hideous man did to me. Before they took my husband from me, he took my dignity. He took my will, he shredded my resolve. And when it seemed there was nothing left of me to destroy, he stole my womanhood. Perhaps if I had been left my husband we might have been able to rebuild something from the wreckage, but it is not to be. Not in a war such as this. The Earth is scorched."

She knows nothing of what happened to her tormentor, nothing of what passed between him and her husband, nothing of what bought him to their meeting. I have heard all of these things, but it changes nothing. I row on to the end.

"But if you cannot pity me, then I implore you to pity my child. She was there, at the start at least. She was beautiful and whole. I could see her face, throughout all the evil that was done to me, I could see her reaction, her fear, her distress. If he destroyed me, there is no term for the nothingness which my daughter became. How could she remain after what she saw? How could she continue? She died, long before the knife... Oh god, oarsman, the knife.
"By the end, I asked him, me! myself! I begged him to murder my child, my own daughter. I pleaded with him to end her suffering. But he wouldn't. He just kept going, kept punishing me, forcing her to watch. Finally, when I barely had the strength to stand any longer, he placed the knife in my hand.
"I did what I must oarsman. Nothing could be so hideous, so repulsive, but she was gone, she had died days before. But perhaps it was the right thing, if only... if only you will take pity on her, perhaps there is still hope."

I sit, as unmoved as I must by necessity be. She sees this in me, she knows how it must be. The realisation starts as a speck of air in her deepest, most still waters and rises and grows until it engulfs her at the surface. With all hope lost to her, there is nothing of the woman left as she climbs into her cage. Before I have even returned to my boat, she is gone.

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And that's it. The end. I promise. No more. Or is it...?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Pictonaut Feb 2015 Three

It can't end! It won't end. But it must end. One week left to say goodbye to the pictonaut.

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The Final Stories 3

I hear stories. Four stories. Each one is as timeless as the ocean, each one is new to my ears. They all carry a mass about them, which gives them gravity. Some are the peas under blankets, unnoticed and unwanted and some are world eating black holes, tearing their way through space. Most are neither of these, most are the same, personal and profound only to the teller. Yet they tell me and all believe theirs to be the most earth shattering, the truest, the greatest, of its own magnificent category, rather than simply one in four.

This one is weighed down greatly and I worry my tiny vessel will buckle under the strain of his story. He is slight and timid, but there is a coldness around him, something inhuman. Still, morality has not left him entirely; whether that be his version, someone else's, it is impossible and meaningless to say, yet it is morality nevertheless. He has been stoic in the past, this is clear from the way he holds himself, bent towards me at all times, eager, even desperate, to speak his piece, to have me listen, to cleanse his soul. While I cannot give him all he would wish, I do listen as he speaks.

"I am long past redemption, oarsman?"

This one is direct. Some time, not so long distant, he became acutely aware of his own self. He has no mask left to hide behind, open raw and honest as he has become. If it were in me to like, I would like him. As it is...

"I cannot say," is all I can offer.

"You will not say. It's fine. I know it is so. I have come to accept it. I have done so much. Great swathes of my life are now nonsensical to me. When I look at all the harm I have done, the evil I have perpetrated against my fellow man, woman and child, I find it hard to believe I was once a mother's son, a sister's brother. I look at the child I once was and I do not recognise myself in him. Such a normal childhood, such a happy boy. I could blame hardship, war, any number of things beyond my own control. But that is what it comes down to in the end: my own control. And whether I am good or evil, that is, ultimately, all I can control.
"I lost that control. In times where you can see good people do terrible things, evil men and women triumph, it is easy to lose sight of the right path. And when you are lost in the woods, you will take heed of anyone who offers to be your guide. All any of us want out of life is truth and purpose. Well, I took the lie to gain the latter. It's so clear to me now, who she truly was, the one that lit my way in dark times, that I find bit hard to see just how I could have been so blind in the past. She was a viper, and I was intoxicated by her venom.
"I cannot blame her for my succumbing to her charms. It was my own weakness, my own ignorance and fear that led me astray as much as it was her twisted will. And twisted it was. When I think back to the time I spent with her, it pains me, physically and actually, to recall it. The things I allowed the woman to do to me alone were unthinkable to any rational human being; those things I did her name, unpardonable."

I have met this woman. An objectionable woman, she has burned her way through here as though the flame of her fury would set her free. And perhaps, in the end, it did.

"There was another woman, I must tell you; I must tell someone. She was a sweet girl, and her child too was a precious thing. Oh, they were so very fragile, the both of them. And brave too, in the face of horrors that no man or woman should witness. My mistress asked me to dispose of them, gave free reign to my malice, the hatred I have nurtured for my enemy, and made it quite clear I was to be... creative. And I was.
"They screamed, oarsman, at first. They cried terribly, channelling sounds that I have not heard animals in an abattoir make. But that did not last long. And afterwards,  the silence that followed was long and terrible. I feel more repugnance at that silence now than I ever could at the shouts of agony that still reverberate in my ears. For my troubles, my mistress betrayed me. Seeing the end approach, she knew I was more of a liability than a boon, and if I ever thought otherwise then I was a fool as well as a coward and a villain.
"So she sent me out to war, out to die. I had no training and no chance. It was not long before I was lying in a sea of blood; my own, my allies', my enemies'. A man, a great man, and our greatest enemy, offered his hand to me in my direst need. He helped me more than he knew. He eased my suffering and he opened my mind. It is time to pay my penance."

He is correct. We have arrived at the other side, from his freedom to his persecution. He steps into the box that will confine him without argument or hesitation. His guilt defines him now, but in time it will diminish, and he will fade with it. There is a portion of the world that does not morn losing him. It is ignorant. Nevertheless, the next time I visit this place, the box will be empty.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Pictonaut Feb 2015 two

The tales continue for as long as they can... which is about 2 more weeks after this. It makes me a bit sad, but still, I shall give the pictonaut the best send off I can.

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The Final Stories 2

I hear stories. Four stories. The people that tell me these tales are as varied and as similar as their tales themselves prove. The eyes that linger on me now are sharp and sinister. Never have they stared me down before; so often I have seen them in the past. The form that glides without effort into my charge is powerful. The woman to whom it belongs was once also, or perceived herself to be. Without doubt, that misconception remains alive and vibrant within her mind.

The lady is poise, the boat is not disturbed as she steps into it and I need not pause before beginning her journey. I wonder for a moment, would she have rocked it had she understood her plight then? Yet no; her feline grace is in her nature. This one will bear her fangs, will beat against her cage, will bite and claw and scratch. Her careful posture, her practised  control will break down in the face of her confinement. But all that is to come. For now, her tale must be told, and with her eyes fixed on my form, doing their best to wither me to nothing, and failing, she begins,as she must.

"Do you pity me oarsman?" she asks of me. As it always is, the question is not for me.

"I pity none," I tell her. The simple truth, as ever.

"Good. I have no use for it. There is no time for pity when winning a war. And now it is won, and the victors tidy their little monsters like me away, swept under the rug of the world along with their enemies. I am forgotten, discarded, as dangerous to those who remain above as their most ruthless enemy. Perhaps you think me mistreated, perhaps you think this cruel or unfair. Do not waste such pity on me. I am joyous in our victory even now.
"I am a weapon, sharp and true. I hit my marks, every one, through force, guile, cunning, but always dead centre of the target, every job done without compassion, without pity. Peace is upon us now, it is not a time for weapons. I must be put away, disposed of. This is right, this is just. Although I have held the world in thrall with my fury, I am unclawed with such ease. My time is over now. It was glorious while it lasted though. Men and women have cried my name in ecstasy and agony, but never in pity, nor shall it ever be. Which might you, I wonder? Fear or joy?"

I do not respond to her taunts and she draws silent, speaking, as she was used, with her taut, poised form and her burning tigress eyes. Every oar stroke takes the force from her gaze and replaces it with something else, something less. I should have quivered, in her eyes, I should have cowed. But I have not, and my inaction is as a thin blade through her cracking armour.
The silence becomes palpable and she begins to feel the approach of the end, her time to tell her tale running short. With my mind's eye I can see the weight of the stories that press upon my passengers. Hers weighs heavy still, she has more to tell. I slow my pace so that she might continue at her leisure. This is not required of me, it does not have to happen this way, and yet, it always has and always will.

"I had a man once, a servant you might have called him. He did serve. He was a mess of useful qualities - loyalty, fanaticism, flexible morality - that I honed into the perfect tool. He had a desperate need to please me. He did please me. As much as I could ever be pleased. That is to say, he served my purposes well. With the discipline I taught him, he became capable of any task.
"There was a task I had him perform. A child, she was to be the successor of our enemy. He was to take her in the night, right out of her crib, and then... I left the rest to his own devices. He did not disappoint. After that I knew I had him, his life. I did have him. And before my liege disposed of me to this quagmire, I a used tool, too sharp for the child of peace to play with, I disposed of him in my turn, he a tool too blunt to be of use in anyone's hands but my own."

I have known the servant in my time. Broken in his own way, his cracks and blemishes are as nothing to him now.

"You see, keeper - yes, I know who you are - I comprehend the order of the world, the place we all have and parts we must play. I recognise the futility of fighting against the greater plan. This is something a man in your unique position must respect. I am ready to take my place, if you are to take yours."

I do not respect this woman. I cannot, not for any reason of her own, but because I respect none. It is as useless as the pity she denies. In time, such a truth may reveal itself to her. In time, she may realise the hate that has fuelled her existence will now be fuel for the fire in which she shall burn.

She is serene as she folds her large and powerful frame into the  cramped confines of her final prison. Serene now, but soon the fire will start. She will burn bright and hot in her rage. All her thoughts of order will come to nothing as her own hate incinerates her, until all that remains is a white hot trail of smoke, still smouldering, bright and intense. And then, all that there can ever be. Nothing will remain.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Pictonaut Feb 2015 one

This month the pictonaut concludeth. An era is coming to an end. A bloody and terrible end.

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The Final Stories.

The first.

I hear stories, four stories. They vary infinitely in detail, in character, in scope, but they share heart, four hearts. I do not ask for them, I do not want them, but I do not begrudge them being passed on to me. People want their stories to be known. They want their lives to continue on without them. They want meaning and think they can gain it from other's approval. They all of them, each one, think themselves unique, individual, their tales never before told. But they are always the same, one of no more than four. I row, they speak, I listen, they finish, I leave, they end. This will never change. There will never be anything new. I have heard it all before.

This one gets into my boat and I can see his story before he even begins. He is righteous and he is proud. These are the most difficult, they tend to get emotional, he may even cry. His long blonde hair is caked with blood and mud, honest mess from a worthy cause, I have no doubt. Or rather, he has no doubt. I have no interest. He steps and sits and the boat rocks for a moment. I like to wait for it to settle before I begin. It adds gravitas to the moment, the pathos of the gliding motion across the lake, almost ethereal. He is stoic for the moment. He thinks me beneath his tale, perhaps he thinks all things beneath him. No matter. I shall enjoy the silence while I have it and revere the moment as it deserves. In time, he speaks.

"I am wronged, am I not?" he tells me. It is not a question so I shall not supply him with an answer.
"It is not for me to say," I say with truth. It is all I shall say. I will not interrupt him in his journey again.
"Nevertheless, it is so. What crime have I committed? Murder? I have slain those that would slay me, those that would slay my people. I am a leader, responsible for those I command. Are they guilty? Are they criminals? They did nothing but protect themselves, protect their country and their king.
"People have died, it is true, and it is regrettable. But they did not die in vain and they were not murdered in cold blood. We must all come to our end, and if that end is justified, is purposeful, then so are the means and the time.
"My life has been a good one I am sure. I have stood upon the field of battle, stained in blood not all my own. I saw the slain around me, friend and foe, and it mattered not, the day was lost. But the fight was a good one and had to be fought, must be fought again. I saw a man stretching out his arm, an enemy, alive and in need of help. I was the only able body in sight, so I went to him. He was a brother in the making of history that day, and though he had chosen to murder, to oppress, I helped the man as best I could."

I have met this man already, ferried him as I must. He spoke of my current charge's mercy with fondness.

"I have been able to look my wife and child in the face and say 'I have done my best for you'. She did not see it that way. She could not see the need for killing, she did not understand my part, the necessity that I was at the front line. I risked losing her to continue in my calling. In the end, I have lost her and my child, I have lost everything for I have lost the war. But I treated my family with love and I have begun the work that will hold them above the tides of evil even once I'm passed.
"The heat of war lies still against my cheek. It shall keep me warm through any torment that might be delivered to me here. I have right on my side, and such a man cannot be broken. I have led the life laid out to me, the right and proper path, and if any are at fault it is fate, it is justice and not me."

We have arrived at this man's final destination and he has begun bargaining, pleading in his own way, just as all those who tell his tale do. I can give him nothing he asks for and shortly, his desperation will succumb to anger and he will posture and threaten. It will change nothing. None has power here.

"Know this priest! I shall return from this to complete my work. No box can hold me immemorial. The gods are with me. I asked for rain and they sent a flood, I asked for grain and they filled my ships with wheat. I have asked for victory, and perhaps you think the deities have turned fickle on me and ignored my prayers. But rest assured that to be brought here by the likes of you is only to put me closer to those above. I will pray for my freedom and they will grant it. I will rise from this murky cave triumphant."


He does not understand. He thinks me what I am not. He shall not return from this place and somewhere inside of him, he knows this to be true. Over time the realisation will dawn on him and he will start to let go of justifications, excuses. He will lose his cause, his purpose, his memories will fade until, in time, there is nothing of him left. It is an exquisite torture. I will come to his box then, the one I open now, barely big enough for him to squat inside, the last thing he shall ever know. I shall come to it with another soul and it will be waiting, empty.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Pictonaut Jan 2015 - Subjects.

Here we go again, the end of the first month of the new year and yet I'm indulging in an old habit from the last one. So what? It shouldn't all be change every January, that would be arbitrary and foolish. And this is a fun little diversion for which I am almost always late. I suppose I could have tried changing that this year, but let's not fart against a thunderstorm, eh?

Without further ado, here is my story for this months pictonaut!

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"Proceeding to disembark."
Captain Rayleigh stepped out of the landing capsule and into the thin, and toxic, air of an alien climate. A few deep breaths assured him that his suit was secure, doing its job keeping him alive. Despite his training, this was always a moment of great anxiety for him, when he was forced to trust his life to engineered polymers that he didn't fully understand.
"Is everything ok, Matt?" The call came from H.Q. on Earth, how many miles away?
"All systems check out. Closing up the pod." There was a comforting hiss of static every time the captain finished a message. It felt real to him, honest, an imperfection that proved the universe still ran as it should. It came in again, that familiar hiss, the proceeding rush of air before the information train.
"Great Matt. Proceed to testing site." Hiss. Then, quieter, "Turn around."
"Sorry, H.Q. Can you repeat that last command?" Hiss.
"Proceed to testing, captain." Hiss. Rayleigh waited for more. None was forthcoming.
"Understood," he said.

Ahead of Captain Rayleigh lay a flat expanse of thin blue fuzz, something like grass, on a dusty pink, iron oxide plain. He took a moment to devour the sight. A whole new world, unexplored, untouched. He was the first human being to tread upon this ground. How many would follow, he wondered? And how long would this one last?
Hiss. "Can you see it?" Hiss. The voice had gone quiet again, barely audible over the static, but the captain was sure he'd made it out right.
"Not yet," he replied.
"Say again." Hiss.
"I don't have a visual on the test site yet. Let me get over this hill." Hiss.
"Right, Matt. Keep us posted." Hiss.
He headed out towards the ridge in the distance, beyond which would be the equipment that was put down before him, or what was left of it.

Beyond the rise lay the depths of a crater, probably older than thee Earth itself, wide and eroded smooth by billions of years of dusty winds. It was incredible that it was there at all. Nestled inside the great expanse, near dead central like some astronomical Russian doll, was the few meter wide landing site of the equipment module.
"I have a visual. Module looks intact. Proceeding now." Hiss.
"Understood." Hiss. "Do you see it? Turn around." Hiss.
"I say again, the module is ahead. I have a visual." Hiss.
"We copied you, captain. Is everything alright over there?" Hiss.
"It's fine. I'm opening the module now." Hiss.
Matt's chunky gloved hands made heavy work of punching the poorly designed, tiny buttons on the side of the sleek black capsule. After some false starts, the module split in half and revealed the secrets hidden within.
"Everything looks in one piece." Hiss.
"Great captain. Proceed with the construction of the device." Hiss. "The sun." Hiss.
"Say again command. The what?" Hiss.
"The device Rayleigh. Can you proceed with mission?" Hiss.
"Constructing the device." Hiss.

An unavoidable part of Captain Rayleigh desperately wished he could not proceed with the mission. Being so far from home, in such a high stress scenario, he could not prevent his mind wondering to happier, simpler times, with no responsibilities, before he knew the word 'subspace'. That five year old child who wanted nothing more than to impress his best friend with the frog  he had found, real and live, maybe the last of its kind, had not even an inkling of what he would become, lost in the depths of space, about to construct the most destructive weapon mankind had ever devised.

"Behind you." Hiss. "Look behind you." Hiss.
"Say again, H.Q." Hiss.
"No message sent, captain. How is it coming." Hiss. He was dragging his feet.
"Almost there command." Hiss.
No message sent? But had been sure they had transmitted. There was no one else on the channel, no one for light years to communicate with, and Matt certainly wasn't losing his mind. Was he? He shook it off, concentrating on his work. The setting of the primer on the device required a very specific sequence of precise manipulations to succeed. One mistake and the bomb would be useless, or worse, far too useful far too soon. Radio silence was necessary for absolute concentration.

The captain took a screwdriver from the modules toolkit and began opening an access panel on the device.
"Turn around. Do you see it? Look at it." Hiss.
"Request continued radio silence. H.Q." Hiss.
"Radio silence is maintained captain." Hiss.
Like hell. What were they talking about? Look at what? Once again he shook the thoughts from his head. Matt removed the access panel and began the work of setting the primer.
"Look, look. Turn around and look." Hiss.
"H.Q. Advise on possibility off cross chatter from foreign sources." Hiss.
"No possible radio chatter except from H.Q. and yourself. Twenty minutes to planned detonation. Are you about done there?" Hiss.
"Working on it now." Hiss.

Captain Rayleigh finished the wiring and prepared to reattach the primer to the device. This was where things most often went wrong in the simulations. Matt sweated inside his suit.

"Look. Behind you. Look at the sun!" Hiss.

What off Earth?! Matt caved in and spun on his heels, fighting against training and instinct to stare into the sun.

"What the hell?" Hiss.
"Say again captain." Hiss.
"Square?" Hiss.
"Captain. Stay on mission. Is the device complete? Our screens show no communication?" Hiss.
"Square." Hiss.

Captain Matthew Rayleigh referred to the sun. Large, red, square and hollow. He couldn't believe his eyes. It made no sense. It was impossible. And then, he began to remember, who he was, where he was, where he was from.

Hiss. "Ca... igh... er..." Hiss. "Ou..." Hiss. Hissssssss. The static turned to a whine and then a scream, a terrible cacophony of sound and pain within the captain's head. Then all was dark and silent and eternal.

* * *

"Simulation failure. Subject terminated at oh nine hundred hours," the lieutenant said to her general. The team had run test after test. Every other simulation went off without a hitch. But you pushed them too far, asked them too much and their minds couldn't take. Something caused these men to die in the 'World Eater' scenario, every single time. To die again.

"Your mission is a failure general. They will not take to the conditioning."

"Ma'am, it's just the one scenario," the general protested.

"The one this whole project was designed for. The one the president is most anxious to succeed."

"That's exactly why we need more time. You can't entrust this mission to untrained thugs!" The general raged, but he new it was in vain. She was right, he had failed.

"Time is up, general. We'll use prisoners as advised. Your soldiers shall remain in the ground where they belong, and this grotesque zombie factory will be shut down.


The president's aide saw herself out and the general moved over to the coffin like capsule that contained the no longer reanimated corpse of Captain Matthew Rayleigh. Twice the man beneath the general had died, and both times for nothing. This would mean the end of both of their careers.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Pictonaut- Oct 2014 - Dance, Devil! Dance!

Another month, another pictonaut. This is the time of ghosts and goblins, and good old John the Crazy has given us a picture appropriate for the time of year. As ever, I started writing and then never stopped. I have so many ideas for this one that I think I'm going to NanoWrimo it (because I hate sleep!). Anyway, here is my story for this month, part 1 of a much larger project. Enjoy.


"Dance, Devil. Dance!
To Old Nick's pipes.
Don't look, don't look,
At his face of ghostly white.

Dance dance, Devil!
Hear hooves clip clip.
Don't look, don't look,
At the body made of stick.

Devil! Dance! Dance!
On eve hallowed.
Don't look, don't look,
Or he'll take away your soul."


Pound, pound, pound! Roland's heart thumped against his chest in rhythm to his tugs on the wooden board nailed firmly across his door. He had done all he could: the doors were boarded, the windows blacked out, the children in a peaceful, drug induced sleep, the luckily little bastards. Still, there was nothing he could do to quieten the anxiety, that open tap of adrenaline pouring straight into heart and brain. He would not sleep tonight, nor would anyone in town. With everything prepared and checked and checked again, Roland slumped his body, alert yet fatigued, against his barricaded front door and did the only thing he could do now, the only thing anyone with any intelligence in them would be doing tonight, and listened for the pipes.

In this eerie silence before it all began, Roland thought he could feel the hearts of all the village beating with his own, sounding out a tattoo to keep the pipes in time. All he was for this one night was his heart, his breath and his will. This was the same as ever, he supposed, but the reallisation of it now was immediate and raw, stripping away the hopeless fantasies of self importance, of power and control, which we protect ourselves with everyday. Breathe, eyes shut tight, stay alive; that was the whole world.

Sound began to creep its way through the cracks in Roland's walls, and he pushed his ear against the solid pine of his front door, made icy cools my thus autumn evening beyond. Don't look, he repeated to himself, don't look, just listen. Don't look! Roland listened for the pipes.

Something was wrong. At first, Roland refused to believe he own senses, and pushed his ear hard into the wooden door to prove his mistake. He strained to hear the pipes, he should have heard the pipes. For the first time in his entire life he found himself desperately wishing to hear the wretched pipes. But wish as he might, there was no denying that's not what he heard.

"Hello!"

It was a man. An ordinary man from an ordinary place. A dead man.

* * *

The mist had seemed to stroll into town along side Mr. Utland, keeping pace with him, clinging to his ankles as he dragged it through the streets; the far too empty streets. Mr. Utland glanced up the road, a valley between sloping gardens topped by pleasant rural houses; and down it, into foggy blindness. There wasn't a soul or a sound beyond himself and his footsteps.

"Hello!" he called out. There was no response. Mr. Utland tried to peer into the windows of the houses as he passed them, but they were all too dark to see inside. Or so he had thought at first. When he caught the glint of a streetlamp across the front bay window of one house, he saw that rather the pitch black penetrating deep into the building, it did in fact form a skin across the interior of the glass. They've blacked them out, Mr. Utland thought, every one of them.

Mr. Utland was struck by this decidedly odd behaviour and stopped to consider his situation for a moment. The fog paid no heed to his change in momentum, and rolled on at the same gentle pace, off towards the bottom of the street. Puzzlement was not all that impeded Mr. Utland. He had been walking a good long while now, looking for somewhere to rest his head for the night. He was moments from giving up, dusk falling and robbing him of his sight to travel by, when he had come across this village, a minor miracle for which he sent out praise to any minor deity who mightbbe listening. But now he was done, this was the end of his road. Mr. Utland sat on the side of the road and took of his shoes, exposing his overheating, sweaty feet to the cool evening air. He took out a silver case from his breast jacket pocket and flicked it open to reveal the cigarettes and lighter inside. Lighting up, Mr Utland breathed the smoke in deep and listened hard to the barely audible peace of the countryside, calm and silent.

Except that it wasn't silent. Mr. Utland thought he might he going mad, but he was certain he could make, just on the edge of his hearing, a sound of something out of place. He strained and cocked his head and, yes, he was sure, he could hear pan pipes softly playing on the breeze.

* * *

Roland had heard the pipes so many times before that he felt attuned to them, as though he could feel the sound in his mind, his soul, before his ears truly caught sound of them. And Roland knew, he knew, that the pipes had begun the minute the stranger had called out. A handful of moments later and this was confirmed by his more conventional sense.

Whoever this outsider was, he was done for, already beyond help as the pipes grew clearer. The Devil take him, Roland thought. At least the village, my children, will be spared. But he was an innocent, vulnerable and unaware. Could Roland really live with himself if he just allowed this man to be taken? Wouldn't he be culpable? But then he had his kids to think about, and anyway, there were plenty of other people who could help. But they weren't helping and weren't likely to. Who would?


I would, Roland found himself thinking, taking himself completely by surprise. Without giving himself time to hesitate Roland grabbed the nearest piece of cloth to hand, (and old woolen scarf) and a small switch blade from the table in his hallway and, after prying the boards off his front door, threw it open and hurtled headlong into the street.

* * *

Mr. Utland took one last, long drag on his cigarette and stubbed it out on the curb he was perched on. Slowly, he exhaled and watched as his tobacco smoke swirled and mixed with the fog, until he couldn't tell what was water vapour and what was poison.

He could hear the pipes clearly now, and was listening to them. with fixated pleasure when the attack came. Perhaps, had he not been so enthralled by the mysterious piper's tune, Mr. Utland would have heard the hurried steps that came towards him. But he could hear nothing but those magical pipes, and when the hit came, a full body's weight being smashed into his own, it knocked all the wind, and all the fight out of him.

"Don't look!" his assailant cried. Mr. Utland, reeling from the shock of the impact, just caught a clumped of a length of woolen material before it was wrapped tight around his head and eyes.

"Get up!" he was ordered. "Don't look!" There was little he could do but comply. "Move!" came the final command. This seemed a step to far to Mr. Utland.

"I can't..." he began, but a strong shove proved to him that he most certainly could, and the knife he felt to his throat a moment later demonstrated that he most certainly would. All the while the pipes grew louder.

Mr. Utland half staggered, was half dragged up the banking garden he had sat beneath. More than once in the brief but difficult journey he stumbled and the blade at his neck nicked his skin. He cried out when he fell to his knees finally when they reached the top of the lawn and he tripped on the bottom step leading up to the porch. His captor put his hand around Mr. Utland's mouth and leaned into him.

"Shut up!" he demanded and Mr. Utland complied. They stayed like this for a while, Mr. Utland blindfolded and gagged, the man behind him almost motionless, as though he were waiting for something, or listening for it.

Mr. Utland listened too, and again he was caught in the spell of the pan pipes. He felt a desperate, illogical need to see where such a sweet melody was coming from, like he was hoeing his breath and all he wanted to do was give in to the natural impulse to breathe deep, cool lungfulls of air. Mr. Utland's hand went instinctively to the scarf around his eyes.

"No," his captor hissed into his ears. "Don't look. Don't look." The attacker pushed the cold steel against Mr. Utland's face to emphasize his point, all the while repeating his mantra under his breath. Don't look, don't look.

A new sound floated down the empty street and into Mr. Utland's conscious, as feet tapping against the tarmac. Not feet though, the sound was too hollow, more a pair of clicks than thuds, like hooves, Mr. Utland thought, but there were definitely just the two of them, so that could not be.

The assailant's chanting increased in speed. Don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look. For what felt like minutes, they remained like this as the clip-clop, clip-clop got closer and closer. In a moment it would be right on top of them. Mr. Utland and the knife man both tensed.

The noise stopped. The assailant slouched down to his knees, the knife slipped from Mr. Utland's throat. Then came the scream, loud and high and echoing from every building, every tree, every car, every wall, such that it was a few moments before Mr. Utland realised that it had stopped before the second echo, cut short at the height of its crescendo. The echos faded and the village was silent again.

"What..." Mr. Utland began, barely able to speak. "What was that?"


"Someone looked, " Roland said. "Someone always looks."