One Bite at a Time

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Time gets away from you while your back is turned. We’re already three weeks into 2019 and I’m already miles behind where I want to be. I have at least three short stories in variously unfinished states. I have a story I wrote back in 2017 long overdue for editing. I promised a couple of book reviews to friends. I have a newsletter to prepare.

Oh, and I put myself on the hook to write a novel this year. I haven’t started it yet.

What prompted this bout of self-recriminatory checklisting noticing that I haven’t written a single blog post here since later October. While I am pleased not to have missed a weekly #fridayflashfiction post, three months is a long time for me to go without publically musing on the state of my writing work.

I suspect many contributing elements; exhaustion, stress and Australia’s increasingly off-the-charts summer heat are among them. (It’s crazy-hot here at the moment, folks).

Really though, it all comes back to one thing: resistance. I’ve been putting off breaking soil on the novel for several months now. I’ve told myself to get all the other niggling jobs out of the way, so there’s nothing to distract me from the Big Project for 2019.

Clear the decks. Sweep away the distractions. Something something Marie Kondo probably.

Yeah, nah.

My cunning strategy to demolish all niggling sources of procrastination has failed on two counts: one, I just procrastinated on the small stuff instead; and two, new small stuff emerged.

In retrospect it should have been obvious this was a terrible idea. I keep waiting for a big chunk of free time that I can commit to a big project, but it’s a delusional notion. A windfall of spare time isn’t coming any time soon, and pleasant daydreams don’t write books.

Waiting for a break in the weather is just another stalling tactic. It’s an almost perfect expression of procrastination: “I’m definitely going to do the thing. I just need to get off to a good start.”

Note to self: the only good start is the one that happens, not the one that will happen.

As soon as I post this email, I’m going to open a Scrivener file and type the first sentence of the first draft of my new novel. And, after that, I’ll type the next sentence. I’ll fit them in between whatever else I have to do.

And if I keep doing that every chance I get, I’ll have something to show for it beside apologetic blog posts.

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Friday flash fiction – Argus

At dawn every morning, Alexi Leadbeater rises alone, stokes the boilers, loads the camera and autocannons, and pilots the Midnight Sonnet toward the Argus Jungle, to search for Vijay.

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Harroway, the squadron commander, doesn’t approve of these excursions. The war is not going well, and he can’t afford to lose another flyer. But the Leadbeater name carries weight, and the costs come from Alexi’s own pocket, so he has little choice but to turn a blind eye. The twinge of guilt Alexi feels at putting him in that position is not sufficient to keep him grounded.

The risk of an enemy encounter is minimal. Both sides consider the jungle to be hostile ground. It’s not worth fighting over, either strategically or literally. Nobody cares but Alexi.

He pushes the gyro-flyer high, staying above the wispy morning clouds as the sun rises. The thin air bites; Alexi breathes deeply between chattering teeth and occasionally pulls at the flask magnetically affixed to his instrument panel. The rough moonshine warms his blood, melting the distracting freeze and helping him focus on the search.

Only when he is over the Argus proper does he descend. Now he’s too far from human eyes to attract unwanted attention. Not war-born attention, at any rate.

His first reaction each day is to form the same thought: the Argus is denser than ever. At first, he thought it was a trick of the light, or of his growing despair. He believed he was imagining it, but a few nights ago, his suspicions were confirmed.

Alexi had been drinking with Enderby; a botanist before the war had seen fit to make other use of him. As they grimly watched the rainbow fireworks of chemical artillery shells exploding on the horizon, battering the young soldiers of one side or the other, Enderby drained his fifth glass and rasped, “I’m afraid the Argus was my fault.”

Something in the distant brutality, or perhaps the corrosive grain liquor, had soured Alexi’s mood. He turned on the bomber captain. “What are you talking about? Your fault? A whole jungle?”

Enderby poured himself another with shaking hands. “It was …six months ago, I think? Not long before your squadron was assigned here. Field HQ wanted to turn the Argus into a flanking front but to move the foot-sloggers through they’d have to clear the jungle.”

Alexi understood. “You were assigned to blast the Argus with weedkiller bombs?”

“HQ was willing to tear up the ancient treaty for a tactical advantage,” said Enderby, unable to quash his bitterness. “A bad business. The Verklunder locals were up in arms, of course, they practically worship the forests. Nobody was happy about it though. Even Harroway questioned the orders, for all the good that did. When it became obvious a court martial for insubordination was on the cards, I volunteered my crew.”

“What? You flew the mission? But the Argus is -”

“Like I said, the Verklunders were angry. With so many of them in the ground crew, we’ll probably never know which one swapped out the payload. Boffins think it must have been alchemical fertilisers. The jungle doubled in size in less than a week. It’s still growing.” Enderby swallowed his drink and rose. “I’m damned sorry about Vijay, but we’ll never see him again. Nothing walks out of the Argus any more.”

The Midnight Sonnet dips low, over the treetops but not too close. The trees twist and gnarl, like claws ready to snatch a passing bird from the air. The thought is ridiculous but compelling. Alexi keeps his height.

His cautious elevation pays off handsomely. He catches a glint of metal and sees ribbons of silk flapping about the skeletal frame of another gyro-flyer.

He slides the Midnight Sonnet into a hover, inflates the gasbags and angles up the propellers to maintain his position. One glance through his binoculars at the upturned nose cone, the tripled shock cannons, and the tattered mural of a silver chrysanthemum confirm it. The crashed gyro is the Avenging Command. Vijay’s ship.

Alexi manoeuvres closer, until the Sonnet is directly above its fallen sister. He tosses a climbing rope overboard and clambers from the cockpit, sliding downward to the wreckage. As he passes, he sees the cavities gouged by enemy flak bursts, various scorch marks, and the neat stitches of bullet holes. No sign of a pilot though. He continues to the forest floor.

It’s night-dark beneath the canopy. Alexi is forced to ignite his phosphor lamp before he reaches the ground. He notes spongy, dense moss, and a constant dripping sound surrounds him, but he has eyes only for the trees. Their trunks are massive, the leaf coverage absolute, their branches overhead intertwined like noodles in a bowl.

One of them moves toward him, and before he can draw his pistol, he recognises it. Vijay’s uniform hangs in shreds from woody limbs; bunched leaves sprout from his bark-covered torso, and his round, familiar features have hardened and taken a chiselled look.

“You should not have come.” This hollow, jug-band voice like a breeze through a hollow is almost unrecognisable from Vijay’s baritone.

Alexi struggles to relax the grip on his revolver. “I came to bring you back.”

“I cannot return.”

Alexi searches eyes obscured by wood-knots for some hint of the old Vijay. “Come now, none of that talk. The company surgeon can remedy…this.”

“I do not wish to be remedied.”

Alexi puts a hand on Vijay’s shoulder, finding rough brittle bark where smooth dark skin had been. “The thing is, we need you back with us. I need you, Vijay.”

Vijay raises an arm like a breeze lifting a branch. He rests a hand of green digits and feathery leaves on Alexi’s shoulder. Fresh tendrils sprout from what were once thick fingertips.

“The Argus grows ever wider, Alexi. It spreads and grows strong.” The tendrils settle on Alexi’s neck and sink roots there.

“We will be back with them very soon.”


No real news this week, so this is just an occasional reminder to any new visitors that you can get my short story collection, featuring nineteen short and flash fiction stories as weird or weirder than this one, as a free ebook when you sign up to my newsletter. Just click on the link below:

Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales

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Friday flash fiction – In the Desert of Dry Tears

Two riders crossed the Desert of Dry Tears, whipping their mounts with a fierce urgency. The taller of the two was a Tythri woman with hard hands and dusky skin, called the approaching storm Ghul’akkar, the Bone Scourge. The towering clouds behind and webs of lightning spreading like claws overhead frayed her Westlander companion’s nerves.

https://pixabay.com/en/mati-desert-sky-sand-the-sun-3028375/

Hospitality obliged her to see to the Westlander’s protection, but Tythri were not ones to dip bitter words in honey. She told him, “Ride hard, foreigner. If it catches us, the storm will bear us skyward to strip off our flesh and drop our polished bones.” She indicated a stretch of white patches speckling the night-black sand to the dune horizon ahead. “My people call it Ghul’akkar’s Road. Your destination lies at its end.”

Colonel Cosmorris twisted the reins until they bit into his wrist. His sand lizard mount’s unfamiliar gait was a challenge to his horsemanship, not helped by the service pistol gripped tight in his other hand. “You’re certain of the direction, Lady Nephra?”

Nephra snorted. This Westlander! Pale and thin as salted soup, he was, with nothing of the desert baked into his papery skin.

“Only Greatmothers and Widow Aunts are ladies, Westlander. I’m just a guide, but I’ll lead you well enough. My people’s bones have paved this road for a thousand lifetimes.”

It was a slight exaggeration. The Tythri had served under the desert’s unforgiving skies for at least that long. Nephra would have done the same, if the elders hadn’t sent her abroad to study. Four years at the Conservatorio Esoterica in Penchant, studying Dry Climate Alchemy and Hex Engineering, broadened her worldliness and capacity to hold hard liquor, but withered her skills as a desert guide.

“It’s around here somewhere.”

“We’re going to die out in this hellish desert!” Cosmorris muttered, as flurries of sand began to whip about them.

“Many do.”

“I should never have accepted this wretched assignment!”

“Speaking of which, you were vague with the elders back in Ul-Tyth. What’s your business with the Unmapped Temple, Westlander?”

“It is a site of great antiquity and archaeological significance,” he declared, swelling proudly despite the skin-stripping wind and heat. “I intend to catalogue its relics and preserve them for posterity.”

Nephra frowned. “I don’t suggest that. This desert gets fiercely cold at night. It’s also crawling with manticores, obsidioids and hostile Salamandrian tribesmen. You won’t last a day on your own.”

Cosmorris waved her warning off with his revolver. “On my own? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll put some of the labourers on guard duty to ward off wild animals and whatnot.”

Nephra looked from one horizon to the next. Other than the gigantic storm bearing down, they were alone in the desert. “What labourers?”

Cosmorris rolled his eyes. “Your people, of course. Once we locate the temple, I’ll send a radio signal to Captain Pillwilmott to round up a suitable workforce to help with the fetching and lifting. A couple of hundred ought to do it.”

“Oh, I see.” Nephra eyed a narrow canyon between two sand-worn rock formations, about a mile off to their left. “Aha, that’s the way we need to go. Follow me!”

“I though you said the Temple was at the end of the road?”

Nephra shrugged. “Just a figure of speech. This is a short cut.”

Cosmorris thumbed the chambers to ensure his pistol was loaded and clear of desert grit, but he followed.

The high walls of the canyon provided temporary relief from both the sun as well as the rising storm winds. They dismounted, leaving their panting lizards to flop on the canyon’s cool sandy floor. Nephra pointed into the gloom. “At the far end is a door to the main chamber. We must offer prayers to propitiate Kur’Aphua, the temple spirit. She doesn’t always welcome interruptions.”

Cosmorris’ eyes narrowed. “You know these rites?”

Nephra smiled like a sunbeam. “Intimately.”

“If this is a trick, I’ll shoot you.”

“I think we understand each other.”

She stood before the stone door and intoned words of appeasement to Kur’Aphua. The door swung silently open.

“That’s it?”

“It wouldn’t be a very useful temple if it were hard to enter, would it? Come on before the storm catches up.”

She conjured a simple hand-flame, which illuminated the chamber. Its light flickered across two walls of gold-lined inscriptions. Beyond the flame’s borders lay more walls with embedded sarcophagi, scorpion statues and stone carvings, all adorned with more gold.

Cosmorris’ jaw dropped at the sight. “What treasures! This will make my career!”

“Is that so? Well, congratulations, I daresay.”

Cosmorris twitched his pistol suspiciously at Nephra. “What did you say?”

“That was me,” said a short Tythri woman with long braids, appearing from nowhere.

“Greatmother Kur’Aphua!” smiled Nephra, bowing warmly. “Auntie, I’ve missed you. May I present this Westlander, who wants to take your temple away for safekeeping across the sea.”

“Does he? That seems unnecessary. My temple’s perfectly safe right here.”

Cosmorris pointed his pistol at the spectral woman. “I claim these primitive trappings and burial offerings in the name of the Westlish Empire. Surrender them immediately.”

Ignoring the gun, Kur’Aphua turned to her descendant. “Nephra, did you bring him through the servant’s entrance?”

“Yes, Auntie.”

“Did you explain the curses that bind him and his followers in perpetual service to the temple?”

“Slipped my mind, Auntie.” Nephra pointed at Cosmorris’ shoulder satchel. “By the way he’s got a talking gadget called a radio that’ll bring his followers straight to you.”

Kur’Aphua clapped appreciatively. “That’s more convenient than turning into a jackal to hunt them down and drag them back. Go ahead, Westlander.”

Sputtering angrily, unable to resist the curse’s power, Cosmorris dropped his pistol and cranked the handle on his radio, “Come in, Captain Pillwillmott…”

Kur’Aphua turned to Nephra. “Thank you for the offering, dear one. It’s become quite dusty while you were away. But next visit, do you think you could appease me with some honey cakes? I love those.”


My household’s been bereft of phone and internet connections for a week, thanks to a lightning storm with poor timing and no sense of personal space. Hopefully it will have been restored by the time you read this, but the service centre has taught me a valuable lesson about not holding my breath. Anyway, if you happen to be waiting on a reply from me for something, I apologise and beg your indulgence for a couple more days. I will get to you soon, I hope.

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Friday flash fiction – The Antlion’s Nest and the Magpie Stratagem

The official cartographic record of the SPF Destroyer Queen Ranavalona referred to the thick band of icy, dusty rocks as Asteroid Belt KFPK-9, but when someone dubbed it “The Antlion’s Nest”, the name stuck.

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It was, decided Captain Herrea Talakhamani, an excellent place from which to watch and wait for prey.

“Summary reports, please,” she said as her senior officers sat for morning briefing. She hoped her bright tone concealed how rattled she felt by both the blazing conflicts outside the hull and the Captain’s-eyes-only dispatch from Fleet Admiralty.

“A quick overview, Captain.” First Officer Gaia Renshaw stood, waving her hands through a holographic map of the Kettery system. She highlighted the pocket of space around the Queen Ranavalona. “The Cha’sorva pursuit squadron knows we’re here, obviously, but their scanner technology can’t break our Bittik-Kintti chaff field. They dispersed into a search-and-destroy configuration shortly after arriving in-system. Big mistake. It left them completely exposed when the Sanxescene warp cruiser opened a gravity slide near the fourth planet.”

Strategic Operations Commander Nelson Quay added, “The Sanxescenes have vaporised half the Cha’sorva ships with quantum tunnelling missiles.” Giving the appearance he too had not slept for days, he mopped his forehead with agitated swipes. “All this activity has attracted attention. We’ve detected Fidimisi surveillance drones in the system fringes, the Gulthano Centerium sent a warteam of Sybil-class corvettes, and in the last hour we’ve spotted a Praeternaturalist Godship lurking in Kettery’s solar corona.”

Captain Talakhamani smiled at the new Chief Engineer. “Impressive, Commander Salk. Praeternaturalist cloaking technology is supposedly unbreakable.”

A ragged crack opened in the Jomokoro engineer’s granite-like face; Talakhamani had learned to read the apparent seismic catastrophe as a modest smile. “Only Inheritors of Wiosse knows how. We incorporates Inheritor subsensors. Now you knows also, Queen.”

“Excellent work, Commander. We are lucky to have you with us. Though I remind you again that I’m the captain. The name Queen Ranavalona refers to this ship.”

Stone flakes tumbled from Salk’s gritty shrug. Jomokoros considered a ship and its crew as indistinguishable components of a whole. Interchangeable and replaceable, but equally critical.

Talakhamani consulted her briefing notes. “Lieutenant Ephram, kindly outline our prospecting options.”

The bright-eyed specialist in applied theoretical physics bounced excitedly to her feet. “Captain, the Admiralty has standing orders to secure any and all Praeternaturalist technology, so -”

“For the last time, Lieutenant,” interrupted Commander Renshaw, “that directive only applies to fleets classified Herculean and above. We have one ship, not sixty.”

“Oh, right.” Lieutenant Ephram continued with breathless enthusiasm. “In that case, our sub-light propulsion systems haven’t been upgraded since our skirmish with the Unkaran Brigands eighteen months ago. I recommend we disable a Gulthano corvette and scavenge its tri-phase thindrive. With one of those babies bolted on, we could outrun just about anyone from here to Andromeda.”

The nods around the table outnumbered the frowns. “Very well, Lieutenant. Commander Renshaw, assemble a team for tactical analysis. I want a salvage plan in two hours. And see if you can include options for provoking one of the alien fleets to pick a fight with the Praeternaturalist vessel. Fleet Admiralty would kill for some combat data and we have ringside seats.”

“Yes, Captain.”

As the officers filed out, Talakhamani said, “Commander Quay, please remain for a moment.” She pretended not to notice her departing senior officers’ furtive exchange of worried looks.

When they were alone, she examined the sweat beading his brow for a long moment. “Nelson, please sit down. There’s something important we need to discuss.”

Commander Quay leaned forward confidently. “You’ve considered my suggestion of a deep-range infiltration into Grivenari territory?”

“I have. Hold that thought.” Talakhamani steepled her fingers. “Commander, please state Queen Ranavalona’s mission.”

Sweat now gathering in a damp ring around his face, Quay recited, “To engage hostile alien cultures, to acquire and evaluate alien technology and protect humanity at all costs.”

“Very good Commander.” Talakhamani waved up a political map of the galaxy. The small region of human-dominated space was surrounded on all sides by the red-shaded areas belonging to the genocidally hostile Cha’sorva, Bittik-Kintti, Sanxescene and dozens of others. “Humanity is under constant threat of extinction. As you know our only hope is the Magpie Stratagem: to obtain whatever we can to use against those who would destroy us. Are you aware I received a personally-coded transmission from Fleet Admiralty, for my sole attention?”

“Yes. All executive-level orders are routed through the senior StratOps officer-”

“Did you manage to crack it?”

Quay went quite still. “Captain, unauthorised access to closed orders is a breach of security protocols. Are you insinuating-?”

“I’ll take it you were unsuccessful then.” She flashed a hologram of the decoded message between them. Quay’s eyes remained fixed on Talakhamani.

“Twenty-four hours ago, Grivenari shapeshifters posing as senior Strategic Operations staff – from your command unit – attempted to open a wormhole between Fleet Admiralty headquarters in Boston and the centre of the sun. The attempt failed. StratOps rerouted the wormhole tail to Grivenari Prime and launched a Bittik-Kintti vortex annihilator through it.”

“They what?” Quay’s face fell and kept falling. His skin and hair drained off like melting butter, leaving a waxy orange head stricken with horror. “Grivenari Prime?”

“Is gone,” confirmed Talakhamani. “I’m grievously sorry for your loss. I wish it had not been necessary.”

“You knew I was Grivenari?”

“For months now. When we installed Doxomian genetic recognition systems to ship security, we left it out of the official record. You were marked when you came aboard.”

“Why accept the deception? You should have shot me as a spy.”

Captain Talakhamani grimaced. “What a waste that would be. You’re a highly trained infiltration specialist. As one of the last surviving Grivenari, your skills and knowledge are all but unique.”

“What are you saying, Captain?”

“I think we share a driving interest in survival.”

“The Magpie Stratagem?”

“Exactly,” said Captain Talakhamani, holding out a hand. “I’d like you to come and work for us.”


As I wrote this, it occurred to me the high concept is basically “What if the Enterprise was crewed by the Borrowers?” It feels strange to have an answer to a question like that.

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Friday flash fiction – Last Year Tomorrow

“There’s a problem with the New Year,” Penny McAlister told the new director. “Apparently it’s on hold.”

https://pixabay.com/en/whiskey-bar-alcohol-glass-scotch-315178/

Bill Temple had spent the entire night on the phone to the Minister’s office, working his way through a thirty year old bottle of GlenClaymore, negotiating with a series of junior ministerial staffers for a moment of the Minister’s time so that Bill could beg for another appointment.

With dawn came clarity; no reprieve would come. He was assigned to the least desirable position in the entire Australian Public Service: Director of the Ashburnham Office of the Department of Abnormal Affairs. With no choice but to put on a clean suit and a brave face, he strode into his office to find his assistant waiting for him with a glass of water, two ibuprofen tablets and a summary of the evening’s weird events.

“Thank you, Ms McAlister.” He gulped the pills, thinking longingly of the last few fingers of whisky left at the bottom of his bottle. When he felt more composed, he said, “Local celebrations fall outside our jurisdiction. Surely this is a matter for the town council?”

Penny, who was barely visible having pulled down the blackout curtains in the office and come to work dressed in what appeared to be an entirely black tuxedo with a dark leather hooded cape, replied, “You misunderstand, sir. I’m not talking about the new year’s party at the showgrounds. I mean that the concept of 2019 has failed to emerge.”

“The concept of-?”

“2019, sir. It’s not coming. We’ve got clairvoyant forecasts, dream analyses and pretemporal scans coming in from our Third Eyes allies around the globe. Nobody can see past midnight tomorrow.” She handed him a folder. “It’s all in the report.”

Bill squinted at the summary page on top, wondering how she would react to him asking to turn a light on. “We’re in a small country town in the middle of nowhere. Why is this our problem?”

“Because whatever is blocking the new year from arriving, it’s happening right here in Ashburnham, sir. We’ve got independent assurance on the geomantic positioning, and quantum triangulation esimates from Ottawa, Tokyo and Vegas. 98 percent confidence.” Penny showed her teeth in a not-quite-smile. “I’m afraid it’s very much our problem, sir.”

Bill cursed. Five of his predecessors in this job had disappeared without trace under mysterious circumstances. Ashburnham chewed DAA Directors up and spat them out, possibly literally.

“Well, if tomorrow’s the end of the world, you’d better call me Bill. Any chance of a-?”

“Ten strong black coffees coming up, Bill,” said Penny, switching on the light on her way out.

#

Mickey Blundell was a senior technical officer who looked like he’d just come in from mowing grassy verges along the highway. “G’day, Bill,” he said as he spilled maps and glassy rocks across the meeting room table. “I’m the geomancer. I’ll take you through what we’ve got so far, eh?”

What they had were exasperatingly vague indicators and speculative hypotheses tumbling in from around the world. Mickey drew lines and curves on the map, making edits whever Penny delivered another prognosticatory report. Every so often he would scatter a handful of colourful stones on a map and mutter something about “meridial cessation” or “utter oblivion” or just “damn it”.

The pressure on Bill climbed during the day, with the Minister’s office in Canberra demanding hourly situation updates while pointedly ignoring Bill’s increasingly blatant hints that they should send an expert to take charge.

By the end of the afternoon, Bill was a wreck from caffeine jitters and stress. “My career is over,” he moaned.

“Never mind,” Penny consoled him, “it’s only for another seven hours. Besides, you said this job was a death sentence for your ambitions before anyone knew about the termination of linear time.”

He raised a twitching eyebrow. “I didn’t say that!”

Penny shrugged. “I’m good at reading body language.”

At nine pm, as Bill tucked into a final dinner of takeaway sandwiches, Mickey entered waving a street directory wildly inscribed with a red whiteboard marker. “We’ve calculated the address, right here in town! The Chief’s checking it out now.” Seeing Bill’s shaking fingers and pallid expression, he added, “I’ll drive, eh?”

At ten, the Samoan office security chief Kylie Tamatoa called from the target site to give the all-clear. “The place is quiet as a cemetery,” she reported.

Penny was waiting for them in the car park. She handed Bill water, painkillers and a sealed envelope. “Open it after you get there.” She didn’t let him leave until he swallowed the pills and drained his glass. “Good luck, sir.”

At eleven, Kylie rapped the passenger window, snapping Bill out of his exhausted daze. Opening his eyes, he recognised the car park.

“This is the source of the interference? The Split Palms Motor Inn?”

Mickey waved a sheaf of calculations. “Room Eight.”

Kylie said, “The night manager’s on my rugby team. I’ll get the keys.”

“Don’t bother,” said Bill, waving a plastic card. “This is my room.”

The room inside was almost how he’d left it. Tidy. Bed made. Suitcase packed, ready for transfer to the Director’s residence.

“That’s new.” Arranged in front of the easy chair and side table where he’d spent the night negotiating his position was a mirror. Bill stood behind the chair to stare at the reflection.

An indistinct shape slumped in the mirror’s chair. It frantically thumbed a phone with one hand; the other held a sloshing tumbler. On the reflected table sat a near-full Scotch bottle.

“Who’s that?” asked Kylie.

“That’s the interference,” said Mickey, looking from the mirror to Bill. “A temporal null-state. Time can’t progress until it resolves.”

Bill remembered Penny’s envelope. A handwritten note in her precise script was attached to the front.

Dear Director Temple, I recognised the address. I’ve prepared a requisition authorisation to book Room 8 at the Split Palms Motor Inn for a period of not less than 365 days, and a personal leave request for the same period. I’ve marked where you’d need to sign, if that’s what you decide. Good luck, sir. Happy new year.

Bill scribbled his signature and put the papers in Mickey’s hands. “Ask Penny to file these, okay?”

He sat in the chair. The bottle by his hand was now as full as its mirror counterpart. Small consolation, but acceptable. He poured a shot and raised it as his phone chirped midnight and 2019 settled over him.

“Here’s to moving forward,” he said. “I’ll see you when this year is done.”


Like this story? You can get my short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales free by joining my mailing list.

Happy 2019, I guess? I hope you’re embracing the inevitability of change and unenviable choices as much as necessary (and preferably no more).

This week’s story is something of a sequel to Business as Usual, inasmuch as the Ashburnham office of the Department of Abnormal Affairs and executive-assistant-in-perpetuity Penny McAlister have appeared before.

I’m still on the road this week, so unfortunately at the moment I can’t do anything about the intermittent issue where the image doesn’t appear. Possibly I won’t be able to do anything about it when I get home either, but let’s remain optimistic about the future, shall we?

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