All stories copyright xoggoth


Setting the scene

The first inkling came when I was sitting in the bath on a Saturday morning, singing 'Una Furtiva Lacrima' with stupid non-Italian words involving naughty body bits and idly following the lines of the tiles up and down as I had done a million times before. Start at right of bath above the Radox, follow up to the huge spider web with small long legged spider, across one, down to left tap. Left tap? Surely that should be between the taps where we keep the plastic back brush nobody ever uses?. Sense of confusion. Senility beckons, isn't the first symptom supposed to be occasional failure to recognise familiar things and places?

The following Monday I got up to put the dustbin out before the bin men came. Got down to the back door yawning and fumbled for the handle. It wasn't there, or rather it was but it was on the right instead of the left. That really started me worrying about my mental decline. I mean, you don't consciously register patterns of tiles in your bathroom however many times you sit staring at them so I could have been simply mistaken there, but you certainly know which side of your back door the handle is on and this was wrong!

I could not sleep that night. After an hour I got up to watch television. It was far smaller than I remembered. We hadn't had a little square thing like that for years! I was starting to panic, desperately looking for some rational explanation that didn't involve Alzheimer's. Was it some joke?, the wife trying the old 'Gaslight' routine on me perhaps? The explanation was not rational. Not in any sense one would acknowledge as such. The explanation was sitting on our sofa. A small formless cloud, an amoeboid swirl of black smoke. In one trembling pseudopod it had a glass full of what looked suspiciously like my vodka. I just knew someone or something else had been drinking it but the family wouldn't believe me! ""Oh f*"" said the little cloud, ""I'm really for it now!""

So now I really do know what life is. It seems we all have our own perceived reality, and our own guardian whose sole job is to continually create it for us. Apparently, shortly after we have lived in it, it all falls apart again. All those times you, say, left a meeting at work and got back to your desk to find you left your pad behind? The meeting room stopped existing when you left it. Your smoky rebuilt it all down to the last detail, including your forgotten pad, just before you returned. Will was right it seems, all the world is a stage, or rather a myriad of stages, one for each of us, and all the little smokies are merely its scene shifters, its props men, its costume designers, its makeup girls, its choreographers. Neither they nor I have any idea why of course.

Trust me to get one with a drink problem. My smoky had struggled with his for years. Lucky for him I'm pretty absent minded and not the sort to remember where I've left my shoes anyhow or I'd have spotted his increasingly common lapses long before. I did not report him to his superiors in the strange fashion he was obliged to inform me about. I quite like things the way they are. Now the stress of being found out is off the little creature, he drinks less and in his gratitude is very obliging. I think he quite likes the freedom to be creative and hardly looks at his instruction book these days.

I dare say all you other people in our own little worlds wake in the same bed (or one very similar) next to the same spouse/partner (ditto) every morning and travel through the same streets to the same office. And the sky is always blue or gray, and windows always let light through, and wasp stings always hurt and tea always tastes like tea and if you ding the car its still dented the next day and so on. Tedium, repetition, sameness, predictability until the day you die.

Not me. This morning I made love to yet another different woman (she was purple and had seven buttocks but needless to say I found that quite a turn on). It's like LSD with none of the nasty nightmares or comedowns.

Maybe this afternoon if the suns shine I will take my socks off and go for a paddle up the Empire State building.

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Godís trainees

God was planning to retire. What? No, I can't see what's blasphemous about that, after all, he's omnipotent and if that doesn't mean he can do whatever the hell he bleedin' well likes I don't know what does.

So obviously he had to create and train up some replacements to take care of things afterwards. No, not a replacement, replacements plural. They clearly could not be omnipotent like him, I mean, that's a contradiction in terms that is, you can't have two or more omnipotent things.

So his three trainee replacements were lesser beings. Not something you or I would notice, believe me; bit like telling a virus that K2 is smaller than Everest really. But they were, so obviously there had to be more than one to come close to replacing sir in the control of the universe and so loving the world game.

They had to learn all the basic skills from scratch so god sent them on an Advanced Universe Administration course at the University of God. (Principal: God BSc, PhD, FRSCE). They all had classes and tutorials on infinite love, divine mystery, theory and practice of creation and so on. There were also options that the trainees could take according to their chosen religious speciality, divine mercy for Christianity, divine retribution for Judaism and so on.

Creation was a very important part of the course. You may ask why since surely that bit had been done already; the ongoing task would appear to be essentially a maintenance and support job. Some of you who work in maintenance and support may disagree (although you are obviously completely wrong - look who you're disagreeing with!) but God did not feel that anyone could do these things well without a proper hands on appreciation of the development process.

In any case he had always had expansion in mind but had never quite got round to it. He envisaged his successors creating several more universes. As with the omnipotence thing, you may argue that it is a contradiction in terms to have more than one universe, if one universe does not include the others how can it be universal? Well, I don't want to belittle your intellect but you are really betraying your limited human understanding on that one I'm afraid!

So the students came to their first year creation projects. The course would introduce more creativity into creation in their second year, but in their first year they needed a thorough grasp of the basic mechanisms and so the project God set was to create an exact copy of the world in its present day form. Their grade depended on how close they came to replicating it.

Just a digression here. This is very similar to the way Renaissance artists were expected to learn by copying the works of their masters and very much more effective than modern techniques it was too. You doubt that? I suppose you think Tracy Emin, Damien Hurst and Gilbert and George are better than Rafael, Titian or Michaelangelo do you?

God was a damn good tutor (the best) but unfortunately when he made the world he had never written anything down; with a perfect memory he didn't need to. Some humans had had a go on his behalf, but really! I don't want to offend Christian fundamentalists, but as an instruction book on how to create the universe Genesis is a little thin! Moses was obviously too busy with other things. There's more description about how to replace your exhaust manifold gasket in a Haynes manual, and that's got photos too! So his students found themselves a bit short on reference material and they did not like to keep running to god every five minutes with questions.

But they all gave it a bash.

Student A (their real names would have no meaning to mortals and anyway one is not supposed to say them) was a lazy so and so. He started out full of enthusiasm and did a great job of creating light and dividing it from the darkness on the first day. On the second day he did the dividing the waters with the firmament stuff and it all seemed a bit samey. He decided to spend the afternoon with Lucifer at the snooker club. (The original Lucifer, not one of the yet to be duplicated versions). If he got up really early the next day he could catch up. He overslept the next morning, and so it went on.

It was all a frantic rush at the last minute and a completely botched job. The lights twinkled in the firmament instead of the heavens and the waters had not been properly gathered together so there was no proper dry land, just umpteen square miles of swamp. Just as well that he had not round to creating any living things that could creepeth upon the earth anyhow.

He had not got anywhere near to creating man but he did have some great whales. They would have to do, so in his last hour great whales suddenly began to drive gas guzzling cars, manufacture armaments, make rotten B movies, drink cheap wine, go cottaging in public toilets and all the other things that make our own species so civilised.

Student B was very arrogant, you know the sort, thinks he knows everything and won't take advice. He was quite sure he could create the current Earth much more efficiently than the boss had done it. What were all those blind alleys about? millions of years (fractions of a day in god terms of course) spent evolving the dinosaurs and giant mammals etc., only to wipe them all out again in some catastrophic climate change or meteor strike and then starting again practically from scratch. Clearly the initial design process had been totally inadequate.

So he did a thorough analysis of the task. He looked at all the current species and then created just the right number of classes from his primordial soup for minimal evolution without all that pointless extinction fodder and set things going.

It did not prove that simple. As every good cook knows, you do not create a great dish by shoving all the ingredients in a big pot and sticking it in the oven. The ingredients and the cooking processes have to be introduced in the right order and at the right time.

Without the dinosaurs and then the great flesh eating birds to hunt them down and keep them small while they evolved properly, most of the mammals exploded in size like weeds fed with hormone weed killer. Unfortunately, they had not had the time to evolve the proper skeletal structures and musculature. Feeding and mating became difficult as few of them had the strength to manage it and after a few thousand years they all died out.

The birds never got round to flying because there was nothing nasty and ferocious to escape from so they just hopped about a bit and then went back to being small creeping creatures because they were lazy little buggers and it was a lot less effort. When their feathers got soggy dragging in the mud they lost those too.

Poor old B found out the hard way that the old man was not so daft, everything had its place and its role in evolution. He ended up with 36 million different sorts of worm-like object. Hard to make man out of that lot, so at the last minute he just made Tony Blair and a few New Labour ministers, that would have to do.

Student C was the brightest and most conscientious of the bunch and made a great job of the basic creation. At lunchtime on the sixth day he had a complete world full of things that creepithed and flyithed after their kind and he saw that it was all darn good too. Unfortunately, he kept tinkering around gilding the lily and although he had made man in his image he had left hardly any time to guide 200 millennia of human evolution to its current point.

He just had to bang together whatever he could in the time, based on whatever he could easily skim from the available material, mainly Hollywood movies. It was the abridged version. The Americas, the route to China, Australia, the North West Passage and Doctor Livingstone were all discovered by Columbus before he was eaten by Maoris at the Battle of Little BigHorn. John Wayne won not only both world wars but also the Napoleonic, the Crimean, the Boer and the Hundred Years wars as well. James Dean, Jane Mansfield and Marc Bolam all died in the same car crash when they were hit by the light plane carrying Buddie Holly, Richie Havens, the Big Bopper, Glenn Miller and Amelia Erhardt.

They submitted their final projects as required at the end of the sixth day.

And God saw every thing that they had made, and, behold, it was bloody awful. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Thus the duplicate heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And they were crap.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

But as for his damn awful students they had to do their first year course all over again.

The lord sighed. His retirement would have to be postponed for another year.

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The faces in the cases

Working at the airport wasn't too bad but he found the stints on the airline check-in really dull. The passengers put their luggage on the belt and he gazed at the odd shapes within trying to see guns, knives or explosives. He never saw anything like that, which made it boring. On examination, suspicious objects always turned out to be headphones, radios, shavers, deodorant cans, a toy for some brat hastily purchased in the airport shop. The nearest he came to terrorists were the idiots who never read the notices about what they were not supposed to take in hand luggage.

On Tuesday he saw the first face. Not one of those 'faces' your mind sees in patterns on the wallpaper or the bathroom tiles, it was a totally real, down to the very last detail face, eyes, lips, hair, eyebrows - a face. When the case was opened of course there was nothing. The case went back through the machine. The face was there, same features, same expression. Somebody's idea of a joke? metallic paint inside the lining? He let it go.

On Wednesday there was another and two more a little later in the day. Different faces, just normal white male, face-in-the-crowd sort of faces staring at him from the screen. They pulled the cases out for closer examination, checked the contents, checked inside and outside the lining for a picture, nothing. Was it some novelty case?, the case with a face? But the cases were of disparate makes and not new. They had regular fliers of course, businessmen who came in and went out a day or two later. They had the same cabin luggage, surreptitious marks with UV pens ensured that, but the faces that came in did not go out again.

Faces came thick and fast until almost every briefcase, every rucksack, every holdall and every airline approved carry-on bag had one. It was the same at the other check-ins and at every other British airport. Nothing was found inside. The faces were mostly young white males. They came from all parts of the globe but especially from Europe.

They never found the cause. The long running dispute between the USA and the EU exploded into war a few months later, and a few weeks after that Armaggedon came to Britain in the form of the Z bomb. All the check-ins and all the airports ceased to exist along with everything and everyone else.

""There is some corner of a foreign land..."" It was Britain's final war and Britain's war dead had come home for the last reunion.

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Following my shadow

Where on Earth was she?

We had been walking in the fells near Borrowdale, me and Sue. Nothing very adventurous or energetic, just a stroll along the tracks. We had been arguing bitterly all the holiday and it was clear this would be our last day together. Maybe because of that we seemed to have declared a temporary truce and we talked of little things like the awful guesthouse food.

I fancied going right to the top of one fell to look at the view but Sue was not keen. I felt my temper rising again. I bet she would have gone with that little sack of shit at her office. ""Its too hot"" she said, you go, I'll sit here and wait for you"". Oddly, I can't remember anything about the view at all.

I supposed she had gone off in a huff because I had left her alone, or worse, just gone off not really caring if I had or not.

I started to walk back towards town but near the road I got a bit lost. I asked a chap in the garden of his cottage the way. ""Just follow your shadow"" he said gesturing. I headed east along the track away from the setting sun. When I breasted the next rise, I could see a figure just disappearing behind the next and it looked like Sue's distinctive auburn hair.

She had really had me worried disappearing like that. I hurried to catch up. It was hot and I was sweating profusely. When I reached the second rise I called but she either did not hear me or she was ignoring me. I was livid. Blazingly angry, I felt like strangling her again.

I had nearly caught up as we reached the outskirts of town. I rounded the edge of a stone wall just behind her to emerge into the street near the guesthouse. But she was not there. She had rounded the wall not six feet in front of me but when I cleared the edge myself she was gone. I did not go back to the guesthouse. I told myself I could not face the goodbyes. I just walked to the station and took the first train home.

I see her all the time. I see her every night in my dreams and in those dreams I am still blazingly angry and I still want to strangle her. And I no longer know what was real and what was imagined and what was feelings and what was tangible. And in my confusion I think that maybe when you view something imaginary in the reflection of a dream it reverses itself and becomes reality.

Sometimes when I awake from these dreams I look out of my window and see her auburn hair disappearing over the hill. And I run after her, blazingly angry, the rising sun at my back.

Following my shadow.

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A jobless researcher

I went to the job centre.

She looked at my form. "I see you do Second Tier Zero Point Fact Research" she said, "what is that exactly?"

"Pointless, aimless, worthless, useless, senseless, absurd, silly, asinine, fatuous, preposterous, ridiculous research of no intrinsic worth whatever" I replied.

"Erm, but what's the point of that?"

"There isn't any point", I said, "its pointless"

"Erm, but what I meant was, how did you make a living? Who paid you for doing it?"

"Oh I see, well I mostly sold it to the papers and magazines to fill all those tiny spaces between the real news. I was really good at it too"

"So what's the Second Tier mean?" she asked.

"Second tier basically means trivial, distinguishes it from First Tier Zero Point Facts. They are the more important pointless stuff of no intrinsic worth whatever that goes in the main articles, stuff like the public's opinion of joining the Euro or making war on Iraq"

She looked puzzled. "How is that worthless?"

I looked pityingly at her. "Because the government takes not a blind bit of notice obviously, it may as well be opinions about onion rings"

"Oh. So what sort of work did you do then?"

"Well, you remember that one about how probably 90% of people had swallowed at least five spiders while asleep? that was one of mine. I spent weeks simulating that with real data about number of spiders in the average house, size of people's mouths and so on. It took a lot of research"

"I also did quite a bit for the risque birthday card manufacturers. That one about 90% of men play with themselves in the bath? I did the research for that one too. Much easier than the spiders, it just needed a small survey. Well actually, I just surveyed myself and reduced the number a bit, if it had been 100% it would have spoiled the joke about the singing"

"Very profitable that one, although if I had managed to sell all the related information I gleaned from the same representative sample it would have been better. Like 100% of men play with themselves on the bus, at work, in church, at the doctor's surgery, in the shopping mall and so on"

She looked embarrassed. "Well, you have reached the end of your six months when you can restrict your job search to your previous occupation. Have you any idea what other areas you could usefully explore?"

That was easy. I wanted to be a chartered bum hole surveyor.

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The orange spinning thing

Just for a change the wife was home before me, sitting watching that awful Weakest Link.

"What's that orange spinning thing on the patio?" she asked. Eh? I went out on the patio and there was indeed an orange spinning thing. A slowly spinning orange hemisphere of about two foot diameter. In the middle of our patio. Just spinning.

I did not like to touch it because it had numerous thin stalks of what looked like glass projecting from it. If I tried to stop it I would surely snap them off. There was no stationary part to grab hold of; the rim of the hemisphere was skimming barely a hair's breadth above the patio tiles.

Must be some weird thing of the sons. Maybe connected with these odd online fantasy games they are always playing. When they got back later they had no idea what it was either. No 1 said it had not been there about 4 p.m. when he had gone into the garden for a fag. Now here it was at 6pm. On our patio. Spinning.

Hardly a bomb, terrorist groups did not place bright orange spinning bombs, especially in the gardens of nobodies. A prank then. We would find out who soon enough as they surely could not resist wanting to know how their jape was going. A week later it was still there. No one we knew or didn't know had claimed it or made cryptic enquiries. I had expected a "noticed anything odd recently? (snigger)" sort of comment at the pub but everyone acted just as usual.

And it was still spinning. "How does it do that?" asked the wife. I was vague. "Well, there really is very little resistance involved in spinning a dome at such a low speed. I imagine with the battery you could fit in there it could go, for, dunno, weeks anyway."

And it did spin for weeks. And months. The winter came and went and the first buds of spring were appearing and it was still spinning. It had spun at the same steady rate through the rain and the snow and the October gales. Nothing seemed to settle on it, no leaves, no snow, no bird crap. I never saw the wind wobble it in the slightest. I never even saw it get wet. It was still bright shiny orange. And it spun.

Towards the end of summer we had plans for a fountain on the patio and the orange spinning thing was in the way. Pity to break it but it had to go. I poked the spade between the glass stalks and it stopped spinning. Nothing broke after all. That was that then.

"That orange spinning thing's stopped spinning" I called to the wife. "What orange spinning thing?" "You know" I said "the one on the patio" and pointed at it. But there was no orange spinning thing; there was nothing there at all apart from the litter of roof moss and a broken flowerpot.

I started sweeping up and she came out with a cup of coffee for me and put it on the wall. "What's this about a spinning thing?" she asked. I looked at her blankly. "Spinning thing?" "Yes didn't you say something about..?". "About what?". "I've forgotten what I was going to say now. Don't forget your coffee."

We spent some hours clearing up and building our fountain from the kit. Why don't they make the instructions clearer? The wife had caught the sun badly and went up to bed early. She came down again a minute later.

"What are those two orange spinning things in the bedroom?"

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Perky comes home

I had been dressing as a woman for nearly a year and had been taking all the female hormones as prescribed so I had a pretty magnificent pair of tits if I say so myself. If they hadn't depressed my former male desires quite so much I would have really fancied myself I can tell you. But it felt right somehow.

So when Dr. Rajah asked me if I was totally sure if I wanted to go through with the operation I said yes and signed the consent form like a shot. I came to after the last op. and my former convex sex was gone, replaced by the concavities of my new one.

As I left the hospital, Dr. Rajah stopped me and gave me a glass jar containing my former manhood in formalin. That was a nice touch. I would put it on my mantelpiece, the one over the fireplace I mean. A woman carrying her ex-Willie in a jar in her cleavage would be a bit bizarre after all.

So I took Perky home and stuck him on the mantelpiece. And I looked at him. And he looked at me. Reproachfully. I'm really sorry, Perky I said, but I just feel more comfortable as a woman; I feel I was born to be one. Oh yeah? Said Perky; you didn't seem to feel like that once, all those great evenings and nights with the ladies or the other fellas, or just you and me. And what about all those mornings when you woke up to find me already up before you eh?

I came and went to and from my job as a private secretary, a real stereotype woman's sort of job, and each morning when I went out and every evening when I came home I would see Perky on the mantelpiece in his jar. I felt more and more guilty and I remembered the great times we had had, me and him and someone else, or far more often just me and him.

Dr. Rajah was astonished when Perky and me turned up at his office. I've changed my mind; can you put it back on? Of course it wasn't possible; Perky had been in a jar of formaldehyde for nearly six months. Although he looked just like his former self, he was not exactly what they called a viable transplant resource. Dr. Rajah started to explain the formalities for a sex change reversal, but I stopped him before he got too far. I did not want a reversal using some dead man's member, the idea revolted me and I was still happy as a woman, I just wanted Perky back as a part of me.

I could not suffer Perky's hurt silence when I got back at night so I put him in the savouries and spice cabinet in the kitchen. That led to a difficult scene when my brother came to stay and felt peckish. Mind if I have this pickled gherkin? He said, seems to be the last one. I managed to put him off telling him it had been in the cupboard for ages and must be well past its consume by date.

It wasn't any good. He was not there physically on the mantelpiece but I could still see him and I could still hear him in my mind as loud as ever. So I got him out of the jar, rinsed and dried him lovingly and pinned him inside the front of my knickers, the skimpy flesh coloured see-through ones. It was the best I could do. He was not very responsive. I did try buying some of those generic Viagra pills off the internet and putting them in his jar overnight but it did not seem to work. Think that needs blood circulation or something, biology was never my strong point.

If I popped him back into his formaldehyde every now and then he should keep and we would at least be together some of the time. His little voice seemed to be quieted now he felt he was needed and I sensed he was content. After a time I forgot we were now separate beings and when I felt the pressure of the little thing between my legs everything seemed as it used to be. Sometimes when I woke in the morning I felt as though he was up before me as of old. Dr. Rajah had warned me of these phantoms, like the phantom limbs of amputees that seem so real. But when I put my hand down there, Perky really did seem to be larger.

There came the night I awoke to feel movement and then unmistakably penetration in my scalpel-sculpted female parts. Perky, Perky, what are you doing? Well what on earth do you expect? Said Perky, you carry me around for hours next to that gorgeous fanny and I'm supposed to pretend itís a rose bush?

Perky shagged me every night after that and it felt great. We were truly together again.

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Some months ago in these chronicles, I reported the extinction of humanity in 2042 by residual magnetism.

Like Hitler, Residual Magnetism had started as a thoroughly inadequate little force with a gigantic chip on its shoulder nurtured by its grievances. In RM's case these were centuries of being viewed as nothing more than a nuisance to watch makers, and it was inevitable that when it got a chance of power it would not be benevolent.

This fate might have been avoided if humanity had had a little more humility and learned from events in 2036 when the sentient nature of natural forces was first revealed.

In that year experiments with the huge SARN 4 Torus circling from Alaska to the Mexican border had revealed incredible insights into the nature of universal attractive forces that took humanity close to being able to neutralise them.

Gravity was placid by nature but its livelihood was threatened. It was much to old to retrain and anyway the electromagnetic radiation family had taken all the best jobs. It saw itself ending up in some boring role like a variation on stiction or coriolus force, the Tesco's check-out counter jobs of the physical forces world.

So it decided to work to rule. Nothing in its rulebook said anything about gravity being uniform.

In Britain this proved unfortunate for a Mr. Yates of Gloucester when the epicentre of a gravity increase was located at the 14th hole where he was just teeing off. Amazingly he survived 300 times Earth normal gravity but having his thighbones extruding from his ears did nothing at all for his golf handicap.

Most of Belgium became gravity free and the inhabitants shot off tangentially into space (centrifugal force having refused a brotherly request to strike in sympathy) along with nearly everything not nailed down. Not that anybody actually cared about losing Belgium * of course, but bucking off Florence and Amsterdam was much more effective.

Nothing in its rulebook said anything about gravity being constant or applying equally to everything either.

Random fluctuations made large parts of the population extremely queasy, very unpleasant as the result could sometimes float about all over the place for ages. Lifts, cranes etc. had to run at a fraction of capacity in case high gravity suddenly cut in. Aircraft were grounded as far too dangerous. This move did not come soon enough for passengers of one 747 to Toronto, which drifted about in the breeze for over a week before getting tangled in a tree in Bulgaria.

Gravity called off its industrial action when the research project was closed down and the Torus converted to a wildlife park for rabbits.

It did the same thing to large parts of Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria, Albania, India and Nigeria but found that nobody cared about those either.

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Party Games

Very childish, true, but me and the usual crew always like to start our parties with a few kidsí games to get us in the mood. We come to the casual sex and vomiting later. Our last do at Sally's penthouse suite was fairly typical.

At our little Hampstead dinner parties we always have at least seven courses - weed, uppers, downers, speed, acid, crack and smack. Plus gallons of class alcohol, proper stuff from Fortnums. We would have preferred to finish with the crack as it gives the biggest buzz but as Nigel pointed out, my dear, it's just so COMMON! I mean, it's the sort of thing that poor people of ethnic persuasion take in run-down areas south of the river.

We were well into our fourth course.

We started off with 'hunt the scalpel'. Mike hid the scalpel pretty well and we searched all over for it before Jake finally spotted the handle sticking out of Mary's chest just below her left boob. Naturally we all ribbed her unmercifully for not finding it first; she had been wandering around on the roof garden looking under the plant pots like the rest of us. Really, I just didn't notice she said, although I thought it was a bit odd that my shoes kept getting all squishy, I must have changed my tampon about three times in the last half hour. Then she died. That's Mary all over, a really smashing girl and a great sport. Anyhow, we put her body in the corner where nobody would trip over it. We would need it later for the casual sex bit.

'Blind man's buff' next. Jake was blind man for winning the last game. We had meant to try and stick his eyeballs back afterwards, but some idiot put them on the table right next to the fruit bowl and before you know it Lucy had eaten them. Very vain, Lucy, can't wear contacts but hates being seen in her glasses. I thought those grapes tasted a bit salty she said. How we all laughed at that. Jake did not seem to get the hang of the game somehow, wandered about flailing with his arms and not really trying to feel anyone properly. We had all rather lost interest by the time he fell off the roof, although we all rushed to look. Thank god for that, said Arnold, a foot further over and he'd have hit my Beemer. Mind you, he was still a bit annoyed, what with us being twelve stories up he'd have to use the car wash on the way home, right mess on his alloy wheels there was.

After a bit of discussion we decided to finish with 'pin the tail on the donkey' which would take us nicely into the orgy phase of our little get together; that's the one before the vomiting and falling unconscious phase. In our version everyone lines up bent over with their cracks exposed and a blindfolded and suitably rampant male (the spinning bit is usually superfluous by the time we get to this game) has to get stuck in to the first bum hole he finds. Naturally if he chooses wrong we all laugh at him for being gay. As punishment for being gay we bugger him rigid to show him what us regular straight guys think of that sort of thing.

Nigel was first to the pinning role. He unerringly got it wrong. We were all pretty sure he did it on purpose, guided by some sixth sense or maybe just the smell. He nearly always pinned Phillip, which rather confirmed the smell theory as Phillip was a vegetarian and always eating nuts and pulses, whatever they are. He must have been the most flatulent guy in Chelsea and all that passing gas has to leave traces that a man of a sensitive nature could pick up.

So we put the blindfold on (after the previous episode with Jake we stuck with boring convention as Arnold couldn't be bothered to move his car) and Nigel headed unerringly towards Phillip. Ha ha, we were ready for him! Phillip had a false bum made of papier-mache. When Nigel got stuck into what he took to be Phillip's rear, (although he always pretended to think it was one of the girls) we turned the blender on! Bloody hilarious! Nigel went running around like a headless cockerel, or should that be a cockless hedonist and fell headfirst down the emergency stairs. Sally had to get the caretaker out, safety hazard that, blocking the fire door.

We lost two more of our little crew in the next hour. All in all it was a darn good evening, and as I slipped into unconsciousness, my head buried in somebody's crutch, I was already planning my own little soiree. Hide and seek, pass the parcel, sardine? No matter, any of those would be darn good fun.

Before the light went out I mused vaguely that there must be few people who knew how to enjoy themselves like we did.

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Who that up there?

Wash the delta dust off me face and lay me ol bones down on the cot, tryin to coax some energy back so I can face the evenin. Gettin much too old for labourin in the field. Should a gone to the big city with my oldest boy like he said, but I don't know. What would I a done there?, I got no book-learning like him, working on the plantation is all I ever knowed.

Layin there in the swelterin evenin heat and listenin to the dust devils rattlin off the back window. It baint much of a life, sure there been some good times when May was alive, but mostly it just been hard. And now it gettin harder when I gotta will my body to keep workin while my acheing muscles just shoutin stop right from early mornin.

All I got to call my own is this ol wooden shack. Just two rooms and the attic above. Brought it in what we called the good times. They was good times for us anyhow, when me an May was both young and workin in the fields and they was no little mouths to feed. Gave that son of old Abe three fifty dollar for it when Abe passed on. Old Abe. We used to feel sorry for old Abe, sixty five goin on a hunderd we said, worn out by a life of labourin but too poor to quit. Now I done turned into old Abe meself.

Staring at the ceilin tryin to get me breath and waitin for this pain in me chest to pass. Wind blowin in the rafters, liftin the boards and creakin. Then new sounds, a voice? then thnk, clok, thnk, clok. Someone walking up there, someone sound old and lame an haltin. I rise from the cot, my back and legs protestin, we ain't ready yet! just give us a while longer!, and put the ladder up to the hatch.

I call, who that up there?. No reply, no sound but the wind blowin. I lift the hatch and peer into the dusty darkness. The swirling dust blow round me and inhaling it don't choke me none. And it seem like the dust clouds go through me expanding and darkening and it all mixed up with my memories, they all come at once an then blow away like the corn husk off the autumn fields. I see old Abe's lined face and it grows and grows and become the dry mud of the Mississipi baking in the heat until the cracks so wide you can get your whole fist in. An they gettin wider until they ain't nothing else.

Awake in darkness. Confused. Everythin in me head seems like somethin from long time ago. Standin in the attic with the wind blowing dust through the cracks. Beneath I hear the door close, someone walking down there, thnk, clok, thnk, clok, someone sound old an lame an haltin. The creak of a cot and a loud sigh, an old spent man's sigh.

I call who that down there?. No reply, no sound but the wind blowin. I start to walk towards the hatch. thnk, clok, thnk, clok.

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The perks of hell

I scarcely remembered falling off the ladder, I only knew I was dead.

Frankly, as an atheist, I was surprised to be there at all. It didn't look like the pearly gates, but then, fortunately, It didn't look like the gates of hell either. It looked more like the entrance to the Knutsford Services on the M6.

St. Peter at least still made the effort to look traditional. I recognised him from a hundred renaissance paintings and his name badge Peter, Chief Saint, Head of Judgement Department. I was assigned to one of his assistants Tracy, Angel, Judgement Assistant.

I sat in front of Tracy, thinking her purple lipstick did not go at all well with her golden halo and feeling apprehensive. As a non-believer I surely had no hope of avoiding the pit. Tracy was reassuring in an off-hand, said it all a million times before, civil servant way.

Apparently they did away with a stark choice between everlasting torment and eternal glory at about the same time England stopped hanging people for stealing sheep. Judgement was now more enlightened and recognised that some never had a proper chance due to poor upbringing and social factors. The rewards and punishments of the after life were allocated on a strict points system.

Not believing when I had been brought up a Catholic was quite a points deduction, but on the pro side I had been nice to slugs and god's little creatures generally. I was assigned a very small and tatty studio flat in Hell Sector 14a, set aside for category 17 sinners.

Hell sector 14a was a lot like a run down suburb of Welwyn Garden City. I have only ever been there once in my life, when me and a mate were invited to a party but lost the address and drove round and round for over an hour trying to recognise the house among all the other drab identical houses before giving up. It certainly seemed like hell to me at the time.

Still, even Welwyn Garden City was better than fire and Brimstone, just. My fellow residents were ok, all atheists, all not too bad but not worth a whole lot types. I went to someone's house for a drink. He had a plush fitted carpet, nice blue lampshades and a plaster relief of an elephant on the wall. I was annoyed. You could not buy things in hell, you had to live for eternity with whatever you had been allocated. If you could improve your lot in any way it would not be hell. Why did I only have a dusty throw rug, bare bulbs and no ornaments at all?

I went to see my liaison officer Stacy, Minor Saint, Hell Administrative Assistant, to find out why I had been overlooked in this manner. It was no mistake; apparently my acquaintance merited the extra comforts as he had indulged in solitary personal recreational activities on average 0.2 times less a day than I had. It was most unfair.

I pass this warning back to you, the living. Stop doing that. It could perhaps cost you a potted plant or a nice little china figurine of a shepherdess on your mantelpiece for all eternity. You would not want that would you?

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The seventh veil

It was way off the beaten track in central Asia. I don't suppose you would have heard of it even If I told you where, but it's a bit commercially sensitive at present so I won't anyway. It was not somewhere any Westerner would normally go, or would want to go, just a dusty town of stone and wood in a wind-swept hill region. Except that it was rather bigger, and the inhabitants were distinctly Mongoloid, it reminded me of the set of a Wild West movie, except there were no saloons and no excitement, only a few dusty and alcohol free cafes.

As geologists with B.F. Steiner, Me and Rick Aegis had been sent to do the preliminary seismic survey but Rick had managed to break his leg in a freak road accident just outside Aima-Ata airport and now here I was, stuck in X's one tiny hotel waiting for them to send a replacement, which would probably be a week or more. I did all the preliminary work I could do on my own in the first two days and after that was pretty much left to my own devices. Apart from the company's local agent who confined his conversation to the mundane issues of my welfare nobody spoke significant English. I wished I had brought a few books with me but I had expected to have plenty of work and Rick's company. So I mostly just mooched around in the barren hills.

I had heard from another chap who had been this way that there were some unusual sexual entertainments to be found in this region at very low prices. Despite a rigid religious society, poverty meant that a prosperous Westerner was bound to be seen as a rare opportunity to make some money. The old woman beckoned as I came back through town. I was wary, but I was bored too and followed her in to the basement of the gloomy stone building. Another women sat there veiled from head to foot. As far as I could make out from the gestures and a few words of English the entertainment was to start with a very traditional striptease, the old dance of the seven veils. I paid the equivalent of fifteen pounds.

I could make little out as she began to gyrate to the music from somewhere in a dark corner system except that she was quite slender and judging from her flexibility, quite young. It was hypnotic. I have never liked eastern music and always prefer to get my curries back home in the restaurants that play western pop, but in this dark place, with this girl lit by a beam of sunlight from a small window high up in the stone wall, it seemed entirely right.

The black garment dropped although if I had not been watching closely I might not have known as she had on an apparently identical one beneath. Was it to be just a con then? But then fifteen pounds was not much for an experience of any sort and it beat sitting on my bed in the adult channel-less tatty hotel. "One" she said. I continued to watch, my sexual hopes were fading but I was still fascinated by her lithe movements.

The second garment dropped. The one beneath was still figure enveloping but I saw her face and hair for the first time. Thin with large heavy lidded eyes, a strange expression, like fear? And very young. I wondered if I was doing something illegal in this country. "Two". She continued, rotating faster as the tempo of the music speeded up.

The third garment fell to the ground. Beneath she had on only a transparent slip and I could discern the rather angular body beneath. It looked much older than I expected and I glanced at her face. The sun shone sideways on it and showed the lines. Strange, how had I thought her to be a young girl before? "Three" she whispered.

The dust swirled around her as she whirled in the beam of sunlight and I started to feel oddly dizzy and unreal. There seemed to be something inhuman about her movements. Although I saw the body of a woman before me, a body that, by the pendulous motions of sagging flesh, I could now see was far from young; I was reminded somehow of the swift movements of some gigantic pale spider.

She halted abruptly, her arms spread wide, and the last garment fell. "Four". Just the four veils then. I could not understand how I could ever have thought this crone with the sagging bosoms, scrawny arms and protruding belly was a young girl. I felt sick and started to rise to get out of there. I did not know what further 'entertainment' was planned but I preferred it stopped there.

She gestured me back and I flopped in the chair. It seemed I had no will. Her gyration began again. Faster and faster. I tried to look away but could not. Her sagging flesh whirled and shook. And tore and ripped and sloughed. Departing from her diminishing form in lumps that fell to the floor fizzing and disintegrating.

It stood before me. Something like a long buried skeleton with mere tatters of flesh remaining. An obscene bubbling parody of a voice. "Five". The music went on. Bit by bit, the yellowed tattered bones departed, leaving, what? There was just a crumbling pile upon the concrete floor and nothing stood before me. But when the music paused again some presence black and hideous and old and evil gyrated before me and I could see it, round and round, although it was nothing.

"Six". The cellar was empty but something was there before me and it said "six" in a voice I cannot bear to think of even today. As the music started again there was a swirling motion, not in the cellar, and not in the world that I could see but deep inside me yet far away and coming closer and growing monstrously in size. And as my fear exploded into panic I threw off my paralysis and ran and ran and I did not stop until I reached the hotel.

As I left, the old woman called after me "You see seven?Ē Strangely, although I still cannot sleep because of the nightmares there are still times I wish I had stayed to see it. And sometimes when I feel the echoes of that wailing music, like cannabis flashbacks that do not diminish with the passing months, I know. Some day I will.

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James bought three of those really big boxes of milk chocolates for Christmas.

Christmas afternoon, just the family, they munched their way through. Like all families they all had their absolute favourites, James and little Frank liked the Nougat best, Emily liked the coffee creams and Jane the tangerine creams. Very soon they had eaten all their first choices and were nibbling into the less satisfying but adequate toffees and caramels and nut whirls.

Then onto phase three. Hopeful hands rifled through the litter of papers in the box and could find nothing but cracknell and praline. James was annoyed. It annoyed him every year that a good 15% of the money he paid was rewarded with these disgusting and inedible titbits, but this year he had been to an assertiveness training course. Nobody was going to do this to James Macintosh, and by golly, nobody was going to start not doing it right now!

He wrote to the chocolate makers and got a stock reply about customer choice. He wrote again and got no reply at all. So he wrote to his MP, he wrote to consumer bodies, he wrote to the papers, he set up a website, he wrote to everyone he could think of. He got an enormous response to such a tiny and unimportant issue. Everywhere, in nearly every house in Britain it seemed, people had sat and fumed at being fobbed off with these disgusting tasting little things when the space could have been filled with coconut, orange creams or montellimar. They even did a little bit on consumer TV.

The manufacturers embarked on a damage limitation exercise. They wrote to James in the most conciliatory terms, regretting that he had been disappointed with his purchase and inviting him to a tour of their factory, a free lunch and an opportunity to discuss the matter with the directors. At the lunch the MD was very pleasant and understanding. He nodded gravely when James showed him the survey results that proved that 99% of all purchasers of boxes of chocolates hated cracknell and praline and that the other 1% was insane.

The MD assured him that in the light of this information the company would look very seriously at the makeup of its selection boxes. Now how about that tour of the factory? James would find it most interesting. It was. Eventually they arrived on a balcony overlooking a huge bubbling vat. Praline vat number 6 said the sign. It looked and smelled awful. What exactly is praline made from anyhow asked James? Well you know, said the MD, the exact composition varies somewhat depending on what we have available, but it has to be said it is a very cheap product and replacing it with one of the other fillings would very severely reduce our profitability.

As the barrier swung open and James fell headfirst into the evilly bubbling mixture he had time to wonder if he would ever go home again and wait untouched amid the litter of papers in the chocolate box.

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A midnight ramble

By the Tuesday of the second week in the little flat I was kicking myself for taking it.

Usually when I have a contract away from home I make a point of renting somewhere near a town centre. That way I can find myself a decent local without having to drive. I'm ok getting to know people in a strange pub but only if I can lubricate my inhibitions with a few drinks. This time around I had been so enchanted with the upstairs flat in the idyllic little village that I made a snap decision to take it. I soon found out that the only regular clientele of the village inn were three elderly men who mostly sat silent over their halves of mild.

I went for a walk. At least that was something I could enjoy while the summer lasted. Over the style and across the fields, taking a long circular route through the woods and back past the old church. It was getting on for ten but still lights, the next day being midsummer's eve, and an old chap was still working in the graveyard cutting the grass around the graves. He said evenin' and we exchanged a few banalities. Getting it neat for the midnight walkers tomorrow he said. Midnight walkers? I queried but he had already disappeared off into his little shed.

I had a very dull next evening in front of the TV and come bedtime could not sleep. Ramblers have never been my scene, earnest middle aged types with flasks and stout green wellies, but I thought I might wander over and go on the walk. I was surprised to see twenty to thirty people although it was hard to see what any of them looked like in the gloom. We took off across the fields. I would have tried to join in with them but there seemed nothing to join in with, they all seemed very silent and my few commonplace remarks to those nearest me seemed to be ignored. I wondered if I had missed something, maybe we were looking for nightjars or badgers and had to keep silent.

I tried once more with a small woman near me. At first I thought she would ignore me too but after a full minute she said "We don't usually get many of you on these walks". Many of me? what, contractors?, non villagers?, Southerners?. Her name was Hettie Steel. She had a quaint country accent and by the light of the now rising moon was an attractive fortiesh woman, very pale and with a long dress, very unsuitable for rambling I thought. The others seemed weirdly attired too; I could just make out what looked like formal suits and Sunday best with normal shoes, not a stout green welly or Barbour jacket in sight. Hetty was very pleasant although rather strange and she seemed very ignorant of anything outside her village. I told here about a funny incident on the recent flight to Corfu that everyone else I had told it to thought hilarious but she just seemed puzzled.

It was nearly midnight by the time we approached the church again. I had gathered she was single and asked if I could perhaps take her out the next week, but she was evasive. Clearly I had not made the impression I had hoped. Perhaps I would see her again around the village? She smiled. Yes, I would see her again. The clock was striking one as we all entered the churchyard. I looked up and then turned back to Hettie and the others. I was alone.

I did not see her again for three weeks until I passed the spot while out for a run through the small churchyard. Hettie Steel 1852 - 1894. Rest in peace.

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Modern day vampire

Me? yes I'm a vampire, I admit it. Not in the conventional sense, all that blood drinking stuff, yech!, although biting women's necks would be fun I suppose. More accurately you could call me a unreality drainer. Woffle, hyperbole, unrealistic ideas and attitudes and overblown nonsense of all sorts from the PC kind to the commercial version that produces those absurd 'mission statements'. It is all of a part, thinking that has lost all connection with what is real and known.

Of course they never twig. What I am cannot exist, it's irrational, and thatís how I get away with it. I bide my time, I sniff the nonsense, I choose my victim and move in for the kill.

I have no idea how or why I got like this. It just came. My first discovery of it happened in a contract eight years ago. We had one of those project managers whose head was as far in the sky as the aircraft we were building.

You must know the type. He could never come out with anything straightforward like "we must look at ways to speed up unit testing in order to reduce costs". That would translate as "Our short term goal, our priority on the cost reduction front, validation-wise and at the lowest quantum level per se, must be to achieve an optimal and minimal turnaround. To lower the bottom dollar". You could come out of a ninety-minute project meeting with only the vaguest idea of what it had been about. One would have thought the almost total lack of input from anyone else would have given him a clue but no doubt his ego prevented that. I dare say he thought us a lot of idiots.

I went to one such meeting in a very bad mood. I felt tired, I had a headache and good old Word had crashed yet again forcing me to rewrite 35 minutes of a very boring specification I had not enjoyed writing once. He started to drone. I felt lightheaded and everything except this mumbling clown in the centre of my vision faded out. There was an aura around him, a shimmering halo of magenta with dancing flecks of darkness. It suddenly seemed totally natural like eating a doughnut; I sucked and felt my body feeding. In ten short seconds it was over. Everything looked normal, my headache was gone and I felt great.

The PM sat silent for such a long time that everyone more than half awake had started to shuffle and look at each other with that "what's going on?" look. "Oh shit" he said. Then after a further pause, "Right, Jake, I want you to look at that automated test package we discussed and get back to me with recommendations Thursday after next. Next item. Some of you are not following the procedures on module headers, please read the standards and make sure you do. Any other business? Ok see you next week". He walked briskly out. Everyone except me was astounded; most meetings with a similar agenda would have taken 50 minutes.

The local government officer at the public meeting on the new asylum seeker centre near Gatwick was next. She was banging on about these poor people, all of whom in her view were genuinely fleeing from persecution. After I emptied her she thought for a while and said "Well actually I'm not quite so sure of that, after all, If I was living in poverty and offered a chance of free benefits in return for a little deception, I'm sure I would take it". I thought welcome to the real world of real people lady.

Since then I have drained that sort at every opportunity and every time I grow stronger. I drain PC types to the entirely natural state of preferring their own kind and one world types to instinctive defenders of their own interests. I make people realise that there are few true villains and few noble people either, just people. I make tribalists out of globalists. I turn top down 'how can I make this grand idea work?' attitudes into bottom up 'what does it do for me and my family?' ones. I leave pragmatism and realism where there was only pie-in-the-sky unworkable idealism. I suck out the overblown leaving the bare skeleton of the necessary.

Nature usually evolves defences for survival of its species. I had thought I was unique, but I am not. We recognise each other and there are more and more like us now.

Maybe some day soon you will provide a meal for one of us.

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Tennis star

Many of the world's top tennis stars have been left handed, although they have not necessarily held the racket in the left hand. Studies have shown that the frequency of left-handers among top-seeded tennis players is up to five times greater than the number of left-handers in the general population. Various explanations have been advanced for this, one being that the left-handed are more in touch with the instinctive side of their brain.

Indeed, conscious thought is an impediment to instinctive reaction. On a mundane level, contrast the brief uncertainty if you consciously think about which hand to hold a knife in with the immediacy of the instinctive grasp, or how laboured your breathing becomes if you think about it. Top tennis players say that reaction has to be instinctive, a 120-mph serve traverses a court in a small fraction of a second, if you think about your return you are lost.

The North Korean Sun Ky Soo was left handed, but he was better than Borge or McEnroe or Sampras or anyone else before him. His speed and instinctive shots were phenomenal and left the other top seeds almost looking like a second division. Some, remembering the methods of the eastern block countries of the former Soviet Union, were suspicious of the North Koreans but drug tests on the star showed nothing.

He was not popular. He showed no emotion at his triumphs, rarely spoke more than a few words and was always rushed off by his minders. As a reporter on a small paper, I tried to bluff my way in to the changing rooms, and got within a few feet of the star before I was bundled roughly away.

His hair was wet and swept back, exposing the small crescent scar on the side of his temple.

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A ResonoHomeopathic Wells Interface program

A few months ago, in the mistaken belief I was signing up for allergy testing, I was wired up to some pseudo technical new age software program (in MS Access) that diagnosed the imbalances in every chemical in my body to 3 decimal places and then proceeded to fix most of them.

I asked the nice new age crank lady how she thought it worked and she replied 'Resonance'. When she recommended homeopathic remedies I asked how homeopathy could possibly work when dilutions were such that sometimes there were no molecules at all of the original compound in the prescription. Resonance again. Yeees. Pull the other one.

But it got me thinking. If the water still resonated so powerfully from molecules that were no longer present that it could cure almost any aliment, could this not be applied to areas other than medicine? Could any mass of air or water have a resonance 'memory' of everything it has ever been in contact with?

I always try to keep an open mind and am happy to admit my previous scepticism was misplaced. No 2 son got a copy of the VBA source code of the amazing Access program from some dodgy channels and I have partially succeeded in hacking it to tune into the powerful resonance of air molecules.

Every lungful of air we take was once breathed by Julius Caesar so they say. It is early days and I have not had much success tuning into Julius yet, but if anyone wants a new novel by H.G.Wells I have one for a very reasonable price.

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Went into the kitchen half asleep and fumbled with my card in the food dispenser. Cornflakes, toast and tea. The dispenser's shrill voice said "Sorry, you cannot have sugar on your flakes this morning or any toast. The bed registered your weight as 0.53 kg above the permitted optimal weight for your age and height." Darn it, I hate Cornflakes with no sugar.

Upstairs for my compulsory morning exercise program. The front door doesn't open until its been completed. Then off to the bog. I have never managed to get used to that array of sensors, it still seems an intrusion and it's embarrassing when the machine announces "All stool and urine functions normal" in a loud tinny voice when someone is walking by in the hall. Even worse when it announces to the entire household that you have the squits.

I was a bit early leaving the house that morning so obviously, even after I had put on my seat belt and so on according to the monitored safety sequence, the car would not start. I had to sit there for six minutes while it counted down, "Five minutes to commencement of your permitted commuting window", "Four minutes to commencement of your permitted commuting window"... Finally off. Takes ages to get to work. Not only is the car limited to a safe 15 mph but the brakes come on automatically whenever the sensors detect a pedestrian within 15 feet.

At work I wanted to get that darn specification finished. Took ten minutes to get started, because the monitor won't turn on until the seat is optimally positioned to avoid back problems. Then it turns off every 50 minutes and intones "To avoid eye strain please focus on the far wall for 5 minutes". It won't let me cheat either. Then every 2 hours the seat disappears into the floor for 10 minutes and I have to walk around the exercise room to avoid DVT.

It would be nice to get a proper coffee but I have already had my allowed caffeine quota of one cup that day and my vending card is frozen out. Then off to compulsory lunchtime swimming, 15 lengths or I get my wages docked, and then back to the canteen for lunch. The dispenser won't give me any cheese substitute with my spaghetti because of my 0.5kg over weight problem.

Back home during my allotted commuting slot. Watch TV for the permitted hour with the missus until it turns off in time for the compulsory puzzles that keep our brains active. Then round to the community gym for the compulsory work out. Tried not going once and got fined. Then back home and we have to take turns on the medical monitor while it logs our heart rate, lung capacity, blood sugars, cholesterol etc.

I suppose all these precautions imposed by our wonderful government are for our benefit really as we rarely die early of heart disease or other lifestyle induced illnesses like they used two a few decades ago.

Those lucky bastards.

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Teenage fashions

These bloody kids today. What do they think they look like?

When I go out in public I make sure I look smart. A bit of Grid Oil on my facial ridges to bring out the colours, what's left of my hair properly plasticised into a 6 inch spine down the exact centre of my scalp and precisely between the skull rivets, every one of my rotating plate inserts glinting with recent application of Bronzo (all the bearings properly lubricated of course) and the windows in my clothes carefully arranged to reveal the appropriate body parts.

But they have to rebel don't they? Look totally different to us. That formal movement of the early 2070s, suits and ties and stuff like they used to wear in the early part of the century was ridiculous enough, walking around like characters from some 3rd world war play. Now they have gone totally the other way. Some posh commentator on the holovision last night was defending it with a lot of hoity toity nonsense. Apparently their fashions relative to ours are only what those of the kids in some 'Punk' movement in the 1980's were relative to those of their parents. Maybe. But itís still crap. They just look bloody stupid, that's what!

Some skinny kid, must have been seventeen, almost staggered into me in the Mall. I clucked on my lip springs in disapproval. The little twat was barely able to walk straight. Hardly surprising given that he had the front half of a vintage motorcycle surgically implanted in his chest. All day when he was on his feet he was lugging around an unbalanced load of about 130lb. Obviously one of the more conservative sorts, either that or his parents still had some control over him.

They really are the lucky ones. Her mother and I are still upset with our youngest. Thank god the other two are too old for this nonsense! She came home on Tuesday, or rather she was delivered, it's all included in the price apparently, fused into one of those old Agha stoves. We scarcely recognised her. Her face was stitched into a gap in the chimney with alternating black rivets. The front stove door was missing and her midriff had been surgically extruded through the aperture and secured with a 5-foot length of what looked like scaffolding pole. Her legs stuck out the bottom and her arms through an aperture at one side. All pegged in place with big black steel bolts.

I exploded! "For Chrissake what have you gone and done to yourself? How on earth are you going to move around with a ton of bloody cast iron knitted into you? How are you going to feed yourself when your bloody arms won't even reach as far as your mouth.? How are you going to?, to or even? well?...." I ranted and I raved. Her poor mum just cried, saying over an over, "She used to look so pretty with those little LCD video screens in her ears, what have we done to deserve this?"

Traxita screamed back "I don't care, I don't care, all my friends have got them. Rixa's mum let her get a complete canal coal barge insertion and Tacita's got a working A7400 jet engine from a Jumbo 7. I hate you, I hate you. You never let me do anything. I'm going to my bedroom" Then she burst into tears.

She did not go to her bedroom. She could not move at all. It was clear she was going to regret her decision, but what can you do?. You have to let them grow up some time, they have to make their own decisions and live with the consequences as we all do. Eventually she would move on and agree to get the operations reversed. Hopefully, there would be no scars that could not be hidden by a few tasteful mock control panels or perhaps a small goldfish bowl implant. I wasn't totally a fashion dinosaur after all. So we feed and wash her and try to be patient. I let her mother take care of her other needs, I assume there is some facility but I don't ask.

Recently though, when I see her chatting with her friends (their parents arrange delivery), her metalwork gleaming with fresh blacking and looking so happy and confident in her new image, I wonder if perhaps I was a bit harsh and intolerant. I was young once too.

I went past the surgical fashion accessory shop today. They had a picture in the window of a bloke with an oak front door inserted into him sideways. It stuck out the sides rather like a batman cape and really looked quite dashing. I especially liked the matching letterboxes on his chest and buttocks. I suppose I'm really past all these young fashions, mutton dressed as lamb.

It would suit me though and might make my ears look smaller. What do you think?

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The great dictator

In many way things were quite democratic after the Great Dictator took over the world, could have showed the EU a thing or two anyhow.

The GD had the final say on everything of course, it would not have been a great dictatorship otherwise, but the number of votes that the absolute ruler of each nation had in council was roughly in proportion to his country's population.

Number of votes depended on rank. The highest rank below the Great Dictator was dictator. China had a 5-star dictator; Russia and the USA had 1-star dictators. Below that was tyrant with Japan on 5 stars and the UK, Italy and France on 3 stars. Below that, starting with Belgium on 5 stars came the rank of despot, and so on. The Vatican and San Merino trailed the pecking order with 1 star petty tinpot despots.

There was a big crisis in the extermination system. The absolute rulers were only allowed to exterminate minority sections of their populace in accordance with strict quotas as determined by the council and approved by the GD. There had been several applications for extensions that year, the US dictator had applied to exterminate more non-Hispanics, the UK tyrant had applied to exterminate more non-Muslims, and a number of absolute rulers, who had a very traditional view of these things, had applied to exterminate more Jews.

If these new applications were allowed without other adjustments there was a danger that the supply of minorities would drop to dangerously low levels. Scientists warned that these minority populations could no longer be self-sustaining and might disappear altogether. Some of you may think that surely this was the whole point (indeed the definition) of extermination. Not so. In the world of the Great Tyrant extermination of minorities was a sport like fox hunting today, foxes and most other wildlife having long since disappeared. It would have entirely spoiled the fun to actually succeed in eradicating a minority; that was only an aspiration.

The absolute rulers did their best to re-educate their populaces into accepting extermination of different minorities, which were not in such short supply. In the UK there was a big press campaign by the Extermination Marketing Board to sell the benefits of exterminating short people, but it failed as it was difficult to find many convincing reasons for hating or feeling threatened by them.

There was some very tough negotiating with much wheeling and dealing. As usual it was all a fudge; some quotas were reallocated or reduced to persecution quotas but the new total was higher. The new quotas caused much friction in some areas. France, who like the UK, principally exterminated non-Muslims, had had its quota reduced. The British accused the French of poaching by seizing people en route to the UK, even those with valid visas. The French retaliated with accusations of use of illegal extermination equipment by the British.

The system was widely criticised as inefficient. Vast numbers of minorities would be expensively shipped to labour camps and then have to be released because they were surplus to overall quota or to one of the many sub quotas; too many males, too many females, too short, too old, too tall or too young.

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This bloke down the pub, total nerd. Bored me rigid for twenty minutes about some fantastic film heíd seen about someone being trapped in a cyber world. How bloody original! bet that basic plot's only been done about 500 times since TRON. I felt he thoroughly deserved it when he fell into Microsoft Word while composing a letter to his sister and got buggered senseless by that paper clip.

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