Where is Neil?

Where is Neil?

She was a computer geek, a technophile and proud of it, and a proud young mother too. She had hundreds of hours of digital footage on phones and backup drives. Every major life event from his short life, first words, first steps, birthdays. A massive selection of minor ones too, favourite toys, foods, books, television show.

There was more. She knew details only a parent could. His fears, dreams, the tiny nubs of what would one day crystalise into his ambitions. She fed them all in.

Where is Neil?

Even more data was harvested or extrapolated. His gait and how it would change as he grew. His face at ages 4, 10, 16, and beyond. His likely height when full grown (181 cm) and shoe size (10). The books she would have read him, the professions of his four grandparents, where his father holidayed as a child. Everything they could think of, and then everything the system asked for.

Where i s Neil?

Neil’s mother had been working on the first quantum computer. A device that could calculate beyond the limits of simple silicon. Neil’s life was loaded into it with a dedicated neural simulator. An infinite variety of simulations ran, tested against his life then spiralled out into possibility. Waveforms propagated and collapsed.

Where i a m Neil?

The infinite array of Neils could be tracked, security camera footage compared. Across the country police checked a particular door, and found him. His family dropped everything. The press was amazed at the mother who had found her child when the police had failed.

I am Neil. Where am I? Where’s my mummy?

The research time she had booked – had misused to run her program – expired. The next researcher wiped the drives and started again.

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An Erlking’s Daughter

Ernie hates storms. I thought it was the wind and rain, that Ernie wasn’t so bright, but now I know better.

The night I learned better was a big winter storm. I loved the sound of heavy rain hitting the roof, but that was Ernie’s trigger to start barking and pacing. I sent him to his bed. The whining was quieter at least, and I heard the shed door as wind ripped it open. I swore. I’d forgotten to close it and rain would rust all the machinery.

I threw on my jacket, thrust feet into boots and headed out. The wind hit me like a wave. There was an odd noise, but it was probably creaking trees so I pushed on to close the shed. When I’d latched and locked the door I heard the noise again. It was singing. Who’d be out singing in a night like this?

It was a woman. Hair loose and flying, dress soaked through from the rain, she stood on the edge of the light from my windows. Her song was adventure, power, lust, everything my farm wasn’t and I stepped forward. But then I heard frenzied barking from inside. Ernie was pressed against the window, teeth bared. I looked back to the woman and saw a thing instead – all wood and willow hair, with thick root feet and bramble claws.

I ran, but it was faster. Briars grabbed me and I fell, but Ernie was there, grabbing my shirt and hauling me in. The lucky horseshoe over the door fell, and sheared the bramble branches like an axe. There was an awful screech outside. I slammed the door.

The next day I burned the remaining twigs, though they scratched and clung to me. Ernie got steak, and can bark all he likes.


 

I saw the amazing Robert Hofmann singing The Erlking this weekend (backed by some wonderful musicians). It seems to have stuck. This was a tough one to get out on the page though.

Buried myths and legends

“I heard there are dead bodies under there,” said a kid.

“I heard it was toxic waste,” his friend replied. They both watched the diggers avidly. I felt sick. I sent a text – “They found it.”

The council had finally decided to investigate. The grass had grown oddly there for years now. They’d tried replacing the topsoil, adding fertiliser, all sorts of fixes, but the problem lay deeper. Six feet deeper.

I’d been a teenager, practically a child, only starting to experiment with cynicism. I’d still believed in magic. So had Emma. So when we found him in the wood, when he found us, we’d trusted implicitly when we should have been cautious.

This was a creature of legend. But the old legends had darker sides, kelpies and brook horses to drown you, fairies to dance you to death. I knew all of those now, too late.

The diggers hit something and called to each other. It was bone, but not the skull. Nothing distinguishing.

He’d come and put his head in her lap. Emma, knowing a little folklore but not enough, had taken her necklace and put it around his neck. She hooked a link around a twig and he woke, but stood statue still. He hadn’t moved a muscle until we returned with her brother Carl. The terrible horn exploded into motion.

Emma’s parents had thought it was a sick joke, but her dad brought a long handled axe from his garden shed. I wished he had a gun. The legend was there, standing over Carl’s body, held by a tiny golden chain.

“It’s a horse,” the diggers called up. “It’s been shot in the head!”

That wasn’t why there was a hole in its skull. I reached under my coat and touched the horn, for reassurance.

Garden Karma

Cynthia adored her garden. It was a slice of Eden, tamed and kept. Everything in it was edible, gorgeous, or both. Her favourite were the artistically planted, soft-leaved lettuces.

She hunted down all pests, squashing aphids between her fingers, chopping slugs in half with the trowel. One day she found five snails and crunched them beneath her slipper, then scraped the remains onto a bird feeder.

She didn’t remember her dreams that night, but woke unrefreshed and irritable.

In the garden were more snails. She disposed of them, but found another on the bird feeder, cannibalising its departed comrades. Cynthia hurled the snail into Brian Finton’s garden, hoping it would warn other snails to keep out, or get eaten by that yappy dog.

That night she dreamed of unseen pursuit.

The next morning she found twenty snails, munching on decimated marigolds. In a fury she went between them, wielding her trowel like a gladius until every trespasser lay dead.

In her dream she fell into a deep, soggy hole. She saw the first snails glide over the pit edge. A few at first, then a wave, a thousand soft bodies and crisp shells descending. Some dropped and she stomped them into the mud, but thousands more…

She woke with a gasp.

Outside her garden was overrun by snails, thousands of them. Her lettuces were sad, green stumps, encased in shells. Brian next door was woken by the screaming. He went to complain, but was hit by an airborne snail. He left her alone.

Cynthia eventually fell asleep in her ruined garden, surrounded by crushed and bisected snails. She opened her eyes in the hole, her body already covered as more crawled towards her. Tiny tongues rasped like a cat lick, rough, but painless at first. They didn’t stop.

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I really enjoyed writing this one. Just look at those scheming little slimeballs in the picture. I’d watch out if I were you.

Not really sure what genre this fits best, if any.

That Horrible Blue Planet

Legs were kicking, children splashing and singing, and the grandmas were doing slow, casual lengths of the swimming pool when the spaceship smashed through the leisure centre roof. One small graze was caused by falling debris, but the spaceship showed no damage at all from its destructive entry.

Swimmers began to splash, struggle and wade to escape as six dodecahedron-based beings exited their similarly geometried craft. The leader of the aliens, subcaptain Sixbox, emitted a yellow puff of satisfaction at the panic. Bilateral beings were disgusting. What were they doing here anyway? Their planet was two thirds covered in solvent, it wasn’t as if you could locomote through that. So what was the point of gathering so much non-solvent liquid in one place?

He signalled his team to grab the nearest biped. There was no point in issuing orders to these ugly creatures, they wouldn’t understand his language. This was purely a smash and grab, shock and awe exercise. When they had studied the local culture his people could begin to transmit surrender demands.

The team rolled towards a small biped, splashing through a small pool of the liquid. Immediately they began to scream and claw at themselves, puffing purple panic into the atmosphere. Sixbox couldn’t believe his eyepods, the liquid was solvent! They were swimming in solvent!

His team’s crystalline skin was rapidly dissolving, he could do nothing for them. Instead he raced back to his vessel, only to find the entryway closing. The captain had chosen not to risk solvent entering his ship. There were other, drier planets they could conquer.

As the ship left and his team convulsed the bipeds began to gather round, many still dripping with solvent. They pointed and hooted to each other. Sixbox puffed purple.


 

My second attempt at a HFY style story. I’m much more pleased with this one. The first (a 75 word story) is here if you are interested.

My current plan is to try and close out the month with a 300 word story every weekday, see how it is to maintain that rate and reassess in September.

After that I want to try for larger regular short stories, but it depends how long it takes me to write them.

Why you should never rob a caterpillar train

“Sure, the Brandish gang will never notice us taking a mile long train through their backyard,” Fixie yelled as she reloaded. “What a great idea!”

At the head of the caterpillar train the driver Randle pumped frantically, misting pheromones to convince the massive biovehicles to speed up.

“Come on girls,” he said, panting. “You can do it.”

“They’re genderless grubs, idiot,” said Irwin, aiming carefully. Fixie elbowed him.

“You’re a genderless grub,” she said. He snarled.

“You made me miss!”

“You’d have missed anyway.” She lined up her own shot, but missed.

“What are we paying you clowns for?” Shouted Randle. “If we lose a caterpillar because you’re messing about…”

Fortunately Irwin’s next shot hit a bandit in the shoulder, knocking him from his horse. Irwin smirked.

“They’re too close! Stop them!” Randle was distraught as the bandits closed in on a caterpillar towards the middle of the train. Irwin and Fixie shot one, two, three bandits, but the rest closed and started jumping aboard, leading the caterpillar out of line.

Randle groaned theatrically, but switched pheromone pumps to call a halt. The caterpillars’ undulations slowed as the chemical signal passed down the line. He pulled out a long rifle, and loaded a wicked looking dart.

“Ah, what’s that, Randle?” Asked Fixie.

“The reason bandits shouldn’t steal from caterpillar trains,” he said.

The dart struck home.

The caterpillar rolled, crushing half the bandits instantly. The other half, including their horses, were quickly grasped by one of the twenty pairs of legs – despite their stubby look they had a surprising reach. The screams didn’t last long.

“Off you go then,” Randle said to the two guards.

“What?”

“You didn’t stop the bandits, so you get to put the caterpillar down. Don’t get too close, she’ll have a taste for meat now.”

Those Buoyant Depths

Bevi’s mother often sent him out of the house to play so she could get things – anything – done, so today had been nothing special.

“You stay away from those bubblers Bevi,” she called. “I don’t want to see you float away up a roof vent.” He wasn’t the most biddable child, but the thought of the ragged tears in the cave roof gave him the shudders.

Bevi’d had a great morning with a gaggle of kids teasing carnivorous glow worms, when his stomach reminded him that he’d left lunch on the counter. It was simple to climb the rock wall their house abutted and slip in the window. His mother would never know he was home. Except there she was on the kitchen floor, all intertwined with a priest. The priest’s ugly red mask slowly raised to see the paralysed boy.

Out the window. Skinned down the rocks. Away from the town lights into the deep dark of the cave.

Bevi sobbed and imagined all the creeping eyeless things that might enjoy the taste of small boy. A quiet scuff caught his breath, and he spotted a priest – the same one? – mask lighting his way through the dark. Bevi crept backward, up a slope, until he was wedged into a nook high above the cave floor.

When the footsteps had gone a faint bubbling intruded. He looked wildly, but couldn’t see anything in the dark. If he’d been breathing the gas for too long…

Bevi dashed towards home, but a gust of wind caught him, lifted his suddenly light body off the floor and into a dark crack in the rock above.

The rock chimney was dark and sharp as he swept timelessly upwards. Eventually Bevi realised the grey movement he could see was no hallucination. And above… light?


 

So I finished my 4 weeks of 75 word stories. I feel like I learned a bit about writing 75 worders, and it was very satisfying to write consistently like that.

Here’s a 300 worder from the usual SFF Chronicles contest.

The Death of “Breadhead” Heedle

“You must have a natural affinity for yeast,” they told him, carefully not mentioning his deformity.

“Your bread… it’s sublime!”

Yet Albert “Breadhead” Heedle felt a little too close for comfort. As though he was betraying doughy brethren. The baker insisted he return, bake more every time.

“This is art!”

Exhausted, Albert put his head on the bench for just a moment.

“But his head looked just like a loaf.” They told the police, later.

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Daria Shevtsova pexels-photo-1070945

HFY/Pandora’s Planet

They couldn’t understand how our brains functioned. We still had very little idea ourselves, but humanity exploded into galactic society like a saltatory signal down a nerve. Chemical clusters, house sized colony pheromones and various other biologies couldn’t keep up with this minuscule exotic monkey mind and its intuitive leaps.

A paranoid, jealous sub-alliance gunned for Earth, only to find their best weapons had been replicated, studied and stymied.

Humanity was out of the box.


 

This was brought to you by my promise to be more upbeat and the letters H, F, and Y.

For anyone not in the know, Humanity, Fuck Yeah! is a (sub)genre of scifi stories which focus on humanity being amazing. It’s nice contrast to the common trope of humans being the “default” generalists and alien races specialising in some way.

I’m not sure how well this works as a story, it’s too far out in perspective. It would be better to have zoomed in to a local level, have actual characters and so on.

JIM03

“It’s just a car, Mike,” she said. But it wasn’t.

JIM03 read the numberplate. The car was an ’03 Corolla, Jimmy’s favourite, built the year he was born. Mike imagined Jimmy would have bought one as his first car.

It had quirks. The radio was stuck on PopFM, a 10 year old’s channel. Sometimes the engine started before Mike put the key in.

Now JIM03 sat impounded, towed away. Alone.

He couldn’t stand it.


 

It’s a sad one today. I’m sorry. Let’s try for something perky and upbeat tomorrow, OK?