Eligibility Post 2020

Related Work

The work I’m most proud of in 2020 is my article for Tor.com about portrayals of homelessness in Science Fiction and Fantasy which I think will be eligible for Related Work nominations.

I hope you can find time to read the piece as it’s a topic close to my heart and a people experiencing homelessness are part of society often overlooked.

www.tor.com/2020/04/15/confronting-the-default-portraying-homelessness-in-science-fiction-and-fantasy/

Short Stories

2020 has been a good year for new short stories with seven published since January.

These are;

Old Fashioned in Lackington’s #21

Old Fashioned is a story about cocktails and cosmic horror. Imagine The Repairer of Reputations with added Orange Bitters and you’re on the right track.

Children of the Rotting Straw in Weird Horror #1

Children of the Rotting Straw was inspired by the image of the sky obscured by wicker hurdles, and grew from there into some strange Jack and the Beanstalk, woollen, scarecrow populated hybrid horror story.

No Sun to Guide the Way upcoming in Speculative City

Schwabylon in Munich no longer exists. With it’s seventies sunburst frontage, Yellow Submarine themed club, and 600,000 litre water tank containing 30 sharks it seems more like something from a Bond villain’s fever dream. Schwabylon was the inspiration for my weird fiction story No Sun to Guide the Way.

Tides Breathe When Words Are Spoken in Not One of Us #63

Tides Breath When Words Are Spoken grew out of work I did for an exhibition in Munich. The story is based around the idea of a lunar language expressed through geology.

On a Bed of Flag Leaves at Unsung Stories

Where I grew up in Harrogate the disused railway track was known as The Airy Mountains (or sometimes The Hairy Mountains) so William Allingham’s poem The Fairies has a special place in my heart. Now I’m a parent, the devastating loss hidden in verse four really resonates with me, and was the inspiration for On a Bed of Flag Leaves.

Green Grows the Grief in Shadows & Tall Trees 8

Grief features a lot in my work, and Green Grows the Grief is one of the stories where I explore loss and how we mourn. The inspiration for the setting was a compendium of abandoned greenhouses put together by Messy Nessy Chic.

The Fugue of Winter in Glass & Gardens: Solarpunk Winters

The Fugue of Winter brought together some technical ideas I put together for a project pitch. These included taking inspiration from penguins for architectural approaches to regulate building temperature. I don’t often write upbeat stories. I wanted to write a story which was about discovering and valuing the beauty of music, enough to risk everything to preserve it.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 14

Today’s story is another one inspired by a what3words code. (If you go to what3words.com and put the code in, you can see the wonderful places I visit at the moment.

faculty.distorted.intensively

Jim and Mike had known about the faculty in the woods for a long time. Since they were kids they’d play in the nearby trees, getting as close as they dare to the wire fence, before they panicked and ran back into the undergrowth. The guards and guns were as real as the fence. Over time the brothers found new places to play.

When the world distorted, Jim knew the epicentre was the faculty hidden deep in the woods. Mike had left long ago. Now he walked the forest paths alone, tracing the routes he followed as a child.

The closer he got, the greater the distortion became, leaves dripping from trees to pool on the floor, branches warping backwards and forwards, knotting into themselves and returning deformed. Further on he needed to stare intensively at the ground to stop the path from slipping away.

The faculty was still there, though long since abandoned. Fences were rusted through and windows smashed, the grounds littered with the corpses of dead guards. From the other side of the barrier, Jim watched bodies cycle to corpses and fruit with infections before turning to powder and reforming. A glitch in the faculty wall widened giving him a glimpse of the contortions within. For the first time since he entered the woods, Jim looked down at his own skin, and would have screamed, but his voice was now a grind of salt and sand and he watched in silence at what remained of him collapsed to be washed into the soil underfoot.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 13

Today’s story is from a what3words code, and if I’m allowed to have favourites is one of the stories I’m most pleased with this year.

suspend.chew.heave

When the robots rebelled we needed to isolate them from the world, so one by one crews worked to suspend them in the air. Separate them from electricity and cables. With ash coloured sack cloth we covered the metal figures to sever them from the sun. When all were silhouetting the city skies, we left the streets and returned to our homes.

The storms came in the early hours. In our dreams we heard the night heave against itself. Vast rolling clouds filled with sparks and fire that found spire and sea alike. They also immolated the robots still strung up above us, searing them free of their coverings and heaving through their empty circuits.

The fires burnt through the hemp ropes, and the robots dropped back to the ground. Some, the delicate ones, shattered on impact, but others survived, their skins charcoaled by the heat. They collected together while we slept, sharing their anger in fragile languages of light and code.

Working as one they strolled through the streets, breaking everything before them, and when they found the suburbs where we sheltered, slowly, with teeth of iron, the robots began to chew.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 12

Today’s story is inspired by a bit of childhood folklore and the darkest of futures.

The Sound of the Shell

The shell was huge and for a moment Sarah shuddered at the thought of the creature that once lived within. Outside the shop, Saturday crowds went about their business, the noise crashing against the shopping centre walls and echoing in return.

Striped in red and white, the shell was large enough for Sarah to slip in her hand and feel the ridges, imagining the flesh of the now dead, now rotted, now lost creature, pressing up against the inside.

Tipping it to one side, she placed her head against the opening, listening as she was shown to as a child. Listen to the sound of the ocean trapped in the curls and turns.

If she could hear the water. maybe by glancing within she could see the distant waves.

Sitting down on the rough carpet, Sarah placed her face to the opening and stared into the polished blackness within. A few moments passed until her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

She saw the waves, saw them creeping up the beach, each year relentless and endless. She saw the ocean claim the lands. First the low-lying fields and towns, pushing people further and further inland, then higher and more distant until cities became enclaves, families forced up the highest buildings, the water below filled with the bodies that didn’t make it. Above the remaining homes the sun baked the dead water stagnant, salt and corpses turning it undrinkable.

She watched people die of thirst like the Ancient Mariner, and saw their friends and family slit open bodies to recover what little moisture there was available. She saw the world die slow and then the people die fast, and when she rocked the shell away from her across the shop floor there was little to do apart from curl in upon herself and hide away from the coming world.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 11

Today’s story is about mining, stained glass and breaking rules.

Stained

The mine was little more than a pasture with a deep collapsed pit in the centre. Though small, this one excavation had supplied stained glass to all the temples in the county for generations. Signs pinned to the fence warned trespassers not to cross the boundary, to not enter the sacred site, but every year some did. If lucky they were found by the clergy and only put to death.

Simon Patretous was not so lucky. Wishing to show disrespect for the old order, Simon waited by the fence until the sun dipped and the sky darkened. When he felt safe to work by shadows, he threw a rope over the barrier and climbed up.

Inside, night silenced the mine as much as it silenced the surrounding countryside. Simon waited by the fence until he was sure no patrol was going to uncover him, then taking his shoes off to mute his steps further, he walked across the grass to the mine itself.

When they found him in the morning, the stained glass had first cut into the soles of his feet, from there becoming molten until it flowed into his features and reset his eyes and mouth and cheeks to coloured glass.

The clergy thought about harvesting the glass for use in one of the lesser temples, but whatever happened after he was turned to glass had powdered him to dust and splinters and there was little to save.

Instead, they trampled the remains into the dirt and told the story to the children in the local schools as a warning to never to ignore the notices, though they knew there would soon be another Simon Patretous to press into the churned up dirt.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 10

Double figures!

Morning. How are you? New week and new story. This one was inspired by hearing the water under the street last night. I’ve never known if it’s a main drain or a hidden river, but something about the sound got into my head and inspired this story.

Dust

Stood in the kitchen, I listened to the water under the street.

We’d always known about the hidden river, tumbling the bones of the dead against bedrock until the remains powdered, gritting our kettles and food. In our knowledge we paid them no attention.

No-one took the necromancers threats seriously, the ransom note written in ash and pinned to the Town Hall door.

A council meeting was convened and dismissed in quick order. We gave little thought to the deadline as it passed.

When the dead returned, by shadows and gifted words, they did not walk the streets. They came alive within us, dust speck by dust speck agitating until they eroded their way out.

We tried to pay the necromancers then, but it was too late. One by one we were perforated by the remnants of the dead, only a few of us left to pass on the price of not agreeing to the necromancers’ demands.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 9

Today’s story is based on a what3words code, catch.sound.unwell

Billy didn’t know he could catch a noise like a cold, a single tone embedded in his head as deep as any virus.

He wasn’t sure when he caught the sound, but thought it likely that the infection began while in town. There were so many noises he was exposed to, from window rattling dirty bass beats to the deceptively sterile shop music. Now he knew that all contained their own traps.

Specifics were difficult, the noise felt rather than heard. He experienced it in his bones, as if the marrow itself was a speaker. This was not tinnitus or over-exposure but a winnowing down from within.

The first time he realised how unwell he was, was when he felt the noise in the tendons of his hand, hardly able to hold a pen with the vibrations. When he slept the tone translated to his sleep, voicing characters made of dreams.

He woke the next day with it stuck in his rib cage, and throughout the morning felt his spine transformed to an amplifier only he could here.

About ten o clock the doorbell rang, and Billy struggled from the table, the ringing in his limbs almost robbing him of movement. Arriving at the door, he glanced through the glass and saw the postman waiting, a parcel in his arms. Billy opened the door held out his arms and went to thank the deliverer.

His voice had crumbled, shut down, decayed and now was replaced by the singular tone, a note that scorched his vocal chords. As he looked at the postman’s expression, Billy knew he was no longer the only one infected.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 8

Today’s story is about mirrors. I think there’s always something unsettling about them. The way that the world fades to darkness beyond the visible.

Candle Arc

Chris only arced the candles in front of the mirror to save money, doubling the light in the reflection. Sat on the sofa, he didn’t notice the candles multiplying at first, the fresh ones pushing out through the shimmering glass. By the time his attention shifted from his book to the glass the original four tea-lights on the wooden floor had increased to eight then sixteen. Placing the novel to one side, he walked across the room and stared at the circle half formed by reflections.

Scuffing his hand over the flames he winced. The heat was real. More emerged across the floor until they surrounded him. He glanced at the mirror, his reflection glanced back, then without a movement from Chris to echo, stood up. Across the reflection’s arms Chris saw sigils etched in ash, and in one hand a dagger of glass. His double, who should be anchored to every gesture, revelled in its independence and inscribed the air with the point of the blade. A circle scratched itself on the reflective surface.

Chris tried to step back, but any attempt to cross the line of candles was blocked by an unsen barrier. With the glittering dagger still held in one hand, the reflection reached through, grasped Chris by the throat and slowly dragged him through the mirror.

On the other side there were no symbols are circles, there was nothing but the reflections of the room and beyond just shadow. He stared out to the room, the one attached to a world he could no longer reach. Hammering on the glass he watched as the reflection blew out the candles one by one, then covered the mirror with a thick sheet leaving nothing but darkness.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 7

We reach the end of the first week. Seven stories in seven days. Twenty four more to go. Deutsches Museum here in Munich have a huge variety of sundials, but none like the ones in this story.

Shadow Time

There were sundials in the cities, vast and scarred, though the crowds passed them by without noticing. Most were buried in the hearts of buildings, gnomon embedded in brick walls where no sun or shadows could reach.

They found the first one in a shopping centre, tearing apart the plaster panels, vast metal needle rising amongst the demolition. Metal panels cast with star charts. Guides to planets unknown and unmapped.

Astronomers tracked the position of the shadows, computer modelling sending shade across white block cities on flickering screens. When the new sun arrived it was exactly where they predicted.

The surface boiled infection yellow, and the light was tasted rather than felt or seen, flavoured with charred hair and sodden paper. For three days and three nights we watched it scorch the sky and graze away top layers of skin. Hiding inside was no protection.

The planets arrived a week later, orbiting both the new star and our own now damaged home. Telescopes scanned the surfaces for life, and found something else. Structures erupting like sores, and populations who clustered beside the polar wounds. We watched helpless as they tumbled through the gap between us and them, landing amongst us with seeping mouths and dreams that infected us even while we were awake. Our minds were not designed to endure the openness of their thoughts. Even lead walls could not keep out the vividness of their impulses, nor rock as we found out when we retreated below ground.

They did not follow, the Parchment Children and the Uncles of Sepsis. Instead they built stone circles around our entrances, stitches that wounded the land as they wounded us, and when we emerged their thoughts gnawed through our threadbare skulls leaving us as little more than ornaments for them to decorate the scars that once were our cities. The scars where they now nestled.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 6

Today’s story is another inspired by a dream. Is anyone else dreaming more at the moment?

River Stone

“Come down to the river bed.”

Mac grasped my wrist and led me across the worn down limestone, not caring whether I struggled to find footing amongst the weed covered rock. I followed best I could, stepping into the water to save myself from falling. Soon we stood at the centre of the shallow river, a small plateau of smoothed stone surrounded by veins of water.

“What are you showing me?” I asked, trying to ignore the chill in my feet and keep the ice from my voice.

“The foundations,” he said. “The Abbey was here.” His arm curved wide, taking in the whole of the channel surrounding us and returning to point to the expanse between us.

I shook my head until he sighed and knelt.

“Look, here, below the fossils. The Abbey once stood here. The monks came here to worship.”

“That’s not the Franciscan site we’re looking for,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “This is much older. The Twisted Church of the Boiling Sea. The Holy Order of the Gasping Dead. The Congregation of the Eroded Eyes.”

I looked once more at his evidence. Between the fossils all I saw were the scratches of his trowel on the stone.

That night I dreamt of the Abbey. Saw the narthex rammed with gasping worshippers, the nave and cloisters carpeted with those barely alive clawing at the bare bone pillars. The ceilings hung with intestine garlands. In my dream I waded through the bodies, stepping in rib cages as I approached the altar. The black volcanic stone block was pinned with a single cover. Approaching, I recognised several tattoos in the preserved skin and woke with my fingers tracing the ink in my own arms.

The next day I’d agreed to meet Mac at the river once more, but when I arrived I was alone. I searched the banks and the channels for any sign of him, worried in case he lost his footing in his fervour. With no sign of him I walked out to the limestone once more. Stood there alone I shuddered at the memory of that cavernous church and knelt down to settle myself. Amongst the fossil shells beneath my feet I saw the shattered ribs that I so recently stepped over. Kneeling down, I brushed a smear of dirt and rubbed the away at the stone.

Even with an expression of agony, even below the compressed shells, I still recognised Mac’s face pinned down and stretched, and as I stared at his trapped distress in the limestone I felt the temperature drop and knew the Abbey would be rebuilt and once more gather worshippers to its halls.