Sunday, 31 July 2016

Imminent Baby Writing Challenge Day Eight: "Adaptations"

Sorry I've gone quiet for a few days on this. This story turned out to be nearly three times longer than my average so far, so I couldn't keep to my usual schedule. Fingers crossed for the future!

Today's word was suggested by my father who gave me 'beekeeping', a topic much on his mind at the moment, which then got the random genre 'sci-fi' - although I will admit to straying into sci-fi horror a bit with this one.

 Tomorrow's word is 'tea party' (picked by my wife's sister-in-law) and the random genre is 'suspense' - in my personal experience, these are not two words that often sit together!

If any more of my blog readers want to suggest a word, I'll write you a story too! (as always, the genre will get randomly picked out of a list).

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "Adaptations".

Out of the Mouths of Babes - Part Two

Scene: MIKE is SINGING because he is HAPPY

CELESTE: Stop it Dad. You're bad at singing. Mum better.

MIKE: Oh. I'm good at dancing though.

CELESTE: No Dad! Mum better

MIKE: I'm pretty good at stories and cuddles, I think.


MIKE: What am I good at then?


CELESTE: Changing poo nappies. That the only thing. One thing. Need change now.

MIKE is no longer SINGING because he is UNHAPPY

I always get the bum jobs...

Friday, 29 July 2016

Oh, Give Me A Home...

We all enjoyed the Sudbury Open Gardens charity day the other week, that I wrote it up and send it to the community newspaper and they were kind enough to publish it. This time, I actually remembered to include author information in the copy file I submitted!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Seven: "The God Stone"

Not long to go until D-Day now ladies and gents! "The muslins were washed and then folded with care, in the hope that a little babe soon would be there!" and so on. I'd write the rest, but a story each day is keeping me pretty busy already!

Today's word was suggested by my mother who I think decided to scupper me by giving me 'lamp shade' which then got the random genre 'fantasy'. That's right. A fantasy lamp shade. I've done my best!

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "The God Stone".

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Six: "The Dance of the Shadows"

T-minus 20 days until blast-off! Mind you, with the number of warm-up contractions that Lyn's having, I suspect showtime might be even sooner than that!

Today's word was suggested by my brother who's always had a fascination for stories revolving around the dark, chaotic and macabre. He gave me "shadows" and the random genre picker gave me "steampunk."

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "The Dance of the Shadows".

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Five: "Post Haste"

T-minus 21 days until blast-off! Yes, I know you expected that to read 22 days, but I miscalculated - don't tell Lyn.

Today's word has given by a very good friend from university with whom I lived for some years, spending a king's random on beer and "House of the Dead" shooting galleries in the student union. He gave me "biplane" and the random genre picked was "western", two words that have an overlap of about eight years chronologically and only in about four states in the US.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "Post Haste".

Monday, 25 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Four: "The Little People"

T-minus 23 days until blast-off! Or less! Or more! Who can say? If Lyn's got it all planned out, she won't say!

Today's word has given by the lovely wife of a very good friend of mine from university - it is "bannister" and the random genre picker gave me "folk tale". I'm very proud of getting this one out on time because halfway through, my computer died and I had to finish writing and editing it on my phone's memo app.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "The Little People".

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Three: "Just the Shine"

T-minus 24 days until blast-off! Or less! Or more!

Today's word has given by my very lovely and heavily pregnant wife Lyn - it is "shine" and the random genre picker gave me "crime". There are far, far worse combinations than crimes involving shiny things. Actually, come to think of it, the majority of crimes revolve around shiny things.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "Just the Shine".

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Imminent Baby Writing Challenge Day Two: "Cloak, Club and Cups"

T-minus 25 days until blast-off! Or less!

So Day One seemed to go pretty well. Now though, the choice of an old university friend of mine - 'hammock' - which got paired with 'fairy story'. Not an easy one this, but I've given it my best go. Thanks very much for the word - and it's been brilliant to see photos of your lovely boys on Facebook. Tomorrow's word is 'shine' and the genre is 'crime'.

If any of my readers want to chip in a word, I'll write you a story too!

Friday, 22 July 2016

New Baby Celebration Day One: "A Flash of Pink"

To help celebrate the imminent birth of my second child and mourn the fact that I'm not going to be writing for a while once that happens, I asked some of my friends on Facebook to throw a word at me and I'd write them a story about it. To keep it interesting, the genre would get picked by a random selector. To make it really difficult, I'm going to try to do one per day.

This first one came from a very dear friend of mine who lives in Canada and who I sadly haven't seen in bleedin' ages, but it's been brilliant to see her flourishing in far, much colder, soils. The word was 'blues' and the topic was 'thriller'.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Because I have a brother, I'll always have a fiend (not a typo)

It was my brother's birthday at the weekend - he's turned 30 - so Mum and Dad, with their usual generosity, put on a slap-up feast. For once, there's not much of a story here. Just family sitting around a table, enjoying each other's company and only occasionally descending into rows about Brexit. Rather than forcing jokes about a lovely afternoon, I'll let the pictures do the talking.

It's like looking at me, but with optimism about the future

Food? But look at all the lawn toys! Golf instead! Play now!

Oh...wait. Hummus? What was I saying?

My brother and his lovely fiancee

 Celeste insisting on washing up the cutlery. From a different angle, you could see a quarter moon. Think about it Tom.

Tom's game attempt to light his birthday candles in a stiff cross-breeze

For some strange reason, I didn't think putting a picture of a bare-bummed toddler in the paddling pool on the internet was wise. This will have to suffice.

A lovely afternoon was had by all. I drank enough beer to catastrophically wreck my diet and Lyn kindly drove the three of us home afterwards. Celeste went to bed nicely and I fell gently asleep too, stretched out on the living room floor (I wasn't drunk, I was just really tired - oh hell's bells, who'll believe that?)

Monday, 18 July 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Celeste and I have been indulging in our usual power games over getting dressed in the morning for a while now, but today she used some of my own tricks against me. I'm so proud. And concerned.

Imagine the scene...

ME (pointing at several piles of socks): Right - no fussing about. You have a choice between this pile, this pile or this pile. Which ones do you want to put on?

CELESTE ignores me, snatches up a pair of tights from the sock draw and her trousers from the floor and turns to face me with a stern face, determined to not let me control the morning's sock agenda.

CELESTE: You have choice Daddy: trousers and tights. Which put on me first?

ME: *giggling*

CELESTE: No fussing Daddy!

ME: *giggling hysterically*

Battleground: Footwear

EDIT: Further cheekiness at the Sainsburys Cafe today! When the nice lady comes up with the sauce sachets, Celeste stole them all and put three carefully in front of me.

CELESTE: Here your choices Daddy. No fussing! Pick one now.

Celeste is a strict custodian of the sauces

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Quiet Contemplation

Quite a personal one from me this week. About four years ago, I was having a really difficult time at work. I'd just moved schools to a promoted position and nothing was as it had been presented at the interview and tour. It was less like trying to buy a car and being sold a lemon, as buying a car and finding it on a driveway up on bricks with the tyres stolen and the engine out on the road, on fire. Lord only knows what the management team thought putting someone with zero experience in charge would accomplish. Anyway, after killing myself for a few years, I quit and was immeasurably happier for it.

This story came out of that nightmare experience, towards the end once I'd handed my notice in. I had a sudden moment of clarity about how miserable I'd been (God bless Lyn for her strength in putting up with me!) and how work had consumed every waking thought. The place described below is real. There is a coda at the end if you read on.

The Hollow

When I drive home from work, I pass a sunken hollow in the woodland through which a babbling brook flows. My steep approach along the road means that I only see it for an instant and I never remember that it’s there until it’s gone, but one day I will stop and paddle in the cool inviting waters.

By the stream, I’ve spied the stump of a felled tree and I will sit on it while I unlace my smart work shoes, rest them on the soft mossy soil and tuck my ironed socks carefully into them. The cool temperature of the water will be a shock at first, but I will become accustomed to it. There may be fish in the water or there may not be. All will be still while I placidly investigate the flat stones on its bed with my curled toes.

I first saw the hollow with the stream in the spring. I had finished my first day at my new job and my stretched nerves were stuffed full of lightning. My little car hurtled its way up and down valleys: for a moment I saw it and thought of stopping and stepping into the shallow water. Then I was gone and my thoughts drifted to microwavable dinners and tomorrow’s meeting. As days sped by, I gradually developed a picture of the hollow through these brief still pictures. I saw snowdrops and bluebells surging upwards through the damp soil, adding splashes of colour to the monotone green palette. I watch a flick book: skeletal dark branches suddenly sprout tight green buds which unfurl into glorious leaves. Sometimes there would be birds, other times not: they flicker in and out of the sequence like friendly sprites.

There was no time to stop, though. The gutter on my house needs repairing and there are promotions at work that need chasing. I need to put the washing on and put the bin out before it gets dark. Perhaps I’ll stop next week when the pace has slowed.

It is summer now. I am promoted and I am wealthy, but the extra responsibility makes me tired and stressed. Some days, I go home and fall asleep in front of the television's predictable burble of bad news. I have a new car, which is much faster than the old one, but I still make the effort to slow for a moment when I pass the hollow. That surging vitality I saw in spring has matured into the lush strength of summer. Although the bluebells and snowdrops are gone now, they have been replaced with all manner of vibrant plant life: a tangle of wild roses, ranks of daisies and eruptions of flowering grasses. Sometimes, as I hurtle by, I see little specks of colour hovering above the water – I imagine they are dragonflies, busily darting this way and that. The days are hot, so I roll down the window of my car and allow the smell of the meadow to waft in. On the days when I do this, the smell of warm grass replaces the artificial lemon funk of my air freshener.

Autumn arrives. I have succeeded at my job and I am proud of what I have achieved, although precisely what my achievements are is difficult to remember. I play golf regularly with my boss, although I dislike his company and I detest the sport. It is important to make him like me, so I often drive directly from work to his home so that he can enjoy talking to me about lawn care and classic car maintenance. To my delight, the route is similar to my drive home: I still see the hollow when I drive there. I often think of stopping there: the water will be less pleasant and the weather will be colder, but it will still be my hollow and I can still paddle my toes in the river. The hollow looks more barren now. The summer plant life is thinning away, and although much of it is replaced by an impressive spread of blackberry-heavy brambles, the black earth beneath is starting to poke through. The thought of snacking on those blackberries while I paddle beneath the trees’ riotous red foliage is appealing, but unfortunately, I can’t today – I have to eat dry pork chops with my boss and his humourless wife. Or tomorrow either – the kitchen needs repainting. I definitely shouldn’t go there while I’m this tired as I won’t enjoy it. It’s important that I choose my moment carefully.

When the year slips quietly into winter, the hollow slips quietly into a palette of greys and whites. Much of the exuberant growth has died away and the rich black loam is speckled and then covered with white frost. The slow freezing of the hollow is inexorable and gradual: days then weeks pass as the birds and insects flee, the mud around the brook freezes solid and a hostile wind funnels down along the river’s valley. I am tired, as I am much of the time. I have lost interest in my job, but I do it anyway. There are payments to make on my car and my house, so I do my hours and go home. I have more time to sit beside my river, but it gets dark earlier now and the river has frozen solid. It’d probably be too difficult to find somewhere to park my car and pick my way down the slope. I feel I’ve missed my chance.

But this has not happened yet. Snowdrops and bluebells still carpet the ground near the tree stump; birds still flit skittishly from branch to bush to water. Today, I will paddle in the water.

I stop driving.


Now, some years later, I have finally stopped at the hollow to paddle. Unfortunately, it is private properties, and I'm not allowed near it. This is probably a metaphor, although I'm lost as what it is!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Red wire or blue wire?

Ah. I think we've hit the terrible twos. In helpful preparation for adolescence, Celeste has started seesawing between her useful joyous, cheeky self and an irritable, tearful sulk. Sample dialogue:

ME: There we go! Hair all brushed up and beautiful. I've got rid of all of the tangles and...

CELESTE: *tearing up* Put them back!

ME: What? I...

CELESTE: *starting to sob* Put back tangles!

ME: What? I can't put back...

CELESTE: *sobbing* My tangles! Put back!

And so on. Although this has made getting ready in the morning a minefield of upset, it has given me a great idea for a book I could write:

Cut the red wire or blue wire? Nope - it's a trick: they're both booby-trapped!

I thought these might be suitable chapter titles:

  • Dinner Time: Give Peas a Chance
  • Bedtime Routines: Brushing a Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing But That Tooth
  • Buridan's Ass: Picking between the red dress and the blue dress
  • Hobson's Choice: Dealing with a broken banana
  • When Negotiations Fail: Duck and Cover

(I guess my sense of humour failure didn't last that long after all!)

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Sense of Humour Failure

I haven't posted anything on here since the weekend, which is a shame because I've got quite fond of blogging. It's because my sense of humour has basically gone and it's my job's fault.

Don't get me wrong, I still like teaching. Not with the same manic zeal as when I started, but as a job it's fine. It'd be brilliant without relentless government pressure and the talking down of my profession, but that's by the by.

And there we have, ladies and gentlemen, the reason for my semi-silence. I am not in a happy mood. My students are not in a happy mood. The majority of the staff at my school are not in a happy mood. Each and every one of them is exhausted and irritable. The hysteria on the run down to the GCSEs even takes it out of people who aren't involved. Everyone needs it to be the summer holidays now; everyone needs to escape the pressure cooker for a few weeks.

I don't expect sympathy from anyone who's not a teacher because they can't get it. I'm just writing this because I don't think I'll be writing anything funny for a little while. Please do bear with me, though!


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Short Story Sunday

More recent writing this time: something I wrote over two weeks in the half-hour detention I have to run on Monday lunchtimes. As I have a responsibility point at my school (Key Stage 3 Science Co-ordinator - feel the awesome authority I wield!), I have to run a detention for all the naughty boys and girls (though usually boys) who can't be bothered to behave or do homework for their teachers and then don't turn up to that detention either. If they're a nice enough bunch, I get to do something else apart from glare sternly at them: I write. If they're not, I spent my lunchtime relentlessly hectoring them and achieve nothing.

It means that this got written one hundred or so words at a time. It took so long to finish and is so associated with being irritable that I can't ever be really fond of it, the way I am with some of my other stuff.  It's nice enough, though: perhaps I should just let it out of detention now so it can get some fresh air!

Five Stones

It's moving again.

Round and round in the jungle darkness it moves, heavy and huge. The smell of the swathes of crushed grass it's leaving in its wake makes me feel sick. My own scent on the night wind agitates it, making it aggressive and wild

I sit cross-legged on the wet, hot grass and keep my eyes shut. Whenever I try to see it, the glimpses of sharp bone and twitching tendrils are enough to construct a nightmare in my mind.

Who am I kidding? The thing really is a nightmare, except one physical enough to kill the Captain.

Dawn is coming. I have to stay calm and think through my options, the few I have.

Jackson! Jackson!”

Kappa's panicked yelling drowns out the awful soft movement for a while.

We need to go, Jackson! We need to leave!” he shouts again.

Kappa's always high-strung when we land on an unexplored planet. He knows as well as I do what's keeping us alive and it all hinges on staying put. Just thinking about our molecule-thin protection makes me nervous, but terror is tipping Kappa over the edge and he needs reassurance before he does anything stupid.

Listen!” I call back. He can't be more than a few metres away from me, but he may as well still be in space for all I can reach him. “Look at your feet Kappa. Tell me what you see!”

It's so dark that I can just about see his silhouette against the jungle, but I think he tilts his head and looks down at the grass like I ask.

Five glowing lights,” he stammered.

And what does that mean?” I asked. For a moment, a huge bulk blots out the stars to the west of me and I nearly cry out. In a flash of reflected moonlight, I see dense scales and a wickedly sharp bone crest. “What do the lights on the Stones mean, Kappa?”

It means I'm safe.”

No: it means you're safe as long as you stay between them. Don’t move.”

Kappa falls silent again.

I check my own lights: all five Stones glow brightly through the long grass, though perhaps not as intensely as before. The batteries are running down, but the defensive field is still up. I'm safe for a while longer.

Unconsciously, I look at where I think Captain Courtenay's body probably is. There've been some gristly, splintering cracks from that direction that I don't want to speculate about. A Five Stones malfunction is damn rare, but it does occasionally happen. It's always tragic when they fail.

I think Kappa is crying. I wish that that thing had killed him instead of the Captain. At least I’d have someone useful here. Courtenay was handsome, clever and resourceful and terribly, terribly unlucky.

I remember Courtenay throwing his Five Stones into the air with a textbook snap of his wrist, then the look of astonishment on his striking face as they pattered inactive to the ground. He had just enough time to look confused before the dark mass that chased us through the twilight jungle pounced and the screaming began.

It went on and on, way past the point where I thought Courtenay must’ve have died. I'm trying not to think about it but whenever the creature comes close, there’s a copper smell.

The captain's blood.

The field projected by my Five Stones is only a molecule thick and protects just enough area to sit in, but it’s impenetrable from the outside for as long as the batteries last. That’s why it’s the favourite of unmasked adulterers and planetary survey teams the galaxy over. Usually, it protects teams against sudden hurricanes or volcanic eruptions – unexplored worlds like this are damn dangerous – but I'm sure we're the first to use them against a creature this size. There'll be a mention in the record books if we ever get to the scout ship and back home again.

I scream in shock as something small crashes hard against the barrier, but the Five Stones field repels it easily in a shower of sparks and the object slithers down the invisible barrier to the ground. What was that?

The sparks, fizzling pathetically in the damp grass, illuminate a nose and mouth before they go out.

What was that?” yells Kappa, terrified.

Nothing,” I reply loudly, quavering. “Just a short circuit.”

There's a sense of an enormous mass moving away; the creature was prowling around Kappa now with great breathy exhalations.

Don’t panic,” I call. “The ship’s less than a mile away. When the sun comes up, this thing will leave...probably...and we’ll run back to the ship. By the end of the day, we’ll be a million miles away and never ever come back to this damn planet. Just hold on.”

Kappa whimpers. He's so weak: physically and emotionally. Even if terror doesn't make him do something dumb, is he physically strong enough to survive this?

I mean, could we run back safely? That thing is fast. We could cover that mile in maybe seven minutes, with the creature right by us when we started running.

No chance for either of us.

Kappa's field sparks violently: a tree branch was just thrown against it. The whole branch bursts into flame and illuminates the great sinewy mass circling by. There is a terrible glimpse of dense muscle sliding over the grass like a gigantic snake, but with two wickedly-taloned limbs tucked tightly up against its flanks. Kappa starts crying.

Pull yourself together!” I yell irritably. “We'll be safe until help arrives!”

Kappa sobs harder but manages to gulp out a reply.

From where? The nearest scout ship is weeks away! It's just us!”

Annoyingly, he had a point. There was no help coming.

There was another crash against my field: something long, thin and terminating in five digits. A band of gold around one of the digits provoked a blinding crescendo of blinding sparks as it grated slowly downwards against the barrier. There was more than enough illumination to appreciate the grisly projectile as the sparks singed the short brown hair lightly covering it.

What was it doing? What...

The five lights on the Stones around me dimmed ominously.

That was what it was doing.

We wouldn't survive until help arrived; we wouldn't survive until daybreak.

There was the sound of bone clacking against bone. It could smell my renewed fear and it knew what I'd have to do now. We'd have to run. It was the only choice.

Kappa...” I call. “It's deliberately depleting the fields. We're going to have to chance running back to the scout ship.”

I can't do it, Ruth,” he gasps. “I can't do it.”

We have to, Max,” I beg. “It's the only way. If we're quick, we'll make it.”

Quick across dark, undulating ground, littered with protruding roots and potholes: he must know it's madness. There's no way it would work and he knew it. He must.

Okay,” he says in a small, defeated voice.

The creature's off to my left now, devouring us with terrible, unceasing scrutiny. I think it knows something is up. The second we step out through the Field, it'll pounce and once we step through, we can't go back.

We count down from ten together; I reach 'one' with a pounding heart and a dry mouth. Kappa springs out of his Field with a defiant yell and turns to run. The three steps he managed were all spent looking at me in complete disbelief as I stayed safely within my Five Stones zone.

The monstrous typhoon hit him so hard that I heard his ribs crack and the momentum carries them both away into the undergrowth. I glimpsed wicked teeth ringing a bottomless mouth.

The screaming started. Now, they were both busy.

One mile.

Seven minutes.

Here we go.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

6.30am, Saturday morning, Chapman household

'Twas the morning of Saturday, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The toddler had been placed in the bed with care,
in hopes that the sandman soon would be there.

The wife was nestled all snug in our bed,
while visions of beautiful babes danced in her head.
And me with my coffee and the morning so bright,
had just woken up early for a quick fiction write.

When from the baby monitor there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the monitor I flew like a flash,
and switched on the screen to see another crash.

There would be more, but I'm needed now to play cooking or doctors or something.

Word count achieved: 114 (nearly all copied from the Wikipedia)

I am awesome.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sudbury Open Gardens: Adventure at Three Feet

So it's the town's annual open gardens event, all procedures going to the local charity "St. Nicholas' Hospice". I thought it might be nice to see more of our adopted hometown and get a bit inspired for our own green handkerchief.  My original plan was to get there as soon as the gardens opened at 10.30am, so we could get all thirteen done before Celeste's nap time. Unfortunately, this happened to my wall:

Daddies who can, fix it.
Daddies who can't, phone their own Daddies.

A flying visit from the DIY God (known to mortals as Chapman the Elder) fixed it, but at what cost to time? By the time we got into town, it was already lunchtime. We needed a pitstop at Huffers Cafe (which does a decent burger, but is also one of the most child-friendly eateries in town.

Attention Social Services: That is milk in her cup, not Pepsi and definitely not gin.

Yes, it looks lovely, but eat now! We're behind schedule for Culture!

Celeste enjoyed playing with the food, but not eating it: everything was too interesting. We took it all with us in a box, a decision which was later to haunt me. Our first stop was the gardens of Gainsborough's house (Thomas Gainsborough being one of Sudbury's most illustrious sons). Celeste immediately escaped, trying to find the fairies she was sure lived there.

None down here... 

Not that way! That's the bit of the museum you've got to pay extra for!

It was about now that Celeste started wanting her chips again so, on this Cultural and also Civic Enrichment Experience, I was having to feed her greasy food from polystyrene containers. Attention Social Services: this is not a regular occurrence.

Garden Two was the Red House, a nursing home with a garden so lovely that I can't wait for my inevitable old age to spend some time there.

The first person to guess how many times my green handkerchief fits into this garden wins free bile. ladies!

 Protection for old people against orcs? I honestly have no idea!

I've seen too many horror films to be comfortable leaning out over dark water near old mansions

Third up was a lovely house called "Cygnets" on Church Street, so called, I guess, because you can literally see cygnets from your back lawn.

No cygnets... 

Canoeists, ducks, but still no cygnets... 

Don't be silly Daddy! There're no such thing as cygnets!

Finally, as little legs were starting to tire, we made one final stop at Mill House to see the cows on Sudbury's beautiful water meadows.

 *Sigh* Green with envy. Geddit?

Celeste's suggested caption ten seconds later: "Cow done a poo in the river!"

Believe it or not, there were still nine more gardens in Sudbury to do, but we had to cut it short because...well...

Night night sweetheart; sweet dreams. Don't tell Social Services about the polystyrene and chips when you wake up.

Saturday, 2 July 2016


I have occasionally been accused (by my wife, but mostly by my inner monologue) of writing stories that are dark and incredibly bleak about people. This is pretty true though, in my defence, I was having a pretty miserable time at work at the time I wrote most of my stuff. To prove that I can write something apart from snide commentaries on the human condition, please find below the soppiest thing I have ever written.

For context, this was written after Valentine's Day last year, when Celeste had gone to sleep nicely, after Lyn and I'd shared a lovely dinner together and during an inexplicable bout of insomnia. I did write it all in one go, under the influence of a bottle of nice wine - so the next morning I did wake up very tired, a little hungover and with an enormous amount of editing to do on it (once I remembered that I had actually written it).

However, because I'm still me, it's not a typical love story.

Love betwixt a man and ET (count the fingers...). Not the subject of the story below!

True Love

I fell forwards through Time with true love as my destination: at least, that's what the brochure promised. I'd expected a swirling portal and accelerating hands on a wristwatch, but there was just a penetrating cold and a feeling of dislocation like I'd dozed off on a train.

A year had passed when I was defrosted. One of the medical technicians had resigned, another had grown their hair long, but that was everything that had changed. They clucked around me until they were convinced that my health hadn't suffered, then left. I sat on the lip of the pod glumly, gazing up and down the ranks of humming cylinders. The staff's lack of urgency clearly meant that they hadn't found my true love yet.

A woman with cropped brown hair and a clipboard walked up after a few minutes. She'd clearly had to deal with people with my downcast expression before.

Sorry we've had no luck yet, but you always knew this would be likely for such a short hop.”

I curled my lip petulantly; loneliness still sat heavily in my guts like I'd swallowed a rock.

Look...” she tried again, changing tack. “We scanned the global database of every living person every Sunday and came up with no matches, but you've only been under a year. The only way we'd find a positive match is if your true love was only a year younger than your optimal age bracket. For all you know, they've not even been born yet!”

They'd been clear about all this when I signed up, but it still wasn't very comforting.

Maybe you should try for a longer hop,” she suggested. “Let's try five years this time. Don't worry, though – we'll wake you just as soon as we find someone in the Sunday scan.”

After I'd agreed, I lay down in the pod again. Of course, I agreed. I'm a hopeless romantic who wants candle-lit dinners and walks by the ocean, but above all, I believe that there's one person who's perfect for each of us. It's just my misfortune that they're not alive at the same time as me.

The lid clicked down and there was another frozen dislocation: I gasped awake like a swimmer surfacing for air. The lid of the pod levered back and I saw that in the intervening years, the hall of cryopods had expanded, forming an entire second row above my own.

The woman was there again, with more grey in her hair.

Still nothing from the Sunday scans, I'm afraid,” she said, patting my arm. “Don't despair. There's someone for everyone. They might just not be around yet.”

What've I missed?” I asked as I lay back down again. “Six years frozen is a long time. Has anything interesting happened?”

How much do you know about mushrooms or deep space radar?” she asked, glancing nervously at the hall's exit.

I admitted that I knew nothing; she closed the lid on me with a sad smile.

We'd agreed ten years for my next hop but to me, it passed in a single second. The lid popped open again straight away but this time, there was no-one to meet me. I swung my legs over the edge of the pod and dabbed my bare toes again the cold metal floor. The hall of cryopods was even bigger than before, but the air smelled of mildew now, rather than disinfectant.

After I yelled for help, the technician came into sight and limped gradually down the corridor, trailing a thick cable behind her. When she got closer, I noticed that her eyes were now surrounded by crow's feet now and a rope of fungal hyphae plugged into her skull behind her right ear. It dripped mucus as it pulsated rhythmically.

I'm not going to lie,” she slurred. “This is probably not the best time to be looking for your soul mate.”

Does that mean still no positive match?” I asked, already guessing her answer from the glowing red panel on my pod.

The technician struggled to find the words to reply.

I'd skip ahead again if...” she started.

The glistening fungal rope twitched and pulsated; the lady's eyes rolled back in her head and her mouth dropped slackly open.

Of course, if you'd like to rejoin society again, we'd be glad to absorb you,” she concluded, tongue.

That's kind, but no thank you,” I said, laying down again. “I'm very eager to meet my true love.”

I had to pull my lid down myself and set my own hop duration: the technician had been dragged back to the exit by the strange rope. I selected a hop of twenty years duration: surely that would be long enough.

I told her so when the lid sprang open again.

I'm afraid not,” said the elder;y technician. “There aren't that many people left these days and obviously, none of them match you.”

She'd aged badly and removing that ridiculous affectation from the back of her head had scarred her badly. I didn't have much sympathy: I'd seen friends go through the same thing with ill-considered tattoos.

Death to the Fungal Overlords!” came a massed roar from outside and I realised that she was gripping a machine gun.

I started objecting, but she shoved me roughly back into the tube with her free hand.

Better wait until society has rebuilt itself,” she explained, punching a century duration hop into my pod's controls. Before I could get her to explain the joke, the lid clicked down and the discontinuity was on me again.

The thought of giving up never crossed my mind, I realised as I struggled back to consciousness. Now that I'd left friends, family and career behind, all I had was the pursuit of love. Maybe this hadn't been the full century, I hoped drowsily. If the Sunday scan had identified my soul mate living amongst the population, I would be woken up earlier. Perhaps it had only been another week.

The technician was made of glowing bees now. Clearly, more than a week had passed.

Don't be alarmed,” she explained through her bee-mouth, raising her bee-eyebrows. “My consciousness was uploaded into a swarm-form upon my first body's death.”

I nodded like that made any sense to me. The cryopod hallway extended into the extreme distance in every direction, including vertical. Clearly finding true love had once been very popular, but no longer: nearly all of the pods gaped empty. In fact, the only active ones I could see were a few near my own.

The bee-eyes followed my gaze.

Since the Fungoid Wars, people live more in the present than in the expectation that the future holds any promise. Many of your peers have defrosted voluntarily and gone on to lead relatively happy lives here.”

I held up a hand to silence her. Relatively happy? A man in pursuit of true love doesn't settle for relatively happy.

Set the pod for two hundred years please.”

The bee-lips gaped, revealing a deep purple glow within.

No-one's ever gone that far in one hop!”

As soon as the Sunday scan detects my true love, it'll wake me up. It can't be more than another decade or so: they must've been born by now!”

When I woke up two centuries later, gloom began to overtake me. There was no technician now: no flesh or weird energy-bees. The hallway was dark and cobwebbed; only three pods of the thousands there were still lit. The display on my own still glowed red.

I padded out of the hallway and found a large window looking out over the world outside. Everywhere was smothered in lush growth: flowers as tall as I was, blades of grass as broad and gigantic trees that towered over a mile high. All along their branches, pairs of golden bubbles grew slowly before being gently carried away by the wind.

Eventually, I found someone to explain: a cow-sized frog answering to 'Kevin'. In exchange for having his back scratched, Kevin explained that the bubbles were actually humans – at least, what humanity had finally chosen to evolve into – and that, rather than mess about finding a soul mate, they were ready born in pairs.

What should I do Kevin?” I asked as we sat together and watched more bubbles float away on the breeze.

You could try to get a romance going with a pair of bubbleheads,” he rumbled. “Or you could wait for the human race to devolve back down to your level again.”

This time, I didn't set an interrupt: the pod would keep me frozen for however long it took. Kevin waved goodbye to me with a webbed hand as the lid clicked down.

When my forever-sleep was interrupted, many centuries had passed. When I climbed out of the pod and looked around, I saw that the cryopod building was totally ruined. The wall that my pod was attached to was still standing, but that was it. Tall grasslands had swallowed everything else; the only sign of any civilisation were these few square meters.

The display for my pod read 'ERROR' in large red letters.

That took some understanding but as soon as I saw that the day was a Sunday, I realised. The ongoing Sunday scan couldn't find my true love because there were no people left. The human race was extinct: the search was over. In the whole of human history, there was no-one for me to love and to love me in return. My blind faith had not been rewarded.

There was a click behind me. Another pod had opened.

Wendy from the coffee shop!” I exclaimed happily as she climbed out. “What're you doing here at the end of the world?”

She shrugged and squinted in the strong sunlight. Her presence was instantly comforting to me. We'd only exchanged a few sentences as she'd served me a cappuccino one time, but it was nice to see her again.

Looking for the one Peter, just like you. I didn't know you'd gotten frozen – when did you do it?”

The Monday after that poetry reading at your shop,” I admitted sheepishly. “It inspired me to do something rash. What about you?”

The Wednesday after. I guess I'm less sentimental than you!”

The wind blew gently through the tall grass, rippling it rhythmically in the golden sunlight. We watched it together peacefully for a while.

Did you like the poetry then?” I asked conversationally.

Wendy smiled at me and flicked her hair out of her eye. It was cute.

Behind me, my pod's display changed to green.