Essence of Madness

That is the title of my fantasy series, and it is certainly living up to the name. Yesterday I spent several hours trying to plan a rough outline of the entire series, only once again I had an idea which completely shifted my current direction.

I have been working on this story for 10 years now, watching it constantly evolve as I have. It has meant that I have had to leave entire storylines behind as they became obsolete. Even scrapping the first 100,000 words in favour of a complete rewrite.

For me, writing fantasy was the next logical step to reading it. After indulging in the escapism that other authors would provide I would fantasise about what would happen next, imagine alternative endings or how I might have done something differently. And, in the beginning, my story was just a means of a more in-depth escapism, complete control of my own characters, my own world. That was why it wasn’t a great story, mostly I was merging experiences from my favourite books and generally achieving nothing more than a cliched hero’s adventure. Recently however I have realised just how flooded the market genre of fantasy is, science fiction too, and in such a market I can’t just write what makes me feel good. Instead I have to push myself.

That is why this series is still evolving and why it is so hard to pin down; it is the culmination of all my aspirations and it is a journal of sorts of my writing journey.

I hope to have the first book completed this year but it’ll require numerous edits before it’ll truly be ready.

I suppose I should stop procrastinating by writing this blah blah blog and get on with it…

Swirling Temptation

I am delighted to say that another one of my short stories came 2nd place in the LifeofWriters monthly competition. The theme this time was ‘Regret’. I tried to have a little fun with this one. Enjoy!

 

It stares teasingly at me, compelling me to take action. My hands tremble and I thrust them into my pockets to restrain myself. No one else is around but I can still hear the tip tap of typed keys, the murmur of quiet conversation. Cautiously I peer out, to see the ocean of bobbing heads – barely visible above the bright blue dividers.

I wait for a moment checking that no one has noticed me, getting more nervous the longer I hesitate. Just get it over with, I urge myself, my tightly clenched palms becoming clammy. No, I plead, they’ll know it’s you, just look at you, who else would do such a thing.
The office is normally quiet, subdued by the constant pressure to deliver. My stressed colleagues often remind me of over-boiled eggs, their forced cordial expressions like the cracks that barely keep from bursting. Not me though, I have found a way to cope. My insides are snugly supported by my widening waistline, one that my wife flip-flops between chastising and cuddling into.

She tries to be supportive, knowing that this job will give our daughter the future she dreams of, and I feel pressured to be jolly at home too, lest I worry her. At times I can see her concern etched within her vibrant viridescent eyes, the slight appearance of crow’s feet when puts on a smile whilst trying not to frown. I love her, more deeply than I had realised was possible, more intensely than anyone else in my life except my daughter. For those two I can carry the weight of the world upon my shoulders and still feel elated, buoyed by their love. At least that’s my mantra, the thoughts I delicately wrap around myself like an impenetrable shield as I pack my briefcase each morning.
Just thinking of my two girls began to cheer me up, the way their infectiously joyous faces, so alike, beamed at me as I’d got in the car. Prudence, waved tenderly from the doorway. Both of us laughed as our sweet little Sophie ran heedless across the damp grass, a purple floral dress underneath a pair of dungarees, her legs and feet bare except for a single bright orange sock.
‘Papa,’ she squealed excitedly, urgently pressing a piece of paper against the car’s window. ‘I drew this for you,’ she proclaimed proudly. The blurry mix of crayon could have been anything, it didn’t matter and it never does, all that mattered was the infinite depth of love in her innocent expression. The paper lies nestled within my briefcase beside the empty chocolate bar wrappers, their crumbs have merged with the smudged collage ensuring that its depiction will forever remain a mystery.

Lost within my own circumspection, I almost didn’t hear them approaching. The click clack of heels upon the industrial carpet tiles, so thin they may as well be bare stone. Their words jar me from my pleasant recollection, ‘Dave told me,’ one of them whispers dejectedly, ’he was bragging that the exec team had asked him to make a 30% headcount reduction by…’ The end of the sentence broke away, concealed by muffled sobs.
‘Oh, Linda,’ the other voice comforted, ‘you have nothing to worry about, your sales were in the top quartile this month.’

Realising they will turn the corner to find my bulky form blocking their path, I dart clumsily to the counter to grab a coffee. Only my mug knocks against the edge, smashing my hopes of appearing nonchalant into a thousand shards. I try not to feel their cold opinionated stares upon my back as I ungracefully reach down to pick up the pieces. I’m used to it, many of my colleagues frequent me with unspoken resentment. They wonder how I’m not drowning in their combined sorrow, can’t understand why I don’t partake in the incessant drone of narcissistic nattering. Perversely, they take a certain pride in it, being able to talk about how they are so busy they missed their son’s football game, how their wife left them because she couldn’t handle the late hours. Their voices feel like the void, tones barren of all emotion bar one, ambition. I prefer to stay silent, to take a few deep breaths and imagine something relaxing, like the scarlet ringlets of my wife’s hair and how they tickle my cheek when she leans against me.

Compared to them, I suppose I should welcome my vice. I’m not claiming that it’s healthy, but it gets me through without all the bitterness. However, it is times like these that it undermines me. Instances when the work kitchen is filled with an array of delicious delicacies. I had only come in for a coffee but the dense swirls of fresh chocolate icing upon the birthday cake exert a force on me like a black hole. I stand like a statue, eyes lingering upon the bright white lettering that spells ‘Happy Birthday Dave’, while still gingerly holding the fragments of porcelain. Despite the presence of the women it almost lured me in.
‘Chris,’ Linda said softly, ‘you’re bleeding.’ She reached out kindly with her tissue, ‘here’, she said. As my fingers brush against it I feel it is damp with tears and feel an immediate regret of my earlier train of thought, perceiving it was I who had been judgmental, that I had become jaded. Small drips of blood splat soundlessly against the floor. I feel embarrassed but relieved as the cake slips from focus. The realisation that I had almost delved into it’s perfectly untarnished facade, almost certainly to leave a trail of blood behind me, fills me with wretchedness. As I dispose of the mug and wipe the blood I can feel a trickle of perspiration wriggle down the side of my face, and in a moment of strength I bolt out of the kitchen and to the toilet.

Wiping my forehead dry, I look closely at the man in the mirror. Time has made a mockery of me, it is clear that even without the folds of skin under my neck that my looks have faded. I shakily remove a small photograph from my wallet, it is crumpled and faint but forever dear to me. It had been a feature of all my wallets since it had first been taken, on the pier of her hometown, her tender arms were wrapped tightly around me, seeking comfort as a harsh gale blew in from the sea. The man looks daring, filled with vigour and courage that the world will be of his making, that the woman by his side will give him the strength to see it through. But, that man is barely recognisable, the vaguely familiar blue tint in his eyes is far brighter than the ones that greet me in the mirror. That feeling of empowerment that comes with youth had slowly but surely seeped away, to be replaced with a gradually accumulating remorse, as if they are two sides of the same hourglass. The transition is so lazy there is no boundary, merely a continuous blend stretching from this moment all the way back to that photograph.

There are times when that regret seems like innumerable grains of sand cascading down to bury me alive, but usually in the bright light of day it’s a flimsy feeling of such obvious folly. As I morbidly watch the blood merge with the running tap, I can feel that lifetime of regret floating up my esophagus. It burns as I try to swallow it back down. It’s the man’s fault, the one in the mirror, and I stare at him, willing him to be brave. Eventually he shirks from my steely cerulean stare, and in his wake I can see once more my old companion, who had before lain languidly beneath the surface. My hefty thumb slides over the photo to cover up the man’s face, all I have eyes for is my angel, her features little different to how they are now, she is the one who makes all of life’s regrets seem a mere trifle. No matter where life has taken me, or what decisions I have come to regret, she has always stood by my side and I knew she always would.

I waltz confidently out of the toilet, heading purposefully to the kitchen. The cake no longer has the same irresistible allure but I still grab a sizeable fistful and swallow it in a few hasty bites, taking no heed of the two women’s abashed stares over the top of their coffee mugs.
‘Don’t worry, Linda,’ I said warmly, ‘I’m quitting.’

Works in Progress

I, Roland (Sci-fi) – Complete, almost. I have done several rounds of editing until I reached a point where I was satisfied. I have now let it sit for a while so I can come back to it with fresh eyes for one final editing round.

Essence of Madness (Fantasy Series) – Book 1 is nearing 70% complete for the first draft. It has been an epic journey, one that I can’t wait to share with others.

I have a few ideas in the wind, 3 other potential novels which I have dabbled in. But, for now I need to stay focused.

 

I, Roland – Round 4 or is it 7?

At the tail end of last year I completed my first ever novel length piece. A fast paced science fiction thriller, set within Earth’s dystopia future, that explores the philosophical question – ‘What is humanity?’

Over the last 6 months I tried sending this out to a few publishers and I also entered it into a competition. However, nothing was the right fit for my work, and I am now back to the drawing board.

I was a little upset at first, but after some time to reflect I realise that I am proud of making it this far. What I know I need to do next is to go through the entire thing one more time with a fresh pair of eyes, to be the harshest critic of my own work and tear it apart. Only then, once I have pieced it back together will I know that it is truly ready.

6 months ago I was certain that it was ready, I was naive, overeager and wrong. This time will be different.

 

The Dress

This short story came 2nd place in an online writing competition at LifeofWriters. The competition was themed with the opening paragraph:

It is a rainy Wednesday morning and Rebecca is on her way to a meeting. She has been waiting on this meeting for months and now the day has arrived. She got up early to take a long shower, do her makeup, and get dressed nicely. She wants to make a good impression.

She gets out of her car and walks the rest of the way, but as she passes a shop window, she stops. Her eyes are fixed at the window, looking inside the shop, and she cannot believe what she is seeing. She doesn’t move a bit, she just keeps looking.

It is perfect. A dress so sublime that her breath catches in her unsightly throat. She can imagine slipping the dress down over her wide shoulders. So smooth that it would wipe away her usual insecurities of how rough her skin felt. The dark olive will perfectly match her eyes. After her meeting, as soon as she recovered, she would buy this dress. She considers buying it immediately but is aware of the eyes on her. People have begun to stare. Flustered, she hurries quickly on her way.

In recent years she had become afraid to venture outside. She couldn’t change who she was, she had embraced that and yet others judged her constantly. Her confidence was shattered. Once, she had been brave, fearless, but eventually the derogatory remarks, the leering, they all took a toll.

Her heels clack against the hard cobbled street. Each step brings more unwanted attention. Please don’t laugh at me, she pleads. She is almost there. Two burly men lean against the wall, taking a smoke break. She tries to keep her head down as she passes them, but she had always been quite tall.

One of them heckles her. She tries to block it out, pretending that the words had instead been something kind, like, ‘good morning, beautiful.’

Her hand clasps nervously around the door handle. It’ll all be over soon, she thinks with relief.

As Rebecca enters the building the receptionist greets her warmly. She smiles widely, taken aback by her genuine kindness.

‘There you are,’ the receptionist says as she walks forward and hooks Rebecca by the arm, ‘we were just beginning to wonder if you had gotten lost. Vincent is already waiting so I’ll take you straight through.’
‘Don’t I need to sign in?’ Rebecca asks politely.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ replies the receptionist, ‘I already have all your details on file. Please come with me.’

Rebecca is led along a short corridor, coming quickly to a door. The sign upon it reads: Dr Vincent Wright. The receptionist opens the door and ushers her in before she has time to think.

The walls of the small office are adorned with examples of the doctor’s work. She stared at them longingly and with awe. For the first time in a long time she feels hope. Finally she can envision being herself.

‘Pleased to finally meet you,’ the doctor said amicably, ‘please take a seat.’

She sits, carefully smoothing out her skirt as she does so. The doctor is attentive, asking if she would like a refreshment. Rebecca shakes her head, too excited to wait any longer.

As the receptionist closes the door the doctor begins to discuss her treatments.

‘Now, Rebecca. I know we have discussed this over the phone and I know how much this means to you but I have an obligation to make you fully aware of all the risks,’ he says. As he speaks Rebecca nods impatiently. She has waited too long to turn back now.

‘Good,’ he says finally, ‘then there is only one thing left before we proceed. We need you to sign and confirm that you agree to everything we have just discussed.’ He gives her a slightly pained expression as he reaches across the table to gently touch her hand. ‘Please accept my sincerest apologies, I realise that this may upset you but your signature will need to match the one in your passport.’ spoke the doctor with well-practiced eloquence. He holds out the form for her to sign.

Rebecca looks down at the paper in front of her and swallows. She takes the pen, her scribble confirming her name, not who she was but the name she had been born with: David Stanley.

The Reactor

This is a little something I wrote recently, and got shortlisted, for in the Brilliant Flash Fiction Magazine, January 2016 Edition

The reactor ran itself; that was the beauty of its design. It didn’t attempt to control the nuclear fusion reaction but merely utilised it. The reactor had enough fuel to burn in a stable state for at least another four billion years, but it wasn’t the fuel source which was the problem. The reactor had
been stable now for over four and a half billion years, yet they had run out of raw materials, resources that were sorely needed to maintain the one thing that kept them alive. The reactor covered every inch of the sky, its spherical network not only absorbed the energy needed to run the entire city but also protected its people from the nuclear reaction that continuously raged on the outside.

Kichu knew that its failure was not only inevitable but imminent. Everyone looked to him to come up with a solution, some way to save them all. Every time he saw that pleading look in their eyes all he could think about was his simulations, the ones that resulted in a critical failure no matter what he tried to do differently. Every simulation ends the same way; the reactors magnetic field fail and results in their instantaneous obliteration as the stars core envelops them. Briefly, he had contemplated alternative options for his people’s survival but there were none. There was no way to stop the reaction; it was so massive that 99.99999% of the energy it produced wasn’t even recoverable. Instead it was hurtled out through space, providing heat and light just like a naturally formed star. It was pointless to think it could be turned off but Kichu wished it anyway, dreaming of seeing for himself the empty void of space that lay on the other side.

His ancestors had understood exactly what they were doing. They had known that the nuclear reaction would allow their society to live for a far greater period of time than they previously had on their home planet. They had even understood that it would eventually come to an end. Yet for the guarantee of billions of years of survival, without having to fear external forces, they had deemed it worthwhile. After all, no asteroid can penetrate this deep into the reaction, no black hole, supernova or erratic orbit was likely to have any effect.

This solar system, which his ancestors had created, held more than one chance at life. All manner of simple organisms, hardy enough to survive the extreme void of space, had been seeded amongst the early planetary bodies. However, Kichu had poured over the calculations himself and the odds of an intelligent life form being able to survive and evolve were infinitesimal. Despite that he sometimes chose to ignore the odds, to instead follow the simulation to its most positive outcome. Where life not only thrived but had evolved intelligent beings that even resembled him. Yet this was not one of those times. Even if by some miracle other intelligent life did exist, it was little comfort to his people who were living out their last remaining hours already encased inside their own tomb.

Kichu chose to spend his final hours hooked up to the central computer. Becoming fully immersed within the virtual history lessons he had been taught as a child. Even though it had been hundreds of years ago he still remembered the lessons with great fondness. As a voice narrated, Kichu watched the universe come into being, as the first stars burst into light following the big bang and their home planet formed. What Kichu loved more than anything else was the feeling that he was floating in space as he watched. That he was out in the open, free to go anywhere, to do anything. As he watched his ancestors come close to extinction and begin constructing their greatest ever achievement, he pleaded that they would stop. Don’t do it, he begged. He cried as they journeyed into a barred spiral galaxy, into a newly born system that had enough gas and dust to be capable of forming a new star. He felt despair as the reactor first initiated, sealing the fate of the quintillion people who would come to live and die within it. For the last time he dared to dream what lay beyond, of the possibility that a planet, even now, revolved around them. A planet that thrived with life, taking sustenance from the very same reaction that was about to be the cause of his death.