Archive for the ‘Free fiction’ Category

The Hunter

Posted: December 7, 2017 in Free fiction, horror, science fiction
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Over time humanity grew and spread, like a field of bishop’s weed, quickly dispersing far beyond their point of origin. They covered the globe and then reached further, at first just tentatively into the solar system, but then they grew smarter, they grew bolder.

Some stayed behind, most went to the stars. It made his life harder, but however far they went he grew adept at locating them. He had long since learned to create copies of himself, corporeal shadows that ensured he could track millions of them at once across a thousand worlds.

His list grew year by year, but so did his guile. Whether you lived in a bunker on Mars, or sailed the crystalline seas of a world three hundred light years from Earth, he would find you.

At night you would secure your doors and sleep soundly, and whilst you dreamed he would enter your home, bypassing any alarm, any lock. He would stand by your bed and watch as your chest rose and fell, rose and fell.

And when you woke the proof of his visitation would be there at the end of your bed. A neat parcel, tied with a bow. Just what you’d wished for.

And one nebulous facet of Santa Claus would cross your name off his list.

Until next year…

 

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Earlier in the year I entered a sci-fi short story competition hosted by the National Space Centre in collaboration with Literary Leicester Festival, and I found out a few weeks ago that I’d been chosen as the runner up in the 16+ category!

I’ll be presented with my prize, and read a short excerpt from my story, on the 18th November (and hopefully will be able to post some pics) but until then if you’d like to read my story it’s free to read on the National Space Centre website so just follow the link HERE and enjoy!

Creation Myth

Posted: September 8, 2017 in Free fiction, Published fiction
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Just a very quick post to point out that I’ve had a story published on the Daily Science Fiction website. It’s free to read and very short so why not take a look!  http://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/robots-and-computers/paul-starkey/creation-myth_SF

The Thinking Man’s Bastille

By Paul Starkey

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Today he would escape from prison.

Jack had to, because incarceration was slowly killing him. Not in a physical sense, but it was slowly sapping his will to live. Already, just six months into his sentence, he saw signs of the ennui that would eventually claim his life if he didn’t break out. He slept more than ever before, yet was always tired, lethargy bordering on paralysis, and his appetite was fading like the libido of an old man. He didn’t wash very often, and sometimes went days without even brushing his teeth.

He spent most of his time on his bed reading books downloaded onto his wafer, or watching the wall mounted scroll, though he minimised the screen resolution; rather than it filling the entire wall it was shrunk to the size of a television set from the cathode-ray era. Sometimes it still seemed too big. When he did leave the bed to wander the confines of his prison, he did so with the shambling gait of a zombie.

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

It was one of many homilies his father had regularly uttered. Like “Ten men play harder than eleven” or “Always back the outsider in a three horse race”. Archaic wisdom from another age—after all there were no horses anymore outside of a zoo—but sometimes there was a kernel of some greater truth ensconced within those words, but even if there hadn’t been he would still have missed them, still have missed his dad.

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time might have been the wisest of them all though, and maybe the one Jack should have paid closest attention to whilst growing up, but children rarely pay enough attention to their parents, and boys especially to their fathers, and he hadn’t given a moment’s thought to the consequences when opportunity arose.

They ended up being called simply the October Riots, the third instance of spontaneous civil disobedience that year. People became almost blasé about them.

The cause was never fully explained. Maybe it was down to the undertrained constable who hit some old biddy with a plastic bullet as he tried to disperse a group of stone throwers. Certainly the rioters claimed that was the spark, but everyone had an angle; the Tories blamed the increase in numbers claiming welfare, mainly Scottish migrants, whilst Democratic Labour blamed the Tories for cutting the value of the welfare stipend. Socialist Labour, meanwhile, blamed Democratic Labour because they always did, and as usual the whole thing descended into a DL/SL slanging match which allowed the Conservatives to push another welfare cap through parliament.

None of this mattered to Jack, he’d only ventured out because of curiosity. He wanted to see what was occurring, and he’d taken any excuse to venture outside back then, he hated feeling hemmed in, loved fresh air and wide open spaces, even rain rarely deterred him.

He wasn’t completely stupid however, like a sensible tourist at Pamplona he was content to watch the action from the side-lines; he had no intention of actually running with the bulls.

He hadn’t been alone in this, around the periphery of the violence a curious, carnival atmosphere sprang up. People brought their drinks out from the pubs, street vendors relocated from other areas and started doing a roaring trade. Even when a police sweeper exploded it didn’t dent the mood, instead people treated the flames cast into the air from the detonation like an impromptu firework display.

Gradually the lines between rioters and riot-watchers blurred and, like a sailor hearing a siren song, Jack found himself tantalised into drawing closer to the rocks. One minute he was downing a bottle of beer and dancing with a cute redhead, the next he was clambering in through a smashed storefront along with several others, passing more who were already clambering out the other way, clutching stolen booty tight to their chests.

The shop had been one of the few still operating on the high-street, and the irony was that if he’d been caught up with the crowds who broke into the empty shops either side his sentence would have been lighter, because he wouldn’t have actually stolen anything. As it was when the police nabbed him he had a rolled up scroll under each arm. Irony number two was the fact that they were last year’s model, barely worth anything second hand, inferior even to his cheap Brazilian import.

The stupidity of his crime didn’t serve as any kind of mitigation, and neither did his previously spotless record. Messages needed to be sent, examples made. All the fact of this being his first offence brought him was the option of something called “nuanced incarceration”. An option he jumped at because the idea of going to an actual prison scared the hell out of him.

Idiot.

It was odd to put shoes on; he mostly went around barefoot, and though they were old and well-worn they pinched tight as new shoes now. He’d taken a shower for the first time in days, already invigorated by the thought of freedom the hot water roused him further. He ate his heartiest breakfast in weeks.

As he walked towards the door his mind wandered. Where would he go, how long could he stay free, what would the authorities do when they caught him? He already knew they would, he had no money, no identification, and wasn’t remotely suited to the life of a fugitive. To stay free would entail either becoming an actual criminal, and taking what he needed from others through guile or force, or else dropping out of society altogether. Neither option appealed. He wasn’t tough enough for a life of crime, and he liked comfort too much for the life of a downout, and even if he could bear it, downouts were becoming scarcer all the time, so he’d stand out like a sore thumb unless he ventured south to the Cornish Wastes.

And why on earth would anyone choose to do that?

No, he would be caught quickly, but his hope was that by virtue of escaping his incarceration the authorities would send him to a real prison. Odd that suddenly a life of locks and lags didn’t seem so bad.

He’d turned these thoughts over and over a thousand times before, and nothing new came of today’s cogitations, but that hadn’t been the point, he’d just wanted to distract himself from the feelings of dread that crawled over him like ants as he neared the door.

It didn’t work. Each step was a struggle. The urge to turn back, to just curl into a ball on the floor, was strong. Palpitations started. His heart began to pound and his chest seemed to tighten around it. But he fought on until he reached the door to his prison.

Except it wasn’t really the door to his prison. It was the door to his flat. The door to his prison was buried deep inside his mind.

He got as far as putting his hand on the latch, but he couldn’t bring himself to disengage the bolt. Dark terrors were pulling hard against him now: the fear was rising as panic threatened to overwhelm him.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even open the door, let alone step… outside. He knew it was irrational, but he was convinced that if he did all would be lost. The world would swallow him, he’d be engulfed within its vast emptiness like a single drop of rain within an ocean. He needed to stay safe, needed comforting walls around him.

He stepped back. The panic eased, and his heart began to calm. By the time he reached his bedroom he felt himself again, though this was no benefit. In the absence of fear there came only shame.

Nuanced Incarceration. In a time of austerity, of quadruple dip recessions, it was the latest thing. Cheaper than prison, more humane too, if you believed the hype. Jack didn’t, not anymore. What was the American term; cruel and unusual.

The particular punishment strand of Nuanced Incarceration Jack had volunteered for was called ICA; Induced Custodial Agoraphobia. Induced initially in Jack’s case by several hypnotic sessions and reinforced by regular, mandatory injections of a benzodiazepine derivative.

They said it was reversible, but somehow Jack suspected his three year tariff as a prisoner in his own home might turn out to be a life sentence.

He wanted desperately to cry, but sobbing required energy, and just getting to the front door had left him frail and weak, so he crawled under the duvet and let himself drift off to sleep, even though it wasn’t yet three in the afternoon.

In the instant before consciousness faded he took comfort in a tiny spark of defiance buried deep inside him that, despite lacking the oxygen of hope, somehow continued to burn.

Tomorrow he would escape from prison.

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Happy Christmas everybody! As a free treat today I offer the below Christmas themed horror story. Watch out for zombie Santas!

***

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The guide was a waste of money. There are still multiple guard patrols, but their schedules are so predictable that a toddler could find a gap, let alone an experienced fifteen year old urban explorer.

I guess they don’t expect anyone to want to get in. As for those within; well, the dead might walk but they sure as hell can’t climb, which is probably why the authorities don’t bother too much about the roof.

We’re crouched beside a smashed skylight, hands shrouding our torches so the light only shines down. Below is the upper level of Stonebridge Shopping Centre. My guide at least has provided a rope ladder, it hangs below looking uncomfortably like a shoelace you might dangle to tease a cat.

He shakes his head, chapped lips pursed. “The jewellers have all been looted; all the cash is long gone too.”

“I’m not after money or jewels.”

His eyes narrow, I can almost hear the cogs whirring as he considers various scenarios, none of them palatable. I could tell him I’m doing this for a thrill, but somehow I don’t think he’ll buy that. “It was the Saturday before Christmas five years ago,” I tell him, even though he knows the story. “Rumour had it Toy Horde had somehow got a delivery of Action Ahmed figures and I wanted one so bad. Dad could have got me one weeks earlier if he’d got his arse in gear, but he always left things to the last minute, so he was here that Saturday.”

My guide nods. “Ah…”

“He texted mum at nine fifty. Ten minutes later the Lazarus Army’s bomb went off.” I didn’t say any more, he, like me, would have watched it all unfold on telly. MI5 got a tip off, not quick enough to stop the toxic gas, but quick enough to seal the shopping centre before any of the infected could escape.

The bulldozers and cement trucks had turned up soon after—far too quickly for some conspiracy theorists—and despite protestations the doors were permanently sealed. There’s been talk over the years of sending in clean-up teams, or of just razing the place to the ground, but like a sunken battleship it’s morphed into a bizarre kind of memorial.

“I’m going in.”

My guide doesn’t ask what my plan is. Likely he’s taken a look at the zip gun strapped to my hip and come to the most logical conclusion.

The air is calm, but the ladder still flaps around like it’s caught in a breeze. The effect on my stomach isn’t pleasant. I have a torch gripped in my left hand, another fixed to my head. I caught a whiff of inside from the roof, so I’m glad I have a face mask to keep the stench away.

My feet touch solid ground before I can get seasick. I don’t care if my guide waits; don’t even care if he takes the ladder. I have a thin coil of rope, and I’ve clambered out of tougher places than this.

I’m wearing leather and denim. It’s not quite shark proof chainmail, but with luck it should be enough to prevent me getting bitten.

I’ve studied the plans of this place until I could walk around it blindfolded, so the meagre light cast by my torches is more than enough for me to find my way. I head south, towards the main bank of escalators. So far it’s quiet, so far I can’t see any of the dead. The authorities claim they’ll have decomposed by now. I don’t believe them. Prevailing Internet wisdom is that the biological agent will have prevented them from rotting too much. The dead probably hibernate if there’s no one around to munch on, but like a hedgehog sensing spring they’ll soon liven up.

In the gloom up ahead I hear bells tinkling, it’s such a cheery sound within this glum mausoleum that for a moment I think I’m imagining it. A moment after that and I’m convinced it’s soldiers come to collect me.

A two headed Santa staggers out of the darkness up ahead and I almost laugh at the absurdity of it all.

It isn’t a double headed monster, rather two men each dressed as Santa; their ankles are tied together, and each has an arm draped loosely around the other’s shoulders. Their free hands dangle limply. I wonder if, originally, they carried buckets to collect charitable shrapnel, a few pence to assuage the guilt of people spending enough to feed a family of Africans for a week on a crappy remote control helicopter for Uncle Gary.

The tinkling comes from bells stitched to their grubby red hats. Dried puss sticks greying cotton wool to their faces.

They see my lights and start to shamble quicker, sensing their first meal in years. I don’t draw my gun, I’ve no need to make additional noise if I can help it, and besides, bound together like that double zombie Santa has a turning circle wider than the average cruise ship, so I’m past them before they’ve even started to manoeuvre after me.

Unfortunately in the process I kick a discarded shopping bag across the floor, making enough noise to…well, you know.

Four of them shamble out of a branch of Make’Oeuvre. The woman in the lead wears a bib, and one side of her waxy blue complexion is a different shade to the other. She totters on heels so high that I imagine she shambled like a zombie even before she was dead.

I draw my zip gun. It’s homemade but I trust the maker with my life. I shoot makeover zombie in the knee. Headshots are a gamble, but a kneecap will always slow a zombie to a crawl.

She drops. A fat man in a tacky Christmas jumper trips over her and lands flat on his face.

That leaves two; myriad designer bags still dangle from their wrists slowing them down. Two kneecaps later and I’m on the move again, running this time, even as more and more of the shopping dead appear out of the gloom. Nobody knows exactly how many people were infected in here; six hundred is a conservative assessment. I need a distraction.

The escalators are clear so it’s safe to turn towards the oncoming tide, and damn it’s almost a tsunami, a wall of corpses shambling inexorably towards me.

It takes an effort of will but I turn my torches off. I can still hear them though, although there’s a shift in the timbre of their moaning. Confusion. Zombie eyesight isn’t great, but they’ll keep coming unless I give them something else to chase.

I throw the bounzer over their heads. It doesn’t go off until it lands. My friend Zoe makes more selling these than the zip guns. Multi-coloured lights flash in the distance; a jingling tune plays. It’s supposed to be for babies or dogs; zombies are a bit like both. The moaning increases in volume as they turn, en masse, to follow the pretty lights. Still I hold my breath for a few seconds more before softly padding downstairs.

* * *

I have another bounzer but I hold it in reserve. I keep my lights off and my gun in hand. I can see shapes moving in the gloom, hear the occasional moan. They’re reacting to the earlier gunshots and the bounzer which is still playing Ring a Ring o’ Roses upstairs, and they don’t seem to notice me as I slip quietly past.

Toy Horde was a magical place for much of my childhood but it’s gone downhill somewhat; the windows grubby and broken. Strings of Christmas tree lights that had been strung above the entrance must have fallen at some point and the wire now stretches across the doorway, the bulbs are dead as zombie eyes. My dad struggles against the wire. That’s just like him.

He sees me and strains harder against the makeshift barrier. It’s curious to see eyes that are at once lifeless, yet filled with unfathomable hunger. He’s my dad, but he’s a stranger too, a slavering monster dressed in my father’s skin.

His grunting will attract others, I need to hurry. The zip gun’s still in my right hand. I holster it and pick up the Toy Horde carrier bag he obviously dropped when he walked into the Christmas tree lights.

I don’t look at him; I only have eyes for the shiny plastic box. “Better late than never, dad,” I mutter softly. He moans in reply.

With reverence I slip the box into my rucksack. A mint condition Action Ahmed Astronaut figure is the rarest of the rare; it’s going to be a flush Christmas.

I head back towards the escalators. Behind me dad’s groans intensify. I like to think he’s expressing pride in my enterprise rather than frustration that he can’t eat me, but either way he’ll prove a handy distraction while I slip away. Merry zombie Christmas, dad…

100-1

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Free fiction, Regarding writing
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Hello and welcome to my hundredth blog post! When I started, about two years ago, I half suspected I’d give up on it at some point, yet here I am, still going.

In honour of the 100th post I’ve decided to focus on what’s called a Drabble. A Drabble is a very particular, very specific form of flash fiction. One where the idea is to write a story of exactly 100 words (it all makes sense now, right?)

The concept of the Drabble arose out of Science Fiction fandom in the 1980s, though there’s no reason you can’t write a drabble about anything so long as you stick to the one inviolable rule, it has to be 100 words. There is some slight debate about whether this includes the title, I’d say no.

As with all flash fiction the idea is brevity, and even if your long term goal is to write 1000 page epics there’s something to be said for honing the ability to tell a fully realised story in a limited number of words.

And here, by way of example, is my own Drabble in celebration of my hundredth post. It’s imaginatively titled “100 to 1” and I hope you enjoy it. See you soon for post 101…

* * *

The Tertiary Legion’s entry requirements are legendary. They drop a hundred candidates on a deserted planet. There’s one escape rocket. Task is to be the last standing and take it.

Long odds, but when you’re born into the lowest caste, when every day’s a struggle, you’ll take that bet.

I won, killed nine and took the rocket. Now I’m here with a bunch of other victors, all of us looking pretty pleased with ourselves.

Then the announcement: “Congratulations on passing stage one. Please prepare for round two.”

That’s when I realise; there are probably a hundred of us in here.

A Man of Good Character

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Free fiction

The assassin waited.

The cheap hotel looked tired; its windows so old that even regularly cleaned they looked grey, its brickwork scarred and pitted like bad skin. Incongruously the front doors had been painted a bright, vibrant red, making the place look like a ravaged old tart who’d applied fresh lipstick.

The assassin’s Capri was grubby enough that he attracted little attention parked in this run-down part of town. The radio was turned down low, Northern Soul just audible, and the tail end of a rollup that had as much life left to it as a terminal cancer patient hung between wet lips.

His weapon was in his lap. He’d have time for one shot, maybe two if he was lucky, but you couldn’t count on luck in this game.

The doors opened and the target walked out, bold as brass. The dolly bird hanging off his arm was laughing at his jokes, earning every last quid of her fee.

He chose a different girl every week, used different hotels, but the town wasn’t that big. There were only so many whores, only so many hotels.

The target’s Daimler was already waiting, the chauffer holding the rear door open.

Now or never.

The assassin got two shots off before the chauffer spotted him, bundling the target into the back of the car before jumping in himself. The Daimler roared away leaving burnt rubber and a fallen hooker in its wake.

The girl hurled unintelligible insults after the car before staggering off. The assassin thought he’d caught the councillor with the whore on his arm, maybe even planting a kiss on her cheek. He wouldn’t know for sure until he developed the film, but he would feel no guilt if he’d succeeded. You couldn’t disgrace a man who’d already disgraced himself.