A Change in Circumstances

Gods don’t get to retire. To be is to be a god. If you stop being a god, you stop…being. So, when the world moves on, when vandals or visigoths or scientists sack your temple and sunlight shows your mysteries to be masks and trickery, you have a choice.

Zeus, the father of us all, he stopped. After a few decades of showing up in the guise of swans and bulls and being being laughed out of the bedroom by damsels who’d become a bit sophisticated for that routine Dad sat down and then simply didn’t get up again. I forget where. It was a long time ago, and girls expect to be ravished by the impersonal hand of an immaterial deity these days.

But I am the passage of the Sun across the sky, I am the divine spark of prophecy and inspiration and still, if only quietly and namelessly, beloved of artists and musicians and thinkers. You might not pray to me by name, but when the empty page stares back at you your offerings of cigarettes and tears and curses and distractions come to my altar. I am Apollo, and though the world has moved on, I did not stop listening.

I still like chariots. The Sun doesn’t stop blazing its progress across the sky, even when you can’t see it, and in a habit millennia old I find it hard to be still. So though inspiration happens everywhere, all the time, I attend to it in person from my chariot. If you seek Apollo, ride the top of deck of a 24 Hour bus route. That’s where I hold my court. You shouldn’t meet my eye. That’s not wise, with gods or with strangers on the night bus, but ride with me and I may favour you with a glimpse through a crack in the door. A momentary flash of godhead to take home to the empty page. Not an answer, but maybe a more interesting question. Or not. I am, still, a god after all.



*Flick, flick, flick*

She was laying out the cards again.

*Flick, flick, flick*

What did she see in it? Seven games of Patience since the train left Yverdon-les-Bains. Was she telling fortunes? Trying to distract herself from her sad cocaine addiction? It must, surely, be more than simply passing the time.

*Flick, flick, flick*


If only she were at all good at the game, it might be pleasant to watch, but a very helpful Queen of Spades has flicked under her gaze three times in the last five minutes alone. She didn’t notice. She remains stranded with one King in play, and two Aces lost face down in the gutter of play.

*Flick, flick, flick*

I’m sure it has happened to you. Something to which you would normally pay no heed comes to dominate every facet of your notice, until you are paying it all your heed and more. Until you have incurred a heavy heed debt. Through sheer chance, through the lack of anything else to occupy your mind you begin to pay attention to something that begins, in turn, to eat you.

Simply because Evelyn left her book in the station refreshment rooms she has been forced (yes, forced, thank you, she thinks) to cast around for entertainment. She had thought this older lady with her cards might be an acceptable diversion for the journey but she hasn’t spoken a word, let alone invited Evelyn to join in. She’s just dealt and endlessly lost games of Patience.

*Flick, flick, flick*

She’s laying out the cards again. The noise is intolerable. Worse than someone eating with their mouth open, and Evelyn cannot abide that. Cards on her nails, cards on the table, cards on cards. Evelyn feels bad about being this angry, because it’s terribly unreasonable and Evelyn is nothing if not terribly reasonable, actually, but of course that doesn’t make her feel any better. If only she had remembered to pick up her book she’d be able to stop thinking about this awful woman leaving her greasy fingerprints all over the cards as she begins to lose an eighth game.

She doesn’t deserve to win, of course. Not that it’s likely, but if through sheer luck, she ever comes close to sorting the cards, Evelyn hopes the train will crash and the old woman will die in the fiery wreck.

Evelyn is aware that she is, however hypothetically, sacrificing her life, and the lives of everyone aboard but she considers it to be in a just cause. And then she stops. And she thinks. It doesn’t actually have to come to that, of course. She, Evelyn, can take direct action here and now to ensure that this ghastly old bat never gets to enjoy the sensation of winning her endless game. It would be so easy. Not nice at all but really, seductively easy.

So, the next time the conductor passes through and the other woman is distracted Evelyn affects the calm resolve of the hardened bank robber, reaches out and coolly steals a single playing card (that damned and wretched Queen of Spades) from under the woman’s hateful nose. She notices nothing amiss (of course, thinks Evelyn, she’s not a woman who has ever noticed a thing in her tedious life), and goes on with her game. Evelyn, under cover of tightening her laces, pushes the card into her boot.

In many ways, it is the worst thing she has ever done. It’s probably the worst thing she’s ever done that is her fault: she didn’t choose to benefit from the empire in which her country and grandfather made their respective fortunes, and doesn’t know any better than to be thoughtlessly cruel to her maid. But she does know that stealing is wrong. She does know the endless, minor frustration she has caused a total stranger. But. She left her book in the refreshment rooms at Yverdon-les-Bains, and she needed to take action.
She thinks it will make a good story for her chums in the common room come September, but after she’s transferred the card to her luggage that evening she doesn’t give it much thought. In the end, she never tells anyone. Most unforgivably of all, she forgets all about it.

And that was the end of the affair of the Queen of Spades.


Some time later, in Calais, the gendarmes were called to a fashionable hotel where an Englishwoman had met with an unfortunate circumstance the night before she was due to catch the boat-train to London.

Someone had, unaccountably, picked the lock of the young lady’s hotel room, and shot her neatly through the head, muffling the sound with a delightful satin pillow, now ruined. Nothing was noticeably missing, though, as the Adjudant lugubriously explained to the hotelier, it was very difficult to search for something that is not there.

It was decided, in a very French way, that some spurned young man must have followed her down from the mountain resort and, unable to win her around, done away with her in a fit of French passion. He likely did the same to himself afterwards, noted the Adjudant, and he asked a junior officer to have the Seine swept at the usual spots.

He did not see, and if he had, he would not have noted, the older lady sitting in the hotel’s restaurant, delightedly resolving a game of Patience.

She collected the cards, shuffled them, and turned up the Queen of Spades as she dealt again.

*flick, flick, flick*

Park – A Resurrect Story for #whimword

Whimword’s back! And so am I.  Is this OK? I don’t know.


We thought it was a golden age. Once they cracked the body-mind problem, anyone who could save or borrow enough for the clinics could order a fast baked, custom aged resurrection of anyone they had a gene sample for.

Doomsayers predicted an unsustainable population explosion, and the collapse of civilisation as an ongoing concern. One or two of the more practically minded ones started taking orders from others in their community so for the low price of $5000 dollars they could have their gene sample saved, to be resurrected in the aftermath. Despite legal challenges, Operation Golden Age is turning over a hundred million dollars a year.

That wasn’t the problem though. Families toyed with the idea of bringing back their dead, but the notion rarely survived contact with idea of being under the parental eye for eternity. The beloved dead were mostly left to their rest.

Foundations, corporations and governments were the main users of the technology. Soon, any university without an Einstein was distinctly second class. People had often said if Shakespeare was alive today he’d be writing Eastenders. What they didn’t predict was that multiple young Bills would be fiercely competing as unpaid interns in every production company, fighting for a toehold in a world they didn’t make.

That wasn’t the problem though.

The problem was that all the research, plans and blueprints were leaked, for free, online. On Reddit. On 4chan. On Ladbible.

The most powerful, revolutionary technology in the world in indisputably the wrong hands. That was the problem.

And that’s why I established my charity. Because despite their birth in resurrection caskets and screaming acceleration into maturity, these are all legally people. Not very nice people, but nonetheless humans and it is legally wrong and morally…questionable to put them in a sack and drown them. I checked. This was decided in a court after a teen in Ohio was found to have been keeping 10 specimens in his dorm room.

So we raised money, bought land and constructed walls. It’s the most high security place on earth that isn’t legally a prison. The inmates haven’t committed any crime, and it’s vital they don’t get the opportunity to. They didn’t ask to be born, the edgelords of Reddit just thought it would be ironically hilarious. If they weren’t history’s greatest monster I’d feel sorry for them.

We had to accommodate another twelve today. Some sick bastard had been raising them to fight.

So, that’s why we’re needed. That’s why I wish I didn’t have to stand in front of you and say “Welcome, to Godwin’s Park”

Games I’ve Played Before: Skies of Arcadia Legends

Recently, I’ve been replaying some of the games of my childhood, or as a less threatening memento mori to my near-peers, teenagehood. Are they any good? Was I a blinkered child throwing away my time when I should have been running around outdoors having fights and climbing trees?

First up, Skies of Arcadia: Legends!

Image result for skies of arcadia legends

Pointy hair? Flying ships? Goggles? Why, it can only be a JRPG. And not only, that a JRPG of the genre’s imperial phase, where polygons bravely went places where other polygons had gone before, more or less. But it was 2003. I was young! I didn’t know any better. Well, I was youngish.  I was just ready to be prey to Incomprehensible Title Colon Arbitrary Word.

First, the good:

The game does paint you an interesting and compelling world to play in: post prehistoric disaster, everyone lives on floating islands above a barely remember surface. Airships engage in trade, piracy and actually that’s all, but that’s enough. The ships (and you’ll fly a few) have plenty of character, and vary from skybound sailing wooden schooners, to higher tech steel plated sharkbastards.

Your characters are designed with plenty of charisma, even if it’s the kind of charisma characters in a JRPG have (I mean look at the jacket that man on the cover’s wearing. Why does he have little gaps under his shoulders? Surely the sky is chilly). They’re all excited to be doing what they’re doing, more or less, which is refreshing coming from a grim future where everyone is a grim man, stubbled and troubled  by all them murders what they done. The grimmest character under your control, an Ahab alike with a grudge against a gigantic flying cyborg whale (what?) ends his arc in a way that reaches for genuinely touching and just about makes it.

The world is varied, and fits in lots of discrete areas you uncover as the game goes on: the playspace is limited by the technology of the time, but it’s used cannily to create a world that feels full of surprises. The ‘nature’ themed culture you encounter late in the game successfully manages a different feel to what came before and has a real sense of discovery about it. The story takes you all over this world, has an appropriate sense of threat and while it doesn’t transcend the standards of videogames, is entirely competent Saturday morning cartoon nonsense.

So what’s not to like?

It wants your time. Skies of Arcadia: Legends wants all your time and more. It wants your children’s time, and their children’s time and so on unto the tenth generation. I would hesitate to describe myself as a busy man, but I am busier than Skies of Arcadia: Legends wants me to be.

It’s often bad at telling you where you need to go next. After you’ve finished a dungeon or, conversation, you may find yourself wandering about the map searching for more plot like Arya in the most recent series of Game of Thrones. Even if you have a concrete idea of where to go, and it’s nice to look at when you get there, finding out how to get there is time consuming. And all the while you’re getting into fights.

The fights are weird. Well, in a way they’re an entirely typical turn based affair and quite what you’d expect from the genre. But then. They play out in an arena with your characters and the baddoes running about. Some skills use the positioning of where you are relative to enemies – like striking everything in a line between you and the target. Crucially, though, you can’t directly influence where anyone is. Characters will run over to the target you give them for a simple melee attack, but there’s no guaranteeing that the target won’t wander off to peck someone else, leading the character you’re trying to position to follow.

I’m in two minds about whether this is an interesting middle ground between turn based, menu combat and a more RTS style or if it’s completely bloody stupid. Opinions welcome.

OK. Darling, look at me. Shut up and look me in the eyes. Random encounters are not alright. Monsters popping up out of nowhere underfoot like infinite angry mushrooms is no kind of way to organise anything. Give me a chance to go around if I can, to know what’s coming and prepare, but please, please don’t drop a terrifying desert fly bin monster and it’s four friends in my lap like it’s a treat. It’s not a treat. It’s five to ten minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

On a related note: we are deep in savepoint territory here, hearties. Get ready to settle in for the long haul when you sit down to play, and save whenever you can. Savepoints aren’t always sensibly distributed. Last night I found myself stranded wandering around a sewer for a good half hour, unable to go to bed, and then hit two save points in as many minutes. This was more accepted in 2004 but it shouldn’t have been because it is a system devised by Satan in Hell to upset me, personally.

Overall…well, I’ve described a lot of frustrations. Some deeply odd design choices. A kind of selfishness, which is a strange thing to attribute to a game. And yet. There is something compelling about it. It really does convey it’s love for the romance of exploration, and swashbuckling derring do, even through systems that try to undermine that. And that makes it worth spending a bit of time with. It is an ancient mariner that stoppeth one in three, and it will fix you with its grim and glittering eye despite the fact that it smells of cheap rum and you really are on the way to a wedding.


Good evening, this is the news, and this is Benjamin Disraeli reading it.

Our lead story tonight is the shock death of famous detective Sherlock Holmes. His publicist, personal physician and ‘friend’ Doctor John Watson today released a statement saying that Holmes had passed away peacefully in a waterfall, following a short private battle with his nemesis Professor Moriarty.

His peers in the detective community have offered tributes to the sleuth. Inspector Lestrade said today “‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello. What’s all this then? Without Holmes we may never know what all this is then again”

Lord Peter Wimsey also spoke out, saying “It’s the end of an era. I still remember some of his first deductions in Brixton. Holmes taught all us geeky kids it was cool to be a detective.”

“This is shit. 1891 can fuck off” said her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria earlier today.

Holmes’ family and publishers have asked for privacy at this difficult time, and for fans to tune in next year for the next exciting installment.

Mind the Doors

No one realised what the conductors were doing for us until they stopped. When negotiations broke down again they left the meeting, left their trains and went, we know not where.

For a while things continued as ever they did. And if the drivers annoucements began to sound a little more urgent, a little more anxious, we shrugged and ignored it.

“Mind the doors. Please. This train is ready to depart, please for god’s sake mind the doors


Damien Catfat was still waiting on the platform. How humiliating. It was hardly ‘on brand’ for a Southern Rail executive to be delayed by a late train. Heads would roll for this. His blood hadn’t boiled this much since the conductors strike.

Eventually and at long last, the train rolled into the station. It sat there broodingly for a long moment. The tannoy issued a long hiss of static and the doors shook, then slid open. Over the protests of the driver, echoing down the long, empty train, Damien stepped forward. The doors snapped shut like jaws, like a guillotine, like the doors of a very, very angry train that had been without it’s conductor for too long. Damien Fatcat didn’t see it coming, and never saw anything else coming ever again.

Shortly afterwards the conductors came back, with a handsome payrise, increased holiday and a fresh appreciation of the very valuable work they did, and everyone agreed that this was very good value indeed.

The Day They Closed London

It was very orderly.

People had been given months to make their arrangements and move on to higher ground, so on that last day there were no civilians in the streets, no die-hards or hangers on. Just the work crews, going about their business. In the last few weeks, there’d been almost a carnival atmosphere, as they swept the roads and emptied the art galleries, big speakers blaring out the Christmas hits, the streets alive with laughter and jokes, just a touch overdone.

Today though, on the city’s last day, they stopped the music. They worked quietly. No one discussed it, there were no meetings or orders passed down. It just seemed appropriate. It was right to tread carefully and speak in hushed tones as they put the city to bed for the first and final time.

The last fossils were carried carefully out of the Natural History Museum and packed into vans by mournful curators then sped, as gently as possible, to Edinburgh. Once empty, the windows were shuttered, the galleries lovingly swept and at last the great doors were locked. The keys themselves would be the focus of new exhibits in other museums.

Trains worked their way in from the furthest stations of every line, according to a plan months in the making, crisscrossing inwards, collecting the men and women who had been locking down each station. The tunnels barred behind them, the ticket barriers closed, the counters polished, the trains left their underground safe and cared for, and rolled neatly to their final terminus. As the work crews piled off, drivers turned off the engines for a final time. The trains were left to dream such dreams as they could while time and rust rolled over them.

Respectful, sombrely attired workers entered the churches and removed the books and candle sticks, and catalogued the graves and remembrances. Everything they took would find new homes elsewhere. When they barred the doors and left, the pews were left behind and so were the prayers.

Volunteers went to the theatres. They didn’t take anything except pictures, and they were the only people who laughed and cried that day. Respects were paid, and memories laid down like wine, to be passed on. A ghost light was lit on every stage by the last to leave. All the names in lights went out.

At Waterloo, Victoria and Paddington, coaches assembled. As each group finished their work, they made their way to one of these meeting places and set out for points onward. No one said goodbye, but only because they didn’t want to. There were no speeches, and no ceremonies. The last person in London locked the last door, turned out the last light, and went home.

And the city slept, and entered history.

First Contact

No one would have believed in the opening years of the twenty first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own. Mind you, they could hardly be intelligences lesser than man’s. How would that even work?



The ship had crossed a vast gulf of stars to reach the Earth. Humans had the only civilisation in this whole sector of space which had a reputation, galactically speaking, as a bit of a dive. Presumably this would only make the indigenous more keen to join the Over-Culture. Presumably.


 They had all the standard Contact protocols ready to go, and were closing on the planet, nearly ready to make themselves known. They were only waiting for their ‘Current Affairs Briefing’. The Intern had been in the sense womb, soaking up media broadcasts from the planet below. The sense womb spat him out onto the floor of the bridge, and as he looked up at the crew, the implications of what he’d learned settled down upon him.

He opened his mouth



And that’s how the Planet Earth became aware of the existence of alien life when a terrifyingly sophisticated space ship screamed into the atmosphere and broadcast on all channels, including shouting incredibly loudly the words “YOU WHAT MATE!?” before turning and accelerating for the Galactic Core at speed.

Life During Wartime – A HALLOW Story for #whimword

Torches cutting through the night, haloing out into fog, and military boots making as little noise as they could. Tiny echoes of the walls of the alley.

“Right here. That’s it. Should be in these lockers, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Sergeant”. Colonel Helen Mace gestured tersely to a squaddie.

Unavoidable noise as the metal doors were wrenched off their hinges. Torchlight concentrated on boxes of bullets and racks of guns.

“Padre, get to work.” There were sounds on the edge of the mist. Slithers and thuds, moving closer. “We need these hallowed, or your god knows what They’ll make of us.”

The Reverend bent over the bullets, urgent, but taking time to load the familiar words with meaning. It would all be for nothing if the ritual became rote. ‘Dead words made dead men’, that’s what they’d said in the Seminary.

Meanwhile, the soldiers presented ragged arms to the Colonel. Swords and bayonets gleamed in the moonlight: whatever the silversmith at the barracks could hammer together at short notice. One private hefted a baseball bat studded with precious rivets.

The Colonel faced them. “We have hostile targets approaching. Our back is to the wall, and we’re playing this match in the away ground. It’s not what we’d choose. Stay sharp, look out for each other. I don’t need to tell you the outcome here is important: we have people relying on us back home, so let’s go back them alive and successful.”

The line stood firm as the first shadows thickened in the mist at the end of the alley.

Lucy – the Reverend Pole – sat in a heap of bullets and tangled guns, blessing everything that came within reach.

In the times since the Change, since night fell and the monsters came out from under the bed, belief was the only remaining currency of the only remaining human race. Faith held back the dark, and the capacity for total belief was treated with caution and kid gloves. Lucy would wear out soon. She’d seen too much of what people do when they’re scared. Her nighttime prayers are getting desperate. Pleas for hope. Unanswered.

No one had been able to decide if the fact that weapons blessed by a true believer burned the flesh of the undead was an argument for the existence of god or not. It wasn’t limited to any particular religion and rumours circulated of the early days of the Change, when a popular actor had held a vampire back from a packed audience with a prop sword and a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

The only truth was that belief had power. But who could believe in anything but monsters anymore? Tonight, Reverend Pole keeps hold of her faith, and the unit gets back home with food, medical supplies and crucially, more bullets.

It was not the day that Lucy lost her faith.