September Short Story: Sacrifice

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during September. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Sacrifice

 

Knowing this is how he will die, Daniel Burton succumbs to fate.


The salty whiteness his body is tumbling towards registers acceptance with more than a measure of panic: he’s willingly sacrificing himself to me with no fear, why? He’s in love, first time in 34 years. With HER. Searching this man’s mind, these last seconds are blissfully calm. Elaine’s honestly, beauty and courage shattered resolve never to even consider the possibility of a woman in his existence. This is true love too; the Librarian’s Contract has been broken. Daniel has to live.

The vast lake of sentient semen, built over nearly six hundred years from ritual offerings, thinks it has the right to be hacked off at this turn of events but is surprisingly sanguine instead.

Then it begins to laugh: deranged and maniacal: what will now happen is beyond funny.


There’s a voice, in Daniel’s head, chuckle that unexpectedly busts out into a full-blown cackle of delight.

‘Nice work, my son! Whether you like it or not, we’re now in this for the ride, together. I can’t harm you, because if I did the World will come to an end, quite literally… I have one last task to do before this is all over then you get the happy ending that fucked me over in the first place. HANG ON…’

Up from the lake comes shape of a hand, catching falling body with delicate skill. The last thing Daniel remembers before passing out again is the smell…


Chained to the Non-Fiction section of the Manchester Central Library, Elaine McCormack knows something has altered in the nightmare of existence since September 12th, 1468. Deep below Manchester’s streets familiar presence in her head is laughing maniacally whilst Edgar’s in pain. Next to Fiction, the warlock to whom she’s been magically bound since her 16th birthday drops to the ground, clawing at collar of a perfectly starched Jerome Street shirt. The air darkens, swirls of mist and iniquity not seen since their fateful first night on Saddleworth Moor.

This game, meticulously managed over centuries encompassed the Industrial Revolution, two World wars… rise, fall and renaissance of a centre for commerce and inspiration. Finally they’re here, second decade of the 21st Century, about to lift the curse that’s crippled this city. For six hundred and fifty years this man wanted her love. That was all that was needed: steadfast refusal had been her undoing, and in his anger they were both bound to this spot to suffer for all eternity… except not any more.

Daniel had broken their curse, simply by being kind.

There’s a low rumble from beneath the foundations of the Library, as Edgar Burrows grasps extended existence is about to be forcibly snuffed out by his own deranged and distinct ego. The spell used to separate them back in 1968 had simply escalated this inevitable confrontation. Except Burrows isn’t ready to leave, and with the curse that joined him to Elaine temporarily weakened, there might yet be an opportunity to reach for a second stab at immortality without the millstone of his own sexuality to continually assuage. It is worth a try, so he’s gone.

As warlock vanishes in a puff of sulphur and salt, McCormack’s mental and physical bonds evaporate. Falling to the floor, the woman prepares for reversion to pre-pubescent state, or to die instantly from old age. When neither happens, there’s cause for considerable celebration. Her thoughts go immediately to Daniel: he’s beneath, in the Chamber. This offering has not been consumed by the Creature and remains… asleep. Protected inside its body, reward offered for assistance, if she really cares for him. To remove Burrows completely… there is still a way.

Running through the Library, people are leaving, belongings left behind in panic as they bolt for the exits. Only now is it apparent that the entire building is shaking, books beginning to dislodge from shelves: outside sirens grow louder, emergency services arriving on cue. Time is running out, and the item that Elaine needs is locked inside Edgar’s office. Fortunately for her, he won’t realise what is about to happen until it is far too late. The obsession with self-preservation is literally about to become his own undoing, blinkered to the end.

In her head, the Creature’s apprehension manifests as surprise and resignation, before its guilt stops her progress. The ego is sorry, as afraid to die as Burrows… but is about to do so willingly for her soul. Joint sacrifice is unstoppable, stolen life now returned, unhindered. With a massive bang, door to Edgar’s office is blown off its hinges before being reduced to a surprisingly neat and evenly splintered pile of firewood. An ancient Tome of Spells that had been used to bind virgin to warlock is in Elaine’s hand, conveniently open at the right page.

Except after centuries of abuse and subjugation, McCormack cannot read the words; killing and torture her abuser’s task, not hers. She was better than this… but unless there was action, more innocents would vanish. A hand moves gently on her arm, book taken from a shaking grasp. This man ceased to exist the night he bound them together on the moor, yet continues to represent pure body of their curse: Burrows true self, forcibly removed decades previously. His ethereal manifestation smiles, resignation obvious and inescapable, tears falling as he speaks.

‘I am so sorry for all of this, what I did to you. The Evil will stop at nothing to keep himself in this plane, and to stop him I will smother every atom of that persona into oblivion. Let me read the words, so you can understand the good that existed but was lost so long ago.’

As the Creature reads, book turns from solid to smoke, vapour swirling around and into the fabric of the apparition. Instead of being bound to the woman, good has reattached itself to evil with one task in mind, to forcibly cancel darkness out with light, once and for all. The building suddenly stops shaking, and with a thump, Daniel appears on the floor in an ungainly heap.


Outside the Library, Emergency Services are in a state of some considerable concern. The ground beneath their feet has gone from solid to distinctly unstable within moments. With complete synchronicity, every manhole cover and access point covered by a metal plate is blown upwards into the early July morning. How anyone is not hurt is a miracle… and as each one whistles into clear blue sky, they vanish without a trace, before time slows to a crawl.

For a mile surrounding the Library an overpowering, oppressive stench rises like a wave from beneath city’s streets: is it hideously overripe cheese, rotting food or dead fish? Perhaps it is all three: as nearly four thousand people lose consciousness simultaneously nobody cares.


There remains a fair deal of contention as to what exactly happened at 10.15 am on the morning of July 16th: most agree they won’t ever forget the smell. Details are still under investigation, discussion in public subject to a raft of legal restrictions… but evidence remains. The three foot high wave of white liquid that engulfed Albert Square and surrounding streets has been described as a mass hallucination, because how else would the entire Town Hall have remained undamaged? Except amazingly, everything for a square mile is now pristinely clean.

Skeletal remains that appeared in 162 neat rows east of St Peter’s Square are being identified by the Manchester Police Force. Early rumours suggest at least some may belong to a number of the Jackson’s Row Missing, homeless people who mysteriously vanished across forty years. Initial damage reported to the inside of the Central Library could not be confirmed, and patrons were somewhat divided over what they observed in the hours leading up to the incident. The event’s only casualty was last seen inside the building: Edgar Burrows remains listed as ‘missing.’

Manchester Chronicle reporter Daniel Burton was injured as a result of a separate incident on the same day and remains stable at the Royal Infirmary. His harrowing report surrounding this incident and Burrow’s true identity has been read nearly twenty  million times on the Internet.


As man sleeps, wrapped in hospital linen, Elaine refuses to leave his side. Outside their room a dead Elm tree continues to regenerate: late, unexpected burst of Spring green in mid July. There will be issues to address over McCormack’s abilities once Daniel is fully conscious…


 

August Short Story :: Lydia

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during August. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Lydia

The Circus has never visited Anchorbridge before, of that Connie is certain. It’s not even on the map, battered corner store and gas station, collection of huts and tents that the railroad somehow forgot. Why they’re stopping here, now, is a mystery to all the carnies except one. Polari knows why they’re pitched, massive tent hauled to it’s full, imposing height. Sometimes, deviation is their plan because the Cards instruct change matters more than dollars. Connie watches from her caravan as he holds court: showman extraordinaire, Ringmaster of all.

This change transpired the night before, wagons pulled to sudden halt before crossing the tracks. Autumn’s coming: they’re already too far south as it is. To hit the State Line before October’s winds start causing trouble, this is a stop too far for everybody… yet, it’s show-time. 

Connie’s neck and chin have been itching since early dawn, so she combs the coarse, red fibres of her beard as distraction. Body is humming, heat within like late summer sun, harsh and unrelenting. This flesh demands satisfaction, but no man here will touch her. She’ll survive. These muscles intimidate whilst breasts infuriate, which is the way it should be when you’re 100% woman except for the addition of excess facial hair. Gramma Ana had cried the day she’d upped and left, but understood why. Normal folks won’t accept a freak, just the way life works.

Except these folks do, and have. Sure, she’s lonely sometimes, but everyone here is too, in their own way. The relief is companionship, acceptance and understanding. The performance is everything, glue that sticks them together in one glorious, colourful whole… and she’s needed. The Bosco Brothers and the Amazing Almarzanoff can’t get the main tent support straight, it requires a woman’s brutal, muscular touch to complete. Beard grooming can wait, this is a part of the dance Connie secretly loves. Without her, they are less than whole, as it should be.

They’ll do three nights here and then it’s time to pack the wagons to head north for the Winter.


In the middle of her first Strongwoman act, Conni’s aware of being stared at. It shouldn’t be a problem, that’s part of performance, except this time… something is in the air. Tonight has been full of surprises: a lame horse galloping into the ring fully cured, before demanding to be part of the act she’d performed in for over a decade. The clowns’ buckets, normally filled with paper tonight held water: Beppo was not happy at his resultant soaking.

As the sold out, full to bursting tent cheers its acknowledgement of her ability to lift two adult sea lions precariously balanced on plinths, there’s a smile brighter than sunshine from the seats by the entrance. The woman’s tall and blonde, sporting beard the colour of straw. Connie has to stare hard, confirming the truth. Reed thin but still muscular in dungarees and a chequered shirt, this stranger exudes warmth and humour: more significantly, nobody around her seems at all phased by the fact she’s a bearded lady… quite the opposite is the case.

Scanning the crowd, this woman is not alone: there’s a voluptuous brunette in a blue summer dress, elegant goatee plus immaculate handlebar moustache. Twin mousy brown haired, middle aged ladies clap and smile, beards plaited and bowed to match the tailored scarlet trouser suits. The tent is at least a quarter full of beards, sported by both sexes, and nobody seems to be the least bit upset or phased. As the entire audience rises to a standing ovation, Connie’s heart accepts something that previously was unbelievable: she is no longer unique in the World.

There’s also a sudden, overriding desire to take a walk into town the following day: Anchorbridge is suddenly a fascinating place to be pitched at. The Circus’ only Bearded Lady’s already deciding which of many dresses to wear, and hoping she might bump into someone on the way…


The following morning is unusually sunny and warm for mid-September: Connie is having trouble containing excitement as she walks through the outskirts of the town, surprised at how many inhabitants there are living in shacks and tents, in the process of building better homes. Passing these groups, there’s no shortage of smiles or good mornings. Obviously overt single sex families mix with the traditional, one group that appear to be some kind of commune… with absolutely no sadness to be found. Everybody, without exception, appears relaxed and happy.

Her assumption had been there was some raw material being farmed here, or a resource exploited… but the truth is these people are outsiders, with nowhere else to go. Normal society had forced them into the wilderness, and together they were creating their own unique Community. Reaching what passes for Main Street, Connie’s heart soars: there is the woman with the sunshine smile, axe in hand, efficiently trimming a large trunk of its bark. Athleticism is without question, sight of her muscles working as blade strips tree becoming beyond distracting…

‘That’s Lydia,’ says a voice to her right. Turning, a young boy, not yet into his teens, is watching the woman work, as transfixed as she is. ‘My aunt can clear bark off a tree in ten minutes. She’s the best woodworker in town, have you come to learn how to make things too?’

The woman has stopped working, aware of Connie’s presence, and as their eyes meet attraction is both obvious and unavoidable. Lost for words, the Circus’ bearded lady is no longer outsider, or afraid of consequences of her desire. She has already been made better coming here.


This will be the first time Connie has missed a performance since her late teens: she knows Polari will not be angry. In fact, it was him who gave her leave to be here: ‘these truly are your people,’ he’d confirmed before encouraging her not to return for the day’s entertainment. Lying under canvas, Lydia is sleeping beneath crook of her arm. Talking here together, fully clothed, whisper of possibility slowly bound both together. There are two days before the Circus is due to ship out, handful of important choices to make before morning sun finally rises.

It would be so easy to once more drop everything, starting new existence with this family, in a loving community, already instant and accepting home, except… the Circus means more to her than was at first grasped. To leave them would also hurt: there are hard choices lying ahead. What is needed most are Elvira’s cards plus clairvoyant’s unswerving guidance: the distraction beside her must be removed, for now. A note is written, on back of a circus flyer: ‘There are issues that need to be settled, I will return with the dawn.’ before quietly slipping away.

It is a surprise to find a group of friends waiting for her at the City limits: all seven Bosco Brothers impeccably attired in matching suits, Beppo and Alto’s bright scarlet waistcoats acting as beacons in the gloom. Even Polari dressed for the occasion, a faultless ensemble. ‘I know what you seek, but there’s no need. Elvira has told me to follow your lead, that all who yearn must come see this community for themselves. She understands better than anyone what drives both bodies and minds forward. It is time for everyone to stop, think and breathe.’

The look Polari gives is damning, reasoning the Circus stopped here becoming clear: an overridingly female-heavy community, possibility to look past appearance and convention for genuine connection. What mattered most to her as attractive, is different for everybody, after all… As both Boscos plus clowns move as a throng towards town Polari remains, taking Connie’s hand with unexpected gentleness. There is a change to him: not inevitability of losing her to these people, but something far more significant. He is ready to give up existence for her ideal.

‘You have wrought much change since agreeing to stay and became part of our family: I will never be able to thank you for all the lessons these boys were taught, for that is all most of them have ever been. Respect matters, above all else, to build the best of men in this World. There is no point in moving back north, fate dictates this is our home for the winter, perhaps longer. Elvira knew we might lose you, but then grasped greater good that could come from us all taking a moment to stop and think, reassessing where it was that we all belonged.’

Connie will thank Elvira in the morning, no need now to return to the Circus. Anchorbridge has become a way-point, chance of growth for all her friends. What matters most to her is Lydia: cornflower blue eyes, hair the hue of ripened corn, bright bearded future possible together.


 

EX/WHI :: Part Ten

Previous Part :: Next Part


Arrival

This place looks, fees and smells like London, but is anything but.

Looking down from Tower Hill, to the Bridge on their right, not a car is in sight. Buildings are reproduced in a detail that beggars belief, and whilst they feel very solid none can be entered. Chris had suggested trying to climb one, but Ami’s gut is telling her to remain on the ground, at least for now. Knowing every move is being assessed from above by unseen beings should feel more stressful than is currently the case, but it isn’t. They’re here on good faith, because a request was granted as another was given. As soon as the door to the Cafe closed, there was no way back in. The canteens give them water for a day, no more, and that’s about as much food as they have between them.

This has been a test since the moment they woke up.

‘I wonder if this is intended or an accident.’

Chris stands, hands in pockets, looking across to the Tower and down to the Embankment. It is time to see if they are thinking alike.

‘You mean the location, yes?’

‘The coffee bar was a lot further back into the City than we are now. When we emerged, it wasn’t at the same spot we entered.’

‘Fuck, you’re right. That’s a dry cleaners normally… we must be at least a quarter of a mile closer to the river than we were.’

‘So, the question stands. Why are we here, exactly?’

‘Well, we can’t go back to where we came, presumably that exit is now blocked for good.’

‘Agreed, and having been given equipment to travel with one presumes that’s what’s expected of us. But where do we go?’

‘We don’t know what’s been tested here, apart from our ability to be mouthy and ask for help. That’s me, by the way, not you, that speech to our captors was very impressive.’

‘You still think we’re prisoners? We’ve just been given the means to travel -’

‘Indeed but I assume this scenario is finite. So, where would you go?’

‘Where’s your hotel from here?’

‘About half a mile that way, but why -’

‘If our theory is right, that we were abducted into this scenario at different points… you said your hotel room was where it probably happened. It’s closer than where I was taken, which is a good mile an a bit in the opposite direction. Considering our water and food supplies, and because there’s no idea what might happen next, I’d examine the closer location first.’

The smile Chris gives is a genuine boost to morale: not only does he agree with the plan, it makes him happy she’s on top of this. The backpack is on and he’s already walking away, taking the lead. There’s no issue with following, or that he’s not 100% in the game.

Ami wonders, not for the first time, if their observers are happy with what they’re seeing.


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Nine

Previous Part :: Next Part


It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


Previous Part :: Next Part

Simple Song

There are big poems as yet undiscovered within me. They are hidden behind bad memories, submerged in low, foul smelling lakes of recrimination and angst. These words are the marrow in bones that move a body in other directions, and by understanding their significance, the whole of my existence becomes smarter and stronger. I’m away right now, and whilst brain takes a much needed couple of weeks away from a full-time screen, there’s the words that have been left behind.

playchicken.gif

Starting next Monday, until the end of the month, you’ll get two verses of the New Poetry per day on Monday and Wednesday, with EX/WHI on Fridays. It’s a window into the part of my brain undergoing renovation. You can’t see much through this darkened, dirty glass but let the management assure you that these changes are worth the vastly inflated construction fees, and you’ll be able to see the sea from here. Oh, and you can have the chicken for absolutely nothing. Gratis. All yours, squire.

Strap in people, there’s turbulence coming.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Sometimes, I take things WAY too seriously. It’s been like this for decades, too: it isn’t just a mental shortcoming, either. I’d love to be able to say the wiring in my head is to blame, which means I’ll often completely misinterpret signals. Yes, that happens, and there’s comprehension as to why… but other times, it really isn’t. Really specific stuff upsets me. Thoughtlessness, arrogance and the inability to possess even basic empathy. When you politely disagree with someone and their reaction is to give you the finger. Nothing says mature and sensible like the bird, actual or metaphorical. That’s probably why I use it so much because, on my day, I’m that person too.

Except you’ll never see it happen.

man_speaks.gif

I am tired, and need a holiday, and so my tolerance is low. Things other people find funny I will object to, but with a perfectly sensible set of reasons… except there’s no point in listing them. Repeating them is largely redundant if your target audience is gonna flip you the bird and explain that you’re the problem. Get a sense of humour, lighten up, why are you so serious? I’m this way because these things matter to me: when the tables turn, and you get incandescently angry over summat I agree with, remind us to have the conversation again and then perhaps you might listen, though I doubt it.

Today I realised how my writing has become the means by which these problems are solved without conflict.

overthemoon.gif

Short stories and poetry are becoming metaphors for far more than simply my own internal demons. Other people’s actions are now being exorcised, their attitudes that can be so painful to read or observe. I have, in my poetry submissions, also dealt with Brexit and the Internet as general contentious topics: it was never meant to be political, but just ended up that way. What was provocation at 2.15 then vanishes into a poem or paragraph by teatime and all the angst is forgotten. This is certainly cheaper than therapy.

Ironically, it is the level of noise and discomfort that the Internet has always emanated which gave inspiration today for another project, which will be presented as part of a submission for the Hollingworth Prize for Poetry, the closing date for which is the end of August. If unsuccessful, I’ve already got plans afoot to self-publish, as this will make up a fully fledged creative project. Experience has shown me that you don’t go into these situations without being prepared for failure, and whatever happens, this is already a concept I’m proud of.

This is all part of the process of remaining sane, arguments and all. I’m not here to be lectured to or shoved about either, there’s been far too much of that in the past. Now, things happen on my terms.

If I fall down, it doesn’t matter.

June Short Story :: Alias

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during June. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, and a number of small edits have been added to improve narrative flow.

Enjoy.


Alias

Christopher Ashcroft piles the white dish with Special Fried Rice, followed by a large portion of Pork and Mixed Vegetables. It is Friday night: this much-needed treat is his anticipated reward after week of healthy lunches and protein rich dinners, plus three nights at the Gym. However, this is nothing compared with the excitement and arousal he’s currently experiencing at possibilities from the evening’s entertainment. Anticipation of what is in store has fuelled Chris since leaving the office; so much potential chaos awaits after finishing this meal.

His current project is coming to a head: it is therefore time to begin organisation of the next campaign. This battlefield is already littered with thousands of angry and upset individuals, all fired by his own brilliantly executed, subversive approach to online encouragement. The almost foolproof technique has been honed over the past five years, allowing Ashcroft the ability to totally demolish other people’s online credibility without him ever being affected. The key is to start fires, but encourage others to stoke their potential for devastation.

With dinner done, it’s time to sit back in his custom-built gaming chair, surveying fresh wreckage of this latest endeavour: turning two online friends into enemies. He’s convinced the other their online confidante’s a conniving and duplicitous liar, slandering behind their back. A quick glance at Twitter notifications offers unexpected surprise: there’s no DM’s from either Abigail or Ruth, despite having formed complex relationships with both over the last month. With rising concern, Chris goes to their Twitter biographies. Both women have blocked him.

Logging to his alt account shows nothing untoward: no mention of his name, indication he’s been found out. Both women’s conversations continue totally as normal. In fact, one of their closest joint friends has chosen to follow on recommendation, which is quickly reciprocated.With an increasing sense of foreboding, timelines are scoured for any indicator of what might have transpired between lunchtime when he was chatting freely to both and now. Then there’s a notification: latest follower has sent him a message. Opening the window, Chris is stunned.

The solitary line of text suddenly turns his blood cold.

‘We know exactly what you’ve done.’

The instant temptation is to feign ignorance, but a second message has already arrived, stab to his heart.

‘Not just to us, but all those other innocent people since all this began.’

==

Chris tried to sleep, but to no avail. It is 3.25am, and time to do what he’s paid for during the week: troubleshooting. This time, all efforts are focused on his own online behaviour over the last month. The object of this exercise is simple: find out where the mistake was made. This game’s been played, on and off for almost ten years: beginning as a provocateur on tech support sites, moving up to an antagonist on LiveJournal, then a successful period of anonymous destruction via Facebook, until the rules were changed and he got bored of the responses.

A lot has been learnt since those early days: how to IP mask, withhold all personal details, have a cover identity written and committed to memory. Ashcroft is convinced no mistake’s been made; his next step is to work out what has missed in the pair’s complex text communications. Organisational fault is obvious, apparent since before this particular exercise was begun. It is not Abigail or Ruth who exposed him, but their mutual friend. It appears this user has been stalking his actions, active within several planned provocations over the last six months.

The same IP address keeps appearing again and again: tracing the machine to a London Internet cafe, he can now go to bed happy. Sending DM to his new nemesis, sense of ability and comfort soon returns.

‘I’m not afraid. No laws have been broken here. You have no power over me.’

==

There’s brief disorientation as Chris awakes, immediate realisation there’s no bedside clock illuminated beside him. It is soon apparent his flat’s without electricity: PC is dead, no smart devices are operational. All he has is mobile phone, on which a text message sits waiting.

“I have plenty of power, Mr Ashcroft. Stop your online intimidation of the innocent, or there will be consequences.’

As the message is read, entire flat springs back to life, and Chris is calling 999, before stopping himself. How does he explain what just happened to the Police?

==

The rest of the day is spent scouring house for potential bugs, disconnecting all internet-connected items that might be remotely controlled and trying to work out how this particular person not only knows where Ashcroft lives, but his real name, which has never been used online. A sense of discomfort and panic gnaws at a mind all too aware of the irony at play: this is what is meted out to those people whom he decides deserve to have their lives disrupted and manipulated to his own ends; drama created as entertainment now skilfully turned in upon itself.

After a while, pleasure emerges from this unseen, expert manipulation: his new online spectator could also be influenced for entertainment. This offered a chance to expose initial actions as illegal: shutting off electricity should be offence enough to get local Police involved. As he masturbates multiple times in the shower, Chris imagines being watched, making sure that performance is as assured as the online personal he knows will emerge as victorious. Going to bed, sleeping with confidence, Sunday will see the start of a new, focused plan of attack.

==

Over the next week, online activity means supportive encouragement of friends, plus a very public, heartfelt apology to both Abigail and Ruth. The entire time, his nemesis’ actions are tracked and recorded: by Friday, pattern of movement has emerged before a plan is executed. After a meeting in the City, Ashcroft suddenly and unexpectedly detours from his normal route back to Canary Wharf, heading for the part of east London where his nemesis’ Internet cafe is located. Arriving at the address, he is confronted with a burnt out, empty shell of a shop.

Sitting in his vanity-plated black Audi TT, Chris can’t work out what is going on. This is the address that Google Maps specified: location that, according to the Cafe’s web-page, is very much active and vibrant right now. Holding phone in shaking hands, a text message appears:

‘However hard you try and win, this reign of terror and arrogance is over, Mr Ashcroft. Time for punishment.’ Unable to move, sense of genuine panic grips his soul. As the man sits and watches, every application is methodically deleted, before the iPhone is effectively bricked.

Staring at darkness from his screen, glass surface unexpectedly ripples. Trying to move, Ashcroft is immobilised via countless thin, black tendrils of smoke that spill unhindered from the phone, wrapping around left wrist and arm… slowly spreading inside suit, onto his chest…

==

After failing to return back to work, it takes three days before anybody thinks about reporting Ashcroft as missing. The car is eventually located, after having been towed away and then impounded by the Metropolitan Police, with both his keys and phone inexplicably locked inside. Friends and colleagues are interviewed: only after his home is searched and PC taken in for analysis does it emerge that a popular, dedicated City trader led a shocking, double life. However, duplicitous alter ego is not a surprise to everybody, particularly his ex-girlfriend.

Andrea left Chris when it became apparent his lust for attention and control superseded all other rational faculties. It had taken some extraordinary measures to ensure she was no longer bothered by Ashcroft, the details of which are not shared when police finally interview her. The terms of her contract had been very specific: we will be happy to deal with your problem, on the sole condition you never mention who we are, what we do and how justice is served. In the modern world, sometimes, the less people knew of real truths within reality, the better.

In exchange for a promise to live decently and honourably, her soul’s forfeit wiped homophobic, narcissistic arrogance off the face of the Earth. Chris’ spirit, with a growing number of others was uploaded to the Angelic Cloud: there it would be saved, inaccessible, for eternity.