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And it was still hot.”

Wren closed the relic bound by tape and adoration. Around her voices barked orders, feet stampeding across the ship’s deck. She sucked on her drip-tube, the bitter water of the condense-pouch as warm as the sun beating down.

Hands shading eyes, Wren gazed out at the various ships lying prostrate on the desert floor. Squat beasts, whose residents waited to see if Project Old Faithful, her father’s dream, would become reality.

Mind racing, Wren parted the fading pages. Max staring back from his sailboat beside a beautiful tree growing from blue-green water.

Wren had never seen a tree, let alone an ocean. Her father had once told her that air had come from trees not factories. That before the age of wastefulness forests had stretched across the world.

Wren lay back, feeling water under the ship, imagining the dark shade of trees cloaking the sky, spreading life back into the world.

Another sip, bitter warm water.

A klaxon wailed, footsteps falling silent.

Sitting up, Wren felt her father’s familiar grasp on her shoulders.

They waited, together in silence.

A dull thud off in the distance, then blue shards erupted, piercing the sky.

As her father’s tears fell onto her hair.

Scuffed boots trod across the cracked arid group. Max head bowed, let the rhythm of each step carry him onwards. Pausing only to lift his head toward the tree far off in the distance. Under whose shade the saviour would be waiting,

Hobbling with each step, dirt and dust coating his ski, Max cursed his toil. The sky was barren aside from the sun that burnt his mind as much as his skin. The shade of the tree when he reached it was as cold as the freshest mountain pool.

The man was there, the hood of his dark robe covering all but his mouth. Max waited as the grin slowly peeled back, revealing tombstone teeth, haphazardly leaning one against the other.

“Romans 3:23?”

Max ran his dry tongue over the crumbled remains of a white picket fence.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

The man nodded, Max’s belly growling as he watched a skeletal hand reach up into the dark canopy of the tree. White thin fingers grasping at a light bulb. Plucking it down.

“Feast my son,”

#

Max awoke, the crack pipe still clenched in his fist. Scorched black by years of devotion.

Before long the bulb glowed orange once more.

Festive Season Blues

The backwater that was Yiwu shook with the frenzy of factories churning out endless glittering baubles. Wei scurried past LED workshops, wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light.

He was late, caught up writing a letter to his fiancé. Responding to her assurances that a smaller wedding was what she wanted, her pleas insulting his sacrifice.

The letter departed, his crimson fingerprints staining tear soaked paper.

The boss man tapped a manicured nail onto a watch that a thousand life times could barely afford. Wei bowed apologetically before grabbing a paper mask and the glue sprayer.

Five thousand polystyrene stars awaited on metal shelving.

Wei grabbed a star, spraying it with glue, before dipping it deep into the crimson glitter held within a battered oil-drum.

Lifting out a scarlet jewel, sparkling in the light of the bare bulb.

Grab, spray, dip.

Repeat.

Another mask, fingers stained crimson. Lungs hacking with shimmering dust.

Whatever Christmas was, Wei truly despised it.

 

 

The Return

The compartment was empty apart from Astrid, Grandfather and the echoes of the others who had sat here before. Outside, brown and grey stone merged into green fields, as blurred memories rose of her breath clouding vision and sculpting fragile hearts onto glass.

The carriage swaying, drumbeats of rail under wheel. Interrupted only by places that Grandfather spoke fondly of – Bristol – Taunton – Exeter, Astrid watched grey faces alight into a world devoured by grey rain.

Near their destination the sun banished the gloom. Astrid alighted onto the platform, the seaside town of Torquay. Holding tightly to Grandfather she navigated their way through the bustle of tourists and commuters.

The beach wasn’t far from the station, the world ending at the border of red sand and dark water. Astrid stood at the edge, time slowing as she watched white horses gallop, salt coating her skin.

Then she let Grandfather go.

Just as he had made her promise she would.

Earth grips me fiercely as I awaken. Struggling I scream into the breathing apparatus. Yet the suffocating darkness is unyielding.

I cannot move.

My last recollection is meeting the Leader, discussing my research breakthrough. Walking together across the meadow towards the hub. Explaining how I had perfected the technology, that my research would be the salvation of our resource stricken world.

He stooped inspecting the cables that drew out power, the tubes that fed nutrients down into the dirt. Enquiring after the batteries. My boastful assurances that below lay enough for a hundred years.

Now there’s just the darkness and I.

Cables slowly siphoning out my soul.

Fueling the colony.

Meat, stacked in columns within the village larder; the interior as bitter as the winter that lay beyond the door. Stepping outside, his breath a chain of clouds, William hefted another crimson-flecked sack from the wagon onto his shoulders.

The contents smelled reassuringly of jasmine and peppermint. Unwittingly William pressed his face into the sackcloth.

Snapshots erupted within William’s mind: summer meadows, golden hair, soft lips, whispered desires.

Tabitha.

Her fault.

Too slow, too trusting.

He had Frannie now, plain conniving Frannie.

Tears spilled, Will understood this was grief, the elders had warned it would come.

Yet he mustn’t forget to remain grateful.

For wasn’t he one of the free?

 

Clash of the Titans

The reality of being a superhero was beyond most people. Steve understood this, for he was an acolyte of isolation, devoted to the pursuit of vigilante perfection. Every night he spent at his secret base, the bedsit above the chip shop on Stapleton Road, pouring over volumes of comic book deeds.

Then he heard about Kick Ass. Steve was not what you would call a people person so he kept his distance from the neon hell that was the multiplex in town. He was tempted to download a pirated copy, but the hero within him chastised such thoughts. No, Steve waited patiently till the postman delivered his limited edition DVD box set with added postcards.

That night he sat on his beanbag and watched the film.

He hated it.

Some young upstart who lucks his way, via a near fatal accident, into being an inept hero fixated on girls? A total cluster farce Steve concluded as he munched into his second kebab of the evening. What use was such a hero when the world was being torn asunder by war, corporate greed, climate change and selfies?

It was time he made a difference.

Steve worked feverishly into the early hours, fuelled by a diet of lemonade and marshmallows. In the morning the god who stared out from the mirror was not Steve, though Steve knew he was in there somewhere. Before him was no mortal, nor a child in scuba gear.

This was Super Steve.

He wandered outside, his cloak of curtains billowing, his duvet harem pants surprisingly chafing. Yet he strode down the middle of the road flips flops flip flopping, his Staff of Power™ forged from a swingball pole and glitter feeling mighty within his grip.

From above a voice serenaded Super Steve’s emergence into the world.

‘OI WANKER!’

Super Steve looked up, a builder hanging from scaffolding, finger gesturing furiously.

Steve waved back, heart swelling with pride, oblivious to the No37 bus currently hurtling towards him.

Some witnesses stated that the tennis ball on the string tripped Steve up, others that his cloak got caught on something.

All agreed that the oddly dressed man lost.

Rather messily.