Derailed Home


Rick piped on the harmonica on the steam train that marched down the line. The rhythmic low notes matched the tempo of the train’s chugging. His face would crease as he slid to the higher notes, that wailed from deep inside his lungs.

He wore a disemboweled raccoon as a hat. His beard caught the condensation of his breath. Snow, tundra and pine trees surrounded the track on his route, delivering coal and canned food to the remote mining towns of Alaska, before the vicious winter totally cut them off. He shoveled a couple of coal heaps onto the flames and toasted his mottled hands in front of the heat. Deep lines were chiseled into the face of this hardy driver, his eyes gleamed in the glowing engine fire.

He’d run to these tracks at the age of 16, fleeing an alcoholic father and a bruised mother. His co-workers had taken him under their wing and he never looked back. It was intense methodical work. Hauling loads, watching the oncoming track, checking supplies on board were topped up and fixing the endless breakdowns on this rusty iron horse.

He lived between rest stops of the railroad’s outposts. These were normally cabins with a single bed, thick blankets and a cheap wardrobe that nobody ever used. He’d eat at the greasy restaurants in the town and visit dive bars in the evening – though never touching a drop of booze. He might have fathered many children he never met. The local chicks loved the out-of-towner. But there were so many small towns, so many routes, so many stops that the women who punctuated those lonely nights all blurred into one.

He’d sometimes see kids in towns that looked like his own, but it wasn’t his place to ask questions. They would grow up and fend for themselves just like he did. Besides he was as bound to this railroad as the rails on the sleepers. He was the lifeline to these towns. Sticking around after 30 years on the move would drive him insane. There were not many old-timers left anyway. Some had died early deaths from whiskey and women and the rest had moved south.

The young-uns didn’t know the first thing about these railroads. They’d never wrestled with moose or had a train derailed by hungry bears. His harmonica kept wailing until he saw a cloud of snow tumble ahead.

“Sweet Mother of Jesus!” he shouted and yanked on the brake lever with all his might. Sparks went flying across the rack as the ear-piercing scrape of metal on metal cut through the air. He’d not crashed into the snow mound, but this was another beast to deal with. A 12 foot wall of white powder was blocking the path of the halted train.

Rick got out the cabin and got down into the ditch to take a look at how long this avalanche went on for. Lucky for him it was narrow. It was time for the big guns. He got out the cabin to service wagon and pulled out the rocket canon. This would blast enough out of the block to him through. He unloaded it and rolled it deep into the ditch, put on his ear muffs and goggles and loaded the mother fucker.

“Booooooooom!” the machine went as it propelled Rick backwards. When the rocket exploded crunchily in the snow mound, it was like a million snowballs had been launched into the air.

Rick was sheltering for cover but a large block of ice had landed on his left shoulder. Such filthy language had never been heard before as Rick hopped around, but thankfully there was only a deer to hear it. Despite his agony, the train’s path was clear. Wincing and staggering into the cabin, Rick released the brakes and shovelled what he could with his right arm into the engine’s fire. It started chuffing along and he passed out.

The next thing he knew was a big clang reverberating through his body. And the pain. He touched his left shoulder, but his left arm was unconscious and unresponsive. It was also covered in dry blood. Someone opened the train’s cabin.

“He needs help!”

More blurry faces crowded over him but they all faded to black again.

“That was a nasty accident you had there. There should be at least to of you on the train at once”

He was in a doctor’s clinic, in a makeshift bed on the floor. He looked to his left to discover his left arm was missing.

“Arggh!” he screamed, but at least their was no pain. What had the doctor said again?

“Oh, we’re understaffed!” he barked.

There was a woman the other side of the bed. She was stroking his hair. She looked vaguely familiar. He creased his face thicker, trying to dig in the recesses of his brain.

“Remember me Rick? Iron Castle in ’49” she drawled “You remember… we danced, you took me your lodge, pressed me onto the floor and put Billy inside me”. She looked dreamy, happy and ethereal. Then her face turned blood red and furious.

“It’s been nothing but misery since! My Dad kicked me out, said I was nothing but a cheap whore so we had to run as fast as we could to the city. I got a job at the railroad HQ as a mail clerk. Come and find me Rick. I love you”

She disappeared. Rick reached out to where she had been with his functioning arm.

“You OK, Rick?” said the nurse
“You saw her, right?”
“The woman there”
“The only person who’s been here has been me and Doctor Dubrowski”
“But she was here”
“Maybe these painkillers are a little strong. You’ve been through a major shock, get some sleep.”

It all sorta made sense. He closed his eyes and started snoring.

He awoke once more and everything seemed to be in focus again. His arm was still missing but everything else was alright and seemed real again. A man in a uniform was offering him some papers to sign about sickness pay and liability something. He signed them and didn’t listen. All he could think about was the women he remembered who was tugging on the heart he didn’t know he had. He hated being here in this damp, stinky building wearing bandages and not able to move.

When the man left, he stood up. He ached and stretched. He looked around the room and found some clothes in a closet. He staggered out the clinic and went around town. He found a pawnbrokers where he offered his gold chain. The bastard didn’t offer much but it was enough for a ticket to Fairbanks.

He waited a couple of hours for the train in the station’s bar. The coffee was weak and terrible, the sandwich was stale but he put it down him. He needed food and strength. He went to the platform and played his mouth organ to make his withered body happy again.

The journey was uneventful and the passenger car was as barren as the landscape outside. They pulled in to the station with its long and numerous platforms – the only landmark here was a tall four-story office block overshadowing the station, made of purposeful concrete and steel.

“Where’s the mail room” he asked the receptionist. The lady in the tight uniform and red lipstick pointed the way half-mindedly. Rick went down the corridor with butterflies in his stomach. No woman had made him feel like this before. He didn’t even know if she would be there, or even if she would like him. Maybe it was just some stupid hallucination. He poked his head in the door. There she was with her typewriter. She was fatter and frumpier than his memory. But he went to kneel down in front of her .


She looked up, deeply buried in a thought about reimbursement for delayed cargo. Then there he was. Her body melted, her pulse raced and thumped out of her chest.

“Rick?!” she said confused, happy and bemused. “What happened to your arm?”
“Long story”

“What’s this?” shouted a short man who’d strode in, the woman’s boss.

“Nothing.” Helen said hurriedly.

“I’ll meet you outside in 10” she whispered, staring at him while Rick moved away.

He went outside and played his harmonica with more gusto and colour than he’d used in years.

When she joined him with a wobbly walk, they talked awkwardly, mist clouding from their mouths. He followed her along the icy sidewalks to an apartment block. She took him to the top floor. She jangled her keys in the lock.

A young man was watching the black-and-white television. He looked about 16 and had the unmistakable nose of his father.

“Billy meet your Dad” she said.

He turned his head, not quite comprehending… confused and muddled. As the words clicked in his head he walked over to the man and gave him a wordless hug.

Rick started feeling all sorts of things he didn’t know he could feel. His mouth was gagged for words and a single tear rolled down his tired face.

The Magician’s Elevator

I read this in Canterbury Waterstones on the 26th January 2017. Video to follow.


The elevator dinged and the magician emerged. A pointy red hat with silvery moons and stars sat atop his head. A wizened wrinkly face held his goofy toothless smile.

“Good night boys and girls. You have left your bodies behind for this evening and you are welcome to my magical realm.”

The children stared at him with their mouths agape and fidgeting around in excitement.

“You meet me every night. Some of you meet me in the day. But that’s enough explanation for now. Who wants to go on an adventure?”

“Meeee!!!” screamed a girl at the front.
“Alright then let’s get in the lift”

The elevator shut behind the pair. Uplifting smooth jazz music was piped in. “This is one of my favourite tracks on this CD” said the magician”

“Ok – where shall we go young madam?”

“The dinosaurs!”

“The Dinosaurs it shall be then”

The magician adjusted the fourth-dimensional dial to 100 million years ago and the fifth dimensional dial to somewhere not too far from the building.

The elevator whistled down the double-helix shaped shaft and through the loop-the-loop and landed in the prehistoric age.

The doors pinged open again and Madeline was confronted with the sight of a 20 foot tall Diplodocus munching leaves.

“Don’t be afraid they don’t eat humans”. The girl calmed down and looked up at the scaly poo-coloured creature.

“It looks like my mummy”

“Yes that’s what having children and too many chocolate bars does to you” sighed the magician
“I’ll pick you up later, but beware of the T-Rex”

“Which one’s that?” said the bemused girl.

“The one that looks like your Dad on a bad day. Toodle pip!”

The magician popped back in the elevator and pressed the Home button. It whooshed back through the loops and the double-helix. The magician did some groovy disco dancing and then put his serious face on for the children.

“Who’s next?” he said slyly.

A chunky boy pushed past the others. He was sour-faced and in a posh school uniform.

“OK, Henry where would you like to go today?”

“When I’m rich. I want to meet me when I’m rich”

“Alrighty” said the elderly magician. He twisted the fourth dimension dial 30 years forward and fifth dimensional dial to the spaceship colony of New Zork.

The elevator pinged through the stratosphere, grew rockets, wings and propellers and jumped through the hyper space portal. The ride was a little rickety, but then the elevator landed on the rocket dock of future Henry’s dome.

The elevator doors opened to future Henry’s bedroom. There were wide panoramic views of the galaxy. A large circular white bed stood in the centre.

“Wow!!!” exclaimed Henry

“New Zork is fantastic isn’t it. A little too hectic for someone of my age but you’d be right in your element.”
“Oh, your lady friends will come in a moment”

“What?!?!?! Girls!!!?!?!” said Henry

“Oh yes! You’ll like them by this point”

“Urrghghgh! Girls smell!”

“Well little Henry. You should be careful what you wish for in this life because you might just get it. See you later!”

With that the elevator got back in the elevator and pushed home. He hummed to the glorious bossa nova, track 12 if he was right. This was divine!

He arrived back to the children so engrossed in his singing he didn’t hear the door open. The children saw the old man gyrating and humming to the silly song and all started laughing.

“Pretend you didn’t see that” said the magician, straightening up. But the children kept giggling.

“Now I’m going to choose someone who isn’t a bossypants.” He looked towards the back.
A shy boy was sucking his thumb.

“Dexter, today is your lucky day” The little man stood up and toddled over innocently with pure trust in his eyes.

As soon as the lift doors shut the poor boy started crying.

“Oh come here.” he lifted the boy up.

“It’s OK. You’re OK now. The boy wailed and wailed and wailed until no more tears came out and no more sound could be made.”

“You’re safe now. You’re here with me. It was probably a little too early for you to go to Earth with those savages.”
“Where shall we take you?”

“Home” said the boy without hesitation. Using one of the few words he knew.

The magician held down the button with a picture of a house and the doors opened at a woodland scene. The deer were prancing about, the dappled sunlight was shining through the trees and a few woodland faeries were playing around.

The boy toddled towards them with a big grin on his face.

“See you soon” said the magician.

His work continued throughout the night. He took everyone to a dreamworld before taking them back again to their sleepy 3D bodies.

“Remember you can come here any time you want.” he’d whisper. The people would wake up in child and adult bodies, sighing warmly and happily in their beds.

Nowhere To Go


Somehow he always found his way onto the margins, the fringes, the edges. The verges where the odds were stacked like a tower of beans.

He’d been fired from his last three attempts at jobs. When the office boss had rubbed him the wrong way, he poured coffee down his back. In the pub where he’d been forced to work til 2am, he peed in the landlady’s tea the next morning and stole his wages from the till, never returning again. The job in the estate agency had lasted two days until a client had been so obnoxious and pinickity about the shade of Magnolia on the walls of a Chelsea flat, he kidnapped the client. Instead of returning her to the office, he drove an hour to a paint merchant in the middle of nowhere, and left her there. That was that.

But the problem with following all your urges was it rarely earned you any money. His notebook of friends with sofas to sleep on was gradually withering down. Without a regular income there was little chance of getting a flatshare, let alone his own place. Even the overemployed were on borrowed money and borrowed time. No matter how hard they slaved away at their jobs – there was never enough.

The cocktails on credit cards, rides in Ubers, weekend city breaks to get away from it all, takeaways and gym memberships to burn off the takeaways all added up. He’d checked out of this way of life long ago. Work didn’t work for him.

It was a soggy sodden day as we walked down the foggy smoggy main road. The traffic was gridlocked. He got a tasteless 99p filter coffee from a cafe and stared out the window.

Technically, now, he had nowhere to go. No place to call home.

All he had was a large rucksack with a few clothes, two dog eared books, a notebook and a tablet. But he had himself. And that had kept him safe so far.

He drank up – then headed to the supermarket. He picked up the meal deal he wanted, went to the self checkout, and only scanned the hula hoops. He paid and collected everything as calmly and casually as he did most lunchtimes.

He gobbled up the Prawn Mayo sandwich in the park while watching the pigeons. He loved the pigeons. They didn’t care too much about rules and property and much for that matter. They flew where they wanted, landed where they wanted. They ate what they could scavenge. They mated with whoever was willing. They weren’t trying to live up a social media feed that they’d always fall short of. They were instinctual, playful, free creatures.

He watched them dance out their mating rituals. He threw his crusts at the birds which attracted a fluttering flock. He left them and headed towards the tube station. Transport hubs were always rife with possibilities, new doors, places to go, opportunities, newspaper. He stood in the ticket hall, watching the scurrying cockroach commuters with their suits, frocks and umbrellas.

The he saw the side door. 4592AA the men in orange jackets pressed. He pretended to browse the newspaper for a while, then went to the pound shop next door. He bought a flourescent green jacket and bottoms, then changed in the station toilets, adding his black hat and his gruff frowning face.

4592AA. The lock clicked open. He closed it behind him. To the right were steps that led to the tracks. To the left a metal gate stood ajar. He pulled on it and climbed the narrow staircase.

The room was unlit. He pulled his torch from his rucksack. This cosy room was full of old signs, the old station clock, dusty cones and wet floor signs. The place hadn’t been used in a while. On the right stood another door. He battled the cobwebs and pushed on it.

This room had windows at least, the top one was broken. A desk had been built around the edges. It had a prime view of the tracks. In the corner a set of four rusty levers stood erect.

He wasn’t supposed to be here. But the cogs in his mind were clicking into place. The points on the track were lining up and a non-stop Metropolitan line train had rocketed from the tunnel underneath the room. His face lit up. “Bingo!” he shouted. He’d hit the motherlode.

He spent the afternoon in the former signalling box. The signals had now been electrified, this narrow space was redundant. He could get a heavy duty lock for the gate downstairs and make this his fortress flat. He’d need to sneak in and out of course. But during rush hours that would be easy. He’d now wait until 5:30 when the tubes began belching out commuters and he could slip out.

After a gentle snooze his phone’s alarm went off. Let’s get cracking. He sneaked downstairs and went to the cab rank. He asked the guy to hang on while he brought down some antiques for clearance. Out came the grand faulty clock. Out came the platform signage much older than its holder. Out came the signals. Now to flog it.

The meter was ticking up as they edged their way into Camden. The young man had texted Vinnie the shop’s owner and promised to deliver at the tradesman’s entrance. Vinnie was smoking a fag by the arch doors when the cab pulled up.

Vinnie offered £300 for the lot. The young man laughed and explained how few of these old Underground clocks were around. Maybe 100 in total. He could get at least a grand for it on Ebay and even more if it was sold to some local yuppie mug. He’d throw the rest in for free. Vin upped his offer to £500 and tapped his nose – nobody needed to know if he wasn’t too greedy. The young man shook his hand, unloaded the goodies, took the envelope of cash and paid the driver double the fare.

Oh to have a pocket full of cash, your own place and be free to roam the city. It was cold, but the rain had subsided. He went to the canal and strolled along with a spring in his step and some Thai noodles as a treat. He headed to Argos where he got an inflatable mattress, sheets, feather duster, lock and extra thick duvet. Then he headed on the bus to his new pad.

It was quieter now, but he snuck in unnoticed. The station staff were occupied on their phones. He locked up, cleared up and set up his new bed. The moon was full and giant through the window. The white gravel and black railway sleepers looked like piano keys from this angle. The trains thundered and trundled underneath but there was something reassuring about being safely above the bustling activity.

How long he could keep this gig going he didn’t know He needed to be discreet and not caught. He’d have to use the window as a urinal into a neighbours alleyway. And if he needed a number two it’d have to be a in a carrier bag, wipining his bum with the Metro. That’s all it was good for. But besides that he was OK. Food could come from the local supermarket bins if things got tight. He could fix the drafty window tomorrow with half a wet floor sign, glued on with No More Nails.

He laughed to himself and slept remarkably well despite the rattling beneath. The next morning he looked in the estate agent’s window and laughed to himself. A flat adjacent to the signal box was going for half a million pounds. He smiled to himself. Ok it had a few more creature comforts, a kitchen and bathroom, but it wasn’t any bigger.

Over the next few weeks the young man bought himself a second-hand bicycle and went around all the museums and art galleries he could cram in. He absorbed as much as he could from the cultural artifacts he saw. He got a sketchbook and drew. First objects and items of interest. Then people. Then as he made slow but steady progress he started making comic books and cartoon strips.

One day he found some half-full tins of paint – all different shades of London Magnolia. He painted them onto his mancave’s wall – like the urban caveman he’d become. He painted his story. From the wretched bosses, to the wretched clients to finally making his own home.

It was perhaps inevitable that one day his game would be up. His heart sank when the code had been rejected. He tried and retried but it had obviously been changed. Damn! Then he got a tap on a shoulder.

“Going somewhere?” asked the ogre in the fluorescent jacket with the walkie talkie.

He was arrested for trespassing and taken down the police station. The young man explained his story to the officer and Transport For London lawyer. But it was like talking to a brick wall. Every sinew in his body was blazing red lava. But they were heartless, icy and impenetrable morons.

He was the problem to be dealt with. His existence was not compatible with the systems they upheld. He was let out with promise that he’d turn up to court the next Monday.

He signed, dejected and hungry. He called the friend he was on best terms with. He scrubbed himself up in the shower before putting on clean clothes.

It was time to call Dave. Dave was 24 and worked for Buzzfeed. Their office had beanbags and a pingpong table. But if anyone was seen playing on them they were fired on the spot. Dave had 9 more clickbait articles to write today. He wasn’t exactly proud of his last article “17 Kittens That Look Like Toy Story Characters”. But it counted towards his target.

He scrolled through Tumblr, scraping the bottom of the internet’s bowels for ideas when his phone vibrated.

“I’m at reception let me up”

After being ushered in the young man told his story in Dave’s cubicle. Dave’s face was in awe – it was certainly more exciting than this job and evenings with Netflix. A story was a story – and this was an exclusive!

“You Won’t Believe What Happened When This Man Left His Job To Squat In a Tube Station” screamed the headline.

Dave could believe it. But hell this was the formula that had worked for a decade. Dave took the phone pictures his friend had sent him, added some blurb and published it within half an hour.

The algorithms on the site were noting above-average click through rates on the article, pushing it to the top of the headlines. Within hours it was going viral. Mashable, Metro, The Evening Standard and even the BBC London had copy-pasted the story.

The following day Natasha Baxter was browsing her Twitter feed when she found the story. As PR manager for the Underground – this was disintegrating into a PR nightmare. It was bad enough with the strikes and the night tube’s delays. Here the comments sections were filling up with angry opinions about how the Tube was pushing a resourceful homeless man onto the streets and into jail potentially, so that they could store some signs.

She stroked her blonde highlights, chewed her pen and adjusted her polyester suit. Hmmm. She had phone calls to make.

“What a museum!?” said the young man.

“Yeah we’ll drop the charges against you, give you some of the entrance fees. You know Tracey Emin made millions from her spunky sheets. This is far more interesting. We can keep on a few staff to man it and that should sort out the strike problems. Where are you now?… Right the cab will bring you here so we can sign the contract”

His breath was taken away. By the evening his fortunes had turned around once again.

Two weeks later, the signal box had a ticket booth added while plaques were placed on the walls. The news had spread across many outlets home and abroad. Soon there was a line of technicolour tourists with trigger-happy cameras and bulging wallets queuing around the block.

And as for our hero – his work was done. With his earnings from his mancave museum he bought a campervan in which he’d headed to greener pastures for his next adventure.

The Holiday From Hell


“Come and dine on the edge of the world” the brochure had offered. Steve and Maggie Malone stepped off the plane for their seventh holiday of the year. They had spent the journey in silence. Uncomfortable silence. 27 years in the civil service had aged Steve prematurely. His back was hunched and rigid,his eyes gloomy and yellow (not helped by his hip flask) and his belly the size of a space hopper.

The steps wobbled as he dismounted the plane. The gaunt figure of his wife follow loyally behind as she always did.

They stepped onto the concrete of the landing strip, tufts of grass breaking through the edges. A courtesy bus was waiting, Steve grumbled: “You’d have thought they could have parked outside the building as it’s such a small airport.”

He huffed and puffed and rolled his eyes as a Mum with two howling babies boarded the bus next to him. The bus waited for everyone to board before leaving, adding to Steve’s agitation. This was followed by an even longer wait for passport control, the luggage carousel and the car hire desk. When they finally made it to the Seat Ibiza (that the car hire firm had blatantly ripped them off on), Steve belted the car down the winding, craggy coastal road.

The sun wasn’t shining on them as the brochure had promised. Margaret was terrified every time Steve approached a bend, clinging onto the handle for dear life. But part of her didn’t care any more. Hell couldn’t be worse than putting up with Steve. Somehow the pair arrived at the hotel unharmed.

“Is that it?” sneered Margaret at the small building.
“The rest is underground you silly old cow” grumbled Steve. Margaret was used to the abuse by now. She loathed him with the passion and fury of 1000 clashing frying pans. She’d schemed to kill him a few times but didn’t know what she’d do without him. What else did she know?

They waddled their way to reception where the local island girl put on her best fake smile and gave them their key. When she sent them on their way she returned to her Whatsapp, messaging her bad boy boyfriend with the motorbike. She’d ride on the back when her shift finished. If he was lucky she’d let him into her apartment, she’d tease. But she knew full well that after hugging that testosterone along the vibrating road, she would be more than ready.

The Malones were arguing with the door lock by now, putting the card in the 3 incorrect ways before they got in. When the door slammed they huffed a huge sigh of relief. They were exasperated. With each other. The staff. Every one they’d encountered that day. Everyone except themselves of course. Nothing was going their way.

The room had been carved into the black granite cliff. A glass panel separated the room from the ocean. It was hollow and dank in the overcast afternoon light. The waves tormented and crashed on the rocks below.

“Does this place have any bloody heating?” shrieked Margaret after wrestling with her suitcase. She glowered around the room and found the Air Conditioning’s remote control. She pressed the power button with a vengeance but nothing happened.

“Urgh!” she yelled.

She stomped her way up the black spiral staircase, back to the reception desk.

“Excuse me!” she yelled, dining the bell atop the desk multiple times.
“Yes Madam” said the girl, still staring at her phone.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you”

The young woman exhaled loudly, put her phone down, tilted her head to the side and stared at her bellowing guest.

“Our air conditioning isn’t working!”
“Have you tried turning it on and off?”
“Of course I bloody well have. What do you take me for? A complete and utter fool?!”
“No Madam. Ok… an engineer will come this afternoon to fix it. Ok?”

“I should jolly well hope so” she said, before waddling her way back to the her husband.

The couple then made their way to the dining room. The salmon was undercooked and sent back twice. The champagne was warm and cheap cat piss in Mrs Malone’s opinion. But they drank it anyway. How much worse could their holiday get after all?

It could indeed get worse, the pair were soon to discover. 1200 miles away on the North Atlantic Ridge, the tension on the plate boundaries was reaching a crescendo. It was time for the ultimate release. The deep walls of rock grinded and grinded against each other. Bashing this way and that. Above the surface there was nothing more than a few ripples. A few fishermen noticed some larger waves on their trawlers, but it was all in a day’s work. However the waves were building and building, the pressure behind them mounting and mounting. The pressure in front pulled up the great watery carpet of the ocean, up and up and up.

Within an hour the wave had reached the buoys of the warning systems. Alarm bells were ringing in a non-descript office. Calls were being made in hurried tones. The Mid-Atlantic islands would be notified. Planes were chartered. Sirens would wail. The evacuations would be rushed but painless.

But in the hotel room on the edge of the world, where Mrs Malone was trying to ignore her snoring husband by attempting to read a crime novel – nobody was any the wiser. The first sign that something was amiss was when Mrs Malone stopped hearing the crashing waves. She hauled herself from her bed to the window. It was quiet here for once. She was cold. That bloody engineer hadn’t come as promised and she was preparing her next angry diatribe for the useless receptionist.

She put on an extra cardigan and went upstairs but it was empty. She pressed the bell repeatedly but nobody answered her call. Her fury was growing with every passing moment.

Then she saw it in the distance.

The towering gigantic wall of water coming towards them. It was still a fair distance away. It was sucking the sea into it. She looked out the panoramic window of the lobby. She could see more the sea bed now, with it’s nobbled rocks. She panicked.

Her time was up. Their time was up. She looked through the restaurant, desperately looking for someone, anyone. She shouted but it seemed like everyone had disappeared. She considered taking the car and the keys but – they were in Steve’s pocket. Damn! The useless oaf wouldn’t move or wake up. Her will to live was draining away anyway.

She had 5, maybe 10 minutes before she’d be taken to her watery grave. Her face was an ashen picture of despair and terror and wretched putrid disappointment. Her mind went blank. She just had to wait. It was a painful uncomfortable wait. The slurping, gurgling sound of the sea was getting closer and closer. She couldn’t bare to face her killer.

Then it happened. The glass smashed. Their last memories were feeling as through they were in a giant washing machine. With that the couple’s reign of misery was over.

The rest of the islanders had escaped on planes and helicopters. The girl at reception was taken to the top of the island’s volcano where her saviour with the dark eyes and the motorbike was now romping away with her.

And the furious ocean had now settled down – it’s job had been done.

Hubbard and Co.


“We’re ready to charter her” said the man with the tatty scarf. A sack of 200 dubloons schlossed onto the counter. The sun shone through the sack revealing the gleaming bounty. Behind the oak desk Mr Hubbard had seen all sorts of sea rats pass through his office. Hubbard and co. was the only establishment on the island that would lease boats for voyages across the 17 seas. Normally a young sailor would have to join the larger boat and become a deckhand. They’d be run ragged by the tyranical captain who’d shout them out of sleep and pay them a pittance. But here one could charter one’s own ship.

Merchants, pirates, treasure hunts and fisherman all came to Mr Hubbard for a vessel. The boats were in a sorry state. Sails were torn, the hulls were slightly leaky and God only knows if they would survive in a gale. But this was the way, this was the life for any ambitious sailor who wanted to become the stuff of legend.

Mr Hubbard was smart and sharp. He’d scalp at the top end, and tail at the bottom end. When a ship landed in the port he’d demand 10% of the cargo for the risk incurred. And for the men he didn’t trust, Hubbard would always ask for a large collateral. Crews would steal cannons and barrels of rum as they came into port. This would be stashed away somewhere until their employer voyaged onwards, then the crews would pass this onto Mr Hubbard – the ultimate pawnbroker. All sorts of goodies would be exchanged before Hubbard would accept a deal. Treasure maps, canonballs, gunpowder, ropes and even exotic birds were taken in case the crew foolishly decided to not return.

Then there was the tale of Mr Douglas who’d come straight from Liverpool. His swashbuckling face and fighting spirit had kindled a spark in Hubbard’s frozen heart. Hubbard saw part of his younger self waving his cutlass around in that office. With that he gave him a ship, a treasure map of a far off island and demanded a 50/50 split. If decided not to return, Hubbard would have a word with the island Governor to use their warships and track him down. Douglas with a cheeky grin in his eye accepted the terms and started rounding up the least troublesome deckhands he could muster from the tavern.

Their journey was reportedly long and hard. But almost, too easily, Mr Douglas had arrived on the island, dug up the treasure where it was expected to be and journeyed back with nothing but a lack of rum to contend with. On arrival, a stash of jewelry and coinage worth 2 million dubloons was added up. With this Mr Douglas built himself a large colonial house next to the town tavern. He’d host parties where he’d invite the town’s wenches in their filthy frocks, and spend his days slowly drinking and gambling away his fortune.

It was a risky business but this was where Mr Hubbard got his thrills. There were fisherman who were regular, easy, local customers. They’d bring back a few sardines, crabs and crayfish. But the excitement was with the big voyagers, the people who may or may not be trusted – the adventurers, the treasure seekers, the pirates. These were normally nasty pieces of work that Mr Hubbard was betting on, but it was a game Hubbard loved to play. Who would make it? Who would plunge to the dark depths of ocean? God only knew and it was up to Hubbard to let these voyages occur.

Now in front of him, he had a chunky fellow, four foot tall with grey overalls and hole-laden boots. His breath reeked of alcohol and made Hubbard wince but this was business and Hubbard had no passion for anything else since his wife had left for good on a boat to Sao Paulo. How the man had come up with 200 dubloons he did not know, but it was not his job to ask questions or turn down a client.

He made the man sign some papers. Why he bothered, Hubbard didn’t know – for the man in front of him wouldn’t be able to read. But he got him to mark an X at the end of the contract. They agreed on a two week lease time. He was shown to the smallest sailboat in the harbour. Mr Hubbard was regretting this deal, but the boat was probably worth more than the 200 dubloons he’d been given. So he untied the ropes from the mooring posts and waved goodbye to the ridiculously happy drunken fool.

It was now time to shut for the afternoon. For the boat business at least. He went upstairs to his office and ate a bowl of watery fish broth, then he walked to his warehouse on the edge of town.

“Purveyor of fine goods: Hubbard and sons.” said the sign in elegant writing outside. He looked up and down the street, there were a handful of waifs and strays. Inside was covered floor to ceiling with all kinds of nautical equipment. Diving masks, octopus-shaped lamps, harpoons, vintage rums ales and wines. In the back garden was the aviary where colourful plumes of birds were squawking about. His counter was a chest of drawers, salvaged from one of his ships that sunk in the harbour one night. He hummed and hawed… who would arrive here today?

When The Oil Ran Dry

The sandy, dusty air was as dry and hazy as an oven. The maroon coloured sky stood stark against the powdery orange dunes. The only thing separating the sky from the earth were 12 oil pickets. Tall, immense piston-like structures descending deep into the caverns of the earth. Deep into its bowels where the sludge of fermented trees and dinosaur bones was now treasured by modern man. Around the pistons stood a hut where 12 men lived inside. Stacked in bunkbeds and breathing the intense humming air conditioning – these men were the engineers. Monitors on the wall surrounded them notifying them of pump flow-rates, problems and maintenance due. Each of the team worked 8 hour shifts. Occasionally they would take a prepacked meal from the freezer and microwave it. A winding, bobbling track led over these dunes and down this came the odd water tanker and delivery truck bringing parts, supplies and taking members back home to their families. It was a tough isolated life that paid well for those cut out for it. For 3 months in the desert each year one could afford to pay for one’s wife and children in England, send them to a decent public school and spend the rest of their time walking the dog and enjoying the missus who would miss their company until she didn’t.

It was here that the problems began. Nobody but these engineers knew of the fate which would soon wreak havoc on the surrounding world.

It started with a gargling sound like a shower draining water away but louder and more metallic. Then the explosions began. the pumps, unable to extract any more oil created vacuum-like forces in the soil. This wrenched them downwards where the residue began to burst from the pipes and ignited in the midday heat.

The explosion created a crater, deep and wide with black gashes into the earth where ash and oil spewed.

The man in the hut were luckily of a sufficient distance to not be caught up in the blast. The kaboom woke the sleeping men and the four on their shift were left startled and in shock with flashing red screens. They hitched up the satellite phone and explained in jarred, hurried tones to their superiors of the dismal mess.

Emergency meetings were planned, the CEO’s secretary would be called – as would the Sheikh. The news was rushing over the business wires within hours. Journalists began to scribble columns. “The great oil explosion – a tragic disaster waiting to happen? Are more checks needed?” they would pen from high rise apartments.

The important men got together and pontificated about the best lawyers to send to make settlements and draft Non Disclosure Agreements with the engineers. A raft of safety inspectors would be hired in and a reputation management firm could cover up the media farce.

But the Earth had other plans. Tired of being sucked dry by her Western people to fuel their cars and petrochemical ways – she knew they had lost their way. They had pillaged the underside of her crust and she was not happy.

The next ripple was an earthquake erupting across the Western Coast of the USA. Los Angeles jiggled and the great phallic skyscrapers tumbled onto their sides. In San Francisco a giant crack emerged down Market Street and a giant canal of water divided the city. The freeways had crumbled into rubble. The devastation was vast and apocalyptic. Those who were a nuisance and drain upon the planet were swallowed up by Gaia. The telecommunication lines went down, as did the banking systems and television signals. The power soon left the grid and this left everybody deeply uncertain. Looting and riots consumed most of those left.

What now? What will we do? Phones didn’t work and couldn’t be charged. There nothing to look at and hog people’s attention. It was deeply unsettling to all involved. All they saw were the scenes of destruction, the grief, the loss of what they’d always known and relied on as cultural staples. Their livelihoods – gone. What now? What now? The surviving urban dwellers were utterly stumped. There was always a place to go, a place to be, people to see, things to do, things to eat, things to Instagram. But now – now what? They put on their shoes and walked. They left the city and headed out on the greatest adventure they’d never had. They strode through the rubblelands to the endless repeating suburbs. They marched on through the industrial wastelands until they found the vast luscious pastures where the mountains were pine-coated, where the sea opened out in sapphire sparkling blue, where the animals roamed freely.

As the days wore on they found nuts and berries to feast upon. Fruit was blossoming on the trees. People took their own patch of land and planted their own roots. Deep into the earth these roots grew and the earth gave back what the people needed. Communities were built, everyone pulled together and bonded through thick and thin. People could be people again. Fables were told of the great earthquakes and disasters of a more backwards time.

Gaia repeated herself on many occasions, unsettling all of those who were not in sync with her. Eventually the villagers grew wealthy with layers of history, stories and family.

It was a time of plenty.

Manolo’s Watch

Granddad would argue with Grandma. Grandma would argue with her daughter. Her daughter would argue with her husband. Her husband would argue with her children. And her children would argue among themselves.

But Granddad and the children got along. He would take them in his old Santana Land Rover down from the hills to the beach. They would make sandcastles and splish splosh and bury Granddad under the sand.

One achingly hot day in July Granddad didn’t wake up from under the sand. The children prodded him and hit them with their spades when he didn’t respond.

They moved his eyelids up but he didn’t move. He was gone.

Then Manolo in his 10 year old wisdom unearthed Granddad’s chest pocket and took the sandy golden watch. He wrapped it up in a bundle of seaweed in his pocket and ran to his friend Alvarito’s house. They would often sit on the edge of a balcony on their family’s whitewashed fishing cottage. They would fight and wrestle. But today little Manolo was alone.

He climbed as high as he could on the ledge, he pulled a roof tile up, deposited the bundle and replaced the tile. He then raced downstairs to ask for some pesatas to phone his family from the phonebox.

Mum, Dad and Grandma arrived all supposedly devastated. They were all trying to outgrieve each other, but none of them seemed very sad. Grandad was extremely wrinkled and 102 after all. They had all fixated on finding the watch. They asked the other children – who truthfully hadn’t seen it. They looked up and down the beach – they started frantically digging a hole but it was fruitless.

Little Manolo joined them in their efforts and put on the performance of a lifetime when interrogated by his father. It was eventually assumed that a gypsy must have stolen it while the children were playing in the sea.

The years rolled on. Manolo grew up and married his teenage sweetheart. He did his national service in the Canary Islands. He returned home jobless and penniless to his wife who was shortly made pregnant. She fretted and worried about their fate. But he always calmly said “I have a plan”. She never believed him and would gossip to the street about her hopeless husband.

When things were at their most strained he made his escape. He took two autobuses to the seaside town that was now sprouting tall apartments and palm trees and foreign tourists. Alvarito’s house was far along enough not to be touched. He climbed on the roof that night, dislodged the tile and found the gold watch. He fumbled it into his pocket.

He slept peacefully on the beach under the stars and the lull of the Mediterranean waves.

When he returned home his wife gave him the usual complaints, gripes and groans before he could say a word. When she paused for breath he pulled the watch from his pocket and she stood back and laughed. They both did. The watch would be worth at least 100,000 pesatas. This would get them their own house, a bar and keep them off the streets.

They hugged and smiled at each other. Within minutes her contractions started and within hours their baby was born.