Green Fluorescent Electric Cats

This is my entry for the March 2017 TCWG short story competition. This story is totally bonkers because it’s based on a dream I had a few years ago. The South Korean scientist and his experiment were real but everything else was a product of my dreaming mind. It’s about 1650 words long.

Green Fluorescent Electric Cats

The security guards’ uniforms were somewhat different to any I’d seen before. They looked like Confucian figures in long, flowing robes and caps. Each man or woman held one arm horizontally and this was because a cat rested in each of those sleeves of each of those arms. Thus, a guard who was right-handed would carry a cat in his left sleeve and a guard who was left-handed would carry a cat in his right sleeve.

It seemed strange that security guards would do their jobs while carrying around cats. But the cats made a vital contribution to the security of the complex. They could do something that other cats and other animals couldn’t do.

It all started with a South Korean scientist who managed to introduce the gene for Green Fluorescent Protein into cats. His work was purely academic and intended as a genuine piece of scientific research. However, it wasn’t long before there were rich people clamouring for Green Fluorescent cats.

Someone with less honourable intent managed to reproduce the experiment and started to sell these GM animals to the highest bidder. Soon people wanted other freaky features in their pets and someone somewhere successfully incorporated the gene from an electric eel for generating an electric shock into a cat.

All was well and good in this genetic engineering underworld until someone took delivery of a male green fluorescent kitten and a female electric kitten. What happened next was feline sex and more kittens. Two or three generations on, evolutionary amalgamation of the two introduced traits had a very strange and ultimately useful effect.

Now I was coming to the entrance of the complex where I was going to work nights for the next few weeks. There was a large van painted with a logo and the company name FSPC plc. I knew that this was the company providing security, not my employer. FSPC stood for Feline Security and Pest Control and it is a new entrant to the security industry.

I entered the complex for the first time. I had a three-month contract and, before I could start, I had to go to an induction meeting. At the meeting I was shown a video about the company’s security arrangements.

The video began, “FSPC is the UK’s newest and most radical security company. Using trained cats instead of dogs, we have revolutionized business premises security in just one year. We have introduced cats to the UK’s security industry, currently on an experimental basis. So far there has not been one burglary or security breach at any premises we patrol. We believe that our genetically modified cats are invincible!”

The complex was large and in addition to the cats being carried by security guards, there were other cats wandering around the corridors. I asked the person conducting the induction if they were a part of the security arrangements. “No,” he replied. “They’re for pest control. The complex comprises many old buildings and there’s a persistent rodent problem. These are, though, cats with the same genetic modification.”

I was wondering about this genetic modification and why it made the cats special. On the surface, they did just look like ordinary cats, though they did glow green in the dark. “Surely that glowing makes them vulnerable to an armed intruder?”

“No. The cats only glow when they’re happy, a bit like visual purring. The more contented they are, the brighter the shade of green that they glow. However, as soon as they sense danger, they stop glowing. When they get angry or wish to hunt, something strange happens.”

No one seemed interested in telling me what the strange thing was that happens. I was just warned not to do anything nasty to the cats.

I settled down to my job, which was pretty much a lone affair, with no one for company most of the time. From time to time a cat would walk by. Then, at about 9pm, I noticed a cat with a large rat in its mouth. There was a strange smell a bit like singed flesh. I didn’t connect it with the cat or the rat but at about 11pm another cat went by with a rat in its mouth and there was the same smell.

Someone brought me some more work and I asked, “I’ve seen two cats with rats this evening and each time there’s been a smell like singed flesh. Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the rat has been gnawing electricity cables. Maybe the cats have been sleeping too near the boilers, “ was the reply that I got.

I like cats but there was something very odd about these GM animals. And the security guards outside were now reminding me of zombies. This was all too strange, particularly as no one would tell me how and why these cats were better than dogs for patrolling the complex.

As the night went on I saw more cats with rats they’d caught and each time there was this singed flesh smell. I decided not to press issue as it really didn’t matter and it was obvious that no one would tell me what was going on.

I finished my shift at the complex and went home. I didn’t know what to make of the surrealist scenes that I’d seen. Anyway, the first day was over and I’d be there again the next evening.

And so it was. The next evening came and I arrived for work at the complex. There were the Confucian figures or zombies patrolling the grounds and inside there were cats catching rats and mice and the strange singed smell. I settled down to work.

At about 10.30pm I needed to go to another building in the complex. As I was walking down the link road, I came to a junction and saw a big juicy rat. Across the other side of the road there was a cat, eyes fixed on the rat. I decided to watch. The rat seemed quite unaware of either the cat or me. As the rat got near the cat and I expected to see the cat pounce, something else quite strange happened. The first thing that happened was that the cat stopped fluorescing. Next, it simply stayed where it was and didn’t pounce at all. Then I noticed its eyes. The appearance of the tapetums changed from reflective green to red. They then quickly got brighter, turning orange, the yellow and then yellow-white, all in a couple of seconds. Then two lime green beams emitted from the cat’s eyes and blasted the rat! The cat ran over and collected its quarry.

I was quite taken aback by what I’d seen. It seemed like something from a horror film, a cat with laser eyes. I did what I had to do and returned to my workstation. There was no one around to talk to and, as it seemed no one wanted me to know what the cats could do, I decided that I’d better keep what I’d seen to myself.

At about 1am a messenger came to me and said, “Mr Simpson, Head of Security, wishes to see you now.”

I didn’t have anything to fear and I reckoned that it was a routine check. I went to Mr Simpson’s office and knocked on the door. “Enter,” he said. I entered. He immediately knew who I was, even though I’d never seen him before.

He beckoned to me, “Come in and sit down.

“Our CCTV shows that you witnessed a cat catching a rat earlier. If the abilities of these cats become widely known, what do you think will happen? Don’t answer! I’ll tell you. The populace will either want them all destroyed as freaks or they will all want one. Neither outcome would be good for us. I’m afraid that you’re going to have to die.”

Looking like Blofeld from a James Bond film, he didn’t have a white Persian but he leant over to pick up an extremely large Maine Coon and started to stroke it. Its eyes turned red and I realized that Mr Simpson was going to shoot me with a cat!

Remembering the time taken by the cat firing at the rat, I decided that I could duck just before this cat would fire. That is what I did and the cat’s laser eyes blew the door right off its hinges! I took the opportunity to escape and ran like I’ve never run before. I left the building and didn’t head for the complex’s main entrance and this possibly saved my life. When I managed to compose my thoughts, I decided to run for the river at the back of the complex and swim upstream. Because the security guards were looking to protect the complex from intruders, they weren’t expecting to try to stop someone from escaping. At least, that’s what I surmised because I got to the river a swam away without being challenged.

When I got out of the water, I ran to the local town and ran into the police station. Of course, when I tried to report that Mr Simpson had tried to kill me using a cat as a weapon, they thought I was crazy. No one believed me at all. I really wasn’t sure what to do and I didn’t know whether Mr Simpson would come after me or not. One thing was for certain and that is that nothing would or will make me go back to the complex.

You know, I was really quite pleased when the men in white coats came to take me to the funny farm.

© Charles Stuart 2017

Rasputin’s Dream

This is my entry for the February 2017 TCWG short story competition. Being a short month, this is a very short story, just meeting the minimum length at 535 words for the story, with the introduction taking it to about 600 words in total.

Rasputin’s Dream

This is a cat called Rasputin (the fluffy one) and as you can see, like most cats, he spends most of his time asleep.

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He lives at The Bag O’ Nails in Hotwells, Bristol, along with many other cats. I am a regular customer of this pub, where I do the quiz most Tuesdays. I thought that I’d imagine being him and create a story of his dream.


Settling down for my fourteenth nap of the day, I drift into a pleasant dream. I’m out on Brandon Hill chasing mice, squirrels birds and the like. As I wander around the park, I encounter a young woman. She has a foreign accent and she bends down to pet me. She asks me my name and I reply, “Rasputin.”

She looks at me and says, “And I’m the Tsarina Alexandra! I need to know how to avoid the Bolsheviks.”

Looking back at her quizzically, I respond, “What are Bolsheviks and why do you have to avoid them all? I really don’t know the answer but a diet rich in field mice seems to serve me well.”

“I’m not really sure that field mice are a good diet for a tsarina. Being royal, I’d rather have caviar. I’m sure you would too. Doesn’t the thought of fish eggs make you salivate?”

“Yes, I guess it does. But I think I’d also like to eat the fish, not just its gametes.”

“I’m sure that could be arranged.” She strokes me and I purr.

“You still haven’t told me what a Bolshevik is. Could I catch one and eat it?”

“Well, I guess that would be one way for me to avoid at least one.” She looked around as if being hunted. “A Bolshevik is a communist, a most despicable type of human. Do you think that all the cats in Russia could hunt them down and eat all the Bolsheviks? I’m sure I could arrange for you to have the tastiest.”

I lick her hand and say, “I’m not sure that we cats want to eat humans because you give us warmth, shelter and CHICKEN!” Yes, the thought of chicken has my salivary glands working overtime.

She looks at me and says, “But the White Russians will give you all that and more if you eat the Bolsheviks.”

I think, “Bolsheviks raw, Bolsheviks roasted, Bolsheviks fried, Bolsheviks Bolognese. Yes, Bolsheviks Bolognese sounds good, but hold the spaghetti!” I entwine myself around her legs and she strokes me. She sits on a bench and we continue to discuss what to do with the Bolsheviks.

She continues, “You see, Rasputin, you are my advisor. I need you to tell me what I should say to my husband, the Tsar. The War isn’t going well for Russia and we may have to surrender.”

“Tell the Tsar that the War doesn’t matter, the Bolsheviks should be minced and made into spaghetti sauce and all the cats in Russia will help.”

The young woman looks at me and says, “I don’t really know much of my country’s history and I may have all the facts and dates muddled up. But does it matter. Is this my dream or yours?”

“It’s my dream and I think it’s ending because I sense the presence of chicken.”

I awaken to find one of the pub’s customers dangling a large piece of chicken in front of my nose and two customers discussing the Russian 1917 October Revolution. I’m just about to take the meat when Wolfgang, the Siamese, grabs it. But no worries, the customer has another piece.

The Electric Night Nurse

This is my entry for January’s TCWG short story competition. It is about 1865 words.

The Electric Night Nurse

“When we introduced robotic porters people said they wouldn’t work. Yet, five years later we have redeployed all the night porters and just have supervisory staff during the day. The robotic porters work well and the Trust has saved several million pounds over those five years.

“Now we’re going to try something really new – android nurses! We will introduce six onto the wards as an experiment. Our research showed that patients wouldn’t accept nursing from something that’s obviously a machine but a lifelike android was much more acceptable. Researchers have now perfected the technology and except when they go to recharge, they just look like normal human nurses. We have developed a large number of different models, with different personalities and different skills, though if a particular skill is needed by a particular nurse that doesn’t normally possess that skill, it will be able to instantly download the required information over WiFi from the central computer.

“The nurses will begin arriving from the factory next week and the first six will work the least popular night shifts initially. This will mean that far fewer people will have to work those shifts, though as with the robotic porters, they will initially work alongside people, rather than replace them. And, when we’re confident that they can work unsupervised, we will redeploy human nurses from nights to days, thus increasing the nurse:patient ratio when patients are most likely to be awake.”

The chairman of the NHS Trust finished telling his board about the new “employees” at the general hospital. The board members knew this would happen, as they’d agreed to let their main hospital pilot the technology.

After cellophane wrapping had been removed from the newly arrived android nurses and they’d had an initial 12-hour charge, they looked and behaved just like human nurses. Being the world’s first true androids, as opposed to robots, the human nurses were astonished by the accuracy of the androids’ human features. There were four “females” and two “males” in the initial consignment of six androids.

Having been sent to get some disposable bedpans from a storeroom, a newly qualified nurse exited the room giggling almost uncontrollably. Approaching a colleague she didn’t yet know to give her the bedpans, she apologized for her giggles and said, “It’s just so funny! There are four androids currently recharging and it looks as if they’re sitting on a row of toilets. The chargers even have toilet lids!”

Her colleague said, “I know. I am one of the androids. The lids are dust covers.”

Surprised, the new nurse blurted out, “But you look so human, so natural! How?”

“Our manufacturer has done that intentionally to be reassuring to patients who have nagging doubts about being treated by a machine.”

“And you have a personality and individuality!”

“Yes, again that’s been done to help us to interact with patients in a way that feels natural to them.”

“I feel a bit confused but I better get back to work.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to us and soon you won’t have to work a nightshift unless that’s your choice.” The two nurses went their separate ways.

The android nurse was working in a Critical Care ward and she was checking the patients. Reaching the bed of an elderly man, she felt through the sensors in her fingers that he was going into cardiac arrest. She stopped and her expression went completely blank for about three seconds. She then drew the curtain around the patient, pressed the emergency button to summon the crash team and began administering CPR. The crash team was there very quickly but found the nurse had successfully restarted the patient’s heart and was administering drugs to stabilize him. All that was needed was a decision to move the patient to Intensive Care.

Speaking at the next weekly board meeting of the hospital’s administrators, the team member in charge of the android programme announced, “I have some very exciting news. Last night, while doing the rounds, Android 005, also known as Annabel, encountered a patient going into cardiac arrest. Annabel immediately downloaded the patient’s medical history in order to determine the best way to treat him. While she correctly summoned the crash team, she administered CPR so efficiently that in the 30 seconds or so that it took the crash team to arrive, she had restarted the patient’s heart and was administering drugs to stabilize his condition. To give the patient the best chance of recovery he was moved to intensive care but he’s doing well and will probably be moved back to the Surgical Ward today.

“This really is a case of ‘androids are better’ and I propose issuing a press release saying just how the android saved this man’s life. However, I recognize the fear among nursing unions that nurses’ jobs may be undermined if androids can do all the work. We have to allay those fears and reassure nurses that real people will always be needed in the profession and that androids will only augment and not replace human personnel.”

That evening when the new nurse who had seen the androids recharging was back on shift, she had a break and was talking to a friend taking a break at the same time. “Do you know where those androids have their charging ports?”

“No.” Her colleague replied.

“Up their bums! Where we have a hole, they have a port.”

“Did you hear how Annabel saved a man’s life last night?”

“No. It must have been after I talked to her. What did she do?”

She told her how Annabel encountered a patient going into cardiac arrest and saved his life or at least ensured that he was a lot less sick than he would have been.

The new nurse asked, “Does that mean that we’ll soon be made redundant as androids take over?”

“I know the unions are concerned about that issue but the Trust has issued a statement saying that androids augment the nursing service and don’t threaten nursing jobs. The reps are going to meet management tomorrow. I will feel much happier if my union rep is convinced by whatever the management has to say. If the androids are this good, what hope is there for us?”

“I really like my job and I’ve only been in it a couple of months. I hope that I’m not forced to look for another job because an android has taken mine!” The new nurse was wistful.

Addressing the meeting with management, a union official from one of the nursing unions said, “We are delighted that an android saved a patient’s life. That is what we all work for in the Health Service. However, my members are concerned about their continued employment and whether there will be redundancies as androids take over. We need concrete assurances that there will be no redundancies and no reductions in staffing levels among the nursing profession.”

The response was, “The Trust has no plans to replace human nurses with android nurses. The intention is to improve the number of nurses available by supplementing our human employees with androids. As I’m sure you’re aware, people need to be paid a salary but androids just need a capital outlay and periodic recharging. Humans are still required for some aspects of the profession but androids can take over the less enjoyable work, the more mundane tasks and unpopular working hours. We cannot replace human nurses with androids, the way we’ve replaced porters with robots. Androids are great in a crisis, such as the patient going into cardiac arrest but they’re less capable when it comes to day to day management.

“If a time comes when androids are so good that they can take over completely, the nursing unions will be fully consulted. However, the cost benefit ratio of a human versus an android is very similar and each has its advantages over the other. This financial aspect will not change much in coming years because as we get more androids, we’ll be able to train more human nurses in specialisms. We get more androids and because we get more androids we are able to get more specialized, better trained and better paid human nurses. It’s a win/win situation for everyone.

“The Chief Executive knows the concerns of the nursing staff and will be available to the union representatives to discuss these concerns directly.”

The meeting continued for some time.

Later in the day the unions issued a joint statement to their members and the press, “Today we met with the management of the Trust to discuss the impact of android nurses upon our members. While the Trust gave verbal assurances, they were not prepared to match these with something in writing. Thus, we conclude that we had waffles for brunch, while listening to meaningless waffle.

“At this point we will not be balloting our members over any industrial action but we cannot rule out the possibility that this may develop into a dispute. Our members need an assurance in writing about the long-term. Our members need to know that the Trust will not stop using people as nurses. Nurses undergo rigorous training and, like doctors, continue to train throughout their careers. These people do not wish to find that their skills, acquired through years of work, are redundant.

“If the Trust sticks by what they’ve said to us, we’ll be very happy. However, that they they will not put it in writing makes us, the unions’ representatives, suspicious of their motives and we will be vigilant. We welcome new technology but it cannot be at the expense of nurses’ careers.”

When this statement was issued, anyone looking in would have instantly known who was a person and who (?) was an android. An atmosphere of apprehension and uncertainty was pervasive.

“1970s Industrial Disputes Revisited!” The headline on a national tabloid screamed. “Nurses’ Unions Poised for Extended Dispute!” Another headline yelled. But what was the truth? The unions had specifically said that they weren’t in a dispute, at least not yet. More reasoned articles in the broadsheets suggested that the management may have made a mistake by only giving verbal assurances but that the unions should also give the new technology a chance. One thing was certain and that was that this otherwise unremarkable general hospital was besieged by journalists from all over the world. One even claimed to have interviewed a robotic porter! (Probably The National Enquirer from the US because the robots had very limited communications capabilities.)

How this would all pan out, no one could tell. By trialling android nurses a moderately busy but otherwise unimportant provincial general hospital had become the focus of the world’s media. To be honest, after about a week, the staff and patients just wished they’d move on and find something else to focus their attention upon. But androids possibly displacing human employees is a huge human interest story and the media were to stick around like barnacles. Meanwhile, the nurses, human and android, got on with their jobs and for the time being, there was industrial peace.

Toenails

This is my entry for the TCWG short story competition for November on the subject of “harvest”. My story is around 1760 words long.

Toenails

The inauguration ceremony and all the celebratory events were over and the new president and his wife retired to the president’s private apartment in the White House. He looked at his wife and said, “I’ve got some business that I must attend to before going to bed. You go and make yourself comfortable and I’ll join you shortly.”

The president entered the private study within the presidential apartment and shut the door. Nothing like as grand as the Oval Office, it was nonetheless well appointed and comfortable. He sat in a big leather armchair, leant forwards and carefully loosened his face. The prosthesis slowly came off to reveal his true self, an extraterrestrial arthropod. Out loud he said to himself in his native language, “That feels better!” And then he got to work.

He picked up a small device that was actually some type of small walkie talkie that could transmit over massive distances. Comfortable in the feeling that he was safe, he called his contact who was many light years away. A bit like Star Trek’s subspace radio, this device could communicate in real time over the distance. He got a response to his hail. What to human ears would sound like a series of clicks, to him was a beautiful language, the language of his home world that he’d left some twenty years earlier for this difficult mission.

He greeted his contact and then said, “I can’t believe those dumb Americans elected me! But they did and I am now the President of the United States of America. For the most part, I will govern them well because it’s the power that I need, not anything about them, at least nothing consequential.

“What is it exactly that you want me to deliver?”

The creature at the other end of the communication device replied, “Toenails! Millions of tons of human toenails. More precisely, we need a fungus that grows on human toenails and nowhere else. For decades we’ve tried to grow it on other media but it just wont take.”

“So you want me to talk down the strange goings on as we abduct millions of Americans to harvest their toenails?”

“In essence, that’s it. We’ve been abducting people at a very low rate for years but we can’t get round the fact that about one in twenty remembers something of the experience. We’ve tried all sorts of memory block methods but we’ve always ended up with some people remembering something of what we did to them. When we’re abducting over a million Americans per night, that will mean at least 50,000 will have some kind of memory. Your task is to keep the people calm, assure them that there’s nothing harmful happening but also try to note who the people are who remember. We will try to avoid abducting them too often.”

“Well, these Americans are so gullible. I’m sure that I can come up with something but I think it’s important that we do not abduct anybody in a position of power: legislators, judges, police officers and the like. We should also avoid abducting any celebrities. We need the majority of the population to think that the tales of abduction are fiction by attention seekers.”

“You have your instructions. Now, govern America well, so you win a second term and we should be able to harvest enough toenails to last us indefinitely. I congratulate you on your election and wish you goodnight!”

The president responded and signed off. He leant forwards and slowly reattached the prosthetic face. He went to bed and made love to his wife. Little did she know why they had had to adopt children. Meanwhile, the mass abductions began.

The first night went well. 3.2 million Americans were abducted while they slept and the vast majority remembered nothing, though a few were confused by the fact that their toenails appeared to have been trimmed neatly to the quick. However, around 155,000 remembered something and aliens impregnated far-fetched ideas into their minds to confuse and muddle their memories. As a result reports of aliens carrying out anal probes went right up, despite the fact that the aliens only wanted toenails.

After a month or so, when the aliens had a good-sized batch of toenails, they decided to reduce nightly abductions to about one million. However, with about one in twenty remembering something of the experience, the media, particularly daytime TV talkshows were pre-occupied with stories of alien abductions. Because of the intentional befuddlement of those who did remember something, there were some quite incredible stories, such as the man from Idaho who claimed to have been disassembled, dissected and reassembled while remaining conscious throughout!

The President was kept informed about the growing public unease and fear that aliens wanted their bodies. He decided to address the nation on the subject during one his regular Roosevelt-style fireside chats. “People are alarmed by the huge rise in the number of reports of alien abductions. I can assure you that the FBI, the CIA and the Air Force are all investigating the reports. So far there is no evidence to suggest that aliens are abducting Americans. The reports show no sign of the reports being true. There is no evidence that we have been contacted in any way by an advanced alien race and no one has been hurt during these so-called abductions. Psychologists talk of mass hysteria causing people to imagine the same trail of events. I do not know why there’s been a big increase in such reports but I can assure you that the government is doing everything to protect our nation.” He continued with the usual patriotic guff that American presidents spout when addressing the country. Altogether his little talk reassured the public and reports of abductions did die down for a bit.

The years went by and the rumours of nightly alien abductions resurged and continued. Conmen were making a mint out of fraudulent devices and potions guaranteed to prevent a person from being abducted. One ad went like this, “Scared of having an alien anal probe? Then buy Chastity Plus, the invincible nighttime underwear! Guaranteed impenetrable to alien anal probes. Sleep well tonight simply by calling 1-800-555-6565! This simple $39 dollar garment will keep you safe.” Anal probes were just a rumour and didn’t really exist but, if they did, an alien would easily get a Chastity Plus off a subject.

The President did well and was re-elected. He was quite used to living his lie. He even loved his (human) wife. He governed well because it was in the aliens’ interests for the people of the United States to be happy. But one day one of his alien contacts told him of something potentially dangerous to the mission. He phoned to say, “Jerry Springer is going to interview a couple because the husband’s left her because he says he’s been abducted many times by the same alien and he’s fallen in love with her. The wife is devastated because she loves her husband and wants him back. She thinks he’s having some type of mental breakdown.”

The President thought for a moment before replying, “Has he really fallen for an alien or is he having a breakdown? If it’s true, maybe we could use this to our advantage. Maybe it’s time to be honest with the American public and tell them the truth, though I don’t think we could ever admit to them that they elected an alien to the presidency.”

“Yes, the story is true. What do you have in mind?”

“Let’s find our female compatriot and let her appear on the Jerry Springer Show. We can then gauge public reaction. If they think it’s an elaborate hoax, we’re fine but if they think it’s real, lets simply tell them that all we want is their toenails on which to grow this immensely important fungus.”

The programme aired and Jerry Springer interviewed the couple, Joe and Jane. Joe said, “I know I’ll be abducted again. I’m certain and when it happens I will be abducted by Ick-Ick. We’re in love and I’ll ask her to take me back to her home planet, Xesxe. It’s name is hard to pronounce but I think I got it about right.”

At this point Jerry Springer interrupted and said, “Joe, I have someone backstage who’d like to meet you.” He signalled to the stage director that he was ready and Ick-Ick was ushered into the studio.

Joe didn’t need Jerry Springer to say anything more. He rushed forwards and hugged Ick-Ick. She moved her enormous nose to one side and they kissed passionately on the lips or his lips to whatever an arthropod has that’s the equivalent. Jane was heard to exclaim, “Gee, that’s gross! How could you?” The audience stared in utter disbelief. Joe’s passion was obvious but they couldn’t really tell with Ick-Ick. How does an arthropod show passion?

The programme ended and immediately pollsters got asking representative samples of viewers whether they thought is was real or staged. Overwhelmingly, the response was that people thought it was real. Then, as days went by, people who hadn’t seen the programme but had heard about the passionate alien kiss were also polled. They were more sceptical but a majority thought it was real.

The President called a meeting of the Cabinet to tell them what he would do, rather than to seek their counsel. At the meeting he said, “I have known for some time that some aspects of the alien abduction stories are true. However, the intelligence services and I thought that America and the world wasn’t yet ready to meet aliens. The aliens only want our toenails so they can grow a fungus that has important medicinal properties. They don’t do anal probes or any of the other less pleasant things that have been reported.

“The Jerry Springer Show brought a real alien into millions of TV viewers’ homes. Pollsters report that the response has been amazingly positive and people were touched by the story of love that emerged. I will tell America and the world the truth and maybe we can trade our toenails for something the aliens have that we need. There will be no need for any more abductions.”

And so it was. The President made his TV announcement and the aliens opened an embassy and consulate in Washington DC. Now when you go to the shops and you see a human-sized arthropod buying a watermelon, you won’t be too surprised!

© Charles Stuart 2016

The Road To Hell

This is an entry for the September TCWG short story competition. This month is an open subject with a length limit between 250 to 750 words. This story has around 625 words.

The Road to Hell

The man came round slowly and found himself lying in a pool of blood on a road in a tunnel. His body felt OK and he didn’t feel that he’d been hit by a car, though he couldn’t remember what had happened exactly. He could remember leaving a nightclub and starting the two-mile walk home. However, there wasn’t a tunnel on his walk home and he really couldn’t remember anything after he’d turned into Park Street. Anyway, the amnesia didn’t seem to be massive. He could remember his name, the date, the prime minister’s name, who is the current president of the US and all the sort of questions doctors ask when one turns up at A&E with a head injury. He looked at his watch and saw that it was 4.05 and assumed it was AM Rather than PM because that would mean that only about an hour was missing from his memory. He felt the back of his head. It hurt and was wet with blood. Obviously he’d been hit by something, maybe deliberately to rob him but he still had his wallet.

He began walking down the tunnel. It was a single track road with no pavement. As he walked, the air seemed to get warmer to the point that he needed to take off clothes. The light was very dim and he couldn’t see far ahead, in part because the tunnel curved. After about half an hour he was left wondering if he’d ever reach the end of this tunnel or if he’d cook first in the heat. The heat was worse than oppressive.

There was a final sharp bend in the tunnel and then he finally saw the end, a set of black gates. He walked up to the gates and saw a card that said “Knock” in badly scrawled handwriting. He saw a knocker and went to touch it but it was scalding hot. He wrapped his hand in his shirt and then was just about able grab hold of the knocker but it was very stiff. Eventually he managed to lift it a little, so he could knock with it. He couldn’t make much sound with it because it was so stiff but when it did strike, rather than a knocking sound he heard one of those really ghastly musical chimes doorbells, made even worse than usual because it sounded as if the battery was on its last legs. The tune was not only tuneless but out of tune as well!

After a wait of what seemed like eternity, a very ugly shirtless man with loads of tattoos came to the gate. He also had jagged broken teeth and smelt like a cesspit. He said, “Name?”

The injured man said, “Joseph O’Connor.”

“Got any ID?”

“Driving Licence.” Joseph handed it through the bars of the gate and the tattooed man disappeared with it.

After what seemed like eternity again, he came back and said, “Wrong place! Turn around and go back the way you came.” He handed Joseph back his driving licence.

Joseph walked back down the tunnel and as he did so, the temperature became more and more comfortable. He passed the place where he’d awoken and continued walking for some distance. The light became brighter and it was easier for him to see where he was going and eventually he reached another set of gates. These were iridescent and very beautiful. When he knocked, the knocker had a beautiful action and made a wonderfully reassuring thud. A very beautiful woman, straight from the pages of Vogue came to answer and said, “You must be Joseph O’Connor, the Other Place phoned to let us know you were on your way.” She opened the gates and he entered paradise.

© Charles Stuart 2016

This Island Universe

This is my entry for August’s TCWG short story competition. As I struggled to think of anything, I came up with this and really only the title meets the subject criterion of “Islands”. It’s 1310 words long.

This Island Universe

Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. Well, when it comes to a university degree in making universes, that certainly is the case. In your first year you have to just have a go and, you know what, no one ever makes a viable one. They implode, they explode, they whimper and die, they grow so vigorously that they’re unstable and burn out and countless other things go wrong. First year students’ attempts fail. That’s an unwritten law.

But then one year there was a new student and with 120 others entering the course, he didn’t seem special. He was a bit shy and prone to daydream. He liked his ideas for what should be in a universe. He had lots of notebooks outlining the things he thought would make the perfect home for life. Perhaps his tutors should have noticed that none of these ideas were outrageous, though many were original. This combination was perhaps a hint that he was someone special.

The first year progressed and he did all the usual things that new undergraduates do, from joining countless societies that he’d attend only once to getting thoroughly pissed and passing out in the town square. It was almost as if this small university had a checklist of things that first years must do before they could really be considered a part of the university. But, of course, U. of L.I.F.E. was the leading institution for Universe Creation Studies and the fact that they hadn’t changed their name when granted a charter did rather make people laugh. I mean, it’s a rather cumbersome and tautologous name, The University of Lovington Institute of Further Education.

Universe Creation Studies combine elements of Fine Arts, Architecture and Theoretical Physics. A very strange subject for a select few students who had to leave school with exceptional grades. Yet the professors, so learned that they’d make the likes of Einstein and Newton, as well as the equivalent best minds from the arts look like ignoramuses, thought of their typical intake of first year students as “unremarkable”. Well, this year at least, they were wrong. There was this one student.

One of the first courses was Supernova 101. This was put in the first term because it was undeniably fun for anyone who could master the physics, while anyone who couldn’t would have dropped out or been “persuaded” to transfer to a less demanding degree course. Of course, the intake being the best of the best, though unrecognized by the professors, the dropout rate was approximately zero, while the transfer rate was an almost an infinitesimally small amount larger. The students had to demonstrate that they could create, control and direct a supernova before they could pass the course. And for this one special student, it just accelerated his level of creativity and made him come up with even better ideas that weren’t outrageous. You see, the thing is that most students on this course have fanciful and outrageous ideas that simply cannot ever work regardless of how much fine tuning they try.

In the Lent Term the students biggest practical challenge was in the course Black Hole 101. In this they had to develop and control a quantum singularity, colloquially known as a black hole. It wasn’t for anyone who got bored easily. It was that horrible combination that all science students hate, dull and difficult! But the professors were aware of this, so rather than an individual effort, the entire 121 intake of students, less any who had dropped out or transferred, were allowed to do this as a group project. It was seen as a training exercise in mass cooperation. And this is where this special first got noticed by the professors. He took control and lead from the front. The class had their black hole up and running in record time and were able to study it for far longer than any first year group in previous years.

In the Summer Term, each student had to have a go at designing and building a universe. Then all 121 universes would be put together to interact. In a successful system, a few would die, a few would burn out and most would be influenced by the best universe to create a stable interaction. By this time, everyone knew who was likely to be the creator of the best universe. And indeed this very special student wasn’t going to disappoint.

One of the things that applies to the construction of a universe is that the creator can set certain laws of physics that will apply within his universe. However, certain other laws create themselves according to the ingredients that the creator chooses to include. At the University, the professors include many options for ingredients, some of which always work, some will work if mixed with the right others and some will never work but are there to make life harder for the students. Of course, a student could make a viable universe by using only ingredients that always work. The problem is that this would make a very dull universe and the student wouldn’t pass because the course was as much about creativity as about making it work. In fact, on this exercise, creativity got 70% of the marks and so a student making a safe universe would fail, while a student with great creativity whose universe exploded instantaneously could get a first for this project.

The professor in charge of the exam stood before the assembled class and said, “We all know that you’ll fail to make a viable universe but that is not the point. At this stage in your degree course, we do not expect you to be able to make a viable universe that has the desirable level of creativity. No one has ever succeeded at this stage of the degree in making a stable universe that meets all our criteria for creativity. To pass, you have to meet all our criteria for creativity and viability is considered so unlikely that we simply don’t think it will happen. Remember, think creative over viable and good luck everyone!

“You have three hours.”

So the students looked at the available components and began to build universes. They thought creatively and all the others watched the star student. This was permitted because part of the examination was about creating something interactive, so while students couldn’t copy each other they could try to build in a degree of interactivity between the different universes. At the end of the three hours, all the universes were complete and the students awaited the next stage.

After a thirty-minute break they reassembled in the practical lab. The professor took the universes and mixed them randomly, so that no one knew whose universe would be next to whose.

The professor said, “Now for the final part where we see just how well your universes function.” He flicked a switch and the universes cam into being. He expected them to have all disintegrated within five seconds but, while some died and few exploded, the main bulk began to form a symmetrical pattern around one universe, the one created by the start student. After a minute, there was definite symmetry and the professor looked at the readout and his jaw dropped.

He turned to the class and said, “Congratulations! You’re the first first-year group to succeed in creating a stable system of universes. As you can see, a symmetric pattern of universes has formed around this one in the middle and they’re growing at a healthy rate. Looking closely at this one in the middle, there’s a galaxy currently in its middle and in that galaxy there’s a planet with sentient life, the requirement in a stable universe that shows sufficient creativity to pass the exam. It seems that they call their galaxy the Milky Way.”

Everyone knew whose universe that was. It was created by the star student, one George Oswald Davies, known to his friends as GOD.

© Charles Stuart 2016

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Anne’s and George’s Little Non-Adventure

This is my entry to July’s TCWG short story competition. It is about 1660 words long and the subject for the month was characters displaced in time.

Anne’s and George’s Little Non-Adventure

Anne and George were both taking this strange new medicine to treat malaria that they’d caught on a safari holiday. They had to take it immediately before bed because it caused drowsiness. However, in clinical trials it had been shown to be entirely effective against the parasite that causes malaria but no one in the clinical trials had also been taking statins and no one realized that there would be a strange interaction between the drugs. The drug was so new that the ink was still drying on the product licence and Anne and George were just about the first ordinary patients to take the drug on a regular doctor’s prescription. The drug was to be taken after the patient’s condition had stabilized to destroy dormant parasites and prevent any future flare-up of malaria.

They took their pills and switched off their bedside light. They slept soundly through the night, during which weirdness happened. George awoke first and grabbed his mobile from its charger. He looked at the time, 0730, which was reassuring. He’d only overslept by 45 minutes. Work knew that he hadn’t been well and that he and his wife were taking this new medication that could make them oversleep. As he washed and dressed, he did notice the dust. Where had this come from? Anne woke up and asked, “What’s with all this dust? Where did it come from?” He replied that he had no idea.

Anne was a traditional housewife now, having taken early retirement a few months earlier. She knew that later on in the day she’d have to go and collect the mail from the post office – for various reasons they had a P.O. Box arrangement that was permanent and not just for their holiday. She went downstairs and quickly dusted and hoovered the downstairs area of their split-level flat. She went into the kitchen and found that the eggs were bad and the smell was unbearable. They’d forgotten to take bread out of the freezer, so she got some and defrosted it by toasting some slices. The butter seemed somewhat past its best but jam, honey and marmalade seemed fine.

George came downstairs and ate his somewhat unsatisfactory breakfast. He then went to the block’s underground car park to get his car to drive to work. He didn’t like listening to the radio in the car so he really didn’t know what was happening in the world. Anne was too busy cleaning the flat to bother with either the radio or TV, so she too was ignorant of what was going on in the world.

George arrived at work and parked in his reserved space. On walking in the receptionist said, “Good morning, Mr Summers!” She was too polite to make any comment because he was the business owner. He greeted her, thinking that he’d last been there about a month earlier – would have been a bit less than that but for the bout of malaria.

Anne walked to the post office to collect the mail. When she talked to the counter clerk, who was new, he said, “You do realize that there’s an awful lot of mail for you? It seems that you haven’t collected it for a long time.”

“Oh, yes!” She said, “We’ve been on holiday and when we came back we had to spend a bit of time in hospital because we caught malaria.”

The clerk didn’t comment but handed over three mail sacks full of post. Anne had to get a taxi back home because it was so much. The three sacks sat the hall and intimidated her. She felt that she couldn’t go through all that stuff that was probably junk without George, so she left it and went to the supermarket to buy food and assorted household cleaners.

While he had been away, George’s company had prospered. His number two was very able and had secured quite a few new orders and had made good calls when it came to buying commodities in bulk to reduce costs. Therefore, George had very little to worry about until his deputy discussed things with him.

“And you’ve done all this in a month?” George asked.

“No. Three years.” Came the reply.

“So you’ve been winning orders and speculating on prices for some time, long before I went on holiday?”

“No, only since you were on holiday and then in hospital.”

“But we were sent home after week with some new medicine to take. We took it last night and slept really well. Felt very refreshed this morning.”

“I’d say! By reckoning you’ve slept for three years. What date do you think it is?”

“September 26th.”

“Which year?”

“2016.”

“No, it’s actually 2019, though it is September 26th.”

George sat there not knowing what to say next. Why had no one missed him or his wife? What had happened in those three years? Had they actually slept all that time or had they been abducted by aliens or something? If they had slept all that time, why weren’t they dead from dehydration?

The first question in his mind he could answer by speculation. Neither he nor his wife had any living relatives and their social lives were very limited and superficial. People probably did just assume that they were still in hospital. Also, he paid all his bills be direct debit and the dividends that his company would pay him far exceeded any debts. Therefore, no businesses would be checking up on him. And his number two had a Machiavellian streak that meant that he probably thought that the absence of his boss gave him a chance to prove just how good he was at running the company. And indeed he was; profits were up, sales were up and staff turnover was tiny. But he had no idea about the other questions.

What would Anne do when she discovered that three years of their lives had simply vanished? Were they a pair of modern Rip Van Winkles? This was just so strange. He looked at his computer and logged onto the BBC News website that confirmed that it was indeed Thursday, September 26th 2019.

There had now been silence between the two men for a number of minutes. It was broken by a knock on the door by the tea lady who was selling morning refreshments to the staff. George looked at her and said, “I’ll have a hot chocolate and a Kitkat, please!” This was duly served, while the other man had an Americano and one of those mini packets of biscuits.

George looked at his number two and the nearest he had to a close friend and said, “Didn’t anyone think to enquire where we were?”

The number two replied, “Come to think of it, we just waited to hear something from the hospital. As you’d signed a power of attorney, I just got on with running the business and waited for you to show up.”

“Oh!” Said George. “Um, well I suppose that what’s done is done. Perhaps you could find someone to brief me on all the important news stories of the past three years, plus some of the more interesting and amusing pieces of trivia.”

“That should be easy to arrange.” And it was.

The meeting lasted well into the usual lunchtime period and George was sort of understanding that he and his wife really had slept for three years. It crossed his mind that they might make a shedload of money by selling their story to the press.

Meanwhile, Anne was also about to find out about their long sleep. She had got to the supermarket and she didn’t really look closely at the newspapers, so didn’t see the date. The headlines were all about the kind of event that could easily occur at any time, such as a natural disaster. She filled her trolley and went to the checkout. The cashier was someone she knew, as this was her regular supermarket. She said, “Hello Jane!”

Jane replied, “It’s good to see you back, Anne! I thought you’d stopped shopping here or gone to another supermarket.”

“No, only been on holiday but had to spend a bit of time in hospital on our return. George and I both caught malaria.”

“You were in hospital for three years?”

“No, only a week.”

“So you were on holiday for three years?”

“No, only three weeks.”

“So why have you been gone for three years?”

“Have we been gone that long?”

Jane picked up her copy of Metro and pointed to the date, 26th September 2019.

Anne stood there zombified before finally saying, “The last thing I remember was taking a pill, turning off the bedside light and going to sleep. I thought that was last night. But it does explain the dust.”

The grocery bill was £194.73 and Anne put her debit card in the chip and PIN machine. It came up card expired. Jane looked at it and said, “Sorry, this expired in May 2018.” Jane looked her cards and found that one credit card was still valid, so she used that.

She got her huge trolley of groceries home and thought how sleeping for three years could explain the bad eggs and somewhat off butter. But, she wondered, why was she still alive and why was George still alive.

George and Anne went to see their doctor. He couldn’t explain what had happened. Specialists couldn’t explain it and soon word got out about this extraordinary story. Finally it was discovered that statins and this new anti-malaria drug interacted in a way that mimicked hibernation in people who had taken both drugs. However, three years was by far the record for this hibernation and Anne and George had a great time telling everyone of their great sleep on TV chat shows around the world!

© Charles Stuart 2016