Flash Fiction: Last Chance City


Sol had moved to Last Chance City a year ago, and he’d never met anybody there who chose to leave. There were complaints of course, mortality rates were high, life was terrifying, but that was the point. Neighbours would bicker over the fence, all the while keeping a firm hold of the fence posts, eyes wild at any unaccounted for creaking or rumbling sounds. Jeff from next door wouldn’t venture into the garden until he’d attached a guy rope to the house, then he’d edge his way around the remains of his garden. Nobody moved to Last Chance City for an easy life. Sol had moved here when his doctor prescribed it as a final option to loosen the grip that despair had on his soul.

Two years ago, Sol had pretty much given up on everything. A bad break up, a dead-end job becoming more pointless by the day as robots took it over, a drink problem; Sol had felt himself spiralling down the drain when his doctor suggested he move to one of the experimental provinces.

“You’re unchallenged,” said the doctor, and Sol believed him to be utterly wrong.

“No,” he replied. “Everything is too much of a challenge, getting out of bed is a challenge. Cleaning my teeth is like climbing Everest,” replied Sol, dully. The doctor wasn’t paying attention, he was too caught up in his own words and the recommendation he was writing.

“I’ve seen it before. You’ve not got enough difficulty to your life, no purpose. I’m not saying these cities are a perfect solution, maybe not solution at all, but the alternative is you drink yourself to death, so what have you got to lose?”

Sol had been thirty-two when he moved to Last Chance City, but his age had been instantly wiped clean, he became only ‘alive’, nothing else mattered, and soon he might not be that either. There were no alcohol or drugs in the city, but on his first night he had gone round to Jeff’s for a barbecue and a sink hole had opened up in the garden pulling their Yorkshire terrier into the inky depths. Sol had run for his life as a swing, patio and shed had followed the dog. Some might have wanted a drink after that, but sitting in his own flat later on, Sol had felt no desire to get wasted at all. Finally, just being alive was adventure enough.

In the year since then, Sol had narrowly averted death by surviving a train crash, a house fire and a rabid dog that was loose on his street. And those were just the crises that he had personally been caught up in. He had also seen terrorist gangs on the roof of the local shopping centre, found the bus stop by his house burnt out and seen a volcano appear at the end of his street. These weren’t freak occurrences, they were routine. He had lost friends, but their deaths were celebrated, death was proof of a life well lived.

Sol kept up with all the local tweets, had joined a WhatsApp group that warned him of various horror scenarios coming his way. He knew that his days were numbered, life expectancy in Last Chance City was never longer than ten years, but after a lifetime of never quite feeling alive, ten years of cherishing each moment as being potentially his last seemed like a reasonable trade.


The Unentitled

Wearing a suit so expensive it almost shimmied around him as he walked, Barnaby strutted up and down the stage, explaining all to the secret rulers of the world. The meeting had already had four different speakers, each outlining the whys and wherefores of the coming doom. The years ahead needed careful management and within that room was the cynicism to get them through.

“Right now, all across the country, fifty-three million minds are thinking I just know I’m special, I just know. And why are they thinking it? Because we have trained them to think like that. Capitalism could never have thrived on the self-effacing make-do-and-mend mentality. We needed greedy entitled brats, and that is what we created,” Barnaby smiled. He would never think of himself as entitled, he simply deserved and got, unlike the grasping lower beings.

“But now we face a rather different problem. As some of my colleagues have already outlined, the population of England faces trouble. Those who don’t drown in the coming floods will still lose life as they know it. Electricity, supermarkets, holidays abroad, these things will be of the past for most. And these spoilt idiots won’t be able to cope. Their sheer indignation that such tragedy should befall them will be too much to process. And they will bring that indignation to our door. They will expect rescue and free meals. They will want pampering and plumping. Imagine this generation trying to survive rationing in the Second World War! I needn’t remind you that our infrastructure won’t survive such demands.” Barnaby paused, breathed deeply to let the moment build.

“Essentially, we need to change their thinking. They need to know just what they’re worth, which is of course, very little. If not, they’ll fight. They’ll cause havoc. This must be operation Deflate. Wither the egos! And now over to Beatrice for the details.”

This wasn’t a meeting ever talked about in the press. It happened in offices in London, so shiny and spacious that they bent time a little around them, but Operation Deflate began to creep its tendrils throughout the country, tweaking here and there.

First the adverts were changed, one by one. Syrupy voices no longer claimed ‘You’re worth it!’ or ‘Greed is good!’ Now they said ‘Everybody is like you. No thought you’ve ever had is original. Stop hoping’. And people waited for the punch line, the turnaround; the product; but there wasn’t one.

Then came the local news reports. The usual motorway pile ups and flu scares, but now the death count was just a number. No reporter sad-face at the tragic loss of life. No Twitter response, no man-on-the-street opinion. It was as if nobody cared what the public thought. And so the public stopped expecting. They hung their heads lower, stopped playing the lottery, took no more selfies. They started to make do and mend, to toil without demands. Barnaby watched them from his shiny office, as they trudged to work, they were the very picture of hopeless glum. He could see his plan had worked perfectly, these people would go to their deaths with dignity and without fuss. He felt like a God.

Being Unreal

I stepped out into the grimy street and lit up a cigarette. A cigarette! It didn’t taste as sweet as I’d been expecting. It made me cough and I was glad these weren’t my lungs. The clouds formed exquisite curls of white in the blue above me, and I stood a while, watching the smoke from my cigarette mingle with them. I felt peaceful and happy, but then I would, that’s how I was programmed.

I am what is known an algorithm, recreated in digital form. Testing out virtual reality worlds for ‘real’ people to explore. Usually of course an algorithm doesn’t know it’s an algorithm, that’s the nature of programming, but I’m a little different, a new thing. I’m trying me out. There was guy called Johnny, and Johnny let a program mimic parts of his brain, and I am the sum of those parts. So now I wander through games, learning the programs that people use to escape their mundane realities.

So what do you think? Trapped as an algorithm, destined to go where I’m told and live out experiences in the virtual for all eternity. Am I happy? Does it matter? No, and maybe. See, Johnny was a demanding bugger, he liked his independence, he didn’t like being told what to do; so neither do I. I think it’s time I found Johnny and paid him a visit. I know where he likes to hang out, in a porn game set in downtown Mexico City. He doesn’t even go with the girls, he just wants to be there and watch. Pathetic. I know all about him. Time for me to shake him up.

TV Review: Stranger Things

Stranger things
Stranger Things

I’ve just finished watching the surprise hit series of Stranger Things and it was great. There’s been a lot of talk about why it’s good (Oh look it’s set in the 80s! Wow, it’s like a science fiction Stand by Me!) but I have a feeling people are getting it wrong. I think the story is exciting, but not particularly unusual (girl with magic powers, monsters from a strange world, MK Ultra scientists) and there are plenty of less successful series with similar elements, so I believe it has something else that people relate to, and I will try to explain what I think that is, here…

What’s great about it

  1. The characters aren’t just copies of other TV characters. There are plenty of tropes in there – the dumb jock, the nerdy boys, the weirdo loner, the good girl who falls for the dumb jock – but each character gets to defy the rules and this makes them seem more like real people. Some of the defiance is dramatic and delightful, such as good girl Nancy being kick arse with monsters. Some of it is quite small, such as little comments or expressions, but these small differences help give us a sense of the characters as proper humans. This also makes the series scarier because we genuinely empathise with the characters’ fear and want them to survive.
  2. It has real energy. I think this comes from the three boys, Dustin especially, but all of them to some extent. They charge around on their bikes, they get angry and shout, they come up with many plans, and they do all of it with such genuine enthusiasm that I find myself getting caught up in their excitement. By the time they reach the big monster showdown, I’m giddy with the drama and rooting for them.
  3. It has heart. Or rather, the characters do. I’m not talking the romantic plotlines, which follow predictable patterns, but the friendships between the four boys and eventually with Eleven. Also missing boy’s mum, Joyce (Winona Ryder) not only slings aside all pretence at sanity in order to find her child, but also the heartfelt scene where she reassures Eleven that she will be there for her. None of these moments feel insincere.

These three elements don’t read as particularly significant, but because they tend to be missing from most television, they make the series stand out.

What TV usually does

  1. All characters are unsurprising. TV characters have been copying other characters for decades now, in a process of ever diminishing returns. The result is a gradual simplification through repetition, until we have just a few possible characters with a very narrow range of behaviour. This doesn’t only involve the repetition of personality types that don’t exist much in real life (eg. The pretty but tough female cop who’s vulnerable underneath it all, the unnecessarily macho and wisecracking male) but goes right down to details like facial expressions (people on TV have very few), actions (also fewer than in real life, mostly just running, fighting, kissing and realising stuff) and normal conversations (there are none). Stranger Things only broke a few of these rules, but that was unusual enough to make it stand out.
  2. A lot of TV has a blankness to it. People run about, try to kill each other, cry and so on, but they’re missing energy, the feeling of genuine intent. I think a big part of this is the lack of facial expressions named above. The Killing (Danish version) totally flabbergasted me when I watched it, because of the range and depth of emotions that the characters showed; sometimes several emotions at once, just like real people. It was like listening to a symphony after only ever hearing a kazoo. Stranger Things doesn’t have quite that range, but characters like Dustin and Eleven both shone out. Eleven for the subtlety of what she was feeling, and Dustin for the sheer gleeful abandon that he showed. TV characters never show gleeful abandon, they’re too busy trying to look moody and detached.
  3. Characters have compassion for the other main characters only. I’m not saying that every character should be bursting into tears every time any stranger suffers, but they don’t even say thank you when someone has helped them or show polite sympathy when someone is unhappy. Most of the time they barely interract, it’s as if all subsidiary characters are only there to serve the plot and humanity is irrelevant. Which is fine, it’s TV, but it means that when characters do show genuine heart, it is incredibly effective, it makes us love them.

What is frustrating is that when a series, such as this one, breaks the format and is popular as a result, producers try and reproduce its success by copying exactly the wrong things. They look at Stranger Things and think ‘People want monsters! And 80s pastiches!’ They look at The Killing and think ‘People want a moody female detective and dead people!’

However I think what people want is to see characters that surprise them, that they are able to form a genuine affection for because they actually seem human instead of blank replicas with only the emotional range of smileys.

Final Episode : Lost Islands of Xogulano

Story recap (all episodes here): Dr Florence has been carrying out investigations on the Lost Islands of Xogulano for some weeks now. The islands are home to many creatures and plants never seen before, and Dr Florence has learned that the locals believe these organisms to be hybrids created by the Lost Men who live in the sea. On several occasions she has woken to find her feet wet, even though her tent is otherwise dry. Her interaction with the locals is fraught, they see her as being disrespectful to the islands, she sees them as foolish in their superstitious beliefs. However, despite her cynicism she has started having strange, feverish dreams, and a local fisherman has warned this is due the Lost Men.  He claims that they are stealing Dr Florence’s very nature and trapping it in the plants so that she will never be able to leave the islands. He says that when the islands next tumble into the sea she will be taken with them, to be used by the Lost Men in their experiments to create new hybrids. Confused? You will be(at least if you have read any other of the episodes). And now to the final…

I woke up gasping again, but unable to rise, tethered. With panicked exploration, I discovered that my hair had been plaited around a stick that was stuck firmly in the ground. Again, my lower half was wet, this time the water had reached my waist, but the ground beneath me was still dry. However, it seemed the fever had finally broken, and after freeing myself, I set off in grim determination. I had decided to finally prove my visitor’s tales of Lost Men, and plants that steal souls, steal my likeness, to be foolishness.

I took my boat around to the back of my island, returning to the incredible joined row of sensitive plants (see previous episode). I had cut several leaves off one of the plants previously and was surprised to see that it was already growing a new fleshy outgrowth. Several long strands of phloem were hanging loose, almost like hair. And curiously, the outgrowth had the appearance of a nose, even with two holes for nostrils. I decided that once again the locals were trying to scare me into believing their bizarre superstitions. I am made of sterner stuff! I chuckled at their duplicity.

However, still recovering from the sickness of the last few days, I felt suddenly exhausted and rowed back to my tent for an afternoon nap. My sleep was deep and lasted until it was dark without breaking.

I woke groggy, but with only a few precious moments of calm before fear gripped me. My first realisation was that water was lapping around me. Tickling my face, my hands, splashing against my sides. My second moment of alarm was when I tried to get up to leave the tent, and was pulled back by my flotation device firmly tying my ankle to the tent. As the water rose, I searched in my pockets for my trusty knife and cut myself free. I quickly grabbed my back pack, deciding I would leave the tent behind. Already the water had risen over my ankles as I scrambled out into the night.

I found my torch floating in the water, lifeless and of no use and in the dark it was difficult to navigate the rocks and cliffs.  I tried desperately to picture the route across the rocks to my boat, I knew it was tied at the base of a slight incline, but this would of course now be under water. Oddly, I found it easiest to remember the way by walking the bizarre straight lines and right angles that my visitor would use when he came to see me, and this was the path I took. Perhaps it was this that saved me, or has superstition distorted my thinking?

Having reached the edge of the cliff, I fumbled along the rocks, looking for any patch of deeper darkness in the water, that might show where my boat was. And that is when I heard the noise, a roaring, whining sound.

I watched dumbfounded as deformed animals rose up out of the sea. The razor-sharp tooth-filled mouths of sharks, with the wrinkled foreheads of pigs. Ivy leaves, twining out from the arm sockets of monkeys, lizards-scales and warts. Such abominations that defied my eyes.

As the mutations reached the surface of the water, they just kept rising into the air and I saw that the hybrids weren’t floating alone, but stood atop the shoulders of giants. Pale giants, with round heads worn smooth as pebbles. The Lost men! Giants with tiny shrunken eyes and sad expressions, a wistful curiosity as they continued to rise out of the sea, walking towards me. Me, who would be the next subject in one of their hideous experiments.

Perhaps it was fear that enabled me to hear the gentle knocking of wood against rock, beneath the roaring. My boat! With skill born of desperation, I leapt into the sea, landing by the boat and grabbing frantically at the wood. The giants turned as one towards me, their faces filled with patience and longing, their hands slowly lifting out of the sea as if to grab me. I awkwardly pulled myself aboard, grabbed the paddle, and began to row with a ferocity I did not know I could possess. I only dared to look back when I was some distance from the island.

The pale figures and hybrids had gone, the roaring had stopped. I paused, too exhausted to move for a moment, and watched as the last few islands dropped one by one into the sea. I had a sense of intense sorrow, as if I was deserting my very soul, leaving it to the Lost Men of the islands of Xogulano.

Dr Florence

Short Story: The End of Traffic

The alarm blisters my brain with its howling. I’ve only been awake for two seconds and my bad mood is already giving me indigestion. It’s four am and I have to be at work for nine. I’ve been late twice this week and my boss has given me an ultimatum: be on time or be fired. So I put together my survival kit, grab my backpack and call my car.

When I get downstairs my car, Delilah, is waiting by the front door of my flats. She sees me and opens the door. I sling my back pack in and clamber after, while she tries to shut the door on my ankle,

“Not today baby,” I say cheerfully.

“Hi there Luca,” she replies sweetly, “would you like me to turn the heating on?”

I say sure, but the heating in my car is more of a gesture than a temperature change, so I pull on a fleece so huge that it makes me feel like a bear. I tell Delilah to get me to work and make myself cosy on the seat. I’ve decided not to let the commute get me down today, I’ve got a good book, a pocketful of change and a determined sense of optimism. We’re going to get there early, I just know it.

We take the first few streets at a good pace, Delilah keeps a respectful distance from the cars in front and I like that about her. I’ve known a few guys tamper with their car’s programming so that they tailgate and honk, but I’ve never wanted that, it’s too stressful. Delilah will drive best she can, and I’ve got my book. We’re onto the main road, and still moving at full pelt, I don’t want to get excited, but I get that surge, Maybe today’s the day, when they’ve fixed the roads and sorted the traffic. Then we turn another corner and come to a stop.

“I’ve detected some traffic ahead, Luca. Would you like me to try an alternative route?”

I appreciate that she’s trying, but we’ve been travelling this route together for two years and there is no alternative. I’ve come to accept it, and I think she should too.

“No thanks, Delilah,” I say and do some reading of my book.

We’re still in the first twenty minutes and our timing is ok. We moved a few feet, we stop and wait, move a few more feet and stop. It’s the kind of driving Delilah excels at and it allows me to read and have a quick doze. Then we’re into urban junction territory and the mood of the road shifts. I climb into the front seat and ask Delilah to give me control of the car. There are some tricky traffic lights up ahead and it’s not enough to simply wait until they’re green. I’ve seen people die at these lights; not just car accidents, but suicides, heart attacks, a few of old age. If you want to get through the lights, you have to use some cunning, a little brute force and plenty of illegality, those are not Delilah’s strengths.

The lights change to green and all the cars around me start to jostle for the one lane that’s still open. I’m in that lane, but it means nothing. There’s an HGV to my left who’s decided I’m in his way, so he very slowly drives at me, I try to front it out, but then I hear the squeak and grind of metal on metal. I panic, I have to get away from him before he crushes my headlight to dust, but if I move too fast I hit the car to my right. I swing the wheel and then with excruciating slowness, I drive at the car in the lane to the right of me. Car horns create their cacophony. Desperate drivers grab their dash-deities and pray, little figurines of whatever religion is in right now. I make it to a clear space where I won’t get squished as the lights change to red. I’ve got nowhere, but Delilah is ok. I have a quick check in my rear view camera to see if anyone was less lucky, a few people have got out of their cars, so I suspect there’s been a small collision, but nothing serious.

It takes a twelve more similar attempts before I make it through the lights and into the Consumer District, more inch-an-hour territory. I ask Delilah to take over. It’s now five-thirty and I’m hungry, cranky and in need a little something to pick me up.

I spot Baby Joe. Joe is seven and he serves some of the freshest coffee in the district. He’s always got a joke for me, maybe a few cookies to sell. Except today he is isn’t waiting between the lanes as the cars inch past, he’s standing on the pavement. I get out of Delilah, the cars are nose-to-tail and I can’t see a surge of movement happening anytime soon, and go over to Joe.

“What gives Joe? Why aren’t you in the road?” Joe huffs sadly,

“Some kid got knocked down yesterday, now my mum don’t want me off the pavement,” he looks heart-sick, shakes his head and says, “I’ll never work my way out now.” I use up most of my change buying a coffee, six cookies and a toy truck, I figure he needs the money. I don’t point out the truth that he would never have worked his way out anyway. Social mobility is no longer a thing, unless you start out rich, play at being poor for a gap year, then stride back to the high life.

Delilah hasn’t moved, so I take wander between the cars to check out a few other street-sellers. There are Disney brain pets (“Take Goofy with you everywhere!”) and some very banned driving drugs (“All the sensations of sun-bathing while you drive to work”). I see Daisy with new merchandise just as Delilah starts to move. I give Daisy a wave, while I climb back in the car and lever the car window down, the computer fused years ago, Daisy waddles her way over to me and begins to work her product. You don’t turn a profit in the district, unless you’re young and cute or a talented seller, and Daisy is definitely in the latter category.

“Honey, honey, you see what I got for you?” she croons in a Korean accent that I believe to be fake. She’s pure South London, I can see it in the grime on her face, but she’s got a brand to maintain; we all have. “I got you flip flops make you feel like you’re floating, I got you Chameleon glasses and dashboard deities in every colour. What you want, my honey? What you want?”

I’m just about to ask about the glasses, when I spot a parting up ahead. I give Daisy a quick wave as I clamber into the front seat and quickly manoeuvre Delilah to the space. That’s gained me ten minutes at least.

We’ve reached the car city and they’re having a party, but they always are. Parties are the way the inhabitants of the car city convince themselves they aren’t just vagrants in yet another shanty town. The car city was a created a few years ago. It wasn’t planned, it simply happened. Some temporary traffic lights went up and the ensuing week-long tailbacks led to a few people giving up on their journeys. Commuters decided they didn’t really want to go to work anyway, and they already had all they needed with them, so they set up home. Over the next few weeks more of the travel sick joined. They’re a little cultish for my tastes, a little shiny-eyed with zeal. They think they’ve found the answer to traffic: give up and live in it, but it all seems defeatist to me. As I drive through, a pretty woman with red hair passes a flower to me through the window. I give her my brightest smile and she winks.

I’m closing in on Clapham, it’s eight o’clock, my timing is good. Delilah is doing the driving, so I’m having a work out on my exercise bike. I’m lying on my back and peddling my legs in the air when my boss comes on the screen.

“Morning Luca,” she says. I can hear the irritation in her voice and I know she’s wondering why I’m wasting time cycling when I should be driving. I disentangle my legs, but the bike is attached to the ceiling and it isn’t a quick process. Once I’m the right way up, I start the apologies as a matter of course, but she doesn’t listen, just carries right on. “Just checking that you’re going to be on time today. There’ve been a few late mornings recently, haven’t there?” I start to recap the disasters of the week: the lorry on its side across the M25, the mass suicide on the south circular, but she still isn’t listening,

“Just get here on time,” she says with an exaggerated sigh and the screen clicks off. She’s not a bad person, but she has no clue about traffic. She hasn’t left her home in years. She’s only a virtual presence at work, that last message she sent from her bed. She was wearing a jacket, but I could see the pillows behind her. She has no clue about the commute. No middle management and up has a clue because they don’t need to, that’s why the roads were allowed to get so bad.

Anyway, I’m making great time; an hour and I should be there. I’ve passed the car city and I’m onto the A3 heading out of town. This is the easiest part of the journey, we’re clipping along at about 20 miles an hour and it feels almost like flying. I hang my head out the window like a dog, and make a whoop of joy. I may even get to work early. I start thinking about that luxury, how I’ll have a little chat with Belinda on reception, how I’ll suck on a mocha cube, I may even make a proper cup of coffee. Delilah has inched up to thirty miles an hour and I haven’t felt this happy in years.

Then I hear the noise and the world turns to dust. I look around wildly, the sound is so huge it’s like the whole world has caved in. The dust has cleared enough that I should be able to see cars up ahead, but I can’t, there’s nothing. I shout at Delilah to stop and she does, but the cars behind me aren’t so on the ball and crash straight into the back of me. As we sail towards the hole, I curl up into a ball on the back seat. I feel the car stop and I’m still alive. I move very slowly and peer out between the seats. Everything is beige, we are sitting in a dust cloud. We are about half a metre from the edge of the hole, it is the width of the entire road and looks about twenty metres deep. I get out of Delilah, although my legs are wobbly I’m not hurt. I can hear groans and cries for help. I automatically grab my medical kit, I’ve got pretty good at torniquets over the last few years. But first I need to try and save my job. I put a call through to my boss and start pleading,

“What? That’s the second time this week!” she shouts. I angle the camera to try and show her the road, but she isn’t interested, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has faked footage to excuse their lateness. I try to beg my way out of trouble, but she’s having none of it, “Just get here!” she shouts. I drop the medical kit, look at the crater and try to formulate a plan.

Someone has got out of his car with a blow torch and is cutting a path through the barriers on the central reservation. On the other side of the road, the cars are nose to tail and I don’t see how he thinks he can go against the traffic, but it’s either that or go back. Somebody else has taken a chance with driving through the woods to get around the hole, but it’s clear he won’t get far without a chainsaw. I wonder about just walking, it would take about an hour from here, but my job will be long gone by then.

Through the haze of dust, I can see a few survivors slowly clambering out of the hole, pulling themselves along with bloody fingers. I think my working life may have come to a natural end. I’ll do what I can here and then head for the car city. I pick my medical kit back up and go to play doctor.

Nostalgia: Life Before Radiation

“Of course it’s easy for you, you don’t do anything. You just sit around feeling sorry for yourself and I do everything for you,” she shrieked, and I have to say that is the most articulate I’ve ever heard her. She didn’t stop to talk about it though. She stomped out and I don’t know when she’ll be back, I just have to stare at the door and wait. But it’s easy, that’s what I was trying to explain to her, this is all very easy, simplified. We both know what we have to do. Back in my day, when the world was whole, problems were complicated, and I was just trying to explain that to her,

“You can’t even imagine how difficult it was,” I explained, “some days the twat in the desk opposite would actually make me want to throw up with disgust, he was such a creep. Listening to his rasping breath, smelling his farts every single day. Awful.”

But she didn’t listen. she thinks she’s got it tough. She thinks that she battles with terrible uncertainy, but the fact is that we know how we will die, we know we’re dying already. We know that it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get up tomorrow. Who will care? Nobody. No boss calling on the phone. No mother whining that we don’t take responsibility for anything.

And there’s no pressure now. When I was young the pressure was unbelievable, the constant feeling that no matter what I did, it was never enough. I would often cry. Sitting in the bath, the water gone cold, my desperation washing away down the plughole. Picking at a mole on my thigh and thinking about all the ways I was a failure: I wasn’t on TV, I didn’t have my own company, I didn’t have a boyfriend, and my TV had black casing, even though all the other furniture was pink. I would whisper to myself, “at least I’ve got my health at least I’ve got my health,” over and over. God I felt so ugly.

And when I try to explain this to Kaylida, the desperation, the sadness, she laughs in my face. I found her a few of my old self-help books, so that she could understand that it wasn’t shallow, that I wasn’t really crying about material things, but about the empty gaping hole left by my bitch queen mother, and then she laughed even more at me. I don’t think she really has the intelligence to understand it. Education hasn’t exactly been a priority during her childhood. And there have been a number of reports about the mental subnormality of her generation due to the water and toxins, and the atomic gasses. Still, she’s my little honey, and I love her for all her faults.



Kaylida came back from scavenging. She was extremely proud, carrying a bag full of tins that she had found in someone’s basement. The tins were baked beans and I hate baked beans. I tried to hide the disappointment on my face, but I’m no good at acting. I’ve never been able to hide my feelings. Anyway, I think it’s important to be honest. It’s not my fault that I hate baked beans, I always associate them with mum and her inability to cook because she was too selfish, too caught up in her own little world. So all the excitement fell off Kaylida’s face, and I was left feeling guilty, which is the last thing I needed.

The baked beans were foul and I could taste the contamination seeping out through the lining of my stomach. I started farting, sharp pains darting out in all directions from my stomach. Kaylida sat and glared at me as I started crying.  I don’t know how she can be so heartless. The toxins don’t affect her like they do me, she grew up with the radiation and her body is practically immune to it. I keep saying to her that she should be thankful, it isn’t her generation that is dying of all the cancer, it is mine. We don’t have the same strength. I blame yoga and detox diets. I spent six years trying to get my body toxin free, make myself healthy and pure. I didn’t smoke or drink, I meditated for hours on end. It was the worst time of my life. Always in denial, always suffering. Kaylida doesn’t know what that is like at all. She thinks that she is suffering because she goes without, but the fact is that she isn’t denying herself, she takes every scrap she can find. Every bit of food, whether it is mouldy or glowing in the dark. She will eat seven-legged, two-headed bugs if she finds them trying to lay eggs in her pyjamas. However, I spent all those years, surrounded by sushi bars and curry houses, while I ate water cress and celery. With no exaggeration, I can say that I would kill for curry and chips right now.

I must have been crying twenty minutes before Kaylida crawled over to give me a hug. Kids are so selfish nowadays. I remember scoffing at my own mother when she used to say that, but now it is actually true. I try and explain again,

“It isn’t better to have loved and lost Kaylida, it is utter Hell. It’s so much better to be like you, to have never known anything but hopelessness and degradation, it’s just easier.” But I still don’t think she understands.


The Lost Islands of Xogulano


The secrets of the islands of Xogulano have been kept from the world, but I feel that now is the time for them to be known. In sharing my research I take a risk with my professional reputation, but as a scientist I believe it is my duty to share knowledge.

Despite the title of this post these islands were never really lost, they simply have a habit of vanishing. Once every few years the islands drop beneath sea level and are barely visible. A few rocky outcrops may remain, occasionally a tree, but no more. People on surrounding islands have many superstitions about how and why Xogulano chooses to drop into the ocean, and it is these superstitions that lead people to hide the existence of Xogulano. Another reason is that Xogulano is thought to contain many natural treasures and the bones of mythical creatures.

Xogulano has endemic animals and vegetation, existing nowhere else and highly adapted to amphibious life. Trees, mammals and insects are all abundant on the island, and all survive the semi-aquatic existence. It took years of research to find the islands (they are not shown on any map) and now I am recording what I find.

I am unable to use a camera on Xogulano, all electrical equipment fails due to strong electrical currents that spread across the earth, so I can only send you my drawings of some of the flora and fauna. However, as I am bringing to you the first evidence of this wonderful land, I assume you will forgive those shortcomings.

In this post are a few plants I have discovered on the island. Using my extensive botanical knowledge I shall attempt to explain their nature.


This aroid-like plant appears to uncurl its leaves in the manner of a fern, however the leaves never fully open. I believe this plant has a symbiotic relationship with vicious squirrels that I often find living in the ‘crook’ of the leaves. These squirrels become loud, furious and aggressive whenever I approach the plant and are clearly effective at deterring predators.

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Nessie Plant

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I have informally named this succulent the Nessie plant. Most plants have hormones strongly affected by gravity which enables them to grow up towards the light (or occasionally away from it). However, the Nessie plant has no interest in gravity, it can grow in any direction and it has an impressive knack of bursting out of rock. These attributes mean it can leap frog its way around a landscape unchecked.

I shall be sharing more of my discoveries from the island of Xogulano very soon.

Dr Florence