The Hooton 3-car

We did say, I say we but I mean I, that we weren’t going to publish anything from the new book between then and now but this has done quite well in a recent competition and can be considered a bit of a must for any Wirral resident.

Apologies to Kevin Maher for stealing the name of his old band.

 

The Hooton Three Car

 

 Bache Station, Chester. 2012

 

Ricky helped his grandfather up the stairs and they took a seat for him to get his breath back. He didn’t mind giving up his Saturday to take his grandpa to the funeral of his best pal, Walter. No-one else seemed keen to make the effort, and he was clearly too distraught to make the journey on his own. Ricky had never seen him affected by anything before. In real terms this may have been because Ricky still had not had time too. Eighty years separated them, his grandad, recently ninety, had always been impeccably dressed in a shirt and tie at the very least and never seemed flustered by the tussles of everyday life. Today he looked different, and Ricky hoped to be there for him.

 

“Train’s coming, Grandad. Shall I help you up?” Ricky asked.

 

“You’re a good lad, Ricky, but I didn’t need help getting out the trenches, so I’ll get on the train myself.” He replied, ruffling Ricky’s hair as reward.

 

The direct train to Liverpool Central would take them to the church where Walter’s funeral would be held with a brief change at Hamilton Square to take them to Birkenhead Park.

 

“Just one change. Some things in modern life are getting better. Not so long ago, the electric line only went as far as Hooton. Then it was a diesel bone-shaker to Chester. Always roasting, lovely in winter, insufferable in the summer. Grandma would always say, “Hooton 3-car”. The old man said with a gleam of nostalgia in his eye.

 

The announcer’s voice came through the intercom system. “Welcome to this 1052 service to Liverpool Central, calling at Capenhurst…”

 

 Capenhurst 1940

 

“You’re meant to run with the bayonet up, you bloody fool.” Walter told his best pal Archie. Both were completing their hurried basic training before joining the Cheshire Regiment. They had enjoyed the spirit of the camp and were genuinely pleased to get the three square meals and a roof over their heads into the bargain. Some of the company was suspect, but in general, the first year of WWII had not been so bad.

 

Archie missed Beryl, and Walter missed Audrey, but everyone missed someone. As the summer ended, the regiment formed and set off for the final training in Aldershot, before heading off to France. It seemed like quite an adventure at the time, it did for everybody, but that would not last.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton…

 

 

 Hooton, 1944

 

Beryl opened the letter with the trepidation that she always felt before one of Archie’s correspondence. Nearly four years at war was changing his prose, and though she knew the things he wrote about barely scratched the surface. She wondered if this war would ever end, if Archie would come back, and would she recognise him. She read:

 

“how can a place of this beauty be the theatre of so much hatred. I no longer know who is the enemy, we believe we are right, but so do they. Life has taken on a cheaper meaning than ever, before they took prisoners, now they kill as they have nowhere to take us. We walk among ghosts. I begin to fear my love for you alone will not be enough to see me through this….”

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Eastham Rake…

 

 Eastham 1946

 

“It’ll have to do. We can’t afford anything else. You should be grateful to my parents for letting us have this.” Beryl bellowed at Archie.

 

He knew she was right. Nearly a year he had been back, but the nightmares still raged, and the unemployment queues got longer. He knew her parents did not want them there, but until he could find a job… They nervously made love in the evenings, dreaming of making up for lost time but more often fearful of the image of the Virgin Mary that guarded over the bed, and the saintly mother-in-law in the next room.

 

The next day there was a letter for Archie. He had finally been taken on in the refinery.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough…

 

 Bromborough 1951

 

They were never going to send an ambulance. Walter brought his car round and they huddled Beryl in. This was heading towards her fourth miscarriage and the doctors warned her that future conceptions could be harmful to her health.

 

She had almost gone full term this time. Eight months and a day, but when she felt the pain she had felt three times before, she knew the ending would be the same. This time, the child was born alive. She held his skin against hers and watched him fight for breath. But there was little fight, and little hope. An hour later, they were cleaning Beryl so that she could exit the room.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake…

 

 Bromborough Rake 1958

 

“If it will get us a family, it’s money well spent.” Archie told Beryl as they waited to see the private specialist. She was practically dead inside. She had been told his directly by NHS staff, and nicely by the private doctor. The result was the same. She would never have children and could most likely die in the birthing process if she got there again. They walked back to their modest terraced house, Archie taking her hand as she looked longingly at every pram they passed.

 

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital…

 

 

 Spital 1970

 

One too many glasses of cider at the Three Stags, and a walk through Brotherton Park and the pair were like a couple of besotted teenagers. Life had not been overly unkind. Archie had had a good career at the refinery and moved to a larger one with a position of more responsibility.  They soon forgot about the possibility of being seen as they made love upright against a tree, Archie lost in the throes of passion. Once they accepted that the act would be for pleasure rather than business, pleasure was duly taken from it. They finished up and dusted themselves down, rather foolishly checking the coast was clear after the event, and made their way back to the road.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight…

 

 Port Sunlight 1971

 

It would have been a cruel joke. At this stage. That day in the park did bear fruit. And Beryl, despite being forty-seven enjoyed a relatively incident-free pregnancy. Archie was given another promotion that saw him take on one of the delightful houses in Port Sunlight village that they had always dreamed of.

 

One night, Beryl felt a twinge and the puddle on the floor informed them it was time to go to the hospital. There was no fear as she pushed, so much did she desire this moment that the pain was almost part of the hamper. And push she did, and out came a boy. Yet there was more pushing to be done. And a girl appeared. They laughed and took two healthy children home two days later.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington…

 

 Bebington 1988

 

Of course, there were times when the screaming, shouting and hating took centre stage, this was family life. But the day the twins finished their “A” Levels and got places at the universities they wanted was a moment that both would treasure for the rest of their lives.

 

The daughter, Susan, wasted no time in celebrating with her friends. A quick livener in The Wellington, before taking the train to Liverpool. As she exited the pub, full of joy and wonderment at the life before her, she never had a moment to see the drunk-driver careering down Bebington Road onto the pavement.

 

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry…

 

 Rock Ferry 1992  

 

Susan’s loss would eventually consume Beryl. Of course, there was still Mike, but their relationship was the same. Until. Until Ricky appeared and made her a grandmother. That first year caring for the baby restored Beryl’s frail health, gave her a purpose and verve for the last months of her life. With Ricky in her arms, in her favourite armchair, she kissed the infant’s forehead and said “pass that on to Grandad for me.” and left.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane…

 

 Green Lane 2012

 

“I’ll tell you one thing, Walter. I never let my bayonet down.” Archie joked.

 

Walter tried to force a smile, as once again the hospice staff told him not to exert himself. “They brought me here to die and then tell me to take it easy. What’s the worst that can happen?” Walter said. Both laughed and cried at the same time as they hurriedly recapped a friendship lasting eight decades.

 

ANNOUNCER: calling at Capenhurst, Hooton, Bromborough, Bromborough Rake, Spital, Port Sunlight, Bebington, Rock Ferry, Green Lane, Birkenhead Central…

 

“It’s our stop next, Grandad.” Ricky said, gently awakening his travelling companion. “Looks like quite a dream you were having there! Hamilton Square next, then we change. Let me put your tie straight.”

 

“You’re a good lad, Ricky. Grandad’s proud of you.” Archie smiled at the boy who immediately looked away bashfully.

 

With that the train entered the tunnel and Archie decided that for however long he was to remain here, he would not fear the darkness.

 

“Goodnight Susan. Goodnight Beryl. Goodnight Archie.”

 

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The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman

Around December and just in time for Xmas shopping, I will be releasing a new collection of shorts to keep CTMP company. It is tentatively called ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’ as no doubt be the time I write anything else, that term will have been retired and I have always liked the word.

October update: As some of the stories that have appeared on here will be included in TOO in some form or another, they have been tidied away to be polished off in preparation for publication. That means they have been taken down from here.

 

 

Swim Until You Can See Land

Before diving into this one head first, some background.

The story was inspired by the plight of three Spanish firefighters from Seville accused of being involved in a human trafficking racket when they were on humanitarian missions in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Lesbos.

Here is an article on them with links to other parts of their story:

El País article in English

I researched the story a bit and then decided not to stick to the script too much. I preferred the angle of media manipulation and conspiracy with the chance to twist things around and bring down the evil multinational corporation.

The title was a bit of a pun / play on words (not a very good one) at the desperate attempts of the immigrants to find land and the song by Frightened Rabbit as the day I began writing the story, singer Scott was found.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story as I am quite pleased with it as it has Netflix mini-series stamped all over it.

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

 

Swim until you can see land

Jairo looked at his miserable bowl of cereals and pondered how disappointing breakfast had become in recent times. They weren’t even the chocolate ones with the nice creamy filling inside that he would sometimes treat himself to when HE did the shopping. He looked over to his three-year old daughter who played with and ate hers with the sort of joy only that age of infancy and innocence can bring. Jairo became angry with himself for such frivolous thoughts when he had seen things in the world that made him value every moment like this more than ever, and yet, once again, and despite saying that he would never again fall into that materialistic trap of bemoaning the mundane nature of life when he returned from his last mission. He switched on the news, keen to intake a few moments’ viewing of 3D talking humans before cartoon pigs dominated the screen once more.

 

Even the muesli appeared to be against him. Since when did it require so much chewing? There were days when he was last at sea, wondering whether he would even have another breakfast, let alone complain about it, when he promised himself he would enjoy every morsel, but when you have lived your life so close to the edge, fearing every minute may be your last, the return to the humdrum adventures of an everyday life, even for a firefighter in a city in southern Spain, who had more excitement per pound in his day-to-day endeavours than someone who worked for the water board. He was bored of chewing by the time the news came on.

 

Tragic stories are commonplace on the news, but the item that flashed up before Jairo’s eyes made him almost reach for the remote control to turn it over. This was not something that he wanted his young daughter to see, and yet, it was something she had to see, now, or soon, or later. Once again, a boat carrying migrants had run aground on the Greek coast and bodies were strewn on the beaches. Lying in the water was the bloated corpse of an infant who could not have been any older than his daughter. Despite the early hour, despite the graphic content, the images unashamedly panned in on the lifeless child, life’s lottery showing clearly that she did not even get around to buying a ticket.

 

A tear formed in his eye as he watched his daughter finish her breakfast. “Can I watch Peppa?” She asked, taking another look at her father who she was not used to seeing in an altered state. Jairo took a moment to compose himself and changed the channel for her, leaning over to give her a kiss in the same action.

 

 

GFE

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

There will be two versions of this story on TOO. The original one for the competition was set in 2018 and a second longer story set in 1953. The premise is the same in both, but the latter takes a vastly different turn early on.

 

 

“She’s in here, Miklowski.” Officer Reynolds informed his superior.

 

Twenty-five years on the force had meant Miklowski had seen it all, twice, some of it three times, but this spate of suicides was beginning to unnerve him. For the first time in his law enforcement career, he was overcome by a sensation that this would be the case he wouldn’t crack.

 

“Same MO, Reynolds?”

 

“Same, Chief.”

 

The apartment looked like a fan site dedicated to the GFE (Greatified Future Existence) Movement. They still did not know who was behind it, but the ethos was all about dumping your useless itinerant frame with which you wandered aimlessly in this life, so that you have a better chance in the next one. A rudimentary website, minimal expense at anything resembling advertising and the look of pure nineties router-based web browsing had not stopped GFE becoming a very real modern-day phenomenon.

 

The first victims had a profile that suggested they could be easily opened up to manipulation when the right buttons were pressed, but now, as the number of victims approached one-thousand, Miklowski and his team struggled to comprehend what was driving successful and popular people to end their lives in ghastly fashion to follow a fad.

 

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

Blood Alignment Negativity Theory Z

 

Research into Blood Alignment Negativity Theory became popular in the late 1980s though remained a secretive and lucrative side line of the major scientific companies. It was one of a series of research lines that gained in prominence as politicians turned to science to come up with a solution to, or at least an explanation for, the reasons for the failure of Western economies and the unacceptable levels of persons deemed below the quality threshold desired for the proper upkeep of society.

 

Science as a diagnostic tool was considered vastly superior to the extolment of extremist views against one section of society to demonstrate their culpability for the planet’s woes. Those entrusted with the role of reaching this conclusion were not likely to take into account variables such as the fabled 1% of the population in whose hands most of the planet’s wealth was held or other factors that would lead to a significant change in the former’s set-up, which was thought to be perfectly effective yet ruined by a combination of over-population and ill-constructed DNA profiles.

 

The suggestion was made in a 1992 conference in The Hague that there was indeed a surplus, of around 10% of the world’s population, but also that said surplus had a negative effect of holding back the two main groups identified for success; potential performers and intentional conformers. This meant a human imbalance of around one quarter. Thus the elimination of this group would lead to a more than proportional increase in terms of yield and profit for the planet as a whole.

 

Research into a means of profiling these individuals to devise a plan for their control continued throughout the nineties and into this century. Elimination was not a watchword that those in command positions allowed to be uttered but it was clear that any surplus would require a cull, however abhorrent this may appear on the surface. Once the culprits were identified, public opinion would be moved in such a way to defend what was seen as rightfully owned by the other 75 to 85%, allowing for a modicum of fervour and underlying hatred to set the wheels of change in motion.

 

In the meantime, the media tried its hardest to decry other groups as the perpetrators of the world’s ills. None were convincingly proven as being anywhere scientifically liable for anything on a grand scale, but there was growing evidence that the surplus population was not only having a negative effect on business and economic growth, but also causing a latent decline in the output of otherwise hardworking people, who, under the auspices of the decent and productive top 75%, would be able to pull themselves from the mire.

 

The government had special interest in isolating any sort of gene or mutation that would allow for a programme involving the sterilisation, and / or, extermination of this dangerous group, yet they knew that they could not act without scientific proof. With the millennium drawing to a close, pressure was exerted on all those involved in the secret research to give the Prime Minister the boost he needed to enter the twenty-first century with renewed optimism.

 

The first breakthrough was to isolate a DNA trait that was directly linked to laziness. At first, through the studies into this scientific field, progress was slow as scientists were determined that the problem could be solved through the analysis of our genetic make-up, overlooking one major aspect that was common to nearly ten percent of the world’s population. The idea that it was something gene-based rather than race-based was both a revelation and a relief. The idea of taking on an ethnic group would pose endless issues, especially with the burgeoning emergence of social media in the second part of the first decade.

 

DNA strand 326B was found to be present and could be linked to low performance in persons from all walks of life, yet its detection was slow and cumbersome. Plus, it was not conclusive as there were also carriers of the strand who had outperformed other non-strand carriers in a range of indicators. Further to this was the fact that variations of the strand could be confused as pure strand and lead to the exclusion of nearly 30% of the population. Thus, it was deemed, that one could be lazy and productive, or one’s laziness might not necessarily hinder their ability to be productive at another time. No, the isolation process needed to determine exactly which person carried the strain of 326B that caused all of society’s problems.

 

Visionaries often appear at the most unlikely times and it was a team of researchers in a lab off the West Coast of Scotland who began to abandon the idea of the DNA route and work on the isolation of blood itself. The idea that a certain race had a greater propensity to failure held no truck with any viable government plan to create a level of stability for the planet as a whole. Governments worked together, all colours and creeds accepting the idea that a surplus in this issue was a bad thing, and, as the scientists were beginning to prove, every nation had its own group of culpable surplus, this meant that there could be no calls for victimisation of any group. If it was just a clean cull of between 10 and 15% from all walks of life and colours, then the common good would triumph. Dissenting voices would be quashed or simply silenced as the excess could be enjoyed, a song and a dance and a bit of a fuss might occur at the beginning, but after that, people’s natural greed and maleficence would restore things to a more natural order.

 

And so, the lab began to work in different areas, namely the new field of Blood Alignment Negativity Theory, which worked simply along the lines of rather than focusing on the DNA strand, they aimed to prove that entire sets of people with a certain blood group embodied the entirety of the problems faced by the world. Some of these blood group carriers had managed to pull the wool over the rest of the planet’s eyes by accessing positions of responsibility and renown, but this was not the norm and their performance ratings were still vastly below that of people from other blood groups.

 

As 2020 drew closer, the US government demanded a conclusive answer as the fabled recovery after the most recent depression failed to be the boom period that had been forecast. Thus, in a ground-breaking paper published in May 2019, scientists from the lab proved beyond any doubt that the defective blood group was indeed B Negative and that all the carriers of this blood type were an unnecessary burden on society.

 

How this was proven was conveniently kept secret from the rest of society, and, for the good fortune of the writer, from all sources on the Internet. Suffice to say that all relevant boffins and political experts considered the theory to be sound and accurate. Whilst the details of the theory were kept away from eyes that may pry and prod and pick holes in its veracity, its idea was slowly allowed to filter outwards. A tried and trusted method.

 

A clumsily leaked email made its way to a sensationalist tabloid which, seizing the chance to stir up public agitation and claim the scalp of the previously designated politician and scientist scapegoat, hastily published a story claiming that a subversive group aimed to prove that all carriers of the blood group B Negative, immediately stylised to “bNegs”, were the source of all the world’s woes. Inevitably, the theory was decried as nonsense, the scapegoats roundly chastised on social media and TV, enjoying a week as the world’s most hated people and then swiftly forgotten upon the breaking of the next story.

 

But the seed was planted, people began to ask whether there could be anything in it. People began to seek out bNegs and analyse their performance at work, their effect on others. If anything, the initial furore around them led to an increase in their working yield, as if they felt under the spotlight at all times to outwork any of their non bNeg colleagues. The phenomena began to take hold, slowly at first, then gathering momentum, to the governments’ delight, as the inevitable hashtag of #shameabNeg took hold of Twitter. bNegs were exposed on social media, often with side-by-side videos of them “pretending” to be hard at it juxtaposed with another showing their true colours.

 

No movement is complete without the willing force of the uneducated hatred of the mindless masses. Non bNegs who were unemployed began to feel aggrieved that their post had been taken by workshy bNegs. Employers sensed a certain amount of exertion on them not to hire or promote bNegs, or even to remove them from their workforces. All of this gathered pace without any of the concerned governments having to spend a single centime, cent or penny on further research, the hatred bubble was mushrooming of its own volition, the more people seen as reasonable and learned tried to denounce the plausibility, simple social media opportunities presented themselves to further the idea that there really was something to it.

 

Libertarians and voices of reason were the easiest targets to remove. Why would people who had chosen to believe that life’s lottery was preventing their advancement due to the continued support of a worthless group listen to reason suddenly? The proof was there, there was a paper, no-one had seen it but it was known, it contained the facts. The easiest tap ins were when the experts actually carried B Negative blood, so much so that often any voice considered of any worth beforehand refused to opine on matters concerning BANTZ, as this was now stylised, bearing in mind that the supporters of the movement would be less likely to follow something that used up most of their Twitter character allocation on spelling the name. The Z had no place in the theory, but the marketing company believed that it would appeal to the younger non bNegs.

 

With sufficient support from the “grassroots” sections of society, the moment arose to begin taking steps to remove bNegs from prominent positions. A bill was proposed whereby any organisation with bNeg senior executives would have to justify their choice of employment against a criteria checklist (practically impossible for the bNegs to come out on top) and should said bNegs fail to meet these criteria, they were to be immediately replaced by non bNegs.

 

A similar situation was devised for bNegs running SMEs. To be able to continue with their business, they would have to pay a standard PAYE rate of 50% and increase takings with profit sharing for non bNegs. The thinking here was to price them out of the market and thus force them to abandon their professional endeavours. There was another option on the table, the bNegs’ companies could be transferred to non bNegs so that the latter could run them and keep on the original bNegs as employees, though a law passed the week after limiting bNegs earnings to 600 GBP per month (taxable at 49% too).

 

bNegs from all spheres were forced onto the streets. Plans were made to counter any rise in crime as a result of these undesirables by imposing harsher sentences on bNegs for any type of misdemeanour. To finance this increase in potential prison population, bNegs had their assets stripped and could have no more in savings that 1000 GBP or the equivalent amount in the local currency of the applicable nation. It turned out that bNegs had more disposable income than was expected for such a lazy group and this windfall allowed for further expansions of the plan.

 

Whilst certain sectors of society felt bemusement and even bewilderment at the measures arbitrarily taken against people simply for their blood group, governments chose to ignore these, as public opinion shifted in their favour like never before. Whenever questions were raised they were roundly discarded by the findings of a throw-away boffin who came up with fancy looking PowerPoint presentations that were the scientific equivalent of photoshopping a supermodel’s body onto a wallflower’s head and expecting people to fall for it. Of course, they did, they lapped up everything that was thrown at them, the more ludicrous the better, the more obvious the lies, the more they learned them word for word and repeated them with glee among their friends colleagues and on social media.

 

Increases in GDP due to heavy taxation and appropriation of bNegs’ goods meant that the UK government could afford a 3% income tax decrease and pay all non bNeg workers a Robin Hood windfall bonus of 1000 GBP, with unemployed bNegs forced to fill their posts for free, should the non bNegs decide to take a holiday with the money.

 

The next thing to plan for was the bNegs’ uprising. They would surely not take this lying down forever, and any excuse to tighten security against them would provoke little opposition and would indeed prove doubters wrong. Sporadic groups of non bNegs had already begun to form vigilante squads to ensure order in the bNeg ghettos that were appearing on the outskirts of major cities. bNegs were no longer allowed to live in an area within five miles of the city centre, and then only in government approved zones with a limited yardage and value.

 

 

Pockets of bNegs resistance tried to demonstrate, but they knew their hands were tied, if they tried anything, reprisals on groups of bNegs could be disastrous, if they tried nothing, their remaining (few) civil liberties would be completely removed. This logical outlook could not be sustained for a group comprising nearly a tenth of the population. And so, inevitably, a group of bNegs entered a government research centre and set fire to the place, killing three non bNegs. Revenge was imminent.

 

The night after the fire, hundreds of bNegs were attacked randomly as comeuppance for the actions of the twisted firestarters. Many of their residencies were looted and burned, with the government passing an emergency measure that no bNeg could be on the street without registered accommodation, anyone failing to comply with this measure could be immediately imprisoned until they had earned enough to make a deposit on a new property, depending on the waiting list, which was now much longer due to the events of the night known as “the Night of the Long Platelets”.

 

The incident left more than a thousand bNegs dead and many more wounded. As bNegs they were not eligible to use the National Health System and so would have to pay for medical treatment (which they obviously couldn’t do) or take their chances at the bNegs Health Centres (woefully underfunded and staffed by unqualified psychopaths). Within a week of the event, statistics claimed seven thousand bNegs had been removed as a burden on society. With disease and poverty rife amongst them, the stage was set to up operations.

 

Killing four thousand over a couple of weeks would not be a feasible means of removing such a large section of society. We have obviously moved on from the dark ages of transporting them to camps and putting them in ovens. The future was soon assured by passing a law which meant that all bNegs males had to be sterilised. Nobody checked whether bNegs would always have bNeg offspring, but the measure was deemed appropriate and subsequently adapted for bNeg females.

 

In theory then, no more bNegs would be born, but there were still around 600 million on the planet. Waiting for them to starve to death would take an eternity, so the onus was left on the country with most bNegs in the world, Australia, to find a solution. The solution was simple, a kind of home share plan. All the world’s bNegs would occupy Australia until they died. The non bNeg residents of Australia would be given accommodation in the country of their choice until the problem had been resolved, though the thought of an island with 600 million cadavers on it made return less appealing. All Australian citizens accepting the plan were given half a million dollars. Those rejecting it, would be left in Australia. All bNegs’ possessions and worldly goods were to be divided between the relocated non bNegs to compensate them for the upheaval that this would involve.

 

And so, on the 19thof July, 2031, container ships carried thousands of bNegs to their final destination in Australia. All residents of the former British colony were removed by plane or ship to leave the island free of any type of transport, thus preventing escape. Boats carrying the bNegs administered a muscle relaxant in the water to prevent any uprisings, turning their cargo into docile harmless cattle traveling to their fate. As the boats were paid for the number of trips made, unscrupulous captains hit upon the idea of emptying their cargo in the middle of the ocean and returning for more, though this practice was soon decried as the number of bNeg corpses washing up on the shore caused issues for local non bNeg residents.

 

Towards the end of the 2020s, special container ships were built with separate engine and cargo compartments, the biggest the world had ever seen. In conditions of almost zero comfort, up to 35,000 passengers could be transported in an almost harmless sleep to their last port of call. Each participant country, by that I mean every country, undertook to build a number of these proportionate to their bNeg population. The UK had seven of these vessels, France five, Germany eight and the USA twenty-four, even landlocked countries were obliged to have an amount of them and store them at their nearest port, except Switzerland which once again never got involved and still maintained a high level of bNegs and saw no drop in GDP. bNegs tried to emigrate to places like Switzerland (first choice) or Albania (with reservations) or Kyrghizstan (a step up from death) but these nations soon closed their borders as they were swamped.

 

So, at any one time, there could be more than 1 million bNegs under transportation to Australia. This meant that the entire process by this method would take less than three years. Even so, that was considered a lengthy and burdensome process. From places like China, Japan and New Zealand, bNegs were simply ushered onto military transport planes and air dropped to Australia, with roughly enough parachutes for 60% of the plane’s load to ensure a reduction in numbers early on. The problem with Oz was always going to be distance, the reason it was chosen, it being so far away, was also a major hindrance of the logistics. It was also a complicated business getting someone from Utah, for example, to a port where they could board a ship to Australia. As the celebrations for the 10 millionth recorded death of bNegs came to a close, certain voices began to suggest that it might be time to relent on such severity.

 

These voices of dissent were immediately quashed, the destruction of the bNegs and their errant blood group had gone beyond a mere crusade to improve standards of living. Too many people had vested interests and were even looking beyond the bNegs, should the promised Utopia be spoilt by the unsightly presence of the working class.

 

Even people generally seen as wishy-washy lefties began to change their outlook as momentum gathered for what was billed as “definitely not a final solution”. Research was done also to see whether bNegs could be sent into space to colonise the moon but that was eventually discarded when real scientists were consulted once more. The decision was made to use Alaska as a temporary Australia Annex where bNegs could be taken and frozen to death. Nothing was hidden any more, there was no tiptoeing around the subject, news chains and independent groups proudly reported on successful eliminations. FOX NEWS came up with the slogan that “600 million is a lot, but if we all kill one or two, it’s a lot less”. With the reduction in the amount of electricity needed to heat and water this massive group of people, older power stations could be converted into huge furnaces, as many renowned voices concurred, not everything the Nazis did was thatbad.

 

They did create a lot of dust though. Luckily, a formula was discovered soon after, or always known and considered inappropriate, of how to combine mineral water with human ash to create fully functional bricks ideal for housing. In no time, the cost of building a house was reduced by more than ten percent. With non bNegs with more disposable income now, this meant reduced mortgages and fewer foreclosures. GDP took a huge swing upwards as the construction industry soared again.

 

In some places, bNegs fought tooth and nail for their right to live but even in Russia, where the strongest bNegs were found, the non bNegs simply closed their doors in November and opened them in March. “A winter indoors wins wars” Pravda proudly stated.

 

By 2040, there was an estimated world bNeg population of just 11 million people, easily identifiable and avoided with the B-stamp on the top of their hands, the drugs they had been given caused all their hair to fall out and any means of covering the marking was punishable by transportation. Many of these had aided and abetted the destruction process. Australia had been declared uninhabitable although daring farmers found that the arid soils of the desert lands, once fertilised with the rotting corpses of more than 400 million people, turned it into one of the most fertile wheat and cereals production areas in the world. This meant that bread and rice were basically free now to anyone in the world. The top 1% was now the top 7% and everyone, unless they were too lazy not to be, was better off by at least ten percent. The figure of ten percent became the benchmark against which everything was measured, with the idea being that, if it yielded ten percent more, it was worthwhile.

 

Peace was declared on the remaining six million bNegs on the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 2045. One hundred years to the day since the Nazis were quashed, there were no liberators for those still clinging to life. The only rights that they were afforded were those in place just after the initial resolutions preventing them from ownership and positions of responsibility. Most were old and frail, infirm and unable to work anyway, before taking into account the rather ungentlemanly disservice of allowing themselves to be slaves once more. Most just wandered the streets begging, waiting for whatever force had brought them to the planet to take the ailing frames away from it so they could be with their long-departed souls.

 

One day, before the daily visits of the shrine that is now the old lab in Scotland, receiving thousands of visitors a week to give thanks for the sterling work done to cull the Earth’s population, one of the intern scientists stumbles upon a box that looks like it has not seen the light of day in more than thirty years. Inside he found the original formulae and calculations that led to the great discovery that isolated blood group B Negative from the remainder of society and cast them out like dogs into the night. The intern took the papers and returned to his desk. Despite having the most advanced calculation technology on-hand, he, like the scientists involved in the project, preferred to do his calculations by hand.

 

Most of it was fairly standard up to the point of the DNA strand, then it is when theories began to diverge and the calculations seemed to be askew. He went through them twice and gave out an exclamation that was not exactly befitting of the discovery: “Gosh, it was never B Negative”. He repeated the calculations and looked at the demographic figures, at no time in history had there been 9% of the population with B Negative blood, rarely had it exceeded three. It seemed that the group had been chosen at random to begin the elimination process of all carriers of that type. He found the names on the header and checked them against the records. The findings were signed and approved by the deputy head of the unit, without the approval of the Chief Researcher, a man, it turned out, who spent his whole time trying to belittle the deputy. The Chief was relieved of his duties soon after, his medical examination stating his blood group as being B Negative. On the back page, a message was written in biro that said, “you’ll be fools to believe all this” PLM 2019, and a second message “that’s why it’s so believable” RKC 2038.

 

Cu-tah Than Shakira

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

This story is meant to be about someone who was determined to be taken away by aliens. The idea is that he was a hick before they got to him and became more lucid and intelligent as they did their work on him.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be abducted.

 

Maybe I should specify that I mean by aliens. This planet’s not for me and from what I have seen of it from my vantage point in Price, Utah, the great beyond doesn’t seem all that great from Google Earth. I have a friend who was on his way to Salt Lake City but got to Provo and turned back, I think that tells you enough about our dumb bowl to launch a call out to the stratosphere, donthch’all think?

 

At school I knew I was done for something beyond this planet. I tried to get on with the other kids, but it was like they was speaking another language, I still remember a nerdy guy telling to not split infinitives, I never did find out what he was on about. All I know is that he now lives in a trailer-park and I make seven-fifty an hour after tax at Walmart. I’d say I split him good.

 

The noises came at night. When I was 12 it was hell in school. I couldn’t concentrate, and the others laughed at me. I recognise now telling them that when my alien friends finally made it to Earth they would zap them with the old ray gun was not pretty dumb even by my standards. It was only when the noises came to me, exclusively to me, well then, I knew that it would be worth my while to ride out the time on this lowly planet. They would see the real me.

 

Now I am back and can write this story. The first part I couldn’t do because before they took me, I could barely write me name. The second part I couldn’t do because they hadn’t taken me yet and I didn’t have a story. Oh jeez, I sure am come a long way since that hick went up in the spacecraft!

 

My psychologist (who has now offered to be my editor and publisher) told me to structure the story. I’m better now at words, what does she call it? Letterate? But I still have troubles. You gotta see that I was just some dumb kid that the system failed to look after, the Utah school board couldn’t see my potential, but the guys from the sky did.

 

They came for me on the day of my eighteenth birthday. Mom threw a party, but nobody came. Not even my sister came, jeez I hoped she would be first against the wall when the ray guns were primed. As I ate my cake alone in the kitchen (I am not allowed to eat in the living room, anyway that is where Mom and Pop’s friends were celebrating my birthday), the lights came. I had always hoped for something like that scene in Close Encounters, even the screws undoing out of the grate, but there was just a light, the living room door opened I could see the others, frozen, like a photo, then a hand came out and asked me “D’ya wanna go to space?”.

 

 

Dream Pitch

A shorter version of this was a recent compo winner despite having to be whittled down to 1500 words. This is the full length and unrestricted version that delves deeper into the reasons behind the protagonists’ decision.

 

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

“Ouch that smarts!” He exclaimed as he tried to pick the remote control off the floor. He thought to himself that that was utterly depressing, that he had come to this, plagued by aches with every movement, prescribed medicines for everything he has had, and susceptible to everything he has still managed to avoid.

“You shouldn’t try to overdo things the way you are.” She said. It was not like she was being discouraging, but to some extent, every pang of pain that shot through his body seemed to be transmitted to hers. Sometimes she bemoaned her good health, she was almost a decade younger than him, but had never known him as anything other than the energetic firebrand that turned her world inside out.

“I’ll try a bit of that soup if I may.” His voice almost whimpered out the request. Where was the voice that boomed? Consumed, like the rest of him. She went towards the kitchen but was interrupted by the sound of the intercom.

“Nobody knows we’re here, do they?” She asked. “Nobody, hardly nobody, I mean, knows just how bad you are, do they?” She asked with that look.

“I have followed yours and the doctor’s orders.” He smiled.

She picked up the intercom and looked over to him. “It’s George.” She said, giving him that look again.

“I didn’t tell him.” He said as she left.

She returned a few moments later followed by George and told them she would leave them to it. He was not sure what was going on, maybe his medicine was causing him to hallucinate but that was not George. He hadn’t actually seen him for a couple of years, but people don’t change that much.

George, sat down and made himself at home.

“It’s good to see you. Well, let me rephrase that. It isn’t. You look dreadful. That is because you are two days away from death. Never an easy piece of information to digest so I like to get it out there without fuss. You’re not a well man, but I have an offer for you that I would like you to consider. All ears?” George said.

He knew that he should not listen to this imposter, but something told him to give the guy a listen, the way he felt at that moment, two days seemed like an awful lot to bear. He nodded to the man, who continued.

“I can offer you another five years. Pain free, illness free, exactly five years. But there is a catch. The world will believe you will be dead in forty-eight hours, only your wife will know that you are still here, and only she will be able to see you. The offer is on the table for the next two hours. I assume you have some questions, I will grant you three.” George smiled at the man.

 

The Stuck Home Syndrome

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.

 

 

 

“Go to your bedroom!” I said it in that voice I know he hates, the mocking one, he hates it because he thinks it doesn’t sound like him. I love it for just the opposite reason. When you’re 8, and there are enemies everywhere, victories like this can mean the world.

 

I throw a tennis ball against the wall for a bit, knowing that that will cause him to sprint up the stairs to extend my punishment. That’s what he thinks. That’s what they both think. An extension of my punishment. Here, in my palace. Twelve square metres filled with all the dreams in a child’s head. Outside the door are simply all the nightmares that dreams cannot vanquish. (I got that word from a comic.)

 

I thought about escape a while back. Escape where, though? Could I make it to Leeds and my Aunt Mabel? Would she take me in if I got there? If she did, some snooping neighbour would blow the whistle on us and turn me in. Back here. I used to fear the blows. Not now. The blows are honest. That expression of hatred for my existence is as honest as you will find. Now, it’s the caresses that I fear. Hatred dressed in lies. She hits, he caresses. Then they both hit. Then my older brother hits.

 

At least when he is angry his mind never wanders to that facet of his persona. I wonder if there is anyone in today? It’s a right stinker, so I doubt that they will be out. Just a quick peak under the bed.

 

“Hey guys!” I whisper. I don’t want them downstairs catching my secret friends.

 

“Those downstairs.” A voice replies. It’s Gruffle! “I have a message for you from the others. They want you to meet them at the end of the garden. Take a coat and your gloves.”. And with that he was off through the crack in the wall. Today was no day for sneaking out into the garden but then I thought, I can’t actually get in any more trouble than I am in. They can’t give me any more pain than this, so what will happen if I meet the guys? You might think they are monsters and ghouls, but to me they are a brilliant new world.

 

I try the door and it’s locked. Boo, that’s not sporting. The drainpipe it would be then. The last time I had to shimmy, Gruffle, Snuffle, Trushle and Mushle were all waiting below to catch me if I lost my footing. This time I would be alone. I stuffed my gloves into my pocket and climbed out onto the ledge. Looking down, I reminded myself not to look down. I got half way down and lost my grip, I’m only slight (they see to that) yet the drainpipe feels like it is coming away with me. Down we go. That hurts.

 

I’m not knocked out. I know that, but it hurts. There is no sign of Gruffle or anyone else. But a voice does ring out. “You alright, lad?” I can’t place the voice, but it sounds local. Then again, I have never been anywhere so maybe it’s hard to tell. “That needs looking at.” He continues. “Mike here is a doctor, come with us.” My parents always told me not to go with strangers, despite being the strangest people I had ever met. I could make out the figure of my brother in the kitchen, if he saw me, it would be much worse. I decided to go with Mike, the doctor.

 

We got into a car that was waiting just a few doors down and drove off. This could be quite an adventure. I thought it was odd when we got to their house that Mike had still not spoken. Nor had either of them taken off their hats, what were they called again, the ones that cover everything except the eyes? Despite the central heating being on full blast. It was nice inside. Not like my house. It smelt clean. The man who helped me up brought me a glass of milk and some biscuits, chocolate digestives! The last time I had one of those, my brother licked off the chocolate on mine and made me eat the soggy biscuit remains. This was better than Christmas.

 

 

A Man For All Treasons

As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster. 

 

This is an attempt to write a kind of obituary / life-story in one through the setting of the story in a television studio where they interview three people key to the life of a disgraced Italian businessman and politician.

Granada Studios, Subterranean Broadcasting House, March 19th, 2034.

 Female Reporter’s Voice:

 

            If you have had your Newscaster lobe operational these days, there is no way that you will have been able to escape the news of the demise of the former Italian politician, entrepreneur, bon viveur and scandal magnet Enrico Fettuccini, who has died in the Scaloni Prison in Milan aged 81.

 

A man who surely requires no introduction from us and who has historical volumes a plenty devoted to him, but tonight we wanted to provide a different angle on a man who is famous, or should I say infamous, the world over. Yet what we know is often limited to hearsay, exaggerated beyond all belief to accommodate the solely accepted view of Fettuccini being the devil’s representative on the Earth, a man so inherently evil and twisted that he must have been born without a modicum of goodness, manufactured maybe, rather than born. The product of everything that is rotten and wicked in our society. A man who took advantage of everyone and everything that came in his path to create a vast personal fortune and rose to the highest levels of power, only, for when he was brought toppling down, he would return stronger than before, convincing the evermore gullible public that he was repentant, only for his next attack to go further, to hurt deeper. Or have we all missed something? Did he have a message that we failed to comprehend?

 

We have tracked down four people who were close to him in four pivotal periods in his life: A teacher from that harsh childhood riddled with poverty that would shape his drive in later life. His personal assistant from 1981 to 2002, a person who remained loyal in testing times. His second wife, and lastly, his cellmate, the latter being the only person in whom he confided in the final years of his life.

 

With these testimonies, the aim is to create a fuller account of a man about whom millions and millions of words have been written, andwhose real modus operandi has been interpreted by every historical commentator and occupants of bars since the early eighties.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you. The Real Enrico Fettuccini.

 

 

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