Piper in Hazmat (the whole thing)

I’m having a subdued Christmas. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that my father died suddenly on February 14th this year. Well, his brother, my uncle and godfather, died in the early hours of Christmas eve. Yes, they knew how to make an impactful exit. This wasn’t sudden, he had been declining due to cancer for most of the year. The really harsh part is that he’s in Wales, I’m in Scotland so can’t go to the funeral.

Even if I were to get past Wee Nippy’s border guards and into Wales by crossing Offa’s Dyke at night on foot, the Drakeonian restrictions in Wales mean I won’t be able to visit my mother or my auntie or indeed most of the rest of the family. Only 20 are allowed at funerals, and this uncle had five children, all grown up now with grown up children of their own. His immediate family might not all be able to go, and that’s before we get to his surviving brother and sisters. It must be absolute hell to have to make the choice.

Well, it’s happened. No going back now. I had sent a copy of Coronamas because he always enjoyed these anthologies. It arrived the day before he died. I don’t know if he had time to read any of it though.

So I’ll just post this here. It’s the story I put in Coronamas and if he didn’t get to read it, maybe some ethereal internet connection will let him see it now.

Piper in Hazmat

Dawn wiped away her tears before they could freeze. It had been three years and yet the pain burned as bright as ever. She stifled a sob and kept her head bowed. Tree respect was nearly over and she would return home alone, to spend this Earth Day’s Eve night in darkness.

This year, again, she considered ending it. It would be so easy. Refuse to turn off the house. Keep a tablet or phone open. Wait for the bells and let Santa take her as he had taken Willow, and six years before that, Martin. She would be with them in spirit, somewhere, if the old religions replaced by the Green God still had any power. At least the pain would stop.

That’s what the old religions promised. The Green God promised nothing but despair, the burning of this planet now deep in snow and ice. The trees were dormant, having shed their leaves for their long winter sleep and yet the news declared that the planet was warming by the hour.

Dawn gasped when the klaxon sounded. Relieved, she turned and headed for home. Maybe she could simply not bother with her preparations and let the cold take her this year, as it took so many others. Mostly the old, but then it did also take some of the young, even some of those younger than Dawn’s thirty years.

Lost in her depression, she didn’t notice June draw alongside her as she walked. Normally the families maintained social distance and respectful silence on Earth Day’s Eve. Everyone was too intent on getting home for one last hot meal before turning all the power off to be bothered with any idle chit-chat anyway. June’s whisper startled her.

“Dawn. We need to talk.”

Dawn shook her head and whispered back. “Do you want us both on the Naughty List? We have to maintain tree respect this day.” She kept her eyes firmly ahead.

June’s breathing was harsh. “They’ve made something worse than Green Santa. The Piper. They plan to take all the children.”

Dawn curled her lip. “They’ve taken my husband and my child. Why would this be any of my business?”

June stayed silent until they were nearly at Dawn’s house. Then she took a breath. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I know you’re going through a living hell but we need you.” She pressed something into Dawn’s hand. Something that ticked. “It’s not electronic so Santa won’t see it. It’s mechanical. Watch it after you turn off the house. When the thick long hand has moved halfway around the dial, and if you want to help us, open your front door and put a LEDlight outside.”

Dawn turned, but June was already receding into the growing darkness. She opened her door and dashed inside.

The door closed, her back pressed against it, Dawn stared at the small metal disc in her hand. Behind its flattened clear dome were three pointed sticks, radiating from the centre. A long one, a short one and a very thin one that rotated around the centre as she watched. There were numbers, one to twelve, around the outside of the dial.

It moves. Is it really not electronic? Is this a trap?

Dawn chuckled, a harsh and desolate sound. It really didn’t matter. She wanted an end to her personal hell anyway so if it was a trap she’d gladly walk into it. It took the decision to end it from her hands, it meant she didn’t have to choose.

In the kitchen, Dawn placed the disc thing on the table and switched on the kettle. She’d try, although she didn’t really want to, to fill enough hot water flasks to last the twenty-four hours of Earth Day. She set the soup on the hob, the last hot meal until sunset tomorrow, and remembered how she had taken the tepid leftovers when Willow was still here. Now the hot soup was all hers and it tasted of loss and despair.

Dawn filled two hot water bottles and three Thermos flasks with hot water before the brown-out started. She filled the fourth with half of the soup and sat to eat the rest at the table. Through the kitchen window, she saw the sun touch the horizon. She ate faster, soon it would be time to shut down the house and wrap up as well as she could for the long dark hours ahead.

Her gaze fell to the strange disc June had given her. It had protrusions either side, as if it was once fixed to something. As she ate, Dawn wondered where it had come from. It looked old, tarnished and scratched and yet whatever mechanism lay inside still worked. The thin stick in the dial moved in jerky steps, round and round. She was to wait until the long thick one moved halfway round the dial, after she turned off the house.

It’s a time measuring device of some kind. Dawn blinked a few times. A memory tried to resurface. Had her grandfather had one of these, or something like it, strapped to his wrist? The Great Cull had taken him while she was still a child, the viral plague that had wiped out many of the elderly. She sniffed and took another spoonful of soup. The four-digit clocks were so much easier to read, this little time measuring thing looked like hard work.

The soup finished, Dawn checked on the sun. Only a tiny arc of its disc now showed on the horizon. She sighed and rose. Time to turn off the house. Technically she had a few more minutes but what was the point? The electricity was now so low that the ceiling light seemed to suck light out of the room rather than illuminate it. She switched on a LEDlight and opened the panel for the power.

This was control. Martin had told her. They could turn off the power remotely through the smart meters but that wasn’t real control. Making everyone turn off their own power, that was real control. Dawn reached into the space behind the panel and pulled down the handle. The house fell silent. The pale bluish glow of the LEDlight was all that remained.

Dawn sat at the kitchen table and considered the tiny device June had given her. She was to wait until the ‘thick long hand’ had moved halfway around the dial then put a LEDlight outside her door. Well, assuming she gave enough of a shit to find out what this was all about.

What do I have to lose? Nothing.

The thin stick continued its rotations. The short fat one didn’t seem to have moved much. It pointed at just below the three. The one she was to watch pointed at the six. So she was to put out a LEDlight when it pointed at twelve. Dawn wondered how long that would take. The hell with it. I have to get some layers of clothing on. It’s already getting cold. She placed the little dial on the table and went off to the bedroom with the LEDlight.

Wrapped in multiple layers of clothing against the growing cold, with one hot water bottle in her bed and the other under her clothing, Dawn returned to the kitchen. She carried three extra LEDlights since her first one was already fading. There was not enough sunlight to charge them at this time of year. Should she really waste one by putting it outside her door?

The long fat stick pointed at eight. So she hadn’t missed whatever awaited her this night. Dawn tried to care, she tried very hard, but three years of being alone weighed heavy on her. If it was to end tonight, let it end.

Why twelve? There were twenty hours in a day, a hundred minutes in an hour and fifty seconds in a minute. Dawn had a vague recollection that it had been different and harder to understand when she was small but it was so easy to calculate now. Hardly any thought required. What was this little dial measuring? Transfixed, she watched the movements within the little dial, tracking the motion of the one that led to a decision. Would she agree to June’s request or ignore it?

Nine. Halfway to twelve. Dawn walked to the window and shivered at the moonlit whiteness outside. Every house, well, every box-shaped dwelling, all identical, all dark… it looked dead out there. She held her breath and listened but could hear no bells. Nobody around here was on the naughty list tonight, so far. Dawn glanced back at the table. So June had told her the truth. The tiny dial wasn’t electronic or she’d be hearing sleigh bells by now. The Green Santa wasted no time when dealing with the naughty ones.

Dawn hugged herself and returned to the table. The LEDlight was almost dead. She switched on another. These tiny solar-charged lights were the only electronics permissible on this night. Dawn picked up the little dial. Its ticking seemed louder now that all other sound was silenced.

Ten. Getting close to decision time. Was she going to put a light outside or just ignore June’s hinted rebellion and go to bed? The short stick had moved a little closer to four. That one must measure hours, June thought, although it seemed a little off. Still, it was hardly bedtime but what else was there to do now?

What was it June had said? The Piper will come for the children? Dawn closed her eyes. There was a tiny hint of childhood memory trying to get through, something about a piper who took children away. Vague, fleeting memories of a story one of her grandparents – she couldn’t remember which one – had read to her when she was small. Something about Hamlet… no, that was a white supremacy thing she had learned about in school. Piper of Hammering? Piper with a Pie? Dawn shook her head. It was too long ago, far too long. Even so, she was sure she remembered a story about a piper who took away children.

She opened her eyes and stared at the dial in her hand.

Eleven. Not much time left to decide. Should she base her future, or possible lack of it, on a vague memory of a children’s story? Dawn pursed her lips. They had corrupted Santa. Changed him from the old jolly fat smoking and drinking guy who gave away presents into the New Green Santa, who was lithe and fast and Pure, and who gave nothing but took away the Naughty Ones. It was not so much of a stretch to believe they had found another childhood icon to corrupt.

June was right about the little dial. It moved without electronics. Mechanical, she called it. Dawn turned it in her fingers and wondered what was inside, what powered it. It was certainly very old. Did the ancients have some knowledge that was now lost to the modern world? Or was it an elaborate trick? Dawn placed it on the table and watched as the thin stick made a complete revolution and the long fat one clicked one notch further. It can’t be electronic or Green Santa would be here now. June had told the truth, even if Dawn couldn’t work out why it was true.

So maybe June also told the truth about the Piper. The long fat stick was close to the twelve. Dawn took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

She had lost her husband and only child. Now this Piper thing was coming for other children. Should she care? Should she help? Or should she continue in her slide into despair and let the rest of the world suffer as she had?

Dawn pushed her seat away from the table and stood. “What the Hell do I have left to lose?” she said aloud. “I can wither away and die or go down in a blaze. Maybe I won’t be any use but I can face whatever god there might be and say that I tried.”

The hand was still one minute from twelve when she put the LEDlight outside her door.

Wrapped in as much as she could wear, with a hot water bottle among the clothes at her midriff, Dawn slumped over the kitchen table. Should she go to bed? Was the signal she had placed intended to get a response tonight or tomorrow? She exhaled. Her breath condensed in the air over the LEDlight on the table.

Damn, it’s cold tonight. What, if anything, is going to happen? Dawn picked up the little dial, now ice cold. It ticked away as if immune to the falling temperatures. The short fat stick had passed the twelve and the long fat one pointed at four. Dawn wished she could remember how to understand its measurement of time. She was sure her grandfather had taught her when she was a child, but the digital clocks were so much easier. She had forgotten this old and faded mechanism entirely until now.

She turned the little machine in her fingers. Its ticking brought comfort and terror. The regular tick-tick-tick was like a heartbeat but those beats ticked time away. Every tick, another moment lost to the past. How many are left?

Dawn shook her head. Don’t think that way. There might be millions more ticks to come. But… did she want them?

Tap-tap-tap.

Dawn straightened in her chair and stared at the little dial.

Tap-tap-tap.

It took her a moment to realise the sound came not from the dial but from her own door. Someone was knocking, very softly.

Dawn moved to the door and opened it a crack. Outside, the LEDlight gave a faint bluish grow, the dying embers of its limited charge. There was a figure, wrapped against the cold. Dawn squinted, unsure whether to speak.

“It’s me.” The voice identified the figure as June. “Pack a bag, light, only absolute essentials and absolutely no electronics. Not even a LEDlight. Bring any hot water you might have left. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“June? You want me to abandon my home?” Dawn recoiled at the thought. Outside, on Earth Day, in the depths of winter? Nobody survives out there.

“It’s no more a home than anyone else’s. We own nothing, Dawn. These are not homes, they are boxes to store us in until it’s time to work. They have taken everything from us. Now they will even take our children.” June’s head moved from side to side. “We have to get the hell out, now.” She took a step back. “Ten minutes.”

“How will I know?” Dawn asked. “The power is off, none of the clocks work.”

“The answer is in your hand.” June gestured at the little dial, still in Dawn’s grip. “What does the long wide hand point to?”

Dawn glanced down. “It is between four and five.”

“I will come back when it is between six and seven. Hurry.” June turned and disappeared into the night.

Dawn closed the door and stared at the little dial. It brought memories.

The grandfather she had never hugged. It was the time of the plague, but she had been too small to understand. Her grandfather died without ever feeling her touch, nor she his. They had talked across a room and later through plexiglass. He had showed her this little dial – no, not like this one. His was a little larger and held on a long chain. It had a lid that popped open. She remembered she always wanted to touch it, she had left tiny fingerprints on the plexiglass when reaching for it.

She remembered it resting in his large and calloused hand, his face smiling and tearful through wrinkled skin. He wanted to give it to her, she felt it inside, he wanted her to have his… watch. That was it. It was called a watch. And the chain. The silver chain he kept it on. Memories burst a dam in her mind.

It was her father who had one of these on his wrist. Before he was drafted into the antivirus wars. She was maybe seven or eight when that happened. Then they moved to this box she called ‘home’ and she met and married Martin. Then her mother died of the plague too. Her father, well, she never heard what became of him.

Ah, the plague. It was the reason nobody saw death any more. All the sick were isolated, to die alone. The young were insulated from the horrors of death until, like her daughter, they had no idea what it meant at all. If Willow had seen death, she might have been more careful. She might not have been taken by Santa that night.

It wasn’t about her grandfather’s watch. She understood now, after all this time. It wasn’t the watch. He had just wanted to hug her, even just make one tiny physical contact. Handing over the watch would have meant their hands touched and they never, not once, experienced even that. All because of someone he regularly called ‘a gecko-faced psychotic twat’, whatever that meant.

Dawn’s breath obscured the watch in her hands for a moment. She blinked away tears. The plague was still around even though nobody ever saw anyone die any more. Anyone sick was immediately quarantined and few of them came back. They had to take care.

The long fat hand touched six. Dawn had little time left, but what time did she need? She was already wearing most of her clothes anyway. She hurried to pack spare clothes into a bag, carefully wrapped the remaining flasks of hot water and placed them inside. She was just lacing up the top of the bag when she heard tapping on her door again.

Scarf around her mouth and nose, her coat wrapped tightly around herself, hood up, Dawn opened the door and nodded to the shadowy figure outside. She pulled on her gloves, picked up her bag and stepped out into the night, closing the door softly behind her.

A shiver ran through her body. Not the cold, it wasn’t much colder outside than inside any more. It was the realisation that she had closed the door to her home – her storage box – for the last time. Whatever happened now, her old life was over.

What the hell, it had all gone to shit anyway.

“Come on.” June started walking. “We can’t be outside for too long. Santa is out tonight and now there’s the Piper to worry about too.”

Dawn started to ask where they were going, but realised she didn’t actually care. They were going somewhere on a night when nobody should be going anywhere. Unauthorised exit from her own home. Associating with other people. It felt good. It felt more than good. It felt euphoric. Dawn grinned beneath her scarf. If Santa caught her tonight, this feeling, this fleeting delight, something she thought she would never again experience… it was worth it.

“Did you remember my watch?” June inclined her head.

“It’s in my pocket.” Dawn hoped June didn’t want it right now. It would mean unbuttoning her coat.

“Good. Those are very hard to come by nowadays. That one was my father’s.” June continued walking.

If only my grandfather could have given me his watch. I could have worked out how to use it by now. Dawn shook herself. This was not a good time to let misery intrude. This was a new life. She had already broken the law, what further excitement could the night bring?

They passed many identical tiny houses, all shrouded in darkness. Occasionally the remnants of a glowing LEDlight could be discerned through thin curtains but most of those would have long since run out of their feeble solar charge tonight.

“Here we are.” June stopped in front of a large building.

Dawn squinted, but the darkness around it was complete. It didn’t seem to be a house. She recognised it at last as the derelict barn on the edge of town. Nobody ever went there. It wasn’t safe. Dawn took a step back.

June seemed to sense her fear. “It’s okay. We’ve spent many years putting around rumours about this place. It’s perfectly safe really.” She tapped three times on the door.

There was a pause before the door opened, just a crack.

“It’s June and Dawn.” June pulled down the scarf covering her face and motioned to Dawn to do the same. Their breath plumed in the icy air.

The door opened and they walked into total darkness. Once the door closed, several LEDlights came on.

Dawn gasped. The barn had at least thirty people in it! An indoor gathering of this size had never been legal as far as she could remember. And there were children too. All silent, adults and children alike, all staring at her. Some she recognised, others she did not.

A woman approached her with a girl who looked to be about ten. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Jasmine. This is my daughter April. She was a friend of Willow’s.”

Tears rolled from Dawn’s eyes. April was the friend Willow had spoken of often. Her best friend. They were only allowed three friends in school. April and Willow had been besties.

April stepped forward and took Dawn’s hand. Another law broken. The touch of other people’s children was forbidden. Dawn curled her fingers around April’s and held tight. This is what it would have felt like to be holding Willow’s hand now.

“I’m—” Dawn choked on the words. “I’m afraid Willow isn’t coming back. Santa took her.”

“I know.” April’s lip trembled. “And now the Piper is coming to take us all.”

“Not all.” The voice came from a man who now stood within coughing distance of Dawn. Unmasked. Yet another law broken.

Dawn’s head reeled. What was this? How did she go from obedient worker to renegade in a matter of hours? She felt April’s fingers tighten and tightened her own in response.

The man put his hand on her shoulder. “I am Sanjay. Jasmine’s husband and April’s father.” He smiled down at the girl. “We had a better name for her, one more in keeping with our traditions, but that was no longer allowed. The Church of the Green God decided the list of names we could use. Still, she is our daughter and we love her.” He turned his smile on Dawn. “We have to run if we are to keep our children. We need you to come with us.”

“Run where? And why me? I’m no hero.” Dawn stared into his eyes, knowing she would agree to anything if she could hold a ten year old hand and close her eyes and pretend it was Willow.

“You know more than you have ever said.” June pushed her hood back. “There have been hints in conversations, times when you have stopped short in discussion. There is knowledge in you, and we don’t have much of that.” She laughed, a short harsh sound. “Those in charge have made sure of it. You know more than we do about how this world works. We need you.”

Dawn lowered her eyes. They met April’s, who stared up at her, filled with hope.

I know what Martin told me, and he told me to never tell anyone else. Did I leak it without realising? I can’t have or Santa would have taken me by now. Martin knew so much, he saw through the veil of lies. Is that why they took him?

“Perhaps it’s time the truth came out.” Dawn gasped at the words. Her thoughts had become sounds.

“Perhaps it’s too late.” Sanjay patted her shoulder. “Or perhaps just in time. Time will tell.”

Another man stepped forward. He nodded at Dawn. “I am Leif. Time is not on our side. There is a place we can go, unused now but we can make it liveable. We have to go tonight while most power is off. It will not be hard to track us if we have any electronics so we will take no LEDlights, we will walk by moonlight.”

April tugged Dawn’s hand. “They say that you have heard the bells. Is it true?”

Dawn shivered. “Yes. It’s true.”

A murmur ran around the room. Nobody who hears the bells should survive. Sanjay licked his lips, stood back and turned his gaze away.

June put her arm around Dawn’s waist and squeezed. “Help us, Dawn. We need you.”

Dawn looked from one to the other, at the room of hopeful eyes, and made the only decision she could make. There was no going back now.

“Yes,” she said. “But first I have to know where we are going.”

Leif pursed his lips. “There is an old windfarm—”

“No.” Dawn raised her hand. “They revive the windfarms when they can. We need a solar farm. Those are no use at this time of year so they are never checked and they will have more recent facilities.”

Leif and Sanjay looked at each other and nodded. “She was a good choice,” Sanjay said. Leif nodded.

“There’s another thing,” Dawn said. “All those sites, wind or solar, are bristling with cameras. There’s no way to get in or out undetected.”

Leif smiled and motioned a small woman forward. “This is Holly. She works in a monitoring station, watching the cameras. Holly?” Leif stood back to give her space.

Holly cleared her throat. “At least half of the cameras don’t work. More are so grainy they’re no real use. Nobody bothers fixing them because there’s no need. Everyone is so used to thinking they’re being watched all the time that they just act as if they’re always watched. So there’s no longer any need for constant surveillance. The presence of the cameras is enough. The fact that so many of them are out of order is kept very quiet.” She glanced around. “Nobody outside this room can ever know I’ve told you this. I’d certainly be sent to the Farm.”

“Of course.” Dawn looked around at the expectant faces. “Do you know which ones aren’t working?”

“Yes.” Sanjay pulled out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. “This is a map of the area showing where the dead cameras are. We can avoid the live ones on the way to the wind farm, but we’ll need another route if we’re going to the solar installation.”

Dawn looked over the map. “The easiest way is to head for the wind farm and turn off here.” She pointed at the map. “This is just a dirt track, my husband took me there once when he showed me round his job, maintaining the wind and solar installations.”

Holly examined the map. “No cameras for a couple of miles. We’d have to watch for drone patrols but they aren’t common outside the towns.”

Sanjay and Leif conferred briefly. Sanjay addressed the room in a hushed voice.

“Okay, get a few hours of sleep. We won’t be able to show any lights so we leave as soon as the sun starts to rise. The power won’t come back on until tomorrow night so everyone else will stay huddled up at home, and the lack of activity in our own houses won’t be unusual until nightfall. By then we should be a good distance away.”

Amid murmurs and whispers and the occasional sound of a hot water bottle being emptied and refilled, the people settled into a large huddle.

Dawn caught Sanjay’s arm as he turned to leave. “Where are we going? We can’t stay at the solar farm for long. What destination do you have in mind?”

Sanjay pursed his lips and stared at the ground for a moment. He took a breath. “We don’t know. Holly has told us that the cameras only go so far out. We can get to the wilderness where there are no cameras and try to eke out some kind of existence.” He forced a smile. “We haven’t had time to really think about it. It would be better to go in summer, sure, but this is the only time the power is off. It’s the only time we can go without our absence being noticed for several hours.” His smile slipped. “Also, if we wait, they’ll take our children. There’s been no time to really plan anything beyond getting out of here.”

Dawn considered this. It had been a rushed decision because of the Piper. “I understand,” she said. “We can make plans when we get to the solar farm. There’s a kind of museum there, or maybe just storage. Martin showed me round it. Old vehicles, the ones that used to run on fossil fuels. They even had some fuel stored there. There are electric cars too, they use them to get around the farm. We might as well add theft to our list of crimes.” She smiled.

Sanjay grinned widely. “Oh June was so right to bring you in. You’re going to be so valuable to us.”

“I hope so. We can steal some tools and medical supplies while we’re there. Might as well go all the way, eh?”

Sanjay slapped her arm. “Wonderful. Better get some sleep though, there’s only a few hours till sunrise. If you want to refill a hot water bottle, there’s a drain over there you can empty cold water into.”

It was indeed getting chilly, despite the body heat of all these people. Dawn unbuttoned her coat and took out the hot water bottle nestled inside. She reached for her bag and stopped, remembering something. Delving into her pocket she brought out the watch, still ticking the moments into the past.

“June,” she said, handing over the watch. “Thank you. We might not last long on this adventure but it’s so much better than the gloom I was facing.”

June chuckled. “You underestimate the determination of these people. We’ve been very careful in who we’ve chosen. We had to be so, so careful not to bring in anyone who might betray us and there are so very many of those.”

Dawn bit her lip. She had had to bite her lip many times in the past, when talking to neighbours. That certain look in the eye, the incline of the head, sent a message that told her they were waiting for a misstep, a word out of place, something they could report and improve their standing with the authorities. June was right, there were so very many of them. She looked around the room, darker now that most of the LEDlights had been extinguished. That’s why there are so few here. It can be hard to know who to trust.

She said goodnight to June and went to the drain Sanjay had pointed at. Here she emptied her hot water bottle and refilled it from one of the flasks in her bag. She toyed with the idea of discarding the empty flask but it might be useful again one day, and it didn’t weigh very much empty. She put it back in her bag.

Hot water bottle under her buttoned coat, she curled up at the edge of the group, near the wall. The wind cut through a gap in the boards, so she placed her bag against it and drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Dawn woke to a pale light that gave no heat. She was aware of low murmurings and soft movements around her. For a moment she wondered who was in her house, then recalled the events of the night before. She opened her eyes.

Leif knelt beside her, his finger over his lips. Then she heard the scream.

It came from outside. When Leif moved away, Dawn moved her bag away from the crack in the boards. Outside, on someone’s doorstep, two people in Hazmat suits were forcing a child into a smaller one. The child’s parents struggled against the police holding them.

“It’s for your safety.” The shouted words came to her across the cold morning air. “And your child’s. Just relax. Be calm. Panic makes you more susceptible to the virus. Your child will be safe with us.”

“My baby!” The cry cut Dawn to the heart.  She knew how that mother felt. Her darker side knew that that particular mother would have delighted in turning her in for wrongthink, but even so, the pain in that cry was so deep, so visceral, it blew away any other consideration.

“I didn’t think they would move so fast.” Sanjay’s whisper made Dawn jump. He ran his lips over his teeth. “Although it makes sense. Today, Earth Day, nobody can use their phone to warn others what’s coming.” He closed his eyes. “This is bad. They’ll find out we’re not at home in a matter of minutes. I had hoped we’d have hours of head start but we’re going to be running right from the beginning.”

Dawn blinked away her tears. “Get used to it,” she said. “We’re going to be running for the rest of our lives.” She glanced behind her at the children huddled with their parents. “Probably for generations.”

____

This follows from ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’. The next one, probably next Christmas, will connect to ’23-David and 81-Mohammed’ to complete that sequence.

Coronamas

It’s loaded. Two authors were still to respond to the final PDF but I checked over their stories and found nothing wrong. If there are changes required I can upload an updated version later. It’s now only 11 days to Christmas and this one has been hit with far too many delays already. The print book can take a couple of days to show up, although it’s usually faster. I hope it’s online in time for Christmas, it’ll fill someone’s stocking if they remember to take the feet out first.

Smashwords is of course instant – but it might not get premium status. There is quite a procedure for multi-author books and Smashwords hasn’t really been all that big an income for any of the single author books from their expanded distribution this year. So I won’t get too tense about it. It’s not as if these anthologies make any money anyway.

I was surprised at how fast the Kindle version went live. It was a couple of hours! It’s not normally that fast. The print book has to be manually checked at Amazon’s end so will take a bit longer. Hopefully not much longer.

Okay, this looks like a wrap for this anthology. The next one will come up around Easter time and I hope to be able to type without a splint on my left hand by then. It’s definitely improving but that could be because the splint doesn’t let it move.

I will need to think up another Moros story for the spring anthology. He’s in full view now. Masks do nothing useful, that’s been proved. The asymptomatic are not spreading the virus, that’s been proved. So you now have a virus so deadly you have to take a test to see if you have it, then take a vaccine that’s more dangerous than the virus and this deadly and all-permeating virus is killed by plain old soap.

And yet everyone is still terrified. The KGB were right. Scare people for a few months and they won’t accept proof that there is really nothing to be scared of. Moros must be laughing his arse off.

Mad Hancock was not crying on TV. He was laughing. Penis Morgan’s terror must have delighted him and his puppet masters. I’ve seen videos of ‘vaccinations’ that do not include a disinfecting swab before the needle goes in and even one injected through a sleeve. I mean, come on, William Shakespeare from Stratford was the first? Do they have to rub salt into your eyes before you see the piss-take happening?

I’ve had many, many vaccinations in my career in the microbiology of infectious diseases. I am not taking this one.

Whether you do is entirely your choice.

Just be sure to read the book before you die.

Progress

All author contracts are in, the PDF of the whole thing is assembled and sent to authors for final final checks. The Christmas book shouldn’t be long now. As long as I haven’t screwed up.

I have also obtained a proper wrist splint. This is far better than the elastic bandage because it allows no wrist movement at all. Typing with that hand is like pecking at the keyboard with error prone sticks but it’s still better than doing it all one handed. It means I can last longer between rests. Arnica cream also seems to help, it might be a pure placebo effect but it hurts less so I’ll take it.

Anyway, here’s the contents page for those wondering what’s in the book. It contains a high proportion of dark Christmas tales which seems appropriate for Anthology 13 and the ridiculous restrictions curently imposed on us due to Chinese play-acting and the Mad Hancock’s delight in power. There are some proper gentle ones in there too. It’s also 50/50 on male/female authors this time so nobody can complain about discrimination.

Foreword          H.K. Hillman

Stog Gayle Fidler

Death Tries Something Different Mark Ellott

Cancelling Nicholas .Mark Ellott

The Fly Margo Jackson

Merced Daniel Royer

When Those Gang Members Celebrated Christmas    Daniel Royer

Burning Injustice Emma Townsend

Adam and Eve’s Day Johnathan Martin

Christmas for Two? Marsha Webb

The Nest Marsha Webb

And I Weep Like a Child for the Past Stephen W. Duffy

Not All Ghosts .Stephen W. Duffy

Christmas Death Wish Roo B. Doo

Piper in Hazmat H.K. Hillman

Afterword Roo B. Doo

Two authors independently came up with talking animals. another two gave very, very different renditions of when Santa met Death and a further two provided different versions of rebellious Santa elves. It’s developed into a very interesting book indeed.

Santa is coming…

Book assembly is under way. Waiting for two author contracts but the rest are in, those who wanted cash payments are mostly paid (one wants part books and part cash, that’s a legitimate option, it’s in the contract) and the stories are formatted ready to assemble the book.

My knackered hand was worse today. I had to take the car for MOT on Monday. It’s an automatic gearbox so the left hand doesn’t have much to do between the start and end of the journey. However, the courtesy car was a manual box. All that gear changing, especially in that very narrow box, did a fair bit of damage. The good news is that my car passed easily, all it cost was the price of the test. I was surprised, it’s been lying idle most of the year and I had expected a few parts to have decayed.

The courtesy car was free, I just had to refill the tank, so I shouldn’t complain but… does it always have to be one of those that looks like the escape pod from a real car? It was so small and low down I was worried about my arse scraping on the road. Emblazoned with decals and adverts, it looked like the sort of car you’d expect 50 clowns to get out of. It really, really didn’t like the road up to the farm. I’m lucky I didn’t rip the bottom out of it.

I only used it to drive home and back to the garage some hours later. It was essential especially now that you aren’t allowed to wait in the garage, and there is no public transport out here. It wasn’t a bad car apart from the feature nagging me to change up a gear when I knew the tight curve we were on was about to go up a steep hill. If I change up here, car, you really won’t thank me.

Still, it’s all over now. and book assembly is under way, which involves mostly copy/paste and mouse work so it can be done one handed. I hope to have the proper splint to replace my strap-on tomorrow. That’s strap-on bandage, you filthy minded swines! It’s getting sweaty and in need of a wash. I should get another one.

I do need those last two contracts though. I can’t publish those stories without them.

It’s developing

My hand still hurts like hell. Apparently I’m supposed to not use it for 48 hours, like that’s even possible at the moment. Still, it is 2020 and it’s also Anthology 13 so I should have expected problems.

I went with ‘Coronamas’ with the tagline ‘This year you’re all on his naughty list’. The cover still has to get a bit more text and likely adjustments but here’s the basic image for the front. It’s covered in lovely red Christmassyness and features Santa. I still might give him glowing eyes.

Okay. Now I have a title I can start putting out contracts. One author left to respond to edits, hopefully won’t be long now but I know she’s very busy.

In other news, I have received my first letter from the NHS about getting me stabbed with flu vaccine. Since there is apparently almost zero flu this year, I will decline. I think it’s just come home to them that by marking up every death as a Covid death, nobody feels the need to get the flu vaccine so now they can’t sell that one. They’re going to force the Covid one, of course. I’ll refuse that too.

Anyway. This anthology is taking longer than I would like but it’s getting there. I’ll start on contracts tomorrow.

Never Mind the Baubles

… here come the Sick Pistols. (thanks to Roo B. Doo for that title).

Well it’s that time again, my hand is still strapped up but it’s beginning to accept short periods of two handed typing. It’s growing back slowly. I have of course imbibed large quantities of painkiller so there might be some digressions.

Fill the wards with those infected, falalalala, lalalala

Tis the season to get tested, falalalala lalalala

*ahem* There is a reason for the madness. I am struggling with a title for the Christmas anthology. I’m thinking a dark cover, the moon in the background with Corona spikes and a silhouette of Santa with glowing eyes. But what to call it? I have been brainstorming with Roo B Doo on this and we haven’t come up with one we both like yet.

The Darkest Christmas

Santa gets the Sack

The Christmas Downgrade

The Disease in Santa’s Sack

Viral Christmas

Coronamas

Track and Trace Santa

Season’s Vaccines

Any more input welcome. I need a title to put on the author contracts. All but two have responded to edits, pretty good since they only went out in the last two days. It’s nearly there now, but I can’t publish without those contracts agreeing to let me – and there needs to be a title on the contract. Nobody sensible would give me an open contract for the amounts I can afford to pay. And I won’t ask them to.

So I need a title soon, I have until the last author responds and on past experience, that’s not likely to be very long. It’s going to be a pretty grim Christmas for those of us who aren’t rich or pompous enough to ignore their own rules, and the title should reflect that. Many of the stories do.

In other news, my daughter’s boyfriend has borrowed one of my slingshots. He has a bet that he can knock over a can at 30 yards with a cactus fired from a slingshot. Well of course I loaned him one of the good ones. This is exactly the sort of thing everyone should be doing. I can’t use them anyway until my hand heals.

I think he’s a good fit for the family.

Grinch time

Busy busy busy…

I and RooBeeDoo are currently editing stories for the Christmas anthology. Has to be quick, it needs to be out later this week in time for the Christmas rush. That’s going to be worse than usual, all post and delivery drivers are overloaded this year.

Also, tonight is the last night of the author payments quarter for Leg Iron Books and there is always one who buys a book in the last five minutes before midnight. Always. So that has to be sorted too.

This anthology has ten authors, thirteen stories. At least it matches Underdog Anthology 13, so that’s not too bad. My story is, naturally, on the dark side… well on the moonlit overcast winter night dark side, if I’m honest… but I’m not alone.

So I will be silent here for a few days.

I did notice, however, that there seems to be a massive debunking of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid. You know, the one that is actually a traditional style vaccine. They are really pushing the autoimmune disease mRNA vaccine and have now admitted that it uses a virus vector for delivery. Well it had to, there’s really no other way to do it.

They claim the vector cannot replicate.

So how did they grow it?

If I absolutely have to have one I’m taking the Oxford one. I am not touching either of the mRNA ones.

I’d rather not have one at all but it’s increasingly looking like that might not be an option.

Out of book limbo

Yes, this place has been through another of its silent periods. I was preparing two books for publication at once. How? Well, both authors had supplied cover images and Cade F.O.N Apollyon stepped in as editor for Ruth’s book. That saved me a lot of time and work.

Now available are Mark Ellott’s ‘A Moment in Time’ and Ruth Bonner’s ‘Just Call Me Roob‘. If you have an Amazon allergy, the ebooks are also on Smashwords. Hopefully they’ll also soon spread to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and more. Most of the rest have, there just seems to be an issue with Underdog Anthologies at Smashwords that’s a pain in the arse – but they make so little I haven’t yet bothered to worry about it.

There are three more I’d like completed before Christmas, plus the Christmas anthology of course. Then I might do something I never imagined I’d do when this all started with the Underdog Anthology in December 2016. Heck, back then I thought I was optimistic to call it Volume 1, and the Christmas book will be number 13! Which would have been a bad numbering sequence, but for 2020 it’s probably quite appropriate.

In December, I might actually need to close to submissions for a few weeks.

Yes, in four years I’ve gone from wondering whether I could find enough authors to fill one slim volume of stories, to actually having to close submissions for a few weeks so I can catch up! I’ll close on December 1st so if you have that massive tome of a fantasy novel spanning ninety generations of elves all set to send, you can still send it. I won’t guarantee to do anything about it before Christmas though, three books and an anthology plus some progress on my own writing means I’ll probably manage to take a half-day off for Christmas day. Well nobody can visit, might as well do something useful with all this time.

I still have to do the three volume annual thing but since I cut all the anthology prices to the bone for the duration of this nonsense, there doesn’t seem to be any hurry. I couldn’t charge more than $1.99 for the eBook version at the moment anyway.

If only all this work made any money. If you’re looking for a surprise stocking filler for Christmas, do take a look at the Leg Iron Books selection. There’s something for everyone (except the Gary Glitters and convicted councillors) in there. The authors will appreciate every penny of royalties, they’ll appreciate it even more if the royalties are more than a pound. Seriously, there’s some talented writers on sale at bargain basement prices over there. I even have a range of my own books in there of varying thicknesses to suit almost any wonky table leg.

Anyway, I have not entirely withdrawn from the real world – well, no more than usual. Today we did manage to visit Son and the grandchildren. Granddaughter is nearly three, her mother worries that the lockdown means she’s not developing social skills. She’s my granddaughter. She has no need of social skills, she just needs blade and crossbow lessons. Grandson is eight weeks old and has already mastered the art of the disapproving scowl. They are both developing perfectly normally. If Billy Gates Gruff wants to mess with this DNA, good luck. You have no idea what you might produce.

This vaccine is really gaining some acolytes. They think it will fix everything. The fact is, this vaccine isn’t a vaccine. It’s going to insert mRNA into your cells to make them produce proteins that are foreign to the body. This is, by any measure, not a good idea. You can pretend that sex is a construct to your five-or-seven-chambered heart’s content but biochemistry – trust me on this – is fixed.

At this point the Vaccine Brigade will call me an anti-vaxxer. I am a retired microbiologist. I have been vaccinated with every legitimate vaccine going. Some that the general public never get offered because they aren’t working with the horrible things I’ve worked with. My children and grandchildren are vaccinated. The only vaccine I have ever refused is flu vaccine because it’s money-making crap. I will definitely refuse the Billy Gates Gruff’s not-a-vaccine.

Real vaccines work like this. You take dead cells or attenuated (they can’t infect) live cells or even just appropriate bits of protein and inject them. Your immune system finds them and says ‘What’s this? What’s all this infecting? We’ll have no trouble here’ followed by ‘This is a local body for local cells, there’s nothing here for you’ and proceeds to wipe them out with antibodies.

The antibody production then declines. This is normal. It does not mean you have lost immunity. It means the immune system doesn’t waste time, protein and energy producing antibodies against something it’s already defeated. It would be like an army going through a battlefield eternally re-shooting the enemy it’s killed. Waste of bullets.

Instead, the immune system cells are able to store the information to make particular antibodies against things they have seen before. They don’t need to make them all the time. When the same pathogen appears, the immune system doesn’t need to go through all the ‘What is this and how do we kill it?’ routine. It just goes ‘Oh yeah, that one. Load up Antibody 73 and get firing, lads’.

The Billy Gates Gruff ‘vaccine’ does not do this. Bear in mind that the immune system recognises antigens – bits of surface material, not whole cells – and destroys the cell carrying them. The entire cell.

So, the Billy Gates Gruff ‘vaccine’ makes your own cells produce surface proteins that your own immune system recognises as foreign. It does not simply block the protein. It kills the cell carrying it. Your own body cells.

This is not a vaccine. This is an autoimmune disease in a syringe. I don’t care if they never let me enter a pub or restaurant or travel on a plane again. Not that we will be able to afford planes once the budget airlines have been wiped out. I am not going to be injected with this monstrosity.

You want to believe it will save you from what has turned out to be a bad flu? Fine. You go ahead. I won’t gloat, I probably won’t be one of the six people allowed to attend your funeral anyway.

You want to call it tinfoil hattery, go ahead. Or get two degrees in an appropriate subject, live through an entire career dealing with infectious disease and retire with a shed filled with lab equipment, like I have, and then maybe you’ll give it some thought.

Or maybe not. Maybe you’re excited to be injected with an experimental not-a-vaccine that claims 90% effectiveness against your own immune system’s 99%. Maybe you really want the aches and headaches of approaching arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Maybe you hate yourself so much that the agonising death of your body, cell by cell, is a delight to be savoured.

You just know it’s going to be called ‘Long Covid’, to get more idiots to take the thing, don’t you?

Meanwhile there is nobody sensible in charge. Boris is the Henpecked Premier, doing whatever his squeeze tells him to even though he must know, deep down, it will utterly destroy the country he was elected to lead.

That other bastion of Western Civilisation, America, seems to have no idea what it’s doing any more. That last election was a farce that would have embarrassed even the EU presidential election. Still nobody knows who won and I think it should be down to a cage fight between Trump and Biden. Go on, America. Election by Thunderdome. Two old fogeys enter, one old fogey leaves.

Maybe we should choose leaders who have a future beyond a rich retirement in the Cayman islands.

It doesn’t matter now. The game is on, Panoptica is approaching reality at a horrifying speed and it’s too late to stop it. Like climate change. It’s happening, it can’t be stopped, it’s not going the way they think it’s going and it’s adapt or die.

Darwin was right about that. It’s not evolution unless we turn into White Walkers. It’s adaptation.

We’ve done it before.

The big question is… how many of us have the guts to do it again?

Piper in Hazmat: Part One

Busy here, now five full books going through the process and also the Christmas anthology. Still I managed to get started on a tale for Christmas myself. This one will form part of Panoptica and fits between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle‘ and ‘23-David and 81-Mohammed‘.

This isn’t the whole thing. Just the first half. It’ll probably get some editing too, once it’s complete. It’s being rushed out now because of something that’s happening in Liverpool.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The story is set in the future of course – I had hoped in the far future, but it seems the future is coming faster than I anticipated. Well, here we go…

Piper in Hazmat

Dawn wiped away her tears before they could freeze. It had been three years and yet the pain burned as bright as ever. She stifled a sob and kept her head bowed. Tree respect was nearly over and she would return home alone, to spend this Earth Day’s Eve night in darkness.

This year, again, she considered ending it. It would be so easy. Refuse to turn off the house. Keep a tablet or phone open. Wait for the bells and let Santa take her as he had taken Willow, and a year before that, Martin. She would be with them in spirit, somewhere, if the old religions replaced by the Green God still had any power. At least the pain would stop.

That’s what the old religions promised. The Green God promised nothing but despair, the burning of this planet now deep in snow and ice. The trees were dormant, having shed their leaves for their long winter sleep and yet the news declared that the planet was warming by the hour.

Dawn gasped when the klaxon sounded. Relieved, she turned and headed for home. Maybe she could simply not bother with her preparations and let the cold take her this year, as it took so many others. Mostly the old, but then it did also take some of the young, even some of those younger than Dawn’s thirty years.

Lost in her depression, she didn’t notice June draw alongside her as she walked. Normally the families maintained social distance and respectful silence on Earth Day’s Eve. Everyone was too intent on getting home for one last hot meal before turning all the power off to be bothered with any idle chit-chat anyway. June’s whisper startled her.

“Dawn. We need to talk.”

Dawn shook her head and whispered back. “Do you want us both on the Naughty List? We have to maintain tree respect this day.” She kept her eyes firmly ahead.

June’s breathing was harsh. “They’ve made something worse than Green Santa. The Piper. They plan to take all the children.”

Dawn curled her lip. “They’ve taken my husband and my child. Why would this be any of my business?”

June stayed silent until they were nearly at Dawn’s house. Then she took a breath. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I know you’re going through a living hell but we need you.” She pressed something into Dawn’s hand. Something that ticked. “It’s not electronic so Santa won’t see it. It’s mechanical. Watch it after you turn off the house. When the thick long hand has moved halfway around the dial, and if you want to help us, open your front door and put a LEDlight outside.”

Dawn turned, but June was already receding into the growing darkness. She opened her door and dashed inside.

The door closed, her back pressed against it, Dawn stared at the small metal disc in her hand. Behind its flattened clear dome were three pointed sticks, radiating from the centre. A long one, a short one and a very thin one that rotated around the centre as she watched. There were numbers, one to twelve, around the outside of the dial.

It moves. Is it really not electronic? Is this a trap?

Dawn chuckled, a harsh and desolate sound. It really didn’t matter. She wanted an end to her personal hell anyway so if it was a trap she’d gladly walk into it. It took the decision to end it from her hands, it meant she didn’t have to choose.

In the kitchen, Dawn placed the disc thing on the table and switched on the kettle. She’d try, although she didn’t really want to, to fill enough hot water flasks to last the twenty-four hours of Earth Day. She set the soup on the hob, the last hot meal until sunset tomorrow, and remembered how she had taken the tepid leftovers when Willow was still here. Now the hot soup was all hers and it tasted of loss and despair.

Dawn filled two hot water bottles and three Thermos flasks with hot water before the brown-out started. She filled the fourth with half of the soup and sat to eat the rest at the table. Through the kitchen window, she saw the sun touch the horizon. She ate faster, soon it would be time to shut down the house and wrap up as well as she could for the long dark hours ahead.

Her gaze fell to the strange disc June had given her. It had protrusions either side, as if it was once fixed to something. As she ate, Dawn wondered where it had come from. It looked old, tarnished and scratched and yet whatever mechanism lay inside still worked. The thin stick in the dial moved in jerky steps, round and round. She was to wait until the long thick one moved halfway round the dial, after she turned off the house.

It’s a time measuring device of some kind. Dawn blinked a few times. A memory tried to resurface. Had her grandfather had one of these, or something like it, strapped to his wrist? The Great Cull had taken him while she was still a child, the viral plague that had wiped out many of the elderly. She sniffed and took another spoonful of soup. The four-digit clocks were so much easier to read, this little time measuring thing looked like hard work.

The soup finished, Dawn checked on the sun. Only a tiny arc of its disc now showed on the horizon. She sighed and rose. Time to turn off the house. Technically she had a few more minutes but what was the point? The electricity was now so low that the ceiling light seemed to suck light out of the room rather than illuminate it. She switched on a LEDlight and opened the panel for the power.

This was control. Martin had told her. They could turn off the power remotely through the smart meters but that wasn’t real control. Making everyone turn off their own power, that was real control. Dawn reached into the space behind the panel and pulled down the handle. The house fell silent. The pale bluish glow of the LEDlight was all that remained.

Dawn sat at the kitchen table and considered the tiny device June had given her. She was to wait until the ‘thick long hand’ had moved halfway around the dial then put a LEDlight outside her door. Well, assuming she gave enough of a shit to find out what this was all about.

What do I have to lose? Nothing.

The thin stick continued its rotations. The short fat one didn’t seem to have moved much. It pointed at just below the three. The one she was to watch pointed at the six. So she was to put out a LEDlight when it pointed at twelve. Dawn wondered how long that would take. The hell with it. I have to get some layers of clothing on. It’s already getting cold. She placed the little dial on the table and went off to the bedroom with the LEDlight.

Wrapped in multiple layers of clothing against the growing cold, with one hot water bottle in her bed and the other under her clothing, Dawn returned to the kitchen. She carried three extra LEDlights since her first one was already fading. There was not enough sunlight to charge them at this time of year. Should she really waste one by putting it outside her door?

The long fat stick pointed at eight. So she hadn’t missed whatever awaited her this night. Dawn tried to care, she tried very hard, but three years of being alone weighed heavy on her. If it was to end tonight, let it end.

Why twelve? There were twenty hours in a day, a hundred minutes in an hour and fifty seconds in a minute. Dawn had a vague recollection that it had been different and harder to understand when she was small but it was so easy to calculate now. Hardly any thought required. What was this little dial measuring? Transfixed, she watched the movements within the little dial, tracking the motion of the one that led to a decision. Would she agree to June’s request or ignore it?

Nine. Halfway to twelve. Dawn walked to the window and shivered at the moonlit whiteness outside. Every house, well, every box-shaped dwelling, all identical, all dark… it looked dead out there. She held her breath and listened but could hear no bells. Nobody around here was on the naughty list tonight, so far. Dawn glanced back at the table. So June had told her the truth. The tiny dial wasn’t electronic or she’d be hearing sleigh bells by now. The Green Santa wasted no time when dealing with the naughty ones.

Dawn hugged herself and returned to the table. The LEDlight was almost dead. She switched on another. These tiny solar-charged lights were the only electronics permissible on this night. Dawn picked up the little dial. Its ticking seemed louder now that all other sound was silenced.

Ten. Getting close to decision time. Was she going to put a light outside or just ignore June’s hinted rebellion and go to bed? The short stick had moved a little closer to four. That one must measure hours, June thought, although it seemed a little off. Still, it was hardly bedtime but what else was there to do now?

What was it June had said? The Piper will come for the children? Dawn closed her eyes. There was a tiny hint of childhood memory trying to get through, something about a piper who took children away. Vague, fleeting memories of a story one of her grandparents – she couldn’t remember which one – had read to her when she was small. Something about Hamlet… no, that was a white supremacy thing she had learned about in school. Piper of Hammering? Piper with a Pie? Dawn shook her head. It was too long ago, far too long. Even so, she was sure she remembered a story about a piper who took away children.

She opened her eyes and stared at the dial in her hand.

Eleven. Not much time left to decide. Should she base her future, or possible lack of it, on a vague memory of a children’s story? Dawn pursed her lips. They had corrupted Santa. Changed him from the old jolly fat smoking and drinking guy who gave away presents into the New Green Santa, who was lithe and fast and Pure, and who gave nothing but took away the Naughty Ones. It was not so much of a stretch to believe they had found another childhood icon to corrupt.

June was right about the little dial. It moved without electronics. Mechanical, she called it. Dawn turned it in her fingers and wondered what was inside, what powered it. It was certainly very old. Did the ancients have some knowledge that was now lost to the modern world? Or was it an elaborate trick? Dawn placed it on the table and watched as the thin stick made a complete revolution and the long fat one clicked one notch further. It can’t be electronic or Green Santa would be here now. June had told the truth, even if Dawn couldn’t work out why it was true.

So maybe June also told the truth about the Piper. The long fat stick was close to the twelve. Dawn took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

She had lost her husband and only child. Now this Piper thing was coming for other children. Should she care? Should she help? Or should she continue her slide into despair and let the rest of the world suffer as she had?

Dawn pushed her seat away from the table and stood. “What the Hell do I have left to lose?” she said aloud. “I can wither away and die or go down in a blaze. Maybe I won’t be any use but I can face whatever god there might be and say that I tried.”

The hand was still one minute from twelve when she put the LEDlight outside her door.

***

The rest of it will be in the Christmas anthology.

Panoptica is here

Track and trace apps (I don’t have one, I don’t go to anywhere that requires one), compulsory masks that make facial recognition cameras futile (you’ll soon be required to be RFID chipped and/or wear a barcode so they can see you), cash being gradually demonised and refused in many shops now… It’s here. If you have an Alexa or carry your phone everywhere or have one of those TVs with a camera in it, you’re in Panoptica.

Almost. There is still a little time to finish the story and try to get to a happy ending. I have agonised over this one for so many years now, even stopped for a time when the things I wrote appeared as news within days. Then, writing the book, I found that 10538 had to recount experiences in a way that basically told the first half of the story twice. Then it was derailed by my father’s death in February, followed by all the Covid nonsense since.

I think I have a way in which it can work. One of my favourite books as a teenager was Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’. It’s a collection of short stories that tell an overall story. Mr. B. didn’t originally set out to do that, he had written a series of stories based on Mars for a magazine and collected them later. This means that the first few stories didn’t fall into a pattern, but overall the book worked. I’ve always wanted to write something like that.

So I will. I’ll also include the stories that led up to the main story, and fill in a few blanks with new stories. I have a particularly horrible (and quite likely) one for Christmas. It fills the gap between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’ and ’23-David and 81-Mohammed’. I don’t think I need to write the story before ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’, I think we can just watch that on the news.

Unlike ‘The Martian Chronicles’, this one will start out with the premise that it tells an overall story, but in a series of shorts rather than chapters. Some of them will work as standalone stories but I suspect a few will be the ‘backbone’ of the overall story and won’t work as singles.

It won’t be fast, unfortunately. I have three other authors’ books to deal with and the Christmas anthology is under way. But it will happen.

Hopefully, before it all comes true.