Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Flight Engineer

I'm a pilot. It's not a line of work you'd expect to see apparitions. The airline I used to work for though had a haunted 737. I have flown with the ghost, even seen it up close. It's a slim, small man, younger-looking with pale, cropped hair. He wears a cap and uniform with purple and gold epaulettes, hence his name, the Engineer. We sometimes see him in the cockpit, looking lost. There’s nowhere for him to sit. The 737 never had flight engineers, it was all done by monitor. When I have seen him his skin he has had a translucent grey hue, as if from in a black-and-white film. Sometimes people meet him gliding along the passenger isle or 'working' on some mechanism on the plane. I always thought ghosts must be bored having to go through the same motions over and over, a job you can never leave. He's harmless though he can upset the passengers.

The first time I heard about him was when passenger, a puffy, white South African tried to get his attention. He had already complained about the food and about his head-rest and the quality of the film selection. The Engineer ignored him. This did not go down well. I was a junior at the time, just qualified. While the pilot got on with important things like flying the plane I was pulled out to soothe this poor man's feelings. Afterwards the Senior Flight Attendant, whose name was Noelle, apologised:

"I'm sorry" she said. "I ran out of things to say. He wouldn't stop. I could hardly tell him it was the Engineer."

"The what...?”

"You don't... you don't know...?"

"Know what...?"

"God, you are new" she said and patted me on the cheek, a little patronising, but I didn’t mind so much. I’m sure I wasn’t the only crew member to have a slight crush on her.

So the Engineer went through the motions on this particular plane. No one knew why he was there, what he wanted, or even who he was, though there were some good guesses. I remember talking to an aviation enthusiast called Roger, who investigated the Engineer. He took eyewitness descriptions of the ghost and made a photo-fit. I know because he was hanging around Heathrow Airport lounge trying to talk to company flight crew. He showed me the photo-fit and a picture of a young man called George Blake, who used to be a flight engineer. He went apparently missing West Berlin shortly before the wall went up, though Roger didn’t say whether it was murder or misadventure. Mr Blake looked quite like sketch of the Engineer though. Roger was certain; goodness knows how he got the photo. I wasn’t so sure.

The Engineer was bound to the plane and to his work, a minor inconvenience and an interesting tale. But something changed on the way into Brandenburg Airport. We were about ten minutes from arriving in the stack. I was poring over the dashboard, getting ready to resume control of the plane when a hand appeared over my shoulder. I jumped then turned in my seat. It was the Engineer, stood over me. He had a half-blank, half-anxious expression, looking back and forth and pointing intently at something on the dashboard. There was a sudden exclamation from the cabin door:

“Oh my God…!” My co-pilot, Darius, had just come back from the toilet. “What…?” He was flabbergasted, shocked, almost as blanched as the Engineer. He was new and clearly had no idea. I said:

“Wait…” which he did. The Engineer was glancing back and forth. He wanted to tell me something. Eventually he managed to slowly mouth:

“Look…” I wasn’t sure if I heard him or not. I realised he was pointing to the internal pressure dial. It seemed fine though the indicator was flickering. Something in me took this seriously. I said:

“What should we do…?” The Engineer pointed down. “OK…” I then got in touch with Traffic Control and sent the plane down several thousand feet. I knew I’d done enough when the Engineer smiled and disappeared.

It turned out there were three stress fractures in in hull, only small ones, the onboard computer missed them all and any breaks can be dangerous. The plane was grounded for repair. A few years later the 737 was decommissioned and, as far as I know, it seems the Engineer has been permanently retired.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

All the Way Down

Stephen stepped up from Green Park tube into the light. It was another fine morning. 8am exactly. As per his routine Stephen cut away from the crowds, people hurrying along to work, and the leafleters and newspaper barkers already at work. He stood at the park gates and felt a gentle, happy swell. Unlike them he had time, precious time. He looked at his watch again, 8:02am, and set off.

One of the major non-outlined benefits of being a civil servant was you could set your own time. Stephen needed time. He needed time for space. Normally he was dogged, every second of the day. People:

1) emailed him
2) texted him
3) phoned him, quite often out of hours

always wanting things outcomed, authorised or deferred. That was what he was paid for. Stephen was a rising star. But his time was filling up, meeting after meeting. Not that he didn't make them work for his wisdom.

Every morning, prior to work, Stephen self-tabled to go jogging. He would justify it to anyone who asked by saying it kept him fit but he'd seen the pollution charts and Stephen knew that exercise in central London was a mixed blessing. He went jogging though because it allowed him to look inward. He was an outgoing man with an outgoing job. He had to be many things to many people, responsibilties he couldn't turn his back on. His time was quantised, down to five minute slots, and given away. There was so little left it made him query what was at the centre of it all, who was he, what bit of him was him?

The more he looked though the stranger it got. He cleared his mental chart by jogging and yet what came to the surface was work stuff, the ticklish problems, ones that, being honest, he enjoyed. Things like:

a) rail subsidy negotiations
b) air-traffic immunology
c) car-theft algorithms

see this week's case-conferences (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Perhaps this was him, perhaps it went all the way down like a fractal, a never-ending pattern. But perhaps he was hiding something from himself, something he didn't want to see or acknowledge. Why would he do something like that though? He found these questions fascinating. Stephen tried applying some adjectives to how he felt thinking this. His non-definitive list included:

i) cold
ii) precise
iii) involuted-pseudorecursive

but he wasn't sure about the last one. He didn't know what it meant.

It took, how long did it take, Stephen looked again, 8:04am, it took at least two minutes for his mind to settle, and it had settled on the problem how to develop an equation for the inverse ratio of efficiency. It was really just another variation on the old problem of administration: how to quantify everything? In fact Stephen was due at an inter-departmental meeting at 11:30am to discuss this very issue.

As he plodded along, down the hill, through the gap between the field of stochastic death chairs (death chairs?) deckchairs and St James's Palace, he pondered the matter. The fact the... the park was quiet, very few people around. The fact of further efficiency savings meant of course that departments would find it harder to meet their statutory requirements with regards to the services they provided. Onto a path and right toward the Canada Memorial. In the long run it was just a... matter of changing those requirements, but how and when... and in what way? Lots of public services... were difficult to measure, health, education... sanitation and... Canada, culture and so on were... Were those footsteps?

Stephen listened as he jogged, the patter of feet on the path, there was someone behind him. He stopped for a second, falling into a crouch, have a breather, let them pass... but they didn't. It took a second to register. Without looking Stephen mopped his brow, it was warm, another fine morning, then glanced at his watch, 8.07am, shook his head and got back up again. The fact of further efficiency savings would... He listened again, there were the footsteps again, echoing his. Stephen glanced over his shoulder briefly. There was someone running behind him, about ten yards or so. He didn't catch the man's face, as they were looking away. He assumed it was a man... It was OK, not to worry, he was just jogging too, another jogger, dressed like him doing exactly what he was doing, that's all.

On, past the Canada Memorial. This was getting... the footsteps were still there. Stephen went across the grass toward the path parallel to Constitution Hill. He listened. The steps had followed him. The jogger had followed him. What to...? No. Stop.

Stephen stopped again. Silence, except for the rustle of wind in the trees, no sound, except for the purr of engines on the road, nothing, except the chatter of a group of school children across the street. Stephen turned around, carefully. No footsteps. Yes, there was the Person, the Jogger. It was a man, he was dressed like him, his height and hair colour too and perhaps even his age. He seemed oddly familiar. He had his back to Stephen though. Did he know him? What was this, a coincidence? Stephen turned back again. Facing away from the Man he took two large, deliberate strides then turned quickly on his heel. Snap! The Man, the Follower had done exactly the same. He was following Stephen. A jolt, Stephen took off, briskly, then in a ramping swell of panic he began to run.

Remember agent training... what to do if you're... Stephen looked around... the park was quiet... remember what to do if you're... he was alone... not alone... Stephen glanced back, quick as a flash. He was still being followed and at the same distance. He didn't see the Man's face. Zigzagging in waves through the trees... Stephen was panicking... He couldn't remember what to do it was so long since... He tried to sprint but the effort was beginning to tell and he was still being followed by... he couldn't quite... Get somewhere, yes, it came to him, get somewhere people could see you, that was it... or was it a false memory...? It made sense though. Had he done this before...? It was so long...

Stephen made for the Wellington Monument, still being followed. The lights on the crossing were green, good... there were people there too but, um... no one seemed to notice. No one could see he was being followed by... he couldn't quite see but he could hear... Stephen looked back again, longer this time. The Man was looking away, definitely looking away. Another surge of panic... Over the next set of traffic lights, they were red this time. Stephen had to dodge the traffic with nimble, adrenalised steps. He was running on... Lucky, but he was still being followed by... Through the garden, onto Rotten Row, out again onto Knightsbridge but he could still hear the footsteps just behind him... he was slowing now... he slowed... Somewhere around the French embassy he slowed... heavy breaths... aching legs... his footfall slowed... no one seemed to notice he was being followed by... His pursuer's footsteps slowed too... He slowed until he couldn't take it any more... Stephen... stopped...

Stephen stopped and crouched in a way now pursuant to his actual condition of oxygen debt through prolonged exertion and stress. Even in his present state Stephen was able to ascertain that pedestrians, such as there were any, still did not appreciably notice anything untoward in this scenario. He checked his watch, as was habitual (habitual?), and saw it was 8:23am. It took a further few seconds Stephen to also register that that despite having stopped he was neither apprehended nor hailed by his unknown pursuer.

He stood up again, perspiring and still breathing heavily and looked, confirming to himself that the Pursuer had indeed stopped. They were further along Knightsbridge, just past the Hyde Park Barracks. The Man was standing still, ten yards away, looking back down the road and facing away from Stephen once more, the same pose as before.

After feeling a volley of emotions Stephen was now uncertain, almost curious as to what was going on. He had a feeling. Had this happened before...? Stephen raised a hand to point and the Man did likewise. Shock reverberated through him, it evanesced, yes he used that word, thinking it in earnest, it evanesced into an even more potent fascination. Stephen took a step forward and the Erstwhile Follower did the same. Another step, another reciprocation. What was going on? Stephen was no longer afraid, he wanted to know. Step, step, step, stride; people were still passing by, unaware, but Stephen was now no longer afraid.

“Hey” he shouted. “Hey...! You...!” But, for the first time, this did not draw a response, there was no response. Fascination was now falling away, curdling into anger. Stephen began to run, then sprint again, but he could not reach the Man. They ran back down the road toward the junction with Sloane Street. Stephen was now propelled by something like rage, his tiredness fell away, faster, but still he could not reach the Man. They crossed the junction, the lights seemed to turn in the right order. People, now finally catching on, seemed to part for the two men running, even if he wasn't catching... All the way down Sloane Street, they kept running. A new flood of emotions washed through Stephen, quickly, tossed around and barely registering but they were there... grief, trepidation, joy, frustration, anguish, pseudorecursion... Left at the round-a-bout, toward Belgravia. Still in hot pursuit, he wasn't running in anger any more. He wasn't sure what he was running on, the ground felt frictionless. Stephen called out again:

“Stop...!” Another turn now, down terraced streets, compressed mansions with elongated doors and frictionless steps, places Stephen did not recognise, unfamiliar... Faster, yet faster, yet, they were going too quickly, everything was going too quickly... “Stop...! Please...! What...?” Yes, Stephen realised something was going on. No matter how hard he tried he could not reach the Man. Something was going on, something strange... “Please” he said. “Please stop. I know... I want to know... I...” He felt about five years old, pleading with the Man. A left, a right, a left again: “PLEASE... Is this... some... can... what...?” Another turn. The pair reached an alleyway a yawning dead end, a brick wall, a strange place that perhaps shouldn't have been there, yet, there it was... There they were. Both Stephen and the Man came to a halt. “Please...” said Stephen, breathing hard, “I want to know... Is this a sign...? What's going on...?”

“Turn around” said the Man. He spoke slowly. “Twenty-to-nine, turn around and you will see.” The Man had a familiar voice. Stephen did as he was told, he turned and saw all the way down then back up as he stepped up from Green Park tube into the light. It was another fine morning. 8am exactly. As per his routine, Stephen cut away from the crowds, people hurrying along to work, and the leafleters and newspaper barkers already at work. Stephen stood at the park gates and felt a gentle, happy swell. Unlike them he had time. He looked at his watch again, 8:02am, and set off.  

Monday, 10 April 2017

Allotment Story - in today's Storgy

Here I am with a story of mine (and my ugly face at the end of it) in Storgy today. I actually really like this story and am very glad it's found a proper home. Of course this is usually when I spot a small but howling mistake but such is life.

Enjoy Allotment Story, because it's bloody brilliant.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Climbing Mount Literature

Mr Heroic Protagonist and his friend Mr Sensitive Companion stood together in awe at the foot of Mount Literature. Mr Companion was reverent, Mr Protagonist was eager. He stood, hands on hips and said:

“Let’s begin.”

“It’s going to be hard work” said Mr Companion, shyly. Protagonist had brought his friend along as a foil. He replied:

“I don't like work, no man does but I like what is in the work; the chance to find yourself, your own reality for yourself not for others.” That was why they were here. They were going to climb Mount Literature using only rope, pegs, helmets, crampons and quotes cobbled together from the vast Plains of the Internet. “Here’s what we will do” said Protagonist. He fetched a map. “If the weather holds we shall make our way here” he pointed, “to Exposition Plateau, where we shall make camp. Then we shall strike out for Plot Point Ridge up Denouement Face. Once over that we should easily make the summit.”

“So it goes” said Companion.

“Steady, Companion” said Protagonist. “We must save some quotes for the descent. Bring McGuffin and make haste while the Sun shines.”

Companion tugged on McGuffin’s reins and the donkey trudged into motion. They began their ascent up the winding paths of the foothills. Companion was not completely happy. “I’m worried about the climb” he said.

“If you have the guts to be yourself” said Protagonist, from over his shoulder “other people will pay your price.”

“That’s what I am worried about” said Companion. “I’ve left my Wife and Child behind, which adds to the peril. Also, I’m worried about some of the quotes we bought in the Global Village. The shopkeeper told me ‘you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.’ I wasn’t too pleased but he said ‘I am not bound to please thee with my answers.’”

But Protagonist wasn’t really listening. “You speak an infinite deal of nothing sometimes, Companion. Men of few words are the best men” he said, striding on. Companion stopped, with a sour expression:

“The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.”

Protagonist turned to his friend. “Forgive me. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.” He smiled and gave his friend a manly hug. Companion couldn’t stay mad at him. The only people for him were the mad ones. That’s why he followed Protagonist, despite his doubts.

The pair (plus McGuffin) made it to Exposition Plateau, safely across outcrops of metaphor and screes of accumulated symbolism. That evening, as the sun set they made camp, Companion said “I suppose I better ask you why we are making this trip.”

“It’s very simple” said Protagonist. “The Author needs our words and actions to bear out a heavy-handed metaphor.” Companion nodded. “Look over there” he pointed down below, “who’s that?”
“That’s Shakespeare” said Companion.

“Indeed it is” said Protagonist. “And who is that?” he asked, pointing to another figure.

“That’s Kurt Vonnegut.”

“Correct” said Protagonist. “And who is that?”

“Him...? The Greek-looking guy?”

“He is Greek” said Protagonist. “That's Homer” he added. 

"Ah, a man of many modes..."

“Which one of them is furthest away?” asked Protagonist. Companion looked for a long time but he could not tell. “That’s the thing with digital data” said Protagonist, “it’s infinitely storable and infinitely repeatable. Data does not degrade. Memory cannot fade. Time is irrelevant, flattened across the Plains of the internet.”

“But why are we climbing Mount Literature?” asked Companion.

“To see what’s beyond, in the Valley of History” Protagonist pointed to the Internet, “we are spectators moving through Curated History. Over there” he nodded toward the summit, “where all the world’s a stage, we are history.”

“It sounds plausible enough tonight” said Companion “but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.”

At dawn the pair struck out for the peak, leaving poor McGuffin behind, tied to a rock. “Do we have enough quotes to last us?” Protagonist asked.

“A reasonable amount” said Companion. He knew it wasn't though. They'd talked too much on the way up and would struggle to get down at best. But Protagonist strode off all the same, still confident; all progress depends on the unreasonable man Companion figured.

The slopes soon got too steep for maps, too steep to walk. The pair put on crampons, took out their ropes, their hooks and their sturdiest quotes. Above them now was the peak but before that Plot Point Ridge. It's walls beneath were almost sheer, footholds few. Beneath the spur words were becoming inadequate. Even Protagonist seemed unsure. He glanced back at his friend, flush with fear, he exclaimed:

“Fight till the last gasp!”

But almost within arms-length of conquering the ridge his grip failed. His rope broke. Companion watched helpless as Protagonist tumbled. “I let go!” Lost in oblivion, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Alone on the mountain now, Companion clung on. There was no way back except the way his friend had gone. Companion climbed. The walls fell away. Friction disappeared. Geometry was subverted. Companion could not tell up from down. Logic may be unshakeable but it cannot withstand a man determined to live. Without even knowing how he planted a first hand, then a second across the spur and hauled himself with what remained of his strength to safety.

After catching his breath and recovering some sanity Companion renewed. The rest of the climb was fairly simple. He reached the top of Mount Literature and gazed down on the far valley. He saw true time, not the curated version. It stretched back vast distances. He saw everything. The whole process of near-unbroken agony and pointlessness so that humans may one day know the price of everything and the value of nothing. He fell to his knees and gasped in horror:

“It is a great misfortune to be alone.”

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Sein und Werden EP

There's an outside chance now that people might start to read this blog in the near future (oh man, why did I pick that name?). So, to have something decent to look at, as opposed to rough-work. Here's a link to all the stories I've had in the fabulous Sein und Werden. Hopefully, one day, it will come back but, until then, here's my Sein und Werden EP.

Report to the Senior Committee
London Versus...
The Television Handed Ghostess
Songs that Won the War (with Clockhouse Writers)

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Dimeshow Review - volume 2

I have a story in this, ten of the best words ever shithammered together, so you'd better buy it or else. In other almost-news, I have two stories that are due to be published quite soon so get with the sickness!