Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Attended this workshop today at the library in Wakefield and it was really good, but at only two hours it felt just a bit short.  Part of the workshop dealt with imagery through metaphor and similie and some great advice was given on always keeping a 'listening ear for accents.'  An exercise that Ian Clayton set the attendees involved the answers to the following questions (from a memory using one of the seven ages of wo/man) in order to get a 'word horde':

A piece of furniture
An entertainment
Something overheard
Something tender
A talisman
Something precious
Something understood
A friend
A means of moving on

Using where this memory took place and your 'word horde' write a piece inspired by them, because as Mr Clayton said, objects are nothing without the memories that are attached to it.  This was a very stimulating exercise and everyone wrote a piece following the discussion, including the addition of several other 'if this was a ... what would it be?' questions by the attendees.  I wrote the beginning of a poem using this exercise and when it is finished, I will share it on the blog.

It was also lovely to spend the workshop with Paul who used to come to the Writers Group and he wrote a fantastic short story using the above technique that I hope he shares on his blog.

Drury Lane Library are running several Creative Writing Sessions:

Thursday 1 March 4-5pm for young people aged 12+
Conrad Burdekin, Writer, storyteller and poet

Saturday 3 March 10-12noon
Michael Yates, Author of the Bronte Boy

Saturday 10 March 10-12noon Creative Writing session for families (for children 5 and over)
Irene Lofthouse, All aboard the ark!

Satruday 24 March 10-12noon
Michael Yates, Author of the Bronte Boy

For tickets and further information contact Liz on 01924 305376 or email:

Monday, 27 February 2012


The deadline for this competition is looming (5 March), the details of which can be found in the January edition of Writing Magazine and I have finally edited my short story about bedtime down to below 250 words.  I will be sending this off in the post tomorrow - fingers crossed for me.

Here it is:


I won’t go to bed and I don’t care 
I won’t go without my bear

Mummy’s looked in my bed and Daddy looked in the pram

They only found my Lolly lamb

They looked in the kitchen and behind the door 
But he’s not under the table or on the floor

Daddy’s looked in the front room but couldn’t find 
Him under the cushions or behind the blind

I won’t go to bed and I don’t care
I won’t go without my bear

My brother checked the cat and then the dog 
But they only had my squeaky frog

He looked under my covers and under my bed
He’s not there, I already said

Mummy looked in the playroom amongst the toys 
When I began to make some noise

I won’t go to bed and I don’t care 
I won’t go without my bear

They say he’s not in the house, in any rooms
A sleepless night before them looms

Daddy says he’ll check the car and the garden shed 
Because he really wants me to go to bed

I won’t go to bed and I don’t care 
I won’t go without my bear

While in the garden he calls to Mum 
I break into a smile and begin to run

For there he is on the washing line 
Hanging by his ears for all that time

I will go to bed and I really care 
That I can cuddle Benjy bear

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Whilst working on my new YA fantasy novel, I was reminded of some excellent advice I was given at a Writers Conference by Melvyn Burgess.  He recommended letting your character speak for themselves and not let them be too constrained by the plot.  I think this is what has inspired me to tackle this new novel from the first person perspective.  We did a few writing exercises to capture characters and here was the one that he really liked (I know, Melvyn Burgess saying he liked my writing style and that he thought my voice was suitable for YA fiction, an honour indeed).


Chris was busy.  She had made the tea and she had put it away.  She tried to tune them all out whilst she was washing up but it was hard.  It was getting harder every day.  Why couldn't they just be a normal family?  Everyone else had a normal family.  Chris was the Mum.  Her Mum was not.  And Dad, well he was too busy with his son to notice anything else.  World War Three, that's how it felt sometimes.  The constant battle between them and the battalion that Chris had to emply to keep them all together, running like clockwork.  How it was supposed to be.  But what if she decided to stop?  To do what she wanted for a change.  Leave.  Leave them.  Leave them to it.  Would they even notice?  Would they cease hostilities long enough to notice that the glue had gone?  Because that's what she felt like; the glue that kept everyone else together.  But what if she needed fixing; didn't she deserve fixing too?

Always being influenced.  Steered this way and that.  A boat tossed in the storm of her family.  But she wanted to be lost.  A ship wreck on some quiet island where no-one needed her to do anything or be somewhere.

So she was planning.

Saturday, 25 February 2012


We went to the CAMRA organised Beer Festival at Saltaire last night.  There was a very large crowd of us (Marcus and I, Sarah and Richard, Kevin and Aj, Kev's sister Karen and her husband Phillip, Phillip's brother and friends, Bev and Neil, Jeff and Lisa, Jeff's cousin and friend, Andrea and Stuart, Heather and friends) but this year I have to say, it seemed very quiet.  Normally there is no room to move about as it is so crammed full of people, but it seemed quite empty in comparison to previous years.  Surprisingly, some of the more popular real ales sold out quite quickly anyway.  After the Festival we all went into Bradford to the curry house we frequent every year to find that it has had a makeover.  It looks fab, but the standard of service has decreased which is a real shame.  It took so long to get our mains that we were ready for our beds (it was after 2 in the morning) and therefore we did not enjoy them as much as usual.  A great night was had by all because of the socialising, but it did not seem up to its normal standard.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


I have just finished my first draft of my entry for the above competition, though as you will see from the short story, I have been a bit lenient with the theme!



 Paul Barstow was beginning to whistle, secure in the knowledge that all was well with the world.  He had dropped off Mark, his nephew, and for once the parents of the bewildered little boy had not been arguing.  He fervently hoped that his idea of taking the boy out for little treats, whilst they tried to work on their failing marriage, was working.  He knew all too well how hard it was to fix a marriage when the truth of an affair has surfaced like an enemy submarine intent on destroying all in its path.  He had not been able to save his own marriage, but maybe he could lay that ghost to rest by being instrumental in saving his brothers’.  While he made his slow progress to the supermarket, he tried to file away his own painful thoughts.  He was hoping that because it was the wife who had strayed, instead of the husband, it might just be possible for them to move on, because after all, it wasn’t just the two of them.  He smiled; little Mark might just be the glue that could hold them together.  It might have been very different if he and Andrea had kids of their own.  He still wasn’t altogether convinced that it wasn’t why he hadn’t succumbed to Faye’s advances in the first place.

As he negotiated the tight parking space, he did not see the man two rows back, watching him from behind dark sunglasses and Alex was happy.  He could not afford to be seen. 

Paul lit a cigarette, knowing it was always the perfect way to forget things he didn’t want to think about.  As the nicotine began to flow through his veins, he began to relax once more - the Oldroyd's would be wondering where he had got to.  They were like a neighbourhood watch all by themselves and he hoped the nosey old crones had already left for their ritual early evening walk.  They were prone to peering into his apartment on their way out and if he wasn’t in, he wouldn’t have to pass pleasantries as usual. 

He was not in luck.  As he pulled up, he saw them locking their door and he knew that as he was the only tenant around at this time, they were sure to waylay him.  Inspiration struck.  He exited the car and grabbed all his shopping bags out of the boot.  It was a struggle to shut it after, but at least this way he had the excuse he needed to make a quick getaway.  He nodded his hello to them as he made his way to the steps and they paused to watch him labour under the weight of the heavy bags.  He spat out his cigarette in order to mumble,

“Can’t stop, sorry, these are kind of heavy,” as he watched them warily. 

The old couple stepped over his still-lighted cigarette and tut-tutted in disapproval, but thankfully, went on their way. 

He watched his cigarette as the dark embers slowly began to extinguish in the cold night air and as the light faded from it he congratulated himself on his lucky escape. 

Making his way up the front steps, he put one set of bags down upon the top step to fish his car keys from his pocket, pressing the car alarm without turning around, satisfied at its reassuring electronic signal and unlocked the door.  He retrieved the bags from the step and pushed open the door with his foot.  Off balance and caught totally unawares, the strong push sent him careering to the floor immediately.  Prone and helpless he was an easy target.  His assailant moved to kneel on his back, kicked the door with his foot and he heard it click reassuringly closed. 

Paul struggled to retrieve his arms from the weight of the bags and Alex knew he had to act quickly.  He leaned forward to force the man’s prone torso more into the floor and held his head at both sides, pressing it relentlessly into the carpet.  As he began to struggle less and less, Alex carefully moved his hands to around his neck, gradually cutting off his circulation.  Paul never even saw the face of his killer.

Once safely back at the house, Alex retrieved his toolbox and shut the adjoining door to the garage.  He looked down into the face of his despised victim and stared at the wedding band around his finger.  The hands, he considered their long length and the damage he knew that they had done; he would need the saw.

He placed the saw next to the toolbox and retrieved his most treasured possession; the battered tin his Mother had given him to keep his toy soldiers in.  He removed the lid and placed the hand across the open tin.  He held the hand fast whilst he began to saw and with the first rent of flesh, the tainted blood collected in the tin like a sacred fluid flowing to cleanse him of his sins.  The saw snagged a little when he got down to the bone, but his determination saw him through.   

A pile of boxes were stacked in one corner and Alex selected a small one and then opened up the bottom drawer of the battered filing cabinet.  The drawer was stuffed full of brightly-coloured children’s birthday wrapping paper.  He thought for a moment as he surveyed them and then selected the blue one with the penguin motif, somehow it seemed appropriate for the man with the cold blue fingers.  From within the toolbox, he withdrew a pen and a small blue label and as he turned it over in his hand, he thought carefully about what he was going to write on it.  He didn’t want it to be too easy, yet it could not be too hard.

 ‘Happy birthday Mother,’ he began, ‘I think this is just what you’ve always wanted.’

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Well I have been laid low with the fluey virus that has been going around.  First my son got it (started last weekend) and then got a call from Paris (where my daughter was on her school trip) to tell me that she had come down with it and then the very next day, I started with it.  It is a really awful viral bug that floors you and just when you think you can venture out again, it hits you and leaves you poorly and tired again.  I hope none of my followers get it as it does the rounds.

My daughter had a lovely time in Paris (despite getting the bug halfway through it) and I think if my son had not have been ill, he would have loved the peace he got whilst she was away!  He is off to London tomorrow for his school trip where he is going to see Shrek, The Lion King, the walking tour of Harry Potter, Covent Garden, Victoria & Albert Museum, to name but a few - I am a bit jealous again as I would love to go (as you can imagine, Paris on Valentine's Day would have been nice too).  I am so glad my kids get to do such fun and educational things.

As I have been poorly, I have not written anything (other than this blog post!) and I am feeling the pressure of the deadlines that are looming.  Because I was out of commission, I now have four deadlines to be ready for in 11 days.  I guess I am going to be really busy :)

Friday, 17 February 2012


On Wednesday we went to Ilkley Moor for the day and it was a fantastic source of inspiration.  The magnificent views and inclement weather conditions really fired up my creativity for the scenery of my new YA fantasy novel.  So you can see what I mean, I have posted some of the photographs I took.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

YA fantasy - Thorde: the keeper of the trysk

I have been working a lot on my new novel for the YA fantasy competition (deadline early March) and I thought I would share a little bit more of it with my followers:

For now the dark covers our world like a comforting blanket, but it will not be long before the tendrils of light reached out across the sky.  I glance down at my shield and sword for what seems like the hundredth time and I feel the helmet slide forward on my head.  It doesn’t really fit properly, but then it wasn’t made for me.  I don’t want to think about who it was made for or why I could now be the new owner because that had lots of possibilities and none of them could be good.  It did not do to dwell on these things.  What I need is a distraction for I now know for sure that I am not going to get any rest this night.  Nothing calms me like the company of horses.  Most animals hold an attraction for me, but horses were the most calming and I knew, the most understanding.  For they, unlike me, had seen many battles.  I know it isn’t a distraction exactly, but surely it was better to be forearmed and forewarned in this battle, because hiding or fleeing was not an option.  There were eyes everywhere and the castle was locked down like the fortress we now needed it to be.

I made my way carefully to the stables.  I passed many sleeping comrades and I envied them their rest.  But I was by no means the only one awake at this ungodly hour.  Many were sat staring into space, the fear etched plainly on their faces.  From what I could see in this section of the castle, we were a very rag-tag bunch indeed, hardly a match for the Arberians.

I could hear the snorts and gentle neighs of the horses before I could see them and I knew that they felt my need and were welcoming my presence.  I held my breath as I entered the stables, ready to leave at a moment’s notice if it turned out that I was not the only person here.  I did not want anyone witnessing what I was about to do.  I had long ago learned the language of the horses.  It was a fascinating and complex method, but once you broke down the basics, you could indeed converse with them.  What seems like random neck, head, ears or even mouth movements to the average person, is in fact a form of communication that could yield more than just a friendship with one of God’s most beautiful creatures.  We understand each other completely and some of them I count as my closest friends.  You don’t come into contact with many people in my job, well, people that would want to talk to someone like me anyway, but in my experience horses can be a lot nicer than the majority of people, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing out.  In many ways I was far luckier than most.  I had a job, which meant I had enough money to eat well most days and I had a roof over my head, but this meant that I wasn’t as invisible as most, so I was instantly seen as a potential fighter when news of the battle necessitated new recruits.  That, and the fact that I had no parents to stand up for me, had sealed my fate, as it had many others.

Peros was the first to greet me.  He was the tallest and strongest of the horses and as such, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is the King’s steed.  He is as black as the darkest night and his mane is as long and luxurious as any fine maiden’s hair.  His proud neck touches mine and I close my hands at my sides as I acknowledge his greeting.  At this, my nerves begin to abate and I feel calmer than I have since I learned the terrible news.

Silently we converse and I learn more of the mormoths, the scaranx, the pterodyls and even the Arberians, well, Peros’ opinion of them anyway.  Unsurprisingly, it was not good.  When he exhales with his ears pressed right back into his head and I look deep into his eyes, I swear I can almost see the battle where he lost his brother even though I know he was never there.  Arros had been a brave stallion.  He had stood a couple of hands smaller than Peros, but had matched his brother in many ways.  He had told Peros of the scaranx, for he too had never met one in battle.  Arros had learned through trial and error the techniques needed to escape with your life when faced with such a foe.  Unfortunately, there had been nothing Arros could do against the power of the wyvern and he had not stood a chance.  I knew the fear of Peros matched my own.  Although the truth-seekers had not spoken of the wyverns, this weapon could not be ruled out.  There were those among many tribes that harnessed this gift.

Over what seemed like an age, Peros and his friends taught me all they knew.  I had received lessons from them before, but never had it been so vital.  I thanked them for their kindness and Peros advised me to seek out a human who might be kind enough to show me the basics in the way of battle.  They could not help with swords and shields and although I thought I knew what to do with the shield (you hold it in front of you and use it to stop someone from killing you right?) I had absolutely no idea how to wield a sword.  I had seen the Knights jousting, which I knew looked terrifying and that was not even a real fight, but I had never actually held one until now.  I knew I did not have much time.  The truth-seekers had spoken of dawn and it may take time to find someone suitable. 

I had already spent much of the night conversing with my friends and their council would be invaluable, but I knew this was just as important.  In my haste to leave the stables without being seen, I tripped over my own sword and ended up sat in a pile of something foul-smelling.

“Well, that’s one way to try and get the enemy to not want to come anywhere near you,” I heard from the shadows.

Monday, 13 February 2012


As you know, Whitney Houston died yesterday and she will be sorely missed by many.  A couple of my followers rightly commented on this and the fact that we will never know the devils that tormented her.  Loss is something acutely felt at this time of year anyway, so I would like to pay my own tribute by posting a poem.


Brave the swell of the wave, slowly turning white

Fear the freedom in the strength of the storm

The knowledge to bring peace

To the flower of fat, cold emotions

An age of quiet, quickly evaporating

Black dead coils of slavery

Steal near, too tight to lose

Now a soldier in the war of woman

Hope, a small brown lamb

Turns to a barking dog or stalking cat

You never win with a man so far

Only skateboard over old wounds

No wavering bike on shifting sand

My loose car speeds, deadly as a gun

When the crossroads of life

Leave you one junction too far

Sunday, 12 February 2012


I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Whitney Houston.  She had the most amazing voice and her first album was the soundtrack to my youth - I listened over and over to it and know every single lyric as I sang along to all of them.  A great talent is lost to the world and she will be missed.

We had a fabulous evening with our friends yesterday, they loved the food, we drank a fair few glasses of wine (and beers for the boys) and we played on kinect sports.  Jeff was on a roll as he managed to score an eight bagger (which is eight strikes in a row) on the bowling and a score of 266, amazing.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


Just settled down to watch the England v Italy rugby match (how weird that there is snow on the pitch in Rome) and then we will be having our good friends Jeff and Lisa over for a meal tonight.  On the menu (which is all homemade) for tonight are king scallops and chorizo on a bed of salad leaves with a lime dressing to start, briam (which is a roasted Greek vegetable dish in case you were wondering) made with sweet potato and red onion will be accompanied by cheese and tomato bread for main and brandied fruit cake with brandy cream for dessert.

Lucas raced in the Scout swimming gala last night and came third and fourth in his races - considering he was against some members of the Spenborough, Halifax and Bradford swimming clubs - he did really well.  Some of his friends also raced, Liam and Ryan came third in their races and Liam's brother Cameron came first in the cubs race.  Well done boys.

Here is the beginning of my fantasy novel that I started yesterday in readiness for a competition I will be entering in March.  Let me know what you think.


They were coming at dawn.  The elders had consulted with the truth-seekers and they had foretold of a mighty battle.  The enemy would come on their mormoths and their fearless warriors would ride upon the scaranx.  I had heard tell of these creatures many times around the fire.  Tales of their size, ferocious teeth and claws bigger even than a wyverns, that could snap a man in two or cause the blood to leave your body quicker than a river when it bursts its banks.  It was said that they had a ring of fiery fur around their necks and the devastation that their long tails could bring with its spiky ball at the end was legendary.  I had heard of many men that had died that way.  As if that was not enough to chill my blood, the truth-seekers also prophesised that the sky would flood with the beating wings of the pterodyls carrying men who could swoop down upon all with swift and terrifying accuracy.  I was eternally grateful that I had not been born a truth-seeker (to have to live with visions and futures that you could not alter was a heavy burden) but not being one held no comfort either.

I know what you are thinking?  How do I know so many things that only Kings and trusted servants would know?  Am I born of noble blood or work high up in the castle echelons?  Or do I hang around like a thief in the night, watching and waiting to hear things I should not be privy to?  Well no, that’s not it either; I am just Thorde, the keeper of the animals.  Now I’ll bet you are thinking that’s nothing, but I assure you I use my position to its full advantage.  The Knights all use my services and I even have full access to the King’s noble steed.  That’s how I find out all the things that I do and sometimes, like now, I really wish that I didn’t.  They have told the people, obviously they have, because they have to be ready for battle, but they have not told them who and what are coming, only that they are.  The King has told them that they come and that all must fight and when I say all, I do mean all.  They thrust a helmet upon my head and gave me a sword and a shield.  Me, who has never held a weapon in my life and the worst thing is, I know what’s coming and I know we don’t stand a chance.  Mormoths are bad enough, I’ve seen them, they stand three times taller than our noblest steeds, but pterodyls and scaranx, the best weapon a man can have in his armoury other than a wyvern.  I can only hope that their truth-seekers have not mastered the language of the beasts, only the truly gifted can do that.  But what if they have?  We can use the boiling oil, the flaming arrows, all our best defences from behind the castle walls, but to have the power of fire in flight, that is a weapon indeed.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Poem for my daughter

Those followers who have been reading my blog for a while will have already seen this poem, but I am posting it for two reasons: one, Georgiana is about to go on her school trip to France (she will be in Paris on Valentine's Day, how fab) and I know I will miss her terribly (I know I am soppy) and two, this is one of my favourites of the poems I've written and I would like to share it with my new followers.  I hope you like it.

Song of Memories

The sweet tang of the baby lotion and
the dry ache of the baby powder sing of her.
The sunny paper hangs on the wall like a whisper
and the animal border has silent soldiers watching over her.
Eyes that see all and forget nothing.
The soft down of her favourite blanket and the benign smile of Benjy,
back when he still had a smile,
before it was worn down by too many over-enthusiastic hugs.
The mobile turns slowly,
a colourful carousel that sings of what her life can be.
A rainbow of possibilities.
The laughter echoes in the corners of so many 'Mummy Monster' tickles
and I can taste the soft coconut down of her skin,
from the myriad of kisses to her beautiful tiny face.
The air swirls around her kicking feet and she grasps towards me,
drawing pictures in the gap between us and I can see them.
All the years we will love together.
Already an artist, already the creator of the pattern and the hue
of emotions stronger than the words we could pin to them.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


A very warm welcome to my new followers.  As I am aware that some of you will not have seen some of the work I have posted previously, I will be posting some of my previous work again, I hope you like them.

To start with I will post a poem I completed in January:


Obsidian, the shadow spreads over all

Fragments of sky plummet

to shatter impotently

Acidic, the vice that stills

Pressing down the truth that

pulses through your veins

Breath, the effort to continue

Mind, the roadblock to time

the impenetrable sustenance

Regret, the only flavour as

steps cement to the earth

Sounds hitched to fragile tendrils

Eyes, too blurred with

memories a suitcase

filled to overflowing

Monday, 6 February 2012


There are some excellent Writing Competitions on the go at the moment which I am thinking of entering.  There is the Bridport Prize (short stories, flash fiction, poetry), the 'Happiness' competition to win a holiday (a short story of up to 1,000), How to Write a Childrens Picture Book Competition (a 250-word story about bedtime) and the Opendoor classic fantasy or YA sf/fantasy competition.  If any of my followers/fellow writers wish to know more details on these competitions, please either drop me an email or leave me a comment on my blog and I will pass these on.  Talking of YA fantasy, here are the first three chapters of my novel 'Quantum Worlds' for you to peruse, enjoy:



The rods of good fortune

The first thing he did before taking out his fishing rod was check the skies.  He couldn’t hear anything, but he knew that it was best to check.  Past experience had taught him that.  All Herbert saw when he glanced above was clear blue skies.  Even the flimsy clouds of yesterday had vanished in the heat.  The last attack had been some time ago now and it had taken a lot of persuasion on his part, to get his mother to agree to let him go to the river, but even she knew to take the good, quiet times when they came.

He sat on the bank and began to carefully take out his rod.  It was old and battered (it had belonged to his brother before him and had seen many fishing trips) but he loved it beyond any other material thing in his life.  After his father had died nothing had been the same for Herbert.  He had been carefree and easy-going, the War had seemed like a game to him.  When the planes came he had run to the shelters with everyone else and enjoyed the noise, the heat, the smoke and even in some strange way, the palpable fear on the faces and in the air around him.  He had felt indestructible.  All that had changed.

The day the letter came he had gone to the river with his friend Alfred and had been using his rod, having forgotten to take his own.  They had caught many fish that day and he had come home with a wreath of smiles across his small, grubby, be-freckled face.  He had run in to tell his mother about the ‘monster’ he had caught, ready to declare that his old rod was nothing compared to Fred’s newer one, when he had found her in the kitchen on her knees.  He had reached her and touched her shoulder with the words tumbling from him in excited gasps, when he finally registered that she was not on her knees scrubbing the kitchen with sylvan soap, but that she was in a bedraggled heap, sobbing quietly in unbearable grief.  When he saw the crumpled piece of paper in her hand, he only had one question.  Was it Arthur, his beloved elder brother or his father that the Germans had killed?  He would never forget her face as she held out the letter to him, unable to speak the words that weighed so heavy on her heart.  As he took the letter she let out a wail, so foreign to him that he dropped it in alarm and flung his arms around her.  From that moment on the responsibilities of adulthood had been placed squarely upon his shoulders.  In some inexplicable way, Herbert felt that not having had his rod with him that day, he had let his father down.  His rod was his talisman, his rod had kept his father safe and when he had left it behind, besmirched it even, then fate had been allowed to step in and take his father away from them.  Now he felt that the only thing keeping his brother safe from harm, was this rod that Herbert kept with him at all times.  Never again would it languish unattended.  Never again could the Nazi’s twist the fates their way.

His lures were as old as his rod but Herbert knew that old did not necessarily mean useless.  He had been on many trips since that day and though he may not have caught a fish as big as that one, numerous fish had been landed and enjoyed as only a hunter knows how.  The sun was warm on his caramel hair and though his temper could occasionally be red hot and fiery, his hair had been tempered by maternal blonde hues.  Arthur had not been so lucky.  The day they had shipped out, his father had reminded Arthur to keep his helmet on lest the enemy mistook him for one of their own and they had laughed to lighten the mood.  Laughter made the pain easier to get through.

As he attached the lure to the rod he remembered when Arthur had first shown him how to attach the fiddly aid correctly.  It had taken quite a long time for Herbert to get it right and he had been so desperate to be just like his big brother that he had dropped it three times and they had laughed and laughed before their father reminded them to simmer down as they would scare away the fish.

As he cast off, Herbert looked down at his clothes and could almost see his brother when he was wearing them.  They had been a lot less grubby then, and a lot less darned.  ‘Make do and mend’ was the motto and his mother really did follow it to the letter.  He wondered if all the children in the country would be wearing similar clothes or whether just coastal or city children were affected. He really didn’t want to go and not just because he would miss his mother.  How was it safer for him to be sent away to strangers, than it was for him to stay here with his own kith and kin?  Yes, the last attack had come very close to his home, but they had moved on to other places now or at least it seemed they had.  The break between raids had been longer this time.  He wound back the reel as his cast had been unsuccessful due to his lack of concentration.  He screwed up his face in dismay.  He was supposed to be here not thinking about going away, this was probably his last chance to come here before he had to go and he wanted to make the most of it.  He schooled his features into a calm demeanour and tried again.
* * * * * 

Steven had been successful with his cast off and although at twelve, he was the same age as Herbert, he knew nothing of War.  He was pale and slight of build and like Herbert, was grubby and in clothes darned and ill-fitting.  Steven had done his own darning.  He did not have a loving mother to take care of his appearance.  He had a step-father who only bought second-hand clothes for him at all to keep up appearances.  Many other children had hand-me-down clothes, who would notice or care about another one?  Steven pulled at his sleeve to check that the bruise was covered.  Many people walked past the river and although it was unlikely that any of them would know him, he didn’t want any awkward questions asking.  He preferred to live with Ryan.  At least with him, it was better the devil you know. 

He placed his grandfather’s rod in its rest and reached for his bag.  Steven opened the bag and took out an apple.  Ryan hadn’t let him have breakfast again and this time, he hadn’t said anything about it.  He didn’t want another bruise on his other arm to match and he knew by now that that was just what he’d get.  So on the way to the river, he had climbed over a fence and scaled one of the apple trees in the Walters’ garden.  They had plenty of trees and plenty of apples, so Steven figured they wouldn’t miss a few and anyway, his need was greater than theirs.  He had kept the free sample bottle of water that had landed on the mat before Ryan had seen it and now Steven knew this would do for both breakfast and dinner.  By the time he made it back from the river, Ryan would be in a drunken stupor and if he could find anything in the cupboard that wasn’t alcohol, he could whip up his tea and cover his tracks before he even woke up.

The apple was good.  He let the sweet water drip from his lips down onto his chin and rubbed it absently with his sleeve.  He winced as the bruise connected and tugged down the material to cover it again.  At least the ones on his ribs were fading now.  By the time the Bank Holiday was over and he was back at school, they should have faded completely by PE day.  That was if he could keep out of Ryan’s way long enough to not acquire any new ones.  As he chewed he ruminated over Ryan’s latest surprise.  He wanted them to move back to Ireland.  Well, it was back for him. 

Steven had never been to Ireland, although he knew his mother must have as that was where she had met Ryan on one of her jaunts.  That was back when Nana was still alive and she must have babysat for him.  He smiled as he remembered Nana.  He had never known love like that, not before or since.  He had been safe with Nana and she had cooked like no-one else.  His smile twisted wryly as he admitted to himself that it could just have been that he was getting warm, cooked (not burned) food at all that may have made it seem quite so amazing.  He liked to think that she was the best cook though; she was the best at everything else.  He never knew if she had suspected what was going on at home for him, but her babysitting had become more frequent.  Their time together had been filled with lots of hugs, kisses and delicious food, but the attention had been the best thing of all.  Not the kind of attention he got at home, with raised fists and voices, but time together to talk and listen to each other.  If she had not died before his mum, he was sure he could have gone to live with her and everything would have been so different.  Life wasn’t like that though.  Nothing good ever fell into place easily.

There was a tug on his rod and he began to reel the fish in eagerly.  If he could land this fish and ‘borrow’ the matches from the house, he could cook it for his dinner.  He never thought of it as a home, home was a place where Ryan wouldn’t be waiting.  If he even saw the fish, let alone smelt it, he would never see it again.  The tug was brief as the fish was small, but Steven couldn’t have been happier if he had landed a shark.  His hunting was for survival.

* * * * *

Emiliana had found a rod.  She knew it was old as it had no computer and it was dirty, but appeared to be in working order.  The reel wound as it should and it even had a brightly-coloured lure attached to it.  That was how she had found it; the strange glow of orange coming from the long grass had intrigued her.  She had checked that she was alone, before investigating.  It was safer that way.

It wasn’t as if it was a good bounty, but treasure of any kind made her smile.  She lived on her wits and she knew the gangs could be anywhere.  She had made it to fourteen on her wits alone and she knew how to play the game.  She was lucky.  She was small and had a baby-face, but should the baggy clothes she wore somehow no longer conceal; her changing body would give her away.  Only the rich got to live past thirteen and she could by no means be called rich.  If you had not made something of yourself by then, shown yourself to be of some value to the World in one of the four revered fields (science, medicine, quantum mechanics or genetic modification) or got or made heaps of money, then the gangs had you on file.  They only needed to have your fingerprint and that gave them the license to kill.  The trick was never to give them cause to want to check your fingerprint or better still, avoid them at all costs.  If there had been anyone around, she would never have investigated the small orange glow.

As it was, she was glad she had.  By the cover of darkness she could use it to pilfer from the night-ponds.  These were the huge robot-made tanks that housed the cloned fish which made up the food source in her area.  The tanks were guarded by secure-robots at night, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t get past them.  All legitimate fishing rods had computer chips and this antique didn’t have one.  They wouldn’t pick up the electronic activity, so if she could get in without being seen, then she would have another variation to her diet.  She could almost taste the fish now.  All she needed to do now was work out how to use it.  As a child she had used a real rod.  She had never seen anything like this one outside of her history books from Collegeriat.  She knew she had to wind the rod as that was done automatically when she caught a fish with her old rod, but how would she know where to cast as it had no computer to pin point the location of the fish.  Like everything else in life, it would be trial and error.  She could practice in the river.  She wouldn’t dream of eating anything she might actually catch, the pollution alone put paid to that idea.

She wondered who had owned the rod.  For someone to bury it, they must have thought it was treasure of some kind.  It must have been valued enough for someone to hide it.  She turned it slowly in her hands.  It was caked in mud, but that would wash off when she practised casting off.  It would be better to wait for darkness as the lure would stand out, as would she fishing with such a bizarre object.  Ellie had never waited for anything or anyone and she wasn’t about to start now.  She began to practice casting.  It took a little effort, but if you flicked it just right, it landed in the water where it should.  She had a quick glance around before sitting cross-legged upon the bank and waited to see if she would catch anything.

The light was beginning to fade when Ellie felt a tug on the line.  She slowly reeled in as whatever it was put up a tremendous fight.  She had struck gold.  An electronic toy submarine had attached itself magnetically to the metal of the lure and although it had automatically geared into reverse, it was too late.  Ellie held it at arms length and carefully pressed the de-activation button.  Once it had powered down she wiped it clean on her sleeve and placed it carefully into her bag.  She smiled to herself as she put the rod next to the toy and fastened the clasp.  She walked slowly towards town assured in the knowledge that it would fetch a good price at the black market.  Tonight she would eat legitimately and then she would practice.  She might not have such good fortune next time and she needed all her skills to fish in the night-ponds.  Tonight was a time to celebrate and worry tomorrow what the future would bring.


Wake not in fear

Steven awoke covered in sweat.  He was already upright and the thin tablecloth he used as a blanket was in an untidy heap upon the floor.  He had the images of the dream still fully formed in his mind and he closed his mouth slowly as he became aware that the scream of horror must have been in his head and thankfully, not reverberating around the house where Ryan could have heard it.  The last thing he wanted to do was wake Ryan.  He reached up an unsteady hand and slowly wiped it across his face.  That was some nightmare.  His face contorted in wry acknowledgement that he usually woke with fear uppermost in his mind, but from what might happen to him, never before from his wild imaginings.  It had been a while since he had gone to sleep on a full stomach it was true, but surely that could not have caused such a deeply disturbing occurrence.  He desperately wanted to splash cool water over his face to rid himself of the clammy feeling that had gripped him, yet he knew of old that it was best never to do anything to wake Ryan.  Once he had his breathing under control, he might decide to try to get to the bathroom but for now Steve leant back onto the wall and replayed the dream in his head.  Ryan had taken him to Ireland.  He was in a strange town, with dark and dangerous inhabitants and they had all been intent upon harming him.  There were guns and grenades stockpiled in rooms and the men had been trying to teach him how to use them.  He had tried to refuse, but they had held him down and beaten him, laughing as they did so.  That was not the worst of it.  They had his Nana.  She had been bound and gagged and tied to a chair in a smoke-filled room and they had held him and forced him to watch as they had slowly slit her throat.  That was when he had screamed his impotent scream and woken to the cold dawn of reality.  What the Hell did the dream mean?  Nana had been dead for years; no-one could harm her now. 

It was true that Ryan might be taking him to Ireland, but Steven liked to think that he was made of sterner stuff than to let his stupid imagination generate ridiculous dreams.  It almost felt as though it was a warning.  Like his Nana was trying to stop him from doing something, something that someone else was going to try to force him to do?  He wafted a hand over his face as he felt a tingle cross it, just like the feeling you get when you walk into a cobweb.  That was a bit bizarre, as there were no cobwebs to be seen.  He picked his cloth up and hugged it to him.  His Nana had embroidered the tablecloth years ago and when Steve held it, it almost felt like he was close to her again.  A small smile played around his lips.  It was a silly dream, that’s all. 

The clock in the hall struck six a.m. and Steven knew he was not going to be able to get back to sleep now.  He tiptoed over to the cardboard box in the corner of the room.  He rummaged through the contents, some dirty, some broken, some both and searched for his clean school uniform.  Ryan regularly upended the box full of his possessions, but he knew there was one in there and thankfully, this term it was the appropriate colour for the current school.  Over the years Ryan had forced him to wear numerous uniforms of different colours as they had been the cheapest ones to purchase in the charity shop.  Little did Ryan care that these made him a target at school as he stuck out like a sore thumb.  At the last school fair though, cheap old cast-offs of former pupils had been on sale and even though all had had name tags lovingly sewn into them, Steven had removed them.  They may have been second-hand, but they were clothes that no longer drew attention to him.

Once he was dressed he made his way carefully to the bathroom and reached for the soap as the basin filled with water.  He looked in the mirror as he slowly and silently washed and cleaned his teeth.  He still felt the cold clutch of fear around his heart that had settled there since the disturbing dream, but at least he looked less panic-stricken now.

When he had collected his homework books he crept out of the house and headed to the edge of town.  He smiled to himself as he realised he would be able to finish his homework by the river undisturbed.  If he ever got to do his homework at all, it was always rushed and scruffy as Ryan was not a great believer in learning.  He had gone to ‘the school of hard knocks’ as he constantly quoted to Steven, and if the ones he regularly dolled out were anything to go by, he could well believe it.  Nothing good ever came out of school Ryan said, but Steven didn’t agree.  He knew it was his best chance to create a new, safe, life for himself.  He turned to his books and applied himself to getting the best marks he could for the work.  By the time he had finished he felt confident that one of two things would occur.  His teachers would either think he had been cheating, or that he had suddenly grown a brain.  He smiled to himself as he headed for the school and unconsciously straightened his shoulders.  He had made a pact with himself that he would do this from now on; make time to do his homework undisturbed and construct the best possible chance that he could to ensure a safe future.  He stiffened his spine as he walked through the school gates.  Today was a good day; he could feel it in his bones.

Ryan was waiting for him when he came out of school.  He never came to meet him from school and Steven felt the fear settle in the pit of his stomach once more.  Ryan was leaning on the wall next to the entrance smoking one of the many cigarettes that he always put away each day and from this distance, looked sober.  He felt his eyebrows shoot heavenwards as this thought hit home.  Had the social worker made one of her infrequent announced visits?  No, surely Ryan would also have given him advance warning of her arrival too, a warning to pretend like everything was okay or else.  Anyway, a haircut usually preceded these visits and as he stood there he could feel the wind playing with his over-long hair just below his collar.  No, it must be something else and he took a deep breath to prepare himself for what unexpected event may have occurred.  As he reached Ryan the stench of alcohol was overpowering and he realised the relaxed stance was just another one of his attempts to portray a normal fa├žade to the world.

Ryan’s hand suddenly extended out towards him and he noticed for the first time that his fist was closed around a note.  Steven eyed him warily, unsure whether to take the money that he appeared to be offering him, or not.  Ryan grabbed his hand and stuffed the note into it, before towering over him.

"You’ll need this.  I have got some mates coming round and they’ll need to eat.  I don’t care what you make them, so long as there’s meat in there somewhere, but I will be looking at the change, so you will only buy our food, right?”

As he leant forward to propel his unspoken threat home, the overpoweringly sickly-sweet smell made Steven feel physically sick, but he needed to know how much to buy if he was to get it right and he knew that it was important to get it right.

“How many are coming so I can get the right stuff?” he asked and waited whilst unconsciously holding his breath.

“Four”, he said and turned on his heel and, whilst lighting up yet another cigarette, began to walk away. 

Steven felt his shoulders sag as he disappeared around the corner and just as he forced down a gulp of fear and took a deep breath of air, he turned to head towards the shop.  Why were four men coming to see Ryan?  Steven didn’t even know that Ryan had friends, well, not that lived around here anyway.  He was always talking about his ‘brothers’ in Ireland, but he always got the impression that by that he did not mean the blood variety.

The corner shop contained shelves stacked with plenty of ideas and soon he was leaving the shop laden down with heavy carrier bags.  He did not look up as he passed the park on his way to the house.  It was almost as though he was on a mission.  He did not hear the happy laughter of the schoolchildren in the park swinging on the swings with abandon or sliding down the slide with glee.  He had to be home.  He had to make sure this meal was ready and waiting for the men.  It was like he already knew that the success or otherwise of this meal had the potential to alter the course of his life forever.

He had concentrated on getting the food perfect and had sneakily placed a small plate for himself in the pan cupboard (under a large upturned colander should Ryan have decided to check) before dishing out the rest equally onto the five plates.  He noted that all of the men, although burly and definitely Irish, had taken no particular notice of him, so he had relaxed slightly.  As he served the meal he noticed that two of the men were badly bruised as though they had been in a particularly vicious fight and he wondered if that was why they were here.  Were they lying low, waiting for whatever heat to pass before moving on?  Steven knew that Ryan did not work for a living, but he knew that he got money from somewhere and would not have been at all surprised had the men all announced they were bank robbers and shown him the proceeds.  None of the men looked at him, but the conversation had ceased the minute he entered the room

Whilst he sat eating his portion of the meal, he contemplated what they could be doing here and whether they were stopping.  He had noticed that two of the men had brought in big holdalls and they all looked really dirty as though they had been working outside somewhere really dusty.  He was rushing his meal in his haste to remain undiscovered, but it was nice just to eat so it didn’t really register. 

As he washed, dried and replaced all the evidence of his meal to the cupboards, he began to formulate a plan to overhear what they were talking about.  It was best to know what to expect.  He began to straighten out the kitchen and nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice behind him boomed,

“We need you in the other room kid.”  The smallest of the four men was blocking the doorway to the kitchen with a can of Guinness in his hand and he gesticulated to leave the room.  As Steven walked back in, he felt the man come up closely behind him and he felt the eerie cobweb feeling fleetingly cross his face once more.

“Sit”, was all that was said and as he complied he noticed that Ryan had a particularly unpleasant look upon his face.  The small man placed one of the holdalls onto the table where a space had been made and opened it up.  The temptation to peer inside was overwhelming, but he was glad he hadn’t as one gun after another was placed next to the bag. 

“See these kid?  We need you to get them out for us.  Let’s just say we haven’t got permits for them.”  A chorus of deep and dangerous laughter followed this statement and Steven felt the cold shiver of fear trickle its way down his spine.

“You just got to take them to the bus station for us.  Do you reckon you can do that?”

Steven nodded emphatically.  He had a horrible feeling that if he didn’t agree, he would be reliving last nights dream as some kind of horrible reality.

“Right then kid, get your coat.  We will pack up the bags for you and you can take ‘em for us.”  He shoved Steve to his feet and propelled him forwards.

In the other room Steven forced his arms into his coat sleeves whilst breathing heavily.  How was he going to get the bag to the bus station without anyone seeing?  He was going to look a bit conspicuous; a little kid with an enormous heavy holdall.  Why the bus station?  Was someone going to meet him there and relieve him of his dangerous cargo?  He stood there like a ghostly apparition in a long green coat two sizes too big and tried to put his pumps on without his hands shaking too much.

“Oi kid, what’s taking yer so long?” came the voice from the other room and Steven hurried back. 

“I don’t think we need to remind you how important this is do we?” the man asked as he came through the door and a sucker punch hit Steven’s midriff as he turned to answer.  He bent double trying to catch his breath through the pain and almost immediately a strong crack came across the back of his head and he hit the floor at once.  He slumped against the wall trying to focus and wondered bizarrely whether they had learned that from Ryan.  He knew the places that would hurt the most, yet leave the least evidence too.  He noticed that they all stood around him looking down at him expectantly.

“No, no.  You don’t need to tell me how important it is.  I get it, I get it.”  He hastened to assure them, though how well they could hear it through the strained painfulness of his speech was unclear, but the man with the large black beard and moustache dragged him to his feet in a kind of acknowledgement.  He handed Steven the bags and as he slung one over each shoulder he tried to concentrate on evening the weight of the bags rather than giving in to the unbelievable pounding agony of his head and the stretched tautness of his belly.  As he was about to leave, Ryan held out a hand to stop him.

“You need to take a bag with you, as you will be going with the bags on the bus.  I suggest you pack a few things for the journey and I will meet you later in Ireland.”

He glanced around at them all in fear as the last thing he wanted to do was get on a bus to Ireland, but if he was expecting one of them to say something to help, it wasn’t forthcoming.  He put down the bags and ran into his room.  There was no way he was going to be able to fit everything from his box into his bag, but he thought on his feet and just put in the bare essentials.  At the last minute he put the fishing rod in, right in the side where it wasn’t obvious it was a pocket.  After all he had to eat and he sincerely doubted that Ryan would be giving him any money.  He carried the bag into the other room and picked up the holdalls again.  Conversely, they felt heavier even before he picked up his own bag.

The man who had given him the sucker punch nodded towards the smaller man and they both stepped forward to accompany him out the door.  As they walked he tried not to look at anyone on the street.  If anyone had looked at him they probably would have seen the stark fear etched on his face, but no-one did.  A small pale boy carrying big bags whilst two men walked alongside him holding nothing didn’t seem to attract attention.  As usual everyone was going about their own lives, their heads filled with things only important to themselves.

“Don’t think about any funny stuff kid,” the smaller man said as they passed the edge of town,

 "I will be looking in your bag too to check.  Nothing can stuff up the mission.”

Steven raised his eyebrows at such a strange turn of phrase, but was concerned more with how he was going to conceal the fishing rod.  Somehow it seemed imperative that he hide it.

“I need to go to the toilet,” Steven said and watched in alarm as an amused look passed between the pair.  Yeah right, they would think that he needed to go to the toilet because he was so scared.  Well, if it worked that was all that mattered.

He paused by the riverbank and indicated some trees.  As he put the bag down he felt into the side pocket and removed the rod.  As he straightened up he pushed it down the back of his trousers and as it looked like he was rubbing his back because of the weight of the bags, they didn’t even notice.  He wandered into the shaded tree area and pretended to go to the toilet.  The two men looked away to light up some cigarettes and that was when Steven hurriedly buried the rod in the light brown earth.  He brushed his hands down the back of his trousers as he straightened and wandered back to the men.  He would find a way to escape and when he did, he would come back here and retrieve the rod.

The bus station was packed.  One man had paid for his ticket whilst the other stood guard over him and they practically frogmarched him to a bus at the far end of the station.

“This is the one.  Don’t forget to stow the bags away properly lad.  You wouldn’t want to end up in prison now would you?” the man bent and whispered into his ear in a sinister manner and Steve nodded.  As he slowly began to go up the steps into the bus he looked back at the men in the station.  They both stared right back at him unblinkingly and Steve turned around and began to stow away the bags in the luggage holders above the seats.  He then sat down in the seat underneath them and turned to watch the men disappear as the bus pulled out of the station, his brain already working on how he would get back for the rod.

As the bus disappeared into the distance the small man turned to the burly one and grinned,

“Do you think he’ll figure out that the bus isn’t going to Ireland”?”

“No, Ryan says he’s not that intelligent and anyway by the time the bus is on the M62 it will be too late.  He’s so scared of the guns in the bags; he won’t even notice the bomb.”


Rohan and the night ponds

Emiliana shook her head in dismay.  She had enough problems without this.  Picking up the device from the floor, she handed it back to Rohan.  He looked imploringly up at her and she rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“I know what it says Rohan, but do you honestly think that I can do anything about it even if it is true, which I doubt.  The computers have ruled us all for years anyway, if we are honest, so what if they are passing a few new laws that we humans don’t particularly like the sound of?”

“But it says there is going to be a revolt,” Rohan whispered, clearly panicked, “and if there is what will we do?”

“We, Rohan, we?  Since when has there been a we?” 

Rohan had the grace to blush, but as a twinge of something that could be described as guilt fluttered unwontedly in her stomach, Ellie added more softly,

“We will do what we always do.  Hide.  It won’t be the first time or the last that we humans tried to stand up to them, but we will lose.  We always do.  They have all the machines, therefore the power.  They need us though, remember that.  They cannot fix everything themselves.”

Rohan was two weeks away from becoming thirteen and he was trying to attach himself to Emiliana.  She knew that.  He knew that.  Neither of them acknowledged it.  Ellie did not need baggage.  She had been passing on some of her knowledge and sometimes she had shared her food, but this was the limit to her generosity.  He would be a liability and she did not need liabilities.

“Look on the bright side, if this one lasts long enough, at least it will give you some time.  They will be too busy fighting to be checking the update lists.”

Rohan considered this and then grinned, his small dark face lighting up as it slowly altered from grubby, scared and hungry looking, to a happy yet gaunt expression.  His curly black hair was as dirty as the rest of him and his clothes had an air of permanence about them that made Ellie realise that he still had not changed from the regulation ones he had been wearing upon his arrival.

“For the last time Ro, you need to swap the clothes.  It is bad enough that you ran away from a perfectly good science laboratory to come here, but if you continue to wear the uniform you draw attention to all of us.”

“Okay, I suppose I could wear the other stuff now.  I might have grown enough.”

He fumbled in his bag and pulled out a very old pair of cast-offs that made Ellie wrinkle up her nose to stop herself from remembering when she had last seen them worn.  She and Parker had removed them from Lorne when he had been found.  The gangs were excellent at search and destroy, yet seemed to have problems with tidying up the aftermath, let alone a decent burial.  Parker had said it was a waste to bury him in perfectly good clothes and she had reluctantly agreed and helped him with the task.  Lorne would have liked Rohan.

“You still got that weird thing?” she heard him say from behind her, after she had turned away from him in the hope of making a getaway whilst he was changing.

“What weird - oh, the rod.  Yes, but I am not sharing,” she added quickly, correctly guessing what was coming next.

“But if you are not using it at the moment, I could just – “

“No.  It’s mine and it is not safe for you to try your hand at the night-ponds.”

She stood to her full height, which admittedly was not that big, but her expression was impressively haughty and firm.  She knew he wouldn’t argue.  He needed her more than she needed him.  She turned around and he began to look down at the ground rather than at her, but the mixture of his crestfallen look and the sight of him dressed in Lorne’s clothing made her change her mind.  Her shoulders sagged slightly as the sigh escaped her,

“I suppose you could come with me.”  He did not bother to try and hide his delight.  He ran to her side whilst stuffing his old clothes into the bag, excitedly chattering that he could wash out the uniform there at the same time.  Ellie rolled her eyes heavenward; he clearly knew nothing about fishing.  It wasn’t his fault though, he had been born into the science clan and they were never taught anything useful, or that required the use of common sense.  She would show him.  He needed to learn if he was to survive and strangely, even though she didn’t want to be saddled with him, she didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening to him either.  She took a steadying breath; she could not afford to become soft.

The heat was cloying as they made their way to the night-ponds.  It had been months since the decree for the use of the sprinkle-clouds to be banned (something about needing to allow the stocks time to recover) so the air seemed to lack more oxygen than usual.  It was a slow process getting anywhere as their progress was hampered by their need for constant vigilance.  The gangs could be anywhere.  Searching, constantly searching.  At each crop of genetically-modified trees they had to pause to check, to make sure.  Neither spoke as they got closer to their goal.

The eerie glow from the night-ponds seemed to loom out of the semi-darkness like a bad omen, but Ellie had long since stopped being superstitious.  You were what made things happen or not, nothing else.  She flattened herself against the wall and peered around it to check for secure-robots.  Nothing could be seen or heard and that gave her an uneasy feeling.  It was never easy to get anything.

The light from the moon was almost entirely blocked by the polluted fog, but the neon lights dotted here and there, cast bleak shadows upon everything around them.  The secure-robots picked up body heat as well as noise when they were close enough, so it was best to go slowly and carefully.  She could hear Rohan breathing quietly next to her, but tried to block everything except what she had to do from her mind.  It wasn’t that she didn’t care how scared he was, just that she had to focus completely or it might all be over.  They had to eat.

The whirring of the filters became louder as they inched their way forwards and it became harder to hear other movements in the air around them.  Ellie supposed if she was struggling to hear, it might make it harder for them.  With a last furtive glance around, Ellie stooped over to retrieve the rod from her bag.  She carefully loosened the lure and put it back in.  It was too bright to risk using it here.  She would manage without it. 

She gently thrust the bag towards Rohan and he took it, whilst raising his eyebrows.  Surely he didn’t think he would be anything other than lookout?  She mouthed, ‘wait here’ and crept to the edge of the nearest night-pond.

The slight slop of the water against the edges was just audible above the filters and as she looked into the deep, dark, depths of the pool she wondered what kind of fish would be on the menu tonight.  She knew that the modifiers had recreated most of the sea life that had used to exist, because she remembered eating it back when she had been entitled to rations, but they didn’t exactly advertise what was contained within these places.  She checked her time-data and was reassured that she still had six minutes to fish before the radar swung back this way.  As she lowered the rod towards the water, she stole a quick glance behind her to check that he was where she had left him.  He was.

Four minutes counted down and still there was no bite.  She retracted the line and crept back to the wall.

“We need to go that way as the radar is due here in one minute and thirty-five seconds.  That will give me eight and a half to try another,” she whispered as she headed east.  She had long since worked out the radar rota.  It was the same every night and it had only taken her three nights of silent vigil to work out when and where the red beams would focus.  Mere seconds after they departed, the beams shone out through the ten night ponds behind them.

She followed the same ritual as before and after only two minutes or so, a large pull came on the line.  Rohan passed her the bag and Ellie put the struggling fish into it.  It was hard to tell what kind it was in such dismal conditions, but it looked big enough for the both of them.  She checked the time and decided she would try again.  Why not get two and save time tomorrow?  It only took half the time it had before and she was pulling the struggling fish out.  When it was safely stowed in the bag they turned towards the exit.  Suddenly she pushed Rohan into the wall so hard that the breath was knocked from his lungs.  As he gasped desperately for air, she slumped down beside him and motioned towards the exit.  Just to one side, there were two secure-robots.  Ellie could not imagine why they were there at that particular time.  She had got her fishing trips down to a fine art and knew that they should have been patrolling the west section.  Surely the small reduction to stocks that she was making had not been detected?

Rohan seemed to have frozen where she had placed him.  His wide eyes trained petrified upon the robots.  She pushed him further behind the wall and fumbled in her pocket for her mirror.  She angled it so that they could see them and as the robots turned and glided towards them, they gave no outward sign that they could see them.  Ellie knew that they needed to be completely out of sight and checked quickly that all limbs were positioned behind the wall.  Even secure-robots couldn’t detect body heat through these walls.  They were soon close enough to hear the mechanical pistons working and Ellie felt Rohan shudder.  She knew why.  The resonance of their pistons sounded eerily like breathing.

Then they heard the steady high-pitched bleep of the robot scan as it performed a sweep of the area.  She held her breath as she saw the silvery light come towards them and it was only then that she realised that Rohan had dropped his bag.  She pulled at it desperately as the light inched closer, but it was too late.  They had seen it.  A dreadful sucking noise reverberated from the nearest robot as the bag began to move towards it.  Ellie hastily let go. 

Rohan looked at her; he, like she, knew that there was no way out of this.  Once they had the bag, they would scan it and they would have his DNA on file.  It was over.

He gave her one last rueful smile and stepped out from behind the wall.  She held her breath as she heard him say,

“You got me guys.  If you check your records I am from quadrant four, science division SWY776.  I know I shouldn’t have been here, but I was just so interested in genetic modification you see.”

A bright light now illuminated Rohan and Ellie watched horrified in her mirror as one of the secure-robots raised his arm to take aim.  She well knew how the arms were easily used as lasers, but she could not look away.  She heard it charging up and she readied herself for the loss of yet another friend.

“Rohan Lieberman, quadrant four, science division SWY776.  You have thirteen days to termination.  You will be returned to quadrant four.  Your interest in genetic modification has been noted, but it is unlikely you will be deemed suitable for transfer.”  Giving him no time to react, a thick electronic coil erupted from the end of the robots arm and wrapped itself tightly around Rohan, who was then dragged forcefully to the floor.  As the robot glided towards the thermostat tower, Ellie could see him pulled along behind it, face down in the mud whilst the other robot followed, slowly examining the contents of his bag.

As Ellie forced lungful after lungful of air into her body she shook with the force of Rohan’s sacrifice.  There would be no chance of escape for him now.  His records would have him marked as a potential escapee and he would most likely live out the rest of his thirteen days under constant surveillance.  She did not need much imagination to work out how he would be punished for his crime of trying to live.  Unbidden, the hot tears fell.

It could have been minutes, or seconds, but Ellie scraped the wetness brutally from her face.  He would have expected better from her, she knew that.  He hadn’t done that so that she could be caught languishing in grief.  He had given her another chance to live and she was not going to waste it.  She tried to focus on the practical.  So she couldn’t fish here any more.  There were other places and any way, she had enough fish to get her through two more days at least.  She stood up resolutely.  She knew she had enough time to leave undetected.  They would be far too busy with their bounty.

As she picked her way through the exit carefully she noticed a shiny sphere on the ground.  She placed it in her pocket and tried not to think of its implications.  It was a button from Lorne’s clothing.  That must have been what had given them away.  If only she hadn’t made him change – but no, she couldn’t think like that.  Life was not a series of what ifs.  One could as easily say what if humans hadn’t invented computers. 

She made it to the genetically-modified trees and she knew she was far enough into safety now.  She took the button from her pocket once more.  It was dirty and misshapen, but she knew she would keep it with her always.  It was not just a reminder of one friend, but of two and as she thought of Rohan she hoped that he would fare better than Lorne.  She came abruptly to a halt and shook her head.  Hastily she put the button back into her pocket and forced the door closed to the memories in her mind.  So she had lost another comrade in this constant battle.  It was not the first time and it would not be the last.