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I found an old notebook on the shelf.

It’s not dated, but judging from the handwriting and some of the things that are referenced, I’d say it starts around sixth form (that’s age 17) and goes up to some time after I went to university.

It’s a fun read – it begins with what I think was my first real attempt at properly planning a story – character maps and notes on the world government and all.  There are even some notes on architecture and little drawings – to scale – of some of the physics involved.

The story plan concerns the (highly probable) situation in which the moon’s orbit has started to decay.  Scientists managed to find a way to prop it up on giant struts, but clearly in the process some damage was done to the Earth’s atmosphere.  Now, everyone has to live in the shadow of the moon, otherwise they die of radiation poisoning.

Shadowland plot

The radiation has caused strange mutations in the twilight lands, where people get a reduced dose of the sun’s rays.  They don’t die outright, but they have mutations in the genes which cause features such as white fur to reflect the rays, dampeners in their eyes to reduce glare, etc.  These twilight people feel bitter because they are thought of as freaks, when in fact they are better suited to life now.  They grow crops which have also mutated, and try to sell them to the shadowlanders.

My main character was called Tim, and he was an “ordinary person” in his late teens/early twenties, who was claustrophobic – a problem since the moon hangs so low in the sky and everyone lives in a tightly packed space with lots of tunnels.  Apparently his parents were accountants!

For entertainment’s sake, I thought it would be interesting to take some of what I wrote then and compare it with what I would do now.  I reproduce it complete with spelling errors, amendments and so on.


Tim stepped out into the clear night air.  A slight breeze stirred his short brown hair.  Involuntarily, he glanced upwards, and shuddered.  His sad blue eyes closed, and he swallowed.  He could see the moon’s craters with his naked eyes.  It was too close, too close.

He looked out across the city, taking in the skyscrapers which rose tall as far as he could see.  Some of them were so tall you could almost reach out and touch the moon from the top of them.

Walking briskly down through the concrete jungle, Tim wrinkled his nose at the all-pervading stench of moon dust.

I bet they first men on the moon didn’t realise how bad it smells when the first put man on the moon, 2 centuaries ago, he thought bitterly.

And now:

Tim stepped out of the airlock and listened to the door swish closed behind him.  Within moments he was covered in a fine layer of moon-dust.  He cast a glance over his shoulder to check that the green ‘ready’ light had come on, confirming that he could re-enter the complex whenever he wanted.  It shone brightly, cutting through the gloom like a beacon welcoming him home.  With a slight pang he thought of his sister, left behind for now.  I will come back for her, he vowed, once I’ve found them.  We will be together again.

He settled his dust-mask more firmly on his face and squinted at the world.  Around him, towers rose high into the sky, packed tightly together.  Windows were few and far between, especially at ground level.  There was nothing to look at, after all, apart from dust and more towers.  He deliberately didn’t look up.  Tim had heard that from the highest towers you could see amazing views, even as far as the edge of the Shadow.  He’d heard that from the very tallest towers you could reach out and touch the moon.  He’d never been that high, of course.  Only the richest citizens were able to afford to live above the dust.

The gully he was in now was one of several that ran throughout the complex.  They were designed to give access to the outside of the massive building, for the maintenance crews.  In reality they were hardly used.  The complex was given the minimum maintenance possible to keep it standing.  There was no money for anything else, and no spare materials to do it with.  All of the dwindling resources of the planet were focused on one thing: the Struts.

He moved forward to the first cross-gully and looked to the left.  In the distance he could just make out Strut Three.  There were eight Struts in all, spaced evenly around the edge of the complex.  Each one was a couple of miles wide at the base, able to support massive weights on its own.  It still took eight of them to hold up the moon.  He shuddered as he considered what would happen if (when!) the Struts failed.  With the ozone layer and most of the upper atmosphere stripped away when the moon descended, the entire human race was packed tightly in the shadow lands.  If even one Strut gave way they would all be destroyed.

Tim smiled grimly.  Not all, not if the stories were true.  He hoped, needed the stories to be true.

Making sure his rucksack was firmly settled on his back, he set out towards the distant structure.  Soon he was breathing heavily.  Each breath in caused more dust to settle on his mask, clogging the filter.  Every time he breathed out he tried to dislodge some of it, only to have it settle again moments later.  He forced himself to carry on.  There would be less dust further out.  Everyone said so.  He tried not to think about how “everyone” knew such a fact when “no-one” went outside.

He wished he could have made this part of the journey inside.  The complex was interconnected all the way to the twilight lands, and even the broken-down air conditioning units and recycled oxygen would be better than this.  Ever since the corn riots last year the towers had been segregated, though, and coming up with good enough reasons to cross further and further from his home would be difficult.  He did not want to get arrested for travelling without permits or whatever made-up crime the government had come up with this month.

He plodded on, trying not to think.  After what seemed like hours he was jolted out of his half-doze by a sudden increase in the light.  He flinched, cowering towards the walls.  How had they found him so quickly?  He thought he had hidden his departure well enough that nobody would even be looking yet.

When nothing happened he looked around and laughed.  Along the walls of the gully lights were flickering on, illuminating everything.  It was night, and the lights were on a timer.  Almost every other bulb had blown, but the light was still brighter than the dust-filtered sunlight available during the day.  Why the outside lights were on when nobody worked out here he didn’t know.

Now that he had stopped he realised how tired he was.  Sinking down against the side wall he leant his arms on his knees and rested his head on them.  The movement knocked his dust mask sideways, and he breathed in a face full of moon-dust.

So there we go!  Leaving aside the totally plausible science behind the situation, I think my writing has improved. What do you think?

Burble, verb.
Flow in an irregular current with a bubbling noise.


The brook burbled over the smooth stones, splitting and rejoining as it meandered towards the larger creek.  Anthony followed it with a heavy heart.  Occasionally he glanced back, hoping against hope that the sight would have changed, but each time he was disappointed.

The woman stood by the house, a shotgun in her hands.  A shotgun pointed directly at him.  Every time he paused to look, the figure scowled and gestured with the metal tube.  Behind her stood a small group: her neighbours and friends, come to support her in her time of need.

He wondered how it had come to this.  How had it gone so far, so that everyone had turned against him?  Would not a one of them help him?

Apparently not.

He turned back to the stream and trudged onwards.  It sounded so merry, running along without a care in the world.  Anthony envied that stream.  It knew where it was from, and it knew where it was going, and if something got in the way it just flowed on around it, not worrying.

He approached the edge of the property, where the brook entered the woods.  Turning back, he took one last look at the house he had grown up in, at the people he had known all his life.

At his mother.

He entered the woods, never to return.

Today’s word of the day was nemesis.  Just a little snippet of real life.


Nemesis, noun.  A source of harm or ruin.


“And now, my fuzzy nemesis, your time has come!”

Jasper looked up at the human looming over him.  She was going away again, he could tell.  He stretched slightly and snuggled deeper into her lap, starting to purr.  She sighed and stroked his head.

“Really, Jasper, I need to go to bed.  You’re going to have to get up.”

He lifted his chin and she obediently started to stroke his throat.  She was so easy to manipulate it was ridiculous.  On a good evening he could hold her in place for half an hour or more past the time she first started trying to leave.

“I mean it,” she said.  “I’m going to bed.”

She stroked his head and sides for a few more minutes and then sighed.

Gently she started to insinuate her hands under his body.  Rebelliously, he went as limp as possible, almost sinking into her legs as she struggled to remove him.  Eventually, though, she managed to get enough of a grip to lift him, and then he knew it was over.

He shook himself slightly and stalked a few paces away before sitting down and looking reproachfully back at her.

She laughed and stroked his head again.

“Sorry, darling, but you should be used to this by now.”

Recently, I’ve been using the “word of the day” feature on my phone’s dictionary as a fiction prompt.  Today’s “word” was give-and-take, which I personally view as three words, but that’s beside the point.


Give-and-take, noun.  An exchange of views on some topic.


The sudden appearance of the German master had Jackson and Anders hastily straightening up from their half-crouches and brushing ineffectually at their trousers.

“And just what is going on here?”

His voice was soft like silk, with a hidden iron core.  Mr Sanderson never raised his voice to get the attention of the students – in or out of class.  There was no need; his very presence caused everyone to stand in silence.  Jackson gulped.

“Nothing, Sir.  Just a friendly debate, a little give-and-take.”

Mr Sanderson raked his eyes over the pair.  They fought the urge to fidget, both uncomfortably aware that their shirts were not perfectly tucked in, their ties slightly skewed.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that there was a little more take than there was give.  I note that Mr Anders has misplaced his lunch in the excitement, and that you have found it, Mr Jackson.  I will assume that you were merely returning it to him?”  Somehow he managed to make the statement sound like both a question and an order.  Frantically Jackson nodded, and held out the plastic box to the younger boy.

Anders glanced at Mr Sanderson before hesitantly taking it and clutching it to him.  Mr Sanderson gave him the slightest of nods, so small that he was almost sure he had imagined it.

“Mr Anders, I fear you must find other companionship for now; Mr Jackson and I are going to have a conversation about the quality of his latest essay.  Come,” he added sharply, looking at Jackson, and swept off towards his classroom.  Jackson’s shoulders slumped as soon as the teacher’s back was turned, and he made a rude gesture.

“I saw that.”

His eyes widened comically, and he scuttled down the corridor after his teacher.

Anders smiled, and went to eat his lunch.

I’ve always wanted to feel like a movie star.

The thought popped into her head as she ran through the meadow towards her lover, causing her to laugh.  The wind whipped her hair around her face and the sun lit the scene with all the ferocity of a newborn kitten.  Beneath her feet flowers danced among the grass.

Suddenly her foot sank deep into a rabbit hole and she fell, cursing, into the mud.  She picked herself up and tried to stand, but her ankle collapsed and she fell again.  Choking back tears she saw her lover start to sprint towards her.

She didn’t look back, but she knew it was hopeless.

The zombie horde would reach her long before he did.

James glared at the computer.  How could he possibly have got an F for that essay?  His argument was well structured and logical, his work was neatly sectioned into manageable chunks of similar size and he’d even included lots of examples to prove his point.  The word count was within 20 words of the requested 4,000.  What else could he have done?

He checked the marking schedule again.  “Spring Term Final Essay – F – Click here for more”.  He clicked on the link.  A little pop-up appeared in the centre of his screen.

This essay was auto-marked by AI56923.

The following apply: 
– Structure: 87% 
– Content: 92% 
– Word Count: 99% 
– Spelling: 5% 
– Grammar: 5%

Overall Score: 46% 
Grade: F

James scratched his head.  Was there a glitch in the marking software?  He knew his spelling wasn’t that bad – in all of his previous essays he had scored over 95%.


Groaning, he flicked back to the title of the essay.  The decline of spelling and grammar in the modern world: a comparative study of literature from three centuries 1900-2153.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have included quite so many examples.

This week’s fiction comes from the roughly 20,000 words I have written so far this November.  In the true tradition of NaNoWriMo, it has not been edited, refined, fixed, or in any way amended, and is therefore mostly drivel.  Make of it what you will.

 – – –

Seth moved through the town searching for a tavern.  The darkness was swiftly falling and he was worried about the warning the gate guard had given about sleeping outside.  The first tavern he came to was called “The Witches Love”, and after a moment’s thought he passed it by.  It wasn’t safe for him to be mixing with witches, even if the chances were high that no witches were actually in the inn.

“The Bonny Lass” was a better bet, and he pushed his way in to the bar.  The place was only moderately busy, and he could see a barmaid lazing against the wall near the fire, so he didn’t hold out much hope of work.  With no money he needed to find somewhere that would allow him to work for his bed.  Sure enough, the innkeeper laughed in his face when he asked about work.

“Look around you, lad.  I’ve not enough work for those I already have.”

“I don’t suppose you know anywhere that’s looking?”

“No.  Now are you going to buy ale or leave my tavern?”

Wondering at the rudeness of the man, Seth left to continue his quest.  He wandered down several streets which contained nothing but houses, and a street entirely of shoe shops.  Imagine having so many shops all selling shoes!  How many people must there be in this city if all of these shoe shops could stay in business?

Around the corner from the shoe shops was the “Cobblers Arms”.  Seth stuck his head through the door and immediately left again.  If there were only three people in the tavern there would be no work there for him.

“The Lazy Shepherd” had a sign with a picture of a boy sleeping while a wolf stalked the sheep.  Seth wasn’t sure he liked the image or the implication, but there was light and noise spilling from the door.  Even as he watched a large man fell through the doorway, his lip bleeding and one eye rapidly blackening.  Another man followed him and started to pound him with his fists.

Seth was moving before he knew it.  With the number of well trained fighters who lived in his home town, brawls could quickly get out of hand, and he was used to taking his turn in the prevention details.  He grasped the second man’s collar and yanked to the side, forcing him to use his hands for support or crack his head on the pavement.  With one hand he pulled the man’s arm behind his back, and with the other he grasped his shoulder.  Kneeling in his back he leant down and spoke seriously to the man.

“I could easily break your arm.  I suggest you calm down before I decide I want to.  I don’t know what that man did to you, and frankly I don’t care.  If he broke the law, report him, and if he didn’t then deal with it like grown men, not like children.  Do you understand me?”

He gave a little squeeze on the man’s arm and watched as he winced.  The man began nodding frantically.

“Good.  Now, go home.”

He released the man and sprang backwards.  Sure enough, the man flailed out as he rolled to his feet, expecting to hit him.  When his fist met air he looked confused for a moment before his eyes focussed on Seth.  He looked him up and down, and suddenly the fight went out of him.  Seth nodded.

“Go home,” he repeated.  “Before you do something you’ll regret.”

The man nodded and stumbled off, weaving from side to side along the street.  Seth turned to the other man.  His confrontation had taken place so quickly that man had only just staggered to his feet.  He was dabbing at his lip with a scrap of cloth.  When he noticed Seth looking at him, he put it away.

“Thank you.  I really thought he was going to do me in.”

“Go home,” said Seth in exactly the same tone of voice he had used to persuade the more violent of the pair to leave.  “I don’t know what went on between the two of you, and I don’t care, but I do know that you aren’t in a fit state to be moving around.  Go home, put a cold cloth on that eye, and sleep it off.”

The man stared at him.  “But I’m the victim here.  Why should I go home?  Who are you to be telling me what to do anyway?”

Seth just met his eyes steadily until he reddened and looked away.

“Fine,” he muttered.  “I’ll go.”  He wandered off along the street in the opposite direction to the first man.

Seth watched him go, and shook his head in bewilderment.  He’d never understood what people found so wonderful about fighting while drunk.  In his experience it just made you sloppy and easily defeated.  He turned to go into the tavern and suddenly noticed that he had an audience.

“Get in the box.”

Katze hissed and swiped a claw at her human.  Her legs splayed outwards as she tried to make herself too large to fit.

“Katze, really.  It’s only a little box.  You like boxes normally.”  He lifted her away from the box and tried to manoeuvre her back legs into the space.  She hissed again and wriggled free.  Her human dropped her with a muffled oath.

From under the sofa she watched as he examined the scratch on his arm.  It was long and bloody.  Served him right, trying to put her in a box!

Tears were welling in the eyes of the little boy, and Katze felt a little shame.  It was true that normally she liked boxes, so it was only reasonable for Georgie to try to put her in one, and he was only four.  He didn’t know any better.

Today was not the day for it though.

The boy was looking at her again.  He sniffed.  “I don’t understand you, Katze.  If I left you alone you would probably go in the box on your own.  Why won’t you help me with my speriment?”

That, right there, that was why.  Experiment.

The boy’s father, Erwin, had explained enough of his experiments to her over the years that she was well acquainted with the word.  And given the experiment that Erwin had been describing to her yesterday, there was no way she was getting in any box today.

Not while the box was held by a Schrodinger.

Part 1 is here.  This part is as badly (i.e. not) edited as the first half, so the story might not make complete sense.


Amelia and Tom sneaked back towards the house.  Amelia was excited – her first day in the new house, she hadn’t even unpacked yet, and she was already involved in an adventure.  And she had thought that this was going to be horrid!

Tom held up his hand, and they both stopped.  Amelia was about to ask what was going on when she heard a sound.  There was someone in the house, she was sure of it.  She held her breath to hear better, and noticed Tom doing the same.  After a few moments they heard footsteps fading away, and they started breathing again.

They crept up to the window.  Amelia started to inch her head upwards to look in, but Tom grabbed her and pulled her down.

“Not like that.  Side first, otherwise he’ll see your forehead before you can see in.”  He twisted his head to the side and demonstrated, peering in at the very corner of the window.  Amelia followed his example.

Curtains filled her view.  By rolling her eye to the left she could see that they weren’t completely closed, and she moved towards the middle of the window.  Tom was doing the same.  There was a brief staring match as they argued silently over who got to look, but Amelia soon realised that she was the new girl here and moved aside so that Tom could look.

His eyes widened dramatically as he peered in through the tiny gap.  His mouth hanging open, he moved aside and gestured for her to look.

The room was completely full.  There was furniture, boxes, gizmos and gadgets covering every available surface – and that included the walls and ceiling.  There was furniture on the ceiling.  How cool was that?

All of that paled into insignificance when Mr Sutty returned to the room, though.  He was carrying a mug of something hot – tea, she supposed – and reading the newspaper.   He moved around the obstacles without seeming to notice them, winding his way towards the opposite end of the room.

Amelia half expected him to stop when he reached the wall, but he didn’t.  He just kept walking, turning himself sideways with no apparent effort.  He made his way to an armchair that was halfway up the wall and settled in comfortably.  His feet stretched out in front of him, he reached out absently, still reading the paper, and set the tea on the table beside him.

It stayed put.

Amelia took a step backwards, grinning widely.  Tom immediately took her place in the window, and his jaw, which he had just managed to pick up off the floor, replaced itself there.

After a moment, Tom looked round at her.  He twitched his head to one side and started making his way back towards the bench they had been on before.  Amelia followed.

When they were safely away from the house, he let out a huge breath.

“I don’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head.  “How is that possible?”

But Amelia was still grinning.

“When I moved here, I thought it was going to be terrible.  I thought I would never see my friends again, would never have the fun that I could only have at their houses.  But it’s going to be ok.”

Tom frowned at her.  “What does that have to do with Old Man Sutty?”

“Do you know what his first name is?  Because I do.  It’s Tim.  He’s my best friend’s uncle, and he’s a wizard!”

The Antarctic winter was closed around us like a frozen blanket, suffocating us, chilling us to our bones.  Even inside the habitation module where the heating was turned up high we were cold.  We hadn’t seen the sun in months.

Claustrophobia was rife, and we took any break in the blizards to be an excuse for an outdoor excursion.  The morning of the end of the world was no exception.  It was late August, and the winter was starting to retreat.  We expected to see the sun today, if only for a few minutes.

We had bundled up so that no part of us showed.  The only way we could tell who was who was because we had our names on our jackets.  As we left the module we faced into bitter winds, but the sky was clear.  We did not go far.  To do so would be suicide in this climate.  After twenty yards we stopped, facing the lightening sky.

With almost religious devotion, we watched the sun emerge from its long sleep, casting harsh shadows on the ice.  We thought that the tremor was our imagination, the world reacting to the return of day.

The next day, the sun did not return.

When we went to investigate, there was a blizard blowing.  It was like no blizard we had ever seen before.  No snow here, or ice.  This blizard was pure ash.  It covered everything, got into every crack and crevice, filled the sky.  We retreated in confusion.

Our computers had been monitoring everything.  When we consulted them, we discovred the truth.  On August 14th, just as the sun was rising over Antarctica, there had been a massive earthquake.  From the readings we were getting we calculated the epicentre, and that, with the ash storm, told us we were doomed.

Yellowstone National Park no longer exists.

Our radio tower was taken out by a storm in June.  All we can do is wonder.  Will the first plane arrive as we expected, in three months time?  Or will they all be too busy dealing with the erruption?  Will anyone remember us?

We have four months supplies remaining.


Note 1: For the picky among you, yes, I know that Yellowstone errupting would not cause ash to fall in Antarctica.  It would probably cover most of the US, but the southern hemisphere would be largely unharmed (except when the global temperatures began to plummet and so on).  Call it artistic licence.

Note 2: Inspired by this:


The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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