Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Four

No time like the present...

Daisy slams a fist onto the panel of the bulkhead, aware it won't open it but at least it vents some frustration and fear as the capsule rocks slowly from side to side. 'What's making us shake?'
After some seconds the reply from the computer program. 'It is some people with what look like metal poles, trying to push over the ICL... Daisy, I'm going to let you into the cockpit and then talk you through an emergency evacuation procedure...'
'I am not going back out there, it's that cannibal and his cronies... I knew there'd be more, there always is...is the dog there?'
'No, I mean yes, the dog is there but I am not asking you to leave the safety of the ICL, just to drive the capsule away from the present situation.'
In front of Daisy the bulkhead panel slides open and reveals a small cockpit, complete with a joystick, leather upholstered chair and a heads up display on a split screen monitor showing four different views of the exterior of the capsule.
Daisy slides into the seat and straps herself in. In front of her is the joystick and the screen. Two of the camera angles show a group of four or five people, as thin as skeletons, trying to lever the capsule over with long scaffolding poles. Nearby stands the old man and his dog, shouting instructions. A closer look at this gang of walking skin and bone in their filthy clothes reveals they are tethered together with lengths of chain similar to the dog's lead. These are what...his pets...his slaves...his next meal? An image of the arm bone springs up in her mind and the thought stays in Daisy's head as the computer program talks through the start, drive and speed procedures.
The capsule rocks particularly violently and Daisy hits the start button and the engines quietly start running. 'Where to?' she asks.
'I would suggest anywhere but here!'

As the capsule speeds away across the warehouse towards the large bay doors, Daisy watches on the monitor as the metal poles are suddenly catapulted out from under the moving ICL and the gang is torn from their feet, falling like ninepins into a heap of chains, twisted metal and screaming. Running after her is the old man and his dog. In front of her, on the forward camera looms the closed bay doors. She closes her eyes and pushes the joystick to its full extent as the capsule picks up speed and hurtles at the metal. The doors are ripped open and one flies back over the capsule roof as Daisy opens her eyes in time to see it hit the man square on, pinning him under it as the dog dodges it and races after the capsule. Daisy steers the ICL through the jumbled masonry in the car park and out onto the avenue, weaving in and out of the abandoned vehicles littering the way as the capsule careers its way up to the dual carriageway, the dog barking as it races to keep up.

'I don't think they are following.'
The computer program waits for a response from Daisy but gets none.
'I don't think we need to keep driving so fast. We are not being followed. The dog stopped when we reached the dual carriageway.'
Still there is no reply as Daisy keeps the capsule driving at full speed, swerving every now and then to avoid empty cars, trucks and tanks .
But Daisy drives on, oblivious to everything but the road on the monitor in front of her.
After several miles through the bleak landscape of the New Forest the dual carriageway merges into a motorway and then the motorway begins to empty of abandoned vehicles until it is just the ICL on the empty three lanes heading northeast to London. Night is falling and it occurs to Daisy that none of the motorway lights are working.
She loosens her grip on the joystick and asks, 'Do we have headlights?'
'Yes, we do. Try the yellow button on the console in front.'
Daisy presses the button and the exterior lights flood out, pushing back the night. She eases up on the speed and the capsule slows to a crawl and then to a full stop as she slumps back into the seat, the adrenalin pumping around her system from earlier fading away. 'So what now?' she asks, almost to herself.
'I thought you wanted to go to London, to the SpaceLife Science headquarters to contact the team.'
'London? Yes, yes if anywhere survives it will be London. There will be contingency plans and protocols, you know for the Government and stuff. They are probably all down in the underground, like during the wars.' Daisy sits up at he thought. 'London it is.'
She turns on the engine again.
'You don't want to wait till tomorrow morning? Till daylight?'
'I've spent the last five years waiting around. No time like the present.'
The engine purrs into life again and Daisy settles at a comfortable speed of thirty-five mph as the motorway slips past in the night. Far behind them, in the warehouse, the dog sits by the metal door pinning his master down. But his master isn't breathing and after a while the dog gets up, ignoring the chained gang still in a writhing heap on the floor and sets off back up the avenue in the direction of the motorway following the scent of the ICL.

Daisy is dreaming. On the road in front of her, beyond the arc of the headlights is a bright light, like a flame, then two flames, like a shining pair of wings. An angel! There is an angel here to meet her on the road.
'Daisy! Watch out! You're going to hit it!' The voice program overrides the controls and slams on the brakes as the capsule shudders to halt but not before the sound of an ominous thud.
'What!' Daisy starts awake. Had she been asleep at the joystick? 'What was that?'
'Something on the road, you hit it.'
'I saw an angel!'
'No you didn't.'
'Well, something that looked like an angel.'
'I am comparing images from the cameras with my database, it looked like a pair of solar panels attached to something moving. They reflected the headlights back at you.'
'It could have been an angel.'
'Or not. Go and see what it is.'
'What? Go out there again?'
'Yes, you'll have to clear whatever it is out from under the wheel anyway.'
Daisy glances at the monitors, it is still dark beyond the arc of the lights.
'Can't we just wait till morning?'
But before the voice program can reply, the sound of an irate voice can be heard through the display screen cameras.
'Oy! Look what you've done to my solar trike I was only trying to hitch a ride, ROAD HOG!'

'Did you just hear that?'
'Yes, Daisy, I did. That is definitely not an angel.'
'OY! You in there, what the hell d'you think you're doing? Look at my trike! How am I gonna get anywhere now? HEY, In the tin can, can you hear me?'
On the monitor, a lone figure appears in front of the ICL on the monitor, illuminated by the headlights. Daisy stares at the good-looking bloke yelling at them. 'Body of an angel, though.' she thinks out loud.
'I heard that.'
'HEY! What are you going to do about my TRIKE?' The bloke kicks the ICL and then hops about holding his toe. Daisy smiles. 'Look, he's hopping mad. Can we talk to him? Through the monitors?'
'Um... yes.. I can reroute the internal speakers... just a moment. Try that.'
For a moment the bloke stands still as Daisy's hello echoes out across the motorway in the dark.
'Sorry, too loud. Try again.' whispers the computer program.
'Hello? Can you hear me?'
'Er... yes. I can. You ran over my trike.' The bloke shades his eyes from the glare of the headlights but can see no door or window opening on the capsule. 'I was just trying to hitch a lift.'
'So you said. How do I know you're not another cannibal... with a gang, how do I know this isn't a trap?'
'Do I look like I'm a cannibal? Look I'm unarmed.... I'm just trying to get home.' The bloke stretches out his arms and turns around so that whoever is in the capsule can see he is not hiding any weapons in the close-fitting cycling outfit he is wearing. 'At least move you're.. your whatever this vehicle is back off my trike.'
Daisy sighs and slowly reverses the capsule back a few feet. In the headlights she can see the crushed remains of his trike.'
'Look what you've done to it!' The bloke kneels beside the trike and tries to stand it upright.
'Sorry! It's just that it's been a bit of a day today and...'
'And now it's going to get worse!' The bloke springs back up to his feet with a large semi-automatic weapon he has pulled out from the wrecked trike and points it directly at the ICL.
'You have exactly ten seconds to exit the... the vehicle thing or I start blasting holes into you...ONE...TWO....'

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Three

Episode Three
Just You, Me and the Dog...

As Daisy picks her way back over the fallen masonry into the late sunshine of the car park outside the Isolation Capsule Laboratory, the dog keeps its distance, preferring to stalk her. She clutches the CO2 canister a little tighter to her as she heads for the nearest road junction to look for a road sign. She crosses the road and heads up a wide avenue running between derelict warehouses and business units. Here and there are abandoned cars, doors gaping. Bullet holes are splashed across the bonnet of one, windscreen glass scattered across the seats. There is no one, no bodies, no bits of bodies, nothing. Behind her she can hear the dog picking its way through the shadows, just a few yards behind her and so she picks up her pace and starts to jog. At the top of the road she finds an empty dual carriageway and finally, some road signs.
'A31/M27 Northbound' Daisy reads out loud.
'Bournemouth, that's where you are.'
The voice makes her jump out of her skin and she spins round to find a dozen paces away, the dog has company. The man bends and loops a length of chain through the dog's collar. 'Now, don't mind Nibbles here, she's alright.' He pats the dog and 'Nibbles' lies at his feet panting.
'Anyhow, that's the road back to London, if you fancy a walk, the petrol ran out about four years ago, now.' He laughs the scratchy, dry laugh of someone with nothing to laugh about. 'You in that pod thing? I thought there'd be someone in there. Any more is there?'
'No, no.. just me. I've been in there for five years... I don't know what's happened, what I've missed...'
'What's happened? What's happened? Now there's a thing. Just you though? Well, well. End of the world. That's what you've missed.' The man eyes her up and down, not with a leer but with a look of hunger, a look that says he hasn't seen live flesh for a long time. He sighs, noticing how uncomfortable Daisy is from his scrutiny.
'Don't mind me. Just a long time since I've seen a live... It was the petrol first, ran out. Some big world banking thing, the internet got hacked and all the money deleted from the system. I mean all of it. Nothing got paid, global transactions froze, everything stopped. Then, before they could get it back up and running the petrol ran out, no money no imports, food ran out in supermarkets, followed by the gas, chaos set in, riots, looting, country was like a war zone. The whole world they said, up in flames... by the time the hackers work had been undone it was too late. Then a year later, after the riots, war. Global war. Then famine... now, now well.. I think it must just be you, me and the dog by now. Just you, you say, in that pod?'
Daisy cannot believe what she is hearing but the evidence is everywhere, littering the dual carriageway, empty cars, empty lorries, empty army tanks. The man tugs at the dog's lead and starts to walk towards her. She instinctively starts to back off.
'No need to be like that, I won't harm you. Just... OK, let's stop and have a nice chat shall we, get to know each other a bit?'
The man smiles and Daisy can see his teeth, filed into points and then she notices his necklace, half hidden by his dirty grey shirt. Little bones, a necklace of little bones under an old business shirt and the suit, too stained to be just dirt...
Daisy runs as fast as she can, hoping surprise will be on her side. She easily outstrips the man for speed but the dog is another matter. As she runs back towards the safety of the ICL, she can hear the rattle of the chain as 'Nibbles' is let loose. As the dog gains on her she just has time to turn round and fire the CO2 at it. It stops the dog in its tracks and Daisy sprints across the car park and back into the ICL, slamming the door shut and pressing the seal-lock button, sinking to the floor in a heap of terror and exhaustion.

'Daisy, I thought you were leaving.'
'Yes, well, now I'm back.'
'Didn't the canister work on the dog?'
'No, it worked.'
'Did you find out where you are?'
'Yes... yes, Bournemouth. I'm in Bournemouth.'
'Good, so you can soon find your way to London.'
'No point. The world I left no longer exists.'
'Feelings of anxiety and fear are only to be expected after five years of solitude, would you like me to play some mood music?'
'No, no you don't understand...'
'Would you like to talk about it?'
'The world is over, there is nothing out there, there's been a global meltdown... there's no one left.'
'How did you find this out Daisy?'
'There's a man with the dog. He told me.'
'But you said there is no one left. Clearly that is wrong, there is you, a man and a dog.'
'Who both want to eat me.'
'That's still something, not nothing.'
'They have been waiting outside for me to come out, not to congratulate me, not to buy my diary, but to hunt me down to eat. That's something all right... that's... that's....!'
'If you can't walk to London, then you will have to drive.'
'What? How? The petrol ran out four years ago and by the look of it, there are no drivable cars left..you don't understand...it's all over, civilisation is ended...'
'The pod. You can drive the pod.'
'I can what?'
'The SpaceLife Science Isolation Capsule Laboratory was designed to not only independently sustain life for five years but also to be the first green, sustainable state-of-the-art caravan for the 21st century. Why do you think you had to compact the toilet every day?'
'I presumed so I didn't drown in a sea of my own waste in here.'
'Biodigesters eat it and convert it into water, methane and pelleted solids. The methane fuels the engines, the pelleted solids are burnt to generate electricity.'
'And the water?'
'Is filtered for reuse.'
'This has an engine?'
'It was one of the ways to maximise profit from the experiment. There would have been a country-wide publicity tour afterwards using the ICL itself, to generate sales. The cockpit is the locked compartment just below the sleeping bunk. The engine is cleverly built into the substructure of the ICL along with the wheels...'
'I've spent the last five years locked in a caravan in Bournemouth?'
''Isolation Capsule Laboratory' corrects the computer program.
'I have spent five bloody years locked in a bloody caravan in Bournemouth while the world burns outside...I've been outside! Twice! I could have been eaten alive and only now you are mentioning this capsule can be driven?'
'You are yelling.'
'So there's an engine and fuel, tell me, are there windows too?'
'No. But there is the navigational 360* viewscreen in the cockpit linked to external monitors.'
Daisy storms to the bulkhead and tries to open what she thought for the last five years was a water storage facility. 'Open the cockpit!'
'I don't think you should drive in your current agitated state, plus you have not worked through the ICL Easy-Drive training module..'
Daisy is about to reply when the whole ICL starts to shake.
'What's that? Is it an earthquake?'
But the computer program does not answer her, emergency override protocol has diverted all its attention to the external monitors.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode Two

Episode Two
Inside the ICL...

'Daisy, why aren't you leaving?'
'I have left! There's nothing out there.'
'What do you mean, there's nothing out there?'
'I mean the warehouse is empty, deserted, derelict and the streets.. the roads beyond... it looks like a war zone out there... there's no one there!' Daisy can detect a note of hysteria creeping into her voice and can feel tears welling up under her eyelids.
'Is this a joke?'
'NO, no it is NOT A JOKE. There's nothing there. It's as though World War Three broke out while I've been shut up in here... I don't know... and there's a dog, with a bone.'
'A dog with a bone seems quite normal.'
'A dog with a human arm bone in it's mouth is not normal!' Daisy shudders at the recollection.
'A human bone? How can you be sure?'
'Do you need a sedative?'
'No, no I need a... a... an explanation! I need to know what's happened. Where is everyone... and why the hell is there a dog eating a human outside... what do I do?'
There is a long pause and then the computer programme replies.
'Is it time for a nice cup of tea?'
'What? What kind of answer is that?'
'It is the best answer I can come up with within the parameters of my programming... sorry.'
Daisy stands up and smooths down her hair and wipes away her tears.
'OK, so... we need to contact SpaceLife Science Team, perhaps it's just some local war or something. Can we contact the team?'
'No, there is no external contact.'
'Well, there must be something...'
'No, you signed away your life, remember. You signed a waiver that said and I quote...Being of sound mind and body I hereby forfeit all access to humanity for the full five years and in the interests of scientific research I am prepared to surrender my body and mind inclusive of all conditions and addendum listed herewith...'
'Yes, yes, OK, I get it. But really? You don't have an emergency procedure. What If I had died during the five years?'
'If there is no one waiting for you outside, then you must travel to where you came from before you entered the isolation capsule laboratory, perhaps they are waiting there for you.'
'The trouble is, I don't know where I am! The experiment was deemed a security risk and so, to keep the public away the whole location was secret... I was blindfolded and driven here, I have no idea where I am.'
'Driven? So you never left the country you were in?'
'Um... no, no. I was driven from the SpaceLife Science headquarters in London. They did a big media thing and then.. it was all hush hush to protect me and the capsule.'
'So, we are still in London?'
'No... no much farther than that. A couple of hours... have you got a map in the system?'
'No but if you know where the SpaceLife Science headquarters are, you can return there and find your answers.'
'And how do you propose I get there?'
'Public transport.'
'Public transport? It's deserted out there... there's nothing, no humans, no signs of any life except some mongrel corpse-eating dog who thinks I'm it's next meal. For all I know it could be the last dog standing on the planet and you think I can go and just catch a bus?'
'Do you need a sedative now?'
'NO... NO... I need a way to... to get past the dog so I can find out where I am.'
'Well, dogs like bones.'
'Which is why it tried to eat me, I have a lot of bones.'
'Perhaps it is just hungry. You could feed it.'
'Hmm, let's see, bean-sprouts and freeze dried egg powder or my legs...'
'I detect a note of sarcasm. I am only trying to help you.'
'No, it needs to be something to scare it... to keep it away.'
Neither Daisy nor the computer programme can think of anything so a silence builds up in the capsule, slowly stretching from minutes to hours.
'Under the cooking hob.'
'Pardon?' Daisy almost jumps as the sentence interrupts her daydreams of how the world ended while she was in the ICL.
'Under the cooking hob in the kitchen pod is a CO2 fire extinguisher, you could scare it with that.'
'How come I didn’t know that we have a fire extinguisher?'
'You are more of a microwave person.'
'I can cook.'
'Yes, as long as it's toast.'
'I heard that.'
'I know.'
'Under the cooking hob... which is the cooking hob?' Daisy scrambles to the kitchen pod and casts an eye around the cramped space.
'It's the round shiny thing with the dials in the corner.'
'Got it!'
Daisy stares doubtfully at the small, red CO2 cylinder in her hands. It would have to do, hopefully it would keep the dog at bay long enough for her to find out where she is and what the hell has been going on outside in the last five years.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Last Dog Standing ~ Episode One

In the near future, Daisy takes part in an isolation experiment for five years only to find a very different world waiting for her when the doors open... 
(comedy/horror/sci-fi/distopian) Part one of many.

Last Dog Standing

Episode One
In the near future...

Daisy drums hers fingers on the stainless steel worktop. Above the pressure sealed doors a large projection of a digital clock is counting down.
Only five more minutes.
Only five more minutes.
In five minutes the experiment would be over and she would be free. Back in the real world. With real people. And chocolate. And alcohol that came in a glass with ice and a slice not in a sterile swab... yes she wasn't above admitting to sucking the odd swab in a moment of desperate, lonely madness... perhaps she'd delete that bit from her soon-to-be a best-seller diary. But free, to feel real sunshine on her skin, not the weekly Sun-U-Like lamp session. To feel the rain...
'We have a lot of protocol to finish before you go.' The voice brings Daisy back to the present.
'That ironing pile for a start. And you haven't compacted the toilet waste today.'
'Not ironing, not compacting, not today!' Daisy can feel her whole mood lift at the thought of change from the routine for the last five years. Glorious freedom!
'Well, I think it's a shame if you leave the place looking like this. They spent good money making you comfortable and this is how you repay them?'
'I've been in here for five years, without any interaction from the outside world of any kind, they are not going to care if I've compacted the toilet! Who put you in charge anyway, you are here to help me. You go compact it!'
'You know I can't, I'm a computer program designed to provide you with a sounding board for your inner voice.'
'Nag me to death more like.' Daisy whispers under her breath, not taking her eyes off the digital countdown.
'I heard that.'
'I heard that too.'
Daisy sighs deeply, wondering for the millionth time why she ever signed up for the experiment and then she remembers. On the successful completion of five years in the isolation capsule laboratory, under conditions that would resemble living off-world, she would be free. Free in the credit no problem, rich and famous for life kind of way.
'Are you really going to go out dressed like that?'
'Well, I'm guessing the World's press will be gathered to see if you are still alive or not along with your family and friends and, obviously, the SpaceLife Science Team running this experiment and you are going to meet them all wearing that?'
Daisy glances down at the once-pink fleecy onesie she is wearing. 'What's wrong with it?'
'You have been wearing it for the last 127 days. That's what.'
'Well, as you've already pointed out, nothing else is ironed so it'll just have to do and, as well you know, since I am an orphan and have no relatives out there waiting for me, which is half the reason I was chosen for this in the first place...'
'It must smell terribly...'
'Argghh! You are the most infuriating programme in the history of invented computer personalities... I don't care if I smell or how I look, I just want to be out of here and AWAY FROM YOU!'
'Just saying...'
'You'll be sorry... first photo to the waiting world will be of a big, pink, stinky, teddy-bear woman...'
'ARGHHHHHHH!' Daisy picks up the nearest object she can find and hurls it at the nearest speaker on the ceiling. The object, a spanner, misses the speaker and knocks the fire hydrant nozzle next to it instead. Immediately a high powered burst of water sprays all over her.
'… a big, pink, stinky, soggy, teddy-bear woman...'
'SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP!' Daisy screams at the voice while jumping up and down, making a squelching noise with the padded soles of her onesie.
'Just saying...'
From across the room there is the sound of air escaping and then the doors click and slowly open outwards as the clock above finally stops on

Daisy half expects someone to appear in the doorway, with a fanfare and a cake, a cake would be nice... after five years. But seconds pass and no one appears. There is no sound either, no comforting cheering or applause. Just an empty, open door and silence.
'I thought you couldn't wait to leave.'
'Going!' Daisy waddles to the door in her wet onesie and then, thinks better of it and steps out of it to reveal a grey vest and sweatpants underneath. Then, hesitantly, sticks her head out through the open doorway and says 'Hello?'.
The word echoes around the cavernous interior of the warehouse holding the isolation capsule laboratory (ICL). The place is completely empty. It occurs to Daisy that the light in the building is coming from a huge hole in one of the walls, light streaming in over fallen masonry. She makes her way over to it and steps out into what once was a busy industrial estate. All around are the remains of burnt out buildings and wrecked lorries, and not a single person in sight. Daisy wanders around in the sunlight unable to comprehend what is going on. The place is deserted, destroyed. She stumbles out into the road but it is the same there, in all directions, devastation and an eerie, empty silence.

A movement near a pile of rubble catches her eye and a skinny dog trots towards her holding something in it's jaws. It is cutely straggly with a ragged ear and jaunty tail. Daisy smiles as it approaches her and than she works out what it's holding. It's the unmistakable shape of a human hand, still articulated and waving at her from the long arm bone the dog is chewing. For a second Daisy is rooted to the spot and then the dog drops the bone and starts to advance towards her with a low, ominous growl that suggests next on his menu is one of her arms. Daisy snaps out of her fright and makes a headlong dash back across the car park, into the warehouse and back into the ICL, slamming the heavy door behind her. She sinks to the floor, panting as outside the lone dog howls disconsolately at the loss of his next meal.
'Back so soon? I thought you couldn't wait to leave...'
Daisy squeezes her eyes shut, hoping it is all a dream, a nightmare she would wake up from in any minute and she would be safe in her bunk, about to start the last day of the experiment.
'Daisy, it's time for you to leave.' But the voice is insistent and definitely not her morning alarm.
'Daisy, are you sick? What has happened? The experiment is over, you can leave... it really doesn't matter what you wear... Daisy, please answer me...'

Outside the dog stops howling and sniffs around the ICL. There is no way in and so he wanders off to find some shade to lie in and wait. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Reculver Beach

The rough leather of a dog fish skin
Spiry and age-spotted into dry seaweed
Scratching on the soles of our shoes
And a perfect crab shell, legs and all
Hollowed out by the tide
Soft parts long since departed
Now weeping scales of salt onto our palms
Bleached shells and smooth pebbles
Picked from a beach pocked with horned poppy
As we walk beyond the reach of the sea

And all along the Viking Way they cycle
Flat out, fast and free
Billowing their hair with a windy brine
From Wigmore and wherever
In serious pursuit of leisure

Here now, the old flint walls
Flinching under a blue sky
As starlings form a chorus line
High up on the rafters of the old towers
To entertain us with a song and dance
From some bawdy, birdy music hall
Reviewing the late summer sky
This weather cannot last
Rain tomorrow
And they will give one last bow
Then exit left for winter

And all along the Viking Way we walk
Dawdling at the view
Of giant windmills out to sea
And trains and tractors
Pulling the flat land taught
Below a winnowed sky

We reach the car park
Just time for a drink and a snack
This weather cannot last
They say it'll rain tomorrow
And we comment, again, on the cormorants
Fishing from the posts in pairs
And if they were young egrets we saw in that tree
And we give one last bow to the beach
While checking our shoes
Then exit left for the motorway

Reculver Beach

Horned Sea Poppy

Reculver Towers & Roman Fort

Bleached beach flotsam

The Viking Coastal Trail