Ancient clouds


It was hard to believe she’d been on Mirzam V for the quivalent of 10 Earth days. The longer days made her secondment on this weird planet feel like a life sentence. She’d jumped at the opportunity of being the correspondent for InterGal News (strapline “Beamed Beyond the Stars”), but hadn’t realised what the reality might be.

Her first taste of intergalactic travel had not been good. The rusty, rattly old bucket of a space shuttle she was booked on was poky and uncomfortable. She downed a double dose of Oblivion and slept through most of it.

But the comfortable hotel, where she’d been allocated a long stay suite, was good and she had some fun playing with the Autobutler, which would serve, via a smoked glass hatch set in the wall, whatever she ordered.  After a while, though, the novelty of asking for hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows wore off, and she swore that the Autobutler now sighed when responding, “Yes, Madam” to her chocoholic requests.

The episode with the Crimson Salt, unpleasant and nauseating as it was, had unexpectedly solved her writer’s block. She’d written about her unnerving experience, filed it, and her boss at InterGal News was delighted. He asked for more of the same.

So today, she was on her way to experience Mirzam V’s Ancient Clouds. She’d learned that they appear once every 952 zobdars. “Oh,  so that’s what they call years on this poxy planet” she’d muttered to herself when she absorbed this in the daily briefing, beamed telepathically to all guests at the hotel.

The Ancient Clouds show up, radiating beautiful colours, displaying shapes which mutate and re-form, and at the same time they make music and sounds which are said to transport those who view them to other realms of imagination and fantasy. She was up for this; the hot chocolate was getting a bit boring.

She joined the other guests on the sky terrace as the clouds started to appear. It was packed. She edged into a space near the edge of the crowd and looked up. Strange and distant discordant musical sounds had started and seemed to getting louder. The crowd swayed in time to their erratic rhythm. People began to spontaneously elevate, drifting several feet into the air whilst humming and chanting, eyes closed, clearly blissed out as the clouds themselves formed kaleidoscopic swirling patterns.

She, however, had started to feel queasy. The spinning clouds, the discordant sounds and the deep, throbbing rhythms were affecting her, but not in the same way as the residents of Mirzam V. Her gut was churning, she felt faint, dizzy and sick. It was a horrible.

Grabbing hold of the gleaming purple safety rail which surrounded the sky terrace, she leaned over and threw up.

Crimson Salt


aroma aromatic assortment containers

At first she found it quite strange. There was a buzzing and popping sound coming from the salt pot, making it seem almost alive.

It was.

Mixed in with the the rock salt crystals were thousands, maybe millions, of minute red insects. They trived on eating salt and were elementally at home in salt cellars, drums and packets of salt.

You may be wondering why these strange insects were mixed in with the salt crystals. It’s because, in this particular salt pot, they had been put there, a delicacy served only in specialist restaurants.

It was said that if crimson salt was sprinkled on food, it conferred health-giving nutrients, at the same time stimulating the mental faculties of whoever ate it. Some people claimed that eating it gave them a high; others said they’d produced their most creative and imaginative work after eating it. With the deadline for filing a report fast approaching, she needed something to jolt her out of her writer’s block.

The waiter hovered nearby.

“Salt, madam? ” he enquired.

She nodded, taking a deep breath as he gently sprinkled the buzzing crystals over her meal. The noise was louder once the salt was out of the pot, the buzzing similar to that of a small bee. It was continuous but interspersed with those small explosive popping sounds.

She glanced down at her food. It appeared to be dancing, moving, undulating in tiny waves. The buzzing grew louder.

She  recoiled. “I can’t eat that! It’s alive.”

“Alas madam, it is. The insects mixed in with the salt must be consumed live in order for the nutrients to work.”

Feeling weak and nauseous at the thought of putting the food, now swarming with crimson salt, into her mouth she hastily left the table, paid the bill and left.

Life on Mirzam V was proving to be more challenging than she’d ever imagined.

Photo by monicore on

Revenge: an improbable short story

This rather improbable short story emerged from an exercise I did by creating a conflict between two characters, where one has to persuade the other to do something which both know is morally wrong. It’s from a book called “Back to Creative Writing School”, and I had a lot of fun with this one.

Euan Cope was livid. The headmaster had just told him that his application for Head of the English department had been unsuccessful and now he had to go and teach 4B.  Anger was burning hot inside him as he threw open the door to the classroom, slamming it behind him and trapping his long scarf in the process. The members of 4B sniggered and called out, “Sir…sir…you’ve shut your scarf in the door!”

Scowling at them, the usually quiet and unexciting Mr. Cope seemed to be in a bad mood. Telling them to be quiet and open their copies of Twelfth Night, he barked out instructions on which passage they were to read and discuss, assigning character parts to some of the more articulate students. Continue reading