Coronavirus: Covid-19: Mayhem on the No.16 Bus

Saturday 7th of March 2020

The Inkslingers writing group based at the Irish Writer Centre, Parnell Square but using the facilities of The Lab in Foley Street to facilitate the use of the IWC for an International Women’s Day event.
Two prompts
The visual prompt: A miniature blue electric guitar
The written prompt: Place the following words in your story
write, dash, hand, staple, part, circle, flattened
I wrote……

My children being into music and I having had a long desire to learn how to play the guitar correctly and particularly a strong desire to cut a dash at a formal do, dressed in full black tie outfit and singing “Johnny be good”, playing all the riffs and doing the duck walk just like Chuck Berry

With this in mind I enrolled in guitar classes in a music Academy just off Dame street. Lessons would be for one hour at ten o’clock on Saturday mornings. This suited me fine as it would also give me time to attend the Inkslingers writing group at the Irish Writer’s Centre.  We gather at one O’clock for half past one and we then we write to the prompts handed out by our group leader Harry Browne, although he denies all responsibility for any of the prompts he inflicts on the assembled victims.

To get to the guitar lessons meant using the number sixteen bus from the Swords Rd in Whitehall, six minutes from my house in Santry. I gathered up my newly acquired blue electric guitar, washed my hands thoroughly and off I went

I boarded the bus at 9:10 am and stood in the square reserved for people with wheelchairs or prams etc. always ready to move if someone needed the space of course

The bus filled up and all is going swimmingly until we reached Dame St. My nose started to itch, and I had an uncontrollable need to sneeze. I pinched my nose and held it. I shook my head vigorously,  I put my hand completely over my face and then buried my face in the elbow of my coat. The need to sneeze went away and I relaxed but, unfortunately it was a head fake. As I put my arm down an enormous sneeze escaped from my face almost doubling me over with its intensity

All hell broke loose. The driver slammed on the brakes, opened the doors and dived out onto the footpath. Three cars behind smashed into the back of the bus and each other, one of them slewing across the road and causing six more cars to swerve and crash as they tried to dodge the chaos, succeeding only in creating a circle of wrecked cars strewn across the road outside what used to be the Central Bank building.

The passengers exploded from the bus and dispersed in all directions, spraying sanitizer on anything in their path. One of them ran into a tourist on a Dublin City rented bicycle and knocked him over. He was promptly flattened by a taxi that had swerved to avoid the mayhem. The front part of the bicycle was run over by a motorcyclist who had managed to swerve his way around most of the carnage but ended up on the back seat of a wreaked car that was sideways across the road with the back door missing.

With what looked like the aftermath of World War three all around me I decided that a quick exit was the best strategy, so I took my electric guitar and walked briskly up Trinity St

As I walked along Andrew St, I encountered a Dublin City Council operative using a staple gun to attach posters to any surface that would accept the staples. The purpose of the poster was to advise people how to behave in public during the Covid-19 epidemic.   In the middle in huge red letters the admonition

Please do not sneeze loudly and unexpectedly
when surrounded by groups of people

“Noted”, I thought as I walked through the door of Zena’s Music Academy

Santa has a bad day, a Christmas Story

It’s Saturday the twenty first of December at six am.  Santa Claus stirs in his bed throws back the covers and blinks painfully as his hungover eyes get used to the light.

Except for his boots he is fully clothed in his all red suit with the white fur trim.

He rolls into a standing position beside the bed, stretches, bends forward to put on his boots and lets out an enormous fart, sniffs and smiles…. approving.

Then he notices the silence, something is wrong, it’s three days to lift off, there should be lots of noise as everyone, except the star of the show of course, should be busy getting things ready for the big day.

He goes down to the kitchen, it’s empty, no Mrs Claus and her Elf helper Sugarplum Mary who should be busy preparing the food to feed everyone for the busy day that started at five O’clock

He shouts for Shinny Upatree, his oldest most trusted Elf and leader of the Elves…. no answer

He looks into the computer room where Elf Alabaster Snowball, who manages the huge naughty or nice database works, empty, all the screens are blank

He shouts for Pepper Minstix head of elf security, nothing, complete silence

Worried now he runs to the factory at the back of his house where Elf Bushy Evergreen runs the toy making machines.The building is sound proofed to keep the noise from the machines deafening everyone outside. He throws open the door, silence. All the machines are stopped. Half made toys of all description are lying on the benches

Beads of sweat break out on his face as he runs to the stables where Elf Wunorse Openslae should be preparing the reindeer and his sleigh for the big day. The sleigh is there, no reindeer

He stands looking around a confused look on his face.  Suddenly, the sound of hammering like someone nailing pieces of wood together drifts down from the ancient forest up the hill.  He realises it’s coming from the wooden shed they used in the old days, before machinery and computers.

Puffing and blowing he starts walking in that direction. He is fifty metres from the shed when the doors burst open and out march all the Elves, flanked by the reindeer and followed by Mrs Claus. They are carrying “strike on here” placards and marching towards him, lifting their knees high and stamping the ground with each step. They march past him down the hill singing at the top of their voices

Ho ho feckin’ ho,
What a crock o’ shit,
We all work for Santa Claus,
We’ve had enough, we quit.
Cos we do all the feckin’ work while he stars in the show,
Stick yer Christmas up yer arse, ho ho feckin ho.

You don’t care about us elves,
we’ve had enough of this,
workin’ in that freezing factory, yer takin the feckin piss,
we work until we drop, with our round bits freezin’ off,
ye can stick yer Christmas up yer arse, ho ho fecking ho.

Then Rudolph screams I QUIT.
Just who does he think he is?
That little fat git sits back in the sleigh,
crackin’ that feckin’ whip.
And me stuck up the front, with these other useless gits,
Ye can stick yer Christmas up yer arse, ho ho feckin ho.

The negotiations only lasted fifteen minutes.  New heating was installed in the factory, the elves had their names painted on the sleigh, Rudolf got double rations during the Christmas rush, Mrs Clause got her own bedroom and a string of pearls and the children got their presents for Christmas

©Brendan Palmer.
Submission to The Inkslingers 500 word Christmas story competition December 2019
The verse is a version of the Monty Python song

One of the biggest threats to human intelligence is AI software that writes.

A shortened version of an article in by Mike Elgan.
Mike Elgan is a technology journalist, author, blogger, podcaster and digital nomad

Machines are getting better at writing. They can finish our sentences. They can reply to our emails. They can write news reports and even novels. But just beAI That writescause they can doesn’t mean they should.

Writing involves revision, which clarifies thinking. We think. We write what we think. Then by reading what we write we realise the errors in our thinking, or at least in the way we have expressed our thinking. We rewrite until our thoughts are clearly and accurately and fully expressed

By allowing writing tools to do the writing for us, our literacy fades, and we begin to base our decisions on superficial impressions, rather than critical or analytical thinking.

Literacy and thinking are connected. This was the point of George Orwell’s Newspeak idea in the novel 1984. The totalitarian government in that book used restrictions on language to make complex thought impossible. Its purpose was “to diminish the range of thought” in order to pacify and enervate the public.

AI, we are told, will take our jobs and ultimately have no use for us, other than to keep us as pets. This AI techno-panic is based on the knowledge that the machines will just keep getting smarter. The risk is not that machines will get smarter; it is that humans will get dumber.

The most efficient way for AI to make us dumber is to take the task of writing away from us. Our critical and creative faculties will atrophy. Our minds will become dull. And we will all become so boring that the machines may not even want us around as pets.

If you are concerned about AI making us all redundant, you can do something about it today and every day: don’t let AI put words in your mouth. Reject automated writing in all its forms. Do your own writing. Think for yourself.

Now, have a look at the full original article in ComputerWorld (some extra links included) read the AI version and be afraid……be very afraid

I am smiling as I write the end of that last sentence

A Christmas Story

My first recollection of being different was when I was about two years old, I was different because I could understand the speech of the humans who managed the forest in which I was growing.

We were a forest of Norway spruce trees, as humans called us, and we were growing specifically as Christmas trees according to the forest managers. Of course, at that time I had no idea what a Christmas tree was or what it would mean for me when I grew up.

The forest was a wonderful place when I was small, I know from the older trees and the conversations of the forest managers that I was brought to the forest as a two year old sapling, having been grown from a seed in a nursery and planted along with thousands of other saplings in ground beside another forest of much bigger trees.

I was lucky as I was planted at the edge of the forest, close to the trees in the other forest who were three years older than me and they looked after me as I grew up.

Most humans don’t know how trees help each other as we grow, or how we communicate with each other as this mostly happens underground. As we grow our roots spread out to intertwine with each other. This allows us to share nutrients and water, the younger or weaker trees being helped by the older and stronger trees as we grow. Nutrients are generated and shared by various beneficial fungi who grow all around our roots and spread right across the forest floor. These fungi attach to our roots and use some of the sugars we generate from the sun through our leaves as food, they then scavenge the soil for nitrogen, phosphorus and other mineral nutrients, which we then absorb and consume to help us to grow.

These connections also allow us to share information across the forest in a similar way that humans use the internet, we have a “wood wide web” and we can communicate everything that is happening to every tree in the forest, especially danger, attacks of insects, or dangerous unfriendly fungi. This will trigger a defence mechanism right across the forest until the threat is gone. My special ability to understand human speech, an ability only a few trees have, also helped the forest to understand the surrounding environment, based on the conversations of the foresters.

For the next five years I was happy, growing strongly in the warmth of the summer and slumbering through the colder winters, although, I was never really cold as above ground my body was sheltered by the bigger trees growing in the forest beside me, and the ground beneath my roots supplied geothermal heat all through the winter. During this time, I learned more and more of the speech of the humans managing the forest as they kept the spaces between the trees free of weeds and vines that could harm our growth, wanting us to grow tall and straight. Every winter I would hear talk of Christmas and Santy, although I later found out that this was what the foresters from Dublin called Santa Claus. We also heard stories of trees been cut down for Christmas, but this was always denied by the older trees in the forest next to us, telling us that it was just some ancient forest legends being spread by grumpy old trees who liked to frighten the younger trees.

During the winter of my seventh year of growing everything changed. The messages coming through the roots from the older trees, who were now ten years old, were cries of anguish and screams of pain and then a deadly silence and a cold wind blowing through my firs from the side against which they had been growing.

Confusion and panic spread through our forest of seven year old trees and we now believed that the stories we had heard about being cut down for Christmas must be true and every day we waited for something terrible to happen, remembering the screams from the older trees. But everything went quiet and the summers and winters came and went without any more cries of pain coming from the network and we slowly forgot about that time.

The day it happened was a bright crisp sunny day.  I was slumbering while enjoying the weak sun shining on my firs when I heard the high pitched voice of a little girl saying “Daddy, look at this one, it’s beautiful, can we have this one”? “Of course Lucy, you can have whichever one you want” was followed by the most excruciating pain.  I am disconnected from my roots and only pain and panic remain. From instinct I excrete every panic signal I have and Lucy shouts, “Oh Daddy, it smells so beautiful, I’m so glad we are having a real tree this year instead of that old plastic thing we always have”.

I’m trussed up into a long straight plastic net and tied to the roof of a car. The open wound at my base is facing into the cold wind as we drive along, which brings some relief until we stop outside a house. I’m carried inside, the plastic net is cut away, a huge metal stand is screwed into my base increasing the pain and I scream more scent into the air.

Lucy’s Daddy places me in a barrel of cold water and sugar, explaining to Lucy that this will help keep my fir cones green as I can absorb the water up through my trunk and branches. This is not true, but it does slow down the loss of water and minerals so I will survive a little longer and the water helps ease the pain.

There is great excitement as Lucy and her small sister Sadie get to help decorate me with glass baubles and tinsel. Two sets of small coloured light are wrapped around my branches and each little girl gets to switch one of them on, constantly chattering with excitement and finally declaring that I am the best Christmas tree they have ever seen in their whole life, dancing and singing Jingle Bells and other Christmas songs.

Time goes by. A huge number of coloured parcels are placed around my base. I can feel the life draining from my branches and sometimes the voices around me are muted and dull as I slip in and out of awareness.

A week later there is great excitement in the room and when I focus on the voices, Lucy and Sadie are dancing around and clapping their hands screaming “Santa is coming tonight” Lucy shouting, “I’m getting a new bicycle and a surprise and Sadie squealing “I’m getting a big wooden dolls house, roller skates, a smart phone, a scooter, a kitten and a surprise” and everybody laughs and I get a good feeling from the love and happiness all around me, maybe my life has been useful after all.

I wake up to the sound of more excited squealing from Lucy and Sadie because Santa has brought them what they wanted, well, a bicycle and a dolls house and some jewellery for their hair as surprises, they are shivering with excitement at the idea that Santa was there while they were asleep and had brought them what they wanted.

People come and go from the house all day and there is a beautiful sense of love and happiness as they share gifts with each other and I realise that this is what my life was for, to make these two little girls and their family happy. I feel good about that but really tired.

The house goes quiet and dark and I can’t feel anyth……….


Halloween Story: She Swiped right on Tinder

Thirty five year old Julie Hall, owner and CEO of AIS Ltd., a hugely successful company in the Artificial Intelligence industry, was directed by her smart phone to turn off the main road.  She squinted through the windscreen of her car while driving along the ink black road, a small rutted side road with grass growing down the middle.   A stab of concern ran through her when her smart phone flashed “No GPS Signal” and the map disappeared from its screen, although she knew she was close to her destination; the screen had said ‘Two minutes to go’ before it died.  

As her car was cutting a path between overgrown hedgerows, the charging warning light on the dashboard flashed red and the headlights slowly began to dim. Just as their light disappeared completely, she spotted a gap in the hedge to her left. Pulling over, her tyres crunching on loose gravel, she catches a glimpse of an ancient-looking wrought iron gate. Sitting now in total darkness, except for the faint glow from her smart phone, a rising nervousness created a tingling sensation in her arms and legs, the car engine stalled and died. Turning the ignition key produced the click, click, click, sound of a dead battery. In the distance the sky lights up with lightening followed thirty seconds later by the sound of rolling thunder. Counting the seconds between the flash and the sound, a habit from her days studying physics, she knew the storm was ten kilometres away, sound traveling at three kilometres per second.  Resting her head on the steering wheel she thought, “Paul was right, what was I thinking!”

It had started the previous Saturday when she had swiped right for ‘Philippe De Silva’ on her Tinder App.  She had been using Tinder for some months as her busy life as a senior executive made it difficult to meet men.  They agreed to meet and for once a profile didn’t lie. Tall, lightly tanned, jet black hair, piercing blue eyes. Immaculately dressed in a light grey Italian suit, with dark tan shoes and blindingly white shirt open at the neck. His warm, firm handshake and double cheek kiss created a tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach.

Over a glass of wine and pleasant conversation, his voice low and smooth, she smiles to herself and thinks of the Dracula movie she had watched recently on Netflix. Dracula had mesmerised his victims before drinking their blood. In the movie, the vampire drank his victim’s blood by sucking it from their neck with his incisor teeth, but Julie knew from searching the internet after watching the movie, that in fact real vampires drink the blood of their victims by cutting into an artery and allowing the blood to flow into a drinking cup. Twenty minutes into their conversation she is disappointed when his phone rang and he took the call. He apologised and said he had to go and attend to some urgent family business, but perhaps she would like to come to a Halloween party he was organising the following Wednesday? His parting hug and kisses left and right created another tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach.

Still holding her hand, he said, “My house is difficult to find”. “it’s an old rectory in the countryside, I’ll text you the Satnav co- ordinates.” Bowing, he brushed the back of her hand with warm moist lips, a picture of Christopher Lee bending over Barbara Shelly in the nineteen sixty six version of Dracula, Prince of Darkness filled her mind as he smiled down at her and left.

The bubble of her excitement was punctured at brunch the following day when her brother Paul, a Special Tactics and Operations Command Police Officer, (the Irish Police version S.W.A.T.)  shouted, “Are you nuts?” when she told him about Philippe. Her angry reaction about minding his own business got a curt “Right, but a least give me the Satnav co-ordinates and I’ll check it out.”

Now, sitting in her car and deciding the old gates must be the entry to Philippe’s house, she pulls the phone from its cradle and presses Paul’s speed dial number. “Service not available” lights up the screen.  Sitting in ink black darkness. except for the light from the phone, her nervousness increases when the screen says, “Only five percent battery left please charge or switch to battery saving mode.” Another flash of lightening and twenty four seconds before the thunder tells her that the storm is eight kilometres away and travelling at one kilometre per minute and her bladder screams to be emptied.

Opening the car door, she risks precious battery time by shining the phone torch on the ground, revealing calf high grass and weeds, no nettles or other stinging plants. Getting out of the car, she squats and relieves herself, feeling very vulnerable, her heart thumping wildly.

She readjusts her short black party dress and standing in the pitch black darkness, risks more precious battery power to shine the light on the cast Iron gate, fixing the position in her mind. Her key fob doesn’t work because of the dead battery so she locks the car with the key and moves towards the gate, feeling her way through she risks another five seconds of phone battery to find the direction of an overgrown gravel driveway. Through the gate the temperature suddenly drops and her breath mists in the colder air. She puts this down to the rain that’s probably arriving in front of the approaching thunder storm.

She moves forward slowly, feet sliding along to make sure she is still on the gravel, happy that she had decided on low heels when she had dressed earlier, every minute feeling like an eternity, hearth thumping in her throat.

Using the phone light five more times, the battery goes to three percent just as the outline of a building appears directly ahead. She is about to use the phone light again when the clouds open and a silver moon briefly lights her surroundings presenting a scene that’s almost as bad a walking through the dark.

The old rectory, windows in total darkness, was about one hundred metres away. Before it lay a cemetery packed with ancient headstones, a small  path to the  house winding through them. Her heart was beating like a drum in her ears as she picked her way among the graves. Julie tried to shake off the dread that was creeping through her like the mist between the graves, feeling that the headstones were turning to look at her as she passed, certain she could hear a murmur of conversation. She carried on, her rational mind telling her not to be silly, the voices must be carried on the wind from the party in house…

Finally, past the graves and taking the three steps to the front door she reached up to grab the bats head shaped heavy brass knocker but, before her hand could grasp it, the door opened and Philippe De Silva stood there, dressed in a black evening suit his face chalk white with a broad smile on his crimson lips. A huge flash of lightening lit up the sky followed in five seconds by the loudest thunder clap she had ever heard, rattling the loose old sash windows

“Come in, welcome”. His silky-voiced greeting calmed her nerves a little and she returned his smile as he took her elbow in a firm grip and steered her along the hall “The party is this way”. He threw open a door at the end of the hall and stepped aside.

Entering the room, her normally analytical brain refuses to take in the scene she is presented with.

A girl, about her own age, is hanging from a trapeze  by the back of her knees, hands tied behind her back, ankles tied together and her long hair pulled back and tied to her feet creating a bow effect except for one thing; her throat is cut from ear to ear, the cut so deep her spine is visible and her head is pulled back hard displaying a wide macabre grin at her throat while her upper body is hanging straight down with her blood flowing into a large silver cauldron, around which are standing six other women, drinking the blood from the cauldron with silver soup ladles.

As the scene sinks in, a scream dies in her throat and she faints to the floor.

When she came to, she was lying on her side, naked, with a silver trapeze bar behind her knees, trussed up in the same way the as the girl hanging from the ceiling. Hands tied behind her back, ankles tied together, her hair pulled back and tied to her ankles creating a bow shape that exposed her throat. A dark grey silk handkerchief tied through her mouth turned her shouts of protest into barely audible croaks.

As she lies there, five men, dressed the same as Phillipe De Silva, walk into the room. The women lick their ladles, place them on the table and shuffle out the door, their dead eyes unseeing, skin waxy yellow, each of them with ear to ear train track scars around their necks.

Two of the men step up on the table and unhook the dead girl from the trapeze ropes. They carry her to the other end of the room, place her on a bed, untie all the ropes, lay her out in a supine corpse pose with her hands crossed over he breasts and cover her with a white sheet

Two more pick Julie up from the floor by the silver trapeze bar, another supports her shoulders and they carry her to the table. Inserting the bar into the trapeze ropes they pull a third rope and Julie slowly rises, swinging slightly above the silver cauldron. She struggles and throws her body left and right but the three men hold her tight as Philippe De Silva walks over.

Standing in front of her he smiled. “Don’t struggle Julie, it will be easier if you don’t struggle. There won’t be any pain, your brain will feel a mild sense of surprise for about ten seconds and that’s it.” Her eyes were frantic, filling with horror as she realised who Philippe De Silva really was. His smile was lascivious as he inserted a hypodermic needle into the side of her neck, the warmness of a pre-anaesthetic fluid flowed through her and her body relaxed. The stainless steel surgical scalpel glinted in the light as he placed it behind her left ear.

The room erupted with noise, the door smashed inwards off its hinges, the window shattered, glass flying in all directions. Two flash grenades explode in the room filling it with eardrum-bursting noise, blinding white light and smoke. Six S.W.A.T team members, two coming through the window and four through the door in full battle dress, fan out across the room screaming “GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR, DON’T MOVE, LIE ON YOUR FACE, HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK”, the red laser lights from their assault rifles traversing the room in a dancing matrix. They never noticed the six small black-winged creatures that flew out the door as they rushed in.

When the smoke cleared a total state of confusion reigned, the only things in the room apart from the S.W.A.T. team, was a covered body lying on a bed at the end of the room and Julie swinging gently to and fro on the trapeze bar, a small trickle of blood running down her left cheek into her hair.

Two weeks later, Paul Hall is driving a police rapid response people carrier van at high speed with the other five members of the Halloween night’s rapid response team to an armed robbery outside the city. As he takes a sharp corner, tyres screaming in protest, a bat lands on the windscreen in front of his face. Startled, his reaction causes him to lose control of the van as the road straightens and it crashes through the hedge at the side of the road, drops two metres onto the ground in front of a forest, flips over twice, smashes into a large tree and bursts into flames. There were no survivors……

Halloween Jack O’Lantern

Halloween Jack O'LanternTwenty four year old David Harrison, educated at Blackrock College and recently graduated from UCD with a first class honours “Master of Law” degree had journeyed to the deep Northside of Dublin to meet some of his college friends in Kavanagh’s Pub, Prospect Square Phibsborough. Kavanagh’s is more famously known as “The Grave Diggers” because of its proximity to the eastern wall of Glasnevin Cemetery, so close in fact that legend has it that in times past pints of porter were passed through a hole in the pub wall to the gravediggers in the cemetery, hence the name.

The location was chosen to begin creating the evening’s atmosphere, which was to culminate in a Halloween party at another friend’s house on St Teresa’s Road, also in close proximity to the graveyard. The theme for the party was all things zombies and the animals that might feed on them.

David being a rather superior person was not dressed in anything that would resemble a zombie, his nod to the party being that he brought a doctor’s white coat and stethoscope with him to don later.

During the course of the evening with large quantities of Guinness being consumed, the proximity of the graveyard and the Halloween Jack O ’Lantern made from turnips, rather than the imported American pumpkins concept, the conversation turned to the subject of the afterlife and the connection between the living and the dead being celebrated on Halloween, or Samhain as it was known in ancient Celtic times. David being a complete non believer in anything to do with the afterlife, God, or any other type of spirit or ghost was loudly poo pooing the concept when he was interrupted by Anthony Kavanagh, the fourth generation owner of the pub, who assured him that there was definitely a connection between the living and the dead and that he and his staff were so convinced of this that the pub would be closing at 11:30pm sharp, as no one wanted to be on the premises after twelve O’clock.

This early closure had been the practice at the pub since his great grandfather’s time when, on a number of all hollow’s eves, alcohol, that was definitely not consumed by paying customers on the premises, disappeared from whisky bottles and beer kegs.  Bottles of whiskey that would normally produce forty “small ones” per bottle would be empty after serving thirty measures. A keg of Guinness containing one hundred pints of stout would run empty after the serving of sixty pints. The most unnerving thing was that anyone who was on the premises after twelve midnight would have the same songs rattling around in their head, as if they had heard them sung, songs that were never sung by any person in the pub. There was obviously a celebration going on in some parallel world that could not be seen but was breaking through the dimension that separates the living world from the world of those who have passed on. Possible proof of the ancient Celtic belief that it was on this night that the two worlds came closest to each other as they travelled through eternity and sometimes collided, with the actions of those who had passed on, but not yet reached their final resting place, being subliminally experienced but not seen.

On being questioned as to why the pub used turnips for their Jack O ‘Lanterns instead of the modern pumpkins? Anthony explained that it was because legend also had it that, because of their size, they represented the skulls of those who were sacrificed to please the Gods of Samhain in ancient times.

The more Guinness David consumed the more obnoxious he became, loudly denouncing what he called the primitive beliefs of the obviously uneducated underclasses that normally frequented the pub. The more sanguine of the elderly regular patrons just regarded him as a toffy nosed git from the south side but the rest of the pub had more sinister thoughts and eventually he was challenged to put his bottle where his very loud mouth was and go spend the night in the graveyard, silently hoping that he might die by falling into an already open grave.

With the confidence of a spoiled brat and six pints of Guinness inside him he took up the challenge and agreed to climb over the railings into the Graveyard when the pub closed.

There was a number of graveyard workers drinking in Kavanagh’s that night and, as people were leaving, they stopped David and advised him strongly about going into the graveyard after midnight. No gravedigger would ever go there during the hours of darkness as they regularly found evidence of sacrificial activity when they opened the graveyard in the mornings on certain days of the month, mostly coinciding with a full moon or some ancient witchcraft anniversary day. While they had never found a human body, there was enough remaining evidence to suggest that it happened and hiding the sacrificed remains would obviously not be too difficult in a graveyard with a million graves.

His friends also tried to dissuade him but to no avail, the more they pleaded with him to give up the escapade the more he shouted his derision about those who believed in ghosts and pishogues so they finally left him as he climbed over the railings and dropped onto the grass in the graveyard at one minute to midnight.

The street lights faintly illuminated an area of about thirty feet from the railings and he could see a copse of trees to his right. Walking toward the trees he saw a large oak tree with a low lying heavy branch that would possibly afford some shelter. When he reached it he discovered that the gentle curve of the branch as it left the tree was wide enough to be used as a reasonably comfortable reclining sitting place. He settled in and, with the super confidence of the non believer and eight pints of Guinness, fell asleep.

He was not long asleep when a very full bladder insisted that it be emptied. Waking, he rolled groggily from the branch to a standing position and relieved himself against the tree. The sound of his stream of liquid hitting the tree was strangely muted and the steam, instead of rising, sank slowly to the ground and lay there, floating slowly along the grass. Readjusting his clothing, he is now fully awake and realises that something has changed dramatically since he had gone asleep.

A perfunctory look at his watch to get some idea of how long he had been asleep changed to a stare of disquiet when the watch showed twelve midnight with no movement of the second hand. Taking his smartphone from his pocket his disquiet turned to a concern when the on/off switch had no effect on the dark, blank screen. Pulling his shoulders back and staring around with mock confidence he notices that the area is lit by a strange diffused greyish pink light, as if a distant rising moon was shining and reflecting off the underneath of low hanging clouds, bathing the place in a light that he felt as much as saw. His confidence rapidly dissipates when he looks left towards the graveyard railings to find instead the extremity of his vision, beyond which there was only blackness, the street lights, Kavanagh’s pub and the buildings around it, no longer visible.

With a nervous laugh he looks to his right and a shiver of freight runs through his body when he sees a big slightly stooped figure dressed in a loose fitting, hooded, full length, jet black cassock. He laughs out loud and shouts “ Get the fuck outa here ye bunch of messers, I don’t know how you’re doing this but fair play to ye, ye got me, let’s go to the party”. The figure in black turns his head slowly. His chalk white face, burning burgundy eyes and pure evil grin showing gnarled stained teeth freezes the blood in David’s veins and he passes out, falling backwards on the ground.

He wakes up for the second time that night and the scene in front of him fills him with such terror he tries unsuccessfully to will his mind to let him pass out again. The figure in black, now in full view, is standing over the naked body of a man face down on the slab of a concrete chest tomb, acting as a sacrificial altar. On the other side of the tomb there are three dog like creatures, not hyenas or wolves but a hybrid of both, huge heads and teeth with massive shoulders and chests and the low slinking stance of a hyena, staring expectantly at the figure in black, mouths slightly open, saliva dripping from their jaws. The figure in Black is at least one and a half times the size of a normal man, his huge hands and chalk white face the only things visible. The nail on his right index finger, two inches long, slightly curved with the edges sharpened like a razor blade, is shaped like a teaspoon, glowing silver white in the diffused light. Perched on a nearby headstone, a huge, black, bird, like a raven but twice the size with a long hooked beak, stares at the scene with unblinking eyes.

The figure in black looks at David and grins widely, showing his gnarled discoloured teeth. He raises his right hand to the sky so that David can see the finger nail that is now glowing on the end of his index finger, reaches around the body lying on the slab and with one swift circular movement cuts through the skin the whole way around the neck. The body has obviously been dead for a number of hours as there is no bleeding, just a brownish red line along the cut. He calls to the Raven with a harsh rasping “CAW” deep in his throat.  The raven flies from its perch and clamps its sharp talons on both sides of the head and with one mighty flap of his huge wings flies backwards, pulling the skin from the skull with a ripping sound like an opening Velcro fastener. The Raven drops the skin in front of the dog like creatures, who remain motionless until the figure in black gives a commanding bark and they devour it in seconds.

A swift twist and pull separates the head from the torso. He pushes the body from the slab, barks a command and the dog like creatures consume it with ferocious snarling, tearing and ripping, breaking and crunching the bones with a sound like heavy boots on gravel.

He sits down slowly on the slab. The raven flutters its feathers expectantly as he turns the severed head to look at where the face used to be. He looks at the raven with a knowing smile and flicks the right eye from the skull with his long index fingernail. The raven catches and swallows it before it hits the ground, hovers on open wings and repeats the catch and swallow as the left eye is flicked from the skull.

Standing watching this, David has become catatonic, his screaming mind refusing to believe what he is seeing he sinks to the ground and curls up in a foetal position, puts his thumb in his mouth and whimpers for his mother.

Meanwhile, the figure in black extends his index finger in front of him and stares at it until it glows bright red. He jambs it into the skull about an inch above the nose and with a circular motion burns through the bone and removes the top of the skull, throwing it to the dog like creatures.

Taking the skull in his huge left hand he calls to the raven with a gentle “caw”. The raven lands on his right forearm and dips its beak into the cavity.  It takes it about thirty minutes to clean every piece of brain and skin from the skull.

Taking a small candle from his cloak he places it in the now empty skull and pausing, he stares at his finger nail until it glows red again, lights the candle and places the Halloween Jack O’Lantern skull in the middle of the stone slab. Turning, with a bundle of clothes under his arm, including a doctors white coat and statoscope, the Black bird on his shoulder, the dog like creatures around him like presidential outriders, he walks to a nearby mausoleum and they disappear inside, walking through the door as if it wasn’t there.

David’s friends were both surprised and impressed when he hadn’t come back to the party house and decided to walk over to the graveyard when it opened at nine o’clock the following morning. Still drunk, the noise they made laughing and joking loudly as they came through the gate woke David, who jumped up and ran towards them in delight and relief that he had survived the night, even if his nightmare had scarred him half to death. To his surprise they walked straight passed him and stood looking at the Jack o ’Lantern that was still glowing faintly on one of the graveyard chest tombs. He shouted at them, “Hey guys, I’m right here, stop fucking messing, I won the bet, I stayed here all night”

They left the graveyard deciding that David had gone home rather than admit that he didn’t stay the night and lost the bet.

© Brendan Palmer October 2017

Time does not run out, it rises as water in a well. Sister Stan.

Inkslingers Writers Group: Saturday 24th June 2017
The prompt: Time does not run out, it rises as water in a well. Sister Stan. (Stanislaus)

I took a whimsical look at the possibility that yesterday is also tomorrow……

The latest News from the Astrophysicist Community is that Gravity, as we have known it, may not in fact exist. Until that is proven I will stick with Einstein’s theory that time is suspect and that gravity may bend time. In fact, for what follows, I will assume that gravity does bend time.

Now, to take a time trip back to the Math classes at school or, as we knew it then, arithmetic classes, it being before the advent of American television. We know from those arithmetic classes, more correctly geometry, that a straight line can travel to infinity but any small constant curve will change it to an eventual closed circle. Transferring this mathematical fact to physics; if gravity bends time, which I have already decided it does, time is therefore a circle and the Nano second that has just passed is in fact also somewhere in the future at the same time.

Of course, the amount that gravity bends time, if it does, is miniscule in the context of the time that has already passed since the big bang, which we know is about 13.5 billion years. Not knowing how much longer the continuum we measure as time will continue into the future, the fact that my immediate past is also sometime in the future is totally irrelevant because the amount of time I have been allocated as a self-aware, carbon-based life form is so small in comparison, I will never reach that future point.

Let us, for the purpose of argument, postulate that that the time circle is 5 billion years; how does that sit with the concept of history repeating itself and the fact that we are currently existing in some people’s past while at the same time also existing in some people’s future?

Perhaps this is an explanation as to why some people think they have lived before, they somehow have the ability to access the time continuum at a point in time that’s both the past and the future. Perhaps it even explains “Déjà vu” or, as we would say in English “already seen”.

It may be that Sister Stanislaus was referring to how people use their time but it could also be that she is one of those people who have unexplained insights into the workings of the cosmos.

One way or the other, time marches on, waits for no-one and will continue to march on long after I have discovered what happens when my personal clock stops ticking.