LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 8: No Comment
“Okay, okay.” Sam exploded into the small, sterile room with a cocktail of anger and excitement – the former on account of the concessions he’d had to wrestle out of the Crown Prosecution Service and the latter because of the concessions he’d managed to wrestle out of the Crown Prosecution Service.  He knew he’d achieved the impossible, but also that he’d pay for it in due course.  Favours from the CPS weren’t free; they were merely supplied with delayed payment terms.  And often incurred interest.

“So we’ve agreed to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter, push for concurrent sentences for Breaking & Entering, Public Indecency, and Unlawful Imprisonment.
In return, you’ll sign a full confession, and not incidentally you’ll explain how the hell Mr. Adams’ head came to rest on top of this station in the middle of the day without a damned person noticing!”

Clare appeared to ponder this for some time.

Sam took the opportunity to calmly (well, calmly relative to the circumstances) remind her that this, the fourth such deal, was absolutely the best she was going to get, and that his patience wasn’t limited.  Granted his delivery of this little speech conveyed the latter sentiment by itself, but he thought spelling it out represented a sound course of action.

Clare shuffled in her seat, causing he handcuffs to clank gently, almost musically, against the metal interview table.  She didn’t look dangerous, but as Wodehouse once wrote “Many a man may look respectable, and yet be able to hide at will behind a spiral staircase”.

“I wonder, Captain, whether you’re more concerned about justice at this stage, or about solving the mystery.” Something in his demeanour suggested this wasn’t a tactful line of questioning to pursue, so Clare did: “The middle of the day, remember. My oh my.  That part was fun, I can tell you”.

Sam’s likeness to a beetroot grew with each passing second, but he tried to remain impassive:  “You’ll get nothing further from us, Clare.  Just sign the bloody thing and be thankful you don’t live on a country with a death penalty.”

Clare reached for the paper, which Sam slid across the table to within her reach.  With uncharacteristic optimism, he slid a pen across neatly after it, which she duly picked up.

She scribbled on the signature line with a smile that a recently-deceased wildebeest, looking forlornly down at the remainder of its earthly body (and, not incidentally, the adjacent crocodile), would have recognised in an instant.  Sam, no wildebeest but cautious nonetheless, leaned over to check her signature and promptly turned white and started to shake like a geriatric dog attempting to dry itself off after a heavy rain. 

She had simply written “No comment”.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 7: MaNIfEsTO
I was born of the Inner Voice.  The voice which sometimes tells you, contrary to all evidence, that everything will be okay.  The voice that provides comfort in the dark; company in the lonely abyss of modern life.

But it has a darker side.

Sometimes that voice is harmful.  Sometimes it’s violent, which shocks us as civilised people, living in a peaceful society.  It suggests dark behaviours of which we would be thoroughly ashamed, and which are out of character.  We have thoughts that are better buried than discussed.  Our inner voice continues to suggest them nonetheless.  But worse than that; sometimes it asks ‘what if?’.

It’s the voice that inevitably provides a snappy retort  once your interlocutor has already turned and walked away, leaving you grasping for that final put-down, the argument-ender that eluded you and left you standing like a fish out of water that’s ungraciously flapping its mouth, grasping fruitlessly for something that will sustain it.  The French have a phrase for that: l’esprit de l’escalier.  The wit of the staircase.  And once that retort arrives (too late), or once you’ve been mugged or lost the fight, it’s this inner voice that replays the situation to you over and over again, until you’re so thoroughly sick of it that you can’t stand to feel your failure once more time, you can’t stand to be reminded again of how easy it would have been to utter that one simple line, or to dodge that one punch.  So simple, in your beautiful, high-fucking-definition, 3D hindsight.  The more petty and pointless the situation, the more times your inner voice will replay it to you: that’s one of the evil secrets of the inner voice that’s never discussed.  And the more times it’s replayed, the more significant the failure seems.  God help you if someone cuts into a queue in front of you and you don’t mention it, you just stand there fuming. It’s so unimportant, but your inner voice will replay that one at least 2 dozen times.  See?  It’s such a ‘nothing’ occurrence, but it gets blown up, bigger and bigger in your consciousness until it becomes a defining life event.  You’ll still have flashbacks weeks later, which is depressing and annoying in equal measure.  If you can just ride it out, they eventually become less and less frequent.  Time heals all, but often a lot is required.

But sometimes, just sometimes, if a person isn’t in quite the right mental shape at the time of most intense repetition, a person come to believe that his esprit arrived in time.  He can actually believe that the put-down was delivered with panache, that he dodged the sucker punch and dropped his would-be attacker to the floor swiftly and expertly.  He might soak up the imagined shock and awe of any witnesses, that most beautiful of things: the admiration of strangers.  And he might start to know that he’s something of a special case, a hero even.  Sometimes a person just needs that feeling in order to go on.   Sometimes a person might snap, in other words, and their created reality might become their lived reality in a seamless and deadly transition from the real to the imagined.  And would it really be their fault?  Can we blame the falling tree, struck by lightning, for its actions?  Sometimes circumstances control us more than we like to admit, and we’re reminded that the universe just is, and that we just have to ride it, regardless of where it wants to go.

And as surely as I was born of that darkness I shall die by it.

But not before everyone else does.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 6: Heel Turn
"I have a secret.  No one in the world knows it but me.  And if I tell you, you have to promise never to tell another soul." Simon awoke with a violent start.  That voice again.  Stone cold, but somehow he was sure it was a child’s voice.  It never varied, and never came when he was awake. It wasn’t natural.

Something inside him had changed: he didn’t know quite what, but since the girl started to contact him in his dreams, he knew something had changed.  He didn’t think he was mad.  He had no family to confirm it, but he didn’t need that.  His boss had noticed a problem – he didn’t shave as often as he should, and his shirts were that bit more crumpled than is acceptable – but didn’t seem to consider him mad.  By this stage though, he was mad: he believed he was being contacted by a demon.

It had started about 3 months ago, that dark utterance.  She didn’t come every night – some nights he’d tried to stay awake to avoid it, but lapsed into a comatose state.  Other nights he’d become outrageously drunk – both stopped it, that night.

She would never continue though; never tell him her secret.  Tonight, enough was enough.

Without turning on the light, for this was a journey he’d made many times since the voice first invaded his dreams, he trudged across his bedroom to the en-suite.  The chill of the floor tiles marked his arrival. This was when he’d normally take two steps to his left and reach into the medicine cabinet for some sleeping pills.  But they wouldn’t fix it this time, he sensed.  He knew what had to be done. 

He stepped towards his toilet; reaching behind the old cistern he pulled out a padded envelope.  Inside was the answer.  It was so clear now.  He’d put this day off, but there really was no alternative.  He HAD to know her secret.  From the envelope he extracted his answer: so obvious now he studied it.  He stuck it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Meanwhile in the adjoining flat, separated from Simon’s rapidly cooling body only by a plasterboard wall, Sarah lay wide awake.  She’d heard the bang, but had been awake anyway.  Even after 3 months in her parents’ new house she was unable to sleep consistently.  She was afraid, as she was most nights, but this time there was a noise that seemed worse than anything before.  Even her young mind could sense the damning finality in that bang, which was followed by what sounded like a heavy sack hitting the floor.  It was extremely unsettling.  She turned to the only comfort she had that could assist in her quest for sleep: her doll.  She pulled the frayed drawstring on its dirty fabric back, and sighed, comforted, as it whispered conspiratorially its only programmed message: "I have a secret.  No one in the world knows it but me..."

Sarah, finally, slept well that night.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 5 Write Off: Greetings!
Alex approached the ship, somehow unable to do the sensible thing, which at this stage would be to run away screaming and hide under his bed for a fortnight.

The colossal throbbing noise which, despite emanating from the small and unassuming silver capsule, had completely filled his aural horizon suddenly changed pitch and a hatch opened.

“Greetings earthling!  Of course we jest; that is, we believe, what you call a cliché.” The voice seemed to come from a stream of small, flat metallic rectangles being ejected from the hatch.  It was assembling itself into various shapes at a frightening speed – giving the impression of a flicker book.  It looked disconcertingly like it was arguing with itself over what shape it wanted to take.

“We apologise for our sense of humour, and realise it is inappropriate at present.  Hello Alex, we are honoured to meet you.”

"Who...who are you? How do you speak English? How do you know my name? How are you talking to me?" Alex felt strangely detached, like something this absurd couldn't be happening.  So his brain helpfully and cheerfully told him it probably wasn't. At least he hoped it wasn't, and he began to wish that his first words to an alien species; mankind's first words, as far as he knew, hadn't been so banal and predictable.

But on some level he knew it was, and they had been. 

He sighed, and reflected that it was just typical of him, as his father would have pointed out, to take something exceptional, sensational, and reduce it to something as interesting as accountancy.

Nevertheless, the apparition seemed to remain excited, as far as he could tell from the increasing movement he observed in the myriad shifting metallic plates that seemed to protect, or possibly even form what he supposed were their faces.

They answered him quickly and without judgement: "we don't speak it; not directly. Our biology is so different to yours so that we can't express ourselves in a way you could even perceive. So we've bypassed the use of your spoken language and are instead applying signals directly to your brain.  It's like when doctors on your planet trick your brain into thinking you're feeling calm or sleepy. Except we're a little more advanced so we can do the same for language.

As to how we understand it: many, many centuries of observation. Over the aeons we've monitored thousands of sentient species.  Well, that is...our organisation has.  This is our first mission!  We've monitored, analysed, and reached a level of understanding that means we can communicate meaningfully with you.

The mass of constantly shifting metal plates that was somehow the focus of the voice inside his head had, Alex was fast concluding, deliberately and artificially formed itself into a proxy of the human silhouette.  It was a decent effort, or at least would be were humans made of hundreds of small and jittery baking trays held together by what looked like hope alone.  A number of plates shifted more vigorously as what passed for an arm extended gently, uncertainly towards him.

“We are, to be honest, a little nervous of our first contact.  Hand to shake?” Could metal blush?  Alex hadn’t thought to until today.

Alex hesitantly took the proffered ‘hand’ (he was the sort of person who inserted, quite accurately, inverted commas in his thoughts) and was relieved that against all odds his own hand wasn’t lacerated beyond recognition.

Still in shock, he continued unabashed along his path of dull questions: “why are you honoured to meet me?”

“Such modesty!” the mass shivered, seemingly excited. “You are everything we believed you to be!”

“But I don’t know what I’m supposed to have done?” said Alex.

“You invented the Spectral Mass Inverter!  It’s what makes our travel in time and space possible!”

“I think you may have made a mistake...I’m still studying my Physics undergrad.”

“Hmm.” Said the mass, which as far as Alex could tell went into some sort of huddle and began an internal discussion.  It was getting heated, sometimes quite literally as small flashes of blue lightning flickered from plate to plate. After a few seconds of watching this beautiful terror:

“We believe we may have made a mistake”

“Yes, we believe this is most likely.  You will have to excuse us.  Most embarrassing.  Most inconvenient.  We must return at a different time.”

“Urm.” was all Alex could manage.”But I have so many questions?” this itself came out as a question as he felt his grasp on the situation weakening.

The mass seemingly ignored him “You wouldn’t believe the forms we will have to complete now.  I believe you would call this a balls up? Yes, that applies.”


“Goodbye Alex, for now”.  This came as the mass of plates flowed back into the ship, and (Alex would repeatedly swear to this) tutting and grumbling about bureaucracy.

Afterwards, being of a sensible persuasion and also somewhat shell-shocked, Alex did the only thing he could think to do – rushed to the restaurant to which he had been heading and apologised to his date for being half an hour late for dinner.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 5: Fear is the heart of love

Certainly, fear can result from love.  In fact fear must result from love, for part of what it means to love someone is knowing what life was like without them; and the thought of a return to such a life is indeed likely to induce fear.  In fact, love can often be said to be at the heart of fear: fear of loss (of someone/something you love), fear of death (love of life), and fear of humiliation (love of self).

But fear cannot be the heart of love.

Fear can even play a part in planting the seeds of love - it can lead us to reach out and touch another soul (tragedy), or it can lead us to open ourselves up, to expose ourselves to another (fear of being alone).  But these things aren't love.  Love can develop from them, sure, but they're not enough.

But fear cannot be the heart of love.

True love is pure.  True love is elemental.  True love can’t be broken down into constituent parts: it's already the most fundamental particle of human emotion.  To ask “what’s at the heart of love?”, or “what causes love?” is to ask a senseless question: one might as well ask why time progresses.

So we reach the brutal truth: if what you think of as your love for someone is truly based on fear, then it’s merely a hollow imposter.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 4: Bye Week
I'm afraid I'll have to take a Bye this week.  Thanks.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 3: Brushback Pitch
It’s time for a Brushback Pitch!

As the life of the party, the belle of the ball,
you tell stories; all funny, all true.
You’re a hero! A sinner! A loser! A winner!
But the star of each story, is you.

Then along comes a Topper; a liar, a cad!
He really will cause you to groan.
For when your story’s complete,
your crowd whipped up a treat,
he tops it with one of his own.

The bastard! The git! Unforgivable knave!
He’s taking attention from you.
Once his story begins,
it’s too late for a save...
there’s nothing much more you can do.

We all know the sort; with a witty retort,
and a shrug, and a look of delight.
he’ll wait till you’ve finished,
and the reaction’s diminished,
then let loose his first words of the night:

“While that’s impressive, good Sir,
and a hell of a tale,
I really must tell you my own.
For whatever you did (I barely could listen)
I did one better, and did it alone!

You caught a nice fish, at six hundred pounds:
that’s fairly impressive, to me.
Though I don’t like to brag,
I really must add,
that my best was six hundred and three.

You’ve travelled much, Sir, been to 43 states!
But listen to me I implore,
for I’ve travelled much too,
and wouldn’t you know...
I’ve been to at least 44.

Now your author is smart,
and aware of the sin,
of moaning and moaning some more.
And unlike the Topper, and all of his kin,
this author knows when he’s a bore.

So I’ll leave it at that, with a piece of advice.
The advice I will give you’s a bitch:
When you meet a Topper,
and can spot he’s a rotter,
Just serve him a Brushback Pitch:

Top him back! Do it hard!
Make him squirm and complain
that your story’s demonstrably crap.
But no matter his claims, this method will work:
he’s off balance 'cause someone topped back.

And that’s when you strike:
Change the topic at once,
to one he knows nothing about.
You’re a bastard! A git! That’s no way to behave!
But at least you’re still in while he’s out.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 2: That One Friend
( You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults. )

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 1: I need the struggle to feel alive
At first he didn't notice it. It punched a small, tidy hole in the window; its arrival announced by nothing more than a delicate cracking noise. It sounded like nothing more significant than a hot glass plate being mistakenly placed in icy cold water. 

The hole it made in his chest was just as small; just as neat. At first, anyway. No fanfare. No being pushed backwards amid dramatically flailing limbs. Just a stunned, betrayed look. He was frozen in time, unable to process the fact that warm blood was starting to trickle down his immaculate white shirt. His blood. Things like this didn't happen to him. 

As he collapsed gently onto the richly-embroidered silk rug, adding a crass red hue to an otherwise exquisitely faded masterpiece of antiquity, I had time to see and understand his shock.  Time to feel the last of his power, awe-inspiring at its peak, fade to nothing. 

It was over. The adjustment would take time, would take effort; would almost certainly take lives. But the time for change was upon us.  One bullet, from an unknown source, had now begun to bring about the end of everything we know.  It marked the end of one struggle and the beginning of another; but I've always believed that at times of struggle are often when people are at their best and now, more than ever, I hope this is true.

LJ Idol Season 10 Topic 0: Veteran Introduction

I'm a collection of about 37 trillion cells that have kindly arranged themselves into some pretty icky-looking organs and some (thankfully) pretty normal-looking skin and limbs.

This arrangement is mutually beneficial because I get to do things like drink wine and enter writing contests, and in return these cells get to be part of something greater, more drunk, and that thinks it can write. Win win.

To be true to the viciously efficient forces that guided nature to my current form, and on the basis that this isn't a competitive round, I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Much effort will be expended on later rounds.



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