I'm far more surprised and alarmed now that it is 18 months since my last blog post - obviously I haven't been putting any of the time bending tips into effect yet. In fact I haven't even finished reading Making Time yet - not sure why but I am putting off reading the last chapter. I think I'm afraid that it won't offer any great secrets for beating time at its own game which means that I'll be swept inexorably on to the point when I wake up on the last day of life.

Since the last post I have been on a Creative Writing Certificate course. I am still on it, but there's only one term left once this one's over. At the end of all this I am hoping to have a publishable novel.

Last term's course was "Special Author" and the assessed coursework in December was a "Creative Intervention". It sounds odd - like storming into a novel, moving all the furniture around and dragging the characters out to the pub against their will. What it boiled down to was picking a favourite author then creatively intervening in one of his or her works. The guidelines said it could take any of the following forms:

  1. re-write an existing story in your own style
  2. write a story in the style of another writer
  3. change an event within a story and re-write it from there
  4. change the narrative viewpoint in a story
  5. change the genre or the form of the story
  6. change the settings and locations of a story
  7. extend the text before or after the scenes depicted or add additional scenes to it. You could also tell a story that cuts through and bisects an existing one.
  8. take characters out of existing stories and place them in new ones
  9. take an episode in the writer's life and explore it in a story
  10. take one of your own stories or a chapter of a novel that you are working on and write it in the style of the writer you are exploring
The author I had chose was Michael Marshall Smith and I chose to go for option seven, writing 2,500 words that took place twenty years after the end of Spares and perhaps not long before the start of Only Forward (I had often felt that the stories were thematically linked and so I decided to make this link more explicit).



The tutor didn't quite get it and only gave me 62%. I comfort myself with the thought that she probably wouldn't have got Spares either. So here it is:
This creative intervention takes the form of an extension of the story of:

Spares
Michael Marshall Smith
Harper Collins, 1996
ISBN 0002246562

Taking place some eighteen years after the close of the novel it involves the daughter of the central character and suggests narrative links with the author’s similarly themed earlier novel Only Forward.

Into the Gap
I turned back to the sea and was greeted with the sight of grey sand stretching to the horizon. The buzz of Vaughn’s ornithopter overhead receded and all I could hear was the rush of blood in my ears. I was going back in.

***

My name is Suej Randall and my family have a bit of history as far as The Gap is concerned. Mom always used to tell me that not long before I was born Dad went in there to rescue her, but she never says what from. This was all about the time it began to change. Some people have said Dad caused the change, but I’ve never quite been able to piece together what happened back then and Dad doesn’t like talking about it. I don’t think anyone else survived.

I kind of gathered that there had been this mysterious and terrible otherworld that existed alongside our own and that now it seemed to have become unreachable. Like a news report about a war in some distant country it didn’t seem to have much to do with me, so most of the time I didn’t think about it.

That is until I reached puberty.

I was thirteen and we had just moved to Gotha on the outskirts of Orlando at the time – at first I’d found the distant thunder of the boosters dragging freight up to the orbital malls exciting, but after a couple of weeks it had become as humdrum as the constant drone of the automatic cargo trucks toiling along Ronald Reagan Turnpike to Miami. Dad had got yet another job as security chief, this time for some Chinese Food Court in Azalea Park and Mom was working as a chef in The Loop. It meant that a lot of the time I got left alone with only the house for company.

It was a warm January night when it happened and I was bored, having finished my pizza. There was nothing on TV, so I’d settled for staring out of the glass doors at the back yard, hoping I’d see an alligator. The light from the house illuminated the lawn as far as the tree line, after that the closed ranks of the trunks formed a dark irregular wall, silhouetted against the dark blue of the sky.

As I turned back to the TV a tiny movement caught my eye, a flicker of pale luminescent grey darting amongst of the trees at the periphery of the lawn. I stood up and walked, pressing my forehead against the glass and shielding my view from the room’s reflection.

For a second I thought I’d imagined it, but then there it was again over to the left, slipping in and out of view. I felt goose pimples raise on the back of my neck as I realised that the shape was human. A small human shape, child-sized. Somewhat against my better judgement I asked the house to switch out the lights.

The lawn vanished, and freed from the competition the night sky sprang into vivid colour and after a few seconds I could make its faint reflection on the lake through the trees.

There it was again, over to the left. It headed round to the side of the house and disappeared from view. I leapt back from the glass and ran into the hallway, skidding to a halt by the side door. I tried the handle, but it was locked.

“You’re not allowed outside after dark,” said an irritable voice. I hated that voice. Whenever my parents were out the door took it upon itself to start bossing me around. I’d been on at Mom for weeks to get the versonality upgraded, but she never seemed to get around to it.

“I just wanna look,” I said, trying not to lose my temper as the door just loved to get me riled up. Its speaker hissed for a moment as it considered what to say next.

“What do you think windows are for?”

“There aren’t any windows on this side, dumbass,” I said. The frosted glass in the doors upper half abruptly lit up, throwing a trapezium of light onto the ceiling. The door had taken it upon itself to switch on the floodlights.

“I can’t see anything,” it said.

“Turn that off!” I hissed. The door ignored me.

I knew I’d get in trouble for this – the system would message Mom instantly – but I’d had enough. I stomped back through the house into the kitchen and opened the cupboard next to the dishwasher. Pushed aside the massed ranks of unused cleaning products and stray spatulas. Lifted the transparent plastic cover on the IntelliBox. The cupboard lit up with a dim red light and something started beeping.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Several appliances spoke up and the house turned on the kitchen light. I ignored them and peered at the long row of switches, trying to decipher Dad’s scrawl on the labels.

“You’re not supposed to be in there!” something said in a tone of artificial hysteria. I located the correct switches and flipped them down. I stood up. After a second the beeping stopped and I walked out of the kitchen, extinguishing the light.

The door opened easily now that its mind had been turned off. I’d extinguished the floodlights as well, so as I stepped outside I could see whatever was there without it seeing me.

It was a warm night and far from silent. The distant roar of traffic competed with the cicadas and somewhere far overhead a solitary MegaMall hummed. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

I walked down onto the lawn. I was beginning to convince myself I’d imagined it all when I caught a glimpse of the pale shape out of the corner of my eye. It was amongst the trees again and heading deeper, towards the lake. I thumbed my cell and within a couple of seconds Lucia answered.

“What’s the matter?”

“There’s something weird going on,” I said, “Someone’s running around out back near the lake.”

“Call the cops!”

This gave me pause for thought. Why hadn’t I called them? I had inherited my parents’ distrust of uniformed authority – which I never quite understood, given Dad’s job – but surely Lucia was right. Wasn’t this all was a bit… dangerous?

“No way. I wanna find out who this is. They’ll just run away if I call the cops.” This didn’t even convince me. I wasn’t sure why I was pursuing this other than a rising sense of hysteria and excitement in the back of my mind, the perfect antidote to my currently humdrum existence.

“You’re nuts. What if it’s a crazy?” Lucia sounded excited despite herself.

“It’s a kid.”

I reached the tree line and paused. To be honest with myself, even a kid was a scary prospect in here, although for the moment the shape seemed to have vanished.

No, there it was again. It stopped. Straining against the gloom, my eyes tried to convince me that it had just looked back at me and beckoned. I started forward.

I’d been crashing through the dry underbrush for almost half a minute before I realised that something had changed. It took me a few moments to work out what it was. The cicadas had fallen silent and there didn’t seem to be any traffic on RR.

“Luce?” The connection had gone dead. I looked back at the low shape of the house and was surprised at how far I’d come. Surely I should have been through the trees and at the lakeside by now?

As if responding to that thought, there was a lazy splash nearby. Up ahead and to the right I saw the white shape moving, along the edge of the water this time.

“Luce?” There wasn’t even a signal now. I stumbled out onto the patch of earth beside the water. The tops of the trees on the far side stood out against a brightening sky – I guessed the Moon was about to rise - their inverted outline repeated undisturbed on the lake’s motionless surface. I knew that there were supposed to be some houses over there, but there was no sign of any lights.

A feeling of sourceless dread swept over me and I turned to run back to the house. I froze. I was now convinced that there was something waiting between it and me. In the silence I could hear something forcing its way through the undergrowth towards me. I remembered the warnings. Gators move fast.

I felt a tickling at the back of my mind and spun around, knowing that there was nowhere to run.

The pale figure was already two hundred meters away, sprinting towards the far side trees. Without thinking I pursued her - the water was gone, replaced by a flat expanse of slick black mud across which splashed feebly as I ran across it.

How did I know the phantom was female? Why was the lake full of mud? And why were the trees on the opposite bank rushing towards me, populating the mud flat with woods that looked as if it they’d been there a hundred years?

Already my quarry was beginning to disappear between the trunks of this new woodland. I stumbled forward and became aware of a new set of sounds; the rustle of plotting leaves, the giggle of branches overhead, the noises trees make in a forest when there’s no one to hear them – and not so much sounds as their opposites. Not silence either, which is a mere absence - these anti-sounds were deafening.

I was heading downhill, skidding on damp patches of something unidentified. I jumped, avoiding being flung headlong as roots reared up through the undergrowth, trying to snare my ankles. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a dozen leaves running alongside me on tiny stalk-like legs. I turned my head to stare and really tripped this time, flying head-over-heels straight towards a fat tree trunk.

I closed my eyes and braced myself for an impact that seemed a long time in coming. When it did it was all wrong – I hit the ground and rolled over and over before stopping. I opened my eyes – it was impossible, but clearly I had passed straight through the fat tree. I stood up and yelped at a pain in my right shin. It felt like a long scratch, but instead of blood it poured a pale sickly blue light that illuminated the forest in front of me, which now looked all wrong. The gaps between the trees were somehow dense, unyielding and difficult to see past whereas the trees themselves were about as substantial as air.

I panicked then and started running, heedless of my previous fall. Ahead the white shape of whoever it was I was following appeared every so often, sometimes tantalisingly close, but I don’t think I cared any more. I was just running and after a while I forgot who I was or that there had ever been anything else other than the chase and the fear.

***

My neck hurt and I was starting to feel cold. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the light fitting in my parent’s lounge. I sat up – I was still on the sofa, although if it had all been a dream then I wanted to know when I’d fallen asleep. My throat was dry so I got up and made my way into the kitchen, switching the lights on as I went.

The kitchen cupboard was still open. That much was real, at least. I leaned down to switch the door back on and caught sight of a long scratch on my shin, only just beginning to scab over. My shoes were covered in black mud. Looking over my shoulder I could see I’d left a trail of mucky footprints, a trail that started at the sofa.

***

I didn’t mention what had happened to my parents, and Lucia wasn’t talking to me for “hanging up on her”. However, I’d heard enough about The Gap to make a pretty shrewd guess that this was where I’d been.

However, all the information I could find about it on the Matrix seemed to suggest otherwise. There were a few cryptic news references to a “training exercise” some decades before and some impenetrable scientific papers. But everyone seemed to agree that whatever pathways had allowed passage between our world and The Gap had closed forever, and a good thing too.

You’d have thought that after my experience I’d have been relieved at the news – but you’d have thought wrong. I felt I’d lost something or that I’d started something I wasn’t being allowed to finish. You know the feeling you get when you’re in a bar and the barman takes away your glass before you’ve finished? It was that feeling writ large.

There were also any number of crackpots and conspiracy theorists on the Matrix ranting about The Gap, but even in my early teens I knew that most of these treatises should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. There were claims that The Gap was where alien abductors came from, that it was where God or the Devil lived; one secretive bunch in Europe even maintained that it was where we went when we dreamed.

Over the next two or three years the obsession waned as teenage fixations so often do and sometimes I almost managed to convince myself that it had indeed been a dream, despite the faint white scar on my right shin and odd looks I’d give the lake whenever we drove past.

Eventually I became interested in boys and got a boyfriend called Vaughn, who’d moved to Florida from somewhere in England. I’m not sure what his family was running from, but they fitted in quite well in Gotha.

***

One morning I woke up in tears. I’d been dreaming, dreaming about my brief time in The Gap. The girl I’d been following had been there and had been trying to tell me something, but I hadn’t been able to make out what she was saying. I got up, logged onto the Matrix and went through my old bookmarks.

A lot of the information had gone, but some of it was still there, exactly as I remembered it – and I mean exactly, it hadn’t been touched in the intervening time. In one or two places there was something new, and it was some new material on the Europeans’ site that caught my eye.

They claimed to have found a way back in It was all to do with boundaries and observation and the fact that the sea was not always what it seemed. When I read the instructions my spine boiled with excitement. Vaughn had an ornithopter

***

The important thing, the instructions said, was that he was high enough to see the sea as it “really was”. Enough altitude and it would stop looking like water in constant motion and appear to be a vast grey desert of mud. And if I was standing with my back to the shore at exactly that time, I’d be able to walk into it. “Sometimes things are the way they appear”.

So, one Sunday evening I went to Hudson on the Gulf Coast and found a deserted stretch of beach. Vaughn was to follow by air, and I’d only been there ten minutes when the familiar buzz made itself known. I faced east and stared at the land until I felt a tickling at the back of my mind. I turned back to the sea.