Anyone who has seen any of my social media streams will know that every so often I spent some time proselytising the website 750words.com. For anyone who doesn't know it's an aid to writing, a kick-start to the productivity. It taps into the addictive power of social media to force the user to write at least seven hundred and fifty words every day in pursuit of badges and an impressive streak. Since I first started using it in December 2010 I have filled it in every day religiously. Even though the site does now include the facility to schedule time off I am too superstitious about the whole process to make use of it. Suppose it doesn't work?

Over the last 700 or so days I have variously used it to finish a novel, put together blog entries, write short stories and ramble incoherently. When doing the latter I often completely forget about what I'd written and so if revisiting the archive (not something I do very often) I can often be taken completely by surprise.

The following was written in December 2011. I have no idea why or where I was going but it has surprising consistency for my ramblings and made me laugh when I reread it so I thought I'd reproduce it here.

Bastard Manor

In an open topped car tearing along the main road into Hexmouth were Dean Presley; a young man with a greasy quiff and a leather jacket, and his girlfriend Penny Arcane; a young woman with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail wearing a white dress with red polka dots. The car's engine growled and coughed as it turned into the forecourt of Bastard Manor, Hexmouth's premier hotel and the wheels flung up grit as it ground to a halt.

Dean leapt from the driving seat and ran around to the passenger side and opened the door for his girl.

Penny stepped gingerly onto the gravel.

"Ah do declare, Ah don't like the look of this place!" she managed in an appalling attempt at a Southern Belle accent. Dean frowned at her.

"Leave it out, love, you was born in Basildon!" he sneered before turning back to the imposing frontage of Bastard Manor which appeared more like a stately home than a hotel. The drive contained a fountain and Dean was beginning to wish he'd parked the car nearer the front door at the top of the steps of which stood a butler with a silver tray and supercilious expression.

Glancing back at his car, which was the only vehicle in the magnificent driveway, Dean hurried after Penny who, having taken the reference to her origins as a slight, was stalking towards the front door in a huff.

"Sorry, Penn," he mumbled, catching up with her and taking her upper arm in one nicotine stained hand. She looked round at him and her expression softened. She was one of those girls, Dean had always assumed, who liked bad boys, hence his act. He'd have been much more comfortable driving a Morris Minor in an ex-RAF shirt and comfortable trousers, but ever since Penny had arrived in the village of Ongar last summer he had been smitten. Smitten to within an inch of his life. He'd spent his life savings on a motorbike and a leather jacket and then sold his grandmother's house to buy the Triumph TR2 that Penny had indicated was her preferred means of transport. She had indicated that she didn't feel ready for marriage, but had agreed to this holiday in the West Country.

She smiled at him, took his fingers and gave them a little squeeze.

"That's OK, sweetie. You go and get the luggage and I'll ask that man for our key."

Dean nodded and scurried back to the car, pulling two large suitcases from the boot. He struggled back towards the front door just in time to see Penny disappear inside. Struggling up the steps he joined her in a hallway panelled in dark wood and smelling of furniture polish. The butler appeared to have vanished.

"Where the..?" Dean managed, but Penny held up a forefinger - fortunately her own - and held it to his lips.

The butler rose from behind the reception desk as if on a motorised platform and offered what he probably thought was a welcoming smile. At least that was what Dean assumed the rictus was.

"Welcome," he whispered, "To Bastard Manor, home of Hexmouth's top night spot and conference centre not to mention a range of first class hotel suites. May I have your names please?"

"Peter," said Dean, "and Mary Gale. We booked over the telephone two days ago." The butler pulled the huge leather bound ledger across the counter and began perusing it with his nose mere inches from the paper, immaculately manicured forefinger tracing the columns of names inscribed neatly in black fountain pen.

"Ah yes," he hissed and straightened up. It was only at this point that Dean noticed that one of the butler's eyes was missing; a marble - a tenner aggie if Dean was not mistaken - took its place in the empty socket. The butler revolved as if on a turntable and took down a key with a brass fob from the pigeonholes behind him and crept around to the front of the desk, picking up both suitcases.

"If you will follow me?" he suggested and turned and began to walk towards the large staircase that dominated one end of the hallway.

"Aye-aye," replied Dean without thinking. He then turned red as he realised his faux pas, "I mean, er... here's looking at you kid... no, er..." But the butler was now halfway up the stairs, a suitcase in each hand and the key to their room held aloft, giving no indication that he had heard the inadvertent slights. Penny sighed and clattered away up the stairs behind him, leaving Dean to follow along in their wake. There was something not quite right about that butler, thought Dean, if only he could put his finger on it. Whilst he may have been lacking in the eye department he was blessed with a surfeit of...

Dean blinked, his train of thought derailed. He could have sworn that the Georgian portrait of a dark haired lady had just scowled at him as they walked past.

He reached to top of the stairs just in time to see Penny disappear around the corner down a windowless corridor. By the time he caught up with them the butler was unlocking the door. It was only once the butler had placed the suitcases on the beds that the penny dropped. The butler had been carrying a suitcase in each hand and yet had appeared to have a hand free with which to unlock the door. Dean blinked. No, there were only two arms visible now - normal for a butler.

The butler peered down his nose at them for all the world like the doorman in the title sequence of Top Cat and handed the key to Dean as if disposing of a tissue of dubious provenance. As he walked out Dean stared at his back. Nope. Definitely only room for two arms in there.

"Well this is nice, isn't it?" Penny had opened the window and stuck her head out. The room overlooked a large garden that seemed to contain a small maze; at the far end a large brick wall with a small wooden door in it marked the end of the hotel grounds and the beginning of the moors.

"Shame we couldn't get a sea view, though..." mused Dean, spinning the key ring around on his forefinger. He suddenly realised what was wrong. "Hang on.. I ordered a double room! This is a twin..."

Penny turned to look at him and slid the window shut behind her back.

"That was me," silhouetted against the light of the exterior Dean couldn't really see her face but he could imagine the expression on it. The pout that he had up until recently found adorable. It was only during the journey down that he'd realized that the pout always accompanied a demand. "I wasn't sure if we were ready for a double... I had a word at reception before you got caught up. I hope you don't mind." Penny bent over the right hand bed and opened her suitcase and began unpacking.

Dean did mind, but he didn't like the fact that he did. Of course he was keen to get her into bed, there was nothing more exciting in his head than consummating their relationship physically, but at the same time he hated to think of himself as some drooling Neanderthal. Surely there was more to their budding liaison than taking their clothes off and wriggling about naked between the sheets? This was a chance for them to get to know each other better.

The only problem was that he felt he'd got to know Penny a lot better during the drive down from London and didn't like what he'd discovered. She was childish and only seemed to care about her own comfort. Perhaps she'd relax after a couple of days down by the sea.

"I'm just going to make my father a pipe rack," Dean announced and was already out in the corridor when he realised that he had no idea why he had just said that. Or indeed what he actually was intending to do. He pulled himself up short and grabbed onto the bannister above the stairs and peered over at the floor below.

The Butler was crossing the carpet slowly, pulling a suitcase on wheels. Behind him trailed a figure in a dark fur coat. Instead of coming up the stairs, they disappeared into a small passageway to one side of the stairs that Dean could have sworn he hadn't seen on his way inside earlier. Perhaps he'd got turned around? Things always looked different from an unusual perspective, after all. Did it matter? Probably not, he decided turning round and making his way back towards their bedroom.

The door to the en suite bathroom was closed and the hiss of running water told him that Penny was having a shower. She hardly seemed to have had time, but perhaps he'd been out there lost in thought for longer than he had first imagined. He walked over to the window and peered out into the complex garden. Statues in the Grecian style, arms and legs artfully missing, non-existent genitalia concealed beneath inadequate stone fig leaves punctuated the pathways. One statue was a little different. Dressed in a toga like robe it appeared to have the requisite number of limbs and a head and had been placed right at the back of the garden facing the little wooden door that led out onto the moor, as if to welcome any guests who arrived from that direction.

Or to scare off any unwelcome visitors, Dean thought. He pulled himself up straight. Why had he thought that? The garden started to look oddly alarming in the afternoon light and Dean was seized with the impression that the incomplete statuary was going to start moving. Catching a movement out of the corner of his eye, Dean gave an involuntary yelp, but it was only the butler, appearing on one of the paths below and making his way along it for no readily apparent reason.

There was a click from behind him and he turned in time to see Penny exit from the bathroom dressed in a floor length dressing gown vigorously towelling her long peroxide locks and staring pointedly at him.

"Do you think you could go and ask them when supper is? I'll get dressed whilst you're gone."

As Dean made his way down the stairs he couldn't help but feel a tiny thrill of disappointment. Drooling Neanderthal or no, the thought of watching his damp girlfriend getting dressed was an appealing one. Maybe another time, he told himself as he arrived on the ground floor.

That was odd. Almost subconsciously he'd glanced at the wall beside the stairs where he'd watched the butler and the mysterious black fur coated guest disappear earlier and yet now the passageway was nowhere to be seen. Was the change in perspective turning him around? Surely not. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket he dropped it on the floor in front of where the entrance to the passageway should have emerged and bounded back up the staircase, rounding the hallway and peering back down over the bannister.

Well that was odd. There was no sign of his handkerchief. Perhaps the staircase was making his mind play tricks on itself after all. >He started down the stairs again and just as he was arriving on the ground floor saw the butler standing there, with Dean's handkerchief in his hand. There was nowhere he could have come from apart from the mysterious missing passage that was now nowhere to be seen.

The Butler held the handkerchief out to Dean between thumb and forefinger.

"Is this object yours, sir?" he asked superciliously. Dean nodded and grabbed it from him.

"Yes that's right," he gabbled, anxious to reassert himself. He stuffed the hankie into the pocket of his leather jacket. What had happened to the Bad Boy image he had been so carefully cultivating during his courtship of Penny? "What time's dinner, cock?"

"Cock, sir?"

"Well I can't call you 'Butler' can I, and 'You boy!' seems a bit inappropriate, know what I mean?"

"Claxonwraith, sir," offered the butler, "John Claxonwraith at your service."

"So what time's dinner, John?" Dean was beginning to weary of the Bad Boy persona and hoped that the butler would go away soon and allow him to relax back into his default personality. The butler looked affronted.

"Sir! Claxonwraith if you please!" his eyes burned with a cold fury that made Dean start to feel slightly sick. He held out his hands in supplication.

"Sorry. What time is dinner, Claxonwraith?"

The butler closed his eyes momentarily and nodded; happy that things were now once more running smoothly along the well-oiled rails of social prejudice.

"Beer O'Clock sir," he said and turned on his heels disappearing through a small doorway set into the dark wooden panelling of the hallway. Dean reached for the handle and heard a click – the butler had locked it behind him. Dean pressed an ear to the door.

"Cunt," he heard the butler mutter indistinctly before the muffled sounds of footsteps on cold flagstones disappeared into the distance.

Well that had been embarrassing, and he couldn't go back upstairs until he had an answer for Penny. He walked back towards the reception desk and cast about hopelessly. Opposite the desk was a set of double wooden doors bearing a hand lettered cardboard sign. It must have been there for years, thought Dean, as the card had yellowed and the ink faded so much as to be almost illegible.

Breakfast:       6.30 – 7am

Lunch':            12.30 – 1.23pm

Dinner:            7pm sharp

Supper:            9 – 9.30pm

Gammer:         10:30 – 11pm

Crisps:             Midnight

"I'm starving", he muttered to himself. Behind the double doors someone laughed. He opened the doors to find see plump maid laying the table, she looked up and her fingers flew to her lips as she stifled a snigger.

Dean's mouth dropped open and before he could stop himself asked "How do you DO that?"

The maid looked cross eyed at the small flock of fingers fluttering around her lips and hurriedly raised her hands to join them. All Dean was now confronted with was a round woman with her hands in front of her face.

"Do what sir?" sniggered the maid. Dean blinked.

"The fingers..." he managed eventually. The woman bustled over and guided him gently over to a chair.

"Now sit yourself down here young sir and I'll go and get you a glass of water," she disappeared with speed through a door in the far end of the dining room. Dean stared through the French windows that led out into the garden he'd been admiring from above. Was he losing his marbles, he asked himself? First the butler's extra arm and now all this finger business. Perhaps he'd been working too hard. It had been, he had to admit at least six months since he'd had any significant time off from his job as clerk at the local branch of Bidland Bank. Perhaps he was hallucinating? He peered out into the garden. The butler seemed to be out there again - every so often Dean could see his head moving with almost glacial slowness along the top of some of the smaller hedges.

"Here you go young sir," Dean felt a warm hand brush the back of his neck as its twin placed a tall glass of clear liquid on the table in front of him. He picked up the glass and took a sip.

As water went it was probably the best he had ever tasted. Not sweet, sour or bitter, somehow tasting of clear; not too cold either, his annoying sensitive teeth didn't give him any gyp but instead bathed in the cool torrent and emerged renewed.

"Poor little greenie," he heard the maid murmur as she stroked the back of his neck again. He spun round in his seat. She was over by the dresser seeing to the racks of spare cutlery and linen napkins. How could she get so far? He turned back to the table, drained the glass and stood up.

"Thanks," he began to walk over to the maid, "I don't know what came over me."

"That's all right young master," the maid straightened up and turned to face him, "We all have funny little turned from time to time. It's all part of this great journey we call life..." Abruptly the smile froze on her lips and the colour drained from her cheeks as her eyes stared fixedly at something over Dean's shoulder. Dean spun round.

The butler was standing outside the French windows, nose pressed up against the glass, an expression like thunder. Stifling his start, Dean nodded friendlily at him and turned to go, casting a smile at the maid and reaching up to squeeze her shoulder comfortingly.

"Never mind him," she said quietly, "The customer is always, right, eh? What's your name?"

"Marion, mm, sir, young sir, " the maid bobbed and curtsied in confusion and fear. Dean hurried out anxious not to cause her any further distress.

He glanced back at the aging notice on the double doors. Damn it, he thought, didn't check that dinner WAS at seven. Still, that's what it says and to be honest I don't care what time dinner is as long as I have a coherent answer for Penny that's all that matters. He bounded up the stairs, across the landing and tapped on the door before entering.

Penny was standing looking out of the window. She had changed into a pair of jeans and a white blouse. Dean quite forgot his earlier annoyance when looking at her silhouetted against the light like that and thought he could now remember from whence came his ... his obsession with her. Before he'd spent all that time in the car with her on the way down to Hexmouth and had to put up with all the endless pouting.

"Dinner's at seven," he announced brightly.

Penny turned slowly towards him and offered what he only assumed was a smile. It was difficult to see with her in silhouette like this.

"And what's on the menu?" she walked towards him slowly, pausing for just too long to be comfortable in between each footstep.

"They didn't have the menu available," he flannelled. "But I'm sure it'll be something we both like." He sat down on the bed; Penny's slow march towards him was beginning to unnerve him for some reason. At least from here on the bed he could see her face properly. The face was pouting again.

"Couldn't you have asked someone?" Penny sat down on the other bed opposite him and looked sulkily at him from under a droopy wing of still damp hair. Dean shrugged.

"No one around," he said. "Apart from a ... a maid and she didn't seem to know anything." He felt obscurely guilty about having talked to the maid. All the business with the fingers and the drink of water had quite discombobulated him.

Penny regarded him with her head on one side.

"Shall we go for a walk?" she stood up, padded over to her suitcase and slipped her feet into a pair of plimsolls, "Work up a bit of an appetite for the mystery meal!"

She walked back over and held out a hand. As he took it and stood up he couldn't help but remember the flock of disembodied fingers fluttering around the mouth of the maid downstairs and felt faint. He had to have been imagining it, but it felt so real. It wasn't a half remembered fancy like most dreams or hallucinations, it had actually happened and if he'd had a cine camera then by god he could have shot some footage of the Miraculous Marion and Her Fantastic Flying Fingers. He could have made a fortune with that footage and if YouTube had existed in 1960 he would have been world famous in a matter of days.

But it didn't and he hadn't. There was no point it mulling over such idle fancy.

Dean and Penny sat in the restaurant at 6.55pm. The walk had been cut short when no sooner had they reached the ridge on the coast road behind which the hotel would have vanished than the heavens had opened and deposited a load of water which what felt like grit in it all over them. The had run back and once inside Penny had insisted on having another shower - soaking herself to the skin for the third time in as many hours. After that she had sat in the suite's solitary armchair to read a book whilst Dean fidgeted on the bed with the newspaper.

They appeared to be the only two guests at the hotel. Which was rather odd. None of the staff were around either, although there was a disparate clanking noise coming from the kitchen, which Dean hoped, was the beginnings of dinner. There was a movement over at the door to the kitchen but Dean turned his head just too slowly to catch who it was although the muffled giggle that he half thought he'd overheard made him sure it was Marion the Maid. There was the sound of a sharp slap and the door opened again, revealing the tall figure of Claxonwraith the Butler, holding his left hand limp out in front of him like a distasteful rag. He reached the pile of napkins that sat atop one of the dressers and wiped his had with it before rolling it into a ball, tossing it over his shoulder and without even looking kicked it backwards through the slowly closing kitchen door. He began advancing towards them, picking up a couple of menus from another of the dressers around the circumference of the room in one fluid movement. The rain lashed fitfully on the French windows like a small boy feebly throwing a bucket of gravel at them and before he really seemed to have had time to cover the distance, Claxonwraith was looming over the two of them. He slapped a menu down in front of each of them and pulled the stub of a thick pencil out of his breast pocket.

"Drinks?" he raised an eyebrow disdainfully.

"What do you think, Pen?" Dean looked over at his girlfriend, who wasn't pouting yet.

"You choose," she said and began to scratch at the tablecloth with the tines of her fork. Claxonwraith raised the other eyebrow to match its brother but Penny seemed oblivious to this.

"Wine?" Dean persisted in his attempt to get a coherent decision out of her. No pout "A bottle of the house red?" Pout. "House white?" Pout. He was now stumped. Had it been the colour of the wine or the houseness of it that had caused the pout? "Expensive red?" Pout. "Expensive white?" No pout. Well at least that was settled then. He turned to Claxonwraith.

" A bottle of your finest white please," Claxonwraith bowed and started walking away from them. Backwards. It was most distracting. Penny had picked up the menu and was scrutinizing it. Dean did likewise. At least it would take his mind off the widdershins butler still backing out of the room.

Bastard Manor Hotel: Save Me!

Dean blinked.

Bastard Manor Hotel: Supper Menu

That was more like it. Dean wondered if these constant hallucinations meant that he was coming down with some kind of brain fever. Underneath the table Penny briefly rubbed at his right shin with her foot and he instantly felt better.

Starters

Despite the any pretensions the hotel might have had with regard to its quality, it seemed a bit basic, the starters merely a selection of dull sounding soups and salads. Penny brushed her foot against his shin again and he looked up and smiled.

"I think I'll have the egg salad," she announced, " And for my main I think I'll go for the chicken with asparagus fingers." And with that she squeezed his knee. The odd thing was that both her hands were still holding the menu. Dean leapt in his seat and peered under the table.

"Are you OK?" from the way her legs shifted Dean could tell Penny was pouting again and so he raised his head above the tablecloth again.

"Sorry, " he stammered, "Felt something brush against me - thought there was a cat in here. Gave me a bit of a shock." He noticed that Claxonwraith was approaching again as if on rails, a dusty bottle of wine tucked in the crook of his arm.

He held out the wine for s second's approval

Chateau For Gods Sake Help Me 1957

Dean was almost starting to become blasé about these hallucinations. Some kind of brain fever, he was sure of it. He made a mental note to go and see the doctor when they got back from their holiday. Perhaps it was simply that he had been working too hard and the opportunity to unwind afforded him by the holiday was causing his brain to not merely unwind but to start actually unravelling. Ignoring the attempts to alarm him seemed the way to go.

Chateau Fourcas Sauvegarde 1957

That was better. He nodded at Claxonwraith and indicated with a gesture that he should pour a little into his glass to taste. To his annoyance the butler simply filled his and Penny's glasses to the brim and plonked the now half empty bottle in the middle of their table before retreating, forwards this time. Dean coughed, hoping to make the butler turn around. This didn't seem to have an effect and Claxonwraith once more disappeared through the kitchen doors. There was the sound of another muffled giggle, another hard slap.

The door opened again and this time it was Marion the Maid, the red imprint of what Dean was sure was Claxonwraith's palm still visible on her pale round cheek. She was dressed in a far smarter apron than when Dean had encountered her earlier. As she approached the table she pulled a notebook from a pocket on the front of her apron and curtseyed.

"Good evening sir, madam. Can I take your order?"

Penny repeated what she'd already decided, and Marion noted it down, nodding with assiduous care and attention. She then turned to Dean and smiled, winking at him with he eye furthest from Penny.

"I think I'll just have the tomato soup," he managed trying to keep up his ignoring of any unexpected oddness, "And a steak with the vegetables of the day and pommes frites."

Marion nodded, snatching the menus from Penny and Dean, and tucking them into the waistband of her apron.

"Won't be long, in the meantime, do please ring if you need anything," and with that she carefully placed a small metal bell on the table, a bell of the type more usually associated with hotel reception desks or boxing rings than dining rooms.

Dean watched her bustle out whilst Penny sipped suspiciously at the wine.

"Not bad I suppose," she said eventually.

The light from the French windows was beginning to dim and just as the thought occurred to Dean, Claxonwraith reappeared with a lit taper in his hand. He then proceeded to walk around the perimeter of the room lighting the gas lamps as he went.

"Wow," Dean decided that this wasn't a hallucination, just old fashioned and so worth commenting on, "Gas lighting! Didn't know there was anywhere still used gas for lighting. Claxonwraith turned and glared at him before resuming his circuit of the room, switching on the electric up-lighters as he went. Dean blinked.

"Hmm?" Penny looked up from her wine. Luckily, as far as Dean could tell, she hadn't really been listening to him and so hadn't noticed the discrepancy. His faux pants.

Now that the room was fully lit the gloom outside had leapt into deeper darkness and the wind had picked up. The topiary swayed alarmingly, and in the light of the dining room gave the unnerving impression of a group of unkempt monks performing an impromptu jig in the garden. Dean looked fixedly across the table and smiled. If he concentrated on her eyes, the eyes that had so captivated him when he'd first met her, everything would be all right.

From the kitchen came the noise of what sounded like an entire cupboard's worth of crockery falling to the flagstones and smashing. Claxonwraith, who had just completed his ponderous circuit of the dining room groaned, turned around and hurried through the doors. There was the sound of a blow and Claxonwraith reappeared pulling a shrieking busboy along by the ear. He reached the French windows, and then, still keeping firm hold of his charge's ear, unlocked them with one hand.

A gust of wind burst into the dining room and investigated all the corners whilst Claxonwraith took hold of the busboy by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants and tossed him out into the gathering storm outside. The boy's shriek was swallowed by the wind as the butler closed and locked the French windows, pulling the long velvet curtains closed.

"I've had better," Penny was staring at the interior of her wine glass with a near pout.

The curtains blew aside for a split second, revealing the bus boy being set upon by a horde of ravenous jigging monks. At least that was what it looked like; it was difficult to tell what with the wind, the rain and the darkness. The busboy caught Dean's eye with a pleading look and then the curtain fell back across the glass.

Dean took a sip of the wine. Penny was right; it wasn't all that it could have been, given the price. Then again who cared? Dean was determined to enjoy himself and no amount of disturbing hallucinations or below par wine would put a stop to that.

Nor, as it turned out, would a sub-par meal. However, once they'd finished Penny started to complain of headaches. They retired to their room early and Penny put paid to any idea of potential hanky panky that might have been marching through Dean's slightly tipsy forebrain like a brass band with a huge banner "DEAN WANTS A SHAG" by swiftly changing into an unflattering floor length flannel night gown, climbing into one of the single beds and staring to snore within a minute. Dean sighed and got undressed himself.

It took a long time for him to fall asleep. Quite apart from Penny's unexpected snoring, he just couldn't get comfortable in the bed. It seemed as if someone much heavier than him had taken to sleeping on the right hand edge with the result that whenever he relaxed enough to fall asleep he found himself rolling towards the edge and waking up with a myoclonic twitch.

After a while the pressure in his bladder grew too great to ignore and he reluctantly got up and went for a pee in the en suite bathroom. It was only then that he realised that they were out of toilet paper and furthermore that he really needed to blow his nose. A thorough inspection of the bathroom cabinets not to mention the sideboard and wardrobe in the bedroom revealed no secret supply of refills. He was going to have to venture out into the rest of the hotel in the hope of finding a supply cupboard of some kind. As he walked past the window, the night invisible behind the drab brown curtains, he felt an urge to push them aside and look out. The urge was because he was afraid to do so, the same urge that always tried to persuade him to jump off cliffs. If you look out, he told himself, you'll see something terrible, something walking quickly along the garden paths towards the hotel, something which would look up and see him, something whose face he would never be able to forget...

He pulled the curtain aside and forced himself to look out.

The garden was lit by moonlight. Nothing moved. He looked up at the sky and a few stars twinkled at him through the thick glass. Nothing threatening out there, but of course suppose he was to catch something out of the corner of his eye just as he closed the curtain? Suppose nonsense. He stood up and let the curtain drop. Nothing happened. He pulled on his dressing gown and put on his slippers before quietly unlocking the door and slipping out into the corridor.

Despite the age of the building there was something comforting about the landing at the top of the stairs. It was lit by a warm glow coming from downstairs - obviously some light left burning behind the reception desk - and the absence of any windows kept the alarming night at bay. Even the portrait of the dark haired woman seemed friendlier than it had earlier on. Dean walked down the stairs half expecting to see the butler standing motionless behind the desk, but no. It was unstaffed.

He walked up to it and his hand hovered over the bell. Would there be anyone on duty at this time of night? Instead of ringing it he leaned over the desk and peered behind. Yes, it was as he'd hoped. There behind the desk was an economy-sized package of toilet rolls. Reaching down he pulled one out and straightened up, ready to return to the bedroom.

He stopped in his tracks. There just to the left of the bottom of the stairs was the small wooden door that had eluded him earlier on. How could he possibly have missed it before? Was he now in fact hallucinating?

Perhaps he'd been hallucinating earlier that afternoon, he told himself, certainly things felt much calmer now than they had earlier in the day. A grandfather clock occupied the matching space beside the bottom right hand side of the staircase, its regular tick reassuring him that everything was going to be all right.

Everything was going to be all right.

Placing the toilet roll on the bottom step, Dean reached for the handle of the mysterious door. He was expecting - and indeed almost hoping - that it would be locked. Then at least he could tell himself, "Well, I tried, not my fault the door wouldn't let me through." But when the handle turned Dean felt a thrill of excitement besides the fear. If he explored what was on the far side of the door then at least he would know that it was not being able to see it earlier on that had been the illusion.

Inside, a narrow plasterboard corridor lit by a dim yellow bulb screwed directly into the ceiling led to an opening on the right, underneath the head of the first flight of stairs. Reaching it, Dean realised that this opening led to another flight of stairs, a replica of those up above, leading down into the basement of the hotel. Unlike the ones above they were uncarpeted and his slippers made scratching sounds as they skittered across the rough stone steps.

Photograph by: Patator on Stock Xchng

One of the most depressing things about today's society is how genuine achievement is looked down upon. Knowledge and learning are regarded as something embarrassing and best not talked about. I'm not talking about the age old jocks-versus-nerds thing - this is a phenomenon that has started appearing in all strata of society recently. Mention something that isn't run of the mill and perhaps could even be considered clever or interesting and more often than not the reaction you'll get - if you're lucky - is something along the lines of:

"Oh this is obviously WAY above my head!"

Fake little self deprecating chuckle and roll of the eyes at others there present. Subtext: Who does this fucker think they are knowing stuff?

If you're unlucky... well I leave that as an exercise for the imagination.

The problem seems to be that the lowest common denominator is now aspirational - a standard now being applied in areas outside knowledge and learning. People who don't conform to a sanctioned mental state are starting to feel the sting of ridicule.

One of the least depressing things about today's society is that there is a hope that we will one day stop discriminating against others. We're none of us perfect and maybe don't always curtail our most unpleasant urges, but the ideal is that perhaps one day we will. And sometimes it turns out that the people we may have been complaining about aren't annoying or lazy; they have a condition, a syndrome. Some people have OCD, others Aspergers, others may sit at any other point on the magnificent multidimensional array that is the spectrum of human existence. The fact that we have started to put labels on these conditions is a good first step, one towards everyone truly being - and being treated - equal.

Unfortunately this makes some people feel as if they're being painted into a corner. It's no longer remotely acceptable to display a discrimination against someone on the grounds of race, gender or sexuality - and these individuals are becoming afraid that soon they won't even be allowed to pick on the anxious or overwrought.

And so they fight back. They fight back in the only way they know how. They take these labels, flip them on their heads and cast themselves in the role of victim. The most common of these labels to be misused is very familiar these days.

"Passive aggressive!"

The cry of the bully pointing an accusing finger at a victim who has dared to fight back in the only way they know how. Physical force clearly won't work. Reasoned argument is a dead loss. Is it no wonder that some victims of bullying resort to these means?

A lot of the time the phrase is misused anyway. Many classic examples can be found on the website passiveaggressivenotes.com. I don't know about you, but five or ten minutes browsing through the posts and I come down very firmly on the side of many of the note writers. Does it not occur to those poking fun that perhaps leaving a nominally polite note is the only reasonable course of action?

For a start, it usually involves a shared fridge. More often than not it involves stuff going missing. Stuff going missing on a regular basis. What can be done about that? If someone else has such little respect for other people's property then even if you could find out who it was, having a word with them isn't going to do much good. More often than not the reaction you'll get - if you're lucky - is something along the lines of:

"Hey man, don't be so uptight! I don't mind if you use any of my stuff!"

Subtext: you're a terrible materialistic food-fascist imposing your tyranny upon the free spirits of this world.

Besides how are you going to find out who it is anyway? Lurk in the kitchen for eight hours? Install a webcam in the fridge? Leaving a note is the only civilized way to deal with it (if you don't mind being uncivilized then spiking your theft-worthy food with a strong laxative is another solution). And what is your reward for such adult behaviour?

Ridicule.

Clearly deep down some people feel that they should be allowed to be selfish with impunity, that they should be allowed to nick your stuff on a regular basis. That they should never be made to think about their own behaviour. That any attempt to curtail their "rights" as they imagine them to be is the act of an unreasonable, uptight fucker who needs to chill out and pull themselves together.

It's time to stand up to them and call it as you see it.

"Active aggressive!"


Take a stand against bullying: go purple

Exoplanets - planets circling other stars - are being discovered by the dozen these days. Back in the dark times of the eighties and earlier some scientists doubted whether any other stars were accompanied by planets at all. Now you begin to wonder whether there's even such thing as a planetless star.

Since the discovery of the first one in 1988 the number of confirmed exoplanets now approaches 1,000 and given advances in observational technology can only grow at an ever increasing rate. As such the news of another discovery is hardly a matter for excitement any more.

Except the latest one.

They've found a planet in Alpha Centauri.

Alpha Centauri!

A system whose official stellar classification echoes down the annals of SF literature, film and TV like the name of an old friend. Everyone's heard of Alpha Centauri. It's not that remarkable a system in itself - just a bog standard double star each of which is approximately the same size and magnitude as our own sun, the pair orbited at a great distance by a dim red dwarf known as Proxima Centauri. From Earth it's only visible from the southern hemisphere, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaurus, a constellation first so named by the ancient Greeks.

It wasn't until the early nineteenth century that anyone realised there was anything special about it. That it was unique - the closest star to our own system. The next-door neighbours. From a planet circling Alpha Centauri the night sky would be more or less identical to our own with only two major differences. The constellation of Centaurus would be missing its brightest member. And the constellation of Cassiopeia would have gained an extra downstroke to her distinctive W shape, a new brightest star, our own sun.

Since the birth of Science Fiction Alpha Centauri has exerted a strong hold over the minds of writers. Bound to be our first port of call once we make the break out into the galaxy, one cannot help but wonder what we might find there.

In 1944 A E van Vogt suggested in his short story Far Centaurus that the first explorers to set off would find an Earth colony set up during their long journey by their faster than light traveling successors. The system continues to appear in written fiction on a regular basis throughout the twentieth century, with perhaps one of the most notable more recent examples being at the conclusion of William Gibson's trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive when the newly sentient cyberspace matrix becomes aware of another example of its own kind in Alpha Centauri.

Visual media weren't slow to capitalise on the Nearest Star theme either. Alpha Centauri is the original destination of the crew of the Jupiter 2 before they become Lost in Space in the 1960s and meanwhile over in Star Trek the inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane, spends some time living on Alpha Centauri before his mysterious disappearance. In Doctor Who it's home to the one eyed hermaphrodite hexapods who apparently played a mean game of table tennis. According to Douglas Adams it was inhabited by small furry creatures and was also home to the local branch of the hyperspace bypass planning department.

And most recently and perhaps most visibly, Alpha Centauri is the setting for James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster Avatar, where the world Pandora is a moon orbiting a gas giant in the self same system.

It's not surprising that it has such a powerful effect on our imaginations. The first interstellar voyage will be a step as important as Armstrong's, having broken free not only from our home planet but from our home system itself. And now we know there's definitely a planet there to land on. A destination. Hurry up and invent fast, efficient stardrives, people. We're getting impatient.

But it's important to remember that once out there we'll be on our own. Even from Alpha Centauri any cries for help would take four years to reach Earth.