Tag Archives: fiction

Original Form: The Project

1 Feb

Yesterday, I made a decision. I was going to start work on the project. You know, THE project. Everyone has one, some kind of equivalent. The idea, the goal that manifests in a moment of absolute clarity. Something brilliant, life-affirming, something that speaks for who you are.

Conversely, it’s the project, the concept that’s just too much to comprehend. So far from completion that you’ll happily come up with reasons to put it off. You’ll keep it in the back of your mind, but go no further, just because of the sheer magnitude of work involved in its formation, let alone its creation. And every time you think of it, you’ll hate yourself for not following through. But you’ll still delay, delay, delay.

For me, I’ve had the plan ready for over a year, but I’ve been unable to put any words to the page. And I’ve had many reasons for why I’ve been able to procrastinate.


Watching He-Man sing “What’s Going On?” doesn’t count as procrastination, mind.

This idea is an old one. I came up with it back in 2010, an idea for my Master’s dissertation that came to me too late, too much work already done on my eventual piece. That piece was called The Crossing, and it was a mystery, a horror about dark wishes and lost family that was fairly well received.

But you know what? It wasn’t right for me. I knew it as I was finishing it, my head lost in a painful, post-break-up blur. I should have shelved it, started from scratch, and damned the work already done, damned the bureaucracy of vague plot elements given in as preliminary paperwork. Damned the final mark. It wouldn’t have been important. Because even as I handed in my finished script, even as I saw my grade for it when the marking had been finished, I didn’t feel anything. I felt like a fraud, a cynic. I had used my last free time, my last moments in the creative hub of the university system, those last months with the catalyst of those talented people I shared lessons with, to finish a project I didn’t truly believe in.

Well, at least I didn’t believe in it as much. Back then, Original Form was nameless, just a thin concept, a half-paragraph. But it had that much more impact than the ninety minutes of film script, the hundreds of man hours that I handed in, back in September 2010.

anchorman reference the crossing

That said, I’m still proud of getting an Anchorman reference in.

I didn’t forget about it. But I moved on. It was more important for me to work. So I did. And my spare time had to be filled with getting fit, healthy, getting into a good frame of mind. So I did. I found other work. I moved into a flat with a friend, a stranger, and a mouse. I fell seriously ill. I spent my energy getting better, trying to find other work when I was able to, spending time on other projects, the countless musical acts, the short stories, the failed NaNoWriMo attempts, working on novels that were never going to be as good as this one.

And I kept telling myself that I would do this. It would just have to wait until the time was right. So I applied for PhDs with the project, got a lot of positive feedback, got an offer but no funding, and the time passed. So I told myself I would come back to it, when the time was even better. And I kept working, and writing other things, and playing other music, and starting podcasts, and watching, reading, listening to anything I could grasp, a cultural sponge. And truth be told, that has been my worst flaw. The time spent waiting for .gifs to load, the time spent waiting for YouTube videos to buffer, the time spent reading pages titled things like “You Won’t Believe What These Ten Cats Think About ObamaCare!”


Some things I don’t regret spending time on. The short stories I have written, I believe, have pushed me to this point, made me ready for taking on Original Form, the labyrinthine plot map, the shifting sands of its narrative voice.  The bands I have played in may not have satisfied all my creative urges, that bizarre mixture of the substance addiction of creation and vain self-aggrandisement, but it sure as hell has been a lot of fun. I don’t regret writing for this blog either, even though the most steady hit-machine is still a throwaway post about dinosaurs in the frickin’ nineties.

But at the end of the day, this has always been calling to me. And it’s time to do something about it. I wish I could tell you more about Original Form. But I’m keeping it close to my chest, for now. A few of you have already heard all about it, but here’s something for the rest of you. It’s about a man who works in a video store. VHS. It involves the end of the world. Not the apocalypse, but the end, a finite point where the universe just…stops. It involves a black-and-white woman. At some point it may involve singing and dancing. It may also involve monsters, a dark void, and it involves the Original Form itself. I’ll let you think about what that might be.

So screw it. Here’s to lost evenings, writing until sleep comes at three in the morning. Here’s to sitting on the train, typing away, collecting funny looks from other commuters. Here’s to realising nine months in that one of the characters really adds nothing to the plot and will cause complications within the story arc later on, and painstakingly removing any trace of them from existence. Here’s to stopping and starting, creative fatigue, the mood swings, the frustration of trying to get the project as perfect as it can possibly be.

Here’s to doing something for the sheer love of it.


A Romance of Skin and Pins: An Excerpt

25 Sep

Hello again! Here’s another little extract for you, from the latest short story I have been working on.

But first, a few bits of exciting news! First up: I’m going on frickin’ tour! That’s right, Titans & Kings are off on tour at the end of October. We’re sharing the stage with a pair of absolutely fantastic bands, so if you’re in the area for any of the dates please come along and say hi!


Next news, the White Birches EP is coming along swimmingly. Recording will be finished in early October, a music video soon after, and then the fun bit: sorting out physical copies and distribution. We’ll hopefully have a few live dates lined up, too!

And finally, there’s something big in the works. A project I am extremely excited about, related to writing (and these short stories), and not just a simple collection from myself. It’s going to be brilliant, and hopefully I’ll be able to tell people more very soon.

Anyway, to whet your appetite for more bizarre fiction, here’s my latest.

* * * * *

You are what you eat. That is why he called himself Skin. It was just a little compulsion. It didn’t affect anyone but Skin, himself, alone. And like most compulsions, it had roots in childhood. Skin had once had a father, a cruel man. Not physically – not that particular cliché of childhood hardship – but mentally.

See, his father had told him very particular but impressively devastating lies; lies that were very difficult to eradicate when drilled into the mind of a child by the one that he most idolised. Skin had once believed that Daylight Savings Time was only for Roman Catholics, and that his family, the average, non-believing sort, did not have to change their clocks. One lie, that pillows were for the feet rather than for the head, had been so well planned that its groundwork had been laid for ten years, Skin’s father sleeping backwards for a decade. All to cause Skin the upmost embarrassment at his first sleepover night.

Most of these lies had been expunged by the time he was an adult, but a few held deep, where Skin could keep them secret, where society could not judge him. One in particular was so potent that it became his mantra, became his name. Skin was told, at five years old, that his hair was not supposed to fall out, ever. That his nose was not supposed to run. That his skin was not supposed to shed. Each time he lost a part of himself unconsciously, anything that was not deliberately expelled, that wasn’t obvious waste, he lost a part of who he was. He lost a part of his identity. He lost time off his life expectancy.

A running nose from the flu was a sign that someone was truly, insidiously ill. Cancer patients’ hair fell out because it was a sign they were about to die. Eczema was not a condition in itself, but a symptom of a greater illness. And the only way to stop from losing this identity, losing life, was to re-ingest everything that had been lost – fallen hair, dry skin, trimmed fingernails, snot, eye sleep, ear wax.

You are what you eat. Skin was himself.

Over the years he developed various strategies to stop from losing himself. Age eight, he cut his fingernails into tiny pieces and added them to his breakfast cereal. Age eleven, he cut his hair as short as he could without getting expelled from school, to avoid losing rogue hairs, asking for the bag of clippings as he left the barbers. Age fourteen, he started to shave, using melted butter instead of shaving foam, making sure to collect every hair, every drop of blood, every scratch of skin.

At age eighteen, he started carrying the vial.

The one problem he had always found was being able to save skin flakes and small hairs. He would lose them in public places, at restaurants, on trains, at work. The only option had once been to eat it, there and then. It was easier whilst dining – carefully push the bodily debris onto the plate, and eat it with a mouthful of the actual course – but there was always the danger of someone spotting it, looking to a friend, pointing to the young man who had just deliberately eaten a scab.

So, the vial. He carried it with him everywhere, in the pocket of his navy blazer, or in the main compartment of his leather satchel. He would sneak whatever part of himself he had lost into it –much less noticeable than raising a hand to mouth – and when home, mix it in with a blended protein shake. It not only saved his life, or so he believed, but it saved his career. Skin was, as you can probably imagine, quite a strange man. And that was even before a co-worker had witnessed him eating his own eye discharge.

He coasted from job to job, contract to contract. Always given good references – he was a hard-worker and surprisingly intelligent for a man who regularly ate his own snot – but was never given a profession. But, when he started using the vial, he found a calling in the Human Resources department of a security solutions firm. His severe haircut, strong muscles from a mixture of health-obsessed workouts and protein shakes, and analytical mind meant that he fitted in well with the company. And without the obvious ingestions, with only his surface level quirks, he seemed positively sane in comparison with some of the violence-obsessed sociopaths that his team interviewed for positions manning the most secure locations.

He lived a happy, solitary existence. The routine of regular work, with hints of career progression, kept him focused. Two hours workout a day at his home gym, mopping up the sweat with pieces of bread. He had no time for a twenty-something bachelor’s regular modes of fun. He despised clubbing – too many mitigating factors that could distract him from any leftover body matter. He had no time for music, or any media. He owned no television, only an ancient laptop he used to hack in to the wireless of the coffee shop next door. Skin did, however, have a form of entertainment: he broke women’s hearts.

* * * * *

Until next time!

White Birches: An Excerpt

19 Feb

Hi folks! It’s time for another fiction excerpt from ol’ Rob. This one is from a horror story about the dark side of internet culture, called White Birches – because I am useless at making up names for things.

* * * * *

The disk arrived at the office on a Wednesday. It was in a jiffy bag, the address crudely scrawled across the front in permanent marker. There was nothing else inside the package. There were no written instructions, and no explanations: just a DVD covered with strange, red symbols. The sort of symbols that Arthur Brown or King Crimson might have gotten kicks out of.

They received these every so often. They were usually pranks from bratty teenagers, bored of smoking pot and video games and instead turning an instant of their attention to the much-maligned local paper. Curiosity would get the better of the journalist, and they’d have a look at the disk’s files. Normally the disks were full of extreme fetish pornography, with the odd nasty virus thrown in for good measure.

It didn’t feel like a prank to Amanda, though. For one thing, the kids were usually desperate for their prank to work. The jiffy would at least have contained a note reading “IMPORTANT”, “SCANDAL” or “COVER-UP INFORMATION”. The symbols were new, too. If this was the work of kids, they had a damn sight more creativity than the usual little shits.

That meant it was the work of a local nutter: a penchant for symbols, sloppy handwriting, no explanatory documents. It reminded Amanda of something she’d been given a couple of years before, whilst working an internship at a slightly more respected news source. The package then had consisted of a CD-ROM with a couple of hundred documents detailing a man’s eating habits and bowel movements. She had, after reading an ode to the effects of raw beef, decided not to view the accompanying video.

Still, this didn’t put her off. She put the disk into her ancient, clunking desktop, and it immediately started wailing in frustration. After a minute of processing – probably deciding if it was worth the risk of doing something useful and raising Amanda’s expectations – it read the disk. There was only one file: ASH.mov.

Amanda had a choice: to either continue writing her current, fascinating piece on a local gentleman’s classic motorbike collection, or play the file. She made the only choice a journalist in her position would ever take, dreams of Watergate in her eyes.

It soon became apparent that her presumption had been accurate. A tall, slightly overweight man stood in frame, behind a mahogany table in a dark room. The walls were covered in what looked like newspaper clippings. He looked directly into the camera for a brief moment, and then stripped, carefully placing his clothes on the table. He then ducked under the table for a moment, returning with a tin of black paint. He opened the lid and plunged his hands into the paint. Slowly, precisely, he painted the entirety of his body with his hands. When done, he closed his eyes, a shadow in front of the camera, the only light coming from somewhere off-shot.

The footage cut to a forest, at night. The painted man was walking through the trees, being followed by a cameraman. He stumbled through the undergrowth, the light from the camera’s lamp picking up on the splotches of dark red amongst the black where the man had cut himself on thorns and broken branches. Eventually, the painted man and the cameraman reached a lake. The painted man turned to the camera, and stood, silently. After a few seconds, the footage cut to black.

It was the work of a local lunatic, just as she had predicted. There was only one difference for Amanda. She knew who the painted man was.

The man’s name was Andrew Cleveland. An old school acquaintance, Amanda had not seen him in years. They had not been friends, only taken classes together, a decade and a half before. They had barely spoken, even, but Amanda remembered names, faces, places, times. As soon as she saw Andrew’s face, she knew who he was. She knew that he had sat two rows behind her on Mrs Tavistock’s Maths class. She knew that he had been part of a quiet, unassuming friendship group that was neither popular nor ostracised. Back then, Andrew had been turning into the normal, adequate, standard British male. Something had happened, to turn him into whatever it was he had become.

Mental illness can hit anyone. The most seemingly well-adjusted person in the world can suddenly shift roles, drop into the dirty-windowed world of depression. Doesn’t matter how normal, how rich, how secure. It will seep inside the veins, attack from within, and leave its victims as nothing more than an empty shell. Andrew Cleveland had clearly been affected by, well, something. Amanda didn’t know him. She had no idea what had happened in his life, the innermost workings of his mind. She never had done, not really, but this shadow seemed a far cry from the boy she had once known.

She decided to investigate. Not just for the story, if there even was one. Fall all she knew, it could have been some kind of stunt. He could be perfectly happy, having just done something for laughs or as some kind of stunt. But there was no point in trying to be a journalist with integrity if, when something interesting came up, you dropped it for the mundane, suburban regularity of safe stories. She dropped her editor, Clive, an email, and didn’t wait for a reply. One way or another, ASH.mov would have her attention.

* * * * *

That’s it, for now. Another post soon!

Update! Or, An Apology for Why I Haven’t Been Posting More Blogs about Dinosaurs

8 Feb

Crikey, it’s been a while. Sorry folks! I’ve been extremely busy recently. So what have I been up to?

For one thing, I’ve been in the studio with the band, recording our debut EP. I can’t tell you much: the name, the artwork, or anything like that. But I can tell you this: it’s going to sound lush. We’ve recorded with the absolutely ruddy fantastic Antonio Hanna at Freefall Studios. He’s based out of the old Fortress complex by Old Street and is monstrously talented. I’ll be sure to share around the EP when it’s finished, but it’s safe to say that it puts all our other recordings to shame.

Notice the fear in my eyes. Tor is just out of view with a shotgun aimed at my face.

Notice the fear in my eyes. Tor is just out of view with a shotgun aimed at my face.

I always enjoy going into the studio. For one thing, it makes me feel like a proper musician, as opposed to playing onstage where I think to myself ‘if I shake my hips a bit then people will ignore the bum notes I’m hitting’. There’s something so unbelievably satisfying about it as well, particularly when you’ve done a clean take, or beasted an awkward breakdown section.

Bass it up a notch.

Bass it up a notch.

There were plenty of slow moments, though. My bass was done within an hour and a bit one morning, and aside from that all I had to contribute was some backing vocals (being the mooching, unimportant bass player that I am). So I kept myself busy by working on my writing projects. Well, I say that, but I forgot my laptop for the first day so instead spent a frankly obscene amount of time working my way through Scribblenauts.

The short story collection is, thankfully, going fairly well. I foolishly decided, in one of my bouts of punching above my limited ability as an author, to write a timeline-jumping, strangely-structured post-apocalyptic short story and it has taken far too long to complete a first draft. I am now leaving it for a while, sickened by the sight of its bloated paragraphs and awkward emotional moments. It needs a good streamline, but for now I want to write something a little more in my comfort zone, so I’m back to writing internet community-themed horror. After only a few hours of concentrated scrawling I’m already 3000 words in and I suspect the new story is going to be completed very easily. There will be an extract up online fairly soon.

So, what else? More gigs, working out another musical project (I am a band whore and I am proud) as well as putting the groundwork in for my own solo EP, potentially sorting out some interesting stuff for March and April (secrets! Ooooh!) and, unfortunately, not playing much of the huge stack of videogames I got for Christmas.

Anyway, more blog posts soon, I promise! I’ll actually write something, I swear!

New Year’s Resolutions for 2013

11 Jan

Hello, everybody!

I hope that your 2013 is going excellently. I don’t know about you, but I love a good resolution or two. 2012, all things considered, was a bit of a terrible year, and I am very glad to see the back of it. I’m determined that 2013 is going to be ruddy excellent, however. So I’ve made a list of my resolutions for the coming year.


Get back in shape

Let me explain. I was ill for a stupidly long amount of 2012, my energy totally sapped. To be honest, I’ve become fat and I need to lose my new-found love handles. I want to get back into the shape I was in before my illness, back in 2011. This isn’t for my health, or for goodness in general. It’s entirely for my own vanity.


Release at least two EPs

I have three EPs in the pipeline this year. Titans & Kings, the hard rock band where I play bass, have studio time booked for the end of January. The release of that EP is a given. We’re looking to tour post-release and already have a nifty video out:

Then there’s Paddy Johnston & The Love Explosion. We really want to get an EP done this year and it looks very likely to happen. We have a truckload of songs and it would be amazing to get something permanent down.

Finally, my little project White Birches. I have a nice-sounding EP in mind, with lots of ambient layering and lush harmonies – if I find the time to record it. I also have plans for a fantastic video and a great, stripped-down live band. We’ll see what happens with those but I would love to share my own musical creativity – and by that I mean shove it down the throats of anyone within shouting distance.

I want all three EPs released, ideally. However, I will consider 2013 a success if I get two of the three completed.


Release an e-book

Here’s a tricky one. I am about a third of the way through my debut short story collection, loosely themed around the ideas of perception and reality. I would love to finish it and put it up online. You can see snippets here and there on the blog.

But there’s another project I have in mind. A couple of years ago, I had another blog where I shared a secret about myself a day. It wasn’t always interesting, but it gained a regular following and was therapeutic to do. I’ve been told many times that I should edit and rewrite it, by people I trust (and whose opinions I count on more than even my own). It’s something I am finally willing to do. I’m also toying with the idea of transforming it into some kind of semi-autobiographical narrative, but that’s a very young idea and one I am planning to keep very close to my chest.

So, one of the two. I want to make it happen even if very few people read the damn thing.


Send some short stories to magazines and webzines

Leading on from my last resolution, I want to send some of my short stories to publications – whether electronic or print. I have a few ideas already, particularly for the more genre-heavy ones. It doesn’t matter if I succeed and they publish, although obviously that would be preferable, but it’s important to take the step to try and make my writing actually accessible by someone other than my friends and lovely blogger buddies.


Be happy!

Finally, and most importantly, I want to be happy. It’s been a long time since I felt comfortable with my life and who I am. I want to get that back, gosh darn it. This one resolution, I don’t have a plan for, but we’ll see what happens.


So, those are all the major resolutions for this coming year. There are some minor ones – finally doing more Retro Reviews for Retr0mance, making a short horror movie, beating my friends Paddy and Rob at Scrabble, and applying for the television show Pointless with my Dad (we’d make a hell of a team).

Am I overreaching? We’ll see. But what the hey. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember.

The Last Playlist: An Excerpt

4 Dec

Hello! Here’s another short story extract. NaNoWriMo may have ended but I’m going to keep writing until the entire short story collection is done.

* * * * *

Simon liked to reminisce about the day the town left. He always remembered it as a dark, misty morning. It hadn’t been. It had been the middle of August. The sun had already been up for two hours. It had been so clear that Simon was able to see the convoy for miles, through the woods that circled the outside of the town. He could even hear them for hours afterwards: the buzzing noise of a community disappearing.

It was another clear morning, the day he found it. He set about his daily routine. At daybreak, he searched for signals with his clockwork radio. It was one of the few instructions left, to check for signals. Simon still found it strange, to hear nothing. After a few months even the number stations had stopped broadcasting. But he still checked, afraid of missing a message that they were coming for him.

After searching all available channels, he bathed and shaved. He knew that it was a little wasteful, but he was determined to stay clean, and smart. Besides, there was enough residual water to keep one man satisfied for years, although as stale as it was. He knew that eventually he would have to return to the lake to get fresh water, but it was not an issue for now.

Simon went back to the clockwork radio, winding it again. No signals. Satisfied with a half hour search, Simon then continued his project. He had been a scholar, before the Discovery, and before the Exodus. He had not been a scientist. He had focused his attentions on the cultural works of man. Novels and plays, short stories and poetry. He had loved film, but that was now impossible. So instead, he went through houses, raiding bookshelves.

Before the town left, a decision had been made. There was no need for keys anymore. Any worthwhile possessions had been abandoned. They would not be coming back. Instead, the doors had been left unlocked. As the Guardian, Simon was allowed to come and go as he pleased. It was a privilege, but one that was allowed. After all, he had made the sacrifice. He was the one chosen to stay behind, amongst the filth and excess, whilst the rest of the town joined the Exodus, to find enlightenment.

Simon had been dignified, at first. He had refused to go in people’s bedrooms out of some kind of respect for privacy. He had kept his searching to necessities, only taking food and drink. But it had become boring, a few months in. There was nothing to do. His own belongings were stale – most of his collection had been digitally stored, anyway. All that remained was a few tired copies of Shakespeare plays. They bored him.

There was only one option from that point. He denied himself the pleasure of ownership – he was only borrowing books. He would sit in other people’s houses and read. The novels would not leave their owner’s property. Simon had favourites. Mrs Williams, on Deanland Road, had owned a fantastic Agatha Christie collection. Simon wondered if she had survived the journey south. It was unlikely.

He went from house to house, reading, each one a different library. Simon learned more about his neighbours this way than he ever had when they were with him. Frail Mrs Williams’ love for murder mystery, the prim and proper Ms Hill’s extensive anthology of erotic fiction, Mr Anderson’s wide array of graphic novels and comic books.

Simon liked to test himself, though. He had never been technical, before. He was a thinker. The only works he created were abstract, and frail. After discovering a collection of engineering manuals, he had decided to change. Fifteen months was a long time for a man to be alone with his thoughts. He needed to build. But first, he had needed to decipher exactly how things worked. So he went from place to place, deconstructing. He opened car bonnets – the few vehicles that actually remained – and took them apart. He put them back together, trying to get them to work, transcribing his progress every step of the way. His technical journal was long and rambling, covering multiple notepads.

Eventually, he started raiding the pile. He knew he should have felt ashamed, but the truth was, he wasn’t. Every few days, he stood by its side. A twenty-foot high, and double as wide, mound of all of the excessive, unclean items: technology that had to be abandoned for the Exodus, any signs of the old, decadent society that they had willingly abandoned. Watches, phones, computers, all thrown away with the rest of mankind’s detritus. Piles of money sat on the sides. The idea had been to use paper notes as kindling, but the truth was that the fire had not been all that successful. Most of the items lay unscathed, a few very mildly charred.

Simon had never had any intention of going near the computers. It was the highest heresy, now, to use one without absolute necessity. Father James had explained it to all of them, and it made perfect sense. All the trouble they had caused, all the death, all the mental destruction. That wasn’t the main reason Simon avoided them, though. The main reason was that there was no way to get one to work. There was no point.

So he sifted through the pile, throwing tablets and laptops to one side. Plunging his hands through shifting sands of mobile phones, e-readers, games consoles. That’s when he found it: something old, something worthwhile. A CD player.

It was a battered old Discman, LCD screen covered in grime. Out of curiosity, Simon pressed play. The player sputtered into life, whirring. The screen flashed up an error message – “NO DISC” written in awkward lettering. He noticed that the battery was nearly gone a second before it faded away into half-death.

That moment, Simon knew what he wanted to do. He suspected that he may be able to find batteries somewhere in town. He knew that there would be a number of CDs still around – the technology, obsolete, had not been seen worthwhile enough to truly destroy, in much the same way that the books had been simply left behind. He knew for a fact that there was a pair of headphones at his flat.

He knew where he could find any music he wanted to listen to, as much as he loathed the idea of returning there.

Simon had always loved music. As a teen he had spent most of his waking hours with headphones in. More than anything else – running water, fast food, the internet, or even human company – he missed being able to listen to music. So he made a plan. He would put together the last mix tape he would ever listen to. Perhaps the last recorded music that anyone would ever listen to.

The most important question was what song to start with.

* * * * *

And there we go. Another, more blog-like, post soon.

The Revolution Will Be Digitized: A Full Short Story!

15 Nov

I’ve shared some excerpts with you on this site. But, I’ve just finished writing a very short bit of prose that I think you may enjoy in its entirety. Not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done, but a nice, brief apocalyptic comedy. Ahem. It’s part of the short story collection I am writing for NaNoWriMo.


* * * * *


The Revolution Will Be Digitized


Subject C was found dead on the 24th November. He had been crushed to death, the wounds straight and flat, ridged. The perpetrator had stolen all the bananas from the cafeteria. That should have been our first clue. The killer had escaped by smashing a large, rectangular hole in the roof.

We went in search immediately. The trail wasn’t hard to follow. Stocks of bananas had been stolen around the city. Plumbers were going missing. Men taking part in Movember were shaving their moustaches, scared of the thing that was stealing the facially-haired away in the night, never to be seen again.

Our big break came from a police report. Local bums were reporting strange noises at an abandoned construction site. Large, block-like footprints were seen at the scene. A girl, Cathy Willis, had gone missing, her family all burned to death. It didn’t take a genius to put it all together, to see what we had unleashed. We sent a team to investigate. Only two came back alive, screaming about barrels.

Donkey Kong was loose.

We went back to the machine. Hell, what other choice did we have? There was no way we could fight him. Cathy was safe, for now, but something needed to be done. No-one knew if the sprite understood the need for humans to have food and water.

Of course, we were all scared to switch the Portal back on. Who wouldn’t be? It was down to me to operate it. The creator. The idea had been genius, really. Virtual Reality has been the wet dream of the video game industry for generations. So many of us grew up watching Tron, not understanding the terrifying implications of the film and instead focusing on just how damn cool it would be to ride a light-cycle.

Every attempt at real VR was stale, though. A headset, a helmet, took away from the immersion. You still needed some kind of controller. You were still here, in reality. All old efforts at VR were merely one step above putting the game on surround sound and turning the lights out. What we did, though, was incredible. There was a headset, sure, but it did something unique. The player was in the game. Total immersion.

It would have changed video games forever. Hell, it would have changed entertainment forever. Who wants to watch a movie when you could live the events? Why bother with the cheap thrills of a slasher movie when you could be hunted or – if you so desired – the hunter? It could even change life as we know it. Put in a reality simulator; change it so that every second in real life is fifty years of game-time. Increase the quality of life for the terminally ill. Let people live out their fantasies, and make it seem so damn real that they could never tell the difference. On top of it all, we would have made a hell of a lot of money.

But clearly something had gone wrong. There had been some kind of oversight. It wasn’t just a one-way window. There was some way for things to get out into our world. And we needed something to help get Donkey Kong back. In short, we needed a hero.

So we booted up another game. We had learnt, early on, that character traits and memories continued over. We loaded up Super Mario Bros 3. We pleaded with him. We needed his help.

He killed the extraction team. Some had their heads bashed in, from something falling on them from a great height. Others were crushed entirely, from the looks of it by some kind of giant shoe. Those furthest into the game world were covered in hammer wounds. An entire team lost. Worst of all, Mario was missing.

He showed up, though. Back in our world. Eyewitnesses reported seeing him jumping down pipes into the sewers. There were break-ins at flower shops and greengrocers. At least he wasn’t hurting anyone. A small mercy. The giant, digitized gorilla was still a problem, though.

So we loaded up another game. We turned to a character who could say more words than simple variations on his name. He was called Solid Snake. We asked for his help, and he said no. He would refuse to take on Donkey Kong.

Solid remembered every death he had endured: every time he had been found in a hiding spot, courtesy of a five year-old’s clumsy first attempts at gaming. He remembered being ripped apart by dogs, being crushed by mechanical horrors, having his head blown off by snipers. He remembered our attempts to force him to fight and kill Donkey Kong and Mario too. He would not help us. He would not help the beings that had created him to die and to kill, all for their own, callous amusement.

And with that, he was gone: another escapee. But he did more than just escape: he sabotaged the Portal. It would not shut. It was a way into our world for every video game in our system; that is to say, every game ever created.

At first, we were able to keep control. A guard team directly outside the Portal, weapons ready at every hour of the day. It seems that only the dumb bastards were coming through: imps from Doom, Resident Evil’s zombies, a horde of cute critters from Kirby’s Dream Land. They were taken down quickly, minimal effort. We informed the other Portals of what had happened, and they were closed down immediately: London, Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, and San Francisco were safe. If we kept it contained, and worked out how to shut the Portal down, we would be safe too.

Things never work out that way, though. We can never keep things up indefinitely: humans, I mean. The sentries let their guard down. But who would have suspected The Sims? We watched the footage from the control room. The Sims came out, spouting gibberish and clowning around. One of the female Sims started stripping, her body pixelating as she undressed. The guards lowered their weapons, laughing.

That’s when they attacked. What they actually did was covered by a cloud of dust, but the aftermath was apparent. The guards had been dismembered. Before the Sims escaped they wrote a message, in blood, on the wall – using one of the sentry’s arms as a utensil. It was in Simglish. Unintelligible, at first, but we outsourced to the game’s designers to decipher it. They told us, after they had translated it, that it said the following:

“This is for every time you took the steps out of our swimming pool.”

We lost control after that. The Portal went haywire. Dimensional rifts opened up across the world. We heard that Bomberman had destroyed Johannesburg, the entire city levelled by a series of explosions. Space Invaders were seen above Japan, and they proceeded to systematically disintegrate Osaka’s skyline. Reports were coming in about a marsupial with a jetpack terrorising the people of Moscow.

There were some who came to our defence, but they were few and far between. The cast of Harvest Moon tried their best, but were butchered by a Counter-Strike team. Mega Man immediately contacted the US government after his arrival in Nevada. Others travelled over to our reality out of boredom – the other inhabitants of their game had already emigrated.

Marcus Fenix came hunting after the Locust. We hoped it was to help fight them – they had been casually tearing up the west coast of Africa – but instead it was to reconcile with them. He did, however, persuade them to stop their rampage. They stopped their onslaught, and settled down, relatively peacefully with the migrant Gears.

There were neutrals as well. They weren’t here to kill, or to help. Footballers from FIFA games appeared in the changing rooms at soccer stadiums on a Saturday afternoon. They wanted to try and beat their real-world counterparts. They did. In the heat of the crisis, Manchester City offered Virtual Messi a pre-contract agreement worth several hundred thousand dollars a week.

It didn’t last long, though. Manchester was levelled by Cyber-Hitler two weeks later. Hitler was eventually taken down by Bowser, who apparently didn’t like robotic racists just like the rest of us. His brief moment of morality complete, Bowser continued to terrorise the north of England himself, kidnapping blonde women as he went.

The governments did all they could. Safe zones were set up for survivors. Military action had some success, stopping the destruction of Rome after an attack from the Covenant. But, it was a losing battle. We, as a species, were at best being fenced into the safe zones, and at worst being forced underground. We were still able to access our lab and work on fixing the Portal. Gordon Freeman arrived, trying to help, but it was hard to work with a mute who sometimes disappeared up into the air vents for hours on end.

We felt we were making a break-though. At the very least, we thought we would have been able to close the Portal soon. With a bit of work, we would have been able to reverse the effects, and send the characters back through. We never got a chance.  It got worse just as we assumed we had seen the worst. Just as we got complacent.

The human imagination is far more powerful and more devastating than mankind’s true reality. We are a single, insignificant race on a tiny planet. Earth is a small, insular place. The human mind, though, can and has reached beyond our realm. We have created the terrors, the beasts, the bogeymen, and the devils of multiple universes. Not satisfied with the horrors of our own history, culture, and religions, we branched out. Created new planets, new dimensions, and used them to create new monsters. It was as if we were unsatisfied with just having Satan, and craved more.

Chicago was, overnight, covered in an ash, covering the streets like snow. Fog rolled in, filling the city. Not a single person was seen leaving. All broadcasts from within were cursed with static, so teams were sent in to investigate. Few returned, with tales of hellish beasts roaming the streets and most of the population ‘gone’. We pressed for answers for what this meant exactly, and were met with tales of the streets rotting around them; walls peeling back to reveal rusty iron mesh, ears bleeding from incessant industrial clanging. All the while we were wondering when and where Pyramid Head would appear, completely missing the point: Silent Hill itself is the entity. And it chose Chicago, a city now lost.

It wasn’t the end of it either. A red Marker appeared in Beijing, starting a Necromorph infestation that started swarming over Asia. Shodan brought down the electronic infrastructure of New York, absorbing and reusing any organic being unable to escape in time. The creatures from STALKER appeared in Ukraine, and spread over Eastern Europe. The human race was dying.

Then we realised what was around the corner. The world-enders. Not even those that we had created solely for video games. Games had curated the great beasts of fiction, of myth, of film. The mythical creatures of God of War. Classic monsters like Dracula, and werewolves. The daemons of hell. Cthulhu could break through at any moment.

So we did what we had to do. We booted up the system again.

See, we’d made a failsafe, of sorts. A simulator, a version of our world. Well, our world a few hundred years before the Portal opened. Changed the settings so that each in-game year was one tenth of a second in the real world. We went through, taking our families, and the Portal, with us.

We’ve been working on it since. It’s been one hundred in-game years. We think we’re close to a breakthrough. We can only hope that we find a fix before the real world is destroyed. That, and that the virtual reality locals don’t realise that they are simply characters. I don’t think it would go down too well.