Tales From The Ridge

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Time, and its associated problems

So, Ecks has been quiet lately. That has largely been because he was working on the "Last Chance" piece below, but also because work, play, novel writing and assorted elements of real life have begun to fill up more of his time than they have done for some time. As such, http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthe posting on this blog may have to become a little less frequent for a while...

The Dancing On Fly Ash book arrived yesterday, though, so that was a good thing.

Tunbridge Wells Writers

Friday, April 07, 2006

Apologies to fans of real science fiction

They discovered the first one in 2091, during the seismic lunar surveys. It was communicated to the lab at Mare Anguis 4, in that self-consciously ambiguous way that scientists have, as an 'anomaly' - an unexpected spike on the graph, an unusually sinuous line within the oscilloscope, a decimal place lurking too far to the left - which meant that they had got their predictions wrong. A second survey was ordered, but the results were the same - anomalous - and so an excavation unit was dispatched. Three weeks and several metres of basalt later, a message chirped through the satcom to Mare Anguis 4:

"Littrow? Are you there?"

"Go ahead, EX2."

"You're not going to believe this."

"What have you found?"

"It's...well, it's a bell. A giant golden bell."

The bell, some thirty metres tall and sunk like a boil deep into the epidermis of the moon turned out to be made not of gold but of a material greatly resembling it. Science scanned and centrifuged and resonated and imaged and oscillated, but no conclusion could be drawn from the find other than that it was of non-human origin, and it remained a curiosity, a tourist attraction, until the seismic surveys of Mars in 2118.

The western slope of Olympus Mons was the site of the Martian anomaly. Excavation crews were soon on the scene, and Littrow was contacted immediately when the scientists at Olympus Station received the call to inform them that what seemed like an enormous sunken bell, thirty metres high and made of gold, had been found beneath the surface of Mars. Naturally, Littrow boarded the next available shuttle and was there in hours. But again, weeks of scientific endeavour gleaned nothing more than that the bell was not of human making, and it too fell into folklore.

Then, in 2130, deep beneath the rushing clouds, seismic surveyors on the surface of Venus were alarmed to notice a glowing blip on their hand-held screens as they logged the surface of Ishtar Terra. Checks and double checks led to the deployment of the excavation units, and Littrow, long retired, could scarcely breathe when he was contacted by his old friend Juralle at the Lakshmi outpost.

"I thought you'd want to know," he said.

"Another bell?" said Littrow.

"No...that would have been fine. That was almost what we were expecting."

"Then what?"

"It was a pair of cherries."


"A huge representation of them, thirty metres high. Carved deep into the earth and painted bright red."


"But wait, there's more...next to it there was a message inscribed into the bedrock. Each letter was twenty feet high. Can you imagine?"

"What did it say?"

"That was the funny thing...it said 'Bad luck! Three matches required for jackpot. Better luck next time.'"

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The perception of guinea pigs

As is often the case, Pongo Richter himself was the only person who did not think that he had gone mad. The authorities certainly thought he was; they were convinced of it. And the guinea pigs were convinced as well, which was ironic as they were the ones responsible for his condition.

Pongo hadn't minded at first. It was unusual, certainly, to be sharing the Tube with a six-foot tall guinea pig dressed in a business suit and reading the Financial Times, but no-one else batted an eyelid. And besides, he didn't think that guinea pigs were so bad; in fact he thought the way they snuffled those little noses of theirs was rather charming. So Pongo simply accepted them as one of the changes that he had to accept as part of modern life - some new genetic miracle or something - in the same way as he had accepted the Chinese family that had moved into the house across the road from him.

He saw more and more of them. Working in his bank, driving about town, playing football in the park, they were everywhere. He looked forward to seeing them; their soft, exuberant fur always made him feel calm. The guinea pigs, that is; not the Chinese family.

But one Sunday morning, as he was digging his garden, Pongo saw in the street one of the guinea pigs hop up onto another's shoulders, crack into its skull with those brutal incisors and lap at the brains inside as though they were the yolk of an egg. Horrified, Pongo leaped over his fence and whacked the guinea pig in the head repeatedly with his shovel until it lay crumpled in the street, dead. Panting, sweating, he walked into his house and called the police.

The police arrived within minutes, and the psychiatrists soon after, when he'd told the police what had happened.

"We can't have this," they said.

"You're telling me," said Pongo.

"Just killing people like that."

"You mean guinea pigs."

"Ah yes, the police told us about that. Do you see these guinea pigs often?"

"All the time. They're everywhere."

"And you say they're six feet tall, some of them? The same size as us?"

"Yes, yes! Haven't you seen them?"

"Dr Berner?" one of them called over his shoulder, "Will you bring the kit, please?"

As the sedatives began to take effect, Pongo reflected to himself that he really should have expected this - one of the psychiatrists was, after all, a guinea pig herself.

Even after years in the asylum Pongo didn't consider himself mad. But unfortunately for him, everyone else did. Especially the guinea pigs. Sadly for him, it was all simply a matter of perception.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Only What Is

"Parcel for Mr...uh...Ri...Ridgehead? Did I read that right? Is that really your name?"
"Yes! How dare you, it is a perfectly reasonable name."
"Uh, yeah, buddy...sure. Anyway, here's your parcel."
"Thank you. Now kindly get off my driveway or I'll shoot you in the spine."

And that was more or less how Ecks received his copy of Only What Is by Richard Lawrence Cohen. And what a great little book it is. Though it will not be read from cover to cover in one sitting - Ludmila's Broken English and Melmoth The Wanderer will put paid to that - that doesn't matter; the beauty of it is that it can be picked up as and when the mood or situation allows, and a single anecdote, thought, poem or story can be read in just a few minutes. A few such entries have been read by your intrepid reviewer already, and the vagaries of his memory mean that although they have already appeared on Richard's blog, they still read fresh. Perhaps the action of reading them from a printed page lends them a different aspect? Who knows. Either way, buy yourself a copy - you won't be disappointed!

Then, when you're done with it - though it's the kind of book to keep, in the opinion of your humble ridge-headed correspondent - you can set if free via BookCrossing, if you like.

Hank Marvin

Dear Sir or Madam

It is a little-known fact that the cruellest thing for a shadow is the death of its owner, for though a shadow's life is not directly linked to its keeper, its fate is sealed once that final breath slips out past the lips. It lies trapped beneath the prostrate body, sliding around away from the sun but unable to free itself from the dead weight that pins it to the ground. And beyond the initial incidence of death, what awaits it? Burial or cremation of its host, both grisly fates - closure inside a wooden box, six feet of earth denying the life-giving light from sun or lightbulb, or cowering beneath the body as it, that which gives form to the shadow, is obliterated by fire.

But what can I do about this macabre state of affairs, you might say. What can I do to stop my shadow being denied the rights that I enjoy?

The good news is that it does not have to be this way - there is something you can do. The insertion of a simple paragraph into the last will and testament stipulating any of the following:

  • Open-air "burial" in a perspex casket
  • Inclusion of a skylight or internal lighting system in a conventional coffin
  • Cremation followed by reconsitution of ashes into an effigy

...will guarantee that your shadow continues to lead a vivid and fulfilling existence.

So ACT NOW! Change your last will and testament today - create a better tomorrow for your shadow.

Thank you for your time

Linda Aykanian
Liaison Officer
People For The Ethical Treatment of Shadows

Monday, March 27, 2006

One sided conversations #4

"It's not unusual to trademark a new species, especially not after the years of modifications that have gone into it. They do have a proper scientific name, but it's quite dry. Not snappy at all. Round here we call them Piggets - you know, like 'pork nuggets'. The fast food places are just lapping them up - they keep them in little pens out by their freezers, like hamster cages, so they're absolutely fresh when they hit the deep-fryer."

"At first we experimented with dunking them in the breadcrumbs whole, but our test consumers were a little squeamish about eating the little heads and limbs, so now those parts are just clipped off. The next stage will be to develop a variant with particularly thin, weak necks and legs - for easy detachment - and beyond that hopefully to go totally headless and limbless. The guys are looking into it as we speak, but it could be months or even years away."

"Initial attempts have been fairly unsuccessful thus far, so we currently recommend just feeding them a diet high in butter and oil - saturated fats - to keep their skins nice and tacky. Then you can roll them straight in the breadcrumbs without adding any binding agent and just drop them in the deep-fryer."

"Oh, you get used to it, and it's quite high-pitched anyway. It's the same with lobsters, you know."

"I know. But we're hoping to bring out equivalent lamb, beef and chicken variants over the next five years, and beyond that...who knows? Mark my words, though - one day all livestock will be bite-sized."

Monday, March 13, 2006



If you are reading this, then it means that I am dead. Let this letter be my epitaph, and my last chance to tell you that which I could not tell you whilst I was alive - had I done so they would have killed you. That you are still alive to read this letter is testament to my keeping my end of the bargain.

The Human Genome Project, my life's work, was supposed to be a beautiful achievement for mankind, but as you are more than aware it was anything but. No-one foresaw the riots, nor the reprisals, the genocide, the slavery...except for Them, the organisation whose name I never even found out. Our current state of affairs was exactly what they planned.

In hindsight, it was insultingly easy for them. They bought us off, all of us - what is more depressing, that everyone has their price, or that the price is always so low? The Project was funded by their money anyway, and it kept rolling in. We were each given bonuses when milestones were reached, and they showered us with expensive gifts - we didn't suspect anything, we just thought that perhaps, finally, scientists were being truly appreciated. Then, when we were nearly finished mapping the genome, we each received a visit from them. At night, at our homes. They told us what they wanted the Project to say - what conclusions it should draw - and they gave us a simple choice. Financial security for life in exchange for total silence, or...well, they made perfectly clear what would happen to us and our families if we decided to jump ship. So we were forced to publish what they told us to publish. That's where the data that went public came from.

That data was wrong, though. What was published wasn't what we found - there is no one single "master race"! No racial type's DNA is any closer to that of animals than any other! But we were too afraid to blow the lid off. These people are too powerful, too dangerous. Even when the riots started and we started to whisper amongst ourselves about exposing the lie, it always came back to "but what about our families"? So, to my shame, we stayed quiet. The lies became the accepted orthodoxy and we entered the age of modern slavery.

As my last wish, I would like to disassociate my memory from the lies, but I regret that I cannot make that decision as it will affect not me but you. With your mother and me gone, you are the only one that they can still hurt. What you do with this letter is up to you, but be aware that if you go public with it, you must be prepared to die. So you must ask yourself - is the truth more important than your life?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Never work with children or animals, they'd said. I should update it, thought the producer. Never work with children, animals or the chronically depressed. He tapped his clipboard agitatedly; they'd been here for four hours already, and nothing. Yes, technically they'd got all night, but...well, he hadn't got all night.

"Come on, what's the hold up?" he said, to no-one in particular.

They looked out into the studio at the man. He was sat on a simple wooden chair in a clear plexiglass booth surrounded by an organised tangle of wires. A camera sat and stared straight at his face as others ogled him from every conceivable angle, for replay after endless replay. The production team watched him expectantly, as they had done for the last four hours. The man bent his head forward and spoke quietly into the microphone on his lapel, and a voice floated out into the editing booth.

"Uh, Mr Partney?" the voice said, "I...uh, I still don't know if I can go through with this."

"Oh for god's sake," said the producer, "Jerry, get on the mike and tell him...tell him he can take as long as he likes, and we're very proud of him, and we know he can do it, and we're sure he wouldn't want to let us down. Some crap like that."

Jerry bent forward and spoke soothingly into his desktop microphone. The producer rubbed his head. Three months of interviews to find the right candidate. Weeks of psychological profiling. Days to build the studio and the booth. Advertising, promotions, trailers. A prime-time Saturday night slot. And the money - all that money! And now this schmo was having second thoughts? Unbelievable!

"You've all been so nice to me," came the disembodied voice, "And, well, that's partly why I'm not sure about this any more. I don't...I've been thinking, perhaps we--"

"Screw that," said the producer as the voice continued to drift out above them, "I've had enough of this loser. I want to get home at some point this evening. Jerry, can you tell him to hold it up to his head anyway, just so we can use the footage for some publicity stills? OK?"

Jerry bent over his microphone and began to speak.

"OK, now we're talking. Camera 1, get tight in on that gun," said the producer, "And Bill, get ready with that remote trigger. People, it's time to make the magic happen."

Who did that loser think he was? If the networks had paid for a suicide, then a suicide was what they'd get. This was television.

This one's for Richard

For those of you - Richard Lawrence Cohen, that is - who think that I am some kind of Peter Pan-esque figure, check out my profile...and wish me happy birthday.