Book cover by Andy Duong – an aspiring graphic artist
I have a real treat for my regular visitors. New faces should be equally charmed. My “short stories” section is rarely contributed to so I feel another entry has been long overdue. As an extended essay, the full version populates thirty pages of large font text – not quite enough to be classed as a “book”, but big enough to develop layered themes. At least nine separate edits saw several months invested in the finished article.
Though the expressive content is nothing like any of JK Rowling’s novels heralding the supernatural hero Harry Potter, it is as equally inventive and very “British” in character. I also had a school chum of the exact same name and the lead character is based on his memory. Here is the opening, background and suspense development section. Enticed readers will be advised of “next steps” to continue on to the exciting bits. So, without further ado here is:
Life on Mars (inspired by Harry Potter)
This tale was told over a cold winter fire. Flickering light, sweet cocoa and blackened marshmallows etched the background. We were cocooned in a swirling blackness. No tree, hill or impasse could be separated from the throbbing void. Our narrator would transport us to a brave new world of the most mystical kind. Was it truth or just fantasy? It is hard to believe but this is the saga of Steve.
By all accounts the manuscript had been the only possession of a deceased medium that had travelled the seven seas. The parchment had been cursed by witches, blessed by the Papacy and nearly eaten by a remote dragon. We were not sure whether that was the Asian Komodo variety or some strange, exotic creature from a mythical past. Either way, the precious work had survived and now was our narrator’s prized possession. An ominous hand written message in blood red featured on the front page:
“If only they would hear me. It is though my life has been reduced to a giant dream. I walk in dazed slumber and lie with eyes wide open riveted on…something. That fateful journey changed everything. Why oh why did it happen to me?”
Chipping Norton is an average English village situated somewhere near the historic city of Oxford. We had a pond and a green and lots of quaint old houses; some dating back to the fourteenth century. This was not the place for anything unusual to happen. Every day was an average day with matching weather. In the cold season the weather turned bad. When the hot season bothered to make an appearance some nicer days sought refuge as fond memories. We, like everyone else, enjoyed ice cream, pizza and popular television shows.
If there was a difference, it was only because we were English and naturally upheld the age old tradition of cream scones for tea on weekends. Our semblance of a cricket team had to combine with other local villages to complete a line-up. The mighty Thwackers played at Abingdon town oval on Sundays in the summertime.
The atmosphere at the village was always jovial. One general store and no public house ensured placid, cordial interactions with little ado about nothing. People would meet on the way to, back from or in the store. Kids occasionally amassed on the green or terrorised the ducks and frogs on the pond.
Our house was typical for the location. It had an expansive thatched roof and was reputedly constructed in 1512. Grounds were large so investment in a metal detector had produced eighty four coins and three bolts. There was also a cellar basement area which smelt rather dank. With it came a permanently musty odour. The metal detector picked up nothing but I felt sure there was a fortune buried somewhere.
Our sun came down and went up, days turned into months, months’ years and people eventually became old and grey. Occasional rumours or minor dramas interrupted the criss-cross circles of peoples’ lives. Nothing I had heard was remotely television worthy. As for our house, well there was me, my little sis and mum and dad, of course. I’d dropped out of university. It wasn’t for me. My plan was to make some money and travel, catch some excitement; see things that would never be seen at Chipping Norton village.
I did have a trade of sorts to fall back on as I had always been good at building things. Fortunately the local mechanic needed an offsider so I put my heart and soul into fixing machines. It is difficult to know if that is why “the event” happened. I have been racking my brains as to why they picked me, why I was chosen. Did I have any special skills? Was I of the right temperament? Could genetics have been the reason? They never told me. Well, actually, they did not tell me much. After meeting them, I realise how we like to talk.
One day, I stayed late at the workshop. This was not unusual in itself. I rarely went home at the correct time. What was there to do in Chipping Norton village? Some of my friends used to head off for Abington town, but I was not an avid boozer. In fact, I rarely partook of alcohol. All the fun I needed was at the workshop. That fateful evening I noticed a strange light shimmering in the courtyard. Perhaps “light” is the wrong word. Maybe iridescence better described it; whatever it was. A glowing blue-white gave a ghostly effect, but it was not ultra-violet. Like a poor fool, I ignored the hue and carried on with my work. Why did I not flee from there as fast and as far as my vehicle would take me?
“Why oh why?”
The fire crackled cheerily. Every now and again a slightly louder snap or pop gave the atmosphere vitality. The whiff of seasoned wood burning seemed like incense; almost medicinal.
We had finished all the marshmallows, drunk the hot, sweet cocoa. A nice bed of embers radiated extra warm. Around us was a thick soupy black that just kept closing in. Were it not for our lustrous fire we would have been swallowed up whole and indeterminate from the void. The saga of Steve was far from over. Our narrator paused, cleared his breath and continued.
Chipping Norton village had been the centre of attention two weeks before. A boisterous arts and crafts fair had passed through. It was a colourful troop that included mystics, spiritualists and even genuine gypsies. Apparently some had international reputations. One of the locals learned that our village had been cursed for its role in the inquisition, but no one really took any notice. This had come from a strange foreign woman who carried a crystal ball in a small, battered, leather suitcase. Other than that, the lead up to “the event” had shown no irregularities, no suggestions; no insight as to what was to happen. Indeed things had been more normal than normal.
I looked at my watch. Save the mysterious light, it was almost dark. I could barely make out the hour. Nine o’clock! “Well, time for a cup of tea,” I thought.
Then, an almighty crack!
What was that? It sounded like a large tree had just been felled. The ground vibrated. Not being the inquisitive type, I carried on to the small kitchenette where there was a kettle, small stove and all the essentials for tea making. Poking up on one of the shelves was even half a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits. I picked up a small plate, the biscuits and placed them on the side table. The kettle had already started to hiss. That was quick. I had only just switched it on.
Outside a fog began to appear, slowly but distinctly. It was the rolling sort that shimmered in the mysterious luminance.
To the left of the kitchenette was mounted an electric wall clock. The second hand usually went “clack, clack, clack” stridently. It was so loud, in quiet moments it could be heard in the workshop.
Nothing; no hissing, no clacking, just silence. It was as though time had stood still. It’s funny, but it took a few moments for the serenity to sink in. I am sitting there, trying to read a pamphlet in the half light. So absorbed, I almost missed it; the moment time stood still. When it came to me, when I realised, it was too late. “The event” was already happening; so fast, I can barely recount.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a cleft or, at least, I thought that is what it was. The wall to my right side seemed to just open up. First a chink of that mysterious light seeped out, slowly oozing towards me like sticky treacle. The fissure widened to a shaft and then there was just light; blinding, throbbing light.
Our narrator cleared his throat again. “Can someone throw some more wood on the fire? It’s dying low.” He then rummaged in his backpack and produced a tired wooden pipe and a pouch of smoking tobacco. Clearing his throat, once more, for good measure, he proceeded to fill up the bowl, meticulously evening out any odd strand of tobacco. “You like smoking that pipe, sir?” said one of his group obscured by an orange tinted blackish fog made from the combination of the fire and the pressing outer elements.
A vague nod and silence
“Um, now where was I?”
To our left a large bat skipped by. Out of nowhere, silhouetted against the darkness it shocked the be-jeepers out of us. “What was that?” screamed one of our brethren.
“Don’t worry Alan”
The narrator pensively scanned the lack of horizon hoping to make something out of nothing, then lowered his head and began reading again.
How to finish a fine read?
I hope you all enjoyed that. If you wish to continue the full read is for sale less than the price of a BigMac ™. It will not give you heartburn and you can read it over and over. My friends at Book Tango have kindly acted as sales agents for various e-book versions. It is listed on the (Penguin Books) Book Country website here.
Testing content on a number of friends, a couple felt it was ideal as a reading tool to encourage our modern youth. It is not too long, keeps the reader engaged (even in the boring bits) and there is a “payoff” (oh boy, is there just!). In fact the only criticism was; where’s part two? So, I would be most appreciative if you would all raise awareness of the tale on social media networks, even if you chose not to read on yourselves. That isn’t too much to ask is it? Harry Potter would approve.
Though the story can be purchased through Book Tango and Amazon, it is now also available as part of a bundle, including a wonderful audio presentation by myself. You will find a PayPal link and simple instructions on what to do here.
Depending on the desire of wanton readerships as expressed by numbers completing the first part of Life on Mars (inspired by Harry Potter), other parts will follow ultimately preparing more serious readers for my next large book, “A New World Order”. This, in light of the constant requests for it to be so, may be produced in print. But that is for a future time beyond the control or whims of our beloved Harry Potter.