From The Fishbowl

Scribbles about stuff

A Note

This blog is now, for the most part, dead. It has been superseded by my Tumblr of the same name:

http://plasticcastlemagic.tumblr.com

There you can find lots of stories, occasional blogposts, and – since it’s Tumblr – the occasional funny .gif.

I may still make posts on WordPress occasionally, but for the most part everything is over there now. So check it out, yeah? :)

Companionship

Hello.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, especially a blog about Doctor Who. Blogging about Doctor Who used to be one of my favourite things, and I feel like I want to blog about Doctor Who tonight, so I’m going to blog about Doctor Who. OK? For the record, this post will contain spoilers on episodes up to and including the most recent, Hide.

The quality of this series of DW has been pretty high, for the most part. Which is pleasing. Two episodes in particular have really stuck out to me, though. One was Hide, the other was The Rings of Akhaten. Both were written by the same man, Neil Cross, who, for the record, is a newcomer to DW. These two stories were his first for the show. And both, in my opinion, were bloody amazing.

Let me talk about ‘Rings’ first of all. It was Clara’s first ‘proper’ story as a companion. As in, it wasn’t an introduction, or a ‘different’ version of her. So it kind of had a lot of responsibility, in that sense. And Neil Cross made me fall in love with her. I think she’s going to be a great companion. She’s everything Amy wasn’t. Amy was way too intelligent, too chatty, too…abnormal to be the ‘everyman’ that a companion is supposed to be. (Rory was better, as I’ve said many times.) Clara, on the other hand, while still intelligent, is much more grounded. Her backstory is sweet, but detached: we won’t have to suffer through her extended family, like we did with Rose, and in general she has a very – ugh – girl-next-door type of charm to her.

(It also helps that Jenna-Louise Coleman isn’t incredibly difficult to look at. But that’s beside the point.)

Rings was an excellent story, too. It felt a lot like an Old Who story, in my opinion. The kind of tale you could see Tom Baker smiling his way through over four episodes in 1975. There was some excellent dialogue, too, some of the best in a DW episode for ages (until Hide, but I’ll come to that in a minute). There was a great baddie – AN ENTIRE PLANET :D – and the Star Wars Cantina feel of the marketplace was pretty great too. A monster that feeds off memories and sentimentality – with memories, of course, being a huge theme of Eleven’s stories – worked on a lot of levels, too. So yeah. Wonderful episode.

Last night, we had Hide. I was expecting a lot of Mr. Cross after Rings, and I wasn’t let down. There were a couple of scenes that were – dare I say – a little dull (generally when the professor was alone with his psychic assistant) but for the most part, the tension was excellent. One thing I absolutely love the story for is what I described on Twitter as ‘my favourite Doctor Who thing!’. In short: using time travel as an actual plot device, rather than just an excuse to send the Doctor to various different studios in BBC TV Centre (RIP). The idea of a woman trapped in a pocket universe – moving so incredibly slowly in ‘real time’ but moving when photographed throughout history – is just AHHHHHHHHHHH. I found that so cool. Plus we got to hear the Cloister Bell because of it, which is a rarity. And the TARDIS acted as a character briefly! This is never a bad thing.

My absolute favourite thing, though, was the dialogue. There are a couple of lines/scenes which are going to stay with me for quite some time. In particular, one of the last lines of the episode, “Every lonely monster needs a companion,” was gorgeous and brimming with vaguely meta subtext. My favourite scene, though – which literally made me bounce up and down on my sofa, it was so wonderfully written – was in the TARDIS and the Doctor and Clara were travelling through Earth’s lifecycle. Clara is disturbed by this, unable to believe that the Doctor can be ‘OK’ with experiencing so much life and death in a short space of relative time.

“To you I haven’t been born yet,” she says, “and to you I’ve been dead a hundred billion years.” She asks if her dead body is out there somewhere, amidst the heat-destroyed ruins of Earth. “Yes,” the Doctor replies. “I suppose it is.”

Then some truly wonderful words fall out of Clara’s mouth. “But here we are, talking, so I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you, we must be nothing.” The Doctor stands alone, and smiles sadly to himself.

This scene just…encompasses everything I love about the Doctor as a character and the show in general. This is a man – an alien – who has been alive for over a thousand years. He has been the architect of so much death, but also of so much life. He’s arguably destroyed as many lives as he’s saved. It’s a strange facet of his character. He’s described during Ten’s tenure as a Lonely God, and that theme has kind of fallen by the wayside a little since Matt Smith’s taken over. But for a brief second, we see it in him once again. And it made me so happy to see. It made me fall in love with Eleven a little more, too. He’s had angst before, Amy-related, Lonely God angst at that, but I prefer it when it’s kind of in the background, rather than overt. For instance , when he hid the TARDIS in the clouds during ‘The Snowmen’ just to get away from everyone and everything. He frustrated me in that episode, because I just wanted him to cheer the hell up. But seeing a few chinks in his jolly exterior from time to time? I can get behind that 100%.

The idea that all of us are ghosts is rather wonderful too, given that it perfectly encapsulates the story. Hide is a ghost tale without any ghosts. Or, arguably, with billions of them, depending on your point of view. Cool huh?! Mm.

You get all that from just a few lines of dialogue and a lingering expression. It doesn’t get much better than that, in my opinion. I hope Neil Cross writes some more Doctor Who next year. Frankly, on this evidence, he seems to understand the show enough to be a viable candidate for showrunner when Steven Moffat calls it a day (which I don’t think will happen for some time, but still). He does live in New Zealand though. Which could make things tricky… (Doctor Who/LOTR crossover, anyone?! :D)

Next week we get to see the depths of the TARDIS properly for the first time, which will be exciting. Unless it’s a bad episode. I don’t know who wrote it, but as long as it wasn’t Mark Gatiss and we don’t end up on a submarine with a 5000-year-old Martian who speaks fluent Russian, we should be OK. (I HATED THAT FUCKING EPISODE SO MUCH IT MADE ME WANT TO PUNCH SOMETHING.) It’ll no doubt be continuity-buggering either way.

I might write some more about Doctor Who again in future, because I do love it so. Thanks for reading this, though. Byeeee.

Looking Glass

Hello.

I can’t believe this is my first blog post of the year. Well…actually it’s not. See, I’ve written quite a few, and then discarded them, declaring them ‘crap’ and doing something else instead. So I’ve actually written quite a few entries. I just haven’t posted them.

Anyway, I’m here now. Because I want to talk about something. Specifically, the Playstation 4, which Sony announced last night. Yes, it’s one of my gaming posts! Commence your whoopin’ and hollerin’ when it is safe to do so.

So.

As a kid, I was a Nintendo fanboy, through and through. In fact, my single major regret in my gaming ‘career’ is that I never owned an original Playstation or PSOne. I missed out on a lot of great games, or so I’m told. (I did recently download three Final Fantasy PS1 games, though, so I’m trying to rectify that!)

The PS2, though, is my favourite console of all time. There are a crazy amount of reasons for this, but the fact is that I had a lot of good times with that machine. So many amazing games. Incredible console.

Then came the PS3, obviously. I was put off because of its high entry price (£425!!!!!!) but I knew I’d get one eventually and, indeed, I’ve owned two. One ‘fat’ 40GB, which was replaced by my current 250GB ‘slim’. It’s lovely. I think it’s probably a better console than the Xbox 360, overall, (although there’s such a narrow gap between them it’s practically insignificant) but it had a lot of problems in the early days that really set it back. The price, the dodgy nature of the Playstation Network, but it’s really come into its own since then.

Anyway, the PS3 came out a long time ago, as consoles go. I’ve been hankering for some new tech, I’ll admit it. And so I watched the PS4 conference last night with a keen interest.

And I really loved what I saw.

Graphically, the games they showed look great, but really there’s not a huge leap. I expected that, and I can live with it. There was one exception, though – Quantic Dream’s face demo. That thing blew me away. I still can’t believe how realistically the light affects the skin, in particular. If it’s possible to run more than one of those on a screen at the time, I really can’t wait to see what developers could do with it.

The controller is sweet. At last they’ve redesigned the Dual Shock – of course, it looks much the same, but there are key difference. It looks like it has decent triggers, for example. Nice grips on the thumbsticks. The d-pad looks a lot neater. The touchscreen interface and the ‘share’ button are nice touches too, as is the headphone jack. Plus the whole Kinect rip-off thing with the Playstation Eye. I don’t quite see the point in that, but hey, I’m sure some developer will find a use for it.

I really love the Gaikai stuff they’re doing. Sharing video to the world, streaming demos of games, that kind of thing. They seem to have integrated it really well, too – the new dashboard looks pretty user-friendly. The whole thing about it being based more on real friends than random people from the internet is nice too. My concern, though, is that the broadband infrastructure of most of the world just won’t be able to support it. Sure, that sort of thing will run fine in Japan, the US, South Korea. But Europe? I really have my doubts. In the UK, particularly, most people still have copper wire internet connections and download caps. Which is fine, and all, but not when you want to stream a ‘Let’s Play’ video to your Facebook friends list without interruption for a couple of hours. I guess we’ll have to see how it pans out.

I have to give a special mention to Watch Dogs, too. Man. That game looks class. I haven’t been this excited about a game in years, which is crazy given that there have only been two trailers. If that is all genuinely running in real-time, though…I think I might have a new favourite game. Seriously. If that is a launch title for either the PS4 or the new Xbox, I would be sincerely tempted. Without it…I dunno.

Price is going to play a huge factor. If I can afford it – no matter the cost – I’ll likely get a PS4, for sure. If I can’t, I’ll likely wait. Naturally it’ll drop over time, but consoles are a long-term investment for me, so I don’t mind too much. It all depends on the launch window and the potential therein. One of the reasons I am yet to own a Wii U is because of a lack of games. None of the launch titles were inspiring, or even very interesting, and nothing in the ‘launch window’ has made me change my mind about that. It almost feels like it’s dead before its begun. But if Sony can promise a constant stream of AAA titles in the first months of the PS4…well, my wallet might not be happy with me.

One thing I don’t understand about the presser last night is the apathy that the gaming community is showing towards it. I just do not understand. This thing has potential, and it’s going to be in peoples’ homes this year. It exists, and it’s going to have a decent lifecycle. If you’re a gamer, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be excited. This is the FUTURE of console gaming. I really liked what I saw.

Maybe I’m just weird.

Resolve

Blimey.

I didn’t realise that it’d been nearly two months since I last posted here. ‘My bad’. In case you’re unaware, my NaNoWriMo project failed, but I’m planning to carry on with the novel regardless because I think it could be quite good. Eventually. But that’s not really why I’m here today. I’m here because it’s nearly a new year, so I have a few resolutions to make. Whether I’ll keep them or not is another story, but there’s at least one that I wanted to put online for the world to see.

I’m currently trying to plan a list of twelve Books That I Probably Should Have Read But Have Never Gotten Around To Reading. These might either be ‘classics’ or maybe just a book series that I’ve read the first part of but not carried on with. Currently the list isn’t actually twelve books long because I need to think of more. If anyone has any suggestions, I would be most grateful. The list so far is comprised of, in no particular order:

1) Something by Kurt Vonnegut (probably Slaughterhouse-Five but I’ve also been recommended Cat’s Cradle)

2) Life of Pi by Yann Martel

3) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

5) Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

6) To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

7) Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

8) ?

9) ?

10) ?

11) ?

12) ?

I will hopefully read more than just these twelve this year, but I picked 12 because, y’know, there are 12 months. If anyone has any recommendations for the remaining five, please let me know either here or on Twitter or via that there Contact page (link at the top of the page).

I’m hopeful that 2013 will be a good year for me. Frankly, 2012 – with a couple of notable exceptions – has been pretty crappy. I don’t think 2013 could be altogether that much worse, I’ll put it that way. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Thanks for reading.

NaNoWriMo is Go!

Hello.

In all likelihood, this post will be updated soon, but I wanted to do it before I forgot.

Anyway, my NaNoWriMo project for the year, This Immortal Coil has begun. As mentioned in a previous post, I will be updating its progress every day. This might be late, it might be early, it kind of depends. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed for update updates (as it were). I’ve set myself a rule, though, which I think it’s important I make public: no editing. Once a file has been uploaded, I will not go back and change previous sections. I can edit on the fly, but once it’s uploaded, it’s Gospel. At least until the project is over.

Now, I want to warn you that, if you choose to read This Immortal Coil, please do not consider it as perfect. There will be errors. Maybe these will be grammatical or in the spelling, or perhaps there may be some plot holes. I do have a plan for the story – I know where I’ll be going with each scene – but, as with anything I’ve ever worked on, there’s a good chance I’ll be coming up with new ideas all the time. That’s one of the reasons I’m not allowing myself to edit – I have to work with what I’ve got at every turn.If I put an idea in and later realise it’s a terrible mistake, well, I’ll have to live with it. Characters might be inconsistent, or perhaps some parts will seem more rushed than others. Most likely because some bits will be more rushed than others. I’m writing a 50,000 word story in a month. It is unlikely to be the new Harry Potter instantly. Writing, good writing, requires drafting, something that NaNoWriMo doesn’t really afford me. But, if and when I complete the project, I will go back to the drawing board and make it as good as it can be.

This is just for fun. It’s a story that I’ve been wanting to tell all year, and hopefully if you choose to read it, you’ll like it. If you enjoy the tale of Kara, Ankou and Tom, I’ll be happy. If you do like it, I’d really appreciate you sending it on to a friend, or perhaps buying a copy of Not Quite Normal if you haven’t already. That would be super-awesome.

Right then, I guess you’ll need a link. This is it: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/250831 Now go forth, unto Ankou’s bosom. Not everyone will make it out alive.

Ghosts An’ That

Hello.

As previously mentioned, I’m going to be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year with my story, This Immortal Coil. Since I’ve been planning it out a lot over the past few days, I wanted to talk a little more about it than I previously have done. Obviously without spoilers. Because where would be the fun in that?

So, as I’ve said God knows how many times, the story revolves around death. But it’s not an incredibly morbid and depressing tale. Well, mostly. I mean, people die. It’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. It’s also not going to be out-and-out comedy, because that would almost certainly be awful too. It will be darkly comic at times, though. Look at my recent story Jam for an idea of the style I’d like to go for at least some of the time. To be honest, that story was something of a proof-of-concept.

Anyway, the story revolves around three characters. The central character is Ankou, who is, for all intents and purposes, a grim reaper. If you’ve read some of my stories before – including Jam, St. Martin’s Eve and The Helper – there’s a chance you’ve encountered him already. In fact, all of those stories, but particularly The Helper are in some senses a prologue to This Immortal Coil, but they certainly won’t be required reading.

Anyway, the second character is a young woman named Kara. She’s dead, a spirit trapped on Earth seeking to move on. The circumstances surrounding her death form the backbone of the story of This Immortal Coil, so I’m not going to go into it too much. But suffice to say that Ankou is the one tasked with helping her transition to the Great Beyond.

The third and final main character is a vampire called Tom. Tom is based on the vampire in my story Tomahawk but there isn’t really any relation between them except a similar name and, y’know, the fact that they’re vampires. You can assume they’re the same character if you want, but if you don’t want to, that’s cool too. I’m keeping his role close to my chest for the time being.

Basically, they represent three ‘figures’ of death. The ghost – a lost spirit. The vampire – trapped between life and death. A reaper – neither dead nor living but responsible for all. It’s an unholy trinity.

When November starts, I’ll post some instructions on how you can read the project. As I’ll undoubtedly say many, many times, though, the point of NaNo is to write 50,000 words in a month. This is no guarantee of quality. There will be mistakes. Possibly some on-the-go retconning. It will probably not be my best work. But it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be fun. Hopefully it’ll be fun to read. The story’s mapped out for the most part, so I’m confident that, y’know, things will happen at various points and make you keep wanting to come back for more. All I ask for is a little slack.

Next time I post, we’ll begin. Sit comfortably. Take care.

Circuses

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finally done what I’ve been threatening to do for some time. I finally read The Hunger Games.

I’ve been meaning to for years now, I truly have, but there have always been other books to read, other things to do. And then I just bought it. And today, I finished Mockingjay, the third and final book in the series. I just fancied saying a few words about it. Very heavy spoilers follow, so tread lightly if you’re still planning to read them.

I’ll summarise my opinion first. Essentially, I really liked the trilogy. Really liked it. It’s well worthy of the praise it’s had heaped on it. It’s quite rare that something lives up to its hype, in my estimation, but The Hunger Games definitely does. For the most part, anyway.

One thing that I really liked is how clear its subtext is. The bane of many a GCSE English student, a piece of literature’s subtext can still give me nightmares. I always make what I suppose could be called a ‘light’ reading of books. I read for the story, for the characters, not really for what the author’s trying to say. Of course, an author may not always be trying to say anything – speaking from experience, I only occasionally lace my stories with subtext, for instance – but in The Hunger Games, it’s really quite clear what Suzanne Collins is trying to tell the reader. Hell, if you have any familiarity with the concept behind the series, you can get the subtext. Desensitisation to violence, particularly with children. Media-obsessed culture. Children being forced to grow up too quickly. The effects of war. Plus much more. This stuff isn’t hidden, it’s right out in the open. It’s actually a little jarring at times, but it works incredibly well on the whole.

The plot’s the main way that this is brought across, of course, but the two main characters of Katniss and Peeta are also hugely important in getting the themes across. They fit together like a jigsaw. He can do what she can’t and vice versa. They are an almost perfect yin and yang.

Now, Katniss isn’t what you would call the most sympathetic lead character in the history of literature. To be frank, she can come across as a bitch quite a lot of the time, particularly when it comes to playing with Peeta and Gale’s hearts. This characteristic actually makes her a bit of an unreliable narrator (although that’s not really emphasised that much). One thing I noticed, for example, is that whenever Katniss kills, there is only minimal detail. “I shoot him in the neck” is about as much description as we get of her killing Marvel in the first book, whereas her description lingers when, say, Boggs has his legs blown off in Mockingjay. One thing that I found wonderful about Collins’ writing is that, although Katniss is not really a very nice person and gets progressively nastier as the pages turn, she remains likeable. A good character. I wouldn’t want her as a friend, but I’d listen to her telling stories all day.

Peeta, on the other hand, would be a much more traditional protagonist. Many authors would probably write him in that role, actually, especially if the viewpoint of the novel were third person. He’s just…’nice’. Which is a horrible word to use when describing anyone, but it fits him perfectly. No matter how Katniss acts towards him in the first two books, he remains firm with one objective – ‘I love her and I will protect her.’ Compare that to Katniss who, at numerous points, flat out says that she hates Peeta despite the fact that most of the problems he has to deal with are ultimately caused by her. She seems to want to protect him, says that numerous times, but I don’t think I ever really believed it. I always had the feeling that she’d off him if she really had to, but Peeta would never be able to do that to her. At least until he’s brainwashed, but that’s not really the same…

My favourite character, though, is Finnick. I see him as a mix of Peeta and Katniss – he has her combat skills, his eloquence and the determination of them both. He, if anything, has the opposite character arc to Katniss. He starts off, outwardly, as a bit of a prick, but gradually becomes more likeable as the books go on, particularly when he’s more than a bit deranged in much of Mockingjay. I won’t lie, his death upset me. More than any other character, I wanted him to be happy with Alice. He was just as much a pawn of the Capitol and Katniss and Peeta, moreso if anything, and if I were writing the story he’d have been in that meeting before the execution of Snow. I wonder if he’d say yes or no to a new Hunger Games…

Anyway, the series had to end eventually. The end of the first novel was a bit flat, in my reckoning. It was way too open-ended. Of course, that’s because there are two more books, but there wasn’t anything that would have particularly wanted to make me read on if I didn’t already have the other two thirds of the trilogy. I’ll put it this way: if I’d have bought it on publication, I may not have bothered with Catching Fire when it came out the next year.

Catching Fire, incidentally, is my favourite of the trilogy, an opinion I know is shared by many. It’s a very well plotted and suspenseful story, that doesn’t really let its foot off the gas all that much. Unfortunately, the beginning of both The Hunger Games and Mockingjay are a bit slow, a bit plodding (which doesn’t bode well, considering that Mockingjay is due to be split into two films for the adaptation – how’s that for a powerful media playing with audience expectations, eh?!) but pick up in the second and third acts. If anything, Catching Fire does the opposite: it hits the ground running, slows down a bit in act 2, then breaks the sound barrier on its way to a cliffhanger ending. It’s great.

The end of Mockingjay is…hmm. Earlier, I described it to a friend as ‘shit’ but that’s a bit harsh. It’s arguably flatter than the original’s ending. Basically, my main problem with it is that it’s incredibly depressing for the last fifty-odd pages and then, magically, in the space of four pages, it becomes a ‘happy ever after’ ending. I wouldn’t have had a problem with a depressing ending. Equally, I wouldn’t have had a problem with a happy ending. But the ‘best of both worlds’ approach doesn’t fit at all. Incidentally, I have exactly the same problem with the ending of Harry Potter. I’m known by some for my ferocious hatred of ‘Nineteen Years Later’, and The Hunger Games pulls the exact same cop-out. It’s disappointing.

But, taken as a whole, I did really enjoy The Hunger Games and I’d genuinely recommend it to anyone. The film’s good too, incidentally – it might actually be even better at getting some of the themes across, to be honest.

And they all lived happily ever after…

Updatin’

Hello.

I haven’t written an actual blog post in a little while, so I thought I’d write down where I stand with a number of things. As you’ve noticed, neither This Immortal Coil or The Galaxy have made any kind of appearance of late. This is for all sorts of reasons which I can’t be bothered to go into. However. A new plan approaches!

Next month is NaNoWriMo. I expect you already know what it is, at least vaguely – write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I did it two years ago, completing A Friend of Mine on the 28th November. I was very proud of it, even though it was shit. I tried to write a project last year called You Killed Me, but it never really got off the ground. This year, I’m going to write This Immortal Coil.

The main reason that you haven’t seen any updates from it – well, Jam is part of the series, really, but it’s not the ‘core’ story – is because the story was both too complex and not complex enough. I was adding lots of different ideas, which I’ve now trimmed down. This will hopefully make the actual writing of the project much easier. It will also feature many many less driving scenes than the previous version had. Seriously, it was meant to be a ghost story, but there was more driving down the motorway than there were ghosts. Simplification, but expansion, is the way forward. Less is more.

In addition, because I work better with firm targets – if I hadn’t set a release date for Not Quite Normal it’d probably still be sat on my computer – I’m going to be updating the story ‘live’. Thanks to Smashwords, the wonderful distributors of Not Quite Normal, I’m able to upload new versions of the story as often as I want as I write it. So I’ll be posting a new chunk every day. Which will be nice. And then I’ll get to 50k easily! In theory. As long as Life doesn’t get in the way.

That’s about it. Thanks for reading, if, indeed, you are. Most of the views on this blog are from bots, I’m well aware of that, but I live in hope that there are at least a couple of real people out there who at least vaguely care about all this nonsense. Take care.

Jam

He understood now why people waited.

As Tony’s toes sat a little over the void, he felt his body rock back and forth with the wind. He wanted to reach out and grab hold of something, but there was nothing but air to support him. He looked straight ahead, not daring to glimpse the road below, and thought of why he was doing this. Taking such a permanent step. He thought…

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind him. It almost made Tony lose his footing right away. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the voice said again. “I didn’t mean to make you jump.” A beat. “Probably a poor choice of words…” Tony looked over his shoulder and saw the embodiment of the voice. It was a man, young, dressed in a sharp suit.

“A…are you the police?” said Tony.

“Oh my, no. Just someone who wants to help you. You certainly appear to be in dire need of some assistance.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help,” said Tony. He was much more confident now that the initial shock of no longer being alone had faded. “Just let me die in peace.”

“Peace? You think jumping from a 30-storey building would be a peaceful death?” The man started walking towards the edge.

“Don’t come any further!”

“Why not? You’re not going to jump anyway.”

“I will if you come closer!”

“Nah,” said the man. He carried on walking, and sat down on the ledge next to Tony. “See? You’re still here, and I’m just sat here next to you. Lovely day, isn’t it? Would you like a jam sandwich?”

“I…what?” The man produced a small plastic bag from his pocket. Two triangular jam sandwiches were inside.

“I made them myself this morning. It’s so hard to find cafés that sell them. I’m not really keen on sandwich fillings that aren’t jam. I’m sure Pret or Subway would get a lot more business if they just made a few every day.”

“Who the hell are you?” said Tony.

“I’m Hank, and you didn’t answer my question.”

“What…no, I don’t want a bloody jam sandwich, OK?! Just leave me alone!”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. You’re not meant to die, you see. Not today, anyway. I mean, it seems pretty clear to me that you’re not going to anyway, so I probably don’t need to be here, but, y’know, it’s good etiquette.” He took one of the triangles out of the bag and had a huge bite. “Mmm,” he said, with his mouth full. “That’s a good sandwich. Are you sure I can’t tempt you?”

Tony didn’t answer. The pair were silent for a moment. “So what brings you here?” said Hank.

“None of your business.”

“I know it isn’t. But I’m curious. I mean, a man doesn’t just wake up one morning and say to himself, ‘Y’know, I think I’m going to throw myself off a building today. That seems like a fun way to get my morning going.’”

“Do you think this is some sort of joke?!” said Tony.

“Not at all. I’m sure you’re deadly serious. I just…”

“No, I know what you’re doing. You’re stalling. Yeah. You saw me up here and phoned the police and you’re trying to stop me from jumping for just long enough until they arrive.”

Hank smiled. “This isn’t Lethal Weapon, my friend. Have you looked down? I wouldn’t recommend it, but I can assure you that there aren’t hundreds of rubberneckers staring into the sky while the assembled police force rapidly inflate a gigantic air cushion. Besides, I look nothing like Mel Gibson.”

Tony had had enough. He lifted his right foot and held it over the edge. There was a light breeze which made him wobble like a dashboard toy. “Ah-ah,” said Hank. “Don’t be silly.”

“Silly? SILLY?”

“Let me ask you one last question before you make your decision. If you still believe that an early death is your best option then I shall not stand in your way.” He took another bite of his sandwich as Tony put his foot back on the ledge. He was mildly pleased to do so.

“Good choice,” said Hank. “So. My question to you is: what do you think will happen when your head splatters against the tarmac?”

“Well…I’ll die.”

“Bravo, Captain Obvious. Beyond that.”

“I…I don’t know. Heaven, I suppose. I think I’ve been a good person.”

“Catholics believe suicide is a sin, you know.”

“I’m Anglican.”

“But what if the Catholics are right?”

“Then…I’ll go to Hell.”

“Uh-huh. And your family. What will happen to them?”

“They…you…what the hell are you doing?” Tears started to stream down Tony’s face.

“I’m trying to save your life. What will your family do?”

“They’ll…be better. Better off without me.”

“And I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself of that. But it seems to me that you’re making a lot of leaps of faith before you take your very literal leap of faith.

“I…stop screwing with me!”

“I’m not screwing with you. I’m just telling you the truth. This is what’ll happen to your family. They’ll be devastated. Your wife will be sucked so hard into the black hole of depression that she may never be able to crawl her way out of it. Your children will be taken into care, forced to grow up with people who will never understand their suffering. They’ll forever resent their father for being a selfish son of a bitch who’d rather take his own life than clean up his act and sort his life out. Your son will grow up to be a carbon copy of you. In the space of thirty storeys, you can corrupt him. And you? Well, you’ll just be lying in a hole in the ground with your face rotting off and being eaten from the inside out by bugs smaller than a pinhead, never able to accomplish any of the great things that a man can do with his short time on Earth.

“But if that all sounds better to you, then feel free to jump.”

Tony didn’t say anything, but whimpered softly. He lifted his left foot, but brought it behind his body, not in front. He stepped onto the roof and fell to his backside, crying so hard Hank thought his eyes might fall out. Hank swung his legs back from the ledge and went over to Tony. He crouched down to his level.

“It’ll be alright, I promise. You’re a good man with a great family. Like jam, you’re good alone. But you’re much better when you’re surrounded by the bread of love. Oh my, I’m so sorry for that truly dreadful metaphor. Flowery language has never been my strongest suit. But you get the gist.”

“Wh…wh…who…what…?”

“You don’t need the answer to that question. Here,” Hank put the bag containing the sandwiches on the ground. He’d eaten one of the triangles, but the other was still there. “Goodbye.”

Hank left Tony’s life forever.

The Eyes

There was the Earth, and then there was the deep black sky.

He stared into it, like a fascinated child at a zoo, fixated on those small white lights. He’d heard rumours that they existed, but in Eaglepoint they were obscured by a dim yellowy purple, a force field from the great beyond.

They would be after him before long. He was not supposed to be here, breathing the cool night air – which felt so soft upon his lungs – and being tickled by lightly swaying grass. The sound of nothingness had scared him at first, but now he basked in it, letting emptiness wash over him.

He tracked shapes in the stars with his eyes, picking out birds and dogs and ploughs. He imagined them coming to life, fighting for their place amongst the black.

How far away were those lights? A mile? Ten? What did they look like up close? Were they cool like a winter’s snow or hot like a summer’s sun? Why were They hiding this?

It was only then he knew that he had been blind. He and all. There was more to existence than he had been told. There was beauty not just in the eyes of women, but in the eyes of the world, and now that those eyes were reflecting his life back at him, he finally understood. He felt as though he were drowning in reality.

Something changed, not just within him, but in this place. There was a faint whiff in the air, different to the natural grasses and barks that had filled his nostrils just seconds before. It smelt like smoke, harsh and bitter. It smelt like home.

This was it. They had found him, there was nothing he could do. So he just lay there. He swum amongst the stars as the heat built up around him.

He was at peace.

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