I’m in the process of putting the finishing touches to a (third) anthology of short fiction. I will hopefully have a cover to reveal in the near future.
In the meantime, and to tantalise your taste-buds here is a short piece that will feature in it
Crichton Jolly pulled back the curtains. Approximately one hundred and twenty-seven million other people were opening shutters, raising blinds or throwing back doors at the same time. And wherever they were in the world what greeted them was the same: a sepia sky, no clouds, no sun, no wind.
Was Crichton the only one to blink, mouth agape? He was, after all, the senior meteorologist at the London weather centre. When he went to bed the forecast – no, the damned certainty, he thought – was an overcast drizzle of a day; certainly not this, this nothing. And what was with “sepia”? When did the sky do sepia without egregious quantities of sulphates?
He rang the on-call manager. ‘Jim? It’s Crichton.’
Crichton chewed, alternately, a bacon brioche and his fingers while he listened to Jim explain the uniformity of the weather. ‘Thing is, Crichton, it’s not really weather at all. It’s empty. No wind, rain, snow anywhere. And…’
‘Yes?’ Crichton hated pauses like this. The eventual answer usually triggered his IBS.
‘There’s no sun either.’
‘No, I mean the sun’s gone. We can’t see it. No one can.’
Far away – if only in the sense that there was a distance between where Crichton stood squinting at the dull outside and where Vent, supreme god of all weather, resided, which no one except Vent could ever cross – Vent enjoyed his moment. Gods shouldn’t hate mortals, but he hated Crichton in a way that he had never hated anyone, including that utterly irritating god of the earth, Quake. Crichton had undermined Vent’s whole raison d’être. He had perfected forecasting to such a level that there was no uncertainty anymore. The forecasts were always right. Not like bloody Quake, he thought. No one yet knew when one of his volcanoes would blow or tectonic plates clash. Why hadn’t those pesky mortals spent their hard earned on that? After all, while Quake massacred hundreds, thousands, he, Vent, only blew away a few, froze a few more and helped the demographics with a cull of the elderly in a heatwave or two. Certainly nothing on the scale of that egocentric psycho, Quake.
For months now the forecasts had been spot on and whatever Vent tried – shifting round the Gulf Stream, redirecting El Niño – that smug sod was always a step ahead.
Vent stared at the poster on the wall: God Rules. Rule one. A god is always capricious. How can you be capricious if the bloody mortals can foresee what is coming? That was the question that had beaten inside his head over the last weeks.
And then it came to him. Take away the surprise. Everyone relied on there being weather. So what if the question they asked was not “what weather?” but “whether weather?”
‘Vent? The Boss wants a word.’
Vent scrapped some ambrosia off his tie and straightened his toga. He could do with losing a couple of pounds but, damn, he still looked good for a god. Not for him the craggy look and unkempt hair. Being out in all weathers had taught him young to moisturise, leaving aside the tangles in your hair during tornados if you didn’t keep it neat. He pushed open the door and entered into the Magnificence.
‘Hi, Boss. All good?’
He’d imagined this conversation many times. The praise. The astonishment at the idea, so novel, so simple and…
‘What in all my universes were you thinking? No weather. NO WEATHER? We need uncertainty, fear, goddammit they can’t get used to us.’
‘But they know what’s coming. They have worked out…’
‘Listen, sonny. If you can’t get them back to awe or at least a decent level of wonderment we’ll need to rethink your current position. The tooth fairy is getting on…’
‘And if you can’t then I’ll step in. Let’s see what they think about plagues of toads and raining hellfire, huh? Now sort it, ok?’
Crichton studied the data. Everywhere it was the same. It couldn’t be, but it was. He made a few calls. Rivers seemed to be full despite no rain. Crops grew without the sun and even the wind turbines spun with no wind. It was madness but a madness that meant only one thing. Redundancy. After dedicating his life to precise forecasting…
‘Mr Crichton. A call on line one. He’s very insistent.’
‘A Mr Vent. Says he’s, erm, the god of the weather and you need to speak.’
‘Gloria, I really don’t need crank calls…’
Inside Crichton’s head a voice sounded. ‘Mr Jolly? Look, sorry, I thought you’d prefer the phone, but we can do telepathy if you wish. It is quicker only…’
‘What the Hades? Who’s doing this?’
‘Vent. We’ve not met, but I’ve watched you for years. You’re a clever bugger, aren’t you? And…’
‘Yes. Do you like it? It’s French but also means…’
‘How are you in my head?’ Crichton looked up at Gloria, whose face indicated imminent astonishment with terrified intervals and the occasional gust of incredulity. He rapped his head. ‘A voice. In here. I…’
Gloria nodded, turned and left. Crichton blinked. How rude.
‘Not rude. I asked her to go. She won’t remember this. It may make her feel a little peaky.’
‘More insane actually. Now…’
‘How are you in my head?’
‘You don’t need to speak. I can read your thoughts.’
‘My thoughts? Like…’
‘Like you regret not bidding for Claudia Schiffer’s garter that time.’
‘I never… I mean, it’s not like…’
‘No, your wife wouldn’t understand, would she?’
‘Ok, look, where are you? This is some trick so you have to be somewhere. Is it the camera on my computer? Is that….’ Crichton leapt back as his screen burst into a dizzying set of images, from pictures of him as a child to when he went to university including the one of him on Bournemouth pier comparing sizes with Reginald, which he was sure he’d burnt.
‘Reggie has the negative.’ Vent’s voice couldn’t hide the snigger.
‘Has? You mean still?’
‘Fraid so. I can get rid, comma if you want.’
‘Really? I mean it was just a youthful prank and…’
‘No, she wouldn’t understand, would she?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Gloria told you.’
‘Yes. I run the weather.’
‘Ha, well, you buggered that then, didn’t you? What weather? It’s all gone.’
‘I know. I did that.’
‘You did? But why?’
Crichton heard a sigh. It sort of echoed around his head. Trying to focus on where the voice came from made him feel pretty dizzy. ‘Maybe we can do the phone.’ He held the handset to his ear. Vent’s voice sounded far away.
‘You are too good, Mr Jolly. What I don’t need is you knowing the weather exactly. You need to reinstall incompetence.’
Crichton hadn’t wormed his way up through the civil service without an instinct for when a superior was in a panic. ‘What if I don’t?’
‘Frankly? We’re both out of a job. Crichton, we need each other. But mostly I need you to get it wrong. And you need your employers to think they still need you.’
‘But if I go back to the old days they’ll think I’ve failed.’
‘Not necessarily. We could cheat.’
‘Yes. Look, what if we agreed you’d get it right but let them know there was a bug in the system. I then throw in a storm, something nasty in Cromarty, you tell them you need to make some coding changes and off we go.’
‘It could work only…’
‘Can you, erm, sort out Bournemouth this August? Mrs Jolly is rather unforgiving if I can’t choose a sunny week for our holiday.’
‘You could buy her that garter?’
‘Let’s just stick to some old fashioned sunshine, shall we?’
‘Ok, Mr Jolly, you have yourself a deal.’