So what happens now?

The reality is, Labour lost in the sense of it cannot hope to get its programme through Parliament, it won’t even be trying. The Tories lost in that they no longer have a majority to get their programme through, although they will probably try, and quite a lot of day to day legislation will get through, unopposed. They also run a risk of being opposed by their own back benchers on certain parts of their programme, the repeal of the act that made fox hunting illegal is one example that springs to mind. There are also various human rights issues on which the back benchers might support the opposition.

So the position is, we still need to put pressure on the Government with petitions and so on, we still need — for example — to continue anti hunting demonstrations to make it clear to the MPs that most people are opposed. We need to put pressure on our local MPs as well, to make sure that they vote against it. Now there is more reason than ever for people to get involved ‘at grass roots level’ in the Labour Party, and with pressure groups. A Labour majority would have made our job easier, but now is not the time to abdicate our responsibilities. To the contrary, the real fight starts now.

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Three Generations

“Just like the fifties,” says Mum, gazing at the broken skyline. “It was like it when I was born, and it’ll be like it when I die.”
“You’re not going to die, Mum,” I say. “Not yet. You’ll get through this. We all will.”
She thrusts her hand into the pile of grey ash that had been someone’s front door. It still feels warm. I know, I’ve just done the same. Nothing else in our world felt quite like that. She lets it run through her fingers before slapping her palms together, dispersing the handful of dust on the merest, dry breath of a breeze. Hours before it was part of someone’s life. “Crap, innit?” she says. “Tower blocks over there a day ago. Now just rubble. The old terraced houses still there. Funny how that turned out. Used to be slums, then they did them up. Now they’re slums again. From slums to slums in three generations. For the lucky few. Not us.”
“I heard they’re rebuilding, Mum. Dave said they’re pulling down the bombed buildings, and…”
“Bombed buildings! Not heard that in sixty years,” she says. “‘You stay away from those bombed buildings! Don’t play there. They’re dangerous! Time they pulled them down.’ And they did. And now they’ll pull them down again. If there’s anyone left to pull them down.”
“I know what Dave said.” Her eyes close, tight. It’s as if she doesn’t want to open them again. Her lips flutter instead. “Never thought they’d go that far… Silly buggers… European Union… What it was supposed to prevent… All pals together one minute, falling out the next… Like a parade it was… That car cavalcade…” She surprises me by singing, in German, no less: “Freude, schoener Goetterfunken!” She still has a good voice. Weaker, though. Never knew she liked Beethoven. She continues the Ode to Joy: “Tochter aus Elysium.”
I rest my hand on her shoulder. “You all right, Mum?”
“I’m not gaga yet, my love.”
“I didn’t think you were.” No. It’s her voice that’s weaker.
“Why don’t you go up the hill?” she says. “Where Norfolk Park used to be. See how far you can… if you can see any of these fire engines, and lorries, and that, David said were coming.”
“Don’t tire yourself, Mum.”
“I’m fine,” she says, but she obviously isn’t. “They’re supposed to be setting up standpipes,” she continues. “And wash tents with  showers. That’s what the bobbies said. Turned out to be a lie. Have you seen any bobbies, lately? You don’t have to answer. They’re all in Ecclesall, and Millhouses, and what not, expect. Given up on us. Always knew they would. Why don’t you get over there? Not too far for you to walk, at your age. Don’t bother about me. Get my grandchildren away to Dore or Totley. The wind wasn’t blowing that way when it dropped. Fucking evil thing! All this upset’s giving me eczema.”
“Don’t scratch it, Mum. Mum! You’ll scratch your skin off!”
“Got piles, as well! All right, haemorrhoids, if you prefer. Old women are dirty, you know. I mean we talk dirty. We don’t dress it up in flowery language, like Mrs Bucket on the telly. We call a spade a spade. Sometimes we call it a bloody shovel! My Prolapse is bad, as well. You could drive a double decker bus up there, now!” She laughs at the thought, but the laugh gives way to a racking cough. “Bronchitis back,” she says. “Did you say Attercliffe’s gone? And Darnal?”
“It’s all gone, Mum. Meadowhall, Northern General…”
She grins. “At least I won’t be going in there. Used to say, if you go in there you don’t come out!” 
“Dave thinks it went off over Rotherham. They wanted to…” — what did he say? —“‘cut the lines of communication’, not smash everything up.”
“Lucky we had a cellar to hide in. You get off to Dore village. See if you can find someone to take you in. You and the kids.”
“They’re telling us to stay where we are, Mum. Best not.”
“Oh, don’t listen to them.” Her grip on my hand is amazingly strong. “Promise me you won’t be bitter. Just go where you’ll be safe!”
“The police, Mum. They’ve got guns. They’re already shooting looters. Dave said…”
“Yes, well,” she says, between coughs. “Still say… better off over there… Tell… police you’re lost.”
I hug her. “They’ve got files, Mum, with our National Insurance numbers, and what not. They’re asking people for their numbers and then they’re looking them up on the records. That’s what Dave reckons.” There’s some foam at the corner of her mouth. Pink foam. Christ. “Are you all right, Mum? Try to rest, Mum. Please.”
There’s a rumble of thunder. It’s spitting rain. Tiny black spiders against the grey earth. It needs to rain. Wash it all away. Wash us away as well. The staircase is the only part of the house
still standing, defiant, a middle finger sticking up at the sky — Fuck you! — with the old, galvanised-iron mop bucket’s in the cupboard underneath. But there’s no water. I ought to put the mop bucket out, with all the cracked old tins and bottles. But I don’t suppose I’ll bother.
“I’d get going, if I were you, Susan. They won’t shoot you. Not if you’ve got children. Bring little Simon and Megan here. I’d like to look at them. Might be the last time.”
“I can’t Mum,” I say. “They’re… sleeping.” And saying it out loud brings a stream of tears down my cheeks. I can feel Mum’s tears as well, mixing with mine, and the dust and ash.

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Time For A Cull?

My Facebook stream is getting too full again. Time for another cull? Not of people, not ‘friends’ you understand, that’s not the problem. It’s these random items like weather reports and reminders of things I’d rather forget and articles that I don’t want to read. It’s the pages I’ve ‘liked’ and sometimes it’s the groups I’ve joined that are subscribed to by people who feel the need to cover my screen with Blue Meanies, or grinning faceoids or red, beating hearts and live feeds. Facebook used to be simple, just a bulletin board. Now it’s so cluttered, I think the message is getting lost. I’ve turned off notifications, and yes that helps. And please don’t tell me to ‘do something else’ I don’t need permission! And that is not the problem. I usually only have Facebook on in the background while I’m doing something else, anyway. Facebook is useful. I’ve caught up with a few people and been to a few meetings that I would have missed if someone hadn’t stuck their head above the parapet and said: “Pub Quiz Brown Bear on Tuesday night!” Or “Skeptics in the Pub” next Monday. It’s the things I never subscribed to that someone I vaguely know but is a friend of someone I used to know who keeps nagging me to go to something to do with them on the other side of the earth that I could do without. I don’t travel well at the moment. I’m working on it, but suffice it to say, I’m a bit of a stay at home or at best sit all day in Starbucks kind of gal at the moment. Rant over.

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It is terrible
being poor
I feel powerless
I cannot afford

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The Madness in the Ice

We found the hut near the peak, half buried in Alaskan snow. The windows were broken, the glass was lying all around. “So they were broken after the blizzard — from within.” Weston enjoyed playing detective.

Hearne — the other reckless greenhorn — was the first through the door. “The heating’s still on.” He pointed at the crudely lagged jumble of pipes on top of a big tank or boiler. The only sign of it being on was a thin cloud of vapour near the top that looked more like breath than escaping steam.

Then it moved.

Weston grabbed my arm and Hearne reached for his gun, but I knew what it was, now. It was a man, bandaged from head to foot, sitting astride an oil drum nearly as big as him. The vapour had been his breath after all. As I watched he reached into his hip pocket.

Hearne drew his gun, I knocked his arm back before he could bring it up. “He’s gone, Hearne! Harmless. Look at him.” The poor guy was drinking from a hip flask — oblivious.

Weston stared. “Oh God!”

Then I realised: it wasn’t a hip flask. It was a bottle of aftershave. I moved forward and something crunched underfoot.

Looking down I saw the remains of that ‘something’; it was expensively electronic. “They smashed the radio to bits,” I said. I can  play detective, too.

Hearne re holstered his gun and said, “Yeah, that’s why the distress call stopped.”

“But why did they smash it? Snow madness?” I walked up to the man sitting on the oil drum. The bandages made me think of protection against the cold. I looked closer. The white linen was covered in strawberry blotches. In places, shredded clothes showed through gaps in the bandages. He was wearing mittens that were stiff with frozen blood.

He had been hacked to pieces. Somehow, he had managed to just about cover himself with bandages. He must have been weeping in agony as he wrapped the gauze over the raw flesh; losing precious blood as he did so.

Hearne laughed nervously, “Wait until you see the other guy! — Sorry, bad joke. I’ll get a blanket.”

Weston came over for a look. He winced as he said, “Moving him’s out of the question.”

“We can’t get a helicopter up here so we’ll have to move him.” Hearne knew that for a fact having tried and failed before grudgingly coming to me. Weston had picked up the distress call, so he had to be cut in, but Hearne wanted no more shares — assuming there was any salvage to share; which I doubted.

On the floor there was an empty whisky bottle — and a syringe. So, after the morphine and whisky, all he’d got left was aftershave. “Hearne,” I said, “There’s morphine in the green bag with the red cross on it.”

Hearne shook his head. “We’ve got to let him come round,” he said “It’s our only chance to find out what happened.”

“Even if he comes round, we’ll never get him down — alive,” I said.

Weston made for the door, “I’ll see if I can fix up a sledge,” he said. “Oh, and don’t knock yourself out.”

If Hearne was wounded by the jibe, he didn’t show it. But he followed Weston outside. Someone needed to stay with the bandaged guy. I thought I might as well look for some sign of what had happened. Some kind of fight, obviously. But why?

The wind was rising, making a strange, unmusical whine as it blew over the glacier. As I listened, it sounded more and more like a hundred bag pipes running down and not quite together. I looked outside, but instead of a blizzard, there was an unearthly stillness. The weird sound must have been some kind of freak echo. I came back inside and as I re entered, just for a moment, I thought I could discern voices. But no: the man on the oil drum was quite motionless, his head on one side as if listening for his companions coming back. I listened too, and rested my hand on my revolver. All I could hear was that abominable piping; up and down over several octaves.

Weston and Hearne came back in dragging a makeshift stretcher made from one of the frame tents. “Thanks for the help,” said Hearne, sarcastic as ever.

Weston snapped on a big flashlight and swung the beam around. “It’s a prospector’s hut — prefabricated,” he said. “They erect them over test drills. It must have been a big team to drag this up the mountain — even in sections.” He hung the flashlight from a ceiling hook.

“So where is everyone?” I did not expect an answer — ever. Bodies soon got buried in this kind of ice flow. “Did they go crazy — or…?”

“Or what?”

It was Hearne who answered, “Or what they were looking for was worth the risk — worth dying for.”

Weston was trying to persuade our friend to leave the oil drum. He was not co-operating so Hearne and I went to help. Even then, he fought like blazes, and it was only with a big effort that the three of us managed to get him on to the stretcher.

Hearne tapped the drum. “Whatever they found, it’s under this. They fought over it. The last survivor dragged this drum over the test hole and clung to it — like Ahab to Moby Dick.” The simile would turn out to be more apt than any of us realised.

We could see marks on the floor; the sign of a struggle — and crystals that could well be frozen blood. Hearne held up an ice pick and pointed to the red crystals on the tip.

The man on the stretcher was trying to speak.

We stood as close as we could and strained to hear.

He was saying one word over and over: “TRESOR! TRESOR! TRESOR!”

“Treasure!” Hearne laughed out loud. “You know what they found? Remember that plane that went down last year? It was in all the papers. Some French Canadian crime syndicate tried to hijack a charter flight carrying gold bullion. The attempt failed and the plane exploded and went down somewhere. These guys — must be French Canadians — came to look for it, found it, and fought for it — to the death.”

I was not convinced, “You think the plane is under our feet?”

“I’m sure of it,” said Hearne — and I’ve never seen such smugness; before or since. “A burning plane would sink straight down into the ice. After that, the ice fills in over it. They came along, drilled into the cargo hold and hit the jackpot!”

Weston tested the drum with his shoulder. “It’s still full of oil,” he said. “It won’t budge!”

“Looks like it’s jammed into the floor!” Hearne had his arms around the drum. Weston was trying to use a tent pole as a crowbar.

There was no mistaking the gold lust in their faces. They were in no mood to report the find. There are no salvage rights to gold bullion, so they were already outside the law. They would fight for it, just like their predecessors — to the death. Suddenly, I felt expendable. I backed away, feeling for my revolver. I nearly fell as my foot caught in a piece of wood on the floor. I reached down and picked it up. It was a sign:


No. Hearne was wrong — ridiculously wrong. Skewed logic and misinterpreted observations; classic fallacious thinking.

I looked up in a daze. “Hearne, Weston, they weren’t French Canadians. They were English.”

They ignored me and continued to drag at the oil drum.

“They were zoologists — From Oxford University!” I pulled out my revolver. “Get away from the drum!”

But I was too late.

The drum came up out of the hole with a slurpy sucking sound. It shot to the ceiling taking Weston and Hearne with it. The light went out, smashed by the impact.

In the dark, there was a furious rattling as the hut shook. Something whipped across the floor — and the door slammed shut.

First the drum came crashing down from the ceiling, then Hearne followed, his arms flailing and mouth gaping as something dragged him backwards to the hole. I grabbed his arm and tried to hold on to the drum, but the floor gave way with a jolt and I had to let go.

It was then I saw Weston — or what was left of him.

He was hanging upside down from the ceiling, minus his head.

I switched on my flashlight and crawled frantically to the door, unable to get my balance.

Something had fallen against the door. I tried to pull it away, but my strength drained from me when I saw what it was — a corpse, covered in bandages. I turned away and it was then that Weston’s body came crashing down into the beam of my flashlight.

Moving the beam to one side I saw Hearne. He was shaking like a rag doll. And as he shook, bits of him came off.

Then I saw what was doing the shaking.

Those Oxford zoologists must have had a good idea of what it was they were looking for. They must have known from folk tales, or maybe even specimens from earlier expeditions.

They would have known that the octopus of the Alaskan coast grows to thirty feet across the tentacles, only they were looking for something bigger, a new species — or maybe a very old one. Maybe they did have specimens, brought up by drills, dating back to when the mountains were still at the bottom of a warm sea. They would have theorised or speculated about the exact nature of this prehistoric gastropod, drawing analogies from the diversity of marine life. Perhaps they had even the fossilised tracks of its tentacles. But this was a cryptozoological expedition — not a palaeontological one — and that shows that they expected a living specimen. But what could have prepared them for the madness in the ice — that hideous, multi tentacled mollusc like thing, with the huge, slurping tongue covered in tiny, jagged teeth that whipped and shivered and cut and slashed and sliced through Hearne and Weston’s bodies, dicing them like carrots and spraying the walls with their blood?

I was brought back to awareness when a tentacle lashed around my boot and dragged me half way across the floor.

It was incredibly fast. That Oxford expedition never stood a chance. Fighting back with ice picks and axes must have been like fighting a nest of serpents with a butter knife.

I fired my gun several times into the tentacle, blasting it to shreds. My leg was free — though badly cut — and I managed to stand. I fired the rest of the bullets into the gelatinous mass, but there was no real hope of hitting a vital spot.

There had to be another way.

The floor was alive with tentacles. They were like very fast blind snakes; randomly whipping this way and that. Instinctively, I leapt up on to the oil drum and found the hole it had punched in the roof. It took an agonisingly long time, during which the tentacles began to explore the air around me. But I climbed through the hole, just in time to see the drum being dragged away, leaking oil. That gave me an idea.

I took a magnesium flare from my belt, broke the seal and — as it began to blaze — hurled it through the hole.

I remember a deafening, roaring in my ears as I rolled over and over in the snow, dampening the flames that licked around me.

After that, I have the vaguest of recollections of dragging myself through a snowdrift. Everything that happened after that was a blank; until I awoke in hospital. Now it is a week later and I wish that blankness would return. It would be better than the sleepless nights. Even sleeping pills do not stop the dreams that awaken me to scream with terror. And the strongest prescription pain killers do not help, for the lacerations from the thing’s tentacles just will not heal. Antibiotics cannot stop the slowly spreading infection; the necrotising fasciitis that is slowly killing me. No, not killing me — eating me alive. Even that is not an adequate description for the way it is slowly digesting the muscles of my arms and legs; rather in the manner of the venom of certain reptiles, or spiders.

And then there is the other poison — the one affecting my brain. I wish that I could know for sure whether the madness in the ice is dead or not, for a deep longing fills me.

And gradually, the longing turns my wish for the creature’s death to a hope that it is still alive.

The parasitic virus lodged deep in my brain sends ever strengthening signals across my synapses, urging me to hire a charter plane to fly me over those dreaded Alaskan mountains, so that I can parachute down to the place where we found that loathsome, but fascinating, giant mollusc — and into its loving arms.

It is the perfect killer. I speculated for a time that it might even be some kind of biological weapon. But no; it is just very ancient and very specialised. You have to love it, in a way. It is efficient in what it does. But until the gradual warming frees it from the ice, it needs help — just as it needed help from the expedition who thawed it out. Its guardian, the man in the bandages would have freed it — if the virus had affected his brain enough, before he died. Now I will have to do it.

And I will, very soon.

But — with my last remaining particle of reason — I still appreciate the irony.

You see, when the rescue team found me, I was laughing hysterically and repeating one word over and over again; the word the English Zoologist had repeated — an English word, not a French one. Having seen that leftover from before the remotest ice age, I know how well the word described that dreadful, fascinating, quivering tongue with its rows of razor sharp teeth that buzzed and sliced effortlessly through flesh and bone — just as it will soon slice and dice my own willing flesh and end my agony of longing!

No, there was no treasure. That was not the word. Oh the irony!

Not treasure. And not “tresor” — but “TREE SAW”!

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Twilight of the Gods

I was just making the final adjustments, tightening the quartz rod and squeezing a drop of oil onto it. And just at this vital moment, Lucy walked in with a brief, “Hi, Daddy,” sat down and commenced to write.

“What are you writing? Let’s have a look,” I said.

Lucy wasn’t enthusiastic. But then she never was about anything. She flashed a page in front of me, hastily withdrew it, and blushed. “As long as you don’t try to read any,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“At least tell me what it’s about,” I said, hurt.

“It’s about a hundred thousand words,” she said. “Only the first draft.”

“A hundred thousand?” that shocked me. “That’s a lot, you know.”

“I’ll have to revise it,” she said. “Before I can show it to anyone, that is.”

“At least tell me what it’s about,” I insisted.

She sighed with marked petulance. She was seventeen, it was her job. “It’s fan fic,” she said.

“You mean fan fiction?”


“Of what?”

“The Twilight Saga. I don’t want that broadcasting, I might be infringing copyright.”

“Oh, right.”

“What are you doing, anyway?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

She rounded on me, “Typical patronising man. You have no idea that I wouldn’t understand you!”

“Well, for one thing you’re my daughter. And another, I’ve helped with your physics homework. And I know you really wouldn’t understand this.”

“Oh,” she said, arms akimbo.”Well go on, try me!”

“It’s very advanced physics,” I explained. “It’s relativity. Even I don’t understand all of it.”

“Well,” she countered, “touché! Because, dear fah-thah, you wouldn’t understand this, either. So there!”

She handed me her manuscript. I looked at it and, blow me! I couldn’t. “What’s this written in,” I asked, “Greg or Pitman. Never mind. I can’t read either.”

“It’s not written in shorthand,” she said. “It’s written in Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew. You’d be amazed at what they are teaching us at school these days, dee-ah fah-thah.”

“Why are they teaching that?”

“Oh, honestly, Dad! Didn’t you pay attention at parents’ evening? I’m doing ‘that’ and Middle Eastern history and geography. I did tell you. You’ve forgotten.”

“Oh? Why are you doing… um, that?”

“I’m going to be a Biblical scholar. You see, I knew I couldn’t become a wicked, atheistic scientist like you. I wasn’t about to study the Big Bang and evolution from lightning striking a rock for millions and millions of years. You still never explained to me why, if we evolved from monkeys, there are still monkeys?”

I groaned. My daughter, the Creationist! I’d never live it down at the RI Annual Dinner. “Anyway,” she concluded, “What are you making?”

“Oh, funnily enough, it’s a bit like you. You’re studying ancient languages. I discovered a mathematical cypher in one of old H. G. Wells’s books. Amazingly, he uses a form of binary code in the layout of the words.”

“You’ve lost me,” she said. “Just tell me what this code told you.”

I took a deep breath. “It’s a schematic for a time machine. Like the one Wells wrote about. I’ve built it, and I’m about to test it.”

“Bril! I’m coming with you,” she said. And there was no stopping her.

“I tell you what,” I said. “We’ll go back to Ancient Palestine, and you can try out your language skills on the natives.”

“I’m hardly fluent,” she said. “But hey! Will it be safe to do that? With my accent I’ll sound like a tourist, or spy! And as for you…”

“I’ll leave the talking to you, Luce.”

And so I did. It was, as Lucy said, ‘a riot’.

We came running back, miraculously unscathed. Lucy was still in a panic as we climbed down from the saddle of the time machine. “Dad,” she said. “Have you got my manuscript?”

“I thought you had it?”

“Oh, crumbs,” she said, (which was mild for her). “That’s awkward.”

“Why’s that, precious.”

“Well, it’s just I doubt that I could write it again. I’m supposed to be handing it in.”

“What, your Twilight Saga?”

“Oh, Dad,” she said. “It’s not really Twilight as such, well it is, but it’s one I set in Biblical times. Totally invented, you see. I made up a whole new Biblical story, really far fetched and supernatural, with ghosts and zombies and so on. I really got carried away. I thought it would be a laugh with straight laced Mr Samuels at school. Well, to pull his leg, sort of. I’m always doing that, inventing quotations and so on. This time I invented a whole new book, but one so far fetched that nobody would believe it. So that’s all right. It’s about a prophet called Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, then came back to life.”

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The Grim Reaper of Frozen Hell

Thanks; that mug of hot cocoa is most welcome. Preferable to the weak, sweet wine I was expecting. Sorry, bad joke. This is the first time I’ve felt warm in days. Those days in Alaska chilled me to the bone, especially the last one. I didn’t think I’d ever feel warm again. It was a total whiteout — a face freezing blizzard coming out of the north east. Our thick coats and gloves kept us comfortable, and our goggles stopped our eyelids freezing to our eyeballs. But the roar of the wind and the hailstones pummelling against our bodies slowed us to a crawl. The Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness has glaciers and rocky terrain so vast that the most experienced explorer would be crazy to trek through it alone.

We kept moving, silent; unable to hear each other above that dreadful din. All I could think of was the mug of hot soup laced with gin waiting for us back at the hut. That and the thick, coarse blankets warming over the stove. My heart pounded in my chest, and my breath was punishing my lungs. But those thoughts of warm comforts kept me going. Trudging over the hundreds of yards. Until that black, wedge-shaped block of redwood greeted us in the heart of deep, Alaskan winter. Hours seemed to have gone by since we abandoned our snow cat. Stupid of us to decide to trek on foot. Rather than wait for the others to come out in the other cat and rescue us. In reality, it was no more than thirty minutes. Had to be, because more than an hour in that blizzard, and we’d be dead. There was no way of telling how long it would be until we finished scrunching our way through the drifts. And emerged into the moonlight, a short walk from our base and safety.

And then I saw it.

It took minutes to make it out. The first thing I saw was a big, black, shapeless shadow moving rapidly ahead of us. It’s difficult to gauge size in a blizzard, and at first I thought it was a man in a long fur coat; a man with a skull like face. I didn’t think it was a bear, because it was too angular, and it walked with a spring in its step. Then, I saw its fierce, blazing eyes and vicious looking teeth. Its long, reptilian head was white and fleshless so that the bones of its skull showed through. It was only when I saw what was in those teeth, that I got the scale of the thing. From its jaws hung a caribou. At first I thought it was only a baby, then, I saw the antlers on it and realised it was a full sized adult. Those beasts are big. The thing holding the caribou must have been huge, much bigger than a bear — bigger than a bison. When I realised it was bigger than the snow cat I said: “Saints preserve us,” under my breath and dropped down flat on my belly. I hoped Fairfax was doing the same. Whatever it was, it was over ten feet high.

“What the hell’s that?” said Fairfax, crouching by my side.

“Quiet!” I said, as loud as I dared. “I don’t think it’s seen us. Whatever it is.”

Up until then it was the blizzard saved us. Snow blinded, the beast didn’t see us. Otherwise, it might have dropped the caribou and made a meal of us instead. Predators gorge themselves, then sleep it off. And, I guessed that was no less true of the thing we saw.

God knows where it came from. There are things hidden in the mountains of Alaska that we’ve never seen. I’m certain of that. Well, I am now.

We’d gone to investigate cries for help on the Canadian border, following on the quake the day before. We discovered we were leaking gas and had to stop. Fairfax suggested making it back on foot. If only we’d sat tight. Green and Pauli would have picked us up soon enough. And then we’d never have seen that — thing. I must have lain there several minutes, hoping Fairfax had stayed put too. And in those minutes, I saw it again. It had changed direction and was lumbering back, tossing its skull like head in the air, swinging the caribou, and dropping it to the ground so bits shredded off. It picked the carcass up again again, repeating the process. Swallowing new chunks of flesh every time.

That could have been me it was swinging around. It could have been either of us. Hell, it could have been us both. The classic, flesh eating dinosaur — with little hands in front no bigger than a man’s. But the creature’s ass was impressive. A massive tail, swinging left and right — like a giant’s club. It could fart in your face and bash your brains out in one move, that beast.

“I know what to do,” whispered Fairfax in my ear, “ You freeze, you don’t move. I saw it in a movie.”

“You’re nuts,” I said. “I saw that movie too, and you’re nuts, I tell you.”

“No, it’s true,” he went on. “It can only see moving prey. It can’t see you, if you’re not moving.”

The beast loped forward. Seen head on, there was a weird foreshortening of its long, white skull, and that’s why it looked almost human. And the rest of it, black and shapeless, hung from it like a long black cloak. The beast was nothing more nor less than a huge grim reaper, hurrying towards us through the blizzard. Messortorva nix, I thought, absentmindedly naming my discovery. The Grim Reaper of the Snows.

“Keep still, keep still,” Fairfax whispered, but I didn’t stay to listen to him. Panic seized me, and I ran. As I ran, I heard Fairfax’s voice going through my head. I knew he was right; yes, I’d seen that movie too, and reason told me to freeze and wait till the beast stopped sniffing at me, unable to get my scent in the freezing air. But the beast’s roar blasted my reason to the winds. I ran as I’d never run before; my chest aching and my throat on fire.

Then I heard Fairfax scream. I looked back and I screamed too. But that broke the spell. I got my second wind and ran harder than ever — terrified by what I saw. The movie was wrong. Movies often are. Ridiculously wrong. They tell things how they should be; how we want them to be. Wish fulfilment fantasies. Rationalisations. My panic saved me from misapplied reason. No; not panic — instinct. What I had seen in that brief backward glance was the beast’s teeth gutting Fairfax in a single movement, while its eyes fixed his with a heartless, cruel stare. It could see him all right.

And then all at once it was gone, swallowed by the whiteness.

And ahead of me, glowing with warmth and friendship was the hut, with the other snow cat alongside.

“What you say is impossible,” said Green, as I sat shaking and sipping my soup. “Apart from the fact that tyrannosauruses are way long extinct, dinosaurs were tropical creatures. No way could they live in this climate.”

“That’s what we assume,” I answered. “But that’s because we think of them as cold-blooded lizards. That thing’s blood was hot as hell. And as for being long extinct, maybe it’s from that deep fissure that opened up behind us. Maybe the quake flushed it out.”

“You’re sure Fairfax is dead?”

“His head went on screaming seconds after the beast ate the heart out of him,” I said. “But he’s dead all right. He coughed up blood, then…”

“Puh-lease!” said Green. “Spare me the details — at least out of respect for…”

“I respect him,” I said. “Of course I do. But he was wrong about the t-rex’s eyesight being based on movement. That’s all I’m trying to say. We need to let people know before anyone else comes up here.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Green, “let’s suppose it is a t-rex, which I doubt. It would be as good as dead…”

“And,” I said, “there are limits to doubt, and scepticism.”

Green shook his head. “There’s always room for doubt. I once saw a UFO, and it was a doozy! I followed it for a mile. Turned out it was a hot air balloon. Now you say this thing is a t-rex,” he chuckled. “My money’s on it being a bear. A big bear. Maybe a very big bear; but nothing to be too afraid of. Fairfax must have spooked it, and it went wild.”

“It was too thin and angular…”

“OK, a starving, angry bear. Bears look totally different when they’re starved half to death.

He’d not been there. He’d not seen it. “We’re talking,” I said, “about a bear big enough to carry off a caribou in its jaws.”

Green smiled a grim little smile. “You misidentified an adult caribou,” he said. “Easy done in these conditions. You saw something you couldn’t quite make out. And your brain filled in the gaps with stuff you’d seen in movies.”

Pauli took a swig of gin and considered. “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe you’re — kind of — both right. The Inuit talk about a creature; ‘angulalanuk’ or something. It means, ‘Bear of bears’ — or ‘big-bear’. This is angulalanuk country. No Eskimos comes near it. Maybe it’s time we civilised folk got down off our collective high-horse, and learned a bit of their humility.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth…?” I said.

“Exactly,” said Pauli, sipping gin. “Whatever the angulalanuk is, it’s not a bear. Not as we know bears. Eskimos saw these things and, ‘bear of bears’ was the nearest they could get to hanging a name on it. Their actual descriptions sound nothing like any bear I’ve ever seen.”

“But nothing like a t-rex,” Green insisted. “I’ll bet anything you like on that.”

“Well,” said Pauli, “just try to keep an open mind.” He walked over to the other side of the hut.

Outside, the wind whined and screamed. If it was the wind.

Away from the stove, Pauli’s breath turned to mist, reminding me of the cloud around the beast. I shuddered.

“I’ve got a book with a picture of one somewhere,” Pauli went on. He walked over to the little bookcase. There, after a brief forage, he pulled out a large volume and walked back. He held the book out to me, showing me the title-page. It was called: ‘Dinosaurs and Man’. And it was published by something called, ‘The Cryptozoology Press’.

Green looked over my shoulder, groaned: “Cryptozoology — pseudo science!”

“Not necessarily,” said Pauli. “They keep finding new species around the world. But anyway, look…” He turned over a few pages. And there it was, as if drawn from life. The bony skull-like head. The shaggy black body with its tiny fore-legs. And, it walking through a snow covered landscape.

“They gotta be kidding,” said Green and rolled his eyes. “It’s the boogyman!”

The caption underneath said: ‘The angulalanuk, as it might appear in life as a large theropod dinosaur.’

Green laughed. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Cryptozoology; dragons mammoths, and mastodons, and great sea serpents! Fairfax is lying dead out there, mauled by a bear of some kind — fact — and you two are swapping ghost stories! ‘Angulalanuk’ indeed. Go home Cryptozoology, you’re drunk! And so are you; the pair of you.”

The wind — if that’s what it was — howled louder outside. As much to take my mind off it as anything, I looked at the book.

“ No, look,” I said. “It says here: ‘The idea that dinosaurs may have braved the arctic snow and ice is not so far-fetched.’” I pointed at the paragraph. “‘Not now we know they were the warm-blooded ancestors of modern birds. They may well have been covered in feathers as depicted here. Some of the descriptions of the angulalanuk obtained from the Arctic Circle Inuit may…’” — here Green laughed — “‘just may even point to these creatures having survived into our times’. And that beast outside proves it.”

Green snorted his derision. “A dinosaur could not have survived being frozen for sixty million years — not even sixty thousand. Cooling it enough to preserve the body for that length of time — the tissues would have imploded.”

“Now hang on,” said Pauli. “I don’t buy that sixty million years crap. I don’t even buy sixty thousand years. Maybe six thousand years.”

“What are you talking about?” snapped Green. “There were no dinosaurs six thousand years ago.”

“You can’t prove that,” said Pauli. “There were mammoths found buried in ice in Siberia that had drowned in the Great Flood and frozen as the water turned to ice.”

Green gaped. “What? Are you crazy? Great Flood? There was no such thing!”

Pauli lit his pipe just so he could gesture with it, I guess. “People have believed in the Great Flood for thousands of years. There must be something in it.”

Green shook his head, “Oh my God!”

“That’s what Noah said,” Pauli observed, with a solemn, almost reverential nod.

“I’m prepared to go along with the idea that dinosaurs survived in some hidden valley up here,” I said. “But not that they were frozen.”

“Even that’s bat-shit crazy,” said Green. “What you saw was a bear. It must have been a bear.”

“It was too big for a bear,” I insisted.

The howling outside was louder now.

“In the snow,” said Green, with no reference points, you have no idea what size that thing was.”

“Maybe, they did survive in a hidden valley,” said Pauli. There are plenty of tales of dragons. Like the ones in the mountains of China, for instance. Then there are the dragons of Medieval Europe. And in the Bible too. Again, there are fossil dinosaur tracks in Arizona with human footprints right alongside them. That proves early man hunted dinosaurs in the beginning. We only think they’re a gazillion years old because we’re misled by the fossils we found. But those human footprints prove that they’re not. And, as any honest, up to date geologist will admit, the radiocarbon method of dating fossils is highly suspect.”

“I’ve never heard such mumbo jumbo,” said Green.

“Listen,” I said. “I think I hear something.”

“Just the wind,” said Pauli.

“No, the wind’s dropped.” And it had. Something else was out there.

“Can you prove dinosaurs are extinct?” said Pauli. “Can you prove your ‘millions of years’? No, I didn’t think so.”

“It’s getting louder,” I said.

“Science doesn’t work like that,” said Green, with an air of finality.

“Then perhaps it’s about time that it did — seeing as it’s not working at all right now.”

“Shhhh!” I said.

But Green ignored me. He held up his fingers and counted off the points, “One; folklore is not evidence — and that includes the Bible. Two; the radiocarbon method of dating fossils has been proven to work thousands of times. Three; the footprints you talk about are all dinosaur footprints — eroded dinosaur footprints. Either that or they’re forgeries.”

Pauli has started shaking his head at point one. Now he said, “There you go again, changing the facts to fit your outdated theory. Folklore’s fine when it suits your case, like when Schleimman used it to locate the ruins of ancient Troy. And if something spoils your nice neat picture-book of the world, it has to be a forgery.”

“‘Nice neat picture-book of the world’?” said Green. “That’s rich, coming from a Bible basher like you!”

“Keep your voices down,” I hissed. “I’m telling you. I hear something.”

It is difficult to describe what I heard. There was a deep ‘Crump! Crump!’ that sounded like someone — or something — walking through deep, drifted snow. There was also something like a snorting breath, and a snuffling, deep and loud. And then there was the growl.

“That’s a bear!” Green said.

“Will you keep quiet?” I said, starting to panic.

“It’s OK!” Green insisted, “It can’t get in through the door.”

“You don’t know that,” I said. After all, I was the only one who had seen the thing. I was the only one who knew what it could do.

“It’s prowling around outside,” said Green. “When it realises it can’t get in, it’ll go away.”

It started moving again: ‘Crump crump’.

“Don’t forget the windows,” I said.

“The shutters are closed,” said Green.

‘Crump crump crump crump’.


I was just about to suggest we turned out the light when the whole hut shook. Something had crashed against the wall.

We waited for the best part of a minute.

There was another crash.

“That’s no bear,” said Pauli.

And at that moment, with a terrific bang, the shutters on the window cracked from top to bottom.

“Definitely no bear,” insisted Pauli.

It was then something that none of us were expecting happened. There was another crash, the shutter broke away from its hinges, and — surreal though terrifying that it was — a huge, grizzly-bear’s head came through the gap.

“That’s a bear,” said Pauli.

It was dead; its fur matted with blood. We had scarce time to register it before the whole animal was lying at our feet. But none of us were looking at that. The huge, elongated skull like head of the beast was through the window and gazing at each of us. It had used the dead bear as a battering ram. Now it looked at us as if selecting us from a buffet.

“It’s a giganotosaurus,” said Pauli.

The giganotosaurus — if that’s what it was — uttered a low, growl. We were in a weird, dreamlike moment. Time stood still. Nothing seemed real. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

“But, but,” said Green, “it can’t be a giganotosaurus. Giganotosaurus was a carnosaur. And carnosaurs didn’t have feath…”

Whatever-it-was lurched forward and — with almost a studied air of nonchalance — bit Green in half.

Pauli stood there, looking around him in a panic, just like a little boy who’d been caught smoking. He backed away, whimpering. The beast watched him, curious, but only for a moment. Then, almost playful, it nudged him so that he fell over. His spectacles fell off too, and he let out a big wail. He was so short sighted, without his specs, anything more than a yard away was invisible. Maybe that was just as well for the moment. But then the beast opened its mouth and flicked its tongue along Pauli’s body.

Pauli screamed. And went on screaming.

I didn’t wait any longer. I opened the door and ran outside.

You know, life consists of a series of choices. If I’d taken my coat off when I entered the hut, I would have frozen when I went back outside. If we had not decided, at the last minute to only take one of the snow cats, we might never have encountered the beast. But more important: the other cat was waiting, fuelled-up and ready. And I was well insulated against the cold. At the back of my mind, was a movie. But not the same one that Fairfax had seen.

I had to put as much distance between myself and the beast — whatever they called it. I ran outside and got my first good look at its back three quarters. Most of its length was tail; a gigantic question mark of solid muscle arching high into the air. Its body was huge and covered in a long cape of black feathers. I supposed it was adapted to a colder climate. But I hadn’t time to wonder. For even as I tiptoed past, it jerked its head out of the hut and looked straight at me.

And Oh, the horror! It still had Pauli in its gaping maw — and he was alive. The beast was rolling him around on its tongue like a toffee, savouring the taste of his body. And as it did so, Pauli screamed, over and over.

When it saw me, the beast despatched Pauli with a single crunch that cut off his scream. And his head! It came rolling in the snow towards me. Hitherto the blizzard had blinded it. Now the blizzard was over, it saw me plain. I started to run and it turned round to give chase. I think I owe my life to the beast’s massive tail. It was like a Rolls-Royce chasing a scooter. In the short term, the little bike has the advantage. Before the beast had turned round to run, I reached the snow cat and wrenched open the cab door. The beast’s teeth scraped against the cab as I climbed inside. I tried the engine, but it stalled. And then the beast brought those shark like teeth down on the windscreen. I think the glass confused it. It must have never seen anything so hard yet so transparent. “Stay calm,” I said to myself. “Be ready to drive as soon as the engine starts.”

I tried the starter again, and this time it worked. While I was revving the engine the beast was all over the cab. Now we exchanged roles. I was the cumbersome one. I had no choice but to move forward. But I couldn’t move until the engine was up to speed. The second the revs hit fifteen hundred, I knocked off the parking break and the cat lurched forward. The beast was startled, and moved to one side. I put the cat back in neutral and the beast looked down. It was working it out. Is it good to eat? Is it dangerous? Will it break if I bite it?

Now to drop the blade.

“That’s it,” I said out loud. “You’re curious; you don’t know what it is. You can see me inside, but you can’t get at me. Yes, you can climb on that blade and get closer. Closer. Closer.”

I raised the blade the minute the beast climbed aboard it. It overbalanced. For a moment I thought it was going to fall off. “No, don’t fall off — yet.”

The cat shot forward. Got to be quick, it could still jump off.

We hit the incline. It was all uphill from now on. The beast scrambled about on the blade as it overbalanced, and fell backwards. It let out its angriest roar yet. We chugged up the hill. Only minutes to the top. If it managed to swing its bulk to one side I was done for. The sides were the cat’s weak points. And the beast could outpace me, even uphill.

‘Chug chug chug’ went the engine. I couldn’t see past the beast, maybe I could risk a look out of the side window? I opened it and looked out. Yes: five, four, three, two one.

I dropped the blade, and the beast fell forward. But it grabbed hold of the blade and hung on. I put the tracks in reverse and they held. But the beast was climbing up on the front.

Only one thing to do.

I opened the side door, banged the tracks into forward. And jumped.

By some miracle, I managed to land safe by the fissure’s edge. Some foolish bravado made me stand, shake my fist and shout: “Go back to the frozen hell you came from!”

And for one awful moment, I thought the beast was going to climb over and get me. But at the very last minute, the snow cat with its monstrous burden rolled over the edge of the cliff into the deep fissure the earthquake had opened up. it disappeared from view.

But it was some minutes before I dared look down. I was nervous the edge of the precipice might give way. At last, I plucked up the courage to crawl over there, and look.

There was nothing there. It was too dark. But the snow cat and the dinosaur were both — to coin a phrase — extinct.

I stumbled around for hours and completely lost my bearings. Then, through frost bitten eyelids, I made out a dim ‘someone’ walking alongside me. As I turned to face him, he grabbed my arm and pulled me to the right. I looked at his face. And, to my amazement, I saw that it was Pauli.

“This way,” Pauli said. “It’s not far to the hut. Then you’ll need to radio for help.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Nah! I wouldn’t die till I knew you were safe.”

“I killed it. I killed the giganotosaurus.”

“It wasn’t a giganotosaurus.”

“Oh? I thought you said it was?”

“I only said that to annoy Green.”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a do-you-think-he-saurus.”

“That’s a joke, right?”

“No, its vision is based on motion.”

“Isn’t that a myth?”

“No, ith a mythith. They’re all female. Like in the movie.”

“Well, I should name it,” I said. “I discovered it, the discoverer gets to name it, and I name it ‘messortorva nix’ — the Grim Reaper of the Snows.”


Our conversation went on in this inane manner for some time. I only remember fragments of it. At last we reached the hut. “I’ve got to go now,” said Pauli. “Look after yourself.”

And he walked off into the night; just faded away.

Nobody believed me, of course. They laughed when I said the dinosaur had feathers; said I was just trying to be trendy. And when I told them the bit about Pauli’s ghost helping me find the hut. Well that only made things worse.

So, they charged me with three counts of murder as, I guess, you know. They even threw in the theft of the snow cat. But they couldn’t make that one stick. And Alaska not having the death penalty, and Pauli coming from Texas, I was extradited and put on death row here in Austin.

So, your reverend, worshipfulness; here endeth the confession! And no, I will not retract one word of it. And, don’t try to scare me with hell. For you see, I’ve been there already.

And the angel of death and I are on very good terms.

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