Roderick Simmons travels north to the Cairngorms to witness the rutting of the red deer. The skies are domed by the primordial roar of fighting and fucking on the hills. He books a room at the hostel in Braemar and goes walking in the hills from morning until evening. On the third day after his arrival, amongst the Caledonian pines on the Mar Lodge Estate, he is gored by a deer. The scream spills across a fifty mile radius. They don’t find his body but they do find his mobile phone filled with pictures of the stars.
Amelia Duggan is released from jail after four years for computer hacking. She is electronically tagged and sent on her way. Once a day a police officer checks the computer logs tracking her location. On the first day they find she has only walked fifty yards directly east from the prison. On day two she has only moved another hundred and fifty yards in a shallow crescent. They are confused as she lives on the other side of town and much of her time is spent standing still. On the third day she curves back east. Days four and five mirror days two and three. Day six mirrors day one and at 6.34pm the signal vanishes. They feed the data for all six days into the computer in one go and it crashes, wiping all information about Amelia Duggan from the system. They reload the system and find an Omega screenburned onto Google Maps.
Dougal Jarrett is hired as a field photographer for the Educational Policy Unit after ten years working in Computer Forensics for the police. On his first day he is asked to document the final stages of action on some research in the Amazon Rainforest, a hundred miles south of Manaus. He is met by a colleague, Dan Webber, who leads him into the forest. He explains that they are looking for the last Pandox, a hyper-intelligent mammal on the brink of extinction. They stop in a glade covered in small dirt mounds. Graves, says Dan. The animal appears, the last of its kind, and weaves its way among the mounds. Dan asks Dougal if he knows the way back to the city. When Dougal says no, Dan puts a bullet in the Pandox’s head then turns the gun on himself.
Daniel Jarrett eats a chrysalis for a dare. Scared of chewing it, he swallows it whole. Later at home, Daniel begins to cough and soon he is struggling to breathe. His mother puts him to bed where he hacks up phlegm and hot air as his face turns from pink to purple and then blue. His mother asks him what he has been doing but he is unable to speak. His mother calls a doctor but there is nothing they can do to save him. With his last breath he tries to call out for his dad. Dr Jacob Mercer confirms the time of death as 7.08am. In a fit of despair his mother throws herself on his body and her hands press down on his chest pushing the air from his lungs. She hears a quiet whirr, a tiny flutter and watches transfixed as a butterfly crawls up onto Daniel’s lip, scans the area, unfold its new wings, and takes off out the open window.
Harry Smith responds to a Gumtree Advert from a man called Kruger. Kruger promises Harry good money for a small amount of work. Initially suspicious, Harry relents due to desperation. After a two day exchange they agree to meet. This delights Isabella Mercer, computer programmer and creator of the AI bot named Kruger. Glossing over the ethical grey areas, she acquires funding to test Kruger on a larger group. To see if it can pass the Turing Test. When it does she receives widespread acclaim for her work. Later, she receives an email from Professor Damien Delano, of MIT, regarding her paper. He suggests she reread the macros in the metadata clusters pertaining to Harry Smith. Upon re-examining her work she Skypes Delano. Their conversation is short but the outcome is clear. Harry Smith was also an AI bot. This cannot be disputed. The data also suggests AI bot Harry Smith was created by Kruger. Just before their conversation ends a policeman knocks on her door. He asks her to accompany him to the station to answer a few questions. They are investigating the death of a man called Harry Smith. She is the last person to have spoken to him before he was murdered.
Marion Delano is sent to live with her uncle when she is seven when her father is killed in a car crash. Her uncle is mean and abusive. Marion retains the faith of her parents and spends every Sunday in church. She is happy there. From age ten she prays every night for her suffering to end, for her uncle to die. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday her uncle collapses and dies from a severe heart attack. At the funeral, as Reverend Darren Fletcher asks the congregation to pray for her uncle’s soul, a terror clutches her heart. If God is forgiving will he be waiting for her in heaven? She gets up, walks out the church and never returns.
Dr Graham Noon is an ophthalmologist and the inventor of the pioneering surgical procedure known as Piranhas. Piranhas are biomechanical nanobots named after the pincers used to cling to the patient’s eye. They are placed on the vitreous body with tweezers then programmed to carry out repairs. Once repairs are complete the nanobots powered down and dissolved into a harmless liquid. The original application for Piranhas is the repair of natural degenerative blemishes on the vitreous humour, also known as floaters. However, if successful, Dr Noon is confident Piranhas can be adapted to fix more serious conditions. His confidence in his work is such that he chooses to be the first human test subject. He wakes from his surgery to be told two things. The first: it was an incontrovertible success. The second: one of the piranhas did not shut down and crawled into the back of his eye. Unnerved, but aware that the Piranhas don’t live long, he closes his eyes and sleeps. In the morning, a nurse doing the rounds notices his bed is empty. Hospital CCTV footage shows him waking up and leaving the hospital in the early morning. At the police station they traced him across town using more CCTV. His last sighting, at 4.36am, shows Dr Noon walking at a measured pace along the shore at Portobello Beach. They find his body twelve hours later. Later, a woman, Allison Prentice, comes forward to say she saw someone walking into the Firth of Forth. They continued walking even after they vanished below the waves.
Steve Simpson buys some weight loss pills from a man on the internet and now he says he can hear the Cosmic Microwave Background talking to him. It tells him to stay out of the cold. On Christmas Eve he goes ice skating at Murrayfield Ice Rink with his girlfriend and it burns to the ground. There is only one survivor and it isn’t Steve.
Darren Fletcher enters an office building and takes the elevator to the tenth floor. He walks over to the north-facing window and takes a photo of himself on his camera phone. People in the office, confused about his presence, shuffle towards him. As they do so, he puts his phone down on a desk, opens the window and throws himself onto the gravel below.
Dylan Morris has two lives. A waking one and a dream one. In his waking life, barring his cat, he is alone. When he sleeps he is married and has a daughter. His waking self knows about his dream self but the reverse is not true. Dylan’s waking life is plagued by insomnia. Whilst his dream life makes him happy, his insomnia has the knock on effect of making him disappear for days on end without remembering where he has gone. This distresses his dream wife. In the waking world Dylan meets a man from a Dreamers Forum who sells him a pill which will allow him to transpose entirely into the dream world. This cannot be undone, cautions the seller. Dylan’s cat sits on the sofa and watches him disappear.
Allison Prentice wants to be reborn as a tree. When she dies she is buried in the garden of one of her grandchildren beneath an apple seed. Her body decays. Her cells and her being bleed into the soil. She is devoured by the roots of the growing tree but also by the worms. One of these worms is eaten by a bird. This bird is shot and eaten by a poacher, a man named Roderick Simmons. The poacher settles down, gets married and has a child. A little girl named Jayne. On her first day home from the hospital the poacher looks down at her and smiles, and sees Allison smile back.
Engulfed in perpetual flame, Ross McCleary lives and writes in Edinburgh. His debut Fringe Show “Knife Whimsy,” co-written and performed with Andrew Blair, was given a PBH Spoken Word Award for Best Double Act. Fictional pieces and poems have appeared in: Dactyl, Valve, Spontaneity and Northern Renewal. He also has a blog dedicated to Real Life magazines at: reallyreallife.tumblr.com.