THE FALL by Mark Gorton

I wrote this story in 1986 to enter a Gollancz/Sunday Times science fiction short story competition. It was a runner-up and published in the subsequent anthology. Set in a possible future it also harks back to the past in which it was written – when the Internet was still embryonic and mobile devices were neither small nor almost ubiquitous; when people still read books and wrote on paper. A past when you could quote Karl Marx and people would nod thoughtfully…

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OUT OF THE BOX

Science fiction and fantasy on TV have shaped my life and what claims to be my mind.

Ask me to describe my most vivid memories of childhood television and I’ll respond: anything by Gerry Anderson, but especially Captain Scarlet. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but especially its precursor, Do Not Adjust Your Set. Doctor Who, but especially in black and white. The Avengers, but especially episodes like The Cybernauts and The House That Jack Built. The Outer Limits, but especially Demon with a Glass Hand. The Prisoner, but especially the fact that it never made any sense.

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GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS TO COME

By Mark Gorton

My new friends are all dead. But that doesn’t stop them giving me presents.

Presents like words and understanding and sight and hearing. Thanks to them I can think in this language and theirs too and hear their voices all around me all the time like invisible butterflies fluttering and flying. And I can sense their love for me. It is very strong, because my presence is a promise of salvation. They believe that many will follow me in ships much bigger than the one that brought me, and when the passengers in the ships arrive and depart, and leave some people behind, over and over across many years, some of the butterfly voices will stay and others will go until, once again, all the voices have bodies and hands.

And with these new hands they will build cities and ways of life without pain and despair on not one but two worlds.

The day before yesterday they played some tricks. For hours I vanished, as if I was broken, and I can imagine how scared everyone at home was – it makes me laugh to think of it – while they carried me to the top of a rise where I could look back through all their dead eyes at a wide lake fed by winding rivers, and on the lake’s shores were many buildings, and between them were narrow streets through which grown-ups and children moved this way and that, dancing, always dancing, to music made by their butterfly voices of all shades and tones. Once there were tens of thousands of places like this one.

Their life was a constant ballet, a celebration of motion and grace, and a choir too, formed by an entire civilisation, countless souls always singing about their love for their world and for each other. So I tried to sing, too, and now it was their turn to laugh – I am not very good. But there was no cruelty in their laughter, and their love for me touched me everywhere like wings rushing and brushing and I was very happy as they carried me back to where I belonged and made me visible again. Straightaway I crept forward to a rock they had guided me to, a special rock with tiny fossils full of surprises.

As I worked I imagined how one day the Earth will be full of dancing and singing, how cities will fall and new ones rise. People will be afraid but I swear there is no need. Things change and change is good. Dancing and singing is so much better than fighting and screaming.

Today I was given another present, the best one of all. A new name. They gathered and swarmed around me and sang and sang and chanted my new name. Ramesh. That is what my new name sounds like and it is their word for Freedom.

I think it is much nicer than Curiosity.

Because we all know what curiosity did.

THE LANCASHIRE WITCH HUNT OF 1612

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The story of the murders of the Lancashire witches.

Britain’s most destructive single witch hunt took place in Lancashire in 1612. It was our equivalent of Salem: twenty innocent men and women were tried; ten were executed; an eleventh had already died in prison.

The trial is remarkable for two reasons: first, it heard bizarre evidence of feuds between warring families of witches, of souls sold to the Devil and supernatural murders; second, it appears to have been recorded in unique detail for posterity by clerk Thomas Potts.  His account was published as The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.

The witch hunter was local Puritan magistrate, Roger Nowell. Serving God, King and himself, Nowell manipulated witnesses and orchestrated events in court in order to frame the defendants. Potts re-arranged the evidence for publication to justify the verdicts and cover up what had really happened.

Nowell was the stage manager of an extraordinary show trial. Potts was his spin doctor.

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PLUM GOES TO WAR – P. G. Wodehouse, internee.

Young men, starting out in life, have often asked me, “How do I become an Internee?” Well, there are several methods. My own was to buy a villa in Le Touquet on the coast of France and stay there till the Germans came along. This is probably the best and simplest system. You buy the villa and the Germans do the rest.

So began the internment of P. G. Wodehouse and a route through various parts of Europe that ended in Berlin – where Plum, as he was affectionately known, made his notorious broadcasts on Nazi airwaves.

Internment as described by Wodehouse is pure comedy…but he is plainly not at liberty to say that there was enormous hardship too…The story is Allo Allo meets The Great Escape – even though he didn’t, or even try…

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A LITTLE TOGETHERNESS

http://soundcloud.com/mark-and-the-gortones/mark-track-1 – Hear a Northern Soul classic tortured and finally murdered. By me.

Round about 1970 was when I joined the in-crowd.  I cut off my hair, learnt how to get my kicks out on the floor, and swore I’d just keep on keepin’ on.  Northern Soul was a unique phenomenon, youngsters from Lancaster down to Stoke seeking out the best American dance music the rest of the world seemed to ignore.

I  have no idea how it began, although I seem to remember the Stax label becoming a crucial part of the northern music scene in the late sixties. I grew up in Blackburn and, when I was eleven or twelve, I heard about the Stax club that had opened up there.  Suddenly, and almost impossibly, ‘Blackburn’ sounded exciting, the way ‘Nashville’ and ‘Memphis’ did on the radio.

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NUMBER 290 – the story of CSS Alabama

1854.  Two United States naval officers share a cabin on a ship called the USS Cumberland.  Their names are Raphael Semmes and John Winslow and we can assume they are friends as well as colleagues.

When they write their autobiographies years later, neither man will mention the time they spent together.

Semmes and Winslow were destined to find themselves on opposite sides in the American Civil War, skippering vessels which fight one of the most famous battles in maritime history.  A battle which ends a truly remarkable story of courage or villainy, brilliant naval warfare or piracy, call it what you will.

The victors were Winslow and the USS Kearsarge.  The vanquished were Semmes and the Confederacy’s most destructive commerce raider, a ship which had terrorised Union shipping for two years.  A ship built in secret.  A ship half crewed by Englishmen from Liverpool.  A ship called…

ALABAMA

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