Thursday, 29 June 2017

Story: 'Oneiromancy' (The Joined-Up Version) (a.k.a. Quirky Muffin 900)

'Oneiromancy: Divination by dreams'
Can you tell the future from dreams? Some people say that you can, that the world of dreams is a medium through which we can escape the dreadful linearity of time. They also say that through that medium thoughts and visions can shuttle back and forth, and that perhaps entire souls can flit looking for their homes or be sent back to the great sorting house for some karmic justice in their next dwelling. If that were true, then perhaps psychics and seers are in fact people who can access this dreamline and send messages back and forth, investing themselves with information of things to come?

What would happen if this medium, this 'dreamline', were understood and captured by the blue sky researchers toiling away in their self-funded pursuits or operating under the secretive auspices of mysterious benefactors? What would happen to the people who would suddenly become useful, when before they merely made ends meet or exploited their own talents mercilessly? And what would happen to the frauds who had claimed to do it all but had really just guessed and waffled while looking for the inside line to financial success?

It seems impossible that anyone could control the passing of information through the Dreamline, that any of this could be real. It seems unlikely that a message from the future, or the past, or even from a whole other present, could move through the that timeless and intangible dimension to accidentally touch that one person who needs the information most. Most of those messages, in fact, missed their connection completely, leading to bizarre incidents such as a lady in New Jersey sitting up straight in her bath and wondering what on Earth to do with the bizarrely simple but mundanely incomprehensible Grand Unified Theory fluttering through her mind, before getting back to washing her hair and forgetting all about elementary physics. Of the connections that might be successfully made, the cryptic coding of the dreams themselves would defeat the purpose. Still, what if that connection were made in one vital case, and a message made it through?

What if it did?


There were dreams and then there were Dreams. The man had been having the latter sort for most of his life and he was sick of them. They danced around in his head, lingered menacingly and never meant anything. Flaming figures danced in the arms of icy partners and giant pillows roamed the land seeking mountains to bed down on. People spoke to him of total nonsense and animals recited poetry of the finest meter. It was perplexing and often nearly drove him insane. He was reasonably sure that he wasn't mad, despite being a teacher.

Yes, sometimes he thought that he was insane after all. The thought was a consolation on cold stormy nights when sleep was something approached with trepidation. Tonight, however, he knew that he would have to sleep or face problems the next day. The bottle of dream-preventing sleeping pills sat on the small corner shelf of his bedroom, as it always did, and he didn't take one, as he always hadn't. There were some things worse than insomnia, and drugs were not things he trusted, especially ones with warnings in big letters at the bottom of information sheets.

The man brushed his teeth, splashed his face, donned his pyjamas and dropped onto the mattress on the floor. The lamp turned off and darkness prevailed. Sleep followed swiftly, as it tended to, and then after a few moments there were Dreams.

A woman with short blonde hair was looking at him. An owl wearing a tiny blue fez stood on her shoulder. She was speaking but he couldn't hear anything, and a wall of fire was sweeping in from the right of his vision. Now the owl was trying to speak to him too, and it occurred to him that this dream wasn't anywhere near as weird as his usual nightmares. He looked down involuntarily and saw he was standing on nothing but an intangible path of light. The woman was on the path too, a few steps away, but he couldn't get any closer no matter how he tried.

Giants stalked by in the darkness to the left, beyond the effect of the Light Road, carrying kippers instead of swords and swinging legs in uncoordinated fashions. Stars twinkled underfoot. The blonde woman was stamping her foot on the Road. Finally she pulled a piece of paper out of a previously absent bag and scribbled on it with a pen she took behind her ear. The Light Road dissipated suddenly and the man fell into a hideous and evil darkness, and then his regular Dreams began. Despite what was about to happen, the man relaxed at the relative normality as the elephants thundered across a plain and then turned into planets made of cheese, pulling the stars with trunks made into rings.

The man slept on, twitching and shuddering occasionally. His name was Stanley.


From the notes of Professor Edouard Goosing.

"Dreams are an important part of our lives. We all dream, whether we remember them of not. It's a mechanism for releasing our inner stresses and dealing with things we're not even aware of. We can learn from our dreams and our dreams can learn from us, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The Dreamline is a simple concept. Certain sensitive people seem to be able to tap into a medium, and receive abstract impressions and idea from other people on the Line. We have yet to discover how exactly it works, but the number of examples of such sensitives has been waning for more than fifty years. One theory was that the genes causing the sensitivity had been slowly mutated out of the species, but could such a rapid change be credible?

Finally, as we worried about the last known sensitive in the West passing on, someone invented a new theory on the slow reduction in sensitives in the population. The hypothesis was this: they remained as abundant as ever, diet and pollution not withstanding, and that the problem was a lack of anything to receive from up the Line. The Liners had nothing to receive from one direction, and it was upsetting the whole system. Without those impressions from the future, how could they know predict or be inspired about anything yet to come? How would they know they had the capacity? There was an interruption in the chain of Dreamers, an Event Horizon that nothing could apparently cross.

The last known Dreamliner in our country, a woman called Dorena Spratt, hadn't received dream conundrums from anywhen but the past or present for more than five years, although she was maintaining a bizarre string of barely intelligible exchanges with someone, apparently in Japan, who kept trying to convey something about a loaf of bread and the President of the World Bank. Dorena really had no idea what it was all about. That was true until the penultimate day of her life, when she had a picture from someone new, someone who dreamed about new gadgets and bizarrely colourful clothes. Long having given up on the Dreamline she was jubilant and passed on contentedly the next evening.

Dorena's new dream changed everything. The Event Horizon was finite. There were new dreamers out there in the future. But what was going to happen to almost break the chain? And for those people in the future, what had happened already?"


Stanley awoke and stared blankly up at the ceiling for a little while in his darkened room. The curtains were bright with restrained light, and in an instant of strained reflection Stanley lurched out of bed and made for the bathroom.

Shaving and washing when you're running late for work is an activity which can only lead to trouble. After a couple of cuts and a bruise from hitting his knee on the shower door, Stanley barrelled out of the bathroom, dressed in a frenzy and almost slid out of the front door and into the outside world. Fortunately, Stanley had long believed in the idea that commuting was ludicrous and so lived almost next door to his place of work, the Deuteronomy Comprehensive School, and was in walking distance of the supermarket. It was his own little slice of heaven.

Walking hurriedly up the main entrance road into the school, Stanley futilely waved off the offended looking headmaster, Mr Deakins, and scurried up to his class room and his first lesson of the day. He was five minutes late, and Deakins was still pursuing, so the somewhat confused teacher pulled himself together with a sheer force of will and entered the classroom without a moment to gather his thoughts.

One lesson later, and with much buffeted confidence, our unwitting protagonist entered the canteen and snagged a portable lunch before proceeding with all due deliberation and courage to the staff room where the inevitable grilling would occur. If he were lucky he'd be taken away by Dopey Deakins for an interrogation and if he wasn't lucky then his head of department Diane would get to him first. For a moment he considered what his excuse would be for being late and missing registering his group, the dream shuddered into his mind for a moment before he shuffled it off for later reflection. There would be time for his crazy visions a bit later. At least they weren't getting worse, only weirder.

The staff room was quiet this early in the lunch period, the other teachers indulging in the cooked meals of terror, so Stanley dropped onto a couch and munched thoughtfully as the sunshine gleamed temptingly through the window. Divertingly beautiful sunshine always seemed to be the worst part of Mondays, reminding him of less tedious things than forms and marking homework. The sunshine outside was vanishingly close but impossibly distant, on the other side of thick walls and windows.

Deakins came in and Stanley repressed a small sigh of relief. The headmaster was a decent sort, and Stanley had a decent record of being a good and reliable teacher in his favour. Then Diane also made her entrance, and he settled in for a long and uncomfortable sit.

Several hours later, Stanley finished for the day and left the school. It was but a short walk to his home and, more importantly, the refrigerator. The bareness of it was not reassuring, though, and so he pushed a pile of marking into a bag and headed off for a cafe and the supermarket, in some order. It felt like the kind of day that would never get back to an acceptable pattern, that would fight him until the last, so why not go our for dinner? The marking could wait a little longer.

Later, after hacking through the marking in the park, he was about to fall asleep once again when realised that his waitress at the cafe had had short blonde hair and been hauntingly familiar. His dream of the preceding night came back to mind, and then he fell asleep and began to Dream.


This time he was flying high, far too high, above a desert that was shimmering under the heat of the relentless sun in the pale blue sky. The dunes were barely perceptible from this height, merely smudges on the otherwise featureless expanse stretching from horizon to horizon. His speed was incredible as he knifed through the air, and if it weren't for the inevitable physics of the dreamland, he felt he would have fainted due to a lack of breathing mere moments into the experience.

It was calm up there, in the great expanse, and for a while he forgot about all things normal and enjoyed the experience. Where he was going, he knew not, nor from where he had flown. A few minutes or a few days later, the man's speed lessened and then stopped high above what seemed to be a massively blank mound of sand projecting from the arid plains. Then the world convulsed.

The shaking went on for ages, and the sky itself seemed to shudder. The sun vanished and the moon rose, and the moon vanished in turn to be replaced by three new moons and a ring of cosmic debris emitting a ghostly light. The convulsions settled and in startlement the flier saw a face in the hill of sand beneath him. Defiantly feminine nose, eyes and mouth could be seen in the dunes and valleys beneath and the suggestions of ears and a noble brow and chin.

Those eyes opened and for a moment looked about wildly before seeing the man. Disconcertingly, the blue of the pupils had no tinge of sandiness and a sense of serenity settled into them as she gazed upwards and he down. The mouth opened, but only a mighty wind emerged, and then a horrid void pulling the man down in a great wave of suction. All power of flight faded and he plummeted down, down, down into the abyss that was the sandy mouth until finally he vanished from all Earthly sight and was gone.

The great sandy face wept sandy tears and seemed to shiver and quake in its own feeble structure, looking for a way out back to reality. A way to tell what she was trying to tell. The blue eyes of sand blinked, faded to yellow, and then the whole façade crumpled back into the desert, as if it had never been there. The sandy desert continued, an archetype buried in the great common unconscious of the people dead, born and waiting.

The dream time ebbed away, and somewhere out in the wide world of our space and time, two people awoke, both confused and both with a nagging sense of things gone badly awry. If only Stanley had had time and thought in their own private shared desert to look up, and gaze upon a now sculpted debris ring, he would have seen something extraordinary: "Help me".


Helen had not dreamed like that before. That surrealness, the sense of being huge and part of the desert itself, had frightened her beyond words. Up above her, a figure had been floating, transfixed and staring. That figure had seemed real, a fixed point in the shifting narrative which had jostled her from the welcome and regular repose of sleep.

The figure had seemed real.

Time passed, work began, and everyday life reasserted itself as the lunch rush began and the tide of customers into the Blue Monkey escalated into a torrent. It was only much later, when the torrent returned to a more stately ebb and flow, that the dream popped into her mind again. All her life she had never really remembered her dreams at all, and now... this?

The afternoon wore on, the regulars came and went, and then the teachers arrived at the end of the school day. In they came, bedraggled, tired, and sometimes triumphant, but mostly exhausted by their travails. They carried satchels dulls of papers and ate fairly quietly, moving slowly up the energy scale back to normality.

One of the teachers approached her, looking a bit more dishevelled and sleep-deprived than the others. He looked at her, and then boggled, which amused Helen in its incongruity. No-one ever boggled at her, even on the most favourable days. Then, however, the world stopped and for just a moment the man seemed so real as to eclipse everything else in the restaurant. She fainted, just as the man in front of her seemed to waver and open his mouth to speak.


Stanley sat nervously in the small back room, as a nurse called Jeremy wiped the blood away from the wound that the waitress had incurred while collapsing in the café proper. He had no idea how he had managed to get into the back room, but dimly he was aware of having offered to help the nurse move her away from the customers. Then he had sat down and had begun to stare at the corner of the room. Jeremy had assumed and moved on.

As the blood was cleaned away from the pretty eyes and the handsome mouth, Stanley came back down to the terrestrial world with a start, abandoning thoughts of sand, ink and cheese sandwiches.

"You know the lady?" Enquired Jeremy the all-caring.

"No and yes. Yes and no. Just before she fainted we saw each other and something... happened."

Jeremy squinted and continued. "She took a bad bump. You don't look so good either."

Helen's eyes fluttered as she came back to the world of the conscious. The nurse man held her for a moment so she wouldn't get up until she was safe and then gently checked her eyes and pulse. Stanley went back to staring at the corner.

"What's that man doing here?" Asked the waitress, who could only see part of Stanley's profile from where she was. He glanced at her and her eyes widened. He still seemed so real compared to everything else. A big block of solidity in a watercolour world.

"He helped me bring you in here. Then he hung around, looking faint. I guess he didn't think you should be left alone with me." Jeremy winked.

"I... Ow!"

"Yes, I wouldn't talk very loud as you took a bit of a blow to the head. I want you to be careful for the rest of the day and if anything unusual at all happens please go get help." Jeremy collected himself up. "I would go see a doctor anyway just in case they want to give you stitches. They like to give people the Bride of Frankenstein look and, seriously, concussions are the stuff of nightmares. Go."

"Ha. Okay, I'll listen to you, whoever you are. I'll go home too, just to be safe. After talking to this man. Outside." Jeremy and Stanley helped her up and then backed off as she scowled at them. They went outside, Jeremy made his farewells and then Helen and Stanley sat at the counter for a while.

Stanley broke finally. "I don't know what to say. Do you?"

"Not a clue."

"We may be thinking completely different things. Missing the point completely."

"You could be an obsessive waitress murderer, and I could be wondering why you look exactly like my Uncle Ernie." Helen was still a little dazed.

"You have an Uncle Ernie?"

"I did, but he vanished one day while hunting teachers in the woods. You want to hear my idea?"

"Yes, I'm all ears."

"Unfortunately that's true, yes. Write down what you think is going on, in as much detail as you can. I'll do the same. If the accounts match then at least we'll be mutually insane."

"We compare notes tomorrow?"

"Yes, tomorrow. I think I need to go sleep some more. It's been a disturbed week."

"Yes. Yes, it has. My name's Stanley. Simonson."

"Helen Ostrander. I'm sorry, I have to go and make an excuse for the boss before I leave. Five o'clock here tomorrow evening?"

"Yes. I have to go too. Tomorrow, Miss Ostrander. Helen."

"This is weird. Very weird. Bye." Helen bustled her way - with an exaggerated dizzy sway - into the kitchen and Stanley wandered out. Nothing to do but write and wait until the next day. What kind of day would it be? What kind of day had it been?


Weirdness has an endearing habit of becoming normal with repetition. So many things that used to be darkly unusual are now normal, including vegetarian sausages and the digital watches, and so many that used to be normal are now quite bizarre. Weirdness is often interchangeable with unfamiliarity. Those thoughts wouldn't occur to Stanley for another few days, and then long after his world had changed irrevocably.

After departing the Blue Monkey, the teacher spent his evening marking and then transferring everything he could remember about the dreams and his experiences to paper. The light path, the owl in the blue fez, the great sand face in the desert, and finally that incredible feeling of familiarity and connectedness in the café that day. With some reluctance, he also mentioned the infuriating dreams of his past and how desperate it had at times become.

Two streets away, Helen had scribbled down what little she remembered about her dreams. She had also written about some rumours she had heard while studying at college. The rest of the evening was spent distractedly at Spanish class, which fact will not concern our narrative any further, to spare you from the translation of various shaggy dog tales.

Dusk fell early in what was, after all, only barely late Spring, and Stanley worriedly took a walk around his home, then the park, and then once around the block. It had been years since he had been so scared of going to sleep. Finally, in a state of near exhaustion from worry, he nervously brushed his teeth and washed before retiring to his rather unruly bedchamber. For all the wrong reasons, he couldn't rid his mind of Helen Ostrander.

Two desperate hours later he got up, made a cup of cocoa and then returned to bed. Several sips of the warm brown goop sufficed and he subsided into sleep, mirroring what Helen had been doing for hours already. He slept, as she slept, and then they dreamed.

Within the dream, Helen had been floating on a raft in the middle of a deep blue ocean, watching the dolphins and building model houses out of giant dominoes. To windward a second raft approached rapidly, in a most unrealistic manner. She paid it only marginal attention being more interested in laying the large double six as a garage roof and working out how to make a ha-ha.

Stanley held on to the raft grimly as the squids propelled it along, endlessly pumping away in tireless fashion. Finally the rafts collided and merged ridiculously, and the cephalopods vanished underwater. He examined the house Helen was distractedly building and wondered why she hadn't properly buttressed the arched ceiling. Then he got down to work and piled into the architecture. If only they had had a mass of kapla and a steadier raft they could have worked wonders!

The raft approached a darkened island. Upon the island there was a shack. Within the shack a light burned erratically. Stanley and Helen looked confusedly at one another and then up at the shack. Behind them was a clear dividing line between night and day, firmly defying the sun high up in the sky. At their feet, a scale pagoda made out of dominoes lay, and on the topmost level, a message was crawling out in pebbles: "Help me."

A figure emerged from the shack.


Long ago, in the ancient world, divination by visions and dreams was a known quantity. In those times the oneiromancers were hailed as prophets and oracles, who prudently used their shreds of dreams of future and past events to ensure their own survival and prosperity. Together they formed a fragile and widespread network of dreamers, spread over the whole world but which was barely aware of its own existence.

The chatter of the dreamline, never resolving to anything better than fragments of events and dreams mixed up in the yoghurt of human experience, left many if not most of the dreamliners in ignorance or denial of their gifts. This status quo continued for thousands of years, memories and legends passing up and down the line like fanciful harbingers of what would be Jung's notion of the collective unconscious. If even one person could have truly interpreted something meaningful then futuristic wizardry could have advanced the world beyond all measure, but of course it was too early and people didn't understand.

With respect to our narrative, silly as it may be, there are three telling points about the history of the dreamline: Never did people appear in others dreams directly, never had two dreamers consistently lived in such close proximity as Helen Ostrander and Stanley Simonson, and finally never had there been so many missing links in the time sequence as there were now.


In their shared dream, Helen and Stanley stood on the raft, now beached on the darkened island in the middle of the sunny blue ocean and watched as the shadowy figure emerged from the shack. It waved, and started to pick its way down to the beach. The domino pagoda lay forgotten at their feet, its message ignored. The pebbles on its top rearranged into a warning, but they never saw it.

The figure shambled, as apparently all good shadowy things must, and puffed a little as it touched down on the beach. Now, they could see it was the figure of a woman. She pulled herself together, looked around and then down at what she was wearing. “Decent this time, thank goodness. No more tweeds. Hi there, folks. Still in decent sleep mode, eh?” Their rapt expressions attested to their abstraction. “You sleepers are so dull. I had almost missed you dummies. Welcome to the prison.” She giggled at the notion.

"Yes, it's a prison. I've been here forever, trapped, lost and isolated from the rest of the dreamline. And it was my own fault, you see." There was more giggling, this time a little maniacal. "Now you're stuck here too, just because I will it."

Helen's nerves were jangling, but somehow she remained in the dream world. Her mind moved toward fuller consciousness, and her eyes goggled at the abstractions around her. "We can't be awake here. It's impossible." Beside her, Stanley was still in a mostly dreamy state of mind.

"Oh, it certainly is possible. I would know. This has been my prison for forever and a day, long past or long before the death of my body far, far away. There is no escape. I have imprisoned and deleted more visitors to this place than you can ever know, just for fun!"

"You're a madwoman, or a monster."

"I am neither!"

"You've killed almost everyone else who can do what we do."

"Well, that much is true. I just admitted it, didn't I?"

"Your will power is keeping us here..." Helen was thinking out loud by this point. Stanley was beginning to become agitated by her side as their reality penetrated further into his awakening mind.

"Yes! Oh, is your boyfriend finally waking up? How lovely. He looks nice, if a bit plain."

"I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for next time if you want to find out how nice he is. And he's not my boyfriend." A sudden action followed.

"What are you --" The tweedy lady spun and hit the floor. Helen nursed her astral hand for a moment, and then she pushed Stanley back onto the raft and started shoving off from the beach, kicking frantically to move it away from the shore and into the light.

Stanley looked bemused for a some time, but his eyes cleared, and then he joined in with the kicking. Once they hit the broad sunlight away from the island, he managed to ask the inevitable question. "What on Earth is going on?! And what happened to your hand? And did you see the shells on the--"

Unfortunately, that was when they woke up in the real world.


Helen lay in bed shivering, while a few streets away Stanley lay in bed wondering. There weren't many other things to do at two o'clock in the morning if you couldn't get back to sleep, or didn't want to. They both desperately wanted to talk to one another, and couldn't, not until their rendezvous later that day. It was all just too strange.

Finally, Stanley sat up in bed and wrote down everything he remembered on the pad he had prepared for the planned report the following day. Toward the end he remembered the message of the shells, and paused. Was something else going on beyond even what they had thought?

While Stanley wondered, Helen acted. After detailing her experiences, she puttered over to the computer and went looking for what the Internet had to contribute on the topic. It was like opening a Pandora's Box of unsuspected silliness and drama, and all the more confusing a box as it was uncertain which of the stories were about real shared experiences instead of regular dreams. Hovering behind it all was the possibly connected spectre of Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious. Connected? Not connected? A load of old nonsense? She really had no idea, and decided to put Jung aside as a connection.

The hours passed, and dawn approached. As is always the case, our two protagonists succumbed to light dreamless sleep about an hour before their alarms and then tumbled about their rooms rapidly, trying to make everything happen at once so that they could make it to work on time. Stanley's thoughts jumbled around enemies, breakfasts and mysterious strangers until he finally settled in to teaching, while Helen's mind tumbled around the strange processes sucking her into odd worlds of dreamlike simplicity and danger. Between her shifts at the café, she made some phone calls, which we will return to later.

Eventually, after some truly embarrassing moments due to sleep deprivation, the two former strangers met once again. Both were early at the Blue Monkey, both were crammed with nerves, and both were full of theories. They sat at the counter and didn't look at each other, much like two people both trying to not be the first to go for the food. Helen finally broke the silence.

"You know, I think we are in the middle of something very, very, strange."

Stanley nodded. They truly were.


Stanley read Helen's notes, even as she read his, and then they both reflected for a few moments, against the backdrop of an inevitable dead panic. Finally he roused himself to ask something, "What do you think all these rumours add up to?"

"What rumours?"

"All these tall tales you've written about, the strange things they talked about at college. What do you think it all means?" Stanley found a place he'd been looking for on the paper. "Project Dreamline?"

Helen hesitated, and then plunged into the explanation she had put together back in the bold old days, back when truth was stuck together with tape, assembled from the few facts available and gossiped about mercilessly. "None of us ever really knew for sure. We were just psychology students. But these tales that went around never went away. Tales of strange dream studies and experiments, often supposedly in Mexico, but with too many strange details to be easily ignored." Some moments passed as she thought back. "It hardly seems connected."

"It's all we have. On the island, in the other world, you seemed very sure of yourself. How were you awake enough to piece it all together? About that woman removing other people who can do what we do?" Stanley was persistent, amongst many other things.

"I didn't know anything, it all just clicked together in my head. That person, human or not, has somehow blocked that place up. She's a predator, preying on intruders into that realm." Moments passed. "Maybe I'm remembering something I didn't think I knew."

"It could all happen again tonight. And the night after. Every night until she traps us." Stanley grimaced. "And then what will happen to what's left of us out here?"

"Yes, what's left... I think I remember why people started talking about this to begin with, back at college." Helen stood up. "Come with me, this café's getting very full."

Stanley went with her as they walked up and down the street, thinking and idly conferring. Stanley gestured at his house. "I live there. It's pretty messy."

"I'm three or four streets over in that direction." Helen waved in turn. "What are we going to do?"

"Keep walking? Become wandering cheese vendors across the wilds of Europe? Write a book about it all? Develop dazzling abilities, hitherto only seen in movies and television shows?"

"All of those, bar the cheese vending. Can't stand the stuff!"

Stanley was mock aghast. "I'm walking with a cheese hater! Oh good grief, is that some kind of karmic punishment? Oh, if only humour were appropriate..." He trailed off. "Want to hear something?"

"What is it?"

"Dreams are necessary, and I've struggled with my problem dreams forever and a day. We need them to stay sane. I haven't tried two things: medication and hypnosis. The medication is horribly dangerous, but the hypnosis? It might help."

"Why haven't you tried it before?" Helen asked curiously.

"On a teacher's salary, you choose what you do carefully, plus I've always been just a little squeamish of being out of control."

"Any help could save our lives." Helen was open-minded when it came to crackpot ideas.

"Yes. Any help could save our lives. Or just save our minds."


The inevitability of their problem was getting to Stanley. There was no escaping dreams, especially when they were lucid and antagonistic. They would get the two of them in the end. His car trundled toward the town centre as his mood descended into the basement of his mind. What would be the menace next time? A tweedy woman or a giant fluffy dice crushing them as they tried to escape its devastating course around the Temple of the Blatant Mango. All the hope was bleeding out of him in a most disgraceful fashion.

Beside Stanley, his new acquaintance Helen (not of Troy, nor of Tadcaster, sadly) was thinking about hypnosis. She had a feeling that this would be a visit of great significance. Pulling down the shade, to block out a very awkward sunset, she looked to the left out of the passenger window, at the passing landscape of Wigglesworth.

Hang on, though, there was something wrong with all of this, but what was it? What was wrong with Wigglesworth? Wigglesworth? With a rush, it all came crashing in on her! "Stanley! Simonson! There's no such place as Wigglesworth!"

The car veered all over the road, drunkenly. "What on Earth do you mean, there's no place called Wigglesworth?!" No, it was not the car that was veering, but the road itself.

"We're asleep!" The tweedy woman was standing in the middle of the street as they raced down it, smiling coolly. "Dodge that fruitcake!"

"Urgh." The car missed the evil nemesis by a small margin, and then a real fruitcake by a more marginal squeak, and they continued down the street. "We might have been better off mowing that monster down. When on Earth did we fall asleep?!" Stanley was confused as never before, except possibly as he had been at the last staff meeting, but that had involved a goat, the field hockey team, a bizarre reference to the Monkees, and the headmaster's parrot. Everyone had been confused that time. Except the headmaster. Why was his mind drifting so?

He kept on driving, past the town centre, onwards toward Egberttown, the petrol gauge never dropping even a millimetre. "Do you think we can get away if there's enough distance between us?"

"How would I know?!"

On the road ahead of them a shining light was swinging, as if suspended by some incredible and unsuspected string. Stanley stopped the car. Soothing music began to serenade them from the roadside, and they awoke...


The hypnotherapist's treatment room was warmly decorated, and smelt nice, like a warm loaf of bread straight from the oven. Simonson and Ostrander slowly came back to themselves and examine their surrounding anew. "Ah, you're back with us, I see." Dr Kibbel looked at them gravely. That was quite the most bizarre interlude in my professional experience. You answered identically, down to the most bizarre details, upon being prompted about the details of your surroundings in the trance state. Astounding."

"Trance state... we shared a trance!" Helen blurted.

"Yes, and so did she, the tweedy woman, and I don't like it." Stanley's post-hypnotic calm began to dissipate.

Dr Kibbel listened, mused, and then leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he rested his head in his hands. "I think there's something you really need to know." He levered himself up again, retrieved a sheath of papers from a drawer and handed it to them. Stanley looked at them, and then passed them over to Helen. Kibbel continued: "You see, it is astounding, but not at all unprecedented..."

Kibbel watched as Helen read through the papers, which were in fact articles, with his hands steepled in front of him and his thoughts concealed for now. Stanley lay half-exhausted in one of the easy chairs, watching Kibbel and Helen alternately from beneath half-lowered eyelids. Nothing about being a geography teacher had prepared him for this.

Helen was reading deeply, rubbing her tired eyes from time to time, skimming through the abstracts of academic articles, cuttings from various newspapers, and what looked like signed accounts of tales various and unknown to him. Stanley could swear he had seen one page that looked like a picture of a cute brown donkey pass through her hands as she parsed through. He was willing to bet waitressing hadn't prepared Helen for any of this either.

"Dr Kibbel," Stanley began, "you might try to explain to me what's going on as my friend reads."

"Yes, I might." Dr Kibbel said blankly.

"That's not hugely helpful."

Kibbel shook his head, as if coming out of a trance, as if he had been in caught in some meditative air. "You're right, you're right, it's not helpful. I had allowed myself to become ensnared in past events. You must both have been through most harrowing events. I still can't believe it's happening. Before I begin I should tell you that I can help you both with your dreams to some extent, but that your only sure recourse for safety is the drastic one of dealing with 'The Tweedy Woman'."

The doctor settled down onto the only spare seat, a stool, and began to tell a story as if they were all out camping in Yosemite instead of in a hypnotist's small rooms in quaint old Britain. "A long time ago, my mother was part of a project called Alpha Dreamline. It wasn't 'hush hush' so much as 'dull dull'. They didn't talk about it to anyone, to avoid being thought of as completely crackers. The theory was that certain people could tap into a communication channel that ran through the collective unconscious. It was one of Jung's pet ideas that he kept under his hat and ran through various friends and students. Mum was a great believer, but as time went on it became clear that the dreamline had a singularity, an event horizon, a blockage in the line. You get the idea."

Helen was by now listening as well. "Yes, we've met the blockage in question."

"And you've named her, we'll assume it's definitely a her for now, 'The Tweedy Lady'." An ironic grin touched his lips for a moment, before an incoming iciness. "She has a lot to answer for. For decades now Alpha Dreamline has been dead, an artefact of another age, with no trial successes, and nothing new from past sensitives except for old chatter fading away. Tweedy Lady is exercising her block for all it's worth and the project is all but gone, as are the minds of many a person we think might have been tapped in to the channel. You two are very, very lucky to have not joined those poor souls."

Helen already knew why. "It's not so much luck as force of numbers."

"Yes, your close proximity helps you somehow. You communicate very clearly and act in unison, protecting each other." Kibbel hesitated. "I wouldn't want either of you to fall asleep without the other. It could be a dangerous mistake, but we can fix that to some extent. Our knowledge of the brain has advanced just a little since Dreamline Alpha was in full flight. At least we can ensure that you go to sleep simultaneously."

Stanley's curiosity flared uncontrollably. "They still going on, aren't they? These studies and networks? You didn't just get all this from your mother, wrapped up in ribbons?"

Shamefacedly, the hypnotherapist confessed. "Yes, they're still being maintained, while we wait for something to happen. I'm part of it and now, for better or for worse, you both are too."


Kibbel had finally persuaded his two patients into a second, safer, lighter trance, after much effort, with the words "And that's how Bonzo Bunsen invented the rotating electrical sheep drier." He had exhausted almost all of his tricks and techniques for inducing stats and resorted to the ultimate final measure of telling stories he used to tell his children at bedtime. At least Stanley and Helen wouldn't dream this time, not being so far under. They had only been a few hours away from total meltdowns without some kind of relaxation.

As they slept, he picked up the phone and dialled a number for the first time in seven years.


Helen was lost in a hazy tunnel of psychedelic colours. As she turned endlessly, head over heels, and rolled in the gusts of pinks and purples, the tunnel seemed to recede ever further into the distance. She continued to turn, and turn, and turn...


Stanley was standing in his class, at the whiteboard, with pen poised. The room was otherwise empty. Outside the window there was a clear night's sky, the stars clearly visible. He began to write, words issuing endlessly and being unwritten as soon as he looked to the next. What they were, he had no idea, nor what he taught, but he went on writing.


Dr Kibbel noted the growing restlessness of his patients with unease, even as he replaced the phone receiver on its old fashioned stand. Moving quickly, he reached for the smelling salts and cold sponge, and hoped that nothing was going drastically wrong. It was impossible that they could be dreaming, wasn't it? Was there danger? What if he had been wrong?


Stanley wrote and wrote while Helen turned and turned. Then she shrank to nothing and popped out of one existence, reappearing once more on the island beach. The gibberish on Stanley's board began to take on some meaning even as he forgot every word as it was erased. The tweedy woman walked down the hill and examined Helen, with a malicious look in her eyes. Both the dreamers began to become aware of a vile aroma sweeping over them. Just before he woke up, Stanley saw the last words on his board, even as Helen was being struck across the face.


Kibbel jumped back as the two dreamers woke and jumped off their couches in reaction to the industrial grade smelling salts. Even before Stanley had finished catching his breath, he gasped out, "Dreamline Omega!", even as Helen muttered, "That witch!"

Kibbel was astounded, and then even astonished, when the phone rang.

For every organised effort such as Dreamline Alpha, there would have to be another such as Dreamline Omega; A team designed to examine the revival of that mysterious current of communication, should they ever move past the obstacle in time hindering all their efforts. Even as Alpha was wound down to its somnolent state, researchers were selecting from their students their successors, who might in turn choose their own, hopeful of a return to activity. Positivity and optimism prevailed, even in the normally cynical world of academia.

In the interregnum, that somnolent period, Dr Kibbel and his other now redundant comrades, returned to far more normal work. While Kibbel chose to return to active practice, others moved on to different topics of research, and still others moved out into the world of real work, but they all kept a little black book of phone numbers just in case.

At the other end of Kibbel's phone call, a Professor was speaking. "Alastair, is that you? Don't you know it's rather late here? For goodness sake, did you forget I live in Thessaloniki now?!"

"Professor, we've had an Omega. Two subjects apparently working in tandem. They have, to put it mildly, met the obstruction in person." Helen could feel the frisson of excitement coming off Kibbel even as he tried to control it for their sakes.

"Don't be daft! Blasted British with their mythical senses of humour!" The Professor was indignant, obviously. He was an extremely loud blusterer, and Helen winced on Alastair Kibbel's behalf as she heard the bellowing.

"Now you listen to me, Professor Goosing, the two are here with me now. They have seen each other in their dreams, and even communicated symbolically. Not only that, but they've met the obstruction in person. I might be deactivated but I know when I've stumbled over something. Also, the man received a blackboard message from Omega." Kibbel was doing the calm and sedate aggression very well.

"It couldn't be possible, surely? We were anticipating a much longer time before any contact might be made with the other side." Goosing, quiet enough now to not be overheard, was calculating the potentials even while making his half-hearted rhetorical objections.

"It seems that the plurality of subjects has caused an exception. During the last incident, the woman was confronted by the obstruction, a 'tweedy woman', drawing attention away from the man who got the message. We almost lost her."

The professor harrumphed loudly enough that even the normally unflappable Stanley jumped. "'Lose her'? We'll lose her over my dead body! I'm buying plane tickets right now. Get someone to air out my old flat." The professor hung up precipitately.

"Well, that went better than I expected." Kibbel said to the air, and then he turned to his office guests. "You're in for it now. There's no better expert on dreams, dream communication, and generally bizarre psychic phenomena than Professor Edouard Goosing."

"And...?" Prompted Helen.

"He's also the most crusty, obstreperous, and blustery academic tyrant you could ever hope to meet."

"Oh. He'll help us though, right?"

"Yes, oh yes, he'll help you or die trying." Kibbel looked in a cupboard. "We're going to need more paracetamols though." Returning to his two patients, who were sitting rather stiffly and uncomfortably on his couches, the tone became serious. "Ultimately, however well we prepare you, you're going to have to solve this problem together. You two can go to places where no-one else can reach, apart from that Obstructer. You'll be on your own, except perhaps for Omega."


Excerpt from the diary of an evil entity.

"I've been trapped here a long time. It's possible that I've gone utterly mad. How would I know? Even when out in the world my greatest playtime was senseless destruction, and then they said that I was already insane. Ha ha. Ho ho.

I wonder I keep this diary? It's not even real. Nothing here is real. Perhaps it's a manifestation of my memory, or a lingering hunger for solidity in an ever changing other world. It was a tricky habit to develop, but now maintenance costs almost nothing. I can flick backward and see it all as I wrote it, whenever I wrote it. Is it really a delusion? Maybe I'm really locked up somewhere in a straitjacket, frothing at the mouth, angry at this punishment that should have been a reward. That incident was just to prove an academic point, after all. I don't know why such offence was taken at a few people being ruined. Academic points are most important, you know, the reasons why we progress at all. It was much more than trivial, even if the results were just a teensy bit messy. You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

Thank goodness that I have broken my inclination toward maniacal laughter. So many of these pages would be wasted.

Yes, people died, but the point was proven and the 'civilized' people locked me up in this pathetic dreamspace, little knowing what havoc might be wrought by someone quite so ruthless and diabolically inclined. Modesty? Modesty is not something I treasure, being born to greatness before having it ripped away. Not a person has left this place that entered it during my incarceration, and the details of every single extermination lie here in this diary, waiting to entertain me whenever the tedium of this place drives me to the greater depths.

It's lonely, though. The one disadvantage to gleefully eliminating every confused person who wanders into this place is that it has become ever so quiet. A quiet that stills the bones, or the memory of bones, and dulls the senses as this half-life continues in whatever environment I choose or is left to me. Maybe a sane person would leave some of them alive, just for the conversation and opportunities for entertainment they provide? Indeed, who knows, perhaps they provide far more opportunities even than that.

It has been so so long to be alone..."

End of excerpt.


Edouard Goosing, blusterer extraordinaire, and professor of the old school, settled into his old digs in record time. He was a bluff and bearded man who would apparently brook no nonsense from anyone, but who couldn't conceal his true character for very long. It was evident from his wife's attitude that a heart beat somewhere under the noise, and a great one at that.

"The obvious priority here is to keep you two alive, and to do that we are going to have make you much more self-aware when you're locked away in this dream-state." Goosing put forth his plan simply. "This is not an exact science but by practice, meditation, self-awareness training, and use of techniques to improve dream recall, we can boost your cognition while in the other world. Are there any questions?"

"If you live in Thessaloniki, why are you so pale?" Asked Stanley, in mock innocence.

"Kibbel! Why didn't you warn me I was going to be dealing with idiots?"

"You've forgotten what British people are like, Professor. Irreverence? Love of stupid remarks? Remember?" Kibbel attempted to divert the annoyance, while throwing a look at Stanley.

"Yes. Yes. I've been away too long. It was never like this in Lucerne. Or Thessaloniki."

"You've even forgotten how to eat peanut butter."

"I have not!" The Professor erupted again. "Now, you are trying to annoy me!"

Kibbel took over, addressing their two hapless onlookers. "Once again: Any questions?"

"Did you know that you look like Groucho in this light?"

There were many sighs.


Time passed.


The monkey barrelled down the hill on a bobsleigh, laughing. It was wearing tweed. Just before it collided with Stanley and Helen, the two twisted twenty degrees and vanished. The bobsled continued on, and the monkey screamed in frustration, before crashing inexplicably into a palm tree in a snow drift.

The venue shifted to a darkened and romantic restaurant. Helen was confusedly looking at the menu from a table for one, while Stanley hovered, waiting for the order. Suddenly the wine waitress appeared, brandishing a two gallon jug of milk as if were a lollipop, and wearing the wine menu like a tweed covered cap. As the jug came smashing down toward the table, Helen tipped her chair backward and Stanley twirled to face the attacker. He blinked and they were gone.

Stanley and Helen were in bed, watching television, and being bored by the antics of a Spanish soap opera on an obscure channel. The adverts rolled after the priest revealed the truth about his ancestral relationship to Cervantes, and the whole experience changed.

The scene was a supermarket, an employee was offering free cheese samples to the customers, but then she suddenly looked directly at the camera. "Good evening, amigos, how are you? Como se va?" The expression became malevolent. "Now now, you can't get away that easily!" She gloated as the two hunted around for the remote control. Suddenly, Helen's memory kicked into gear and she rolled off the bed to pull the plug. The plug that was fused into the wall?! "Isn't it delicious?" Cooed the tweedy lady. "Don't worry, I've decided to not kill you. After all, why waste the entertainment?" Stanley mouthed the word 'fuse' at the Helen and they both went for a bedside lamp. "What are you doing?" The lamps were flung into the suddenly full bath in the adjoining bathroom and suddenly all was black.

There followed regular dreams, mostly about showing up for work on the wrong day, spending a few weeks as talking jellyfish, and the old classic of being arrested for cheese smuggling in the border Marches by a Dachshund in a silly hat.


The two woke up blearily in Goosing's flat, or 'palatial apartment', finally somewhat rested after days of stress. The professor looked at them with some relief. "Code words?"

Helen's dazed expression eased a little, and then she pulled herself together to say "Rutabaga", while Stanley was still half in dreamland. She nudged him from her bunk. "Code word, dopey!"

"Muffin", the teacher said dreamily, "You look pretty when you're half asleep, messy, and getting annoyed."

"Oh, go shoe a horse!"

Goosing's relief was hidden pretty quickly as he watched the two bicker. On another day it would have been tiresome, but on this occasion... "Well, children, are we all happy some of our training paid off?" He smiled. "Now, tell me all about it..."

The report was crisply made, or as crisply made as it could be by two people still groggy from just having woken up, and written down for posterity. The Professor looked pleased.

"We have achieved some success, which is gratifying, not only because of my obvious genius but also thanks to your undoubted perseverance and powers of self-control. Let us assume for the moment that you are genuine examples of riders on the Dreamline, as Kibbel assures me, and not dilettante wackos or malicious fruitcakes. In that case, what would we do next?

A long time ago, before the winding down of Dreamline Alpha and the retirement of our research groups, we postulated many theories about why communication up and down the Line had ceased. The obvious answer was that the Line had been cut, just like telegraph poles in the old days, but how had it been cut? How? Apparently, we now have a vital clue as to what happened.

Based on the notes from your dreams to date, it is safe to assume that this 'Tweedy Woman' is either the cause of the cut in the Line, or a symptom of an unknown other cause. In either case, her intentions are malign by manifest action. Even as I speak at length in this pompous style, I see your eyes glaze over a little, just as my students used to back in Greenwich. I shall do now as I did then."

Several kiwi fruits were thrown with great precision, and then Professor Goosing settled back into his monologue, visibly assuaged.

"Ah, yes, the nature of this woman seems malign indeed. How she remains within the Dreamline is the question that must be addressed, as is how we remove this problem, and by so doing guarantee your safety and sanity in the longer term. I have no wish or desire to be stuck with a pair of mental vegetables on my conscience. I already have Kibbel for that purpose.

So far, with the help of some fairly simple conditioning and meditative techniques we have managed to give you some small control while you are in the arms of Morpheus. We have secured you recrimination free leaves of absence from your work places and full pay. What we must do now is turn the tables on this interloper on the Dreamline, and to do that you must be... educated."

"What do you think we are now? Potted salmon?" interjected Stanley.

"A charming metaphor, but please be quiet for a few moments more. Here, at the possible outset of Dreamline Omega, we must be very careful and set things out with precision and without abandon. It must all be 'just so'. In order for you to stand a chance in this unprecedented life on the unconscious plane, you must be trained for more than just a few hours, and you must know more psychology than was picked up in an undergraduate degree or as a teacher in the schoolroom. It is time to begin anew!"

Edouard Goosing was unprepared for the peach that splatted into his forehead, also with great precision.



Stanley and Helen hovered, holding hands, staring out into the broad swathes of colour that swirled all around them. Their recent experiences together had bonded them even before the eerie attractive powers of her eyes and his sheepish disposition had begun to work on each other. For the first time, and with surprisingly little training, they stood with some prolonged awareness in the Dreamline.

"If the professor is right, and who knows if he's even marginally sane before we get to 'right', this should be a medium that sees all kinds of scattered fragments of dreams, unconscious chatter, and stray information popping back and forth like flotsam on unpredictable tides. There should be things happening all around us." Helen spoke fairly calmly, even while being momentarily swamped in green swirls.

When the swirls passed they were standing on a paved purple lane that cut through the abstractions all around them, a new gravity acting to keep them on the path.

"Perhaps there are. No-one said we would be able to understand it. It's just like standing in a river, except instead of water we have all these swirls and colours. And textures. Ouch!" He waved a hand in pain. A bunch of the abstractions darted at his hand again, but he and Helen backed off down the road a little way and the swirls hovered where they were confusedly.

"That could be her", Helen observed, "in her natural state in this place." The swirls began to move toward them down the lane, colours shifting furiously.

"Or some other hostile presence. If it's not her, than what? Or who? There's not supposed to be anything here. Whether it was truthful or not, she said she had eliminated everything else. I'll try something." Stanley closed his eyes for a moment, the dream version of his eyes, and a shimmering translucent protective dome appeared over them briefly before winking back out of existence.

Helen screamed as the swirls began plucking at her hair. If it weren't for the danger, it would have looked like a particularly funny static shock. Stanley pulled her further down the lane, the swirls never overtaking them, but neither falling far behind. Stanley's mind jumped to a nasty suspicion as something began to loom out of the colours. Gravity and a path, a purple path at that, and a persistent but not merciless predator. "We're being herded." He concluded aloud.

"What?" Helen gasped.

The structure was becoming clearer now, a solid silver prison, complete with platinum bars. She stopped. Stanley stumbled to a halt too, and then looked at her boldly."It's either the cell or we try sky diving. What do you think?"

She squeezed his hand as the storm of colours approached. "If we weren't already asleep this would be terrifying. One..."

"You're not wrong. Two..."

"You shouldn't hunch so much. Three..."

"It's part of the teacher training. Jump!"

Stanley Simonson and Helen Ostrander jumped off the purple lane, and plummeted, while the swirls contracted into an angry ball increasingly high above them and seethed.


The fall across the Dreamline was timeless. The patterns became hypnotic after a while, and it was only the touch of Helen's hand in his that kept Stanley from drifting off into a total reverie. Swirls and clouds, ribbons and storms. What strange phenomena might all the colours represent, if they represented anything at all? What dreams and aspirations? What memories of love?

Helen knew, as they plummeted, that it might go on forever. There might be no floor to eventually reach, just a huge empty void. 'Empty void?', she thought. Were there any voids that weren't empty? Gripping on to Stanley, she watched the alternative world all around them, and thought about her body, as far away as it was and yet regained in just a moment.


They found themselves in a shallow sea of water, stretching as far as their eyes could see. Standing upright, Stanley could breathe fairly easily, while Helen had to tilt her head back just to stop from getting a mouthful of water.

"What do you think?" Stanley asked of his companion.

"It could be anything, but if I had to guess then we're far enough away from our hostile friend that we're beginning to influence the world ourselves. This could be our own unconscious at work." Helen tried to sound confident at her own baseless speculation, while looking around. "We must be pretty boring..."

"Or it could be her work."

"Yes, it could be her work. She's starting to remind me of my Aunt Mabel. She was barmy and collected Austrian Polka records."

Stanley smiled, while trying to not take a mouthful of water. "Sounds like my uncle Edwin. He liked jazz, but he wouldn't try to kill us or trap us in that cage."

"There's something over there in the distance. Do you fancy a swim?"

The two paddled to the 'something in the distance', which turned out to be a familiar island. On the beach, scrawled in the sand, was the long ago missed message: "Help me."

Stanley and Helen looked at each other apprehensively. Was it possible that they weren't the only ones loose and hunted in the Dreamline after all?


The beach was just as they remembered it. The message they had missed, still etched into the sand, was the sole difference. In a world that was supposed to be constantly changing, the beach was an anomaly that made no sense. Stanley and Helen looked at each other. Even the Tweedy Lady was no longer on the scene, but the island remained.

"Do you feel funny?" Stanley asked suddenly.

Helen thought for a moment, considering. "Yes, a little. It's rather like swimming in bubbles, although I've never done that. How odd."

"For me, it's more of an itchy sensation. I wonder if something's going on back in the study?"

"We'll find out when and if we get back. This island is puzzling." She looked at her companion, who had now been with her for so long that she didn't care to remember life back at the Blue Monkey before him. "Want to explore, crazy teacher person?"

Stanley sighed, all hopes of happily waking up after no further incidents dispelled. "It may be a trap, and it may not. It may be a solution, and it may not. It may be nothing at all, and it might give us the secret to the Universe. I may be a coward, but a cry for help is a cry for help and we have to go look." Screwing up his courage, he made a sally into humour. "When this is all over, let's run away to Bangor."

"No deal. I've been to Bangor."

"Curses! All hopes dashed! Shall we proceed, milady?"

"Don't get fresh, mister, we still have to get out of this mess. School teachers!" Helen pointed into the tree-covered murk inland. "Coming?"

"Yes, miss."

"Now, cut that out!"


For two people in uncertain peril, the exploration of the island was conducted in an unexpectedly lighthearted manner. Perhaps it was because they were still, after all, asleep and lucidly dreaming, and perhaps it was because they were together on an island that defied exploration. As with all dreams, the expected was not to be expected, and so little snowglobes grew on palm trees and great rubber trees bounced back and forth in the breeze. At one point, Stanley almost fell into a ha-ha, whose existence would have been funny if not for the cacti scattered along the base. On the far side of the ha-ha, a tall red stone wall loomed, dangerously smooth to their eyes.

"Which way?" Enquired the intrepid Helen of the ambiguously courageous Stanley, who in recent times had had to contend with decisions far more vexing than which books to use, and how to explain why the Iberian Peninsula was a peninsula at all. "To the right. If we don't find anything in ten minutes we could head back to the beach."

"What's time in this place? Haven't you noticed that we've been through night and day three times in the last hour?"

"Really?!" Stanley looked up and saw a broad moon high overhead, and that the light that had illuminated their way was in fact of the silvery variety that heralded romantic trips across moors in bad romantic novels, which he would never admit to having been forced to read as part of a past wooing. Past wooings often have such dark secrets, tragic endings, and fruit cakes in the post each Christmas.

"You've gone all pale! Is there some dark secret you can't possibly tell?"

"What?!" Stanley looked at her in shock.

Helen chuckled. "I was only joking. Does it strike you that this is all just a bit ridiculous? We could go walking for days in here and never find a thing." She pointed at a lemon tree, which was of course not at all what you might have expected, especially with the crazy straws. "It's just an arbitrary mess!"

"No, no it's not. Nothing in here is an arbitrary mess. One of us, or the Tweedy Woman, or the person who left that message, or some combination of the above, is creating all this and if it's neither of us, then it's far from arbitrary. We're being led, and it may be impossible for us to go wrong." Then, exactly one thought later, "If I keep this up, I might have to award myself a badge for original thought."

"Postpone the badge. Up there, when we were being herded toward that monstrous cage, the same rules applied but we did go 'wrong' and jumped off instead." Helen was, to put it mildly, not convinced.

"Yes... We could evade that path now and refuse to move, I suppose, but this ha-ha seems to be an excellent hint that we're being led. If we follow the ha-ha we'll find something."

"Or someone."

"Yes, or someone. I wonder who it might be."

"We'll just have to keep going until we wake up. Come on, teacher man. What do you teach again?" Helen asked impishly.

"Geography, the last refuge of those uncertain of what to do." A pause followed. "Unless you cound teaching."

"Then it's time to do something contrary. If you can't teach, then do."

The two dreamliners walked on for a while, following the ha-ha that was to their left and occasionally marvelling at the bizarre things growing at the bottom of that cactus-strewn ditch. Finally, they came to a bridge and a gate in the wall. The gate was fastened with a crude lock, which Helen broke off with a rock, and they walked through into the interior of what could only have been an arboretum. The path led deeper, amidst all the signs strewn about identifying each specimen.

Helen led the way, feeling both that she'd pushed Stanley to the front enough and an affinity to the woodland. The trees were exotic, incredible and surprising, but the two quelled their sleeping wonders and made their way to the centre. There was but one tree here, a simple oak, to which was tied a man by strong tarred cords. Initially he slumped, face down toward the ground, but when he sensed their presence he looked up in the most exhausted way. All he said was: "About blasted time!"


The Prisoner eyed them suspiciously. He twitched his ropes, in memory of a past will to escape. "Who on Earth are you? You're not from Omega. If this is all just some new trick to torture me, then just get on with it." He stiffened in anticipation.

Helen took the lead, while Stanley examined the bindings on the captive. "We're not from Omega. In fact, if I'm understanding you correctly, we are from Omega, just the very beginning of it, or the last tage end of Alpha. This doesn't sound like me at all, does it?"

"No, it doesn't. Are you waking up and going all gooey?" Stanley asked, just as Helen popped out of the Dreamline. "Blast."

"I don't suppose you would care to untie me before you pop out of existence too, would you?" asked the prisoner, in a well-cultivated manner. "That monster is due to come round soon for her latest round of torture and abuse, and who knows when you might pop out."

"That's the tricky question, isn't it? How do I know that untying you won't make everything even harder on us? Are you some ally of the monster, or a friend from the future? You're not even supposed to be lucid in the Dreamline. Helen and I can only do it because we're in close proximity, or so the Professor says. I personally think he's full of hooey."

"You're cutting my ropes anyway, though." Observed the captive, or former captive.

"Yes, because I'm an idiot, and want to do something before I pop back up to the world of the waking. Tell me something to pass on to the Professor. Why are you so coherent?"

"I'm coherent for the same reason you are. I have a partner. Had a partner." He winced as one of his arms swung free. "Sadly she wasn't stable."

"The Tweedy Woman." Guessed Stanley.

"Yes. Madeleine. The Grand Blockage. The Tweedy Woman. I was sent here with her to keep her locked up, a perpetual jailer."

"I'm guessing, from the reversal in the captive stakes, that she turned the tables."

"Yes, and then ran amok here, after running amok in the real world. So many people gone. So much devastation. Now, we're going to have to take her down." The captive stretched for the first time in what might have been a few hours or hundreds of years. "However, for now, it's time you took a trip. Come back when you're good and tired." He grinned somewhat crazily, and waved as Stanley vanished. "Good. This is going to be a long one, and I want to carry the can without those guys for a while."

Up in the sleeping room, Stanley sat up, and then began shaking like a leaf in a stiff breeze. Then he cried.


The Professor stared at the crying Stanley Simonson, and then awkwardly began patting him on the shoulder. "Well, lad, what's this all about then?" The man continued to shudder. "Now, now."

Stanley, so long stoic, wept for a long time and then came up dry. The professor looked at him concernedly, and Stanley began to throw out words from the cautious recovery that follows every intense bout of tears.

"For so long, for years, I had strange dreams. I tried to stop sleeping. People thought I was going mad. Then I began to be haunted by my own fears, but I made it through. I thought I was mad, or differently crazy, but now I know I'm not crazy. There really are strange things happening, and that Tweedy Woman has been haunting me for an awfully long time. I'm not crazy. Am I?" He asked the professor.

"Well, lad, we're all crazy in our own ways you know." The professor looked abashed for a moment. "I could tell you things about dear old Kibbel that would astound you, but perhaps another occasion would be better for that. Do you feel recovered? Let me get you a glass of water." Goosing stumbled over to the other side of the room, poured a bottle of water into a pint glass, and returned with rather more care and rather less shambling to the bedside. (This was one professor who liked his academic shamble.)

"Yes, I think I feel better. It's been a long time since I had such a release. I've been like a sleepwalker for the last few years, just playing it safe and getting through life in one piece." Stanley looked around, for the first time since waking. "Where is she?"

"Your lady companion has gone off to wash and freshen up. I'll not tell her what us boys have been up to, I think. What happened after she left you Over There?"

"I untied the prisoner. What consequences will follow, I couldn't tell you." Stanley outlined the details of the small interview he had had with the prisoner in the collective unconscious.

Professor Edouard Goosing was keeping an astute eye on his charge, but still mused on what he heard. "You do realise that if you and Helen return there you could be in the middle of a conflict?"

"We'll certainly be in the middle of something." The teacher looked at the researcher with some determination showing for the first time. "I'll tell you one thing, professor: Whatever we do end up in, that fellow is going to need help with the fiend who imprisoned him the first time. He's going to need us."

"That, my lad, is the reason why we're going to make some preparations. You and Miss Ostrander, while undoubtedly being quite busy, aren't the only ones to have been occupying yourselves. Kibbel and I have a plan to level the playing field, so to speak. You may even enjoy it." The professor smiled thinly. "Your opponent will be surprised, if nothing else. Then, when there's time afterward, I'll help you understand what's been happening with your life."

"Yes. After."


The setting was a marvellously plush country house hotel. Pictures of unknown authors from other times and places hung upon the corridor walls as fragments of memories left haunting the Dreamline. A harassed bellboy could be seen rushing in and out of the stairwell with luggage, despite a guest never appearing, and no other staff being visible from the reception area.

Minutes or hours passed, and the bellboy finally staggered behind the desk and collapsed to a crouch.

The bell on the desk rang. A gentleman stood before the desk, politely averting his gaze from the wretchedly tired bellboy. After a few moments, he coughed and asked the wall (a wall is always a good listener),  "Excuse me, can I please book in?"

"Of course," answered the wall, smiling loopily. "Would you like a single room, sir?"

"No, a double. My lady friend will be arriving within the hour. In fact, a suite would be better, if you have one available?"

"Of course," repeated the wall, whose conversational scope was a little on the limited side. "Name please, sir?"

"Simonson." The gentleman paused dramatically for a moment. "Stanley Simonson."


The lady dropped on to the roof and let her parachute fall around her. Quickly, she gathered up the silk and packed it into her bag expertly, before stripping out of her jumping suit to reveal elegant evening dress and descending into the building via a handy roof door, which may or may not have existed exactly there a few moments before.

At the bottom of some steep steps, the lady emerged into a regular staircase, and descended all the way to the ground floor, and the foyer. The recovered bellboy had long since run away after working three shifts in a row, and now a mature woman was waiting behind the desk. She looked at the lady sternly as she made eye contact. "Yes? How can I help you?"

"You could offer me a chocolate? Or tell me which suite my gentleman partner checked us into? His name is Simonson, and mine is Helen Ostrander."

The receptionist grumpily examined the register and proffered a pen for the obligatory and non-negotiable signature. A moment later, the lady was heading up to the Macnee Suite with all despatch, or at least as much despatch as suitable under the watchful eye of the steely receptionist.

At the suite door, she stopped to make a specific sequence of knocks. Rap! Rap! Pause. Rap! Then, five seconds later, the door opened, and she entered with some trepidation. The suite seemed empty.



Helen twirled and scowled at her partner in crime. "You crook! You scared me almost to waking up!"

Stanley had the grace to look abashed. "That would have been a problem, yes. Nice dress. You made that up out of your imagination?"

"Stop leering. We have something more important to do."

"You have the package?"

"Yes, I have the package."

"Then, let's go down to the casino." Stanley offered his arm to Helen, slung a jacket over his shoulder, and the two of them left their suite smiling."


The casino was on the lower ground floor, and overlooked a lake where some evening boating was taking place in the late summer sun. It was also manned by abstract shapes, which Helen and Stanley had some problem understanding to begin with. Finally, after a few rounds of 'Name That Fruit' roulette run by a dodecagon, a perplexing fall through a penalty trapdoor up to the basement, and then an utterly futile attempt to play a game called bluejack which seemed to depend on being able to name one hundred shades of blue between ultramarine and Egyptian instantly and precisely, they returned to the casino proper. There they found themselves loopily back at the roulette wheel, but this time Stanley pulled Helen away before they could be dragged into any more dreamlike chaos.

"I feel like I've been dragged through nine nights of utter delirium!" whispered the waitress to the teacher.

"And now it's over. Take a look at the window."

Helen looked, and beheld their nemesis, who was staring absently out at the lake. The boats had gone, they noticed, and the water was still. The duo looked at one another and then quietly went over.

"Excuse us, but would you be interested in Box 31?" Stanley asked of the Tweedy Woman. She looked up, startled.


"Me. And her. And this." A key labelled '31' dangled from his right first finger. "Your friend, the one you had locked up for all that time, he said you might be interested in this. Sadly, then he faded away to nothing." Part of this was a lie, but how would Madeleine the Tweedy Lady know?

Madeleine grabbed angrily at the key, and Stanley yanked it out of reach. There followed a tussle, which was finally resolved when Helen pulled in a zebra security guard from location unknown, who promptly inserted herself between the combatants implacably. In another corner of the casino, the Prisoner rolled a ninety four on some apples in the dice game, but of course no-one noticed.


The dream segued unconventionally onto a golf course. Helen and the Tweedy Woman were playing a round of matchplay, which had so far been marred by several putts into life-size lighthouses and ramps of little apparent purpose. Indeed, the par nine trick hole which led around a half scale Windsor Castle snow globe was won by Miss Ostrander only when Tweedy's cheating with a boomerang and five small mice was discovered. The small mice were released back into the wild, and were last seen in a jazz club pretending to be a vibraphone.

At the tenth hole, Helen squared the match, thanks to a massive dash of good luck and Stanley falling over the golf bag at the best possible moment while caddying. At the twelfth she fell back to one down with six to play and then at the unlucky thirteenth a full cast performance of 'Happy Camping, Mr Jones!' forced a delay when the chorus accidentally activated the course rain machine. The Prisoner eventually fixed it, but again no-one noticed him.

It all came down to a tumultuous deciding eighteenth hole, which the Tweedy Woman was set to win with an easy putt, except for the fact that the Orient Express chose that moment to run directly across the green, and steal her moment of glory.


On the Orient Express, Stanley was enjoying his luxurious cabin when the knock came on the door. A porter came in, looking distinctly zebra-like, and invited him to the grand reopening of the gallery car and fortune telling service. Ambling toward that august carriage, he passed by Helen, on her way to the buffet and car wash, and finally entered the gallery. It was magnificent; Every artistic treasure he had ever bothered to notice, with a few more thrown in for variety's sake. Of course, it didn't make any sense within the geography of a train car, but then neither did the the Greenwich car, which smelled oddly of thyme, or the engine, which no-one had ever seen. Moving toward the far end of the gallery, and the fortune telling compartment, he spotted the Tweedy woman, who was beginning to look confused despite her long imprisonment in the bizarre Dreamline. She was hovering just outside the door to the august seer's room so be barged her in before she could notice him, and continued on his merry way.

Inside the fortune telling compartment sat the Prisoner. He and the Woman looked at each other.

"Madeleine." He acknowledged.

"How odd to find you here, Philo. Looking for something else to fail at?" The Woman was defiant.

"No, actually, I'm planning to do something very very successfully."

The fortune telling compartment was ejected off the train directly up into the air.


The Prisoner and the Woman hung in mid air, engaged in an invisible battle which neither Helen nor Stanley could truly perceive. It was obvious that something was happening, but what?

"Do you think we should try to help?" Asked Helen.

"How? They're so much more powerful here, and experienced, that we would probably just get in his way. I suppose we could send positive mental energy, but what else?"

"That actually made some sense. It must be a Tuesday again. Positive mental energy." She took Stanley's hand, and they both did their best to help in whatever way they could, which manifested in lovely blue moon auras beaming up to the Prisoner in the sky.

"You know, whichever way this turns out, I guess this story's over." Stanley mused, while sending all the energy he could.

"What story? Have you been thinking of this as some sort of adventure?"

"Well, a romantic thriller adventure, perhaps. Or one of those stories that jumps out of any category you try to force it into." Stanley looked at her. "At least it's not a horror."

"Hush, look up there!" She pointed as the Tweedy Woman spun away wildly in an instant, and the Prisoner pursued.


"So, how long have you been a Gingerbread person?" Helen asked.

"Not long. It just came over me. You?"

"I think it's genetic. My mother said my father was a fruitcake."

"That figures. He probably gave her raisin to." Stanley punned in the quiet moment.

"A pun? You dare to pun? At a moment like this?"

"What moment? We're suddenly in a forest, have turned into gingerbread people, and there's a quaint if spooky little cottage in front of us. Nope, nothing going on here."

Indeed, a quaint little cottage did stand before them in the forest.

A loud voice came from within: "What, a witch? I haven't had to play a witch since the blasted beginning of this interminable exile!"

Stanley and Helen, gingerbread both, looked in at the door and saw their nemesis clad in the daftest of hats and pointing angrily at the furnace that inexplicably took up most of her living space. Their nemesis looked up, and stared at them indignantly. "WHO are you supposed to be? Oh, it's you two troublemakers, saving me the effort of hunting you down." She advanced menacingly upon the gingerbread teacher and the gingerbread waitress, who backed away from the door. "It's strange. You're not supposed to change yourselves. It's against the rules. Hand over the key."

"No." Stanley and Helen said together.


"Yes, why should they?" Asked the Prisoner from beside a tree. He strode forward, touched the gingerbread duo on their shoulders and returned them to humanity, and they surrounded the Woman. "You're already beaten." He took the key from Stanley, and they led the Woman back to the cottage and locked her in. Then the Prisoner sat down gently and breathed heavily for a few moments. "Thank you. It was a good set of distractions."

"Are we done, then?" Asked Stanley, keenly aware of the anti-climactic nature of it all.

"Yes. This is where we will be forever more. Myself on the outside, and her on the inside, unless I can get through to who she used to be." A twinkle of small hope kindled in the Prisoner's eyes.

"We can hope--" Began Helen, before popping out of that existence.

Stanley shrugged, knowing that he would be woken at a moment's notice. "Bye, whoever you--"


Stanley and Helen woke up in Goosing's facility and looked at each other. "Is it over?" Stanley asked.

"As over as it can be." Helen looked at him concernedly. "What do we do now?"

"Run away into the hills. I saw it in a television show once."

"That sounds nice. What about afterwards?"

"Well, I think we'd better think about that once things have settled down. I can be a right bore when not in soul-endangering strife." Stanley shuffled. "Think I might sleep for a few days. Listen to the Temptations. Mark some things."

"As long as you save me a plain chocolate biscuit, you can be as boring as you like."

They did run away into the hills, eventually, after a few nights of less eventful sleep and some fussing from Goosing and Kibbel. There was gingerbread, and there were a few more odd interludes in the Dreamline, but they will remain undocumented.

The End.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Television: 'Quantum Leap: The Boogieman' (1990) (Episode 3x05)

I don't know what was going on here, but this episode is definitely creepy and is supposedly cursed. Maybe it is tempting fate to feature a supposed Evil One in a story? Ick. What were they thinking? This is all coming from someone who's not even superstitious!

In 'The Boogieman', Sam leaps into a horror writer on Halloween, around whom really creepy things are happening and people are beginning to die. Finally, with spoilers about to pop, it is revealed that the oddly acting Al is really someone far more diabolical, who has been stopping the real Al from zeroing in on Sam's time and place. Yes, after much spookiness and a snake (yikes!) incident, it all gets really weird, before being half-retconned into a vision while Sam is unconscious after an accident. Or was it a vision? Was it really El Diablo, foreshadowing the Evil Leaper incidents in the fifth season? The jury is out, but the implications are clear.

'The Boogieman' is a middling episode, but it does happily end the terribly bad opening run to to the third season of 'Quantum Leap', which has only had rare moments of the series at its best. This episode was just too strange to be enjoyable, though, and forms yet another example of the Dean Stockwell paradox: Why is this actor, who is excellent in this series, so out of place in practically any other role as an adult actor? I take that back a little; he was pretty good in a 'Columbo' in the 1970s, in the episode on the cruise ship. Otherwise, he seems to be permanently miscast as the villain or creep on every occasion. Here, he gets to play the biggest creep at all, but ends up tilting his head and looking like a robot instead. Sigh. With a red light shining in the eyes.

Yes, this episode is supposed to be cursed, to have a higher incidence of broadcast error and video recording defects than any other episode. My 'Quantum Leap' experiences have mostly involved never watching this one, if it could be helped, so it's not clear if it's cursed or not. It certainly is an episode that sits strangely in the series as a whole, not fitting into any of the previous types or following types of show. It's just... strange. On the other hand, Valerie Mahaffey was great, one of my favourite lesser-seen actresses. She must have worked the stage a lot instead of television.

Ultimately, 'The Boogieman' is okay as a novelty or a curiosity, but doesn't quite work. Roll on, the next episode! Season three is finally about to start properly.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Pyjamas (Eight Hundred And Ninety Eight)

'Wayne's World' is a much better move than I expected. It actually seems to be well paced, which is bizarre for a comedy based on a sketch. Maybe it will fall apart in the second half? Predictably? Maybe the liking is just a symptom of the heat wave finally finishing? It has been succeeded by endlessly days of gusts and rain, and boundless goodwill. And rain. It's wonderful. We could almost pretend there is no such thing as summer! Is there summer? Is it a massive historical hoax and mass delusion? Is there air? We don't know! Oh, it's a good movie. I believe it.

It's a tough day, with the writing block well in evidence. Even now, a giant mental monkey is attempting to stop this feeble rivulet of words, but they will not prevail, for they do not have pyjamas on their side. The power of pyjamas is paramount, on every level. When do you feel most comfortable? In pyjamas. When are you most creative? In pyjamas. When does breakfast taste the best? In pyjamas. Pyjamas rule over all. It's ironic, as most of the time in pyjamas is spent unconscious, so why do we get so attached to them? When do you fold the best origami models of the Statue Of Liberty? In pyjamas? Really?

Thinking about it, the word 'pyjama' is interesting. Isn't it one of the imported words, from the Subcontinent? Let's pause for a moment, while the necessary research takes place. <muzak> Ah, interesting. Apparently 'pyjama' is from Urdu or Persian, and is related to loose fitting trousers, tightened by a waist drawstring. We, in vocabulary appropriation then adapted it to include the tops, and alternate fastenings. Of course, from our knowledge or Rip Van Winkle and Wee Willie Winkie, we know that sleeping predominantly involved nightshirts and nightgowns before the advent of the fabled pyjama. Perhaps there was a period of overlap when people wore them all at once? The Era of Maximal Sleepwear? That would have included the hats and portable mosquito netting?

Yes, an Era of Maximal Sleepwear. That can only mean that sleep deprivation is catching up, and that the writing block was defeated one more time. Let's hope that we all make it to the nine hundredth successfully.


Friday, 23 June 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part IX

( Part I , VIII , X )

What could possibly be lurking under the Wordspace, that would impress even the difficult to surprise Surprise? Dream looked upon the answer to that mystery now, and was perplexed.

"Boo." Said the ever chipper Surprise.

"What is it?"

"That, dear lady, is a mystery beyond my understanding. It seems to go on forever, stretching to the under-horizon and beyond."

"It's fantastic! It's beyond my wildest dreams! It's completely incomprehensible!" Dream was a little stunned.

"Yes. Exactly. We had Recursion working on what it might be for months now, but they're baffled and keep handing their calculations around in a circle. Finally, we had to take them off, when they began writing jokes in ever smaller boxes on the same piece of paper."

"Recursion?" Asked Dream.

"They were discovered after you vanished. We might bump into them later, several times. Try to not laugh at the hats."

"This could well be confused with complete gibberish, you know."

"Sometimes a spot of gibberish is necessary. Especially in times like these. Up above us, an Invader is causing chaos. It's a miracle that no-one has died."

"It all looked normal when I awoke." Observed the long absent dreamer.

Surprise looked concerned, wrinkling at the letters. "We don't know exactly what has happened. We got some odd fragments of message through Mysticism, but they didn't make much sense, except for the word 'cataclysm'."

A noise boomed around the massive space under the world. It sounded like a word. It sounded like 'infinity'.

"Infinity? What's that?" Wondered Dream.

Surprise looked into the distance, at the endless Thing that stretched underneath their world. "I wonder..."

More will follow...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Eight Hundred And Ninety Six

We're counting down to the nine hundredth post, which may not quite make it on time. On the other hand, it may still happen. There are always ways! That's definitely something to keep in mind generally: 'There are always ways.' Sometimes we forget that, being locked up in the inflexible rules and regulations of whatever organisation we happen to inhabit as workers. It's rather strange to think that was how my work was once. It's much nicer to break away, and do things in your own perceived 'right' way instead of by some book handed down from above. Often times, that book may well be correct but it will also commonly be wrong. Context is important. This is an old argument. Please replace it with strawberries or a long diatribe on the perils of not making students read 'The Speckled Band'.

In a related item, the pilot film for 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' is awesome. Why is it related? It is a show about flying misfits led by a man completely disrespectful of the rules, set during World War Two. It's also a cast iron example of people going too far and throwing away every rule in the book, but that was how the history really worked out. Major Greg Boyington led one of the most successful fighter squadrons in the war, and it was filled entirely with 'Black Sheep' pilots. How have I never heard about this show? I only managed to discover it by following the Donald P Bellisario trail, and noticing that it overlapped with the John Larroquette trajectory. Hopefully, it will be excellent.

Eight hundred and ninety six posts seems like a lot. It actually is a lot, isn't it? The index or 'chatter' pages are beginning to bulk out remarkably, and the only thing that is really annoying the writer of all this fine nonsense is the lack of momentum in writing the stories. The stories seem like the things that might be remembered most fondly when this all grinds to its inevitable halt in the far future. Yes, the end of the Quirky Muffin, a symptom of a future dystopia. This blog will end up buried underneath a massive pile of draconian Internet regulations and interventions, and be lost forever. Eventually, it will form the basis for a particularly unhinged artificial intelligence called Larry.

In four posts time, we will hit nine hundred. That means there are eight days to finish editing and rewriting whatever the landmark post will be. We can only hope it ends up coherent and not written in Swahili.


Monday, 19 June 2017

The Literary Reflection, IV

Every few months, we put up some mini-reviews of books read in the interim, usually as an alternating post with 'On The Book Piles'. Here we go again...

'Dragon' by Clive Cussler (1990)

It's rather derivative, has exposition so clunky that you could use it to dig mine tunnels, and has some of the most blatant fan service you can find in bestsellers. Despite all that, it sort of works, which is a galling thing to admit! Not recommended in any way, but kind of fun.

'Star Trek: Ishmael' by Barbara Hambly (1985)

One of my favourite 'Star Trek' novels is actually a cross-over with a 1960s sitcom and I didn't know it for decades. Decades! Yes, for all that time that I thought it was a quaint and wittily written time travel story that embedded Spock in the early days of Seattle, I was ever so slightly in the dark. It's still one of the best minor 'Star Trek' novels that I've read, and gets a strong recommendation. It also has stealth mathematics, and excellent use of teaspoons. No-one said this blog ever had to make sense! It was a cross-over with 'Here Come The Brides', which still boggles the mind. That show featured Mark 'Sarek' Lenard!

'The Complete Father Brown' by GK Chesterton (1911-1935)

In many ways this deserves a post all its own, but in others it becomes unclear what to write. There are such clear parallels between the relationship between Chesterton and Brown with that between Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, that it could overwhelm the whole point of writing. The 'Father Brown' stories are excellent, truly excellent. Much as with Holmes, the last few sets become a lot more inconsistent, partly due to frustration on the writers' parts, but they're always a step above the average of mystery stories. Very good. We never do learn much about Father Brown himself, though, and his capacity for being on the scene when crimes take place rivals even that of the infamous Jessica Fletcher from 'Murder, She Wrote'. In the last set of stories, Chesterton crosses the line and lectures much more than previously, but at least it's good material to push, and is very relevant to today.

Assorted 'Star Trek' adaptations by James Blish (1967-1977)

Blish had a knack for taking those episodes of the classic show, and writing prose versions of exactly the right length and quality. He fixed most of the third season with his versions. This time up, there was 'Bread and Circuses', a hybrid version of 'The City On The Edge Of Forever', with elements of the Harlan Ellison story added in, and 'By Any Other Name'. That last one is an unlikely touch stone, isn't it, but somehow it always pops up.


Saturday, 17 June 2017


It is the season of completion, as GCSE students finish, Open University modules conclude and summer holidays come roaring towards us all over the temporal horizon. It's confusing when students finish, because they almost inevitably all become friends to varying degree. The work concludes, the exams are sat, and then you never see them again. This model may have to be changed... The only thing to take away at the tutoring end, hopefully, is a sense that you've done some good and sent someone more peacefully on their path in life.

Yes, completion is in the air, and for every end there is a matching beginning. What will come next? There will be more people to help, more uncertainty and oddities in scheduling, and more crazy problems than you would ever expect. Every person is unique, and problem solved is one that can't be anticipated or duplicated. There is no magic solution, just an endless round of approximating to each individual, and hoping that it will work out okay.

Of course, it's different for longer-term students, at primary school or the beginnings of secondary, as then you have you have much more time to prepare and work with them, and the eventual completion is something which ensues naturally. Ironically, tutoring is as much about deprogramming as it is teaching. Sometimes, people have the weirdest ideas about maths, themselves, and how everything works. You wouldn't think that so much rubbish would still be inculcated and indoctrinated in the modern world, but then until very recently it wasn't obvious quite how much of what we read about the world in the news services is other than wholly accurate...

A sense of completion is upon us. What's next?