Saturday, January 28, 2017

An Unlikely Saviour

So, the following story was inspired by a writing prompt on reddit posted by the user crimsonpuppet that went as follows: Aliens give you a camera and say "only those you photograph will live." You have one year. It was prompt that immediately fired up an idea and, since it went down rather well, I thought I'd post it here as well...

Alien abduction, let me tell you, is nothing like the movies. So if you were expecting a story of flying saucers, of bright blue beams of light and levitation, you are set to be rather disappointed.

It began with the sudden appearance of a black, metallic dodecahedron about the size of a garbage truck in my back garden. I had been pottering around the kitchen, making myself a cup of tea; one minute, the garden had been empty save for an ugly rosebush in the middle of the lawn that I'd never got around to digging out; the next minute, there it is was.

I think I must have squinted at it for a few moments, trying to think up a rational explanation for its intrusion upon the lawn, but it seemed a little too large to have come over the fence from the neighbour's children and so I quickly put rationality to one side and shrieked. Which was the moment that I realised that everything had stopped.

The cup of tea, which I had dropped in surprise, was still in mid-air, splashes of tea frozen like brown petals around it. A large fly, wings static, hovered in the air a few feet from my face. I reached out one hand, finger outstretched, and prodded the fly; it moved back a few inches but stayed resolutely suspended in the air. From what I could tell, with the obvious exception of myself, time had completely stopped.

"Terribly sorry about this," said a small voice from my left, and I looked down to see what looked like a small blue teddy bear standing by the kitchen door. "Time is of the essence or I'd not have to resort to such crude methods."

"Crude methods?" I asked.

"Mmm," said the bear and clicked on a small box he held clutched in his right hand (paw?). "Follow me."

Now, let me explain. At this point my mind was thinking "you must be joking, I don't know what is going on here but I can tell you one thing I know for sure; and that is that I am not going anywhere with you" but - despite this - my body said "sure thing, mr. blue bear."

And so, despite my mind desperately shouting orders to stand still, my body plodded out of the kitchen on auto pilot, traipsed barefoot into the garden, and then trudged up a ramp and into a portal that had opened on the side of the dodecahedron. The inside of the craft smelled strangely like burnt toast; which was the last thing I had time to notice before everything went suddenly black.

"He's coming round," said a small voice to my right.

"I don't think he is," said a small voice to my left.

"No, look, his eye coverings are all twitchy."

"Oh yes, so they are," there was the sound of furry paws clapped together. "Wonderful!"

I cracked open one eye, hoping this had all been some kind of terribly strange and not particularly pleasant dream. But no; I was lying on a flat surface, staring up at a featureless but lit ceiling, and two small blue teddy bear-like creatures were peering down at me.

"Oh bollocks," I said, "this isn't a dream is it?"

"Afraid not," said the bear on the right.

"Please tell me this isn't the bit where you anal probe me," I said, a degree of desperation creeping into my voice.

"Anal probe you?" said the bear on the left.

"What kind of perverts do you think we are?" asked the bear on the right.

"Well, I've just heard you aliens like to do that sort of thing," I mumbled, sheepishly.

"Sorry to dash your hopes," said left bear, "but anal probing isn't on the menu."

"No," said right bear, "We have brought you here because you have been chosen to save mankind."

"What?" I spluttered, "Me, save mankind? Are you sure you've taken the right person?"

"Oh yes," said the bear on the right, "It's definitely you. We ran the algorithms 393 times to be sure."

"But save mankind?"

"Oh, not all of it," laughed the bear on the left, "Oh dear no, that would be a silly thing to ask."

"No," said the bear on the right, "We need you to save the best of mankind. The very cream of the crop. Our analysis has predicted that you are the single most objective person on the entire Earth."

"But why?"

"Well, I don't know," said the bear on the left, "It could be purely a product of genetics, although I'd imagine parental upbringing and environmental factors also contributed to your objectivity..."

"No," I interrupted. "I mean, why do I need to save mankind?"

"Oh that," said the right bear, "Yes, we should probably have mentioned that. Gamma Ray Burst. Big One. Heading this way; going to boil the planet to a crisp."


"366 days from now."

"Only a year?"

"A year and a day."

"But can't you help us stop it?"

The bear on the right grimaced slightly, "Would love to, really I would, but there are protocols for these sort of things and - frankly - we're bending them a bit going this far."

"But how many people can I save?"

"Well, not everyone, as we mentioned; but quite a few. At least if you want to."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Got a soft spot for the place," said the left bear, "Would be a shame to see all you humans gone."

"And how do you expect me to save them?"

"Oh, you'll like this," said the bear on the right, "you have to take their photo."

"Their photo?"

"Yep, you photograph them and we'll make sure they're scooped up before things go thoroughly tits up around here."

"And that's all I have to do?"

"Well," said the bear on the right, "You only have a year. 365 days and everyone you photograph we'll save. Relocate you somewhere nice and altogether less Gamma Ray Bursty."

I began doing calculations in my head. 365 days. It was a lot. I could travel, I could take pictures of people in sport stadiums. I could take pictures of people at concerts. I could take pictures of heaving cities. I was sure, even with the limit of a year, that I could save millions. Maybe tens of millions.

"So, you up for it?" asked the left bear.

I nodded.

"Brilliant, well we'll see you in a year then," smiled the right bear, before looking slightly downcast. "Sorry about this again"

The world went black.

I opened my eyes and the tea cup smashed loudly on the kitchen floor, china flying in every direction.

For a second I thought it had just been a dream, a momentary bout of imaginative lunacy, but then I caught the faint whiff of burnt toast and I noticed the camera that was sitting on the kitchen worktop.

I looked at it. Then I laughed.

I had 365 days to save as much of mankind as I could photograph. And the blue teddy bear aliens, in their wisdom, had chosen to give me a 35mm Kodak Funsaver camera.

27 shots to save the world.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The UK descends into dystopia...

Originally, I intended to record this as my first ever vlog; but a combination of bad lighting (last week) and an annoying cold (this week) put paid to that idea so I decided to simply rework the text for my blog...

Now, if you're reading this in the UK then - congratulations - your Internet Service Provider is now recording the fact that you have visited Blogger, and how long you stayed here, and they will be holding onto that data for the next year. Not only that, but there are 48 different governmental bodies that can now freely access the records of your internet data.


And what's even better, those 48 governmental bodies can do so without even requiring a warrant.

Now, if you're wondering how it is that the UK has managed to catch up on 32 years of missed time and drag us all into a digital version of Orwell's 1984, then you perhaps missed the fact that last Tuesday, after having been passed by the House of Lords in November, Royal Assent was given to the Investigatory Powers Bill - also known as the Snoopers Charter - making it law.

This was a bill heralded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, as a "security nightmare".

Edward Snowden - who let's not forget worked for the NSA, hardly an agency known for its snowy white morals - described it as "THE most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy".

So, obviously, with a bill of such importance, the day after the House of Lords had passed it the papers were absolutely awash with news on it.

The Sun led with '3 Lions Team in 4am Bender'

The Daily Mail wondered 'What is going on in our jails?'

And the Daily Star brought us the earth shattering news that Danny Baker thought that Paul Gascoigne could win I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!...that's if he were to actually enter it...

Yes, that is correct, absolutely ZERO coverage in the popular press.

Every man, woman, and child in the entire country is going to have their internet habits catalogued and searchable by any one of 48 different government bodies and yet the press hardly made a peep.

And if you're wondering exactly WHO has the power to find out all about your internet habits - how long you spend on Facebook and Netflix, the news sites you visit, the porn sites you visit...

...although the Digital Economy Bill - passed in the House of Parliament last Thursday - is trying its best to cut out such smutty behaviour among Britons by forcing them to submit to a new age verification checking system and the attitudes of the UK's current government towards porn is perhaps expressed by the Culture Minister, Matt Hancock who said:

"I appreciate that for those who really want to access porn online then if they are really intent on doing that then there is a big challenge in stopping that.

In stopping that.

It's like the Conservatives won't be happy until we're on a one way trip back to Victorian prudishness.

But I digress.

Who gets to see all this? Who gets permission to dig through our (potentially dirty) digital laundry?

Well, obviously the police. And the Ministry of Defence. And the Secret Intelligence Service. And GCHQ (although, according to Snowden they didn't exactly bother waiting for permission). Oh, and the Home Office.

Because - let us not forget - this is all being done to protect us from terrorists.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was clear that "The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge."

Which is obviously why the Food Standards Agency is one of those 48 bodies.

Wait, what?

Why on Earth would the Food Standards Agency need to access people's internet records??

"The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK"

Food Standards Agency. Terrorism.

So clearly connected.

And the Food Standards Agency is just one of many nonsensical agencies on the list. Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service? Check! Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Services Board? Check! Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust? Also check!

Without a warrant. They just pass their request over to a unit with no oversight and - bang - your internet records are in their hands.

And let's be clear - using terrorism as a hook to hang this on is complete and utter bollocks.

Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing. But the level of clear and present danger it represents is hugely overplayed by the media. Because it sells papers, because it gets people watching the news, because it's a great narrative.

In an average year, about 650 people in the UK die falling down steps or stairs. But it's not a great narrative, so we see very few of those 650 deaths make the papers.

Terrorism is a terrible thing but the fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, more people in UK the have been killed by cows than have been killed by terrorists. If you don't believe me, look it up.

And so I'm more than a little concerned that the government should use 'heightened security' and 'terrorism' as a pretext to completely stripping an entire country of its right to privacy.

And maybe you're thinking well, it's not THAT big of a deal. So, the Food Standards Agency can see how often I order from Domino's pizza. But to do so misses the fact that by accepting this you are accepting a slow erosion of your human right to privacy.

Because make no mistake, this is likely to be just the first step. If people accept this, then the restrictions to freedom are only going to keep coming. How long before we see bans on encryption? How long before our every email, our every message are there to be scrutinised by any government body with even a smidgen of power? How long before we're being told if we've got nothing to hide, we've got nothing to fear?

The Investigatory Powers Bill got through because everyone took their eye off the ball and were to busy frothing about the, then upcoming, Brexit referendum. It got through because we currently have an opposition party - in Labour - that is so utterly lacking in cohesion that it seems more concerned in shooting itself in the foot than doing anything useful to actually oppose. It got through because too few people shouted about how bad this was and even less people listened.

So what can you do now? It's law, after all. Well, what you can do now is to pressure your MPs to put this right. What you can do now is to make sure that - even though the media seemingly aren't interested in you knowing how many of your civil liberties are being stripped away - the word is spread about what is happening in the UK. Because the only people who can make this right, the only people who can pull Britain out of this downward spiral its currently locked into, are you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eurovision 2016 - Time For A Change!

So, Eurovision 2016 is over and it's pretty obvious to me that something needs to change in the voting system.

Now that the dust has settled and the alcohol has been placed at a safe distance, all that is left to do is reflect a little on things. Reflect on the fact that Ukraine managed to win with an upbeat little number that opened with the lines "When strangers are coming. They come to your house. They kill you all". Reflect on the fact that the new voting system - while certainly making things more tense - also managed to reveal all the more clearly how overwhelmingly political the voting of the national juries is...

Looking at the top three songs this year (Ukraine, Australia, and Russia) it is possible to see from the voting that there were huge discrepancies between how the five person juries and the public voted. This is obvious when considering the jury allocated points (211, 320, and 130) compared to the public allocated points (322, 191, and 361), however when you examine things closer those discrepancies become even larger.

If we examine the juries, we can see that there three juries that didn't give any points to Australia, 17 juries that didn't give any points to Ukraine, and a whopping 21 of the 41 countries' juries didn't give Russia any points.

Looking at the public vote and it's a different picture altogether. While four public votes failed to give any points to Australia, only one public vote (Iceland) failed to give Ukraine any points and not a single public vote gave less than three points to Russia.

In total, there were seven countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Slovenia, and Ukraine) whose juries gave no marks to Russia, but whose public gave them either first or second place. For Ukraine, this was even more pronounced as eight countries (Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, and Russia) had juries giving no marks and the public giving them either first or second place.

But the sheer volume of countries whose juries didn't give any (or who gave very low) points to Russia means that it is Russia that has the greatest variance overall. Whereas Australia received an average of 3.15 points more from the juries than the public, Russia received an average of 5.63 less from the juries than from the public.

To put it into perspective; while 31 national juries awarded more points to Australia than their public, and 13 national juries awarded more points to Ukraine than their public, only 3 national juries awarded more marks to Russia than their public.

The question has to be asked why the opinion of five, quite possibly (and often seemingly) biased, individuals should be worth the same as millions of public votes. Millions of paid for votes. Don't forget, the public are paying millions to register their votes, but their voice is worth only the same as that of five 'industry professionals' who - as can be seen by Saturday's results - are fairly out of touch with the opinions of their public.

Isn't it time we scrapped the juries and make this a wholly public vote? Let's get rid of the political voting and get back to just voting on the music!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eurovision 2016 Drinking Game

Is it really nearly that time of year again? Good grief! Well, with just over a month to go until we begin the musical descent through Dante's nine circles of Hell that is the Eurovision Song Contest, I figured that it was about time that I updated the rules for 2016.

Now, last year's rules were almost certainly lethal thanks to me upping the ante and introducing a couple of new rules but it's still not enough because, apparently, people still want more. I have to admit, I was given pause for thought as to just how I could ensure that the levels of alcohol consumption were pushed from 'deadly' to 'apocalyptic' but then decided upon a new rule (rule 23) which may well mean none of us makes it out of this alive...

As with all the previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 26 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Finally, I need to issue my customary word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game entirely at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Sweden is (as I'm sure you remember from 2013) brännvin and the highest grade of brännvin is vodka. If you want to stick with the Swedish theme, might I suggest Absolut, although I have a feeling that I will once again be drawn to a bottle of Finlandia. However, I would suggest that you feel free to play hard and loose with the rules in this respect and pick something suitably alcoholic and to your tastes...

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Any time the British entry - the alliteratively friendly Joe and Jake  - are mentioned. Knock back a shot if it's discussed how they were both on The Voice 

2) The host(s) attempts to sing.

3) The host(s) pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

4) The host(s) loses track of their autocue or mess up their timing.

5) The video shown before an act manages to put you off the act before they've even taken the stage.

6) You see Sweden's national animal - which is, the Elk. Drink three shots if it’s a person dressed in an Elk costume.

7) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man.

8) The singer is barefoot.

9) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

10) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or objects acting as large drums.

11) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

12) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

13) The act possesses a large moustache.

14) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

15) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, English words in a song by Ukraine). One sip per language. If in any doubt, just take a sip.

16) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

17) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

18) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronism, appear to have perhaps had three dance lessons as a child and have never heard the song before tonight.

19) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

20) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

21) Every time someone employs the use of a wind machine.

22) If the act attempts to distract attention from the paucity of quality in their offering by getting some kind of celebrity on stage with them (for reference, see Germany in 2009 who employed the services of Dita von Teese to no effect whatsoever).

23) If there is some kind of random digital animation going on in the background that seems to have very little to do with the song that's being sung. Take a shot if they try and copy the general gist of Sweden's efforts from last year and attempt to engage and interact with the animation.

24) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

25) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

26) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place overall.

27) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

28) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

At some point in the next month I'll rustle up a printable version like I did the in the last four years. Oh and I would suggest that, in order to maximise the chances that your rules survive the night's entertainment, you may want to think about laminating them!

Have fun and please don't blame for the pain and misery you will have to endure...not to mention the hangover the day after!!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Day 13 - Red House

“They say,” said Charles Carruthers, pausing for effect as the candlelight flickered against his thin face “that he has parlance with the Devil himself.”

“He is never seen out of the house during the hours of daylight,” added George Meanwell, leaning his portly frame close in to the table and keeping his voice low, “and his curtains are always drawn tightly shut.”

“I met him once,” said Donald Craig, leaning back in his chair and swilling his glass of whiskey contemplatively, “he is tall, thin, and pale and there is something thoroughly unpleasant about him. It would not be difficult to believe he was what they say.”

“Poppycock,” said Luther Basterfield, sipping from his whiskey and then setting the crystal glass back down on the table, his dark eyes glittering in the candlelight. “Utter poppycock. He may well attempt to cultivate an air of mystery and macabre, but I’m sure this Aldous Stark is as human as any of us.”

“Always the sceptic, Luther,” said George, with a shake of his head that caused his jowls to shudder “but there are rumours of dark rituals at his country residence, Red House, on the weekends; of parties that go on for days and from which not everyone returns.”

“I prefer to think of myself as an agnostic,” said Luther, “As you know, I live in eternal hope of finding something that will prove to me that the supernatural is real.”

“I remember you debunking that medium last year,” said Donald, “What was her name? Anna? Elena?”

“Alexandra Moleva,” said Luther, cooly. “At least, that was the name she was using in public. She thought that sounding Russian would add to the mysticism; I can only imagine she felt that her act wouldn’t have the same cachet under her real name of Gladys Sugden.”

“But she fooled quite a few people before you went to see her,” said Charles, “Wasn’t Arthur Moorman paying her a retainer to contact his father on a weekly basis?”

“Indeed,” replied Luther. “Apparently, he was so lacking in confidence at running the business that he ended up using her to speak to the spirit of his father and make the decisions for him.”

“Remarkable,” breathed George.

“Oh, the most remarkable thing about it all was that she was making better decisions than Arthur,” said Luther with a smile, “once I’d unmasked her, he had to run the business on his own. In fact, the last I heard, he was filing for bankruptcy.”

They all laughed soundly at this and Charles poured them all more whiskey.

“You know you have really spoilt us with this Dalmore, Luther” said George, admiring his refilled glass.

“A fifty year malt,” said Luther, smirking. “I’ve no interest in anything that’s not been properly aged.”

“Stark is another case entirely to that medium,” said Donald, once the room had fallen silent, “there’s something about him that sends a shiver down one’s spine.”

“That doesn’t seem to stop him attracting female attention,” said Charles, “they flock to him, that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Ladies interested in a rich and powerful man,” said Luther dryly, “you’ll pardon me for not being terribly shocked.”

“It’s more than that though,” said Donald, “he just seems to mesmerise them; he had two Baronets hanging off his every word the whole night that I saw him.”

“So, he’s a rich eccentric who manages to attract women despite giving you the chills,” said Luther, “I’m still not sure why you think this fellow deserves my attention.”

“Do you remember Colin Morgan?” asked George.

“The name rings a bell, but it’s a vague one.”

“He’s a banker,” replied George, “or, at least, he was. Big fellow with red hair, quite a temper on him.”

“And how is he connected to all of this?”

“Well, he had an argument with Stark at a party a few weeks ago. By all accounts, he got rather annoyed that Stark had apparently bewitched his fiancée. Voices were raised, well by Colin at least, and when Stark ignored him he apparently rolled up his sleeves and tried to take a swing at Stark.”

“Still not earning my interest, gentlemen.” said Luther, with a mock yawn.

“Colin used to box in his spare time,” said George, “he knew his way around a fight, that’s for sure. But when Colin threw a punch, Stark caught his fist and twisted his wrist until he’d forced Colin to drop to his knees. There’s no way anyone could stop a punch like that.”

“And that’s not the end of the story,” interrupted Donald, “Stark left the party after that, but the very next night, they found Colin Morgan dead inside a room on the 5th floor of the Eton Hotel. A room that was locked from the inside. The only way in or out of the room was through a window with an opening that measured less than six inches.”

“And they are certain it was murder?” asked Luther.

“Oh yes,” said George, “Quite certain. You see, when they found him, he didn’t have a single drop of blood left in his body…”

Luther drew himself back from the table, steepled his fingers beneath his chin and pursed his lips.

“Well, I must admit, my curiosity is piqued ever so slightly...”


Securing an invitation to the next of Aldous Stark’s parties had not proven to be easy; not only were Stark’s guest lists selective, they were also highly unpredictable. However, after questions had been asked, a considerable number of favours called in, and a number of palms suitably greased, they had managed to obtain two invitations to Stark’s latest party to be held at his country residence. And, as luck would have it, it was to be a Masked Ball.

“Why on Earth did I ever let them persuade me to come with you?” asked Donald as they bumped along the twisting and dark country road.

“Donald, you really are a dreadful bore,” replied Luther, absently gazing out the window to where the lights of Stark’s country home could be seen burning in the distance. “We’re going to a party, it will be fun.”

“And how exactly do you plan to expose Stark?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see, Donald. But I know his type; once he realises that I can see through his assortment of parlour tricks, he’ll lose any air of mystique he may have cultivated.”

“Assuming they are just tricks.”

Luther adjusted his black sequined mask and turned to look at Donald. “Well, as you know, I live in eternal hope of being proved wrong.”

They sat in silence for the last few minutes of the coach ride, as they turned off from the road and between two gate posts festooned with strange gargoyles. A sign, cast from black iron, was hung from the left gatepost which read Red House. Their carriage continued up the drive, past line upon line of flaming torches, and after bouncing across stone cobbles they finally pulled up in a large circular courtyard at the front of the house. The courtyard had a fountain at its centre that was also dominated by a large gargoyle, while the house itself was huge; three floors and countless windows with a large arched doorway as its main entrance.

They stepped down and were immediately welcomed by two white shirted, and masked, butlers. They appeared from this distance to be identical; both were dark haired and wore red velvet masks, both were well over six feet tall and powerfully built.

“Mr. Stark wishes to speak with you, gentlemen.” said the first one, while the second glowered at them as best as one could from behind a red velvet mask.

“Us?”said Luther, innocently, “Are you sure that you have the right carriage?”

“Quite sure, Mr. Basterfield.” said the butler, clasping his hands in front of him so that he could lightly flex his impressive muscles through the thin white fabric of his shirt.

Next to him, Luther could see that Donald was blanching a couple of shades paler.

“Well, in that case, lead on dear fellow,” said Luther, with a mock bow, before nudging Donald with an elbow and winking at him.


The first butler walked ahead of them, leading them through the large iron studded door at the front of Red House, and into a large tiled entrance hall where twin staircases lead up from both left and right ahead of them to an open set of double doors. The second butler stood behind them, blocking the door.

“It’s rather quiet for a party, don’t you think Donald.” said Luther, looking around and seeing no sign of any other guests.

“I’m beginning to think we perhaps got the date wrong,” said Donald, “maybe we should call it a night and head back?”

But the second butler shut the door behind them even as Donald began to turn around and then made a show of loudly sliding a metal bolt across to lock it.

“Up the stairs and through the doors,” said the first butler, nodding his head. “Mr. Stark has been expecting you.”

“Well, after coming all this way to meet him, that sounds a splendid idea.” said Luther and, with Donald following tentatively behind him he walked up the left staircase. The two butlers stayed behind, arms folded and each waiting at the bottom of one of the staircases.

The double doors at the top of the staircase opened into a large ballroom which, despite being decorated for a party was completely devoid of life except for three people seated at the farthest end of the room.

Aldous Stark was in the middle of the three on a golden throne with one leg crossed over the other; he was wearing an ornate red and black mask, a black suit and a red shirt. The darkness of his attire only served to highlight the paleness of his skin and Luther was struck by the fact that the only people he had seen who were paler had been corpses. To his left was a dark haired woman in a pale blue mask and a white dress seated on a wooden chair. To his right was a blonde haired woman who was kneeling with her hand bowed so that they couldn’t see her face.

“I must apologise for the lack of a party, Mr. Basterfield,” said Stark, his voice a low hiss. “But when I heard that you were so interested to meet me, it seemed a shame not to give you my very fullest attention.”

“You’re too kind,” said Luther, calmly. “But if I’d have known you were going to be so generous, I’d have brought a gift.”

“Your company is a gift in itself,” replied Stark, “and I have made sure that I have a gift for you as well.”

Stark motioned upwards with his right hand and the blonde haired woman jerked, her head snapping up so that she was staring at them.

“Marjorie,” blurted Donald, recognising his fiancée in that instant, “what on Earth are you doing here?”

But Marjorie appeared not to see Donald, she just stared blankly and silently at them.

“You had been hoping to surprise me, I understand” said Stark, his voice a low hiss, “so I thought that it was only fair I surprised you.”

Donald ran forward, taking Marjorie’s hand but she made no sign of having noticed him.

“What have you done to her, you scoundrel?” said Donald, his voice shaking.

“Just a hint of my powers,” smiled Stark, and Luther was immediately reminded of a snake. “Just a hint, since we have a sceptic in our midst.”

“My reputation clearly precedes me.” said Luther, coldly.

“When you go around asking questions about me, I hear about it,” said Stark. “And so I began to ask questions about you. And I was told that you don’t believe in the supernatural, that you like to believe that everything can be explained away by science. I was told that you actively seek out those who appear to be supernaturally gifted, and you debunk them.”

“You are correct,” said Luther, “it gives me great pleasure to expose those who would prey on the naïve beliefs of others.”

“Thus, I thought that today would be a good one for us to meet. For you to appreciate how little you and your science,” he spoke the word with distaste, “truly understand. Marjorie is mine now, she is mine body and soul.”

“Well, if this was all for my benefit then I’m afraid you’re going to have to try harder than that, Mr. Stark.” said Luther, cocking an eyebrow. “The girl could have been drugged, or hypnotised. I see nothing here that causes me to believe you’re invested with supernatural powers.”

“Then perhaps a fuller demonstration of my powers is in order, Mr. Basterfield,” said Stark with a grin that exposed his teeth. He turned to Marjorie, “why don’t you show your fiancée how much you’ve changed since you met me?”

The transformation was instant and horrifying; one moment Marjorie was the same woman that Luther had seen on several occasions, the next her face seemed to shudder and shake and her lips peeled back to reveal not teeth but fangs. And then, before Donald even had time to react, she was on him; her hands suddenly claws that clutched him hard, her fangs biting down hard into the side of his neck. She tore into his carotid artery in an instant, drinking greedily as his lifeblood flowed in her mouth and out around her lips and down onto her dress. Donald Craig was dead before his body hit the floor.

“And now do you appreciate?” laughed Stark, and his face began to shudder and his lips peeled back horribly to reveal huge fangs. ”Now do you understand why you should never have come into my world.

Luther heard footsteps echo loudly off the floor behind him at the two butlers entered the room and locked the double doors tightly shut. The dark haired woman was changing as well, her face contorting as she ripped off her blue mask and tossed it to the floor.

“You’re vampires,” said Luther slowly. “You really are vampires.”

“Do you have any last words, before we feast on you and tear you limb from limb?”

“Well, before you do that,” said Luther, with a cold smile, “and in this spirit of sharing secrets, I think it’s only fair that I tell you my real name.”

He stood straight, one hand fixing his bowtie, and the whole room seemed to darken a little.

“Before I was Luther Basterfield, I was called Henry Wrenwright and I lived in New York City. Before that I was called Toby van Dijk and I lived in Amsterdam. Before that…” Luther let the words trail off, “well, to cut a very long story short, I’ve had lots of names. Although for some reason, people always seem to remember the first one.”

The lights in the room flickered and the vampires looked to each other with nervousness. A feeling so old to them, it took them a moment to even recognise it.

“What are you?” asked Stark, his voice no longer commanding.

“When He made me,” said Luther, “He named me Lucifer.”

They bowed before him then. They grovelled, they begged. They pleaded and bargained. It meant nothing to him and, one by one, he extinguished them and claimed their souls as his own.

“Why?” asked Stark, when he alone was left quailing before him. “We do not do His work. Why us? Why not these humans? Why not feed on their souls?”

“Because,” said Lucifer, reaching out one hand casually and plucking Stark’s twisted and rotten soul from his body as easily as one might pull taffy from a stick, “I’ve no interest in anything that’s not been properly aged.”