See you in Edinburgh – I’m off up there for the book festival – check programme for details! While I’m away I thought I’d drop this short piece of ‘flash fiction’ onto my blog. It’s a little Candle Man related piece I created for the VVB32 Reads Steampunk festival! Some of you may have missed it!
The Night of the Deathly Mushrooms/A Candle Man Flash Fiction by Glenn Dakin,
‘I was in Japan in March, 1945,’ said Magnus, raising a skeletal hand to wipe dust from the old monitor screen. He peered at the fuzzy cathode ray image hoping for a glimpse of the Candle Man, but the tunnels appeared empty. ‘It was an unhappy time, even before this fragile world learnt to put the words ‘atom’ and ‘bomb’ together in the same sentence.’
‘’45?’ Chloe gave him a suspicious look. She was adding up his age in her head.
Magnus ignored this. ‘I was with British Intelligence seconded to the US marines, sent to investigate the reports of a doomsday weapon underneath Tokyo. I suppose, being what is known today as a conspiracy theorist, you are aware of the mystery of the Oedo subway line?’
‘I’m a conspiracy activist,’ replied Chloe with a grin. ‘I actively conspire. And no, I haven’t heard of it.’
‘Well, you are young, Miss Cripps,’ Magnus observed with a frown. ‘But I, as the oldest member of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, contrive to detect our enemy’s hand everywhere. Usually in governments and charity work, especially where large sums of money disappear, along with a nice body count.’
Chloe scowled. Magnus had seen so much fighting in his life, he had come to regard cruel and random deaths as a comforting sign that mankind was ticking over healthily.
Chloe smacked a cockroach from the top of her tousled dark brown hair, and poured a glass of 1950s lemonade from the antique store locker. It was no party waiting in the bunker for Theo to return, but she would try to make it as pleasant as possible.
‘When the Japanese government raised funds to build the Oedo subway line, the money turned out to be unnecessary. A system of tunnels was found to already exist down there. They provided access to the Ghost Hole, as the locals called it, a secret space underneath Tokyo that predated any known excavations.’
‘I was there with Captain Bobby Lee and the most engaging group of psycopaths you could ever hope to meet. But instead of finding a Japanese doomsday weapon under the city, we found – as I expected – a close replica of the tunnel network below London.’
Magnus raised a shrivelled finger. ‘Complete with alchemical city, which some locals had discovered and converted into a Shinto temple. But it wasn’t the locals I had to worry about – and this is the bit where you have to pay attention, my dear –‘
‘I am paying attention!’ groaned Chloe, tipping sand out of her boot.
‘I encountered Edgar Mourain, the then Head of the so-called Society of Good Works.’
Chloe raised an eyebrow. Was Magnus really going to tell her about Edgar the Excessive? It was too much to hope for.
‘He was experimenting with Quickfire,’ Magnus said, now sombre. ‘A kind of accelerated sunshine, that contains some of the properties of atomic radiation.’
‘That was what set the Geiger counters off and caused the Americans to get their bandanas in a twist.’
‘Exactly. Edgar Mourain, ever the eccentric, had even used it to create a system of driverless rickshaws to convey dead bodies down from the surface to feed his rot-powered computing system.’
‘The quickfire leaked out, contaminated the luminous fungus for the lighting system and caused a plague of brilliant toadstools to issue upwards through the drains and carpet the city above, making Tokyo visible to US B-29 bombers for one terrible night.’
‘The destruction was unimaginable. In fact, I don’t think my hearing has ever fully recovered. The Society of Good Works were forced to flee the place – as was I – but not before I had glimpsed the real reason that they were down there.’
‘The Wonderful Machines,’ sighed Magnus. ‘Part of the same ancient engineering work that lies below our feet here in London.’ A flicker of dread passed across his pale old eyes. ‘It’s the thing that our great leader Mr Norrowmore feared most of all.’
At the mention of the Wonderful Machines, a terror from her childhood nightmares, Chloe went pale.
‘And this it’s not just a yarn to distract me from our miserable predicament? It’s really true?’
‘As true as the day I glimpsed it, back in 1945, by the light of a million toadstools, beneath a burning Tokyo, with no hope of a proper cup of tea to be found anywhere.’