Monday 25 March 2013

Magic Falls Part 13

I’m sure that Bretton would be rather pretty by day, but between the endless winter that’s been causing consistent dark clouds and the fact that afternoon is slipping towards evening, and it just feels desolate and cold.

We drive down past some grey buildings, and park near the bottom of them. Fields with strange sculptures sweep out to our right towards the main buildings, but I can see further out, and the fields go on and on. There’s a river in front of us.

The Hall itself is a large, imposing building. As we walk towards it, Jack points between some of the smaller buildings. “That’s the pillar I was telling you about.”

“Convergence of ley-lines?”


“Where are the police?” I ask. “If there have been kids going missing, shouldn’t this place be… I don’t know, under lock-down or something?”

“There’s nothing here, Darren,” he says. “That’s part of the problem. They’ve not found a bloody thing.”

I follow him as we walk past the hall and down towards the river.

“It’s not really good conditions for this kind of thing,” I say. “Wouldn’t we be better doing this in the daytime?”

“I want to show you where she went missing, that’s all. We can start looking around the rest of it tomorrow, but before we do anything else, I want to give you a sense of it.”

I nod. “If that’s important to you.” I don’t fully understand, but I do want to help.

“I…” he hesitates. “It just seems important. To see that bit, and then you have some sense of it.”

“Okay,” I say quietly.

He starts walking again, turning right and up a field, away from the path. The sculptures begin to get less abstract, and more defined.

“It’s not far from here,” he says. “See those trees?”

There’s a sculpture of a man crouching, but it’s giant. He’s set apart from the trees themselves. “Yeah.”

“It’s just the other side of there. This was part of the area the students got to design and build years ago.”

There are strange details, as we walk closer, including a tree in a phone box. Sculptures built into walls and paths and ponds, and utilizing the nature around them.

“I would not want to be drunk around here,” I say. The sheer strangeness of the area means that I miss the village.

“Look down,” Jack says quietly, and I do, towards the foot of the fir trees we are near, and I spot them.

A series of doors, windows and buildings carved into the trees themselves. I drop to one knee to take a proper look. “Wow.”

“I know.”

“They’re impressive.” And they are. A little fairytale village carved into trees. They look functional. “They… look like they fit.”

“They do, don’t they?” he says. “Like they’re meant to be there.”


“I’ve seen it before, but…”

I stand up. “Jack?”


“Why am I here?”


“Seriously, what’s going on? There’s something here you’re not telling me.”

He looks away. “Jamie said you should be here.”

I don’t know what Jamie filled his head with, but I’m worried that Jack’s built me up as definitely being able to do something here. I feel like I’m an observer in a play, suddenly being asked to take a lead role, but with no knowledge of what’s meant to happen. Or even what my part is.


An idea forms and instantly takes hold.

“Are you telling the truth about Andrea, Jack? I will kill you if – “

“Yes.” I see fear creep across his face, and I almost instantly lose my anger and indignation. “Yes, I’m telling the truth, about Andrea and the others. I just… Jamie convinced me that you’d be able to help, and…I’m desperate, Darren.”

“Okay.” I say. “Okay.”

The area is freaking me out slightly. More than slightly, actually. It feels like it’s…been allowed to grow wild.

“The last time she saw Andrea, she was standing here. She walked over that way – “ he points towards a path. “- for a minute, and then looked back and she was gone.”

He walks over that way and then looks back. I look around, and realize that while there are trees around, there aren’t many places to hide.

“It’s quiet enough here that if someone was around, we’d know about it, I reckon,” I point out. “Someone would have to be actively hiding to have snatched her.”

“That’s what I thought,” Jack says. “If Lorna didn’t see her, then she’d have heard something. She said she was singing a little bit to herself, and then it just stopped.”

One of the plus points about the fields surrounding this area is the comparative lack of hiding places. There are paths leading into another part of the forest, though, and I’m about to look further into them when Jack calls me back.

He points down towards me on the ground. “Look at that,” he says. “That’s strange.”

I look down. The dark, cold and rain are not sharpening my observational powers.

"What is?" I ask.

"Look at the ground. It's different around here."

I try, but for the life of me, I can't see whatever it is that he's talking about.

"What am I meant to be seeing?"

"No, not there," he says. "Take a couple of steps back, and then look again, but don't try to focus on any one part of it."

"You're making it sound like a magic eye painting. I could never do them either."

He gestures around in a circle. "Look. You see it?"

I don't, but I try to do what he says. Instead of looking intently, I try to look more generally, and take in the whole picture rather than a series of details.

And then I see it.

A darker, slightly raised piece of grass, with some mushrooms growing in it. It isn't strong, and it isn't obvious, but once you spot it, it's very much there.

"Strange, isn't it?" He says.

As I look at it, everything I know about it comes immediately to mind. All at once, unbidden.

"It's a fairy ring," I say.

"I don’t know what that is."

"You never heard about them when you were a kid?"

"I didn't pay much attention to things as a kid. I can tell you a lot about TV at the time, but not things I was told."

"They're supposedly planted by fairies. They're how they travel between their world and ours. And if you get trapped by one..."

He looks concerned all of a suddden, and I almost kick myself. "What?"

"...I don't remember. There's something though." Don't tell him about the dancing, I think.

“You know we’re both talking seriously about this, don’t you?” He asks me.

“Are we?”

“Well, I am,” he says. “I know it sounds stupid, but I am. I’m not ruling anything out. Whatever it takes to find Andrea… or…you know…what happened to her.”

I notice the effort he takes to stop his voice cracking. “Then we’re taking this seriously,” I tell him.

“So tell me what it is that happens.”

I take a moment before I do. “They’re traps. By the fairies. For children. You walk around it three times, or five times, or…whatever. It’s like ‘Bloody Mary’. Or ‘Candyman’. Something like that. You… I don’t know, you’re supposed to say a rhyme or a verse or something, and walk around it before trying to cross it."

"Widdershins." A voice that I don’t recognise says.

"What?" I look around, trying to see where it came from.

"You have to go round it widdershins. Or it doesn’t work." the same voice says.

I look behind me, and it takes me a moment to see him, and once I do, I wonder why I didn't see him earlier, as he's standing right there.

"Jamie!" Jack says, with a look of relief.

He's in his forties, I'd guess, and has dirty blonde hair. He looks smart and scruffy at the same time. He's wearing a white shirt and black tie, but it's loose and looks like he hasn't taken it off in days, and it's covered by an old, battered brown mac. He takes a drag from a cigarette. The smoke swirls around him.

"Hello, squire." Jamie says to me. "Been wondering when you'd finally turn up."

Monday 18 March 2013

Magic Falls Part Twelve


I press send and watch the message go to Nina. I know better than to call her right now. I don't want to pressure her any more than I know I already am.

"So what's going on?"Jack asks after a while.

I sit back in my seat and look out at the countryside as the train makes north. The rain streaks on the window.

"It's difficult to explain."I said.

"I think I've already shown I can take a lot in, and I need to talk about something other than Andrea for a bit," Jack said. "So, let’s go back over it all. You're from the future and we're already best friends."

"Well…not quite best friends," I say, with a slight smile. "But we get on, and we work for the same thing. The same aims."

"What's the same thing? These aims?"

I avoid eye contact and keep looking out the window. It has been a while since I've seen anything but the urban environment, and even in miserable weather, the move to browns and greens from grey and splashes of vibrant colour feels very different. There is colour in London, there's no denying that. But outside of parks and green spaces, even the trees feel grey.

"Too many things have changed already," I say, trying not to think about the Knights. "The more I try to force things to be the same as they were, the more I think I'm running the risk of guaranteeing that won't happen."

He nods. “Okay, I can accept that. Hypothetically, anyway.” He thinks it over, and then amends what he’s saying. “Well, at least when it comes to the stuff that you want to happen. But you told me that you came back because of everything that had gone wrong. So wouldn’t it be a good thing if everything were different this time?"

I wish that the whiskey last night had stayed at just the one. At three in the morning, when we were both drunk but feeling sober, I told him far more than I should have done. And he'd remembered every bloody detail.

"And you believe me on all this?" I ask.

"Not quite. But I'm not ruling anything out right now. With the way Andrea went missing, I'm trying to take into account that there may be..." He waved his hand, as his thought visibly went back to his missing daughter.

"…More things in heaven and earth?"

"Well, earth, anyway."

I nod, and sip at the coffee in front of me. It tastes awful, but part of that is down to the hangover that is currently killing me. Jack has to be suffering as well, but he's handling it a lot better.

He eyes me while I do so, and then asks a different question. "How does this... magic...: he rolls the word in his mouth as if it is a cherry gone sour. " anyway? Why is it all happening?"

"I don't fully know," I say.

"Do you have your theories?"

I look at him. "Yes."


"I think we're taking on rationality as a belief. In a way we never have before, as a species. The biggest change that the internet has made to our lives isn't Amazon, it isn't Ebay, it isn’t entertainment... it's the ability to find information."

I find I’ve warmed to the subject without even realizing it. What is it about Jack that keeps me telling him everything? I don't seem to be able to keep my mouth closed around him.

"Some would contest that," he says.

I lean forward. "We're all talking to each other more, as a species. There are kids talking on instant messenger to other schoolkids all over the world. All those beliefs, all those cultures, and we're finding out how similar we actually are. We're learning more about each other, and that's just on a person-to-person level.

"You've got websites like Snopes now, that can give you the facts behind an urban legend just by searching for it. You've got Google and Wikipedia for all those legends and myths and histories, and we begin to see how many cultures had basically the same ones.”

I sit back, and almost to my surprise, I continue talking.

"Do you know how many cultures have some kind of myth that's similar to the birth of Jesus? Virgin births turn up all over the place. Once you learn something like that, faith and belief takes a bit more of a hit than it did before. And now, we're getting so used to asking questions, getting so used to trying to find out... Christ, do you know how long it took until someone cracked how Derren Brown predicted the lottery? Less than 24 hours until someone pointed out that a ping pong ball moved and had a video with graphics showing how he probably did it on Youtube.

"People are blindly believing less and less, and when that happens… I think something starts fighting back. I think we're looking at the death of magic. I think it's fighting for its life. Because it relies on belief. And that's dying."

He sits silently for a while, and he stays that way until we pull into Wakefield Westgate.

As we walk through the station to his car, he quietly says 'I think you're right. And if this is about belief, we could be in trouble."

He opens the car door, and we begin to drive. I wait for him to elaborate as we navigate the winding roads, and take in the view. Once you get out of Wakefield, it's a beautiful area.

"I told you that Bretton used to be an arts college."


"I went there years ago. There's a pillar in the middle of the campus, and the story going around then was that it marked a convergence of ley-lines."

"Does it?"

"I have no idea. I don't believe in ley-lines. But then, do you know who we were told used to love walking around Bretton's grounds?"


"Peter Sutcliffe. The Yorkshire Ripper."

"Did he?"

"Probably not. But it doesn't matter. You take hundreds and hundreds of young people and lock them into this place in the middle of nowhere. No regular bus service after dark. Pre-internet. And they're all creative and away from home for the first time, and they spend a lot of time vulnerable and scared."

"I can see how ideas would take hold."

"More than take hold. This was like a pressure cooker here. People went insane here in their own way."

"Your point?"

"Darren, if magic feeds off belief, this was a very, very powerful place. There are all kinds of legends and myths around this place."

I look up at the clouds. It feels like night has already fallen, and it's only the afternoon. As we near Bretton, it begins to hail as if on cue.

“This place…” he says, “took my daughter. And it’s beginning to feel that…something there is waiting for us.”

Monday 11 March 2013

Magic Falls Part Eleven

I open the door and let Jack in.

"What's wrong?"I ask.

"It's my daughter," he says. "She's missing."

The last I'd seen of Jack, he'd driven away, refusing to talk to me any further. I hadn't been expecting this turnaround.

"She lives with her mother, doesn't she?" I ask.

"Yes. I thought you might know that." He wipes his eyes again, and sits down. It is obviously an effort for him to keep his emotions under control.

"You look like you could do with a drink," I say. I certainly could.


"What would you like?"

"Do you have whiskey?"

"God, yes."

I walk into the kitchen and pour us both a large drink, and then make my way back, handing him one of them.

"How long has she been missing for?"

"Two weeks now. I... we've been working with the police, but a friend of mine thought that you may know more about this."

"A mutual friend?"

"Jamie Moore?"

I frown. "I don't know him."

"Well, he knows you. He said you may be able to help."

I look down at my whiskey glass, and am slightly disturbed to realise that it is already mostly empty. The last few weeks of living on my own have not led to good habits.

"Tell me what happened." I say. "I'm not sure what I'll be able to do, but if I can help, I will."

"I need someone with an open mind. You already talked about magic. You talked about how more was going to happen. I think it's already happening, and this is what's happened to my daughter."

He is sweating and agitated. I can see his grey hair is flattened with perspiration and hair gel, which is unlike him. "I'm sorry about not believing you last time we spoke. It just sounded so... ridiculous. Unbelievable. "

"But you believe now?"


"What changed your mind?"

"It's connected with what happened to Andrea. It's not easy to explain."

"I'll help if I can," I say. "Please, just ... tell me what happened."

He nurses his drink, while he begins to talk.

I realise that this is the first real conversation with him that we've ever had. Well, that he's ever had. Not counting him surreptitiously throwing away the contact details I had written down for him.

This is surreal. Not just what he was saying, but the knowledge that we'd been such good friends, and this was something that he had never experienced. Last time around, I hadn't approached him first. He'd heard about me and Nina, and sought us out.

This was completely different. And not only because the last time I'd dealt with him, his daughter hadn't gone missing.

When he'd come to me before, he'd proposed the Knights. This time around, I'd effectively pushed the idea onto him. Stupid of me, really. I knew from experience that he generally needed to believe something was his idea in order to think it was a good one.

"It was in a place in West Yorkshire. Near Leeds. Well, Wakefield, really. There's this sculpture park. Used to be a college, too. Arts place.

"My ex-wife, Lorna, she... she took Andrea there for days out. It's a five hundred acre estate, and it's... well, it's lovely, really. It's in the middle of nowhere, and there's a lake, and a learning centre, and a mansion, and a cafe.... it's a nice place. That feels important to point out. It's this nice place in the middle of nowhere.

“And Lorna was there with Andrea, and they were just walking around. Andrea wants to do something to do with nature when she grows up. Landscaping or something, I don't know. But she loves fields, trees, plants... the lot. She's eight years old, and it's all she talks about.

“So there they were, walking around, and there are these bits of the park that are... they're like a fairytale village or something. Silly, really. Done by students back when it was a college. She really likes it.

“The place was deserted. That's what Lorna says, and you know... we don't get on that well now, we try and everything, but... I believe her. She's not stupid. And she takes Andrea's safety carefully. She's not... overprotective, but if she says she knew where she was, then she knew where she was.

“And they were in this field, walking away from these sculptures, and Lorna turned arouud and Andrea was gone. Just gone.”

His voice cracks and he downs his drink.

“The police looked, and they… there was nothing. She just vanished. They closed down the roads, because they thought someone had snatched her at first. But there was nothing.

“It was broad daylight, and there was nobody around. She just vanished.”

He stands up, putting the glass on the table and I notice that his hand is shaking. He turns, then sits. Uncomfortable, unsure if he should stand or not.

“I don’t…” I say, uncomfortable talking at all now. “I don’t know what I can do to help, here. This all sounds strange, but… why do you think…”

“She’s not the only one,” he says. “Don’t you watch the news? There have been others. Children vanishing into thin air. Nobody seeing a thing, but nowhere they could have gone.”

I realize my mouth is open, and my brain tries to catch up. I am speaking again, but not entirely sure what I’m saying. “But what does that have to do with…”

“Jamie said to talk to you. He said that you could help.”


This is a friend of mine. I may be something of a mess right now, but Jack is my friend, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask.

“I want you to come with me. I’m going back up there, and I want you to come. Help me search. Help me find her. Please.”

Monday 4 March 2013

Magic Falls - Part Ten

Back to Contents

I miss her.

It hurt so much when I lost her. When she died. Coming back was for a number of reasons, but emotionally, it was also a chance to be with her again.

And now I have lost her again.

Nina left me after I told her that I knew she was pregnant. After I told her how I came back. I don’t blame her. I know I sounded insane. I know how frightening I must have sounded, talking about time travel and wars.

She said she will come back, but with every day that has passed, this seems less and less likely a proposition.

I hope that this will protect her, that she won’t take the course of action that leads to her death, but with everything that has happened since I came back, that seems very foolishly hopeful.

I shouldn’t have told her. She wasn’t ready for it. I should have waited. I’d intended to wait, when all this started, but I couldn’t help myself. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

And now I sit here, lonely and miserable. It’s different to the last time. But it still hurts and I am still scared.

I phoned Maria and told her what happened. “Darren, I’m sorry.” She said to me. “Are you okay?”

“Not really.”

“She’ll come back. She just needs some time.”

“I’m scared she won’t.”

“She will.”

“I’d expected you to say ‘good riddance’ or something.”

“Don’t be stupid.”


But instead, I had been stupid. I’d lost track of what I was doing, and I was wasting my time.

I have been finding it difficult to do anything. All I want to do is call Nina constantly, but we’d talked about it, and if she was going to come back, she needed time and space. If I can’t give her anything else right now, I can give her that. Although I wasn’t quite sure if it was something that could be gifted as much as taken.

At the moment, we are talking every two days, and I spend the rest of those two days waiting to make that call.

I haven’t been into work for weeks. I’m spending a lot of time surfing the net, reading newspapers and watching the television. I feel like I’m looking for something, but I don’t know what.

Things are so different this time. So different than I’d expected when I came back. I thought I could do more, but I don’t know where to start.

The TV magician, Shane Smith, had complicated things. He’d gone public with his ability, and that means that people are beginning to consider it in a way that they didn’t last time. He was being primarily ignored and mocked, but people online were beginning to talk about it in a slightly different way.

This was moving faster than it should have done. Last time, people didn’t start accepting it until much, much later. But now… that is all up in the air.

Money is beginning to be an issue. I don’t know how to keep on top of everything. Work is going to get in the way of what I have to do, but I can’t keep up with everything without it.

I am exhausted. Constantly. I’m sick of feeling like this. I don’t know what to do.

I am sitting on the sofa, where I’ve barely moved for hours, when the doorbell rings.

Could it be Nina? Why wouldn’t she just let herself in? Maybe she wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that right now, and would rather keep things more formal.

Maybe it was the police. Maybe something had happened. Maybe something had happened to Nina.

“Okay, I’m coming!” I shout, running to the door.

I fumble with the lock for a moment, before turning it and then undoing the chain. All the while, my heart is telling me that it has to be Nina on the other side of the door. It must be.

I open the door.

“Hello, Darren,” Jack says. He’s dishevelled and unshaven. His eyes are tinged red, an evident mixture of exhaustion and stress.

“Jack?” I say. “What’s wrong?”

“I reconsidered what you said,” he says, and brings a hand to his eye, wiping it. “I need your help.”

Part Eleven

Saturday 2 March 2013

Keep Calm, It was Inevitable

I’m a big fan of dark science-fiction or horror stories, where a concept is taken to its furthest logical conclusion – usually unpleasant. It’s why I like series like The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, along with the work of writers like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis.

This makes the latest twitterstorm rather fascinating to me. It’s the one about the ‘Keep Calm and Rape A Lot’ t-shirts.

Basically, a company that makes designs for print-on-demand t-shirts has used an algorithm to come up with variations for the “Keep Calm and Carry On” design. There are hundreds of thousands of variations, including a number of ‘and rape…’ ones. Now, the excuse that it was only an algorithm doesn’t quite work (since it doesn’t include any examples of ‘rape him’ or ‘hit him’, but it does include ‘rape her’ and ‘hit her’, suggesting that someone, somewhere looked at these and made choices before they went up), but the tedious attempts to make money from idiots by idiots doesn’t interest me.

What does interest me is that this was inevitable. If you were to create a story about a meme like ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, this is pretty much how you would end it. It’s the unpleasant logical conclusion.
It’s unfortunate, because I love the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ design. It’s a beautiful design. The font, the colours, the spacing, the size - it’s all particularly pleasing. Add on to that the idea that it was a design to be printed and used for areas damaged during the war, and it says something rather beautiful about Britain and the British. It sums up the blitz spirit and puts it into a stunning piece of graphic design. Add onto that the idea that it was lost as a design until relatively recently, and was unearthed in a second-hand bookshop and it takes on an almost magical quality.

This led to commercialisation and parodies. I don’t need to go into them in depth. We’ve all seen them, whether they’ve been able to take on the basic design and use the spirit to sum up something else British (“Keep Calm, I’m the Doctor”) or whether it was just subverting the idea completely (“Don’t stay calm and freak out!”).  Anything that takes off, or is that well designed and has that simple a message is going to end up being parodied. It’s inevitable.

It began as mildly amusing, and swiftly became tedious.

Keep Calm and Kill Zombies

Keep Calm and Eat Brains

Keep Calm and Exterminate

Keep Calm and Watch X-Factor

Keep Calm and Use the Force

Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake


Tedious, boring and annoying repetition. And the worst thing about it was that it was inevitable. People have this tendency to keep going with jokes, partially because you keep finding people who haven’t heard it before, and you get to be the hilarious person introducing it.

And because it’s in the public domain, this means that anyone can design anything using the basic template. 
In fact, when I googled ‘Keep Calm and…’ in order to verify that it was indeed found in a second-hand bookshop, it auto-completed to ‘Keep calm and carry on maker’.

If the first few times you saw the design were well done, of course people that think they’re funny are going to run the idea into the ground. In the manner of an internet meme, it’s going to end up being used and used and reused until only idiots find it hilarious.

It’s the ‘Garlic Bread’ moment. It’s the ‘I can has cheezburger?’ moment. It’s the planking moment. It’s Gangnam Style. It’s Harlem Shake. It’s something that’s funny for five minutes, and then some people don’t realise that the party is over and it’s time to stop going on about it.

Of course someone was going to automate it. Of course someone was going to either intentionally be offensive or unintentionally avoid quality control to this kind of point.

That’s what memes do. That’s what tedious repetition of them does.

If you’d written this as a story, you’d use the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ meme as representative of something like weapons or drugs. They’d be used as tools or medicine first, before you delved into the other uses people find for them, and it all becomes out of control. Eventually, you’d end with the creator looking and seeing the worst depths that it has been used for, silently weeping over what he has wrought upon this earth.

Keep calm and weep inwardly.