Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
Delilah's ever-loving husband told her it was a bad idea from the start. He was good enough never to actually say "I told you so", but she could hear him think it. Loudly.
When Delilah's grandfather had died, they'd all had a little party. It wasn't that she and her sisters hated the old man. His bigotry was charmingly old fashioned and his distaste at his only descendents being daughters and granddaughters was poorly hidden. He'd always mutter something about women being too weak willed, or unwilling to do the dirty work, or whatever batshit opinion he'd picked up from the tabloid.
For all his faults, he'd been gracious enough to leave them each a tidy little sum. And so the sisters drank to his memory and plotted out how this bequest would change the course of their lives. Foreign holidays! New businesses! Luxury handbags! Fantasy weddings to handsome lotharios!
In the end, Delilah's had paid off her credit cards and a lingering payday-loan. The remainder was theoretically earmarked for a deposit on a flat. But flat hunting was not as exciting as the endless property shows on TV made it look.
"They're just so... fucking dreary!" She sobbed over her pint.
"I know." Commiserated Eoin, slipping his arm around her shoulder.
"Tiny shoe boxes with no character."
"They're utterly anonymous. Like you're living in a padded cell."
"I don't want you to offer sympathy!" She spat. "I want some bloody solutions!"
Eoin diplomatically sipped his Pornstar Martini. Trying to navigate Delilah's mood was a little like trying to work out why a post had gone viral. You might be able to understand what happened in retrospect, but it was impossible to determine in advance.
"Perhaps we need to approach this from a different angle. We're in a period of low interest rates coupled with..."
He droned on for the next few minutes about macroeconomics and forecasting trends in the market. It wasn't that Delilah found him boring, as such. It's just that - objectively - he was boring. Stunningly so. He could bore for Ireland. Or Northern Ireland. Delilah always forgot which one he was from as the conversation inevitably involved a diversion into The Troubles, The English, and The Future.
About halfway through her pint she realised that he'd stopped talking, probably because he'd asked her a question. She panicked briefly and then went for the same response she used during desperately dull work Zoom calls.
"How do you mean?"
"Well, for example, you wouldn't buy a house that was underpriced because it was the site of a gruesome murder. Would you?" Eoin supped his cocktail triumphantly, as though he'd just made an impressive point.
"Yes, actually! I would. Why not? An axe murderer is hardly likely to strike twice, is he?"
And so Delilah tasked Eoin with finding her a murder house. She was only mildly relieved when he failed. But he did find something better. A picturesque cottage which was close to a local train station. Gorgeous gardens, fast WiFi, room for a growing family, and a complete lack of recent murders. Absolutely perfect and suspiciously cheap. The décor was probably the height of fashion when new, but obviously hadn't been updated in decades. The little old lady who had lived there all her life had died (natural causes - not bludgeoned to death) and the bona vacantia wanted shot of the property quickly.
"I've been here before," said Delilah. "In a dream. Or as a child. I know this place. It's perfect!"
"Well, I still think it's too good to be true," Eoin said unsentimentally. "Something's up."
But it was Delilah's deposit and Delilah's decision and Delilah's name on the deeds a few months later.
That first morning they sat in the kitchen huddled around the breakfast nook, toasting their new life with the remnants of last night's pizza, gazing dreamily into each other's eyes. Without warning, Eoin shot bold upright. "There's someone in the garden!"
He sprinted out, dressing gown flapping, feet bare. "Oi! Oi you! What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
The teenage girl in the garden let out a shriek, jumped over the low wall, and scarpered.
"Bloody kids," said Eoin as he wiped his feet dry. "She won't be back in a hurry." And, indeed, she wasn't. The next day it was two teenagers. They were sitting in the front garden snogging the faces off each other while a selfie-stick hoisted a camera at precisely the right angle to capture their passion and a good shot of the cottage.
Delilah stared in disbelief. She grabbed the garden hose and threatened them with a good soaking.
"Fuck off, grandma!" They screamed as she turned on the tap.
Every day more and more people were discovered lurking around the grounds. Some would peer through the windows, although the vast majority seemed content to have a quick kiss and move on. But no amount of remonstrations from Delilah or Eoin could convince them to piss off.
It got worse. That weekend a bus-load of Chinese tourists turned up and started traipsing through the garden. Their tour guide's insouciance over his charges led to a brief altercation and the police being summoned. By the time they arrived, the tourists had snapped photos of every inch of the place and driven away.
Delilah walked to the corner of the garden to right a tipped-over bird bath. She turned back to the cottage and gasped.
"I know this place!"
"Of course you do, love. We live here."
"No! I know this place. When we saw it for the first time, I recognised it. But it wasn't a dream. Oh, what was her name?"
"What? Missus Miggins who used to live here? I dunno. It's on a solicitor's letter somewhere. Or perhaps the Land Registry keeps records of..."
"Not her! Oh!" Delilah began humming "Daaah de dah. Dum dee... in our little cottage. Doo dee doo things we play..." she trailed off.
Eoin walked over to the bird bath. He stared quizzically at the cottage. From this angle it was obvious. In the deep recesses of his brain came forth a childhood memory that bathed him with a warm glow. He began singing with a hearty, if off-key, voice. The lyrics of "Our Little Playhouse" - a tune he'd not heard in three decades - were suddenly filling his mouth.
Delilah joined in. Her husband's deep well of trivia was useful for once! Their voices reached a crescendo and stopped.
Delilah couldn't believe this was happening "Is this really the magic cottage from 'Our Little Playhouse'? Did we really buy a piece of TV history?" She began to cry.
Eoin's calm demeanour was shattered. He was a child again. He pointed out the hedgehog corner, the dollies' window, and where the magician had vanished into the fishpond. There was no doubt in his mind. None whatsoever. The glow of his parents' massive 15 inch CRT TV had indelibly imprinted it into his memory.
The next morning Eoin bought retroreflective paint. He coated the front doors and windows with it. He hung up reams of Infrared LEDs across the front and side of the cottage. Completely invisible to the human eye but fatal to camera sensors. Every snap would be an unusable mess.
But still they came. The fans were relentless.
Our Little Playhouse ran for a dozen episodes way back in the last century. It was the sort of cheap filler TV which was shovelled to British children who weren't allowed to watch the commercial channels. It wasn't exactly educational, but it also wasn't particularly entertaining. Its short and inglorious run didn't produce any action figures or a festive annual. The actors returned to panto, or rep theatre, or singing on cruise ships. The show was left off CVs and never got a DVD release. It was relegated to a footnote in a barely related page on Wikipedia.
It didn't have fans then, and it didn't have fans now.
But "Untitled Teen Heartthrob Project" did have fans. The title was supposed to be a placeholder while the show was being pitched to the various streaming services. But it was quirky enough that it stuck. They found their "teen" heartthrob - a 30 year old Japanese-Canadian actor - and made a boxset worth of episodes of him seducing various age-appropriate starlets. Cheap and predictable rubbish for undiscerning minds. It was a cheesy bit of filler designed to make you think the streaming service had exciting and original programming. No one expected it to find an army of teenage superfans. Across the world, people tuned in to see whether he would finally find his one-true-love. People in Australia held midnight watching parties so they could discuss the episodes in real-time with their American friends. Tokyo declared an unofficial national holiday for the season finale, correctly predicting that students would rather skip school than miss history in the making.
The seduction was magnificently orchestrated. The heartthrob had to prove to some interchangeable blonde that he was no longer a child. He couldn't do it! Instead, he introduced her to his favourite childhood TV show in the hope that she'd fall in love with it and, by extension, him. Shooting a new TV show was expensive. But someone in the writers' room had half-remembered enjoying "Our Little Playhouse" as a kid. It had the right sort of kitsch aesthetic and, more importantly, the rights were dirt cheap.
And so our teen heartthrob had his climactic kiss with a ramshackle British cottage showing on a TV in the background.
The Internet went fucking nuts.
Stans combed Streetview trying - and failing - to determine the location. Self-styled influencers ran campaigns promising virtual hugzzzz to anyone who could discover the cottage. It felt like a billion kids around the world were invested in a quest to find the Holy Grail. None of them were old enough to have seen the original show and it looked like it was going to remain a mystery forever.
The girl that Eoin had startled. She'd snapped a photo just before he'd lunged at her. She sent it to a friend. Who posted it into a group chat. Who forwarded it to a gossip-monger. And, by the next day, it was everywhere. And the fans from everywhere descended on Delilah's cottage. They stole photos and they stole cuttings from the garden. They had all-day kissing parties which they live-streamed to their friends. They were relentless.
Delilah felt trapped in the cottage. She didn't dare leave. She didn't want to wade through the endless river of fans encircling the cottage, each trying to recreate that perfect kiss. Eoin didn't sleep. Paranoid that one of the deranged looneys would go too far and break in. Paranoia caught them. It teased them. It pushed them down a spiral staircase of insanity. Until they broke.
It happened in a blur. Delilah drew the curtains and saw a sea of teenagers cavorting on her property. She sighed. Put on her big coat. Stepped out of her front door and grabbed the first kid she could. Wrapping her hands around the boy's scrawny neck she squeezed and started screaming obscenities at him. Her furious rage was captured on a hundred phones and instantly seen by millions around the world. She squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until she felt the pathetic little shit go limp. There was no catharsis. So she grabbed the next one.
The sound of screaming roused Eoin from his sleep. He sprinted outside to defend his wife's honour. He didn't know why the teenagers were attacking her, he only knew that he'd be damned if these brats harmed her. So he waded into the fray. It turns out that a naked man throttling children draws a large online crowd. Within an hour, his morning glory was the subject of a dozen memes and a full barrage of deepfakes. To "go full Delilah" on someone became the byword for unhinged rage. The image of her face contorted in savagery was instantly printed on t-shirts across the globe.
The police came swiftly this time. None of the victims wanted to press charges; their nascent streaming careers were only enhanced by the notoriety of being Delilah and Eoin's victims.
While no one cares about "Our Little Playhouse" any more, the fans still pour in. The stans had moved on to their next obsession - Delilah herself.
Delilah spends most days sitting in her garden. Eoin joins her if he's in town. And, for just a couple of quid, you can take a selfie with either one of them strangling you.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.