‘How do you say your name, sir?’ asked Brian.

‘Afamu.’

‘AHH-farrrrrrHH-MOO? OK, sir, I’ll do my best with that.’

‘And what about you, my dear?’ He looked at her encouragingly.

‘Jill,’ she said.

‘Thank you, Jill!’ he said, with a satisfied smile to the rest of the group. He seemed to be saying: Why can’t everyone else have a nice straightforward name like that?

It began with a fire.

‘Paranormal activity’, he said. ‘That’s what started it – ghosts, demons’.

The phone line crackled and I held my breath.

I heard him tut, and sigh, then say, ‘Or maybe you think he died of Spontaneous Human Combustion?’.

There was a pause.

‘I’m not trying to scare you’, he said.

Zingpow

Zingpow is a resort town, a seaside splash of glass towers, whitewashed villas, and thatched huts on a sparkling beach, with a harbor for yachts, an indoor shopping mall for luxury brands, and exclusive clubs in which to dine and dally. Zingpow is a playground for the elite, a getaway for the one percent. Zingpow is a jolt for the idle and a balm for the weary, a place to rev up and a place to relax. Zingpow accepts major credit cards, wire transfers, and pure gold.

A single teardrop draws a bright line down the old man’s dust-smeared cheek. Its slow passage further marks a face weathered by time and toil. This dystopia, this burning Earth, has claimed his kin. It seems that now, finally, it is his turn to die.

Baker coughs, his raw throat screaming for relief. He’s on his knees, this once proud man, and the tear he sheds is not born of the pain or the humiliation that he’s being subjected to. It is for his friends, the two young travellers who not so long ago accompanied him, the two who were killed instantly by the band of raiders who’d ambushed them.

The first week of the summer holidays was wonderful. I finally had some much-needed alone time, time to read books that I had accumulated since September. I lay down in my sunny garden with my dog, Fred. He’s half-Westie, half-poodle. A Westie-poo, the woman at the rescue place said when we bought him. He’s a mutt, said my now ex-partner.My ex didn’t like Fred.

My ex also didn’t like that I worked in a rough school. By rough, he meant “state”. He said I didn’t have enough ambition. I had ambition, I told him, I want to be a great teacher. I’d like more money, who wouldn’t?, but I was comfortable earning what I was on now. You need to get your life together, he said towards the end. I can’t go on living like this, as if we were destitute.

The great frustration began on May 19th, 2020, at 5.24 in the morning – Greenwich Mean Time.

Here in Britain, few noticed the change. Most were asleep and those few that experienced it chalked the matter up to other factors: tiredness, alcohol, sleep deprivation, and so on.

However the world over, people were experiencing the same phenomenon. Slowly but surely the reports began to snowball. Hashtags trended on twitter. Incredulous news sites took up the wild claims behind a veil of cynicism.

Inspector Yao pushed his glasses back to the top of his nose, adjusted his suit jacket, blinked and looked again. He could have sworn he saw a girl standing beneath the archway, but it was two o’clock, and the students would not be permitted to leave for another hour and a half at least.

She certainly wasn’t there now.