This curious little piece is now up at Bewildering Stories. It started life as a winner in the Café Doom Weekly Flash Challenge (where else?), and then grew slightly to become a winner in the weekly SlingInk Frantic Fiction competition, where the picture prompt just happened to fit it like a glove. And now it’s out there for the general public, making my first appearance on BS.

One of the intriguing curiosities about Bewildering Stories is that the readers are invited to respond to a challenge set by the editors about the piece that they have just read. I’ll give my answers below, but I’ll break here in case you want to avoid any spoilers.

a. Does the story end “but it was all a dream” or is it a story a kind of dream sequence in the form of a hallucination?  Given that I really, really hate that particular type ending (coming a close second to the protagonist being revealed as a cat or some other animal), I hope not. I’d like to think of it more as a mirage in which an essential inherent truth is revealed by an external party who may or may not be physically present.

b. Is it a story or a vignette?  There’s a difference? OK, I would argue that it is a story in the sense that something happens and someone is changed as a result. The change may occur after the end of the piece (assuming that Henderson-Smythe remains alive long enough), but I think there is certainly the possibility of character development there.

c. Does the story replace one set of stereotypes with another?  Interesting question. Yes, Henderson-Smythe (and, presumably, the comatose Gubby) are stereotypes of a particular type of upper-class English adventurer. There is every chance that in the unlikely event that they survive this experience, they may well at some point in the future get involved in some half-arsed scheme to unseat some dictator or other (it happens). But the fact is, they do exist. As for the Tuareg, I like the idea of him as a music geek rather than a tiresome wandering philosopher, so I think he is potentially a richer character than a pure stereotype. Although, thinking about it, his English is rather mannered and I have a horrible feeling that he would have been played by Sir Alec Guinness in the sixties’ film version. Which, thinking about it, ties in with the feeling of it all being in Henderson-Smythe’s imagination. So we are back to square one.

Well, that’s a lot of analysis for a rather slight piece. But I think we’ve all learnt something there 🙂