Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Weekly Short Story: Customs

writing, fiction & once upon a time 5 min read

On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including science fiction, horror, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published four ebooks and one paperback anthology of those stories so far.

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I think we’ve all experienced flights of imagination when confronted with some of the more frustrating situations during everyday life. The idea of being able to exempt yourself from those annoyances, especially in a dramatic way, is a compelling one.

When you think about it rationally, it’s actually a really good thing that — for the most part — we do all tend to just go with the flow, bear the inconvenience with a stiff upper lip, and keep the fabric of society intact. The other way would lead to chaos, and we don’t want that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to think about.


They must be having a staff shortage, Haugen thought, glancing once again at his wristwatch. He’d been standing in the queue for over thirty minutes now.

There was no clock in the large but low-ceilinged hall, of course. Just a lot of notices about what you couldn’t do, like take photographs or record videos while they photographed and recorded you, asked for your passport, logged your arrival, and decided whether you were going to get through or not.

He looked around at the throng of his fellow passengers. He had spent the entire flight in alternating amusement and bemusement at what people put up with just to get from one country to another. They had no choice, of course; that was a large part of it. But he did, and so he was able to view the whole experience from the perspective of an outsider looking in. The fact that he could also have done so literally, no doubt scaring almost everyone of the plane half to death, put a small smile on his lips.

The queue moved forward slowly but steadily. There were red-faced men in clothes that were grotesquely informal from his point of view, shoulders slumped and looking like they were tired from the moment they woke up in the morning. There were obese women whose jowly faces were held pinched in indignation, presumably placing their own time at a substantially higher value than the needs of governments to control their borders — or perhaps just annoyed that they might miss the hotel’s lunch buffet.

There were children looking wide-eyed and vaguely stunned, transitioning from biddable tiredness to fractious exhaustion as the minutes ticked by. And there were the inevitable solo travellers, doubtless waiting to collect unreasonable amounts of luggage before going in search of the cheapest onward transportation. They always seemed like they’d just run away from their families to start anew on foreign shores.

Haugen fit none of those templates. His features were plain, but he stood upright, and he was slender in a way that provoked admiration which might occasionally border upon concern. He was dressed neither holiday-casually nor business-formally. He had a single piece of hand luggage, for appearance’s sake, and he had no further baggage to collect at all.

And I’m certainly the most powerful being in this building, city, district, country, and probably on the planet as a whole, he thought.

He had chosen the country for its land-locked nature, and centrality within Europe. The surrounding governments would be limited to using their air forces in any initial attempt to contain him, and needing costly and time-consuming transport for any ground-based offensive. Their navies were out of the question, except of course as launch platforms for aerial strikes, manned or otherwise. Not that any of it really mattered.

This was Haugen’s coming-out party, in a way. He was revealing himself to be the world’s first bona fide superbeing, and he was going to do so with a bang.

His plan had been to pass through immigration without incident, but the hour was late, and his patience was wearing thin. There would surely be no harm in beginning his campaign just a little earlier than previously decided. It wasn’t as if they could refuse to admit him. It wasn’t as if they could do anything at all. That was the point.

The queue moved forward, and Haugen now had only two people in front of him: a mother and son. He looked at them, thinking how small their lives were, but he had no intention of bringing those small lives to an end today. What he wanted was absolute control, not a genocide of the flawed species he had evolved from. He stood patiently as their documents were validated and they moved beyond the booth, but then the mother crouched down to tie her son’s shoelaces, and Haugen found himself proceeding to the passport control counter quietly, offering the relevant document with a nod, and being waved through.

He had surprised himself, but when he saw that the mother and son had now gone on ahead and left the area entirely, he felt more centred again. He felt the misanthropy building within him, answered as always by the prickling sensation of his power coursing through his blood. If he had been within one of the airport’s body scanners at the time, the machine would have been mysteriously damaged beyond repair.

Haugen looked ahead to the Customs and Excise checkpoint with its three gateways. He was not an EU citizen, so he ignored the blue one. Lifelong habit almost took him to the unmanned green arch, but his perverse sense of humour gave him a new destination. There was a security officer at a desk within the red gateway, looking bored and paying little attention to the flow of passengers who all veered away before reaching him, but the squat man raised an enquiring eyebrow when Haugen walked in. They were in full view of most of the incoming passengers and indeed the waiting relatives and transport operators beyond. There were cameras everywhere, and even a police patrol vehicle visible out at the kerb.

Haugen dropped his hand luggage onto the floor, having no need for the carelessly-assembled and untouched items of verisimilitude he’d purchased in the airport of his departure. They had served their purpose. The security officer frowned, and stood up from his chair. Haugen could see the man casually moving his right hand to his side, near his weapon holster.

That won’t be any help to you, he thought.

It took only a few seconds for him to cross the five metres or so to the desk, and then he let the energy bloom from beneath his skin, bursting forth in a halo of light that surrounded his outstretched palms even as he rose smoothly from the floor to hover overhead in his splendour.

“I have something to declare,” he said.


That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions; I’d love to hear from you; you can find me on Twitter.

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Have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading.