Deus Ex Machina 

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Thirty-seven percent.

The targeting system suggested a critical hit was unlikely, but his unit would be exposed if he didn’t take the shot.

The sound of a key in the door shifted his attention from the alien menace to a more immediate threat. Reacting instinctively, he closed the battle map and pressed F6. The door opened behind him and he punched the Return key. A Word document instantly filled the screen.

“How’s the writing gone?” enquired Pippa, struggling through the opening laden with bags.

“Alright,” replied Angus nonchalantly. “Thought I’d have a go at a competition.”

“Yeah?” Pippa dumped the shopping on the dining table, next to her husband’s laptop.

“Yeah. A short story.”

“What about?” She peered at the rather barren display. Angus’s favourite mug, proudly emblazoned with the claim Bird Nerd, was glazed with a mocha crust. It had unequivocally outperformed the keyboard.

“Anything. But you have to include three words.”

“Cool. I remember doing exercises like that in school. Like the one with the fox.”

“The fox?”

“Yeah. The quick fox. You know the one. You get the first line and have to finish the story.”

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog?”

“That’s it!” she exclaimed.

“That wasn’t an exercise,” he corrected. “That’s the sentence containing every letter of the alphabet.”

“Oh, yeah. Same thing.”

“Not really, but…” Angus shrugged.

“Brew?” Pippa asked.

Love one.” He handed over his coffee-stained mug.

Angus’s movements could be traced through a network of dirty cups and Pippa collected two more on her journey to the kitchen. A chipped and cracked Ahh Bisto! had been left on the sideboard, and a half-full Lawn Ranger perched valiantly on a narrow windowsill overlooking the garden. She idly wondered which amusing slogan or advertising pitch awaited her on the bedside table.

“Any ideas?” she shouted from the kitchen.

“Dunno. I might mash up an existing one and slip the words in.”

“Is that not cheating?” She filled the kettle and placed it on the stove.

“Not really. But I’ve not done anything like this for ages. I’m a bit rusty.”

Angus continued typing sentences and deleting them, until the kettle whistled and Pippa returned.

“Maybe this will help lubricate your creative mind!” She placed his tea on the table.

Angus looked at the promotional mug and laughed: Erosion? Corrosion? Oxidation? WD-40 takes care of it.

“That’s quite funny for you,” he teased.

“Cheeky! What are your three words?”

Tilting the screen in Pippa’s direction, Angus pointed to the list.

“Ouch. How are you gonna get those into one story?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“Have a break, hon.” She kissed him on the head, before transporting the shopping to the kitchen.

An unexpected thought occurred to Angus. He needed a different angle. With the swipe of a key, he unleashed his plan. Having amended perspective and focus, he sat back and sipped his tea.

Eighty-three percent, informed the targeting system.

He smiled smugly. Then took the shot.

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Consumed by wondrous tales of fantastical worlds since childhood, Gareth Hewitt writes fiction inspired by mythology and legend. On occasion, he enjoys an irreverent foray into the mundane. He lives on the cusp of Lancashire and Merseyside, where he works on his first novel between school runs. Happiness is an autumnal walk on the beach, a victory for Everton Football Club or writing in the local coffee shop. Follow Gareth on Twitter.

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