The Bowling Alley by Seb Duncan

Photo by Dalton Smith on Unsplash
This is an excerpt from Seb Duncan’s novella Headcase: A Post-truth ghost story.

The scene was set for the event, as it had now been named by Smutny. Despite its large size, Bowling Celnice’s low ceilings gave it an underground bunker feel that no amount of bright neon lighting or wall colouring could disguise. With 6 lanes and a large canteen, there was enough space for over 300 people at any one time, and the place was already beginning to fill up nicely. Two undercover police, both with discrete earpieces were in place to make sure everything went smoothly. They casually hung about at separate ends of the club, one sipping a giant soft drink from a straw and the other selecting some bowling shoes. As luck would have it, a large coachful of British tourists from the Women’s Institute was booked in for that afternoon. This, Smutny emphasised, would only add to the “authenticity halo” of the event, as the visitors communicated on mass what had happened to friends and relatives directly back home via social media. The discovery of the head was primarily focussed on regional and national media, but any direct international coverage would help to spread the story as far and wide as possible.

The fake head had been carefully placed at the base of one of the centre consoles that spat out new balls to the waiting hands of the players. Poppy Sandringham, adorned with the uniform of The WI (sky blue tennis skirt, matching socks and crisp white polo shirt), strode up to take her next ball. She was going for a heavier 14 and wasn’t going to take any chances on this round, she had already been humiliated by Mary Proudspire and wasn’t going to let her win this time. As she waited for a 14 to appear, Poppy limbered up by rotating her right arm in clockwise and counter-clockwise movements. Poppy was very, very competitive. She looked down, searching for the right ball but the machine began to make a strange groaning sound followed by a loud click and a pop. Noticing that one of the balls had been blocked in the aperture, she gave it a tug. It felt different from the others; strangely soft but still firm at the same time. One final pull with both hands dislodged it and she fell backwards head over heels, the object spinning in the air and arcing into a plate of exploding nachos on a nearby table. A dismembered head with a face like a chubby Yul Brynner was now staring up into the horrified faces of a family from Wisconsin. The whole place erupted, and people were now running in all directions shouting ‘head! head!’ or ‘hlava! hlava!’ In the middle of the chaos, one of the undercover policemen surreptitiously took some snaps of the head, looked around and quickly munched a handful of snacks.

The screaming continued as the contents of the bowling alley emptied out into the streets. Onlookers took out their phones to capture the event. A woman screamed in an American accent to the onlookers as she pointed back to the bowling alley. A Czech family who had been inside to celebrate a 12th birthday party dragged their children up the road in shock. More onlookers stopped and filmed the spectacle. Everyone was either calling on their phones, taking photos or filming. The machine had been switched on, the genie was out of the bottle, and the head was in the nachos.

Headcase: A Post-truth ghost story is available on Amazon KDP


The First Dive by Seb Duncan

This story was shortlisted in the Beyond The Dial Essay Writing Competition by Oris

As the light exploded from above, I felt the oxygen in my body circulate. Floating, I was on my back looking upwards into a blue expanse. But I felt tethered, stuck and then. Free. I felt a presence by my side. It felt safe. Secure. I was swimming above what looked like a giant mountain range. Smaller fish darted about in colourful shoals of azure and gold. They seemed to be collectively alarmed by our presence and cleared a path as one, as we moved into them. The shoal split in two to reveal an alien landscape of undulating, brittle, breathing rock. Soft slopes of formed lava combined with white, waving fronds of hard pitted trees. Colours danced and bubbles burst in light reflected hues of yellow, silver sunshine.

This was my first time.

Not knowing what to expect is the best part of any new experience. No preconceptions. No expectations. Just pure emersion in the moment. In that moment.

We darted around like synchronised swimmers. Through the shoals of fish as if swimming into a solid curtain of living, breathing colour. My companion turned to the right. I followed. Then lower, deeper and closer to the small caves below. Then the atmosphere changed. A sudden feeling of stillness. It was the feeling you get when you sense someone is standing behind you. My buddy moved down, deeper still. Darted. Then attacked. I watched in awe as she caught a fish with such speed and accuracy that I couldn’t contain myself, nodding my head up and down in excitement. She nodded back to me. Calm. Controlled.

Next, it was my turn.

My heart raced as I looked down and noticed a fish swimming near a small cave on its own. Slowly I descended. Aiming straight at it. Down further.

I got it!

Swimming back and up and side to side. My victory lap.

My companion looked on with pride. Her work was done. She was satisfied with the result of the training program and went on to attend to others in the group.

I swam on and caught another, then another until I could carry no more.

Swimming back towards my buddy, I stopped to watch her coaching another beginner. They dived down in unison as the shoals departed in abstract silver curls. I swam over and deeper to take a closer look at the master in action. The time passed quickly.

Then it happened.

First, the sound from above. A deep throbbing. A deafening roar turning into a continuous tone.

Then. Stop. Silence.

A large shape had now blocked our view from above. The sunlight had turned to darkness almost immediately. This was a creature of great length and width, but it seemed dead. Static. Just floating.

I decided to ignore it and continued with my dive, looking on with admiration at the master with her trainees. As I prepared to join them, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my mouth. A tugging, pulling sensation. Then up and up and up towards the dark object.  I tried to fight it but the more I fought the more it pulled and pulled.

The light burst into my eyes like needles. It was so bright that I couldn’t see. I felt a hand pull me, grab me. Up into the object and over, inside. A group of men with equipment dragged me on to the deck, knives out cutting into me, the pain excruciating, my fins were removed my tail was removed then I was thrown back into the water. I tried to swim but I could not, I tried to breathe but I could not. As I felt the air slip away, I remembered my first dive with my mother by my side. I would never have the chance to be the teacher, to be the master…


Every year thousands of young sharks are needlessly murdered for their fins. The fins are then sold for huge profit to the restaurant, food processing, and medical supplements industry. This is not only a cruel act of barbarity but also a major cause of habitat disruption. Most shark species don’t breed until they are 20 years old or so and when the young are killed in this way, the knock-on effect is devastating to the sustainability of the species.

 Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 (SFPA), which banned finning on any fishing vessel within United States territorial waters and on all U.S.-flagged fishing vessels in international waters. Additionally, shark fins could not be imported into the United States without the associated carcass. (Wikipedia)

 However, the practice still continues in other jurisdictions to this day


How to take your IELTS test during COVID Pandemic disruptions

Due to the Coronavirus lock-down all IELTS English tests have been suspended in the UK.

The new online IELTS Indicator test is a good way for you to test yourself during this period and some academic institutions may allow you to enroll in your course if you pass the test this way. Please check with your university if the IELTS Indicator test is acceptable.

Just like the normal IELTS test there are four parts to it. You will be tested on your Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The speaking part will be conducted using Skype, Zoom or Teams.

The timings of each part are as follows:

Listening is 30 minutes and has 40 questions. Reading is 60 minutes and has 40 questions. Writing is 60 minutes and has 2 parts. Listening is 11 to 14 minutes and has 3 parts.

If you need any help with IELTS preparation visit the courses page here.

Top 10 IELTS essay writing mistakes

Here is a list of the most common mistakes students make when writing an essay. Remember to leave enough time to check for these errors when you have completed your Task 1 essay or Task 2 essay.

  1. Use of the word ‘the’

We use the:

  • when there is only one of something in a particular area: the government, the police, the bridge, the river, the hospital
  • when there is only one in the entire world: the internet, the environment, the ozone layer, the atmosphere
  • with cardinal numbers: the first, the second, the third
  • with superlatives: the worst, the shortest, the lowest, the most beautiful, the least impressive
  • with places where the name refers to a group of islands or states: the USA, the UK, the Maldives, the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates
  • before nouns which describe general things: exercise is good for the bodythe motorbike is the most common form of transport in Asia, the role of the teacher has changed in recent years
  • before abstract nouns used to describe a situation, process, quality or a change: over the years the development of the town accelerated, the frequency of violent crime decreased over the period, the improvement in living standards 

We don’t use the 

  • to talk generally we drop the word ‘the’ and use the plural: dogs don’t like cats, people with dyslexia have reading problems, Japanese cars are very reliable, German products are very high quality. 
  • with a single place or country: Ireland, China, Vietnam, Europe, South America

Continue reading “Top 10 IELTS essay writing mistakes”

Confusion, conquest & contemplation: A Dubai Diary by Seb Duncan.

When you live in a city for long enough as an expat, you end up feeling so part of it that you can lose sight of the adventure that drove you there in the first place; what was once alien becomes familiar, what was at first challenging, becomes routine. This retrospective diary is an attempt to explain the experience of being an expat in three stages: confusion, conquest and… contemplation.

Continue reading “Confusion, conquest & contemplation: A Dubai Diary by Seb Duncan.”