Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Available now


Amazon.com: 52 Stitches: Horror Stories (Volume 2)

Some truly fabulous tales, one of which I penned -- er, typed -- about Lu.

All profits for the book go to Jamie Eyberg's memorial fund (for his children).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday Surprise

Cameron was up first, leaving Beryl to another half hour while he showered and shaved and made a pot of tea. He'd made reservations for The China Garden for dinner and had bought her a Luxury Continental Assortment from the hand-made chocolate shop on Cheap Street (which was anything but). What was it about hand-made chocolates that made them four times the price of normal ones? Personally, he'd take the hygiene of a machine over a plastic-gloved Rita Pendleton any day. He'd never seen her without a dripping nose. Still, Beryl liked them and that's what mattered.

He set the chocolates and a card on a tray and put the kettle on to boil, then went back upstairs for a shower, setting the water running to heat up while he shaved and brushed his teeth. By the time he came downstairs to make the tea, all Beryl had for her birthday was a card with a chocolate paw-print on the envelope.

Knuckles took one look at Cameron's face and set off at a run, his claws scrabbling on the hard kitchen floor and looking almost comical. If he hadn't just eaten the whole box chocolates Cameron might have laughed but he could hardly give her a slightly chewed empty box. Whoever said it was the thought that counted had never tried to explain an empty box to his wife on her birthday.

"You little bugger." He scowled as Knuckles peered around the corner of the dining room and whined. he knew without looking the stubby tail would be going nineteen to the dozen. "You're not supposed to eat chocolate, idiot."

He retrieved several of the chocolates from the box lid and arranged them on a saucer with a red serviette from the pantry (they'd bought a packet last Christmas and only used two each) scrunched up to look like a nest. He took the tray upstairs and woke his wife."

"Oh, you shouldn't have." It almost broke his heart to see her crestfallen expression when she saw the tray and realised he hadn't.

"Sorry, love. The dog got at them while I was in the shower.

"Oh no. How many did her eat?"

"The rest of the box. About twenty?"

"Oh dear. He doesn't do well on chocolate."

"He seemed all right.."

He was interrupted by the sound of a large dog with diarrhoea.

"It's my birthday." Beryl patted his arm. "My day off from cleaning."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Wooden Souls

Harry put down his knife and picked up his baccy tin. The woman at the corner shop, the one on Cuthorn Road that used to be a post office, had left him an ounce of Gold Shag which should last him a week or more if he eked it out. Just as well, too. He seen the doll he made her in the window of the shop for twenty quid. Twenty quid! No wonder she was happy to leave him a fiver's worth of shag.

He filled his pipe and lit it with a match, resting his back against the concrete wall of his shelter. It used to be a woodland hide but the new road had driven away all the birds and now it was home to Harry and his friends. He puffed on his pipe, enjoying the warmth of the sun through the fresh spring leaves. He'd got through another winter without interference from well meaning busybodies.

He picked up the doll he'd been working on. Each joint had been carved and pinned to be articulate, the torso in two section and the chest with a tiny hinged compartment. He took one more puff of his pipe then took up the knife again, levering open the doll's intricately carved chest.

He reached for the little wicker cage at his feet and opened it, drawing out a starling that had been too greedy and too trusting. It's heart would be just the perfect size. It made his dolls special.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Corpse Flower

The trail of blood led to a glasshouse, one of those massive Victorian affairs that were all Romanesque arches in wrought iron, white paint peeling away from the red iron undercoat thanks to the heat and humidity inside. White followed the little yellow triangles as the climbed up the numbers, each one marking a drop of some poor bastard's precious life fluid.

A young constable handed him a blue paper suit at the door. "It's the plants sir. Some of them are irritants."

"I'm irritated already and I haven't even gone inside yet."

"Yes sir." The constable's expression was frozen between sympathy and impertinence. "Just follow your nose. Do you want a mask?"

"No need. I've seen enough bodies in my time."

"It's not the body, sir."

"I'll have one." Peters caught up and snatched a paper suit and mask. He began putting them on. "The victim is a lad called Milford Brooks. Twenty four years old and worked at the steelworks down by the railway on Goodge Street. Married to a woman called Melanie with a six year old daughter, Bella. It looks like he crawled here looking for help."

"In a greenhouse?"

"Yes sir. Apparently the owner has lights on a timer to simulate the tropics. The victim must have thought there was someone here."

"Let's see, shall we?" White pulled open the door and stepped inside. He wrinkled his nose. "I thought you said he died last night."

"He did sir." Peters took out his notebook. "What you can smell is a flower, an Amorphophallus titanum or Giant Corpse Flower. Very rare, so I'm told."

"What will they think of next?" White looked up at a series of long tubes hanging from a vine. "I've seen these before. Arboreal Pitcher plants, yes?"

"Yes sir." Peters waved away a fly. "All the plants in here are either carnivorous or have some connection to decomposition."

"Fascinating." White moved on, pausing at the body to stare at the hundreds of worms, maggots and flies that covered it. "Do we have a cause of death or did the arboretum?"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cutting Edge

Samuel looked at his image in the monitor, flicking through to the overhead camera and zooming in to see the back of his own head. He stroked the smooth surface with his palm as if brushing back an errant cowlick. "What do you think?"

The speakers on Dill's installation came to life. "Nice cranial transplant, bro." His biometric monitor flickered with activity as the neural implant accessed the cameras. "What about further enhancement? Is there an access port?"

"But of course." Samuel depressed a hidden button, allowing the stainless steel cranial shell to recede into the forehead construction, exposing the brain in its case, fed by wires and tubes. "Easy access to any section of the tissue for cybernetic enhancement or biological replacement."

"Sweet." Dill's speakers crackled. "This was the best time to become zombies. Right at the profitable cutting edge of Tech."

Sam closed his cranial cover and grinned with what little remained of his lips. "Cutting edge, yes. Quite literally."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Emergency Generator

The demon tilted his wings to a angle better suited to reflect the sun on his upper torso. "I'm bored." He picked up his drink and sucked delicately at the straw. "England is so tedious in August. All year long they complain about the cold and the damp them presto! In August they complain about the heat and the lack of rain."

"There's always the old emergency generator, sir." The imp refilled the demon's glass with fresh lemonade. "I could dig that out for you."

"Gosh, yes. I'd forgotten all about that. Pull it out then, little fellow. Let's give it a crank, shall we?"

He folded his wings as the imp opened the shed and dragged out a rusting piece of hardware that looked like a cross between a barbeque and an air raid siren. He studied the faded lettering on the dial. "Let's see. Invasion from Mars? Nuclear Attack? Rise of the Mud Men?" He shook his head. "No wonder we haven't used this since the fifties." He took out a sharpie and wrote a new label: Zombie Apocalypse.

The imp clapped politely. "Oh, very topical, sir."

"Super." He began to wind the crank.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Unexpected Visit

Inspector White rapped on the green-painted door of the Herbage but took a surprised step backwards at the outburst of furious barking from inside. The letterbox rattled and a snout poked out, the brown nose taking noisy intakes of breath and huffing them out again. He could make out the end of a paw, too.

"Stimper! i lawr! Dewch i ffwrdd!" Meinwen's accent sounded muted since the last time he'd spoken to her, as if the dampness in her throat had been dried by the Wiltshire chalk. The sounds of a scuffle filtered through the oak boards but eventually the door opened a crack, Meinwen's curl-framed face at the height of White's waist and the brown-speckled head of a dog at the level of his knees.

He took another step back, almost clocking himself on the head against Meinwen's hanging basket full of chives and pansies. "Hold the dog back, please."

"Inspector! What an unexpected pleasure. Let me put Stimper in the study. He wouldn't harm a fly but he's a bit excitable."

"Right you are, Ms. Jones." White checked his phone while he waited, wondering what the flashing orange envelope meant. A moment later the door opened fully.

"Sorry about that. My brother's gone to Greece for a fortnight and I'm looking after his spaniel. He's from Cardiff and doesn't understand my accent."

"Could you not have put him into kennels?"

"Oh no." Meinwen stood to one side to let him pass. "He was set on seeing Athens."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Murder Victim



" Like a painting, we will be erased.
Like a flower, we will dry up here on earth.

Like plumed vestments of the precious bird,

That precious bird with the agile neck,
We will come to an end."



White used the end of a pencil to pick off a scab from the body. "Find out where that's from, Sergeant. it could be important."

"It probably is important, to judge by its position." Eric Chambers lifted the mask from his face and allowed it to dangle around his neck. "My guess is it took an hour or more to carve that into the victim's chest. It must have been excruciating."

"He certainly came to an end. Is that the cause of death?"

"Actually, no. " Eric twisted one of the victims legs to one side. "That little cut there was."

"Femoral artery?" Chambers nodded and Write straightened. "Do we have an identity?"

"Jonathan Hill. Taught modern languages and history at the technical college. Constable Bride recognised him from her evening class in Spanish. He was a good teacher, she said. Everybody loved him."

"I beg to differ." White peeled off the pair of blue latex gloves and handed them to a SOCO. "Somebody didn't like him at all. You could say..." He donned a pair of sunglasses. "Our murderer cut and ran."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Project Proposal

The smell was worse than when Dill had failed a skateboard stunt and landed in a dog poo bin. "Oh my god!" he covered what remained of his nose with his hand. "What is that?"

"My experiment." Sam twitched off the cloth covering what Dill had assumed was a fish tank, revealing the true horror inside. "I reanimated them all."

Dill had to dare himself to go closer. Inside the tank an undead squirrel limped across a surface of dried mud. What parts of its body weren't being attacked by a grey funguus were home to a number of insects. Cockroaches clustered around a pair of small birds and formed a scaled spinal exoskeleton while butterflies and other insects festooned its tail. Its movement was hampered by the beginning of a wasp nest on one leg. He looked aghast at Sam. "Why? For god's sake, Sam, why?"

Sam covered the tank again. The paisley patterned cloth reminded Dill of his grandmother's budgie cage, and he suddenly realised why the two birds on the squirrel's back looked familiar.

Sam handed him a report sheet. "The process works. Reanimated creatures no longer function as individuals but as hive creatures. Think of the military applications."

"What military applications?"

"Think of a whole army of soldiers functioning as a hive."

Dill shook his head. "What would be the point? Why would you even consider creating such an abominaton?"

Sam picked up another sheet of paper, this time with the heading 'Ministry of Defence.' "Look at the funding advance."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Eyes have It

Dill jumped as consciousness flooded back his eye, already open, filled with the view of a familiar figure strapped to an operating table. "Sam?" The figure spoke. "What have you done?"

"Relax, mate. It's just a bit of an experiment." Sam appeared in Dill's field of vision, or at least his back did as he headed toward the figure on the table. He peeled back the figures eyelids and clamped them open, then used forceps to fish out the optical nerve. Dill felt pressure on his head.

"Wait! That's me you're working on. How can I see you if I'm over there?"

"I took your eyes out."

"You did what?"

"Relax. You'll get them back when I'm finished. Besides, they're in a nutrient bath. They'll be better than before."

"I don't believe you, You're mad."

"They said that about Frankenstein. And Crippin."

"But they were mad."

Sam shrugged. "The exception proves the rule?"

"What are you doing?"

"Fixing a camera into your socket and connecting it to your optical nerve. If this works it'll be the first step to a true cyborg technology. We'll be rich."

"How rich?"

"Moderately rich."

The figure nodded, making the clamps rattle. "Fair enough."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Smile on Your Purchase

The house at 22 Murder Drive, Infamy was very cheap. Well below market value, in fact; the main factor in Gerry being able to afford the mortgage. "Why are there no other houses on the estate sold?" he asked the vendor, John Smiles*.

"Yours is the show home." John clapped him on the back and clipped the end from a cigar. "Fully furnished, fully fitted kitchen. Ten percent cash deposit and you can move in."

"Fantastic." Gerry took a brief walk around the small garden. "What's this mound?"

"Ambiance." John pointed. "Have you seen the view? Marvellous fields and a quirky post-modern building in the mid ground."

"That's a cemetery and crematorium."

"There you go. And not a penny extra on the price."





*Smiles Estate Agents, 20 Dark Passage, Laverstone

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shreds


Inspector White took one look at the corpse and stepped outside again for a bit of fresh air.

"Something wrong, Sir?" Sergeant Perkins raised his eyebrows and earned a scowl for his trouble. "Open and shut case, I'd say."

"Now is not the time to make jokes, sergeant." White picked up a face mask and put it on. He normally eschewed then as unnecessary trappings but when dealing with a shredded corpse left in an airtight travel case for several days it became a desirable accoutrement. Besides, Perkins getting to a joke first had rattled him.

He returned to the room. The corpse had been sliced into ribbons and stuffed in a slight bag in an empty house. The estate agent had arrived to show a prospective buyer round and had been moved to open the mysterious bag, an action he now regretted. "Any clues, Sergeant?"

"Not much sir. The place has been wiped clean."

"Just like the last body we found, then. Not a shred of evidence."

"I wouldn't say that Sir." Perkins used a pencil to lift up part of the corpse. "I'd say he's been well shredded."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Service Stop

The bruise was painful to the touch; a livid black and purple, fading to green and yellow at the edges. Emily poked it again, feeling the familiar tingle as the damaged flesh reacted to the pressure. Her smile faded as she fumbled for the arnica, applying the cream in a circular pattern before pulling up her knickers and flushing the loo and leaving the cubical. She crossed to the row of washbasins, gasping as vibrations travelled up her body. She clenched her thighs together and began washing her hands.

"You all right love?" The woman using the next washbasin along spoke to her reflection. "You look a bit peaky. Time of the month?"

"Something like that." Emily nodded at her, shaking her hands free of water droplets as she moved to the hand dryer, then out to her friend, waiting on the concourse.

"All right?" Michael unknowingly echoed the woman in the bathroom. "You were gone a while."

"And who are you to judge how long a lady needs to use the bathroom?"

"Since I became the one holding the key?" He patted his jacket pocket where he carried the means to release the stainless steel chastity belt."

"He gave you that only in case of emergency." Emily stalked toward the double doors leading to the car park. Her egress was arrested by vibrations again, this time so heavy she was forced to lean against the wall of a retail outlet selling fold-up chairs and portable stoves. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to overcome the sensations when what she actually wanted was to ram her hand inside her knickers and bring herself to orgasm.

The sensations faded. Emily opened her eyes to the stares of several strangers on the concourse. They looked away as she challenged their gaze.

"I'm not ready to leave just yet." Michael took hold of her arm. "I haven't perused the food vendors yet. Would you like a sandwich?"

She didn't answer until he thumbed the handset for the remote-controlled vibrator again. Her eyes widened.

He chuckled. "Or would you prefer some meat?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Silence

There was a silence.

More than a silence, there was an absence of noise.

Silence is never really absolute. It is filled with breath, wind, the beating of a heart, the hum of the central-heating boiler, the drip of blood from the ceiling. What was here was a complete absence of any sound whatsoever. An absence of noise that would drive a mortal mind mad in seconds and leave them hurling themselves over the banister just to break the silence.

It was broken by Jasfoup taking a long breath of air and letting it all out in a sigh. "Typical. Seventy-nine floors up and still no tea." He peered up the dark stairwell. "Do you think there might be a cafe up there selling tea and small slices of overpriced lemon drizzle cake?"

Devious followed his gaze. "Not really, sir. No."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Siren

"Buy me a drink, sweetie?" The lady looked too old to be a stripper, too haggard to be a mistress, and too clever to be a hooker. I nodded to the barman and he reached for the bourbon. Whatever she was, she was a regular.

I gave her the once-over. The Seaview Hotel in Torquay wouldn't compete with the Savoy but it wasn't exactly a dive, either. "What's a nice place like this doing with a girl like you?"

She wrinkled her nose – at least it matched the rest of her. "I sing here. What's your excuse?"

"Touché." I smiled, raising my glass in a mock toast. "I heard there was a woman who sang so beautifully the angels cried."

She inclined her head. "Once, perhaps. Not any more." She thumped her leg, which rang hollow. "Cancer took it. Too many years of swimming in poisoned water. My voice was part of the sea." She shook her head. "Not any more."

"Pity." I paid for the dinks and picked up my hat. "I only came to bottle angel's tears."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Defending Heresy

Gareth, Duke of Hamilton, stopped short as three men stepped out of the cloister fog, two with swords already drawn. Their dress told him they were French but the swords were of Italian make. A man might change his clothes for the sake of politics but a man who changes his sword so easily is on about to die. These were Italians, then, dressed as Frenchmen.

"What is it you want?" Gareth's voice vanished into the mist, the dressed stone dispersing the tones in all directions. "I've no quarrel with you."

"But we have a quarrel with heretics." The speaker drew his own sword, a heavy hand-and-a-half with a barbed tip.

"You're the Pope's men?" Gareth pulled out his side sword, lighter than his foes' but quicker. he struck up a cautious stance in a DiGrassi seconde. "Why waylay me? I've no interest in politics.

"You're the King's cousin and we need you to take a message to him." The speaker smiled through broken teeth. No courtier this, however pretty his manner. More like a hired thug.

"Tell me then and have done." Gareth's eyes flicked from one of the men to the next. "I will pass on your message. You have my word on it."

"It's not your word we require, but your head. It will be a fine message all of itself." The speaker darted forward, his blade falling in an arc. Gareth dodged to one side, avoiding the blade and bringing his own into a diagonal cut that laid open the speaker's left leg from groin to knee. He collapsed, leaving Gareth with space to avoid the cut from the second swordsman, his side sword parading into prime with a muffled ring of steel-on-steel. He thrust forward, cutting through the swordsman's throat the sever the spine. Two down.

The third Italian fled, leaving Gareth in peace to examine the two fallen assassins. Both wore ragged clothes beneath the livery of the French Guard and the speaker had a coin purse with forty sovereigns. Gareth pocketed them, pleased the cost of his assassination had risen since last year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blog suspended for a week - sorry


Jasfoup et al are on holiday in Devon
They'll be back on the 27th.

If you pop back then they'll give you a piece of rock.
(not edible rock, of course, just something cheap and high velocity)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Missing Monarch

Harold took out his jeweller's glass. "A 1960 letter from Saint Paul McCartney to the Corinthians, you say?"

"That's right. Original. I want two hundred quid for it." The man turned and looked out of the door. "Cash." He turned back, beads of sweat forming on his upper lip and forehead.

"It's a fake." Harold stood. "See this stamp on the envelope? That's what we call the missing monarch. The tuppeny stamps weren't inked properly, see, and didn't print the queen's head. The stamp's from 1961, rendering your whole claim puerile. I'll give you thirty quid."

"It's worth two hundred!"

"Then try Music Memorabilia on Westgate. He might overestimate its value."

"Nah. You can have it for fifty quid."

"I said thirty." Harold counted out three ten-pound notes. "Take it or leave it."

"I'll take it." He snatched up the money and left the shop, the door not slamming, thanks to the hydraulic spring.

Harold picked up the phone and dialled Music Memorabilia. "Mike? Harold Waterman from Alexandrian Gold. A bloke's just come in and sold me your stolen McCartney letter." He paused, listening. "Yes... Seventy-five quid."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Probably Bad News

The young woman paused half-way through a step, caught herself and turned. Her nostrils flared as she sought the source of the scent, her head turning this way and that until she zeroed in on the origin.

Dill pointed to Sam "Him, I think you're looking for."

"Well hello." Sam did his best Leslie Phillips impersonation. "Who might you be?"

"Amanda Brinkley." She held out her hand. "I couldn't help noticing your scent..."

"Distinctive, isn't it?" Sam tossed his head to one side. "I call it chair pourrissant. Do you like it?"

"Very much." Amanda took a step forward. "It reminds me of home."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Peter's Flat

The flat, situated on the third floor of one of the buildings on Lichgate, had a feature window with a view the cathedral. It faced west, where the sun lit the minster in the morning and crossed the sky to bathe the flat in its afternoon rays. In the mornings Peter enjoyed the smell of the bakery on the ground floor and in the evenings that of the Indian take-away on Lovatt Street. He'd placed the bed at the exact point to see the building at its best and there was nothing he liked better than to lie, languorous and sated after sex, as the afternoon shadow of the cross sauntered across his bedroom walls.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

ditorial

Emma Daly typed the last few words of her editorial and hit 'send.' Laverstone wouldn't know what hit it when The Times hit the streets tomorrow; her scathing attack on the politics of art would sway the masses in favour of the avant garde statue of Crucifixion in the Arms of a Temple Prostitute instead of the proposed bronze: Unknown Soldier Storming the Gates of Paradise. Who did they think was paying for this anyway? The Arts Council? No. She'd uncovered the bitter truth. It was being paid for by a private individual. Who the Hell was Andantia Waterman, anyway?E

Monday, August 02, 2010

With the Moon in the House of Cheap

Harold put the finishing touches on the altar. "There. All ready. Now give me the hair."

Jasfoup took out his wallet and extracted a single auburn hair, about a foot long. "You did remember to scrub the stone with Damascus oil?"

"Yes." Harold closed his eyes and counted to three. I followed the instructions in the book you gave me to the letter."

"To the letter?" The demon looked momentarily worried. "It was a very old book."

"Obviously I adjusted for archaic spelling. Even I can tell the difference between 'spirit' and 'sprite.'"

"Ah, that's good, because I've only ever done this once and I thought it said 'spittle'. You should have seen the face of the deceased's mother." The demon giggled. "Considering the spell multiplies volume by a thousand she was near drowning in it There was spit everywhere."

Harold shook his head. "Trust me on this. It's fairly basic necromancy. I just have to wait until the moon shines on the altar before I—Ooh! There it is. Give me the hair, quick before it goes behind a cloud."

"Here." Jasfoup draped it over Harold's palm and Harold transferred it to the centre of the alter.

"Right, here we go." Harold held up the book, the light from Jasfoup's torch enough to read by. "Contraho phasmatis illae pilosus mulier ex angulus of novem universitas." He added a pinch of purified salt. "Si vos exsisto sic pius."

"It's working." Jasfoup gripped Harold's arm as a cloud of ectoplasm gathered in the air above the altar. "She's coming back."

"What is it about this particular spirit that fascinates you so much?" Harold stood back and looked at his watch, trying to gauge if he'd get back in time to see the late film. "She should have moved on by now."

"Moved on?" Jasfoup reached out to touch the girl's face as it coalesced. "her essence was dissipated by a demon. She couldn't move on until she was whole again." He smiled at his friend. "Besides, she's a fantastic legal secretary and now she's dead we won't have to pay her."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Double Cross

Julie helped the two boys through the back door of the gallery. "Can you help them?"

"You should have brought them to me sooner." Legion glided across the room to the students, lifting their eyelids and examining their skin for signs of deterioration. "I'm not sure there's very much I can do for them now."

"Please try." Julie helped Dill into a chair. His lips were moving in a repeated pattern but he'd forgotten to inhale so no sound came out. She tried to lip read but it seemed as if he was talking about the weather. 'Rains?'

"I can't repair the eye." Legion inserted a finger into Sam's socket and levered out the dull, glazed orb. "Still, you're no stranger to ruined faces, are you?" She pulled Dill's right arm out straight and scratched a sigil into it. Julie caught a flash of silver as one of the demons entered, forcing Dillard out of his skin.

"Hey!" The ex-student, ex-mortal scowled. "Do you mind? I was using that."

His body opened his eyes and spoke with a mouth he recognised from the bathroom mirror. "Not any more, mate."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Willpower

The tiny car crawled along the Old Oxford Road at a snail's pace, its driver seemingly oblivious to the mile-long tailback that had developed between Little Taunting and Laverstone. By the time the procession reached Marsh Lane, Sergeant Brandsford, who had stood patiently next to the 'Keep Left' sign of the pedestrian safety point, walked alongside it, tapping on the driver's window.

"Mrs. Waterman," he said when she acknowledged him. "What a pleasure to see you."

Ada spared him a glance. "Michael Brandsford. I held your mother deliver you."

"So I'm told." He took another step to keep up with her. "Would you mind pulling into the side of the road, please?"

"If I must." Ada gave him a wry smile and did as she was asked.

"Why were you going so slowly?"

"It's a solar powered car."

"I'm sorry?"

Ada sighed. "It's a solar powered car. And it's cloudy."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rat Out

Lucy watched her father examine the contents of every cupboard in the kitchen, his bowl and favourite spoon – not too rounded, not too pointy – ready on the napkin beside it. He'd started on the knee-high cupboard next to the fridge, emptying it of corn flakes and wheaty bricks and Frosted Tadpoles while each breath got shorter and huffier. He'd tried the cupboard next to it, the eye level cupboards and the pantry.

She spooned the last of her porridge down and sat back, the spoon clattering against the stoneware bowl and briefly drowning the Justine Briber show on Radio Two. "Jasfoup ate the last bowl of you chocolate rice." She smiled smugly at the demon, who let out a heavy sigh.

"It's true. I couldn't resist them. I'm sorry."

"You might have mentioned it before I turned the kitchen inside out." Harold opened the packet of Frosted Tadpoles and filled his bowl.

Jasfoup leaned over and whispered to Lucy. "I ate the last bowl but you ate the other twenty, didn't you?"

Lucy smiled. She was, everybody agreed, the very picture of five year old innocence.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Snake in the Grass

Harold put a hand on his friend's arm. "Don't turn around but there's a snake in the grass."

"That's supposed to be a metaphor, Harold." Jasfoup smiled tersely. "it's supposed to mean there's a traitor in our midst but you meant it literally, didn't you? Since this is England and it's far too damp today to encourage adders and grass snakes to come out and play I suspect what you're looking at is what Devious affectionately calls a 'Legionnaire.'"

"One of those wiggly demon children Legion was on about, you mean?"

"Yes."

"Yes." Harold pulled a jam jar out of his pocket. "Let's catch it."

"Catch it?"

"Yes." He bent into a wicket-keeper's position, the jar and the lid in separate hands. "You're a demon so it can't attack you and I'm half-demon so I should be safe too." He paused. "Shouldn't I?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Aconite and Hemlock

Inspector Cameron White stood to one side of the kitchen while the coroner examined the body. His wife Beryl would have loved this decor – it was all stainless steel and white enamel. She'd redecorate their kitchen like this if he could afford it. Minus the dead body, naturally. He coughed. "Any clue toward pinpointing cause of death?"

"Cardiac arrest after inhaling a fatal dose of hydrogen cyanide." Eric Chambers pointed to the victim's lips, which were an exceptionally deep pink. "Happened fairly quickly, I'd say. She struggled to breath, fell unconscious hitting her head on the corner of the worktop here." He pointed to a still-sticky bloodstain. "Then she lapsed into a coma while her lungs collapsed and her heart stopped.

"Cyanide?" White shook his head. "I thought that was only popular in Agatha Christie novels. Any clue what it was in?"

"Actually yes. She dropped the packet." Chambers pointed to a small sachet labelled 'Cut Flower Food' in bright purple letters. "What should have been Manganese salt was potassium cyanide. It would have activated as soon as she added it to the vase."

"Clever." White nodded, almost approvingly. "Do we know where the flowers came from?"

"The neighbour said it was a tall lad in a space invader knitted tank top with bicycle clips on his legs.

"Ah. That sort of lad." He looked at the dead girl. "She should learned something from the fall of Troy."

Chambers frowned. "I don't follow..."

"Beware of geeks bearing gifts."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death of a Playwright

"Ellie! More wine!" Christopher Marlowe, lying on his back on the overstuffed settee, held his tankard in the air.

"Haven't you had enough?" Ingram Frizer raised his head from the table.

"No. My arse is still sore.." Marlowe looked for the innkeeper. "Ellie?"

"Not until you pay your tab." Eleanor Bull bustled from the kitchens. "Fourteen sovereigns are owed for the drink and the bowls of venison stew."

"Venison? Hardly, Madame." Nicholas Skeres looked up from his letter writing in the far corner. "I've eaten enough street rabbit in my time to recognise the taste."

"Street rabbit?" Robert Poley looked down at his dish. "I've never seen one of those."

"He means rats." Marlowe twisted in his seat. "It that true, Ellie? Are the streets of Deptford free of vermin thanks to your pot?"

"They will be when you've gone home." Eleanor stood to one side and handed him a scrap of parchment.

"What's this?" Marlowe looked at it. "The bill? Are you serious?"

"Deadly serious, sir. Put up or shut up, if you please."

"Oh, damn you, woman." Marlowe picked up Frizer's dagger and threw it at the table where he and Poley were sitting, It stuck in the wood, inches from Frizer's leg. "Frizer will pay. He's plenty of Walsingham gold in his purse."

"That could have hit me, you mincing buffoon." Frizer pulled the dagger out and stood."

"Better a mincing buffoon than a perfidious cocksucker." Marlowe swung his legs to the floor and stood. "It was you who passed information to Mary's chamberlain, wasn't it? Did he drop his pantaloons for you?" He made several hip thrusts to demonstrate.

"Prick." Frizer's face turned bright red as he advanced on the playwright. "Take that back."

"Like you did?" Marlowe turned and proffered his arse. "If you prick me, do I not bleed?"

"I'll prick you all right." Frizer leaned over as if to bugger him, but it was his dagger that pierced Marlowe, not his cock. He stood back as the playwright fell. and drew his rapier. "That was an accident, right?"

Skeres and Poley nodded.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Strange Dreams of Selwyn Dean

It was, I thought, a huge stretch of the imagination. I'd just parked in a woodland car-park next to the university and let the dogs out to pee. Now I was talking to an angel with a broken wing splinted with a ski pole and duct tape.

"What are you supposed to be? A clerk?" He looked at me with one eyebrow raised as he considered my attire. Jeans, blouse, boots, woollen coat and fedora. I'd dumped my handbag in the boot and stuffed my purse and keys in a pocket, the better to pass as a man in the shadows of the trees.

"No, a bursar." I made to walk away but he stepped in front of me.

"Have you met God?"

I thought he was joking and shook my head slowly. "No, though I do have an appointment to get to..."

"Yes, an appointment with God." He pointed further into the trees with a foam sword.

"In the wood?" I looked dubious but he velcroed his sword to his belt and took my arm.

"No, silly. On the other side."

I pulled away. "He's dead?"

"He's the Dean, but mostly he's in the pub on the other side of the wood."

"Oh." I looked back at the car. Both dogs were lying on the parcel shelf. "Will this take long?"

"No. Selwyn's too busy writing the next scenario."

I shook my head. It served me right for applying for a university job on a live roleplaying weekend.




Image: Strange dreams... by Photographer Sergei Bizyaev

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Breaking the Brain Siege

"How would you deal with a demon-possessed corpse?" asked Harold. "Just for argument's sake. Blue sky thinking. Any method you can come up with."

Julie stirred her coffee, the tink tink tink a counterpoint to the low grumble of the dishwasher in the background.

"Devious? Shut up. It was your turn to do the pots so stop moaning about it."

"Yes sir." Devious ran extra hot water, scowling at the reflection of the back of Harold's head.

"Nuclear bomb?" Julie took a sip of coffee. "Engineer a tidal wave? Meteor strike? Napalm? Neutron bomb?"

Harold sucked air between his teeth. "A little more precise. Imagine there are people among them, hiding out."

"Is a demon possessed corpse a zombie?"

"More or less."

"Then the people are expendable. Fireball the lot."

"That's less blue sky and more air head." Harold stood an action figure on the table. "Let's make it just one demon-possessed zombie. You have to stop the meat but catch the demonic spirit inside it."

"Soul trap."

"What's that when it's at home?"

"A mirror inscribed with a portal to itself. Any spirit looking into it will be trapped inside."

"How long for?"

"Until the mirror is broken."

"Great! Can you make one of those?"

Julie shook her head. "Of course not. There's no such thing."

Harold let out a deep sigh. "Apart from a soul trap, what other method would you use?"

Julie put down her coffee and smiled. "A bottle of liquid nitrogen and a hammer."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Novelist Dot Con

Harold Waterman missed the reading of the awards. No doubt the prize would have gone to that old hack, Peter Numan and his doorstopper book The New-New Testament: An Interview with Jesus. He clamed it was non-fiction, written over the course of a year with a man who was speaking in tongues but everybody knew, unofficially, he'd spent nine months in a sanatorium and banged out the book in six weeks afterward.

Instead he was shut in an airless room with three men in cheap black suits, reduced to drinking water. He looked up at Mr. Adams. "When does the after-party start?"

His eyes flickered to Harold's face and away again. "Does it matter?" He returned to his paperback edition of Gloaming. "You won't be attending anyway."

"Why not? I have an executive pass for being a judge of the Bibliolatry Prize."

"How exactly did you become a judge then?" The second of the suits stepped forward, balancing a pair of spectacles on his nose as he scanned a list of names. "Only I can't find you in the Who's Who in Publishing."

"I'm an author." Harold puffed his chest. "I wrote The Godly Child."

"Which sold the sum total of fourteen copies, including the ten disbursed to the author."

"It was still nominated for the award."

"In biro, at the bottom of each voting sheet."

"It received votes."

"A vote, Mr. Waterman. It received a vote. Your vote, in fact. Is that correct?"

"Maybe." Harold shifted in his seat. "I voted for the only book I thought had merit. I wouldn't have bothered voting at all but I ended up on the panel and thought it deserved to win. I was going to remove it only I wrote it in pen. Anyway, it was only for a laugh. So can I go now?"

"No Mr. Waterman. You see, here at Digital Dearth we take a dim view of vote rigging."

Harold smiled. "Perhaps you should invest in brighter ideas."

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Charred Souls Beneath My Wings

Jasfoup released his wings, revelling in the freedom as they became taut, the tingle of fire through the membrane a feeling of utter bliss. The mortal world had been his habitat for centuries but was it any wonder most demons preferred to live at home in Hell?

Mrs. Peterson called to him from the sands, her flesh charring and renewing in a constant, eternal cycle. "You're looking a bit peaky, Mr. J. Been away long?"

"A minute is too long, Mrs. P." He held up his hand and willed the skin tone to darken to a healthy black. "Better?"

Mrs. Peterson had already been swallowed by the sand. Jasfoup let the updraft from the boiling sands fill his wings and with three beats he was up and away, soaring through the umber skies of hell toward the tiny city on the horizon: Dis.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Chance meeting

"It's all a matter of wrist-action old boy." Jasfoup speared a wriggling escargot au naturale on a cocktail stick and prised it from the shell. "Honestly, it's as easy as throwing dried peas into a plastic straw at ten paces."

"That doesn't sound very easy, to be honest." Harold was less gregarious in his choice of snake and was eating salted cashew nuts. "Actually, it sounds rather—"

Both speech and locomotion were arrested by Jasfoup's arm across his chest. "Are you wearing perfume?" said the demon. "Something lily-based?"

"No." Harold sniffed his armpit. "Just Invisible and Dry."

Jasfoup stepped to one side and took the corner at a wide angle. "Amanda!" he said. "I thought I recognised the stick of corruption. I'd like to say it's lovely to run into you, but I don't lie on my lunch breaks."

Monday, July 05, 2010

Unjust Accusations

Harold stirred cranberry sauce into his grave, the scrape of his fork the only sound in the otherwise silent kitchen. That and his breathing. His companion didn't breathe but he could almost believe he could hear, if he strained hard enough, the ticking of her thoughts. "I had Mack Benton in here again when I got home from the shop."

"The farmer from next door? What did he want? Have his cows got loose again?"

"No." Harold stared at his plate. The cranberry sauce looked like rivulets of blood among the fatty globules of gravy. He pushed the plate away. Duck was never his favourite, anyway. "He took me to see his field. The sheep were all dead with their throats torn out."

"Don't look at me." Gillian held her hands up, palms outward. "Not guilty, your honour. If I wanted a sheep – which I don't, thanks to a growing herd of human donors – I'd just take the blood. I wouldn't rip the throats out."

"Did I accuse you?" Harold stood, transferring the sink for washing. "He thought it was dogs."

"And by dogs you mean—"

"Wolves, yes. Or one wolf in particular."

"Felicia."

"Yes." Harold sighed. "Can't you keep your werewolf under control?"

Gillian shook her head. "Always quick to judge, Harold. It wasn't Felicia. She'd have taken one and eaten it. This was the work of someone else."

"Who?"

"Those two lads in Fulham Crescent. The students. One's a were-Labrador and the other's a were-Cairn Terrier."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Delivery

"And this is your great method of extracting demons from their possessed hosts, is it?" Harold picked up the jar and shook it. Inside was a spider, which seemed glare balefully out. He could imagine it speaking to him if its brain were large enough to house speech functions. "I've memorised your face, old son," it would say. "Soon as I'm reincarnated, I'll 'ave you." It hinged upon two existential concepts, naturally, both that reincarnation existed and that spiders believed in it.

"This is what you've been up all night doing?"

"Do you know how difficult it is to tattoo a sigil on a spider?" Jasfoup looked hurt. "Besides, it took me two hours to catch the thing."

Harold put the jar down and turned to the demon. "What about delivery?"

"Delivery? I thought an authoritative English accent. A Donald Sinden, if you will"

"I meant, how will you get the spider to the demon?"

"Ah." Jasfoup stoked his chin. "Catapult?"

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Amanda's Surprise

"Here." Jasfoup led the ghost through the tiled halls, past a row of small doors set into a wall and stainless steel racks full of gleaming knives, saws and forceps. He motioned to a gurney covered with a pale green sheet. A pair of grey feet protruded from the bottom, a brown tag attached to one toe. "Read it."

The ghost glided forward. "Amanda Brinkley. This is my body?" She drew away.

"Not just your body." Jasfoup stepped forward and snapped away the sheet. "Ta-da!"

"I remember the face." The ghost drew forward. "Why are you showing me this?"

"Look inside," said the demon, raising his eyebrows toward the corpse. "You won't regret it. I got rid of the current occupier and redecorated."

"What do you mean?" The ghost hovered over the body and settled slowly into it. The corpse's lips fluttered, hesitantly at first. "What have you done?"

"Salt and varnish and one or two secret ingredients." The demon clapped his hands. "Mummification!"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Poll Results

Harold stood on the podium at the town hall and hardly looked up as the poll results came in. He'd taken seventeen voted out of an electoral register of just over seven thousand. Seventeen votes. He had more family than that. It wasn't until after he'd forced a recount (where it was discovered one of his supporters had also voted for Percy Hemlok whose policy had been 'Let's rename Coronation Row as Abdication Street' to show our disdain for the monarchy) that Jasfoup had pointed out that neither Gillian nor Frederick were entitled to vote since they where technically dead.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bear Ridge Audio


Look!
Ron Runeborg has recorded four of the poems from
Bear Ridge to Nettle Lane
as audio
(and he says nice things about me)


Monday, June 28, 2010

Waiting for Daddy

"Not long now!" Billy pressed his face against the window, staring down the long drive hoping to get a glimpse of his father's car. "Daddy'll be here soon."

"He won't come any quicker for you steaming up the window. Come away and have your tea." I motioned to the fishcake, mashed potatoes and peas on the table. Billy went through phases and this and chocolate pudding was all he'd eat at the moment.

"Where's my pudding?" His face creased; whether in anger or sorrow I couldn't tell but even at this age he could be a handful and I wasn't prepared to take the risk.

"After you've eaten your dinner." I pushed in the chair as he sat and tucked a napkin into his shirt collar. "I'll fetch your pudding when I see a clean plate."

"Meanie. You're a meanie. You're a meanie old hag. You're a meanie old hag and I hate you. You're a—"

"Enough." Billie could extend his insults for an interminable length of time if he wasn't stopped. "Eat your dinner and you'll get your pudding."

By the time his plate was clean he'd forgotten he hated me and looked up with his face shining as I served his pudding. "Not long now, is it?"

"When you wake up tomorrow he'll be here." I smoked a cigarette in the conservatory while he finished and went upstairs to get ready for bed. I went up a few minutes after I heard the toilet flush.

"Not long now, eh?" He smiled up at me as I tucked him into bed. Our father had died eleven years ago in the same building accident that had sent a lump of concrete as big as a fist into my brother's temporal lobe.

I kissed his forehead. "Aye Billy. Not long now."

I waited until his breathing had dropped into the long, slow rhythm of sleep before inserting the needle into the hair under his armpit where the mark would go unobserved by morticians. Who was to say Daddy wouldn't be waiting for him in whatever afterlife he imagined?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dead on Stage

Harold adjusted bowtie in the mirror and called up the stairs. "Are you ready Gillian?"

"I'm always ready." Gillian trailed her fingers down his cheek. "For anything."

"Jolly good." Harold held out the crook of his arm. "Shall we?"

***

The premier of the Laverstone Player's musical 'Dawn of the Dead' opened exactly on schedule with the hero hiking through a horizontally scrolling wood. Harold and Jasfoup ate popcorn and ice-cream and, against Gillian's advice, hot dogs from a man in a van outside.

At the opening of the second act Jasfoup nudged her. "What's that funny smell?

"Putrefication," she said. "Those are real zombies on stage."

"Ah. Jasfoup relaxed. "I thought it was Harold."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mill House

After a long history as a bakery and a wood turners, Mill House had come to the end of its days as a restaurant and minor tourist attraction. It still turned under the water from the mill race but no longer turned gears or provided power for lathes or grindstones, instead providing the customers with the relaxing zen-like motion of the wheel as they consumed their crispy-fried beef or prawn chop-suey.

Until the night Jasfoup dispatched a zombie on Tunnock's bridge, where the head went sailing off into the river Laver. It retained a semblance of life and growled at the customers as it went round and round, caught in one on the buckets by its hair.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Spirifer's Price

The priory of St. Dunstan's was visited only by parishioners brave enough to travel the sunken streets of Fallen London in the ever-present mist. The priest and his retinue of robe-clad priest were not above questioning new faces, fearful of exposing the underbelly of mankind to the eyes of God, lest they be open to Judgement too early.

Alexis made it her business to visit nightly, until her presence was no longer commented on or even noticed. Her form, kneeling at the shrine of Elizabeth, Our Lady of the Fall, became as one with the decor, a shadow of the flickering foxfire candles. Such dedication to her craft paid off when one night she was witness to a meeting between the priest and a sharply dressed, horned individual.

"I'll take those." Alexis held her pistol the Father Mattock's head and gestured to a small crate of bottles.

"You don't know what you're getting yourself involved with." The priest glanced at his companion who held up a hand and stepped backwards into shadow. "This is not something to dabble in. Saving souls is a serious business."

"And selling them an illegal one." Alexis squatted and pulled a bottle from the straw-packed crate. Inside the tinted glass swirled a nebulous, smoky figure – a mortal soul.

"And you'll return them to their rightful owners, will you?" The priest spat, looking to the shadows and hoping for rescue.

"Aye." Alexis stood, hefting the small crate with her free hand. "For the right price."



'Spirifer', 'St. Dunstan's' and 'Fallen London' belong to Failbetter Games

Monday, June 21, 2010

Organic Palmistry

Sam replaced the backplate and booted up the system. A cricket chirped. It was an odd-looking computer, more organic than anything, but if Sam said it would as a spirit detector Dill was quite certain it would.

Sam tapped some keys and studied the arrangement of an aromatic leaf frond. "There. It's ready for you to write the code now."

"How?" Dill sat on the tree stump serving as a stool. "There's no screen."

"There is." Sam ran his hand along the herb fronds. "These are knawel leaves. They respond to psychic vibrations." He plucked one and popped it in his mouth, chewing slowly. "Good for flavouring rice, too."

"Rice?" Dill nodded. "You've been eating some already, I see."

Sam shook his head. "Not me. I haven't eaten anything since that bacon at Mr. Xio's Lo-Mart."

Dill grinned. "Liar. There are grains of rice in your beard." He tapped a few keys experimentally and the cricket chirped again.

"That's a fault in a nested loop subroutine." Sam went across to the mirror. "Try a recursive poke into the registry." He craned his chin forward to inspect his beard. "These aren't grains of rice. They're little white maggots."

"Ew. You dirty bugger." Dill looked up. Come over here."

Sam bent to examine the knawels. "You've introduced some bugs."

"I've done no such thing. My programming is flawless."

"No, see? Little beetles." Sam looked at Dill. "They're in your hair."

Dill plucked a maggot from Sam's beard and ate it. "Swapsies?"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bear Ridge to Nettle Lane, books, Rachel Green,





NOTE: Choose 'Ground Shipping' and input the code FREEGROUND305 at checkout for FREE shipping *UNTIL JUNE 30 2010*

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pursuit

"Hurry!" Dill grabbed Sam's shoulder and pulled him inside the hut, slamming the door behind him. He leaned with his back against the door and tried to discern sounds of pursuit.

"What--?"

"Shh!" Dill put a finger to his lips as footsteps thumped past the door, stopped, returned. The latch was a simple lever into an inverted T of steel, easy to raise until he clasped both bar and socket between thumb and forefinger. He could feel the pressure increase as Mr. Xio tried the handle from the outside. The bar began, millimetre by millimetre, to move.

Sam added his own leverage and the movement stopped. Outside, they heard Mr. Xio mutter about rust and move on. Dill counted to sixty before he relaxed.

"What were we running for?" Sam ripped open a packet of raw bacon and started eating. "We could have ripped his head off."

"Sam?" Dill held his flatmate's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "Two reasons. One, Mr. Xio is a nice man who does a difficult job at all hours for very little thanks, and two, he had a bloody great sword."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Laverstone Cemetery

Brigadier Edward Junket Copthorne-Brown brushed a piece of moss from the crook of the angel's arm. It was all well and good that people erect these statues in honour of their beloved dead but it didn't excuse them from visiting. He looked down at the headstone. "Charles Henry Bainbridge 1896-1942" with a Victoria Cross carved into the granite. War hero, eh? The brigadier saluted and dusted away a few dried leaves from the grave.

"What were you like in life, old chap, eh?" The Brigadier pulled a pipe from his pocket and tamped it with fresh tobacco from a pouch that never seemed to get empty. He lit it with a match from a similarly full box. His daughter and her husband had seen fit to bury him with grave goods for which he was, quite literally, eternally grateful. He'd never met Charlie Bainbridge before or after death. Not everyone became ghosts.

Puffing on his pipe he walked to his favourite bench at the centre of the cemetery. You could see the spires of three churches from here, and hear the bells from two of them. The was only one road through the graves but it wound in what most people called a figure of eight but what he knew was really an infinity loop.

One you were planted in Laverstone cemetery there was no way out.



Image: Faith's Golden Light by redwolf518

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Appointment

"Well, I said, I don't care where it's been before you still have to get it cleaned." Mandy collapsed into giggles, closely followed by Sharon who was generally a little slow when it came to innuendo. She looked up as a tall gentleman came through the door and walked to the desk. "Can I help you?"

"Indeed you can." The man's smile showed a set of teeth any orthodontist would weep over and the trace of a British accent made Mandy melt. She could feel the dampness. "I have a 3:45 appointment. I'm a minute early."

"I don't think so..." Mandy popped a boiled sweet in her mouth, a present from one of the clients. "Doctor Beatty is booked solidly with Mrs. Rose for the next half-hour." She looked up again and breathed in, the sweet lodging in her oesophagus and causing her to choke to death forty seconds later, prompting a bout of hysteria from Sharon.

Jasfoup leaned over and hauled Wendy's spirit from her body. "I didn't say the appointment was with Doctor Beatty, did I?"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Undying Dead

Amanda sat on one of the plastic cafeteria chairs. "They never told us about this afterlife when I was growing up. It was all supposed the be singing and dancing and as much food as you could eat without ever getting fat, celestial choirs and big mansions for the virtuous. Nobody ever said it would be trying to work your old body while it decomposes into nothing."

"Think yourself lucky." Jasfoup bit into a scone and was dismayed to find the cream squeezing out the other side. He caught it with his other hand. "At least you're articulate. Imagine how bad you'd feel if you were stuck in your decomposing corpse and couldn't move or speak."

"Has that happened?"

"Once or twice. They scream for a silent eternity. The very strong ones manage to get free from their bodies and become wraiths."

"Oh my God. What do you do with them?"

"Dispose of them, naturally. Can't have wraiths flying about scaring the natives."

"How do you do that?" Amanda leaned forward, fascinated.

Jasfoup shrugged. "Spirit level."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ashes

Harold was livid when he came storming into the kitchen. "I can't believe I took your advice. You're supposed to be my mentor."

"I am?" Jasfoup shrugged. "I'm supposed to be you business partner, confidant, courier to Hell and back, fencing instructor, advisor in disparate texts and ambassador of temptation but nobody mentioned anything about mentor."

"You keep giving me advice, though."

"Only when you come crying to me like a little boy who's dropped his glass of milk, then slipped on it and buried the shards of glass in the back of his skull. What advice are you referring to?"

"You told me never to let the sun go down on an argument."

"So?"

"The sun rose. I was arguing with Gillian."

"Ah." Jasfoup sucked air between his teeth. "She's going to be a bit cross. Did you collect up all her ashes?"

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Loyalty


Everyone considered a mouse too small and hardly worth the effort but Laurence Barnaby persevered. His breeding program took eleven years and three laboratories, crossbreeding the mice from one facility with the next to make ten separate strains of Mus musculus, each genetically pure and fertile.

"Developing the brain was the most difficult," he explained to the three generals. "Though I've found the development of the opposable thumb goes hand-in-hand with higher brain functions."

"All very well." General Parson leaned forward in the darkened room. The heat and the hum of the projector was getting to him and only a nudge from General Wagner on his left saved him from snoring through the last twenty minutes. "But how can your super mice be of use to us?"

"We can weaponise them." Barnaby showed another slide of a mouse holding a gun no bigger than a matchstick. The bullets are coated with neurotoxins. They only have to hit a target's skin and they're down, efficiently and silently."

"Weaponise rodents?" Wagner laughed. "You must thing were fools Mr. Barnaby. You have no concept of the real world, do you? Shuttered away in your little laboratories pursuing academic fame at the cost of good British soldiers. Put a mouse into action and they'll likely raid the enemies' cheese and eat themselves into a coma. No, Mr. Barnaby. Go back to your lab and invent a gun that shoots around corners or plasma rifles or monofilament blades."

General McLeay spoke up. "What my colleague is trying to say is that unless you come up with something useful we'll have to let you go."

"But my mice are useful." Barnaby leaned forward. "Imagine the covert applications for a species of loyal, intelligent rodents, capable of infiltrating the enemy under their very noses. Mice like the one on the backs of your chairs right now."

The three generals didn't have a chance. Tiny blades snicked across carotid arteries, each introducing a virulent poison into their bloodstream.

Barnaby leaned over the corpse of General Wagner. "Did I say loyal? I meant to me, of course."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Jackpot

Dillard Farthing didn't recognise the twenty-something youth who shuffled toward him in the college bar, but he recognised the low-slung trousers and baggy vest, the swept-over hair style and the mascara tattoo. Art student. Second year. He gave him an upward nod in greeting.

"Filby says you've got some gear, yeah?" The art student had flecks of crimson in his hair. Blood or paint, Dill couldn't tell. He nudged Sam, who was staring at the fruit machine, counting the plays.

"Look after my drink for me, yeah?"

Sam nodded, his attention unwavering from the flashing lights.

Dill went to the toilets, the arty kid following. "Thing is, it's an investment, right? Money now, gear tomorrow. Fifty gets you an ounce."

"I've only got twenty."

Dillard shook his head. "All right. Same time tomorrow." He took the twenty.

"Got a quid?" Sam stared at him from behind dark glasses.

"Sure." Dill passed him a coin. "Why?"

Sam nodded at the fruit machine. "That'll pay out a jackpot in three spins."

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bookshop Doom

Harold stomped into the large kitchen at the back of the shop, snatched the kettle from its base and filled it, the tap turned so forcefully that water hit the heating element at the bottom and splashed out again, soaking his red silk smoking jacket. Not that he smoked.

"Dare I ask why you're acting like a bent spoon?" Jasfoup put down the Gospel of St. Lucian of the Rabbits he was editing for a friend in AD67. "It's either your chess game with Harry, your daughter's school making a complaint or the council changing the regulations again."

Harold grunted, extracting a letter from his pocket and tossing it on the table. "Good guess." He thumped the switch on the kettle to encourage it to boil faster. "The council wants me to jump through a few hoops to gain accreditation for the Laverstone Good Shopping Guide. Pathetic. It's like a machine, churning out new rules every month."

"And if we don;t?"

"They put us on a higher rate of business tax and blacklist us from council services. Our bins won't be emptied, the police will ignore our calls and the fire service will expect backhanders to come out to a fire."

"We're an antique bookshop. It can't be that difficult to comply." Jasfoup opened the letter. "Employ a minimum of three people? We do that."

"Technically, you're a demon and the imps are, well, imps. According to the council we only employ Julie."

"We can get around that." Jasfoup looked at the letter again. "Two. Have a turnover of at least twenty thousand pounds per annum. We do that, too. Some of our books are worth more than that on their own. We even declare some of the sales."

"It's the third condition that'll kill us." Harold hung his head and sighed.

"Three. Be open to the public." The demons face fell.

Harold's face looked like the Sunken Pit of Despair where members of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints were left until their smiles rotted off. "See what I mean."

"Indeed." Jasfoup nodded. "We're doomed."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Harold's Big Clock

"I can't help thinking this is a bad idea, old chum." Jasfoup called up the three stories of the Great Hall to the attic space at the top where Harold – or rather, Devious directed by Harold – was sawing a series of slots in the ceiling. His voice echoed from the walls and made several of the assorted weapons on display ring. He stepped forward and tapped the great bronze disk hung from the attic.

"Nonsense!" Harold's face appeared at one of the holes. "This is the actual clock from the set of Harry Potter and the Really Boring Trek through the Woods. It cost me a small fortune at Bellend and Grommet's. Of course it's going in."

"I just thought... what with Lucy being a toddler now it might be a bit dangerous?"

"Look." Harold spoke slowly and with great deliberation. "

Saturday, June 05, 2010

WIP excerpt

Winston hunched over the photograph. "It's the mark of Lazarus." He pointed to the scars, unhealed thanks to the death of the recipient. "See here? They were hurried, scratched into the flesh after death. My guess is they marked the corpse ready for possession."

Jasfoup looked up. "Demons don't possess the dead. We find it as abominable as mortals do. The dead have no souls and should stay in the ground."

"This is no ordinary demon." Winston took a book from his bag and opened it at a page he'd bookmarked. "Look at this. This is a photograph of a village in the Sudan overrun by zombies in 1935." The photograph showed three African soldiers standing over more than thirty corpses. "Look at the corpses." Winston passed over a magnifying glass and Jasfoup studied the photograph.

He looked up. "They all have the same mark as our Ms. Brinkley."

"Exactly." Winston sat back. "The mark of Lazarus, possessed in the tomb by one of the exiled demons of Legion."