The Korkenzieher Pass

The diligence had broken down coming through the Korkenzieher Pass.  One of the wheels had come clean off and bounced away, dropping over the precipice and smashing to smithereens and splinters hundreds of feet below.  There was no hope, therefore, of effecting a repair.

            The driver ordered his passengers to continue on foot.  They didn’t have much choice – in fact they had no choice at all.  The night was closing in and the mountain peaks were shrouded in mist.  They had to leave their luggage too, the driver said, or they would never make it to the inn afore moonrise.

            The passengers kicked up a fuss, like passengers do, threatening to dash off sternly-worded telegrams as soon as they got within a sniff of civilisation.  The driver told them it wasn’t his fault and, rather than biting his head off, they ought to be making tracks while they could still see where they were going.

            Off they set – they numbering four.  The driver elected to stay behind.  “I’ll be all right,” he assured them, taking a bite of a bulb of raw garlic.  “The horses get spooked without me.  I’ll keep an eye on your belongings.”

            The four passengers were a couple of newlyweds from England, a man of the cloth (by which I mean a clergyman and not a tailor) and a cantankerous old man who walked with a stick.

            “I think it’s romantic,” tittered the young bride, earning herself yet another kiss from her amorous husband.  The clergyman looked away but the old gentleman was not shy in grunting his disgust.

            The sun was setting behind the tallest mountain in the range, painting the sky orange and purple.  The first stars were visible and the full moon hung over the scene like a watchful eye, baleful and cold.  Somewhere, behind the passengers, something howled.

            They had not gone far when the clergyman muttered to the old gentleman that he needed to answer nature’s call.  He was, after all, made of clay like the rest of us mortals and a slave to his bodily necessaries.  He nipped off the path and behind a tree.  The old gentleman called to the young couple ahead, telling them to wait in order not to separate the group.

            They waited and waited but the clergyman did not emerge.  The young man volunteered to investigate and so, despite his new wife’s protests, he stepped off the path and disappeared among the trees.

            He returned a moment later with a face as white as milk and his hands as red as poppies, dripping with blood.  At first he was too shocked to utter a word.

            “Torn…” he managed to say and, “…to pieces…”

            The young woman gasped.  She would not allow her husband near her with those hangman’s hands.

            They resumed their walk in a horrible silence.  Every rustling of the leaves gave rise to terrible imaginings.

            The young man reached out to his wife, offering the warmth and protection of his arms but she ran from him; she did not want the clergyman’s blood to taint her.  She rounded a sharp corner and tripped over a stone.  Nearby, the grasses moved.  The young woman screamed: a pair of red eyes was looking directly at her.

            She scrambled to her feet and found she had sprained her ankle in the fall.  She tried to flee but did not get far.  Her husband and the old gentleman turned the corner just in time to see a shaggy-haired beast all teeth and claws pounce on the young woman.  With an almighty snap of its jaws, the beast took the bride’s head off.  The head dropped over the edge, eyes and mouth wide open in terror, and was lost in the gaping darkness below.

            “Stand back, my boy!” the old gentleman pushed the young man aside.  He lay into the ravening beast with the silver tip of his walking stick.  The beast snarled and roared.  With a swipe of its paw, it sent the old gentleman flying, walking stick and all, over the edge of the cliff.

            The young man fell to his knees beside his wife’s decapitated body.  Without her he did not want to live.  He closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the beast’s insatiable bloodlust.

            It was a quiet night in the inn at the end of the Korkenzieher Pass, but then it usually was.  Business was very slow and the innkeeper had laid off all of his staff.  He looked up from the tankard he was polishing as the door opened and his old friend, the coach driver came in.

            “Usual?” he offered.  “You look like you could do with it.”

            “Usual arrangement and all,” said the coach driver, watching thirstily as the innkeeper poured the ale.  “Come first light, take your cart to fetch their belongings.  We split the proceeds fifty-fifty.”

            The innkeeper grinned.  “On the house,” he pushed the foaming tankard toward his friend.  He peered closely at the coach driver’s face.

            “You need a shave,” he said.

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Out for the Count

I was quite the pretty thing when I was young; you may find that difficult to credit, seeing me now – but when I was a mere slip of eighteen and made my debut in society, the young men were falling over each other to pay court to me and win my affection, as though I was some prize in a sporting competition. I found the whole thing both amusing and vulgar and, as the season wore on, all the attention wore me down.

            I escaped from London to our mansion on the coast. The sea air would clear my head and I would be able to stroll along the beach unmolested – that was my design but Mama was keen to see me married off.

            “Oh, dear,” she said over the marmalade the very first morning of my retreat. “I may have, in an unguarded moment, let slip our whereabouts.”

            I could have suffocated her right there in her own kedgeree.

            It did not take long for the suitors to arrive. Indeed they rode up on the first train from Paddington and, after enquiring around the town, soon discovered my address. I managed to evade them for the afternoon by retiring to my bed with a professed attack of the vapours. I was most put out: it was not the bracing seaside walk I had envisaged.

            In my absence, my conniving mother was far from idle. I came down to dinner to find a medium-sized ball underway. Mama had promised each young man at least one dance with me during the course of the evening. However one may admire her organisational skills, I really should have snatched the cummerbund from the nearest ardent admirer and garrotted her with it.

            She introduced me to a stranger, a man older than the pack of self-absorbed, vain and shallow bachelors. He was greying at the temples and his hairline had receded to a point, a ‘widow’s peak’, I believe it is called. He was not unhandsome but there was something – I don’t know – vulpine about him that I did not like.   He cut a dashing figure, dressed as he was for the opera in a long black cape with white lining. He took my fingertips in his and kissed the back of my gloved hand.

            “This is Count de Cost,” said Mama before gliding away as if to speak to someone she had just noticed across the room.

            “Perfectly charming,” the Count spoke with a foreign accent I couldn’t quite place. Not quite German or Russian, something Eastern and exotic. He told me he had moved into the old abbey across the bay and that made us neighbours. All through his discourse his eyes were never on me. They flitted around the room. “So many young people,” he said. “So many handsome young men – you are truly spoiled for choice, my dear.”

            “I came here for peace and quiet,” I said with no small amount of petulance. “I may as well return to the city.”

            He laughed; the feelings and opinions of a young woman – or indeed a woman of any age – are not to be taken seriously, it seems.

            “We must gather our rosebuds while we may.” He nodded; he even knocked his heels together, and left me! The suitors swarmed like wasps around a jam jar and I had a most tiresome time of it as they attempted to outdo each other with tales of their tailors and general braggadocio.

            The Count meanwhile was enjoying himself immensely. Every time I glimpsed him he was whirling around the dance floor with a different partner. The young ladies Mama had invited were glad of him, for the young men were ignoring them completely on my account.

            A storm was raging, sending the sea crashing against the headland. Mama declared the party would continue all through the night. There was no chance she would allow anyone to leave while the weather continued to be so beastly. The unspoken coda to the announcement was no one could go home until I was engaged to be married.

            And yet the guests appeared to be thinning. I did not notice at first but a peremptory head count, followed by another an hour later yielded numbers that did not tally. The young ladies were now outnumbering the young men. Indeed, my suitors – a baker’s dozen when they had arrived – were now only nine.

            I danced with each one in turn but when I returned to my seat for refreshment or to collect the next hopeful, there was always one less. By midnight, they were down to a mere trio. It would make any choice on my part easier but I was more concerned by the mystery of their disappearance.

            I saw the Count return. He was dabbing at the corner of his mouth with a handkerchief. Something occurred to me and I decided to put my theory to the test.

            I grabbed the nearest suitor by the cuff and dragged him to the dance floor, despite the protests of the other two that he had already taken his turn. I had noticed that whenever I was dancing, the Count was nowhere to be seen and, whenever I was seated, he returned to the floor and danced with energy and vigour that belied his apparent years.

            And every time I was one suitor down.

            I led the dance, to my partner’s indignation, angling myself so I could keep an eye on the Count’s movements. I saw him beckon one of the remaining suitors, gesturing for a light. When the young man approached to oblige, the Count offered him a cigarette from a silver case and together they left the ballroom.

            But the Count came back alone.

            By this point, I was down to two suitors so I swapped the one I was dancing with for the one I hadn’t.

            “My name is Giles,” he breathed in my ear.

            “Be quiet!” I snapped, “And keep your eyes on that man.”

            As we waltzed, Giles and I watched the Count beckon to the last jealous suitor. A moment later, with cigarettes between their fingers, they left the room. I urged my partner to follow.

            We were just in time to see the Count usher the young man out onto a balcony. We crouched in the dark as lightning showed us flashes of a horrific scene.

            The Count’s eyes glowed yellow. His mouth sprouted fangs as he tore at the young man’s trousers. He sank his teeth into the young man’s privates.

            Even over the lashing rain I could hear a dreadful sucking and gurgling sound.

            When he had drained the poor fool dry, the Count tipped the husk of a body over the rail and onto the rocks below in the turbulent waters.

            My last remaining suitor – Miles or Giles or something – snatched up a poker from a nearby fireplace. He launched himself at the Count and drove the sharp metal rod directly through his heart. The Count gave one last malevolent snarl and burst like a soap bubble. All that was left was his clothes.

            “He tried it on with me,” said Giles, his chest heaving with exhilaration. “But I don’t smoke.”

            The following morning Mama put it about that twelve broken-hearted young men had tossed themselves to their doom, because I would not favour them. She thought such a story would enhance my allure. I told her she need not bother and, for once, I did not feel like pushing her off a balcony.

            “This is Giles,” I told her, “and he’s the man I want to marry.”

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The Golden Egg

The ayah hurried through the marketplace. She had only minutes to find what she wanted but every stallholder she approached gave her the same denial. Some were more apologetic than others. Some appeared outright offended. One made the sign of the evil eye but one more gave her directions. In a corner of the square, where sunlight never seemed to penetrate, a rickety cart stood as though abandoned. Its awning hung in tatters, its gay colours faded and dirty. The ayah shook her head. She had been misdirected. That stallholder was having a joke at her expense.

            “How may I help you, lovely one?” A cracked voice made the ayah spin around. A small figure was smiling toothlessly at her; it was the height of a child but whether male or female, the ayah could not determine – many old women have wiry white hairs sprouting from their chin.

            “I’m sorry – There’s been a mistake.” The ayah clutched her headscarf around her throat and made to leave.

            “I don’t think so, dearie,” said the little old person. Her eyes were like raisins and her brown face a paper bag. “You will find what you seek on my cart.”

            “I don’t think so. I had better be going. The memsahib will be home shortly and I have chores.”

            “Here!” the little old person lifted a dusty sack from the back of the cart and delved a gnarled hand inside it. “This will solve all your problems or you may call old Suki a liar.”

            She was a woman, then. The ayah was a little reassured but not by much. Old Suki withdrew her hand from the sack and uncurled her fist. The palm of her hand was like a nest of dried twigs and in it a golden egg gleamed. The ayah stared at it.

            “Place this in the room of the afflicted one,” Old Suki pressed the egg into the ayah’s hand. The ayah tried not to express her revulsion at the old woman’s touch. “But let it not be seen. No one must know it is there.”

            “I cannot afford gold…” the Ayah protested but she could not take her eyes off the egg.

            The old woman cackled. “I don’t want your money, my honey.”

            The ayah frowned. “Then what?”

            A sandpaper hand took the ayah’s wrist. The old woman led her into the shadows behind the cart. “This won’t take but a minute,” she said.

            The memsahib looked through the house but there was no sign of the ayah, in the kitchen, in the pantry.

            “I’m sorry, memsahib,” the ayah came down the stairs. “I was cleaning in your son’s room.”

            “An endless task!” the memsahib clucked. “What’s for dinner?”

            “I’ll get right to it.” The ayah kept her head bowed and went to the kitchen. The memsahib followed.

            “You don’t have to wear your headscarf in the house, you know,” the memsahib reminded her. “I know my son has been troubling you. He’s at that difficult age…”

            The ayah kept her back turned as she chopped some coriander and garlic. She would never show her face unveiled again. The golden egg, now concealed in her tormentor’s bedroom, had come at a terrible price. The prominent veins and spots on the back of her hands could not go unnoticed for long, and the aches in her swollen knuckles would soon prevent her from performing her chores.

            Across the city, a rickety cart trundled towards the gates. There would be other markets in other places. Young Suki stood straight, pulling her cart with vigour. She took in deep lungfuls of air and grinned, showing perfect white teeth as bright as stars. How good it was to feel so young and alive once more!

 

 golden-egg-md

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Myrtle

The young man stopped rowing; his arms were tired and so he paused in the centre of the lake to rest and admire the view. A low-lying mist covered the water but beyond that he could see the rest of the park with its soft, undulating mounds and its protective ring of trees – sentinels spreading their arms, providing shade and security. It was a peaceful spot. A curlew called forlornly. The water patted the side of the boat, like a dog lapping from a bowl. The young man dipped his hand below the surface, enjoying the cool respite for his aching palm. He felt he could stay out there all day.

            A grip of ice seized his wrist. The young man had to hold onto the rowlocks to prevent himself from being pulled overboard. The boat rocked alarmingly; he feared capsize.

At last his hand was released. A ripple disturbed the surface, dispersing the mist as something travelled quickly away. The young man realised he was holding his breath. Composing himself, he rowed back to shore and clambered from the boat. He tore across the grass, towards the shelter of the trees. To feel the solidity of the trunk in his embrace! He threw his arms around a sturdy oak and pressed his face against the rough and craggy bark, gulping in air.

            His hand still felt cold.

            “Ah,” said the park keeper, happening along. “You’ve been out on the lake. You’ve seen Myrtle.”

            “I have seen no one, sir,” the young man gasped.

            “She has touched you then? Myrtle’s icy fingers!” The park keeper was no longer cheerful. The young man edged around the tree but the park keeper followed. “You must get yourself away from here. Not just the park, my boy, and not just the city. Go inland – where it’s dry. Keep you away from bodies of water. And wear a glove at all times.”

            The young man looked at the park keeper as though he were insane. The park keeper reached for his arm and offered to accompany him to the gate. As they walked, the park keeper explained.

            “Long ago, a sailor was marooned. He was the only survivor of a wreck and he washed up on a tiny island in the very middle of the ocean. Without human company, the fellow thought he would soon run mad but at night his sleep was disturbed by singing from the shore. The third time this happened he went to investigate and he discovered a young woman on a rock, combing her long tresses with a twig. She sensed his approach but carried on singing. The sailor was captivated. He had never seen or heard anything so beautiful.

            ““I am Myrtle,” she sang. “Bring me fresh twigs and I shall be your lover.”

            “In a trance, the sailor plodded off in search of what she required.

            “They spent happy years together until at last rescue came. The sailor could not bear to be parted from his mermaid bride and Myrtle begged him not to leave. But the pull of the land was too much. The sailor longed for home.

            ““Come with me, my love,” he implored. Myrtle said she would follow.

            “For years, their love continued in secret. At night, the sailor would slip down to the beach and in a secluded cove they would be reunited. The arrangement was less than satisfactory and inevitably someone found out and threatened to expose the mermaid to all the world. Myrtle screamed at the intruder until his ears bled and his heart gave way. The sailor knew he must get his bride away from there and protect her at all costs.

            “He bought this estate and installed a lake surrounded by a wall of trees. And here he lived out the rest of his days. After his death, the estate was given over to the public, and Myrtle pined away. Or so it seems. Now, she seeks a new companion to replace the love she lost. Therefore flee, I beseech you, before she casts her spell on you and drags you to the bottom of the lake.”

            The young man baulked at so fantastical a tale but his hand still felt like ice. The curlew cried again. The park keeper listened. “No, my love,” he murmured.

            “Go!” he said, turning the young man out of the gate.

            The young man noticed then that the keeper was wearing gloves – thick, oilskin gloves – and through them his touch was like winter.

 pink-mermaid-md

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Her First Job

She was excited to secure her first position. The academy must have given her excellent references although during her interview in London the panel of three had seemed solely concerned about her complexion. Do you tan well, they asked? Do you burn?

            The position was abroad, they explained, away from the thick fogs and thin sunlight of her native England. They wished to know she was not overly sensitive.

            About her charge they had been less than forthcoming. A troublesome child, they admitted; she would have her work cut out of her. But she, newly qualified and brimming with the enthusiasm and overweening confidence of youth, had given every assurance that she would do her best to educate and instruct the child. They would not be sorry.

            Two weeks later, she was at the foot of a spiral staircase that curled upwards, leading to the door to her apartment. The schoolroom is there also, she was told and handed a bunch of heavy keys. The nursery too. You must, the housekeeper impressed on her with an imploring look, keep every door locked at all times.

            Overly protective, the new governess diagnosed. This must be why the child is so ‘troublesome’. Mollycoddled and spoiled rotten. Well, we would see about that.

            She climbed the narrow, winding stairs and unlocked the heavy oaken door at the top. The schoolroom was clean but appeared unused. There was one desk and chair in the centre of the room. A larger desk for her and a wide blackboard on the wall behind it. A door, she explored, led off to her private room and water closet. Another, she assumed, opened onto the nursery but when she unlocked it, discovered only a cupboard space, bare. Of the child there was no sign.

            Remembering the housekeeper’s admonishment, she locked all the doors and sat at her desk. In the drawers she found a dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, a box of chalk and a child’s writing slate. She read Antony & Cleopatra while she waited.   Outside the high window, the sky darkened. The room became chilly. She wondered if she ought to go to bed. Her stomach warbled for its supper and she unearthed an apple from her suitcase.

            At midnight she was woken by scratching at her bedroom door. She sat up in bed and held her breath. The scratching resumed.

            “I’m hungry…” said a plaintive voice, a child’s voice.

            “I’m coming!” The governess slipped out of bed to unlock the door. “I am here, child. Don’t cry.”

            But the child wasn’t crying. From the other side of the door came nothing but silence.

The governess found the key but before she could insert it in the keyhole, grey smoke poured through it. The child has set the schoolroom on fire, was her immediate thought! She backed away. There was no other exit; she was trapped!

            The smoke hung in the air, gathering and thickening.   It took on the shape of a child, a small boy in garb from the previous century. He solidified and his dark eyes lit upon her and widened with pleasure. And hunger!

            “I believe I may have another apple,” the governess reached into her suitcase. The pale figure took a step towards her, baring neat and deadly fangs. “In here somewhere…” she affected a casual tone.

            The boy hissed and extended a white hand, the fingers curled like talons.

            “Here we are!” the governess announced. She withdrew her hand and thrust a crucifix towards the creature. The boy recoiled, growling and spitting. The governess backed him into a corner. He raised his claws to shield himself from the object he found so toxic and abhorrent.

            “Now,” the governess warned. “This is the last time you enter my private quarters. You will go to your desk and practice your alphabet. Do I make myself clear?”

            She flung the door wide and awarded him an imperious stare.

            “Y – yes, Miss,” the boy sobbed. He scuttled from the room and tucked himself behind his desk.

            As the chalk squeaked across his slate, the boy’s new governess wrote her name on the blackboard in confident, curling copperplate, Miss Lily Van Helsing. Moonlight streaming in glinted off the crucifix around her neck.

            Oh, no, we’ll have no more trouble from you, she regarded the boy, whose face was a mask of concentration as he formed his letters.

            Spare the rood and spoil the child.

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The wait will soon be over…

Tarzan, Jane and Boy anxiously await the publication of JUNGLE OUT THERE in which we meet MAN, LADY and SONNY.

colorised tarzan

 

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Work is progressing on my work in progress

Having recently submitted the sequel to VULTURES’ MOON, my current project is the sixth book in the Brough & Miller series of crime spoofs. Today, after a valiant effort, I reached the end of the first draft.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy writing Brough & Miller because they’re a fun bunch of characters; foul-mouthed and bungling, the Serious Crimes division somehow get the job done.

Like all the others, this one takes place about six months after their previous outing in COFFIN DODGERS. The cliff-hanger at the end of that book led to setting the current one in a hospital but with half a year past, the characters’ lives have moved on somewhat. Some circumstances have changed, others are still ongoing. But with a new case to occupy their time and one of their key members on extended leave, the Serious team have their work cut out for them.

COFFIN DODGERS and the four previous books are available now.

The sixth in the series, HOSPITAL CORNERS, will be coming soon.

cofifn dodgers

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Back in the Saddle

Last year when I wrote VULTURES’ MOON, I didn’t anticipate it turning into a series. (But then, I said that about what turned out to be the first Brough and Miller investigation, BLOOD & BREAKFAST – and I’m currently writing the sixth one of them).

I’d wanted to write a Western and, having done my research on the ‘rules’ of the genre, I began. However, my imagination had other ideas. As soon as I wrote the first line, I knew this was going to be something different. I went with it, and my sci-fi western was born. Now, returning to the setting twelve months later, I found it easier to write – the world had already been created; it was just a matter (‘just’!!) of coming up with a new adventure for my main characters Jed and his marvellous Horse.

The new storyline allowed me to reinforce what I’d established in the first book and to introduce new ideas and new characters, but I was determined to keep it very much the same flavour as the first. And so, Jed is present in every scene. There is no bad language. No one has sex – Westerns are very moralistic. But there are also science fiction and fantasy elements blended in.

I decided that both books should end with the same words – much like Christopher Reeve always used to sign off his Superman films by orbiting the Earth and grinning at the camera, my heroes fly away “like a shooting star”.

As far as titles go, it amused me to follow the original Planet of the Apes series of films. And so, in homage to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the new book is called Under the Vultures’ Moon. If there is a third – and there most probably will be – it will be Escape from Vultures’ Moon… After that, well, we’ll see.

UNDER THE VULTURES’ MOON is available now!

under the v m

VULTURES’ MOON is  also available

 

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New book coming soon…

My next book has been twenty years in the making and was born of my lifelong obsession with Tarzan and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

erb

I first became aware of Tarzan in the TV series starring Ron Ely

 ron ely

and the old black and white movies of Johnny Weissmuller

 johnny w

– for many, the quintessential ape man.

There was a series on the Disney Channel in the early 1990s in which Tarzan (Wolf Larsonwolf larsonwas depicted as an articulate and, of course, buff champion of the environment. This series first gave me the idea for a TV sitcom in which Tarzan, Jane et al decamp from Africa and move into a suburban semi-detached in my home town of Dudley. I wrote six episodes and submitted them to the BBC. I was invited to a meeting at Broadcasting House where I was told they loved my ‘ear’ for dialogue but weren’t sold on the concept.  There was no mileage in it, I was told

Since then, Disney released a full-length animated feature Tarzan, disney tarzanwhich did rather well, and the character continues to enjoy popularity.  This year there was a truly dreadful animated update from Germany that is best ignored, and there is a new live-action film Tarzan the Untamed being made for release in 2016.

2012 saw Tarzan’s centenary and so I was prompted to dig out my old scripts and do something with them. I wanted them out in the world in some form but I wanted any novelisation to add something to the quick-fire dialogue and slapstick situations I had come up with twenty years ago.

I decided to write the novel from the point of view of one of the main characters. I chose not to do it through Man’s eyes (he’s called Man, not Tarzan, for copyright issues) because he is a man of few words, although far from unintelligent. I opted for his mate, here called Lady Jane – in my version, she is the one of aristocratic background – this meant she could articulate her thoughts and experiences. I imagine her as something like Maureen O’Sullivan  maureen o from the Weissmuller films. Coming from a privileged background before she wound up in the jungle, Lady Jane knows little of the ways of the world anyway, having been sheltered from harsh realities and domestic chores by wealth and status.

It’s a fish-out-of-water story, in much the same vein as the alien family unit in 3rd Rock From The Sun or, of course, good old George of the Jungle george – I didn’t want my Man to be as goofy and dim as the lovable George, but wise and quick-witted. My king of the jungle is quick to adapt; he chooses not to waste words and always gets his point across.

Man and Lady have a son, a child they found after a plane crashed into the jungle. Lady Jane insists on calling him Baby even though he is now 13, while Man opts for Son or Sonny instead. Completing the family group is Uncle Mjomba (Swahili for ‘uncle’) a mysterious chimpanzee-like figure, who may or may not be human, who could in fact be the missing link…

Together and separately the family have mishaps and adventures as they try to come to terms with so-called civilised life. Going to the supermarket poses challenges and excitement, for example; and being a Burroughs fan, I tried to include as much sensational action as I could. Some scenes from the original scripts had to go completely – others had to be reimagined, and I invented a story arc to break up the episodic nature of the series.

The setting is now ‘Dedley’ the fictionalised version of my home town that features in my Brough & Miller detective series and also my ghost story Poor Jacky. Dedley is a place where anything can happen and usually does. Places based on real-life locations feature in the story: Dedley has its own zoo, for example – I couldn’t do a Tarzan-like story without wild animals.

This satirical look at modern life throws up some questions about the way we live. I don’t agree with all of the opinions expressed by the characters but there is a lot of me in this book, speaking through one mouthpiece or another.

Jungle Out There will be published by Andrews UK and will be available to download in all formats.

jane tarzan cheeta

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FlatMan

Reid Reilly had locked himself out. He checked there was no one else in the hall, no one else to see. He morphed his fingers into the dimensions of a credit card and jemmied the lock. No one must know he is FlatMan.

With relief, he closed the door behind him, glad to be home away from all the clamour and attention. The civic reception in FlatMan’s honour had gone very well. The Mayor awarded him the key to the city. The crowd had gone wild when their very own superhero had made his entrance, peeling himself away from a poster. How they’d roared! How they’d cheered! The Mayor’s speech was a peon of praise and gratitude, thanking FlatMan for saving all those lives, yet again – on this most recent occasion from Fire-Breath and Blasto, thwarting their explosive endeavours by making himself a giant blanket and stifling the villains’ fires. Now in asbestos cells, those two faced a long stretch before they could hold another orphanage to ransom.

Reid Reilly poured himself a drink of water – carbonated not still – and raised a toast to his alter-ego. He’d always wanted to be a cop but had failed the medical on account of his flat feet. Now, as a self-employed vigilante he had the admiration of an entire city and the adulation of all its children.

“Tell us, FlatMan,” the Mayor had shaken his hand, “What will you do with this award, the latest in a long line of many?”

“Oh,” FlatMan had shrugged, “I’ll put it with the others. In my flat!”

The crowd laughed and whooped; that joke never fell flat.

Representatives of the press hurled questions about his private life but the Mayor told them that was wholly inappropriate. Wasn’t it enough that the man had saved the day? Didn’t he deserve some privacy?

“What about Bubble-Girl?” asked one reporter who would not be put off. “Didn’t you two have a thing at one time?”

Ah, Bubble-Girl… Reid Reilly raised his glass again. They had flirted a little when he’d apprehended her in the act of robbing a jewellery store and he’d enjoyed wrapping himself around her curvaceous, lycra-clad figure until the police arrived.

FlatMan looked the reporter in the eye. “No,” he said flatly.

Then he folded himself like a paper aeroplane and leapt from the podium. He soared over the heads of the crowd before rising on an air current and flying up, up and away.

Now, in his flat, with his flat-pack furniture and flat-screen TV, Reid Reilly found the bubbles had gone out of his drink. When you’re not doing what you’re good at, he thought, when you’re not doing what you love, life is, well, rather flat.

hero

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