A Run in the Park

“Morning!” the man in shorts greeted Sally as she approached the group by the bandstand. He stretched his hand in the air and bent sideways at the hip. Sally was a little disconcerted and kept her distance. The man started jogging on the spot. “I’m Martin,” he said, puffing his cheeks and blowing rapidly as though he were practicing to give birth.

“Sally,” said Sally. She surveyed the gathering. “Quite a turnout.”

“Same every week,” said Martin. “Nice to have some new blood.”

“I’m new to the area,” said Sally, wondering if she ought to stretch her hamstrings in the exaggerated manner Martin was now demonstrating. She became aware that Martin was looking her up and down and felt terribly self-conscious.

“Hot in that,” he nodded.

“Thanks,” Sally blushed.

“No, you’re going to be. Hot in that. You want something lighter and tighter fitting.”

Sally’s blush deepened. She hadn’t come here to be harassed or to have her tracksuit criticised.

“Something they can’t grab hold of, do you see?” Martin was losing patience. “And get your hair cut.”

Sally pulled a face. She had tied a ponytail high on her head to keep her hair from her eyes. She looked around at the other women. They all sported very short hair, she realised, and the men’s heads were shaved.

“You can’t give them anything they can catch. Once they get you, you’re finished. You do see that. You can’t afford vanity. Not these days.”

He blew a whistle. The others shuffled together. “Ladies and gentlemen, set your stopwatches. I want everyone to beat their personal best this morning. We can’t afford not to.”

The others pressed buttons on digital devices strapped around their wrists. Martin noticed Sally didn’t have one.

“You’ll have to get one,” he told her. “Helps keep you motivated.”

Sally’s nose wrinkled. Martin caught her scepticism.   “Honestly, Sal. We can’t afford timewasters, holding us back. This is life and death stuff. Who knows how long we’ve got before they come this far south?”

“It won’t come to that though, surely?” Sally shrugged. “They’ve sent the army in. They’ll stop them before they can spread past the Midlands.”

“Believe that and you’ll believe anything,” scoffed Martin. “I’m just trying to get people ready. Weapons won’t save you. The army won’t save you. But running as fast as you can might just buy you some time.”

He blew his whistle again and the group sprinted away for the first of ten laps of the park. Sally was hard pressed to keep up. They ran past bushes. Sally couldn’t be sure but she thought she might have glimpsed someone in there, someone with blank staring eyes and covered in blood.

She looked over her shoulder but there was no sign of the zombie. I imagined him, she told herself and picked up her pace. She couldn’t let herself believe the army had already failed.

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The Inconstant Gardener

I was going to go and dig the garden today but the rain has put paid to that. Typical! Talk about your British summer! And it’s my only day off for a fortnight. What’s the betting it will be raining again when I next get a chance?

It needs doing. It’s a mess out there. I’ve tried to pass it off as a nature reserve but the neighbours aren’t buying it. This is where weeds come to join a thriving community of likeminded individuals.

But they’ve got to go. Googled a recipe for napalm but I’ve come away with nothing. It will have to be hard labour – I doubt the strimmer will withstand such dense undergrowth. I need a what-do-you-call-it, a machete. Hacking my way through like a jungle explorer.

All that clearance needs doing before I can even get to the digging. Time is not on my side. Not only is it pissing down, but it will be light soon. The neighbours will be getting up. I can’t have them throwing open their bedroom curtains and see me toiling away. That’s not on.

I wouldn’t be in this pickle if the freezer hadn’t gone on the blink. I know, I know, it’s my own fault for letting things go on for so long. I should have got this chore out of the way when my neighbours were on holiday – last summer. It was probably raining here then too, but at least I would have had the necessary privacy.

I’ve been paying my rent as usual. Direct debit. It all goes through an agent, acting on behalf of the landlord who went missing over a year ago. The last time we spoke it was about the dodgy wiring in the cellar. I’m worried about my frozen food, I told him, got a good few quids’ worth in there, but he hadn’t given a monkey’s. Not my problem, he said. So I made it his problem.

And now, with the wiring fried, the freezer is kaput and he’s beginning to pong. The neighbours will be complaining about that and all.

But with the landlord buried, I’ll be able to get an electrician in… Then, with the freezer up and running again, let them come! Let them come around with their complaints. I’ll be ready. There’s a freezer for sale in the local paper. Thirty quid. I can stretch to that. I’m sure I can fit two in the cellar.

weed

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Mrs Blake

“We’d like a word with your husband.”

Mrs Blake looked the policemen on her doorstep up and down, sizing them up rather than paying attention to the i.d. they waved in front of her.

“He’s asleep,” she said coldly. “He… works nights.”

“Even so, we need to talk to him.”

Mrs Blake stood firm. “What’s this about?”

A glance flickered between the two detectives. “We would rather not say,” said one, while the other looked down at his shoes.

“You’ll have to come back. After dark. When the moon is fat.”

The first detective consulted his wristwatch. It was not even lunchtime; sundown was hours away. “I’m afraid that won’t do. We must speak to him at once.”

“Upstairs, is he?” The second detective was losing patience. He crossed the threshold, causing Mrs Blake to shrink back against the open door.

“You can’t do this!” she cried, but the man was already rushing up the stairs.

The first detective stepped into the hall. “You just wait there, love,” he instructed. “Or make yourself useful and put the kettle on.”

Mrs Blake sneered, her face turning vulpine for just a second. “We do not drink…tea,” she scoffed.

The second detective appeared on the landing. “Nobody up here, boss.”

Mrs Blake smiled to herself. The first detective rounded on her. “Where is he? You said he was sleeping.”

The second detective was coming back down. “That’s just it, boss; there’s no beds up here. I checked every room. They’re all empty.”

“Are you sure?”

Mrs Blake closed the front door and bolted it. The detectives spun around at the sound.

“This way, gentlemen,” she grinned, ushering them toward the door under the stairs. “My husband will see you now.”

She opened the door. A single light bulb cast a dim glow that didn’t quite reach to the foot of a steep flight of wooden steps. The detectives picked their way down into the gloom. Behind them, Mrs Blake closed the door and locked it.

She sat on the stairs and listened. Her husband wouldn’t mind being woken early since she had provided him such a handsome and refreshing two-course lunch.

housewife-md

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New book on the loose!

Very pleased to announce the publication of my twentieth novel, the seventh case for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller, ZORILLA AT LARGE!

With an escaped animal and a serial killer on the loose, Brough, Miller and the rest of the Serious Crimes Division have never been busier. Meanwhile, foul-mouthed Chief Inspector Wheeler is swearier than ever, faced with the toughest decision of her career. The Dedley detectives are back in their seventh – and funniest – investigation.

large zorilla at largeBuy the book!

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All Mod Cons

Having flicked through five hundred channels, Arlo tossed the remote onto the sofa. He hooked his earphones on and pressed ‘shuffle’. He wasn’t too thrilled with the player’s first random selection so he pressed ‘skip’ a few times until he found a song he could tolerate. He stood on a pad and hovered to the kitchen. The ice-maker had a cool drink waiting and the oven was flashing a question “What time’s dinner?” but he couldn’t be bothered to tell it. He might summon pizza or something from an app instead.

He checked his messages on all platforms, clicking the little heart icon underneath several photographs without looking at them properly. A couple of people were saying Hi. He said Hi back. He’d check again tomorrow to see how they responded to that one.

He floated back to the living room, hopped off the hover pad and dropped onto the sofa. A quick touch of the dial adjusted the cushions, plumping them up and cooling the temperature for optimum comfort. He switched to games mode and selected an interactive shoot-’em-up set in an abandoned city. There was only a couple of other players logged in, neither of whose handles Arlo recognised. He shot a few prostitutes and smashed a car into a shop window before disconnecting, bored to death.

He activated the pizza delivery app but couldn’t decide on toppings. “Drones are standing by” the app informed him in bright colours. Drones who would bring him mushroom, pineapple and garlic – whatever his heart desired on a pizza.

He decided he wasn’t hungry after all and undressed for a sonic shower. Invisible pulses cleaned his skin. You couldn’t feel it but somehow you felt fresher afterwards. Renewed. He lay on his bed for a vibro-massage, scrolling through his tablet for something to read, but nothing held his attention. He couldn’t remember the last time he had found a clip of a kitten falling off a skateboard even vaguely amusing.

Which reminded him. He opened the app and ‘fed’ his cyber-pet, an amorphous creature that changed colour according to mood and physical condition. The thing purred and hooted with pleasure, rubbing itself against the other side of the screen. Arlo tickled the glass absently.

He asked the wardrobe to pick out a clean outfit for the evening. The scanners assessed his temperament and put together items of black clothing. “Very funny,” Arlo scowled.

An unfamiliar chiming rang out. Arlo checked all the devices in his bedroom. He hopped onto a pad and glided from room to room but he could not locate the source of the chimes.

Eventually, it stopped. Arlo went to bed for an immersive experience with a couple of holographic women.

Walking away from the house, Arlo’s mother took one last sad look back. He never calls, her shoulders slumped, and he never seems to be at home. He must be having the time of his life; my boy, out there in the world.

remotehome-md

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The Fox

Reynard the fox slipped across the dual carriageway. It was quiet at this time of night and the danger from the cars and lorries was vastly reduced. He trotted through the shopping centre, pausing only to sniff at the litter bins on his way to the skips behind the restaurant. You could count on plenty of food in the city at night. Humans are such careless, wasteful creatures. They don’t know how good they’ve got it.

He crunched some bones from a fried chicken shop, scaring several rats who screeched and complained that they had found it first. Get lost, Reynard told them. Vermin!

Yes, life was good since he’d become an urban fox. He’d met a vixen who had shown him around – where the best places were for litter, for hiding, for sleeping during the day. Her name was Daisy but she had been killed by a motorbike, its cyclopean headlight confusing her for a moment. Fatally, as it turned out.

Now, Reynard operated alone. He considered going back to the countryside and enticing a female to return with him. Things were crazy in the countryside. Humans chased foxes, haughty on horseback, trumpeting like elephants, and spurring horse and hound alike to move in for the kill. And they call us cruel! Reynard marvelled. All right, if I come across a chicken coop, of course I’m going to break in and kill the lot. It’s only forward planning. Give me time and I’d carry them all away and cache them somewhere safe for a rainy day, but no. There were always alarms, and gunshots, and even banging saucepans together until I run away. I rarely get the chance to eat what I kill, thanks to humans.

But his new life suited him well enough. He was even gaining weight. Must be the fried food, he reckoned. I’m a hunter no more. A scavenger taking what I can find. And I never have to look very hard.

The humans, though, were a different story. Riding roughshod across the land, baying for blood. Reynard had heard rumours that they didn’t even eat what they hunted. It was just sport to them, the instilling of terror, the ripping apart. They even painted the faces of their young in their quarry’s blood. It was sick, in his opinion. You wouldn’t catch an animal acting like that.

He climbed onto a skip and dropped inside onto a mattress of discarded food. There was enough to feed him, a mate and a family of cubs for weeks, and the humans just threw it all away.

Reynard ate his fill. There was still time for a snooze before the sun came up and the humans came to open the supermarket. His last thought of the night, before consciousness slipped away, was “If I can give up hunting and live very well, why can’t they?”

fox

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Sneak peek: Escape From Vultures’ Moon

Here’s the opening sequence to the third book in the Vultures’ Moon series, currently out with my beta-readers.  I await their verdict.

Jed and his Horse watched the fireworks soar high above the rooftops of Tarnation. Bursts of colourful sparks painted the early evening sky with fleeting, fiery flowers. From this distance, you couldn’t hear them but the gunslinger was sure the townsfolk were all a-whooping and a-hollering at each and every whizz-bang and folderol.

Pioneers’ Day. A public holiday that was a welcome respite from the toil and hard labour of eking out a life for yourself on the frontier world of Vultures’ Moon. Jed didn’t begrudge anybody a day off but, inevitably, once night fell and the fireworks were done, the menfolk would adjourn to the saloons and instead of rockets, fists would fly and Jed would be hard pressed to keep the peace. Yup, come morning, Sheriff Dawson would have standing room only in the Tarnation jail.

“That reminds me,” said Horse, tracking the explosion of a rocket, “That shooting star we saw the other night.”

Jed scratched the stubble on his chin. “I remember,” he said, although he did not need to utter a word; Horse seemed always to know what Jed was thinking. “It was green.”

“And I said it wasn’t a shooting star,” his steed continued, “and you said it most likely was, and I pointed out it couldn’t be, and you tried to account for the green hue –”

“I remember!” Jed interrupted Horse’s monologue before it could develop into a one-act play. “I said it was on account of atmospherics or some such.”

“You’re a scientific genius,” said Horse. “I say we should go and check it out.”

Jed grunted. His old friend Doc Brandy would have known exactly what had fallen from the sky – but the doc was dead and buried and no longer in a position to divulge any information.

Horse’s eyes flashed as he conducted computations. “Judging by the parabola… I should say it landed due west of here. Twenty miles, give or take.”

“Landed?”

“Yes. It wasn’t a shooting star. I thought we had established that.”

Jed couldn’t be bothered to argue. He tugged on the reins – something he rarely ever did or had to do.

“Ow!” Horse complained – but it was a complaint born of annoyance rather than physical discomfort.

“Let’s get to town,” Jed said flatly. “See if we cain’t head off a good deal of the trouble afore it kicks off.”

Horse rose into the air and swooped down into the valley, a little too sharply for his rider’s liking. The gunslinger had to hold onto his white hat as they made the descent but his face remained impassive and his square jaw remained set. There was no way Jed was going to betray his own annoyance.

“We could go tomorrow,” Horse suggested. “Your diary is clear.”

“Go?”

“To find our shooting star.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t no –” Jed stopped himself. He didn’t want to give Horse the satisfaction of knowing he was irritated. “Maybe,” he said in such a way to indicate it was his final word on the matter.

For now, thought Horse.

He trotted toward the town, coming to a halt at the end of Tarnation’s Main (and only) Street.

“What the – ?” Jed dismounted.

The bangs and flashes were still going on but they were no longer decorating the sky.

“These ain’t no fireworks…” the gunslinger drew a pistol. “Scan ahead.”

Horse obliged.

“Well?” said Jed. People were running in all directions. Running and screaming.

“Let me run it again,” said Horse. “Some kind of gunfire – I’ve never encountered this type before.”

“Analysis can wait,” Jed urged as a man in a plaid shirt fell face down in front of him. “Who’s doing the shooting and how many?”

“Well, that’s just it, Jed,” said Horse. “Apart from the fleeing and the dead, I can’t detect anyone at all.”

brown-horse-head-md

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Meanwhile at the Salon…

Nick turned the sign on the door around to ‘Closed’ and pushed the bolt home. Another busy day at the salon was over and the till was brimming with banknotes. He’d transfer the takings to the safe in the office and leave the sweeping up for the apprentice to do in the morning.

He turned off the lights and was just reaching for his jacket when the telephone rang.

“We’re closed,” he told it but it kept ringing. The call went through to the answering machine.

“Nick! Pick up! I know you’re there…”

Nick’s heart sank. It was the Boss. He took the call.

“Sorry, Boss; I was just sweeping up.”

“Don’t bullshit me; we both know you’ll make poor Warren do it in the morning.”

Nick blushed.

“So, how’s business?” the Boss continued. “Plenty of punters?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said Nick, glad to have something positive to report.

“That’ll be the new haircut,” the Boss enthused. “They all want it.”

“Er…”

“Nick… You have been cutting the hair like I told you? Short around the back and sides and a big floppy quiff on the top. Like one of those little biscuits you used to see with the coloured swirl of sugar… What were they called?”

“Iced gems,” said Nick. “Listen, Boss –”

But the Boss was in no mood for listening. “No, you listen. I say that all men shall have this iced gems cut, and that is what shall happen.”

“But – sometimes they want something else. I let them choose. Hell, they can have a mullet if they want one!”

The phone in Nick’s hand glowed red hot as the Boss struggled to contain his temper.

“Let them CHOOSE? LET THEM CHOOSE?”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “You know, like ‘free will’ and all that.”

“Free will?” The Boss laughed. “Oh, that’s priceless! Free will is just an illusion. Surely, after all these millennia, you realise that? Create the illusion of free will and Man will do exactly what you want him to. Free will, my Aunt Fanny! How many have been in to ask for a mullet, or anything else? They all want the same haircut, whether it suits them or not. They’re no better than sheep, shepherding themselves.”

At least the Boss sounded as though he had cheered up a bit.

“So, what’s the point?” said Nick, leaning against the desk. “Why are you pissing about with haircuts and not smiting your enemies left, right and centre?”

“Oh, Nick. Nicky, Nick, Nick. It’s an allegory. Or a metaphor. Something of that nature.”

“Symbolic?”

“Yeah, that’ll do. It makes all the dangerous ones easier to spot. Those who don’t follow the herd shall be known by their hairstyle. And then – pow! – a-smiting I will go. Can’t have Man thinking for himself. Next thing you know, he’ll be saying we don’t exist.”

Nick suppressed a shudder.

“Oh, well, I’ll let you get on,” said the Boss. “I expect you’ve got fires to stoke, souls to torment, that kind of thing.”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “Night, Boss.”

He hung up and shrugged his jacket on. He reached his cap from the peg and set it at a jaunty angle so that it covered his horns.

Fire-stoking… Soul-tormenting… Nick turned off the lights.

Warren could do all that in the morning.

 iced-gems-2-fw

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Delivery After Dark

Just after sundown, the float left the depot and rattled through the town. Bottles shivered in crates as the driver negotiated speed bumps – how antiquated! Someone should dig these things up. Traffic calming measures were a thing of the past now that most people flew everywhere. Or ran on foot…

The driver got out and filled a wire basket with six bottles of the top quality stuff. Garden gates and hedges were no barrier. He sprang over each one, landing nimbly at the doorsteps and depositing the delivery, before trundling away to the next street to repeat the process. He liked to play a game with himself: to get away from a house before the heavy shutters over the doors and windows rolled up and the occupants stirred themselves from their coffins to face the night ahead.

There! In a bush, eyes flashed as the float’s headlights hit. A human, a feral human scavenging for scraps.

Run, the driver urged silently! Get out of here before they sense you. I’d chase you myself but I’ve got a job to do. I can’t afford to have the boss on my back again. He’ll bite my head off.

The human – a male, pale and starving – stalked away, disappearing into shadows. There were fewer of them around these days. Having been dispossessed of their towns and cities, they had fled to the heart of the countryside. Hunting expeditions had routed huge numbers of them, for sport and for cultivation. And now, the last remaining few were returning to the civilisation they had once controlled, haunting the streets and alleyways under the cover of daylight, desperate for food.

The driver completed the rest of his round wondering about the stray. If he was lucky, he’d be captured and delivered to the dairy where he would at least survive for a couple of years. If he was unlucky, he’d be chased down and savaged, drained of every drop where he fell. This kind of thing was frowned upon – the blood should be screened, the Vampire Authorities advised. It should be cleansed.

But sometimes there was nothing better than a good old-fashioned hunt.

The driver parked the float in a layby. He treated himself to a bottle of his own goods, peeling off the foil cap and savouring the coppery aroma of the rich red liquid. His tongue traced the tip of his fangs in eager anticipation of the delicious drink to come.

Go on, run, he lifted the bottle in toast to the feral human. If I see you tomorrow night, I just might come after you myself.

milkman

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Serial Offender

Writing a series is different from writing a stand-alone story. Well, duh. I currently have three series on the go, and I flit from one to another, fitting in one-offs in-between.

Blood & Breakfast was initially intended as a one-off, a kind of spoof on Norwegian Noir but set in my home town. I chucked in what little I knew then of Norwegian culture and away I went. I even started learning the language. A second draft brought the police detectives assigned to the case to the fore, and the story came to be seen largely through the eyes of newcomer Detective Inspector Brough.

I enjoyed writing these coppers so much I decided to give them more cases to investigate. And so the Brough & Miller series came to be. Their seventh story, Zorilla At Large! is due out any day now,

I like to write in different genres and challenged myself to write a Western, following the conventions as best as I could. It soon became clear – during the writing of the first page, in fact! – that my Western was going to be different. It occurred to me that my hero Jed’s horse was a Horse – a highly enhanced life-form with amazing capabilities. A bit like an iPhone with four legs, or Siri with a saddle. As I explored Jed’s world, a new planet was born. I’m currently working on the third Vultures’ Moon novel. It feels like the last in a trilogy (being the third – duh, again!) but whether there’ll be any more after this one remains to be seen.

Kiss of the Water Nymph is the only book I have written with a series in mind from the get-go. Hector Mortlake is a late-Victorian novelist, travelling the world with his man Cuthbert and getting embroiled in all kinds of Hammer Horror/Jules Verne adventures in the pursuit of inspiration for his fiction. His second exploit, Xolotl Strikes! is also imminent on the e-book shelves.

Writing later instalments means you have already created the main characters and the set-up, so you have to bring something new to the party. I dip into the lives of Brough and Miller and their co-workers at six-monthly intervals and catch up with what’s happened to them. The world of Vultures’ Moon becomes richer with each visit. The trick is not to keep writing the same story but to take what I’ve already created and develop it, revealing new aspects and ideas while retaining enough familiar elements to make it recognisably part of an extended narrative. That’s what I mean by writing a series is different. Why I didn’t just say that at the outset, I don’t know. I could have saved us both a lot of time.   Soz.

So, while most people binge-watch series on Netflix and by other means, I binge-write them. I hope you’ll find one to suit your tastes and interests. Repeat customers are the best customers.

Thanks for reading. Keep doing it.

owl-with-tablet-md

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