An epic begins…

Here is the opening to my epic fantasy, NAVARIN, THUNDER AND SHADE, in which I wander into Game of Thrones and Tolkien territory.  Ish.  I hope you’ll want to read the rest.

 

The wizard was dead by the time they got there. He had put up a good fight; it was the green and purple blasts from his hands that had drawn them to the scene, the deadly flashes lighting up the woods and the evening sky like one of the Duke’s beloved fireworks displays.

Broad inspected the wizard’s assailants – what was left of them – ragtag outlaws sprawled in a ring around the deceased magician. “He killed the lot,” he said, grimacing at the twisted remains. The attackers were contorted and scorched as though they had been hit by forceful fire.

“There’s not a mark on him,” said Shade. “They didn’t get near him. Didn’t get the chance.”

Broad raised a quizzical eyebrow; there was no need to give voice to the question.

“What killed him?” Shade said it for him. “Exhaustion, I’d say. Must have used all his energy fighting off these rascals. He just ran out of life.”

“Poor chap,” said Broad. “I wonder why he just didn’t turn them into frogs or something. Why did he obliterate them?”

“They don’t do that frog thing really,” said Shade. “Perhaps he was protecting something. Something these fellows were after.”

“So it wasn’t a random attack in the forest?”

“You know I don’t believe in random,” said Shade. He gestured to the nearest outlaw corpse. Beneath the grime and tatters glinted the armour and insignia of the Duke’s men. Broad gaped; Shade was always the first to pick up on these things. “Have a look in his poke.”

Broad approached the body and stooped over it, one hand on the hilt of his sword, just in case. The wizard was half-lying on the shapeless sack, his fingers clutching it, bunching the neck. Broad had quite a wrestling match on his hands before he could free the bag and peer inside.

“Nothing.” He sounded disappointed.

“Well, this is a waste of time,” said Shade. “I’d stamp my foot if I could.”

Broad glanced at his strange companion. It was true: Shade was fading fast, was hardly corporeal at all. He was like smoke in the shape of a man, and the smoke was thinning, becoming transparent. Broad could make out the stripes of the tree trunks behind him. “And there’s nothing for you…”

Shade managed to shake his head. “We were too late. He was long gone.”

Too late to save the wizard. Too late for Shade to feed.

Broad sprang up and did a quick tour of the outlaws. He found one slumped against the trunk of an oak, with breath still rasping through a hole where his throat used to be. “Here’s one!” he cried. “He might be enough for a snack.”

Shade floated over as though wafted by a breeze. Broad turned his back and walked off; it made him uncomfortable whenever his companion fed. But we all have to eat.

“Just don’t make that sucking noise,” he pleaded without turning around.

“I don’t suck,” Shade was indignant. He swooped over the dying man.

“Matter of opinion,” Broad muttered. He tried to think of something else while Shade replenished himself. He was being ungenerous; he knew that. If it was not for Shade, Broad would have died many years ago, but would death have been worse than being joined to the weird creature for the rest of his days? Sometimes, Broad thought it might not.

“Hurrah!” cried Shade, turning cartwheels across the clearing. He bounced around, full of vim and vigour until a baleful look from his human companion prompted him to contain himself. He was always the same after a feed, so full of life. “His name was Jolf,” he reported. “He was in the Duke’s guard and was going to ask somebody called Rosahild to marry him. Well, I guess that’s never going to happen.”

“What else? Was he in the know, this Jolf? Why was a pack of guards disguised as outlaws and attacking a wizard?”

Shade shrugged. “Jolf was along to make up the numbers, to add a bit of muscle. He wasn’t party to the finer details.”

Broad surveyed the scene again. Finer details. Absolute bloody shambles, more like, with emphasis on the bloody. The Duke was renowned for, among other things, his hatred of wizardry. Was that behind this attack gone wrong?   Or was that the intended result, the death of the magician? Or was there something else?

“You’re thinking again,” Shade teased. “I can tell. You get that crease in your brow.”

Broad swatted at him and the backs of his fingers came into contact with something like lumpy fog. Shade was always more solid after a feed. He struck a pose.

“Yes, yes, muscles, you said,” said Broad. “Very nice.”

Shade stuck out his tongue. “They won’t last, I know. Not like yours, Mister Carcass of Beef.”

But Broad did not want to be drawn into one of Shade’s bickering matches. He walked away so he could look back at the scene from a distance and try to take it all in as a whole, to picture the way it might have played out. The wizard had been surprised. Surrounded. These two blocked the path in front, those two must have crept up behind. These four must have dropped out of the trees…

“We should get moving,” Shade advised. “While it’s still dark and I’ve got my strength – well, technically speaking, good buddy Jolf’s strength.”

“Shouldn’t we bury them first?” asked Broad. “The wizard at least.”

Shade pulled a face. His features were temporarily those of the late guard Jolf. “Waste of time. Let the wolves have them for supper.”

“Doesn’t seem right,” said Broad. “Doesn’t seem respectful.”

Shade let out a long-suffering sigh. Humans and their ways. “You’re too squeamish about your dead,” he scolded. “They are gone, all gone. What’s left is just meat. Honestly. Let the wolves benefit not the worms.”

“But someone should say something, at least.”

“What? Like don’t come back and haunt us? Don’t get up again? It’s hollow superstition; I keep telling you. Dead is dead is dead.”

A howl, not as far off as Broad would have liked, settled the matter. They would get moving to avoid being an entrée for the banquet that lay waiting for the wolves. Instead, thought Broad, we shall be more of a running buffet.

He paused to retrieve the wizard’s poke and, murmuring apologies, hurried after Shade who, with Jolf’s long strides, was already some distance ahead.

Navarin,+Thunder+and+Shade

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A Sense of Belonging

Faisal was sweating.  The a/c on the overcrowded train wasn’t working, and the bulky overcoat he was sweltering in didn’t help.  They’re looking at me – Everyone in this carriage is looking at me!  Panic stirred the already-jittery butterflies in the pit of his stomach.  He felt sick and his throat was parched.  There was a bottle of water in his backpack but no room to manoeuvre.

They’re looking right through me, right through my overcoat.  They know!

Breathe!

Asif had told him: If your nerves get the better of you, just breathe.  Count to ten.  Breathe. Stay focussed.  Calm yourself.

After a seemingly interminable approach to Birmingham’s New Street station, the train juddered to a halt with a lazy screech.  Commuters squeezed from the doors like so much lumpy toothpaste.  Some of them glanced at Faisal and nervously hurried on their way.

They can see!  They know!

Faisal was caught up in the tide of travellers, surging up the escalators like salmon heading upstream.  So many people going about their daily business with the same dead look in their eyes.

Faisal and the Group were about to change all that.

It was Asif who had introduced him to the Group.  “I’ve noticed you,” he’d said, “Coming out of the mosque.  You’re a bit of a loner, aren’t you?  Keep yourself to yourself.”

Faisal, blushing, had looked away.  Asif had large brown eyes and long, curling eyelashes that, on a woman, would have been beautiful…  Faisal shifted uncomfortably.

“I want you to meet some of the guys,” Asif had led him aside.  “They’re good people.  They’ll give you what you lack.”

“Oh?” Faisal had met the beautiful stare.  “And what’s that?”

Asif had smiled and lowered his voice.  “A sense of belonging.”

The Group met in secret, in someone’s uncle’s warehouse.  Faisal was made to swear he would not breathe a word of any of it to a living soul.  That was easy – he had always kept his thoughts private and wasn’t close to anyone.

But now there was Asif…

They drilled him for weeks.  Every step of the plan, every move was rehearsed and practised.  There was even a stopwatch.  The date was chosen and the time.  The early morning rush hour.

“That’s when we’ll have the most impact,” Asif’s dark eyes were wide with anticipation.  “One moment.  Our moment – and it will be bright and shining and glorious.”

Faisal squeezed through the ticket gate – not easy, given the overcoat and the backpack.  He waddled to his appointed spot on the concourse, near a sandwich shop, careful not to catch the eye of the security staff in their peaked caps and hi-vis tabards.  Unsuspecting commuters jostled past, caught up in their individual drudgery.  Faisal wiped sweat from his brow.  The seconds ticked away.

Across the way, other members of the Group were in place, all in overcoats, all checking their watches.  And there was Asif, over at a handbag kiosk.  His eyes met Faisal’s.  Asif smiled.  Faisal’s nausea flipped his stomach and the feeling became something else, something that turned his legs to jelly.

For you, Asif…

Faisal shrugged off his backpack and took out the device he had carried from home.  He pressed a button and – Boom! – a disco version of I Am What I Am blasted out.  Around the station, members of the Group shed their overcoats to reveal leotards in vivid colours with sequins and feathers.  The flash mob began and Asif was right: it was bright and shining and glorious.

New-Street-Station-13

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The Knife

The tinkle of the little porcelain bell his mother kept at her bedside summoned Rick to her chamber.  He hurried to her door without delay – the bell always signalled something important.

He knocked softly.

“Come in.”  His mother’s voice wheezed.  The effort to call out cost her a couple of minutes of wracking coughs.  Rick cringed to hear it.  Mother was surely in her last days – but then, he had thought so for as long as he could remember.  Still she clung to life.

But today she had rung the bell.

He pushed the door open just enough to admit his slender frame over the threshold.

The room was in darkness, as always.  Thick curtains kept the daylight at bay and the air was thick and stale, hot and pestilent, as though every cough that had ever issued from her birdlike body was still there, hanging in front of his face.

She beckoned him to her bedside.  Rick could hardly bear to look at her but the sight of him had the opposite effect on her.  His mother seemed suddenly invigorated.  She managed to sit up.

“Son!” she gasped.  If she didn’t actually use her voice, the coughing would sometimes let her off.  “How you’ve grown!  I forget – the days go by and I forget.”  She reached for his hand but Rick contrived to keep just beyond her reach.  “Here!” she stretched to reach something from the bedside table.  Bottles of medicines and jars of pills plunged to floor.  Her hand seized on a parcel, like the talon of an osprey snatching a fish from a stream.  She sat back, panting until she recovered from the exertion, and then her spindly fingers plucked at the parcel, unwrapping the cloth that enclosed the contents.

“It is time,” she announced, her watery eyes gleaming with pride.  “You are old enough now.”

Rick recognised the object at once: his father’s knife!  He had seen it before, on illicit incursions into his mother’s room, while she was sleeping, and had marvelled at its sleekness, its beauty, its silent power…

“Take it!” She offered up the knife on the cloth.  Rick did not need to be told twice.  His fingers closed around the hilt and he twisted his fist this way and that so he could examine the blade from every angle.  The weapon felt light in his grasp; his mother seemed to read his thoughts.

“Do not be deceived!” she warned.  “It feels like a feather but it has the power to take a life in one stroke.  And that is a heavy responsibility for a young man’s heart.  Use it sparingly – it were better not used at all – but the having of it is enough.  You are a man now, my son, and it is fitting your father’s blade should be yours.”

Rick was barely listening.  He was captivated by the blade’s edge.   How many ribs had it scraped against?  And whose?  How many throats had it sliced?  How many eyes had it gouged?  Cheeks slashed?  Bellies broached?

It looked completely new, unused.

But that could not be true.  Tales of his father, who had died while Rick was coiled in the womb, danced in his memory.  It had been a knife that had taken his father’s life.  But whose?  For surely the victor in any combat claimed the loser’s blade?  And yet, here it was, unmarked and solitary.

Rick found his mother’s eyes were on him.  With hawk-like acuity, she looked into his soul.

“Ah, your father… It is time you heard the truth.  Your dad fell on his own knife and bled to death before I found him.  Stupid twat.  I’d told him to fix that bit of stair carpet countless times but did he?  Did he bollocks!  Now, be a sweetheart and fetch me forty Superkings before the shop shuts.  You’ll be all right going through the precinct at this time of night with that penknife in your pocket.  Go on; piss off out of it.  Make your mother proud.”

Rick stuffed the knife into his tracksuit bottoms and strode out with his head held high.

white-knife-hand-md

 

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The Legend of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Me

Like most people I first came into contact with Tarzan via one of the many versions of the character.  In my case it was the Ron Ely TV series, closely followed by the Johnny Weissmuller films.  In fact, it took me quite a while before I approached the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, a writer who has had a profound effect on my imagination and the kinds of things I write about in my books and short stories.

Now this new film, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN has a go at bringing the Lord of the Apes to a modern audience  – and it succeeds, without having to contemporise the setting or impose some latter-day values onto proceedings.   Where other recent versions have made Tarzan a kind of environmental warrior, this one lets the character’s duality come to the fore.  It’s not just a question of man/animal but decent/uncivilised.   Here we see the horrors wrought by so-called civilisation, as white male capitalists commit atrocities in the name of financial gain.  In this case it’s the Belgian exploitation of the Congo Basin, enslaving the locals, double-crossing a chieftain, kidnapping a not-so defenceless woman, in the pursuit of blood diamonds.  Tarzan aka John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke aka Alexander Skarsgard aka one of the fittest men on the planet, is at first reluctant to leave his stately home and go back to Africa, having adapted to life in a shirt and tie and an impeccable cut glass accent.  Once back though, his former instincts resurface and his specially developed abilities are soon called into play when feisty wife Jane (Margot Robbie) becomes a pawn in the machinations of boo hiss villain Rom (Christoph Waltz).  Samuel L Jackson is along for the ride, providing most of the humour – it is through his eyes that we mostly see Tarzan in his element.  The growing friendship between the two men also provides one of the film’s most feel-good moments.

For the fans, the script is peppered with references to earlier versions, acknowledging the character’s place in cultural history for over a century, although these are throwaway moments that do not puncture the film’s integrity and the world it conjures.

The action sequences are fast-paced, the animals excellently presented – even the ostriches are scary.  The resolution is satisfying and apt.  The good end happily and the bad unhappily – which, Oscar Wilde tells us – is what fiction means.

_B4B1734.dng

Alexander (Skarsgard) the Great

Years ago, I had my own idea for a version of Tarzan.  It eventually became my novel JUNGLE OUT THERE, which is still out there as an ebook.  In my story, a character called Man, his aristocratic wife Lady Jane, and their adopted son, Baby, move to a semi-detached house in Dedley – a fictionalised version of my own home town.  In the book, I poke a lot of fun at the characters, but more importantly, I satirise the way we live today.  Have a butcher’s at the book here.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s work has more directly influenced my science fiction.  My wild west sci-fi trilogy set on the cowboy planet VULTURES’ MOON owes much to his Barsoom novels and also his Westerns.  (The film version of JOHN CARTER is my all-time fave!) Mosey on over to the first in the series here.

Above all, the cinematic quality of Burroughs’s writing – some of it published while film was still developing its own language – has influenced the way I write.  Nothing is too sensational or fantastical.  If you can imagine it, you can write about it.  And genre fiction is nothing to be ashamed of!

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Blowing my own trumpet (not like that!)

It’s not every day you achieve a life goal.  Today I achieved two of mine at one fell swoop with the publication of my 26th novel, YOUNG GIFTED AND DEADLY.

young gifted and deadly

Why 26?

I decided about 22 books ago that I would set myself the challenge of writing a book for each letter of the alphabet and, by Jingo, I’ve done it!  There’s a list below this if you don’t believe me, the A to Z of my fiction.  I’m pretty pleased about it, I can tell you, and rather proud of myself.  The awkward letters, like Q, X and Z, ended up sparking some of my most inventive work.  See below for further details.

And the second life goal?

It’s been a lifelong dream to get a book in print, an actual book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages in the old-fashioned way.  From today, you can order a paperback version of YOUNG GIFTED AND DEADLY, and I hope you do, all those people who’ve been resisting my work because you’re holding out for hard copy.  Well, here it is!  Get reading and let me know what you think!

What’s next?

I’m already working on Book 27, which will complete the Hector Mortlake trilogy (see K and X on the list) and then I’m going to focus on scripts and screenplays for a bit.

But first, I’m going to raise a glass to myself.  I think I’ve earned it.  Yay, me!

 

 
A The Assassin and his Sister

A Comedy of Murders – inspired by minor characters in Verdi’s Rigoletto

The+Assassin+and+His+Sister

 

21/05/13
B Blood & Breakfast

West Midlands Noir – The first case for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller.  In the first draft, the police hardly appeared at all but I found I enjoyed writing them and so reimagined the whole story.  My intended Nordic Noir spoof became the springboard for a series of comic crime novels, of which there are currently eight.

Blood+&+Breakfast

 

28/06/12
C Coffin Dodgers

Brough and Miller’s 5th investigation

 

 Coffin+Dodgers 01/07/14
D Drinkwater’s Daughter

A Tale of Highwaymen – historical fantasy, a love triangle and some folk ballads.

 

Drinkwaters+Daughter

23/10/13
E Escape from Vultures’ Moon

The third ride with Jed and Horse

 Escape+From+Vultures'+Moon 23/11/15
F The Footprints of the Fiend

Brough and Miller’s 3rd investigation

The+Footprints+of+the+Fiend

 

01/05/13
G Grey Ladies

Brough and Miller’s 2nd investigation

 Grey+Ladies 05/12/12
H Hospital Corners

Brough and Miller’s 6th investigation

 

 Hospital+Corners 06/11/14
I I Am The Cat

Dick Whittington’s companion tells his side of the story

I+AM+THE+CAT

 

25/09/12
J Jungle Out There

A suburban adventure in which a Tarzan-like figure and his family move to Dedley. A nod to the master, Edgar Rice Burroughs, but my Vultures’ Moon books owe a lot to his Barsoom chronicles.

Jungle+Out+There

 

21/10/14
K Kiss of the Water Nymph

The first Hector Mortlake adventure – If Oscar Wilde did Hammer Horror, it might turn out like this.

 

 Kiss+of+the+Water+Nymph 20/01/15
L Leporello on the Lam

My debut novel! The further Adventures of Don Giovanni’s Man.  Inspiration struck when I was watching a live broadcast of Mozart’s opera from The Met.  A month later, I’d finished the first draft.

Leporello+on+the+Lam

 

01/03/12
M Murder on the Knees

Brough and Miller’s 4th investigation

 

Murder+On+The+Knees

21/07/13
N Navarin, Thunder and Shade

A Fantasy – swords, sorcery and broth. Not so much a Game of Thrones as a round of musical chairs, my go at an epic fantasy and also my longest book to date.

Navarin,+Thunder+and+Shade

 

29/02/16
O Octavius Mint and the Indigo Dragon

The Adventures of an Action Hero who is all mouth and no trousers – sci-fi and smut!

Octavius+Mint+and+the+Indigo+Dragon

 

30/05/12
P Poor Jacky

The Ghost of Dedley Hall – My attempt at a Stephen King, I suppose, mixed with some historical melodrama.  Dedley Hall is based on Himley Hall, so you could go there, if you dare.

 

 Poor+Jacky 17/03/13
Q Quoits & Quotability

A Regency romp – Jane Austen with a gay protagonist.  I went all out with Q words and found it a liberating rather than a constricting factor in my storytelling.

 Quoits+and+Quotability 02/12/15
R The Rough Rude Sea

A Pirate Adventure – This fantasy gets its title from Shakespeare’s Richard II – but you knew that, didn’t you?

 

 The+Rough+Rude+Sea 01/05/13
S Someday My Prince

A Fairy Tale – my most Disneyesque novel and definitely the most kid-friendly!

Someday+my+Prince

 

10/05/12
T Trapping Fog

A Slice of Steampunk – Jack the Ripper gets a supernatural twist

trapping fog

 

02/06/16
U Under the Vultures’ Moon

Jed and Horse ride again in this sequel to Vulture’s Moon

 Under+the+Vultures'+Moon 31/08/14
V Vultures’ Moon

A Space Western – I wanted to write a traditional Western but from the off, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  As soon as Horse hovered into the valley on the first page, I knew this was going to be a sci-fi story but one which follows the conventions of the Western.

Vultures'+Moon

 

02/10/13
W Where The Bee Sucks

A Tale of Magic and Shakespeare – A satire of Dan Brown’s books about Catholic art, using the cult of Shakespeare authorship instead and set in Stratford upon Avon rather than Venice or Rome.  The title comes from The Tempest.

Where+The+Bee+Sucks

 

08/01/14
X Xolotl Strikes!

The 2nd Hector Mortlake adventure.  Letter X gave me one of my best books – a little bit of research into Aztec deities and I was off.

Xolotl+Strikes!

 

06/10/15
Y Young, Gifted and Deadly

Brough & Miller’s 8th investigation.  My 26th book and the 1st to appear in a paperback edition.

young gifted and deadly

 

21/06/16
Z Zorilla at Large!

Brough & Miller’s 7th investigation.  Letter Z inspired a lot of this whodunit as it turns out.  This is my favourite of the Brough & Miller series – so far!

Zorilla+At+Large! 27/07/15

 

 

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Meanwhile, in a French hotel…

Pierre pushed the furniture against the door of his hotel room.  He crossed to the window and tweaked the blinds with his fingers.  Smoke rose from the street below.  The double glazing muffled most of the noise but the dull roar of the marauding mob still penetrated.

We knew this would happen, he released the blind.  We knew one day there would be an resurgence.

He opened the mini-bar and snatched out a bottle without looking.  Anything would do.  He unscrewed the cap and tossed it aside.  Within seconds, the bottle was empty.  He reached for another.

Screams and pounding feet in the corridor.  A door slammed.  A gunshot.

Pierre was frozen to the spot.  The television was all snow – he hoped it was a local malfunction but he feared communications were down across the country.  Those bastards, those sick bastards.

A thud against the door.  Pierre jumped.  He approached with caution and peered through the fisheye.  No one.  His hand lingered at the handle.  What if someone was hurt?  What if someone needed his help?

No.

He turned his back.  If I moved all the furniture, whoever it was would hear.  It would give them time to prepare an ambush as soon as I turned the lock…

An explosion in the street.  More gunfire, rapid and prolonged.  The army, perhaps!  Or a band of brave resistance fighters, trying to cull the crowd of mindless – what were they?  You couldn’t call them people any more.

The zombie apocalypse is upon us.  Pierre lowered himself onto the bed.  Perhaps I would be better off underneath it.  Perhaps that would buy me a few seconds after they get in.  Because they will get in.  He was sure it was only a matter of time.

Outside the streets were littered with the bodies of the fallen, but the seemingly inexhaustible supply of the braindead, hell-bent on destruction, kept coming, teeth bared, faces contorted with aggression.

Pierre rocked back and forth, whimpering.  The mini-bar would not see him through the night.

He closed his eyes but he could not shut out the terrifying sound of the creatures, which seemed to rise about the bangs and crashes of the efforts to stop their rampage.

Herewego, herewego, herewego…

En-ger-land!  En-ger-land!

mini bar

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John Leaves Home

John knotted his tie and pushed it up to the top button of his shirt.  He checked the way it looked in the bathroom mirror.  He put on his suit jacket and dusted the shoulders with the back of his fingers.

Not too shabby, he reflected.  Rather smart.  I look like I’m off to a job interview or to make an appearance at court – instead of being off to my doom.

He walked through the bedroom with his shoes hooked on his fingertips.  He padded down the stairs in his socks and slipped into the Brogues.  He stooped to tie the laces and caught his own eye in the mirror in the hall.

This is it, Johnny.  This is the end.

His stomach flipped.  A whole reserve’s worth of butterflies made themselves known.  I’m not ready, he thought.  I’m not ready.

He looked up the stairs.  Perhaps I should go back up.  One last embrace.  One last kiss.  One last goodbye…

No.  Better to be quick and clean.

He took an envelope from his inside pocket and propped it up on the hall table, using the snow globe they had brought back from their honeymoon.  She would be heartbroken but it was inevitable.  And anything was preferable to telling her the truth.

My dreams have always been small, he mused.  Singularly lacking in ambition – that’s what my last appraisal had boiled down to.  Well, wouldn’t you be, if you knew your days were numbered?  Scratch that: we all know our days are numbered but John knew the actual number.

And now there were no days left.

He opened the front door and stood on the step.  A long, black car was waiting at the kerb.

John pulled the door to, careful not to make a sound.  Goodbye, house, he thought sadly.  I could have gone for bigger, a mansion, a palace!  But I was content with you, you modest post-war semi.  We were happy here, the girl of my dreams and I.

One last guilty look at the first floor window.  The curtains were closed; John’s wife slept on.

I had to do it.  There was no other way.  You would never have looked at me otherwise.  And we were happy, weren’t we?  We had a good life?  I have to believe that.  I have to believe I didn’t sell my soul for nothing.

He closed the garden gate behind him.  At this early hour, the street was deserted.  No one will see me go, he realised.

The rear door of the car opened of its own accord.  A definite whiff of brimstone greeted John as he climbed in.

The door closed.  The tint of the windows was too dense to afford John one final look at his marital home as, silently, smoothly, the long, black car glided away.

tinted-window-limo-md

 

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Made To Order

“You’re home early,” a rather startled-looking Adrian pulled the sheet up to his neck.  In the doorway, Joe glanced around the room.  He dropped his briefcase and tugged at his tie.

“Afternoon off,” he said.  “I told you.”

“Did you?”  Adrian was nervous.  Joe approached the bed – their bed.  He perched on the corner.

“You’re in bed early; not well, baby?” Joe reached to feel Adrian’s forehead.  Adrian recoiled.

“I needed a lie-down.  I’m not feeling the best.”

Joe squeezed his knee.  “I’ll order in.  A slap-up Chinese will sort you out.”

“Or finish me off,” Adrian attempted a smile.  Joe leaned in and pecked his cheek.

“Menus in the drawer?”

“You say the sweetest things.”

Adrian watched Joe leave the room.  He heard him pad down the stairs and rummage in the kitchen.  While his husband made the call, Adrian crept from the bed, the sheet cinched around his waist, and opened the wardrobe door.

“He didn’t suspect a thing,” he told the figure standing within.

“Good,” came the whispered reply.

“I don’t know how you stand it,” said Adrian.  “Just the thought of him, touching me, pawing me… never mind anything else.”

“Well, I don’t have to anymore,” the figure emerged from behind the hanging shirts.  “That’s your problem now.  And you must obey me.”

Adrian groaned.  “Do I have to?”

The man, dressed in a suit, pulled out a device and waved it at Adrian’s head.  “A few more adjustments.  Joe won’t know the difference.”

Tears welled in Adrian’s eyes.  “How can you do it?  How can you leave me?  You go to all the trouble of making me and then you abandon me.  Why?”

“Why?” Adrian – the real Adrian – dusted off the shoulders of his jacket and looked at his clone with pity.  “That’s the eternal question.”

“Please!” the clone tugged at his maker’s sleeve.  Adrian brandished the device.  The clone adopted a vacant expression.

“You’d better get back in bed,” Adrian instructed.  “I’m going to sneak out the back way.  In an hour I’ll be at the airport on my way to a new life where I can conduct my research without hindrance.  Just keep Joe distracted long enough for me to clear out our bank account and please, try not to get black bean sauce on those sheets.  They’re Egyptian.”

takeaway

 

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Meanwhile, on a desert island…

Twenty years.  That was his best estimate.  Twenty years stranded on the tiny island.  At least!

He had changed – obviously, he was older.  Hairier too.  I must look like a walking haystack, he thought.  He no longer looked at his reflection in the rock pools that yielded him crabs to eat.  The diet kept him lean.  He had forgotten the taste of cake.  There was fruit on the island.  From that he got his sugar.  Sometimes he would let it ferment in the sun and then he would get drunk.  It was worth the stomach cramps the next day, for a few hours of blissful oblivion.

The loneliness was the worst thing.  It had eaten away at his peace of mind and now proved his greatest danger.  There were no animals on the island to predate on him.  There was shelter and fresh water.  And coconuts – he had learned not to walk directly under the trees when the coconuts were falling.  What a way to go that would be!  Brained by a falling coconut!

But the loneliness stretched his isolated hours.  Perhaps it had not been twenty years.  Perhaps it only felt like it.

Oh, to see another face!  To hear another voice!  He had thought about catching one of the colourful birds of paradise that roosted in the trees and teaching it to say Hello.  Or to swear, because that would amuse him.

He drew pictures in the sand.  Places he had been and people he had known.  He imagined stories for them.  How their lives had gone on without him!  When exactly had they given up the search?  Had they even searched?  Had they bothered?

His paranoia told him he had not been missed.  People had shrugged and got on with their lives.

He couldn’t say he blamed them.

And then, at long last, a blot on the horizon.  He climbed to the highest point so he could watch as the dark spot grew larger.  It was a ship!  A ship heading directly for the island!

A ship meant people!  A ship meant salvation!

His ordeal was over at last.

Or…

He hurried down to the beach and kicked sand over his fire.  He tore down the shelter he had built and scrambled into a cave.

If I lie here still and silent, they’ll go away.  He held his breath.

Good man, said his loneliness.  It’s just you and me now.

island

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A Visit to the Wise Woman

“Now then, what seems to be the problem?”  The old woman gestured to a stool, her hand a bunch of twigs held together by knotty veins.  The Princess Rosamond demurred – the stool was little more than a tree trunk upholstered with moss.  Gingerly, she lowered herself onto its edge, aware of the old woman’s eyes, black and gleaming, like a raven’s, watching her every move.

“I – I don’t know where to begin,” Rosamond faltered, her voice barely above a whisper.

“At the beginning, dearie!” the old woman suggested.  “And speak up!  My old ears!”

“I –” Rosamond wrung her hands in her lap, her fingers wrestling each other, like worms in competition.  “You’ll think me foolish and wanton.”

“My dear, many young ladies have perched on that stump.  They come to me for help.  They come to Old Helga for help when they can find it nowhere else.  I have seen all and heard all.  There is nothing you can say that will shock Old Helga.”

Rosamond frowned.  “And, so we’re clear, you’re Old Helga?”

The woman laughed, a cackle like a rusty hinge, exposing a row of broken teeth like the palings of a ruined fence.  She confirmed she was indeed Old Helga, the wise woman of the woods.

“What is it, dearie?” she said, in a softer, kinder voice.  “Tell Old Helga.”

“Well,” Rosamond looked at the writhing fingers and forced them to be still.  “I’m not happy.  With who I am.  With my body.”

Across the table, the wise woman grunted.  If I had a ducat for every time I’ve heard this one.

“I see,” she said.  “What is it, your nose?”

“No!” Rosamond’s hand flew to her nose in horror.

“Your teeth?”

“No!” Rosamond’s hand dropped to cover her mouth.

“Your chin?  Your tits?  Your fat arse?”

Scandalised, Rosamond got to her feet.  “How dare you!  You cannot talk to me like this.  I am a Princess!”

“And you’re cured!” Old Helga held out her hand, a dry leaf, cracked and paper-thin.

“What?” Rosamond gaped like a landed fish.

“Pay up!”

“But, I –”

“Three florins, as per our agreement.”

“But, I –”

There was a rustling as Old Helga got to her feet: the susurration of a pile of leaves disturbed by wind.  “Shazam!” she cried, pointing a gnarled stick at the princess’s face.  There was a puff of green smoke and Rosamond disappeared, her gown billowing to the floor.  From a sleeve, a tiny green frog emerged.  It looked up at the wise woman and let out a doleful croak.

“That better?” said Helga.  “Or would you prefer longer legs?  A stickier tongue?  Be off, before I drop you into my soup.”

Rosamond muttered a disgruntled ribbet and hopped out into the forest.  Overhead, a heron swooped.

No, thought the bird, passing up the chance of a froggy snack.  That one’s too ugly.

 stump

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