The Lamp

The presenter turned away from the camera to greet the next contributor. Her smile was broad and her eyes twinkled – she could fake sincerity along with the best of them.

“Hello, and welcome to the Antiques Show and Tell. What’s your name and what have you brought to show us?”

The punter – an elderly man in a fez that was incongruous with his tweed jacket – grinned back. “Hello, Catriona; I’m Al and I’ve brung this here lamp.”

“Let’s take a look.” Catriona picked up the object. It was dark, the metal tarnished from age. “A lamp, you say?”

“That’s right. You filled it with oil and lit a taper that came out the spout, you see?”

“Oh, right. It’s like something out of a pantomime.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t. This is your genuine article. From Persia.”

Catriona tipped the lamp over. “I can’t see any hallmarks.”

“You won’t,” said Al. “It’s eighth century.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because,” Al leant closer over the table, “I was there.” He grinned again, more broadly this time.

Catriona backed away. Her eyes darted nervously to camera. Got a right one here, she thought.

“That’s interesting, Al. Thank you.” She put the lamp on the table and turned away, making a quick chopping gesture to her throat. This old nutter could be dropped in the edit. Time-wasters! They turned up every week without fail.

“Oho!” came a hearty cry behind her. It was Nigel, one of the experts. His pudgy hands seized on the lamp. He inspected it with an admiring glint in his eye. “Ooh. Persian, I’d say. Ninth century?”

“Eighth,” said Al.

“Proper Arabian Nights stuff!” Nigel enthused. “And if memory serves…” He pulled the cuff of his bright blazer over the heel of his hand to give the tarnished metal a rub.

“No!” cried Catriona, reaching for the lamp.

But it was too late. The lamp jerked and shuddered in Nigel’s grasp. The lid flew off like a champagne cork and green and purple smoke billowed from the interior. The smoke coalesced in the sky to form the shape of a man from the torso up to the topknot of hair on the crown of his skull. The smoky figure folded his arms and bellowed.

“I am the slave of the lamp; what is your bidding?”

Nigel pouted. “I don’t know. Get us renewed for another series? With me as the lead presenter?”

“Your wish is my command,” the genie bowed.

Catriona disappeared.

“Good one,” said Al. He doffed his fez and snatched the lamp back. “I never liked her. Now, how much do you think it’s worth?”




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A Reviewer Strikes!!

XOLOTL STRIKES! has received a lovely review over on Books Go Social.  It’s always great when something like this happens.

You can read it here: 


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The Hit

I want you to call it off. Look, I know I said it was what I wanted but well, I’ve changed my mind. That’s allowed, surely, isn’t it? A man may change his mind. It’s not about the money. What I’ve paid you so far, you can keep that, it’s yours. And if you want the other half, well, I can stretch to that if you insist. I just don’t want you to provide the service I engaged you to provide.

That’s right. Call it off. Stand down – or whatever the term is. Abort, abort!

Yes, I am sure. Absolutely, positively. I don’t want you to go through with it.

I am sure. I have forgiven her, you see. And him. Although I don’t know much about him – nor do I want to – no, thank you – but as far as I’m concerned, it’s finished, over, done with, gone. She’s sorry, I’m sorry, we’re all bloody sorry. But I’m willing to forgive and forget – well, perhaps not forget. I don’t know how you do that. I suppose you just move on, you overlook it. You certainly don’t bring it up over dinner or while you’re pushing a trolley around Asda.

I suppose in time I will forget. Just as I will learn to trust her again. I suppose.

Well, that’s the long-term plan, anyway. And I can’t very well let her back in if you’ve put a bullet through her bonce, can I?

Well, one of your associates, then. I don’t know how you organise your business.

Call-out charge? What do you mean, call-out charge? I’m asking you not to send anyone out. Nobody needs to call-out anywhere.

A call-off charge? Now you’re just taking the piss. I’m not paying any more than what was originally agreed between us when I first rang you up. Nobody mentioned anything about a cancellation fee.

Yes, I know I can’t very well go crying to the police or the citizens’ advice. Yes, you have got me over a barrel. I can see that.

Let me get this straight. Let me make sure we understand each other. If I don’t pay the balance of what I owe plus the cancellation fee and an admin charge, you’re going to go through with the job as originally planned?

So, what you’re saying is it’s cheaper for me if I just sit back and let it happen? Save a couple of grand, will I, if you go through with it?

Well, since you put it like that. Oh, go on then. You may as well. As I say, the trust is gone. I can’t stop thinking about his hands pawing all over her.

And I get discount for a second purchase? Gosh…

No, not him. He’s not worth it. I don’t think I want a second hit…

Although, the bloke next door has been letting his cat shit in our garden – my garden, I suppose it is now.

I’ll leave the cash in the usual place.



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Doctor Hoo too

“The prisoner has declined the offices of a priest,” said the warder, leading Doctor Hoo along the tiled corridors of the condemned men’s wing.  “Often, they find it a comfort.  To put themselves straight before they pop off to meet their maker.  Like having a friend putting in a good word for you before you meet the boss, I suppose.”

Doctor Hoo grunted.  Of course, Deacus wouldn’t want anything to do with priests, being such an unholy creature himself.  Some might say ‘abomination’ but not Doctor Hoo; when all was said and done, Deacus was not only his most successful experiment, he was also the closest thing he had to a friend.

The warder unlocked the heavy, studded door and ushered Doctor Hoo inside, as though it was a box at the opera and not the gloomy accommodation of the damned before execution.  Doctor Hoo shooed the guards away, assuring them that the prisoner would not harm him – and vice versa.  The warder muttered something about it being highly irregular but backed away under the doctor’s firm stare.

Deacus was sitting at a small table.  Hands of playing cards lay in haphazard fans, abandoned when the door was opened.

“Now, then, what’s all this about?” Doctor Hoo glanced around the room.  It was dank and airless.  One might think the inmates would be glad to leave it come the dawn.

“I’m sorry, Doc,” Deacus sank his head into his hands.  Well, the head was his but the hands had been happened across somewhere along the line.  “I just don’t know what came over me.  I couldn’t stop myself.”  He stared at his hands, those stranger’s hands.  “I found my hands closing around the blighter’s throat and squeezing tighter and tighter until his eyes was popping out and he went sort of blue and floppy.  I panicked.  I was still tidying up when the coppers come and catched me.  I had no defence.  What could I say?  I’d done it, right enough.  But it wasn’t me what actually done it, if you get my meaning.  It was like my hands, my arms, had a life of their own, like they was working on somebody else’s behalf, doing somebody else’s bidding.”

Doctor Hoo took all of this in.

“Well?” Deacus looked up at him with his hopeful blue eyes.  “What can you do?”

“Little,” said Doctor Hoo.  “It will be dawn in a few hours.  You will be taken from this place to a place of execution where you shall be hanged from the neck until you are dead.”

Deacus grunted bitterly. “I’ve heard that somewhere before.  But ain’t there nothing you can do to help me?  Have a word with the big knobs what runs this gaff, slip them a few quid?”

“I’m sorry; no.”

Deacus thumped the table, scattering the cards.  “But it’s partly your fault, Doc!  Putting my head on a strangler’s body.”

Doctor Hoo sighed.  The lad was right, of course.  But there had been no time for background checks.  It had been a matter of utmost urgency; the only priority the saving of the boy’s life.

Doctor Hoo moved to the door and knocked with his cane.  While the guard outside turned the key, he looked back at the boy, at his imploring, hopeful face and sent him a tight little smile.

As the door was closed behind him, Deacus heard the doctor declare, in a voice loud enough for him to hear, that he would attend the execution himself, provide the death certificate, and claim the body for medical science.  The warder agreed.

“Suit yourself, Doctor.  The lad’s got no friends or relatives to speak of.  He’s got nobody.”

Deacus stretched out on the bunk and put his hands behind his head.  “Not true, me old China,” he laughed.  “I’ve got Doctor Hoo.  Which means I’ll soon be getting a new body.  One where the neck ain’t stretched.”


You can read the first Doctor Hoo story here.

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Where Is He Now?

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

The woman got up from her knees and nodded to the youth. “That’s all right,” she offered a sad smile. “I was just tidying up a bit.”

She nodded at the bunch of flowers in the youth’s fist. “Are those for him?”

“Um,” the youth looked at the posy as if he had no idea how he came to be holding it. “Yes. Is that all right?”

“It’s fine. It’s very kind of you. He gets a lot of flowers. People from all over. Most of them never met him but they make the journey.”

“He was a popular man.”


The youth glanced around at the clearing. “But why here? Why not in the churchyard?”

“This is where the arrow landed. Don’t you know the story? He shot an arrow from his death bed and said where it lands is where he should be buried.”

“Oh, yes! And this is it, eh? It’s hard to believe he’s really gone, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Well,” said the woman, adjusting her wimple, “I ought to be off. Thank you for coming, er…”


“Wolfric. It’s very kind of you, really.”

She slipped away between the trees, hastening to the hideaway via a circuitous route in case she was followed.

She gave the secret knock and was admitted.

“We have to be more careful, my love,” she called to Robin in the shadows. “The sheriff’s sent his nephew snooping around, thought I wouldn’t recognise him.”

But Robin didn’t answer. He lay stock still in his casket, unblinking and waiting. Waiting for the time when England would need him again, when injustice was rife throughout the land and the poor would need defending against the rich.

2015 maybe.


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Seeing Other People

“Darling, I’ve been seeing someone else.”

Tom’s blood ran cold. It was the last thing he wanted to hear.  “What do you mean? Seeing someone else? Who is it?”

“Well, that’s just it,” Sue chewed her bottom lip. “I’m not entirely sure.”

Tom was baffled by this response. “What does that mean? You’ve been seeing someone but you don’t know who it is.”

“That’s exactly it,” said Sue. “He’s just there.”


“There! No, don’t turn around; he’ll know we’re talking about him.”

Tom kept his gaze studiously averted. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s just… there. He’s not doing anything. He’s just in the corner of my eye. Lurking.”

“He sounds lovely,” scoffed Tom. “How long has this been going on?”

Sue grimaced as she performed a mental calculation. “Oh, I don’t know… Since they changed your dosage.”

“Which reminds me,” said Tom. He took out a silver blister pack of pills and pressed two out into his palm. He swallowed them dry.

“Yuck,” said Sue with a shudder. “I wish you wouldn’t do that. Horrid taste.”

“Sorry,” said Tom. “I couldn’t be arsed to fetch any water.”

“And where would Jack and Jill be with that attitude, eh?”

“Don’t change the subject. Is he still there?”

“Yes… but he’s a bit blurry.”

“That’ll be the pills kicking in. So, I guess I’ll talk to you later, Sue.”

“OK. I’ll still be here. You have a nap.”

“Will do. Later, Sue.”

“Bye, Tom.”

Tom stretched out on the sofa and, as he drifted into drug-induced sleep, Sue faded away.

For the time being.


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Meanwhile, in the Head Teacher’s Office…

“I’m sorry to call you in like this, I know you’re very busy but I’m afraid there’s been some trouble with your son.”

The Head looked across his desk at the boy’s father: the sharp suit, the perfectly groomed facial hair that tapered into a curly point at the chin, the positively red skin tone as if the man had been in a bath that was too hot, and the incongruous, shapeless woollen hat pulled low over the forehead and bulging at both temples.  Not from around here, then.

The man returned the gaze with a penetrating stare; the Head had never seen eyes that colour before.  The pupils were yellow – no, golden, and altogether unsettling.

“What has he done this time?” the man said without seeming to speak at all.  The Head was glad to be released from the stare and consulted a file, his hands shaking, the papers rustling.

“He’s been – he’s been, well, extorting things from the other children.”


“The usual stuff, you know: sweets, crisps, MP3 players, iPads, all of that sort of thing.”

“Doesn’t sound like my Louis.”

“He tells them if they don’t give him what he wants, his father will catch them and steal their souls.  I know this must be very difficult to hear – one tends to have a rosy view of one’s own children.”

“He’s no angel,” admitted Louis’s father.  “I’ll use the poker.”

The Head gaped as the words sank in.  “Excuse me; did you just say you were going to use a poker on your own son?”

“Who else’s would you like me to use it on?  I’m serious.  That’s what kids need these days.  A bit of discipline.  Red hot poker.  Never did me any harm.”

“I – I – I’m afraid I can’t condone such a – a – medieval form of punishment.  I suggest you confiscate his X-Box for a couple of nights.”

The man got to his feet and let out a snort of disgust.  Was it the Head’s imagination or did two puffs of black smoke emerge from his nostrils?

“Too soft,” the man repeated.

“That’s not the view of this school or its governors.  Although, frankly, and just between us, I can’t wait to retire.  This whole country is going to Hell.”

Louis’s father grinned, showing a set of fangs like knives.  He turned and stalked out of the office, his cloven hooves clicking on the laminated floor.  Behind him, his red, arrow-headed tail snaked as if waving an inappropriate farewell.


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The Ferryman’s Apprentice

“You’re a bit on the fleshy side,” the ferryman looked the youngster up and down.

“Personal!” said the girl. “It’s puppy fat, that’s all.”

“Then stop eating puppies!” The ferryman showed her his teeth in a broad grin, gleaming white in the shadow of his cowl. She laughed despite herself. “Look, I’m not having a go. You’re young – that won’t last. I remember being young. Just about.”

“And then the Earth cooled…” added the girl.

“Touché! You’ll need a sense of humour in this line of work, my girl. It can be a bit grim down here at times.”

The girl looked at the roof of the cavern, with its sharp shadows looming overhead. Stalactites or stalagmites? Wait, she knew a whatsit – a mnemonic – for it: tights come down. That was it.

“You getting on or what?” The ferryman was standing at the centre of the skiff. Gingerly, the girl stepped on board and wobbled in place. “I was like that once,” he said patiently. “You’ll get your sea legs. Oh, and we’ll have to sort you out a uniform and all.”

She looked at what he was wearing and her nose wrinkled in distaste. “Can’t I just wear a tabard or something? Something hi-viz?”

“You’ll wear one of these and like it,” said the ferryman.

“But you look like the ghost of a mad monk!”

“What? This is a classic, this. Never goes out of style. And I thought you youngsters were into hoodies.”

“Doesn’t mean we want to go around like Friar Bloody Tuck.”

“Language! You’ll have to curb that down here, my girl. You have to adopt a certain reserve down here. Our clients can be a bit –”


“Confused. They don’t know what they’re doing here.”

“I know the feeling.”

“Do you want this job or not?”

“Hah! Job! It’s a rip-off. Apprenticeship, my arse. If I’m to do a day’s work I want a day’s pay. It’s only fair.”

“But you’re receiving training opportunities.”

“Whoopee. I’ve paddled boats before.”

“Where? This isn’t an amusement park, you know. This is serious business.”


“Listen, there’s perks. They’ll give you coins, you see. Cash in hand. That’s yours to keep, that is. What management don’t know won’t hurt you.”


“Right, come on then, I’ll show you how to steer this thing. Oh, I don’t know your name. What’s your name, love?”

“Sharon,” said the girl.

“That’s funny,” said the ferryman. “So’s mine.”


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Doctor Hoo

“Oh, it’s you, Doctor. Thanks ever so much for coming. I know you don’t normally do house calls.”

Doctor Hoo nodded curtly at the man and stepped over the threshold. “The patient?”

“Through here.” The man led Doctor Hoo into a room, dingy from the thick curtains that shut out the afternoon sun. The air was thick with the stink of decay. Discreetly, Doctor Hoo cleared his throat. He approached the bed on which a figure lay stretched out as though for an autopsy rather than a medical examination.

“It’s my wife, sir,” the man lingered in the doorway. “She’s not been herself.”

Doctor Hoo nodded. He peered at the woman’s eyes, her wide, staring eyes, transfixed on the ceiling. He took her wrist and felt for a pulse.

“I’m sorry, Mr, ah…”

“Bludgeon, sir.”

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr Bludgeon, but your wife is no longer with us.”

“What? What are you talking about, Doctor? That’s her, right there, and no mistake.”

“I’m afraid she has passed.”

“Passed what? An exam?”

“Passed away.”

The man’s nose wrinkled in a lack of understanding.

“She is dead,” Doctor Hoo said bluntly and precisely.

“Oh!” the man gasped in realisation. “Why didn’t you say so? Oh, I know that already, sir. That’s why I fetched you in.”

Doctor Hoo glanced around the room and over the man’s shoulder. He gestured to the man to keep his voice down.

“How did you get my name?”

“A mutual acquaintance,” the man smirked. “Actually, he let it slip. Right before his head came off, that is.”

Doctor Hoo tensed. The odious fellow could only be referring to Deacus, the only revenant ever to survive. And so, Deacus was dead. Again. Doctor Hoo was sorry to hear it.

“So I’m thinking, you do for my wife what you did for him. Or else I go to the law.”

“You can go to the devil,” said Doctor Hoo. “I’ll see myself out.”

“Oh, no, Doc. Oh, no, you don’t.” Bludgeon straightened to fill the doorway. “You’re going to get my wife back on her feet.” He dropped a sack at the doctor’s feet. Something heavy hit the floor. A dark pool of ichor stained the fabric.

“Your friend’s bonce,” said the man. “Do what I want and you can have the rest of him.”

Doctor Hoo avoided looking at the bag. He looked the fellow in the eye. “Remember when I told you to go to Hell?”

Bludgeon laughed. “I’ve been there, mate. Ever since Minnie popped her clogs.” The smile fell from his lips.

“Very well,” said Doctor Hoo, reaching inside his Gladstone bag. In a flash, he lashed out and slashed the man’s throat with a scalpel. Bludgeon’s hand could not quell the blood spraying between his fingers like a fountain.

Several hours later, Doctor Hoo walked away from the house. At his side, his companion was stretching his neck as though trying something on for size.

“I don’t know,” said Deacus, his voice strange in its new throat. “The last one was more muscular.”

“I’m sure you’ll soon get it into shape,” said Doctor Hoo without turning around.  “I do wish you’d take more care.”

Deacus laughed.  “I know you’ll always bring me back.”

In the house behind them, in her bed, Minnie Bludgeon lay dead with her husband’s head on her chest. His sightless eyes stared into hers as she gawped at the ceiling.



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Master Bakers

And we’re back, coming to you live from the Master Baker tent. Tension is mounting as we reach the final round and one of our finalists appears to be coming apart at the seams. What’s up there, Tamora? Can’t get your icing to pipe?

No! It’s not that; it’s my boys, my lovely boys.

Oh, yes! We met them last week. Pair of fitties, right, viewers? Not here, are they? Aw, that’s a shame. But if you look down that lens there and give them a little wave. Hello, Tamora’s boys? Miss woo, wuv woo.

Oh, get out of it, you silly bint. My boys aren’t here because they’re missing. Please! Anyone out there. If you’ve seen them, please get in touch. Phone the studio. Use the fucking app.

I must apologise for that little eff-wordette that just slipped out of Tamora’s cakehole there. We’re so sorry.

Please! I just need to know they’re OK.

So, what you’re saying, Tamora lovely, is you haven’t even made a start on your lovely cake.


OK… Well, there’s still a few minutes. Pull yourself together. Moving on, let’s stop by the counter of our other finalist. Mmm, something smells great. What have you got in your oven for us this week, Titus?

Well, Linda, I’ve gone all out and done the double.

You haven’t!

I have. Want to try?

Oh, I shouldn’t. But I will. Oh, oh, Titus, that is gorgeous. That pastry, so succulent. What’s your secret?


What? I hope you’re not being suggestive, young man; that’s my job! And this gravy and these lovely meaty chunks. Folks, I think we might just have found our winner.

You’re too kind.

Honestly, I’m not kidding. I know I say it every week but really, someone should invent smell-o-vision. You lot at home are missing out. Oh, yum! This pork.

It’s not pork.

What? So scrumptious! Everyone’s got to try a bit of this. Tamora, come over here. Stop being such a sore loser and get some of Titus’s pork inside you! Oops, I mean that exactly as it sounds.

Yes, come on. It will make you feel better.

Isn’t that just the best bit of pork you’ve ever had in your mouth? And I bet you’ve had a few in your day, eh, Tam? Am I right? Is this meat locally sourced, Titus?

You could say that, yes.

Ooh, he’s being all enigmatical, isn’t he, Tammy?

Just eat it! Tamora! Eat the pie.

All right, calm down, Titus. You’ve already won, babe. Let’s just leave Tamora there, having a bit of a sulk. So, tell me, these pigs must have been brought up well to taste so scrummy. Where did you get them?

From a local sow, not a million miles from here.

Ooh, lovely. Did you meet them? Did you meet the little piggies? What were their names?

Demetrius and Chiron.

Funny names for pigs! Did you hear that, Tamora? The pigs had the same names as your sons. Oh, Christ, she’s really kicking off now. Calm down, pet. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Well, that’s all for this year, viewers. We’ll be back in six months – if Tamora leaves us a scrap of tent left. What is she like, eh? So it’s goodbye from me, goodbye from Tamora – honestly, someone should call security – and it’s goodbye from this year’s winner, Titus Andronicus!



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