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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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.


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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.


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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.


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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?”


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