Rat in the Kitchen

“I can’t BLEEP believe this!” Stewart Gibbons, celebrity chef, ran his hands down his craggy face.  “A BLEEP rat!  In the kitchen!”

The restaurateur squirmed.  “It is a little unconventional—”

“It’s BLEEP unhygienic!” Gibbons roared.  “I’m appalled.  Never in all my years have I come across something so BLEEP disgusting!”

“Actually,” the head waiter piped up.  “Rats are rather clean animals.”

The restaurateur nodded.  “Intelligent too.  They get a bad rap.”

“Because they live in the BLEEP sewers,” Gibbons shook his head.  “Get that rat the BLEEP out of here, give this place a deep clean, and then we’ll talk about what’s wrong with your BLEEP menu.”

“Er,” the restaurateur demurred.  “That’s not going to be possible, I’m afraid.”

Gibbons couldn’t believe it.  “Oh, this is the part of the show where you’re still a bit stubborn, a bit bold?  Trust me, as soon as I make a couple of changes, you’re going to change your tune.  Now, get that rat out of here or I’m calling the BLEEP exterminator my BLEEP self.”

“Mr Gibbons,” the restaurateur wrung his hands.  “There is something you don’t understand.”

“I don’t give a flying BLEEP.  I understand the restaurant business and that’s all I need to know.”

“The rat stays, Mr Gibbons.  That’s all there is to it.  Change the napkins, rearrange the tables, if you must.  But the rat stays.”

“Then we’re done here.  My show has a formula we stick to every episode.  I come along, get appalled, shout a bit, throw my weight around.  You stand up to me (or try to) but I eventually win you around, the customers are delighted, business is booming, fade to black.”

“I have seen your show, Mr Gibbons.  I applied to have my restaurant featured on it.”

“So, do what I BLEEP tell you and we’re good as gold.”

“No, Mr Gibbons, it is you who must do as he is told.”  The restaurateur nodded.  The head chef stole up behind the TV presenter and whacked him across the back of his head with a rolling pin.  Gibbons’s eyes rolled back and he crumpled in a heap.

The chef lifted off his toque, revealing a bright-eyed rat with an ironic expression twitching its whiskers.

“Oh, dear,” said the rat, surveying the scene.  “Well, at least with him out of the way, we can see about realising my dream of having a chain of rat-chef restaurants all over the world. Now,” he rubbed his little pink paws, “we can’t have bodies lying around in my kitchen.  It’s BLEEP unhygienic.”

Everyone laughed—or at least the rats under their hats and toupees did.

Fade to black.

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Here Be Dragons

“Sire!  Sire!  There is a dragon on the loose!”  The breathless page managed to gasp. 

The King barely looked at him.  “Not this again!  I am tired of hearing about dragons.  The next person to warn me about a dragon attack is for the chop.  Now, be off with you.”

“But, Sire!  The dragon is stomping through the forest.  If we don’t send help, he’ll raze the village to the ground.”

“Still here?” the King narrowed his eyes.  “Listen, people have been warning about dragon this and dragon that for years.  It’s all just hot air.”

The page was looking out of the window.  He could see dark plumes of smoke on the horizon.

“The forest is on fire!  The dragon is burning the forest.”  He watched, agog with dismay, as the trees parted and the huge, scaly beast trampled on the thatched roofs of a row of peasant cottages.  Mercifully, it was too far away for the page to be able to hear the screams.

“He’s approaching the castle wall!  Sire!  Come and see for yourself!  There is no denying it!  We are under dragon attack!”

“You’re exaggerating!” the King affected a yawn.  “Besides, that wall has seen off all invaders for centuries.  You don’t think some pesky little lizard is going to get through that, do you?”

The page’s jaw dropped and his eyes followed the upward trajectory of the dragon as it extended its leathery wings and rose above the perimeter wall.  High in the sky, it let out a deafening screech and bathed the courtyard with a jet of flame.  The page stepped back, the heat threatening to singe his eyebrows.  He threw himself at the King’s feet.

“O, Sire!  Please, you must do something!  Call out the army!  The wizard!  Anything!  Please!”

The King kicked him away.  “I’ve had enough of your nonsense, you addle-brained ninny—”

His words were cut off as a huge claw reached in through the window and wrapped itself around the King’s waist.

“Ah,” he said, “we seem to have a dragon problem.”

“Are you going to do something about it, at last, Sire?”

“Well, um, yes, of course.  I shall instigate a plan to see a reduction in dragon attacks over the next thirty years.”

But it was too late.  The dragon yanked the King from the castle and bit off his stubborn head.

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The Toymaker’s Son

“Yes?” the old toymaker blinked at the man on the doorstep.  “If it’s toys you’re after, I’m afraid my shop is closed.  The market has dried up.  Children today would rather have electronics.  Screens to gawp at rather than living in the world!  Tchah!”  He shook his head with disgust, his mop of white hair like a fall of snow.

The man smiled patiently.  “No.  That’s not why I have come.”

He stepped back so the old man could get a better view.  He spread out his arms and raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t you recognise me, father?”

The toymaker’s mouth fell open beneath his drooping moustache.  He squinted through the wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his bulbous nose.

“It—can’t be!”  He clutched the doorframe for support.

The man nodded rapidly.  “It is!  It’s me!”

The toymaker gasped. The black hair had lost its gloss and was streaked with grey. The blue eyes had lost their brightness and were lined with cares, but it was his boy all right. The old man’s eyes darted up and down the street.  “You had better come in,” he urged, stepping back.

The man chuckled and entered the old shop.  He glanced around at the empty shelves, strewn with cobwebs.  Once they had been laden with cuckoo clocks of inventive designs.  Railway sets, lovingly fashioned from pine… Animals that could move their eyes, open their mouths, flap their wings and paws… All gone. On a side table, an empty fishbowl. On the floor, an abandoned litter tray. The toymaker was truly alone in his retirement.

“Should I put the kettle on?  Do you drink tea?”

“Stop fussing, father!” The man helped the toymaker to a chair.  “I’ll see to the tea.  But first, we must talk.”

“Yes!” the old man clutched his long-lost son’s hand.  “You must tell me about your life, and why now, after all this time, you have returned to the place where you were…born.”

The man shook his head, his eyes closed.

“Where to begin?”  He paced around the shop, creating a mess of tracks on the dusty floorboards.  “I travelled.  A lot.  I’ve seen the whole world.  I tried to continue my career in showbusiness, but it turns out I have no special talent.  I wrote a book telling the story of my life, but it was dismissed as improbable fiction.”

“Ha,” the old man nodded.  “The world can be tough.  But tell me, have you a wife?  Children?”

The man pinched the bridge of his nose.  “She left me.  Turned the children against me.  Said I was neglecting them while I was working all hours, trying to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.  I think the last straw was when I was unable to satisfy her in bed.  She wanted another child, but I was unable to – to –”

The old man nodded in understanding.

“So, tell me, what can I do for you, after all these years of absence and not a word from you?”

“I’m sorry about that.  I always meant to, but, you know.”

“Yes, I do know.  So come on, out with it.”

“The Blue Fairy!” Desperation coloured the man’s face.  “Do you know how to get in touch with her?”

“I haven’t heard that name in years,” said the old man.  “Perhaps I can help.”

“I don’t know if you can.” The man hung his head.  “I have debts, father.  Some bad business decisions.  Swallowing me up like that whale—you remember that, don’t you?”

The old man smiled wistfully.  “I remember my brave boy coming to rescue me from the belly of that beast.”

“And so you’ll help me find the fairy?  Only she can grant my wish.”

“And what is your wish, my son?”  Although the toymaker already had a good idea.

“I can’t hack it out there,” the man wailed.  “I want to be a puppet again.”

The old man stood and shuffled to the kitchen.  He busied himself with the kettle while his son sobbed in the shop.  Through the window he could see the night sky.  One star loomed larger than the others.  The old man drew the curtains.

Tchah, he thought.  We must be careful what we wish for.

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Coming soon, in time for Christmas

Coming soon (November 11th, 2021, to be precise) and exclusive to Kindle, all my Christmas-themed short stories collected together for the first time.

Trees, presents, myths… they’re all here, along with lashings of dark humour and more than a sprinkle of gruesomeness. Not for the fainthearted, TWISTED CHRISTMAS is an antidote to all the clichés that are trotted out year after year.

Available at a bargain price, too!

Get your pre-orders in now!!

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Christmas Jumpers

Aunt Mabel watched the family unwrap their presents with a glint in her eye.  The family, however, was not so enthusiastic.  Rather than the ravaging rips that had shredded the paper from their other gifts, Aunt Mabel’s presents were approached with caution.  A careful easing of the sticky tape here, the gentle untying of a ribbon there.  The family needed time to prepare their expressions of pleasant surprise and astonished gratitude.  It was an annual charade and they faced it with dread.

“Come on!” Aunt Mabel jollied them along.  “It’ll be time for the Queen’s speech at this rate.”

The family exchanged glances full of trepidation.

“On three,” said Dad, swallowing hard.  “One!  Two!  Three!”

They set to extracting the gifts from the wrapping.  Every year, Aunt Mabel knitted everyone jumpers for Christmas.  Every year some monstrous abomination fashioned (if that was the word) from yarn.

Aunt Mabel clapped, eyes shining with pride as the family held up their respective abominations to their chests.

“Now, what do we say?” prompted Mum.

“Thanks, Aunt Mabel,” the children, Bobby and Susan, chorused.

“Aw, you’re welcome, chickens,” Aunt Mabel crowed.  “Come on then, let’s see them on.”

The children froze.

“Perhaps later,” said Dad, draping his new jumper over his arm.  “After dinner.  We wouldn’t want to get gravy and all the rest of it on these lovely jumpers.”

“Pah!” scoffed Aunt Mabel.  “The wool’s acrylic.  Any spillage will sponge right off.  Now, come on, chop-chop!  Let’s see them on!”

She shooed them into the kitchen to get ready.  She cued up the iPad to play some cheesy sousaphone march.  “Let’s be having you!”

She settled into her seat and clapped along with the music.

In the kitchen, the family spoke in harsh whispers.

“You go first,” hissed Mum.  “She’s your bloody auntie.”

Dad gaped.  “She is not!  She’s yours!  Isn’t she?”


“What’s keeping you?” Aunt Mabel’s face appeared at the serving hatch.  Everyone jumped.  Aunt Mabel returned to her seat.

“Come on,” said Dad, pulling his new jumper over his head.  “Sooner it’s done, the better.”

Susan was crying.  “I don’t like it.  It’s scratchy.”

“Ssh-ssh!” Mum helped her to put her jumper on.  “Two minutes.  That’s all.  Then you can get into your princess dress.”

Susan perked up, but Bobby wasn’t happy.

“Can I?” he pouted.  “Can I put my football top on?”

“Yes!  After this!” Mum thrust his jumper at him.  “Anything for a bit of peace.”

“Now, line up in order of age, eldest first,” said Dad, bravely moving to the door.  “We can do this.”

His family nodded with sombre resolve.  They held hands.

“At last!” Aunt Mabel cried as Dad led the parade.  “Oh, you look positively darling!  Give us a twirl.”

Dad, whose jumper had a reindeer on it with a light-up nose, rotated on the spot.  Mum did likewise, the Christmas tree on her jumper had bells that jingled.  Bobby stomped around in a circle.  His jumper had a steam train with actual puffs of smoke emerging from its funnel — that couldn’t be right, could it?  Or even safe!  Susan pirouetted around and around, as did the ballerina stitched onto her front.  Before long, the entire family was spinning and spinning, their jumpers flashing, jingling and smoking.  And becoming tighter and tighter, the collars and cuffs constricting.

Susan screamed.

They clawed at their jumpers, gasping for air.  Livid rashes sprang out on their hands and faces, and their eyes widened with terror.  Unable to stop themselves, they thrashed around the living room, crashing into furniture, toppling the tree, and knocking over the television.

One by one they collapsed with exhaustion, the rash eating away at their skin until there was none left.  Four skulls grinned humourlessly at the streamers of tinsel that spanned the ceiling.

Aunt Mabel stood up and turned off the music.

“Ingrates.”  She gave the nearest corpse a kick.  She put on her coat and gathered up her sack.  She had more jumpers to deliver, and the Martins over the road could do with taking down a peg or two.

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Edie Makes a List

Edie sat at her kitchen table and opened her notepad.  With two vertical strokes of her biro, she divided a page into three columns.  At the top of the left column, she wrote WHO.  At the top of the middle column, she wrote WHAT, and at the top of the right column she wrote WHERE.

In the WHO column she listed all the people she was buying Christmas presents for that year.  At the top of the list was her son, Brian.  He was a good lad.  Always busy.  Working hard for his family.  Edie understood that.  Of course, Brian would phone her more often if he had the time.  Of course he would.

Next her thoughts turned to Brian’s wife.  Spiteful cow.  Martine.  But, Edie supposed, she’d better put her on the list or there’d be hell to pay.  Reluctantly and a little aggressively, Edie added the name to the list.

Next: Brian’s kids.  Edie’s grandchildren.  Her heart swelled with pride at the thought of them.  Jason was the eldest. He’d be starting school by now.  Then Stacey.  She’d be a proper little madam by now… Edie faltered.  The third one — Malcolm, was it?  Don’t be daft.  You can’t have a baby called Malcolm.  But…he was a baby last year.  Or was it the year before?  Edie had lost track.  She tried to remember exactly when they had each been born.

Blimey.  Jason would be leaving school soon.  Doing his exams.  And Stacey would be starting at the big school.  And little Malcolm or whatever his name was —


It wasn’t Malcolm, it was Melanie.  A darling little girl.  Who must be starting school.. I bet she’s a proper little heartbreaker already, Edie thought fondly.

She sat back.  Not much of a list.  All her friends were gone and she had lost touch with all her nieces and nephews and all their offspring.  Didn’t some of them move to Canada?  Somewhere like that.

Oh, well.  Not to worry.  Makes the job a lot easier.  And I can focus all my money on Brian and his family.

Ignoring the twinge in her back, Edie got to her feet and reached up into a cupboard for a metal tea caddy.  It was scratched and faded with spots of rust along the bottom edge.  She placed it on the table, sat down with a wince, and pulled off the lid.  The caddy was full of five-pound notes, one-pound coins, and fifty-pence pieces.  Edie had been squirreling money away since New Year’s Day.  She tipped it out.  A tidy sum, she rubbed her hands.

Oh, she knew she shouldn’t keep cash in the house, but she couldn’t be doing with those new-fangled bank machines.  You were more likely to be clobbered using one of them than in your own home.  Stands to reason.

She counted the cash.  Eighty-six pounds fifty.  Oho!  It was going to be a marvellous Christmas!

Now, what to get?

In the WHAT column of her list, next to Brian’s name she wrote AFTER SHAVE.  In the WHERE, she wrote CHEMIST’S.

She skipped Martine for the time being (spiteful cow).  Jason…Was he old enough to shave yet?  Or would he prefer socks?  Socks it is!  But sensible ones for school or colourful ones for fun?  Edie had seen some on the market with Christmas puddings on.  Perhaps Jason would like those.  She wrote down SOCKS and MARKET and moved down the list.  Stacey… What would Stacey like?  A dolly?  Some make-up?  Edie could imagine Martine’s face. ‘What are you doing, giving my daughter make-up?  Making her look like a hussy!’  Edie chuckled.  She wrote down MAKE UP and CHEMIST’S.

Little Melanie… A teddy bear!  Who doesn’t love a teddy bear?  Perhaps there’d be some nice ones on the market.  As long as their eyes don’t come out.  Could be a choking hazard for a little kiddie.

Edie’s pen paused.  Eventually she wrote ??? and MARKET??

Tired, she stashed the money away.  The shopping could wait until the morning.

She shuffled to the living room and lowered herself onto the armchair.  It had been Stan’s chair, in pride of place next to the electric fire.  But, well, Stan wasn’t here anymore, was he?

Edie settled back, her eyelids sagging and her head drooping.

It wasn’t until March that Brian got a visit from the police.  His mother had been found after one of the neighbours complained about the smell.  She looked peaceful, the officer said.  Not like she had suffered.

Brian and Martine went around to clear out the flat.  Brian was astonished to find carrier bags brimming with socks and bottles of aftershave.  Martine found the notepad on the kitchen table.

“Look at this,” she sneered.  “Nothing next to my name, of course.  She always was a spiteful cow.”

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Trick or…


“What?” Diana frowned., a protective arm on her five-year-old, who was covered by a bedsheet with eyeholes.  The child was clutching a plastic bucket fashioned to look like a grinning pumpkin, gripping it tightly as though it were a lifesaver.

Mr Lewton smiled humourlessly from his doorstep.  “You said ‘trick or treat’, didn’t you?  I choose the latter.”

Diana let out an exasperated sigh.  “Nobody chooses trick.  Look, just give the cute little ghost some candy and we’ll be on our way.”

“Excuse me?” Mr Lewton tilted his head.  “’Candy’”?  I’m afraid we don’t have any of that here.  This is England.  We have sweets.  We have confectionery.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Diana.  “Are you going to give the kid some sweets or not?”

“Tell me.” Mr Lewton folded his arms, one shoulder resting against the door frame.  “Do you encourage your offspring to accept treats from strangers the rest of the year?”

“Of course not!  But it’s Halloween.  It’s supposed to be a bit of fun.”

“We never did it in my day,” Mr Lewton sniffed.  “I blame the Americans.”

“So do I,” Diana nodded.  “But the kids see it on the telly, don’t they?  All of his friends are doing it.  Look,” she lowered her voice and leant forwards, “I spent fucking hours making that costume.  Please!  It’s been a long evening.  It’s damp.  My feet are tired.”

“So, go home.”

“We will!  You’re the last house.”

“Lucky me.”  Mr Lewton glanced over his shoulder, as if untold riches stood in his hallway.  “I could let you have an apple, I suppose.”

“Er, no.  Thank you.  But no.  It’s just that you hear all sorts of stories, don’t you?  People who put razor blades in apples.”

“Really?  I hadn’t heard.  What about a cake?  Homemade, fresh this afternoon.”

“Um,” Diana’s nose wrinkled.  “Again, you hear all sorts.  Laxatives baked in.  Or worse.”

Mr Lewton nodded.  “Well, if you won’t take my apples and my cakes aren’t good enough, then I’m afraid that brings us right back to square one.”

“It does?”

“Yes.  Trick, please.  I have no treats to offer.”

The child hung its shrouded head in sorrow.  Diana’s eyes widened with panic.

“Look!  Anything!  A breath mint!  A dog biscuit!  Please!  I don’t want my Lawrence to get upset.”

“Aw, diddums,” said Mr Lewton.  “Well, if you can’t administer a trick — which is false advertising, by the way, not to mention the demanding of confectionery with menaces—”

“There is no trick!” Diana cut him off.  She was wringing her hands and gazing at the sky.  The clouds that had filled the late afternoon with drizzle and premature darkness rolled away and at last the moon was laid bare.  A full-fat moon, bathing the scene in creamy light.

“No…” Diana despaired, staggering backwards.

Lawrence’s bedsheet was slashed to shreds from within.  A thing of fur and fangs and claws leapt for Mr Lewton’s throat.  Mr Lewton tried in vain to put his front door between himself and the ravening monster.

“What—” he gasped, toppling to the carpet.  “Is this – some kind of —”

“Trick!” Diana nodded.  She covered her ears while Lawrence fed.  She picked up the plastic bucket and gathered the spilled sweets from the path.

A cloud glided in front of the moon.

“Come on, Lawrence,” she called into Mr Lewton’s hallway.  “Let’s get you home.  There’s a good boy.”

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Wheatley’s Restaurant

“You see it’s not all pointy hats and warty noses,” Sharon laughed.  She took another gulp of Chardonnay.  “Modern day witching is breaking away from the stereotype.  I mean, you see it everywhere, don’t you?  Especially at this time of year.  The tall pointy hat, the black cat, the broomstick.  Frankly, I find it offensive, to me and to my beliefs.”

Across the table, Walter’s smile was wearing thin.  He had demolished the bread from the basket and was beginning to regret agreeing to this blind date.  He cast around for the waiter.  What was taking so long with the starters?  The sooner this evening was over and done with, the better.

This one calls herself a witch!  Ha!  It would be funny if Walter wasn’t so desperate.

“I mean, look at this,” Sharon was leaning forward and holding out her pendant necklace.  Walter played his part and feigned interest in the nondescript lump of whatever-it-was dangling from the slenderest of chains.  “This is my lucky crystal,” she announced proudly.  “As long as I’m wearing this no harm shall befall me.”

Walter nodded.  “It’s nice,” he lied.  It wasn’t; it looked like fossilised cat shit.

Sharon refilled her own wine glass.  “I mean, you seem like a nice fella, so I’m going to do you a special deal.  Free, gratis, and for nothing.  On the house!  Any little problem you want fixing, I’ll sort it for you.  Least I can do after this lovely meal — if it ever comes.  I think that waiter’s got lost.”

She laughed, like a cockerel being electrocuted.  Walter sent a look of pained apology to the couples at the neighbouring tables.

“So, come on then.  Let’s have it.  Don’t be shy.  Any little problem.  Anything at all.  And I’ll be happy to get it sorted.”

Walter blushed.  His shirt collar seemed tighter.  “I – uh –”

Sharon winked.  “I get it.  Say no more!  Say. No. More!”  She gave the side of her nose a conspiratorial tap.  “When I’m finished, you’ll never need to send off for those little blue pills ever again.”

Walter was aghast.  Frightful woman!  He would get up and walk out right then if — if only he weren’t so desperate.

“What will you do?” he squeaked in a strangulated voice.

“Well, that’s trade secrets!  But I will divulge that I shall be burning a few herbs and wafting them about by moonlight.”

“And that will do it, will it?”

“You’ll have no complaints.”

“And what if — No.”

“Go on, love; you may as well say it now.”

“What if my problem were of a more serious nature?”

Sharon’s shoulders and somehow her face shrugged.  “Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know, say, I’ve got a demon that needs banishing to the infernal realm.”

Sharon frowned.  “Are you taking the piss?  Because if you are, I can hex you right on the spot.  And don’t think I won’t.”

“No, please!” Walter reached for her hand, but she snatched it away, nursing the Chardonnay to her chest.  “I don’t know where else to turn.  I’ve read up on it.  It seems the only way is to offer a human sacrifice, and then the demon will go back whence it came.”

Sharon’s nose wrinkled.  “You’ve been watching too much telly, sunshine.  Like I said, modern witching isn’t like the films.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the little girls’ room.  Give that waiter a hurry-up while I’m gone.”

She trotted out to the toilets, seriously considering climbing out of the window.

When she came back, the restaurant was silent.  Blood was everywhere.  The other couples were slumped in ungainly postures, their throats ripped wide open.  At the centre of the carnage was Walter, shirt off, his torso awash with the blood of his victims.  He turned his yellow eyes to Sharon.  A forked tongue darted between his lips.

Sharon screamed.  The waiter appeared at her elbow.

“Is there a problem, madam?”

“No, not really,” she said, tipping him a tenner.  “It just would be nice to meet a man who wasn’t possessed by one of Satan’s ravenous horde.”

The waiter wrapped her coat over her shoulders.

“Don’t say that!” he laughed.  “If it wasn’t for you enticing them here, we’d soon go out of business.  Are you sure you won’t stay for the feast?”

“Nah,” said Sharon.  “I phoned an Uber while I was in the bog.  Broomstick’s in for a service. See you next week.”

He held the door open until she had gone.

Shadows crept from around the room.  Figures formed, beasts of horn, and fang, and claw.  They set to feeding on the newly slaughtered humans.  At the centre, a bewildered Walter whimpered.  The demon had left him.  Now if he could just tiptoe out before anything noticed him…

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Customer Service

“Hello, Customer Service, this is Liam speaking.  How may I assist you today?”

“Alright, yeah.  Is this Customer Service?”

“Yes.  How may I assist you today?”

“Can you help me?”

“I shall certainly try, madam.  What seems to be the problem?”

“Seems?  There’s no ‘seems’ about it, sunshine.  It’s my husband.  There’s something wrong with him.”

“Oh, dear.  Well, I don’t see—”

“He’s not his usual self.  He’s got this look in his eye.  Like something ancient.  Just watching.  And waiting.  It’s quite unnerving, to be honest with you.  And when I tell him to stop bloody staring, he shakes his head, a bit like a dog drying itself, and he says he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  And then five minutes later, he’ll be at it again.  Just watching and waiting for I don’t know what.  I’ve had to leave the room on several occasions, which is not always convenient, because I don’t like to watch Emmerdale on the little telly.  It’s not the same.”

“So, you want to buy a bigger television, is that what you’re saying?  I can recommend some of our latest models.  They’ve got Netflix built in, so you won’t need to clutter your coffee table with too many remotes.”

“You’re not listening!  It’s my husband what’s the problem not the bloody television.  Once I woke up in the night and he was just sitting up in bed, doing that watching thing, his eyes was glowing red, like dying embers.  And there was this smell, like rotten eggs.  And I told him, I said, that’s the last time we order from that takeaway and I had to open a window and spray him down with Febreze.  Only this time he didn’t shake his head like a drying dog.  He didn’t snap out of it.  He just took no notice—that’s husbands for you, I suppose—and carried on with his watching and his waiting.  He’s up there now, just sitting on the bed, and I’ve told him he’ll wear a hole in that wall if he keeps staring at it.  Are you still there?  Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, madam.  I’m still here.  But I don’t see how I can—”

“I want to speak to your supervisor.”

“Madam, I can assure you.  There’s nothing we can do about your – situation.”

“Put your supervisor on!”

“Very well.”

“Hello, this is Sandra.  I’ve been monitoring this call.”

“Hello, Sandra.  Well, you’ll know I’m at my wits end.  I don’t know what to do.”

“There’s nothing you can do, madam.  You’ll just have to sit it out.  Either he’ll open up a vortex to the infernal realm or he’ll snap out of it.  But meanwhile, while you’re waiting, can I interest you in our entertainment package? It includes a set-top box with over a hundred hours of memory.  You need never miss an episode of Emmerdale again.”

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Devil Woman

Hal towel-dried his hair and, wrapped in his robe, sat at the dressing table.  There was the usual glut of messages from his fans and admirers.  Cards and flowers—I could give up the music biz and open a florist’s (one of his go-to quips for the Sunday supplement interviews).

It had been a great gig.  They’d called him back for three encores.


This moment of self-congratulation was interrupted by a knock at the door.           

“Sorry!” he called out.  “I’m not receiving visitors tonight.  Got a long drive to Norwich.  Sorry.”

He listened.  No further knocks were forthcoming.  He shrugged.  They were usually more persistent.           

He set to removing his contact lenses.  While he was occupied, a stream of green smoke flowed in under the door, rising unseen behind him.  Hal put on his glasses and was startled to find a woman reflected in the mirror.  She was dressed in long skirts and ragged shawls.  A bandanna barely tamed the corkscrew locks of her long, black hair.  Enough earrings to rival a shower curtain.  Bangles all up to her elbows.  Hal turned to face her.  He had been trained to keep calm in these situations.  When a fan takes things too far.           

“Hello!” he said.  “Who might you be?”           

“Call me Zaza!” the woman spoke with a bizarre note of triumph.  “I have come for what is mine.”

Hal was nonplussed.  “I can sign an e.p. for you.  I don’t do skin, if it’s a tattoo you’re planning.”           

The woman —Zaza— sneered with derision.           

“Harold Webster,” she used his original name.  “Years ago, you were washed-up.  A has been.  A long time since your last hit record.  You were at your lowest point.  You were considering ending it all.  At least, after your demise, record sales would sky-rocket.  But then, along came a young man.  He played you a song he had written.  You recorded that song, and it flew straight to Number One all over the world.”           

Hal nodded.  “Satan’s Sister.  Great track.  I don’t see what it’s got to do with you.”           

Zaza twisted her thin lips into a smile.  “I gave that young man the song.  He consulted me.  Would do anything to break into the music industry.  We made a compact.  And now I come to collect.”           

Hal was puzzled.  “I still don’t understand what it’s got to do with me.”           

“That young man… disappeared just before your record was released.  You know what I mean.  You denied him his success, his fame and fortune.  His life!”           

Hal stiffened.  “Now, look here, you can’t come into my dressing room insinuating all sorts.”           

“Come off it, Webster,” the woman cackled.  “You had the success that I’d promised Johnny Starr.  Because you had him taken care of, his debt transfers to you.”           

Hal scoffed.  “You daft old bat.  I’m calling security.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?  Are you sure you want the world to know that your big comeback and the decades of success that followed were all due to the murder of a promising young songwriter?”           

Hal paused, his hand hovering over the telephone.“What do you want?”           

Zara’s smile broadened.  “Your soul,” she said brightly.  “You’ve had your time.”           

It was Hal’s turn to grin.  “Oh, no, I’m just getting started.  Satan’s Sister—is that you?  Is that who I’ve been singing about all these years?”           

Zaza actually blushed.  “I inspired him you might say.  You owe me.”           

Hal snatched up a marker pen and scrawled across the plastic case of a c.d.  He held it out.           

“This is all you’re getting.  My soul!  That’s a laugh.  You should have a word with your brother.”           

Zaza’s jaw dropped.           

“Yes,” Hal chuckled.  “How do you think I’ve kept my youthful appearance all these years?”

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Harry’s Birthday Surprise

“Mr Chambers?”

Harry blinked at the two men on his doorstep.  They were wearing smart suits and their sensible haircuts screamed ‘religious nutters’.

“I’m sorry,” he said, moving to shut the door.  “But as you can see, I’m in the middle of getting ready.”

A gesture indicated his dressing-gown and the towel turbaned over his wet hair.

“Of course,” smiled one of the men.

“It’s your birthday,” smiled the other.

“Happy birthday!” the men chorused.  Harry was startled and more than a little perplexed.  The men took advantage of his confusion to step past him and enter the hallway.  They strode through to the living room as if they owned the place.  Harry, his turban toppling, burst in.

“Now, look here!  Whatever it is you’re peddling, I’m not interested.  Kindly get out of my house.”

He pointed at the exit in case they had forgotten where it was.

“Oh, we’re not selling anything,” one man smiled.

“We’re collecting,” the other one smiled.

“Well, I already gave at the office,” said Harry.  “And only last month I dropped a binbag of clothes at the charity shop.  Nuke The Whales, or something like that.”

He crossed his arms, worried that his dressing gown might fall open if he became any more agitated.

“You misunderstand,” said one man.

“You’ve got it wrong,” said the other.

Their eyes glinted.  Harry instinctively shrank back.

“You won’t remember,” one of the men drew closer.

“Years ago,” the other man joined him.

“On your birthday.”

“A special gift.”

“A kindness.”

“A wonderful opportunity.”

Harry was backed against his shelving unit.  His knickknacks rattled as he trembled.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You will,” said one man.

“When I click my fingers,” said the other.

“And count backwards from three.”




Both men clicked their fingers in Harry’s face.

Harry flinched.  Then he blinked.

Images flooded his mind.  A montage of memories he didn’t know he had: a laboratory, gleaming white; a medical man with the kind face of a TV grandfather; an implant; a spinning vortex; a countdown, three, two, one—and the clicking of fingers.

Harry clutched at his chest.  It was there that the device had been implanted, just above his heart.

“The professor is dead,” one man said sadly.

“The experiment is over,” the other man added.

“All test subjects are being recalled.”

“The implants are to be removed.”

Harry’s eyes widened with terror.  “No!” he cried.  He tried to push past them, but the men seized him by the wrists and wrestled him to the carpet.  They sat on his back.

“You’ve had a good run,” said one man.

“Better than most,” said the other.

Harry squirmed and wriggled beneath them.  “What will become of me?” he panted.  “Will I become old?  Will it happen all at once?”

“Unknown,” said one man.

“We’ll soon find out,” said the other, producing a scalpel.

Harry screamed.

“You better lie still,” the man with the scalpel advised.

“Be a brave little soldier,” smirked the other.

“My friends will be here any minute!” Harry blurted.

“This won’t take long.”

“Not long at all.”

“You’ll still have time to dye your hair, whiten your teeth, moisturise your skin, and book a Botox appointment.”

Harry sobbed.  “It’s too cruel!  Too cruel!  Can’t you leave mine in?  No one would know.”

“We’d know,” both men said.

“But I’m in good shape.  I’m in my prime!”

“Mr Chambers, you have been in your prime for over twenty years.”

“Now nature must resume its course.”

Harry closed his eyes.  They were free of crow’s-feet but for how much longer?

He woke to the insistent ringing of the doorbell.  He rose from the living-room floor and staggered to the front door.

Two figures were discernible beyond the frosted glass.  Laughing.  Carrying balloons and bottles of champagne.  Gavin and Graham!  Harry had never been more pleased to hear them bitching about him.

“I don’t know how he does it,” Graham was saying.

“Never seems to age a day,” said Gavin.  “I hate him.”

Harry opened the door.  His friends gasped to see him.

“Happy birthday, old man,” grinned Gavin.

“Looking good,” said Graham.  “Loving the touch of grey at your temples.”

“Very distinguished,” said Gavin.

“It’s about time you grew up,” said Graham.

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“Ugh!” cried Denise, spotting the spider in the bathtub. Her heart racing, she cast around for something to help her. There was the long-handled brush Steve used to scrub his back… That would do. She would give the monster a good twatting with the flat side of the brush.

She raised the brush high, preparing to bring it down.

“Wait!” said a small voice.

Denise froze.

“Please!” said the voice.

Denise looked all around. “Steve? Is that you? Messing around!”

“It’s me,” said the voice. “Down here.”

Denise gaped in disbelief. In the tub, the spider was holding up its front two legs as if in surrender.

“Hello!” it waved. “My name’s Spinner. What’s yours?”

Denise backed away.

“No! Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you. Honest I’m not. Just put that thing down and we can have a nice friendly chat, OK?”

Denise looked at the brush as if she’d never seen it before. She pointed it at the talking spider.

“Have I banged my head or something?” she gabbled. “I don’t remember… Then perhaps I wouldn’t remember, would I? If I’d banged my head. Or perhaps I’ve eaten something funny.”

“No, no, you’re fine,” said Spinner. “I’m sorry if I gave you a fright. But I’ve come up through the drain and now I find I’m stuck here. If you could help me out, I’d be very grateful.”

Denise shook her head.

“Look, you could open the window, hold out that brush thing, and I’ll climb onto it. Then you can shake me out of the window. It’ll be fine. I won’t get hurt.”

“Sod that!” Denise was appalled. “I don’t want you anywhere near me. You might run up the handle and up my sleeve or something.”

“I won’t! I promise! Look, I’ll do you a deal. You help me out of here and I’ll grant you a wish.”

“What? So, not only are you a talking spider but you’re a magic one as well! Wait until Steve hears about this.”

“No!” Spinner waved in frantic alarm. “You mustn’t breathe a word of this to Steve. You know what he’s like. He already thinks you’re halfway to the funny farm. He’ll be sending for the men in white coats and then where will you be?”

Denise thought about it.

“All right,” she decided. “And no running up my arm, OK?”

She lowered the brush into the bath. Spinner crawled onto it, clinging to the bristles.

Denise lifted the brush and carried it to the window. She poked the head end out into the air and tapped it against the window frame. Spinner was dislodged.

“Thank you…” he called as he sailed away on a current of air.

Back in the living room, Denise resumed her seat on the sofa next to Steve.

“You took your bloody time,” he grumbled. He pointed the remote at the television where Netflix was on pause.

“Sorry!” said Denise.

“Ssh!” Steve hissed. “I’m trying to concentrate here. And I hope you remembered to take your meds.””

Denise looked at him, looked at the flabby, seedy mess he had become. Oh, she knew she was past her prime too, but it was the way Steve was on the inside that disgusted her the most. If only she could be rid of him! He had become bitter, mean-spirited, and quick to fly off the handle…

That made her think of Spinner. The friendly spider owed her a wish.

“Keep still!” she advised. “You’ve got a spider in your hair.”

“Eh?” said Steve, without looking away from the television.

“Hold still and I’ll get it,” Denise set her jaw. She beat at Steve’s head with the flat end of the bath brush she had been holding all this time. She kept on beating him until she heard a crack and there was blood pouring from his wounds.

And something else, something that was not blood. Hundreds of tiny spiders gushed from the hole she had made in Steve’s skull.

Denise jumped up to open the door.

“Out you go, my little friends,” she sang. “Remember, you all owe me a wish.”

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Scream Again!

Children’s author, WILHELM SCREAM, has been at it again. He has also written his second book, this time turning his attention to werewolves. The follow-up to BAD BLOOD: A Tale of Two Vampires is PARDON MY WEREWOLF! A Hairy Story — and it’s available now!

When lowly kitchen boy Luca Turnspit is recruited by the Queen to be a companion for her lonely son, he learns the Prince’s dark secret in no time at all. The pair strike up a friendship but their hopes for the future are endangered by the arrival of a man from the past and by local cat-owners who have genuine concerns and flaming torches.

A fast-moving and funny story that is only a little bit gruesome, PARDON MY WEREWOLF! is suitable for readers of all ages.

Available in glossy hardcover, floppy paperback and on Kindle, for all you technological whiz kids.

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Filed under horror, humour, Novel

The Return of Morgana

“The time has come!” Morgana’s green eyes flashed.  “Time for me to return to the surface and resume my rightful place as queen.”

Her maidservant dithered.  “Um, Your Highness,” her fingers wrestled with each other as her tongue wrestled with words.  “How can you be sure?”

“You question me!” Morgana’s nostrils flared.  “How dare you!  Do you think I am unable to count?  Fifteen hundred years I have spent in this hellhole, this underground chamber, banished here by that fool Merlin.  But even his magic has its limits.  I have been patient, served my time, I have watched and I have waited.  And now, the curse is lifted.  Come, bring me my cloak of midnight.”

“Um,” the maid hesitated.  “Right away, Your Highness.”

She scurried to the antechamber.  She had been using the cloak of midnight as bedding.  She shook it out, dislodging centuries of biscuit crumbs.

She carried it reverentially to Morgana and draped it over her narrow shoulders.

“Excellent!  And now, my diadem of doom!”

“Um, at once, Your Highness.”

The maid darted away, to the rudimentary kitchen.  She had been using the diadem of doom as a biscuit cutter for all these years.  She blew away flour and wiped the crown on her apron.  She carried it to Morgana, walking slowly, the way she had seen the Archbishop do, at Arthur’s coronation, oh so long ago.

Morgana lowered her head to receive the diadem of doom.

“Perfect!” she straightened.  “And finally, my staff of discord.”

“Um…” the maid cast around.  She couldn’t remember for the life of her what she had done with the staff of discord.

“Why are you dawdling?” Morgana roared with impatience.  “Bring me the staff of discord.”

“Um, I am doing,” stammered the maid.  She bit her lip, her mind racing.  She dashed to the tiny bathroom.  There was the staff of discord, being used to prop up a washing line.  Greying, threadbare underwear dripped into the tub.  The maid unhooked the staff of discord, letting her knickers drop to the floor.

She carried it back to Morgana, who snatched it from her grasp.

“How do I look?” the evil witch rotated slowly. 

“Terrifying, Your Highness,” the maid had to admit.

“Excellent.  Now, up we go.”

She bashed the staff of discord on the floor and shot up and through the stony ceiling.  Up and up she went, through hundreds of feet of solid rock.  At long last, she reached the surface and felt fresh air on her pale skin for the first time in a millennium and a half.

Down below, the maid did a bit of tidying up.  She made a fresh batch of biscuits.  She wrung out the washing.  It would probably need doing again if she couldn’t get it thoroughly dry.

“Those biscuits smell nice.”  Morgana’s voice startled her.  The evil witch had returned.  She sat and took off the diadem of doom and shrugged off her cloak of midnight.

“You’re back early,” the maid observed.

“Well,” said Morgana.  “I went up there to wreak havoc, generate a bit of despair, generally fuck things up.  But I found they’ve already done it.”

“What do you mean, Your Highness?” the maid inched closer.  “Surely there is something you can do to cause a bit of misery.”

Morgana shook her head.  “Like what?  The whole world is in meltdown.  It’s got ten years at most.  And no one seems to care!  They’re all fighting among themselves—honestly, the levels of hatred up there, you would not believe.  The pettiness!  The pollution!  The corruption!  And Merlin thought I was the danger!  Summon him.  Get that old wizard on the crystal.  Tell him I want another five hundred—no, make it a full thousand—years down here.  Give those morons another chance to build an earthly paradise.  And then, oh, then!  Then I’ll go up and ruin it for them.”

She threw back her head and attempted a cackle, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” the maid offered.  “The biscuits will be ready soon.”

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“What are you doing?” Emma stopped in the doorway, hands on hips.  Her husband, Mark, was flailing around with a sheet of canvas and some ropes.

“What’s it look like?”

“Like you’re fighting the monster in a low-budget science fiction programme.”

“Oh, ha, ha.  You could give me a hand, you know, instead of standing there.”

“I’d need to know what you’re doing before I can help.”

“Hold this,” Mark handed her a rope’s end.  He dropped the canvas and got to his feet.  “This, my darling, is the best idea I’ve had in a long time.”

“Am I the only one that can hear warning bells?”

Mark rolled his eyes.  “Ye of little faith.  I know you get fed up being shut up in here with me, all day every day.  So…”

Emma looked at the disarray in the living room and shook her head.  “You’re making a mess for me to tidy up to distract me from how bloody annoying you are.”

“No!  This is somewhere for you to come to get away from me for a bit.  Well, it will be once I get it put up.  This will be your haven of peace.  There’ll be all your favourite books, your music.  I’ll rig up the teasmade.  You’ll only have to come out for—you know, nature’s call.  But I’ve thought about that, too.”

He held up a bucket.

Emma scoffed.  “If you think I’m—answering nature’s call in that, you can piss off.”

“All right, then.  You can pop to the downstairs lav.”

“Very gracious of you.  I don’t understand.  What good will sitting in a tent do?  I think you’ve lost your marbles.  It was only a matter of time.”

“Look, while you’re in here, you won’t be disturbed.  I’ll keep out of your hair.  I know I can be a bit irritating.”

“A bit!”

“But whenever you want a break from me, you just come in here.”

“Why should I?  Why shouldn’t you come in here every time you get on my nerves?”

“Because, my darling, you deserve a break.  A rest.”

“And what will you be doing while I’m squatting in here, having my much-deserved break from you and your annoying ways?”

“Oh, just, you know, the chores.  So when you come out, you won’t have to worry about the kitchen, the bathroom.  Things like that.  I’m so good to you, admit it.”

Emma sneered.  “I suppose,” she said, begrudgingly.

Within half an hour, they got the tent set up.  Emma fetched a pile of books she’d been meaning to read for ages, made a pot of coffee and settled under the canvas with a packet of biscuits and a mountain of cushions.  She had to admit it was making her feel better.  It reminded her of the pillow forts she’d make as a child.  And Mark wasn’t so bad, was he?  Yes, he could be annoying, but he was thoughtful too.  It was one of the reasons she’d fallen for him.

            Hours later, she crawled out.  Standing straight, she stretched her arms and yawned.  She went through to the kitchen to make more coffee.  The place was spotless but leaning against the coffee maker was a folded sheet of paper with her name on it.

            Cold dread seized her by the heart.

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone.  Do NOT come looking for me.  It’s too dangerous.  If I can locate more supplies, I’ll come back.  What we have left will not last long between us.  I hope you can eke things out until the world becomes safe again.  Until then, stay safe, my darling.  I’m sorry I wasn’t a better husband to you.  All my love, Mark x

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Say My Name

Bartleberry returned to the table and spread his napkin over his thigh.  His date looked unimpressed.

“Where do you keep disappearing to?” she asked.  “Your food will be cold.”

“I’m sorry.”  Bartleberry refilled her glass with wine.  “The men’s bathroom.”

“But that’s twice in half an hour.  Are you ill?  Do we need to take a rain check?”

“I’m fine!”  He smiled to reassure her.  “How’s the fish?”

“It’s good.  Want to try it?”  She held out her fork.  A disconcerted look replaced Bartleberry’s smile.  He got to his feet.

“Two minutes,” he pulled an apologetic face and darted to the men’s room for a third time.

His date sighed.  She put her fork down and summoned the waiter.

Bartleberry came back, looking a little dishevelled, in time to see the waiter helping his date into her coat.

“No!  Helen, please, wait.  Let me explain.”  He slipped the waiter a fiver.  The waiter withdrew, smirking.

Helen sat heavily and crossed her arms.  “One minute,” she conceded.

Bartleberry sat.  “Listen, I have to be straight with you.  My name is not Martin Davies.  It’s—something else.  And whenever someone says my real name nine times in a mirror, I have to go and murder them.  It’s the rules of my existence.”

Helen frowned.  “So, all those times at the cinema when you miss the middle of the film?  That time at my parents’ when you just walked out?”

Bartleberry nodded.  “I was out murdering teenagers.  I’m sorry.”

Helen shook her head.  “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“It just never seemed the right moment.  Except it’s been happening more frequently recently.  They’ve made a new film about me, so all the kids are daring each other to summon me.  And so I have to go and kill them.  It’s playing havoc with my work life too.  I was just about to strike a deal with an important client but I had to excuse myself.  When I came back, he’d stormed out.  This is costing me money.  And it’s causing resentment from you.  I can see that.  But I can’t stop.  It’s my curse, Helen, and you either accept it or move on.”

Bartleberry hung his head and waited for her response.

Helen’s eyes were brimming.  She reached across and wiped a tiny speck of blood from Bartleberry’s cheek with her thumb.

Bartleberry sprang up.

“Again?” Helen wailed.  “I thought we were having a moment.”

“I’ll be right back,” said Bartleberry, striding towards the mirror in the men’s room.  “Someone’s just read this story out loud and said my name nine times.”

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Filed under fantasy, horror, humour, Short story

I’ll Have What You’re Having

“Robbie?”  The slender figure on the post office steps stood up straight and waved from behind the railings.

Robbie faltered.  Damn it.  He knew he shouldn’t have crossed the road.  He should have kept walking.  Pretended to be on a phone call or something.

The guy was too tall, for one thing.  His profile had not mentioned he could tower over the average basketball player.

Robbie felt trapped.  He would have to go through with it.  One drink.  Just one drink and then he’d nip to the Gents, text Shona the signal and five minutes later, she would call with an ‘emergency’ he just had to attend.

“Frem?” Robbie approached.  “Am I saying that right?”

“Yes, very good.”

“Is it Dutch or something?  Where are you from?”

“Oh, a long way away.  You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

Frem smiled and Robbie noticed how smooth his date’s skin was.  Unblemished.   Unwrinkled.

Frem came down the steps to shake Robbie’s hand.  His palm was dry but cool—cold, almost.  Probably from holding the railings, Robbie reasoned and, now they were both on the same level, he found he could look the stranger in the eye.  He and Frem were exactly the same height.  Must have been an optical illusion, Robbie thought.  Perspective, or something.

“There’s a decent pub on the corner,” Robbie smiled back.

“Sounds good.”

Odd, thought Robbie.  I’ve only heard him say a few words but his accent seems to have changed.  He sounds local.  He sounds like me.

They strolled to the pub in an awkward silence.  Inside, Robbie suggested Frem find a table while he got the drinks.  It was only fair, if he was going to duck out after the first round.

“I’ll have what you’re having,” Frem grinned, moving to a quiet corner. 

Robbie ordered two pints then he had to scour around to see where Frem had gone.  Frem waved from a table near the fireplace.  “Over here!”

Robbie frowned as he set the glasses on the table and took his seat.

“Your hair.  It seems darker in here.  Perhaps it’s the lighting.”

“Perhaps,” smiled Frem.

In synchronous movement, they sipped their beer.

“So, what do you do?” Frem asked.

Robbie’s nose wrinkled.  “Nothing exciting.  I’m an office junior.  You?”

Frem’s nose wrinkled.  “Same.”

They sipped again.  It looked almost choreographed.

They chatted about trivial things.  Favourite films, music and so on.  Frem seemed to have identical tastes.  Robbie began to suspect something was going on.  He asked what was Frem’s favourite book.

Frem pursed his lips and Robbie noticed a mole on his cheek.  Just like mine…

Watership Down!” Frem said decisively.

Robbie gaped.  “That’s mine too!”

So, Frem wasn’t just repeating what Robbie had said… Robbie started to relax, feeling like they really had a lot in common and perhaps they could make a go of it…

His phone flashed.  A text from Shona.

“R U OK?”

“Excuse me.”  Robbie got to his feet and hurried to the Gents.

“Fine,” he texted back.  “He’s v. nice.  Could be the One.  I’m getting good vibes.”

“B careful,” came the reply.

“Yes, mum!” Robbie sent, adding a winking face.

He spruced himself up in the mirror, stopping to peer at the mole on his cheek.  What a coincidence that Frem has one too.  In the exact same spot!

He went back to the table and stopped short.  Sitting on Frem’s chair was a perfect replica of Robbie.  Every detail down to the way he had only just primped his hair.

“Sit,” said Frem in Robbie’s voice.

“No!” Robbie panicked.  He turned to run and found another copy of himself blocking his way.  His eyes darted around the bar.  Everyone looked exactly like him, even the barmaid. 

Robbie fumbled his phone, speed-dialling Shona.

“Help!” he screamed.  “You’ve got to help me!”

“There, there,” his own voice spoke in his ear.  “Everything’s going to be all right.”

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Fish Out of Water

“Well, that’s it for another year,” Albert, his hands on his hips, surveyed the expanse of sand before them, although more litter was visible than actual beach at that moment.  “Another season over and those filthy townies have gone back where they belong.”

He stabbed at a discarded drinks carton with his litter-picker.

Beside him, his grandson Eric was thinking about telling him yet again that if it wasn’t for those filthy townies coming here to spend their money, the promenade would have been boarded up years ago.  Like it or not, Merville Bay depended on filthy townies to keep it afloat.

True, Eric pincered an empty crisp packet with his clawed stick, they could take their rubbish home with them.  Or use the receptacles provided.  But, on the whole, he was always sorry to see them go.  Merville Bay would be as good as dead for the next long, cold, wintery months, and Eric had no hope of coming across any handsome strangers for exciting, if short-lived, encounters in the dark under the pier.  Not for the first time, he considered moving to the city for the closed season at least, where there would be others like him, and improved odds of finding The One.  But there was Granddad.  He couldn’t cope with Grandma on his own.  Eric couldn’t abandon them just to go and get his jollies in a nightclub.  Or wherever one goes to get one’s jollies.  He wasn’t entirely sure.

Eric’s contemplations took him farther from his grandfather.  Lost in his thoughts, he almost tripped over a prone figure, face down in a rock pool.  With a gasp, Eric dropped his rubbish bag and stick and crouched at the person’s side. 

It was a young man, shirtless, his skin gleaming with a pearlescent sheen, faintly blue.

“Hello?” Eric called.  “Can you hear me?”

He reached a tentative hand.  The young man’s skin was cool to the touch.

Drowned! Eric groaned.  That’s why he’s a bit blue.

The young man stirred, coughing out strands of seaweed. He pushed himself up on his hands and turned to look at Eric, his eyes shining, the brightest aquamarine.

“Hello,” he smiled, his voice little more than a gurgle.

“H-heh-hello,” Eric blushed.  The stranger was the most handsome man he had ever seen.

“I knew you’d come,” the stranger grinned.  “If I waited long enough.”

“Me?” Eric glanced over his shoulder in case someone else had happened by.

“Yes!  Eric, isn’t it?  You’re feeling lost, aren’t you?  Like a fish out of water?”

“Well, um…”

“It’s all right,” the stranger placed a hand on Eric’s, sending a thrill running through his body.  “I’m here now.  I’m Orion.  Pleased to meet you.”

“Um, likewise.  Listen, do you need help?  I can phone for an ambulance.”

“Help?” Orion, even frowning, was gorgeous.

“What was it?  Beach party?  Few too many?  All your friends left you behind?”

“Nothing like that,” Orion waved dismissively.  “I am here on purpose.  And my purpose is you.  I’ve been watching you for some time.  You’re not like other men, are you?”

Eric bristled.  “What do you mean?”


“No, I mean what do you mean watching me?”

“Relax!  All you have to do is take my hand and come with me.  You may have noticed I’m a little different too.”

Orion splashed in the pool and Eric noticed for the first time that instead of legs, Orion was equipped with an iridescent, muscular tail.

At lunchtime, Eric’s grandfather hobbled over to the rock pool with a thermos flask and a sandwich box.  Eric was nowhere to be seen.  There was no sign except his abandoned rubbish bag and pointed stick.  And a trail of footprints leading from the pool to the water’s edge, where they were lapped away by the encroaching tide.

Good for you, lad, the old man grinned, looking out to sea.  I always thought there was nothing around here for a boy like you.

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Filed under fantasy, Short story

Public Relations

The Queen stepped out onto the balcony, flanked by two guardsmen who kept their crossbows trained on the crowd below.  She waited for the jeering and the booing to subside, then she raised a gloved hand as though the peasants were falling silent at her bidding.  Her gaze took in the hundreds of upturned faces.  She recognised members of the nobility, her own courtiers, among the lower ranks, the barons, the reeves.  And of course, there was always the peasantry.  The poor are always with us, she reflected.

She smiled but there was more sadness in it than joy.  Indeed, it had been calculated and rehearsed to appear that way.

“My people,” the Queen began, her voice clear as a bell.  She had always been expert at public speaking.  “You all know about my annus horribilis.”

“Put some cream on it!” one wag catcalled and was rewarded for his wit by a bolt through his brain.  The Queen waited until the guard reloaded.

“This has not been an easy year for any of us,” she continued.  The guards scanned the assembly for anyone playing an invisible violin.  “My own son has betrayed us and brought shame on my family, on my house, on my country.  On us all.”

Grumbles rumbled through the throng.  Everyone had heard the stories.  Oh, it was well known that Princes would live things up, taking advantage of the wealth and resources available to them to party and carry on.  But it was also accepted, that once those Princes succeeded to the throne, they would be expected to put aside their partying and cavorting and devote themselves to a life of duty and service.

Except Prince Andros had gone too far.  At first there were rumours but these rumours grew into stories. Witnesses had come forward and spoke of orgiastic gatherings.  Black masses.  Human sacrifice to some forbidden agent of darkness…

How the Queen expected to gloss over this and restore her subjects’ faith in her—well, that was why everyone was gathered.  Appetite for revolution had never been stronger.  It was make-or-break day for the monarchy.

The Queen gave a signal and two men bound in chains were marched into the courtyard, prodded by pikestaffs into position.  The crowd gasped.  Even with the filth of the dungeons on them, it could be seen that the men were identical.

“Behold!” the Queen said, somewhat redundantly.  Everyone was already beholding.  “One of these wretches in my unfortunate son, Prince Andros.”

The crowd booed and wished they’d brought something to throw.

“The other,” the Queen shouted them down, “is an imposter.  A changeling.  It has only recently come to light that my dear infant son was switched in his cradle, his nanny drugged.  My child was replaced by a lookalike, a servant of the dark forces that plague our land.  But now, at last, my child, my flesh and blood, has returned, having lived a life of penury and toil.  So you see, the terrible deeds of Prince Andros were not perpetrated by a genuine member of my family.  We are thankful that the plot has been overthrown before the people could do something they might regret.”

She cast a knowing look at the crowd.  Some of the nobles had the good grace to look away, guilt on their faces.

“Take him away!” the Queen commanded.  Guards seized one of the chained men.  They dragged him to the field of execution, where a gallows and the hangman waited.

“No!  Mother!  No!” the man wriggled and protested, but the Queen had already dismissed him.

She turned to the second man.  “Release him!” she ordered.   “He must resume his place at my side and his preparations to rule.”

The guards unwound the chains, and unfastened the gag from the man’s filthy face.

“Welcome, my son.  Come inside, I bid you.  Here there is food, and we’ll have you cleaned up in no time.”

The people cheered. Some threw their hats in the air.

But not too clean, the Queen mused, turning to go indoors, lest anyone see the scars left by my surgeons.

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Meet Wilhelm Scream

There’s a new author in town!  The time has come to introduce you to WILHELM SCREAM, writer of new book, BAD BLOOD – A Tale of Two Vampires.  Mr Scream can’t wait for you to read it, or for your children to read it, because it’s meant for them really, but if you sneak a peek between the covers, he won’t mind.  In fact, he encourages it.  It wouldn’t be the first time a grown-up has enjoyed a kids’ book now, would it? 

Personal details about Mr Scream are difficult to pin down.  Some say he crawled out from under a rock.  Others say he hatched from an egg.  You may have other ideas.  But he’s harmless enough and only seeks to entertain with his tales of the macabre.

The only known portrait of Wilhelm Scream. He won’t sit still long enough for another.

BAD BLOOD is about two neighbours who happen to be vampires.  Or two vampires who happen to be neighbours.  Vincent, the scruffy one, plots to get rid of Vlad, the well-dressed one, while Vlad only wants to look good and to help Vincent survive in the modern world.  Add to the mix a television programme about antiques, an automaton made from mud, and a couple of vampire hunters, and the scene is set for a fast-moving and funny story suitable for anyone above the age of 9 human years.  It’s not very gruesome, honestly!

Cover art for the hardcover edition

BAD BLOOD will be available as a glossy hardback, a floppy paperback, and even an electronic version you can read on a tablet.  Mr Scream tried reading a tablet once but all it said was ‘ASPIRIN’. 

Mr Scream is not going to stop at vampires.  He is already working on his next book which will be about werewolves, and he has a germ of a plan forming in his twisted mind for a third book which will probably be about a mummy or something equally horrible.

Mr Scream awaits your reviews.  In fact, there he is now, standing in your back garden, staring at your house.  Like I say, he’s harmless.  No, really.

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Filed under horror, humour, Preview, Update

A Drink with James

“Is something wrong?” James’s forehead wrinkled with concern.  “Have I got something on my nose?”

He released Jonathan from their handshake and self-consciously wiped his fingers across his face.

“No, no!” Jonathan laughed.  “I apologise for staring.  It’s just that—”


“You look exactly like your profile picture.”

“And that surprises you?”

“Well, yes!  I’ve turned up for dates and been confronted with some doddery old geezer whose profile picture was taken thirty years ago.”

“So, you prefer younger men.  Is that what you’re telling me?”

James gestured to a nearby table.  They sat.

“No!” Jonathan gasped, turning red.  “I prefer honest men.  That’s what I’m saying.  I don’t care how old they are.”

“As long as they’re old enough, right?”

“Yes!  Of course!”

James chuckled.  “I’m teasing you!”

He pulled out his smartphone and began tapping away.

“Oh.”  Jonathan sat back.  “If I’m boring you…”

James laughed.  “Will you relax?” 

He showed Jonathan the screen.  “This place has an app.  I’m just ordering drinks.  Better than all that jostling at the bar.  They bring your order directly to you.  You feel like a king!  What’ll you have?”

“Erm… Do they have any of that designer cider?  You know, it comes in different colours.”

James scrolled through the menu.  “They do.  It comes in red, pink or purple.”

“Um, purple.  Please.”

James placed the order.

“I don’t know, in my day we just ordered cider and blackcurrant.  But it’s all marketing now, I suppose.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”


“Just now.”

“It’s all marketing.  Dressing things up so they can charge more for them.”

“No.  Before that.”

“Did I?”

“You said ‘back in my day’ or something to that effect.”

“Did I?”

“What do you mean by that?  When was ‘your day’ exactly?”  Jonathan peered closely across the table.

“What are you staring at?”

“I’m trying to see if you’ve had work done.  Grandpa!”

James was aghast.  “Work done!  I haven’t had any work done!  How dare you!  Cheeky varlet—I mean, whippersnapper—I mean—”

He clamped his mouth shut as Jonathan got to his feet.

“Look, I’m not sure what game you’re playing,” he tossed a five-pound note to the table.  “That’s for the cider.  I’m done.”

He strode away.

James slumped.  A barmaid approached, bearing a tray.  She set two glasses of purple cider on the table.

“You all right, love?” she chirped.  “Can I get you anything else?”

“No,” said James, bitterly.

He’d be having words with that travel agent.   Come to the future, they’d said.  It gets better, they said.  It’s easier for gays to find love, they said.

What a load of bollocks.

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The Beard

Knocking on the bathroom door made Norbert jump.

“Just a minute!” he called out.  “I’ll be out in a minute.”

“No, no,” came a voice from the other side of the door.  It was Stephanie, Norbert’s girlfriend.  “There’s no rush.  In fact, while I’ve got you in there, I thought perhaps we could have a talk.”

Uh-oh, thought Norbert.  He could picture Stephanie’s pretty face scrunching into a frown.

“Norbert?” she prompted.

“Yes,” he called back.  “Guess I’m a captive audience.  What do you want to talk about?”

“Well—oh God, this is awkward.”  Stephanie pressed her furrowed forehead against the door.  “But we’ve been seeing each other for six months now.”

“Oh, dear!” Norbert wailed.  “Have I missed some kind of anniversary?  I’m so sorry.  We’ll go out for dinner.  Name the place!”

“No, that’s not it.  I mean, dinner will be lovely.  There’s that new Albanian place in the precinct.”

“Sounds delicious!  Make a reservation.”

“Later.  But there’s something I need to ask you.  Perhaps it will be easier to answer me with this door between us.  As I said, it’s been six months.”

“Yes, you did say that.”  Norbert steeled himself.  He knew what was coming.  He combed beard oil in, massaging it to every hair, every curl.

“Six months and you’ve never laid a finger on me, never mind anything else.  Is there something the matter?  With me, I mean.”

Norbert gave his reflection a pained look.

“No, no!  Not at all.  You’re perfect.  Look, you must be patient with me.  That’s all I ask.  Can you do that for me, Stephanie?  Be patient?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, but Norbert could hear the sob thickening her voice.  “I mean, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?  I’d rather know the truth.  I have a right to know the truth.  If you’re…”

“If I’m…?”

“If you’re gay.”

Norbert laughed.  “Oh, no!  No!  Put that idea right out of your head!  Gay is the last thing I’d be!”

“So, you’re not just using me as a cover?  Arm candy so no one will guess the truth?”

“Of course not!  Silly goose!”  Norbert hoped Stephanie couldn’t hear the quiver in his voice.

“But it’s just that… six months!  You’re not like other guys.  And I like that about you, I do.  You’re sweet and gentle and kind.  There’s an innocence about you.  You take delight in everything, like you’re seeing it for the first time.  So yes, I can be patient.  Take all the time you need.  I’ll leave you to get ready.  See if I can book that restaurant.”

Norbert listened to her move away from the door.  He patted his face.  The glue had better hold.  The beard bristled as he sniffed.  Something smelled bad.  He applied half a stick of deodorant to his armpits, powdered his nether regions with talc and then drenched himself in after-shave.

That was the problem with having a reanimated corpse to get you around.  High maintenance wasn’t the half of it!

He used his dead-man’s hands to fluff himself out.  A quick appraisal of his reflection reassured him that he could pass as a normal human being.  It was imperative to his mission.  He must live among the humans, observing them, sending reports back to his home world, where everyone crawled around, their hirsute bodies like disembodied human beards.

If Stephanie were to discover the truth, she would have to go.

Then again, it might be a nice change to make use of a reanimated female body for once.

He could even join the circus.

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Filed under science fiction, Short story


“Is he in there?” Martin tugged at Darren’s sleeve.  Darren, his face pressed against the window, shrugged his friend off. 

“I can’t see, can I?” he complained.   

“If he catches us, we’re done for!” Martin’s lip and indeed his knees trembled.  “We shouldn’t be here.  We should go.  Like, now!” 

“Ssh!” Darren flapped a hand.  “It was your idea to come.  Oh, let’s go and spy on the creepy old man, you said.  Let’s go to his house and see if he’s abducted any more children, you said. It would be a laugh, you said.  Well, I haven’t seen anything to laugh at just yet.” 

“Come ON, Daz!” Martin urged.  “Let’s just go and no harm done.” 

Darren, his head shaking, his lips pressed tight in determination.  “Just another few min—” 

His words were cut off by a hand on his shoulder.  He managed to turn around and see that Martin too had been caught. 

“Well…” laughed the creepy old man, his voice high and mocking.  “Look at what we’ve got here.  Two prime specimens ready for the plucking.” 

He stopped, his eyes darting, following something the boys could not see, his head cocked as though listening to a voice the boys could not hear. 

“You’re right,” the old man sighed.  “They are older than the ones we usually take.  I like them young, so they grow up knowing no different.  These two, they’ll always have memories of this place, their homes, their families.” 

He paused again, listening again.  He chuckled. 

“You’re right again, my little friend,” he grinned, apparently at nothing. 

Martin’s eyes sought Darren’s.  Both boys whimpered; they were in trouble and they knew it. 

“Let—let us go!” Darren pleaded.  “We won’t tell nobody.” 

“Which is it?” the old man cackled.  “You will or won’t?” 

“Please, Mister,” Martin sobbed.  A trickle of yellow warmed his leg. 

“What do you reckon, Tink?”  The old man cocked his head, listening again.  And this time the boys could see it, just about, a tiny speck of light hovering in front of the old man’s face, darting here and there, and tinkling ever so faintly, like distant sleigh bells. 

“Again, I have to say you’re right,” the old man nodded.  “No one is going to believe them anyway.” 

He released the boys’ shoulders.  Then he stretched up his arms, shedding his coat and trousers, all of his old-man clothes.  Off came the wig, the false nose, the hunched back.  And up into the sky shot a boy in green, his emerald eyes sparkling impishly beneath a shock of ginger hair.  He flew up and up until he was silhouetted against the moon and was gone. 

The boys watched open mouthed.  The tiny speck of light bobbed before them, the silvery bells seeming to scold them, and then it too was gone. 

Martin and Darren looked at each other.  They looked at the sky, at the blank and empty moon, and they were flooded with inexplicable sorrow. 

It felt, as they scurried home, like they had missed out on an awfully big adventure. 

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Hot Dog

“Come on, man; let’s bounce.”

Tyler, skateboard tucked under his arm, squinted in the sunlight.  Hunter didn’t move from the car. 

“We can’t just leave it,” he said.  “Poor little guy.”

“It’s not your problem.  Come on, bro.  I’ve got a voucher for frozen yogurt.”

Hunter shook his head.  “How would you like it?  Your owner leaves you locked in a hot car on a hot day.  No water, no air.”

“There’s nothing we can do.   And I don’t want to be seen hanging out by strange cars.  Not after last time.”

“We should tell somebody.  Like the mall cops.  Or an animal shelter or something.”

“Great.  Let’s do that.  At the Fro-Yo Funhouse.”

“Oh, wait.  He’s not breathing.”  Hunter pressed his face against the car window, cupping his hands around the side of his head.  “Oh, wait.  I can’t tell.  Can you see if he’s breathing?”

Heaving a sigh, Tyler went around to the other side of the car and peered in.  On the backseat, a heap of fur of indiscriminate shape… Tyler watched, he waited.  “No, I don’t think – Wait!  Yes, it’s breathing.  But just about. What kind of dog is it anyway? Is it even a dog?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to get a rock or a brick or something.”  Hunter cast around the parking lot. 

“No!” Tyler urged.  “You can’t smash the window.  I’m already on a community service order.”

“That’s right!  You could pick the lock!  You’ve done it before.  I’m sure the judge will understand you were on a mission of mercy.  That’s what this is!  A mission of mercy!”  He tapped the window.  “Hang in there, little buddy; we’ll get you out of there.”

Tyler sighed.  He dropped his skateboard to the kerb and reached in his pocket for the strip of metal he kept.  For Old Times’ Sake, honestly, your honour.

Within seconds, the lock popped up.  Hunter wrenched the door open.

The heap of fur sprang to life, launching itself at its saviours.  Within seconds, Hunter’s throat was ripped out and Tyler was missing a hand.  He stared at the stump in shock, watching the blood pump into the air like a lazy fountain.  He collapsed.

The owner of the car returned, laden with purchases.

“Hey, boy!” he cooed.  “Did somebody let you out?” He looked down.  “These guys?  Well, I guess they learned the hard way you need extreme heat to survive. And I guess you won’t want the treats I got you.”

The heap of fur whined petulantly.

“Only kidding,” said the owner, lifting the heap of fur back into the car.  “You know I can’t resist you.  Oh, what’s this?”  He stooped to pick up a piece of paper.  “A voucher for fro yo!  Oh, wait, it’s expired.  That’s a shame.”

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Only Child

Joan reached for the roll of aluminium foil and was dismayed to find it empty.  Damn it, Barnaby, it was brand new this week.  Damn that kid; he was always taking stuff without asking.  Wasting it on his stupid dressing-up games.

He was out in the back garden now.  Physically, at least.  In his head, he was on the International Space Station or some made-up planet.

Joan could see him through the kitchen window, running around and jumping.  Her aluminium foil had furnished him a cape that flashed in the sunlight.  He had also fashioned himself a pair of shiny trousers and was using one of her best saucepans as his helmet.

Joan’s heart twinged.  She was sorry Barnaby had turned out to be an only child.  She would have had another one at least.  But that was before — before her no-good husband had disappeared off the face of the Earth.  Probably run off with that floozy from across the road.  She had been noticeably absent since that time too…

She watched Barnaby drop and roll, firing off his ray gun or whatever else the length of plastic pipe was meant to be, blasting away at some unseen enemy.  Why did his games have to be so violent all the time? 

Well, with the foil and the saucepan out of commission, she would have to adjust her plans for dinner.  Perhaps they should go out.  Somewhere with a play area, a ball pit for the kiddies.  Somewhere Barnaby could run around to his heart’s content.  Somewhere he could interact with other children, other visible, tangible children that his overactive imagination hadn’t cooked up.  It would be good for him.

She opened the back door and called up the garden.  “Barnaby!  Barnaby, love.  Come on; we’re going out for dinner.  Pizza, if you like.  We could try that new Pizza Play House.”

Barnaby paused in his play-acting.

“Sorry,” he said to the friend only he could see.  “Gotta go.”

“Oh no, you don’t,” said the friend.  “I was winning.  That means I get to keep the body.  That means I get to go for pizza.  You stay here and we’ll have a rematch tomorrow.”

Barnaby pouted and stamped his foot, making no impression on the grass.

“It’s the rules,” his friend pointed out.  “If you don’t agree, then you’ll go the same way as your father.”

Barnaby’s friend scurried up to the back door, aluminium cape flapping like a flag of victory.

“Can we have ice-cream too?” he enthused.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve had any ice-cream.”

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Life’s a Drag

“You’re not going out dressed like that!”

Benny looked down at what he was wearing: Chinos, a white T, a denim jacket.  “What’s wrong with it?  I think I look cute.”

Tyreesa shook her head, causing her towering orange wig to totter.  Holding it steady, she got to her feet and looked down at her adopted son from the full height of her twelve-inch platform heels.

“The neighbours!  They will read you to filth.”

Benny threw up his hands.  “I don’t care about the neighbours.  I just want to be me.”

Tyreesa sucked her teeth.  “Where did I go wrong?” she asked the ceiling.

“You didn’t!” Benny replied.  “You always taught me that no matter what I shouldn’t be afraid to be my authentic self.”

“Yes, honey, but this.” A bejwelled fingernail moved up and down taking in his whole outfit.  “I don’t get what you’re trying to say.  Except maybe ‘meh’.”

Tyreesa’s partner, Chemise, walked in.  She flopped onto the sofa and proceeded to tug off her thigh-length boots.  “Give me a hand, Benny, darlin’?”

“In a minute,” said Tyreesa.  “We’re having a moment.”

Chemise looked from one to the other and back again.  She shook her head.  “You two.  Can’t go a day without there being some beef between you.  What is it this time?  He been borrowing your eyelash-curlers again?”

“I wish!” Tyreesa put a hand to her heart.  “Haven’t you seen what he’s wearing?”

Chemise blinked.  “Come on, Benny-boy.  Give us a twirl.”

Benny obliged, rotating on the spot, his arms held out.  “Ta-dah!” he said.

Confusion clouded Chemise’s beautifully contoured features.  “I don’t get it.  What’s he trying to say?  What’s the story here?  Is there a string and you pull it and all this turns into an elegant ballgown?”

“No!” Benny cried.  “This is it.  This is the whole lewk.”

“Oh, Benny,” Chemise was dismayed.  “This ain’t no lewk.  I don’t know what this is.”

“I’ve told him he can’t go out in public dressed like that.” Tyreesa crossed her arms.  “I need you to back me up on this one, Chem.”

Chemise wrinkled her nose and gave the boy another onceover.  “I don’t know.  He can get away with a lot, with those cheekbones.”

Benny grinned.

“Chem…” Tyreesa warned.

“Maybe if he added just a touch of blusher, a hint of lip gloss…”


“And if I do that, I can go?” Benny was practically bouncing in his loafers.

“I don’t see why not.”

“You’re the best!” Benny planted a kiss on Chemise’s cheek.  He ran upstairs to put on his make-up.

Tyreesa looked daggers at her partner.

“What?” Chemise squirmed.

“I’m trying my damnedest to bring up my drag-daughter just right and you go and aquaplane to his wishes.”

“It’s acquiesce, honey.  And he’s still growing, finding out who he is.  He’ll turn out just fine, trust me.”

Tyreesa straddled Chemise’s leg and set to pulling off the boot.  “You don’t think — I can hardly bring myself to say it — You don’t think he’ll turn out straight, do you?”

A shudder ran through her.

“Don’t even joke, honey!” Chemise looked pained.  “But whatever he is, we’ll still love him.  Won’t we?”

Tyreesa was glad her back was to her partner.  She chewed her lower lip. 

“Sure,” she said.

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The Snipper

“May I call you Bruce?” Old Man Garrett looked up at the VIP visitor, his eyes bleary.

“Quiet, you!” snapped a nearby nurse.  “Show some respect.”

The VIP waved the nurse away.  He lowered himself into the seat next to the old man’s.  “Oof,” he sighed.  “Must be getting old myself.  Perhaps there’s a room free for me here?”

Old Man Garnett chuckled.  “Reckon you could do better than this dump, Mr W – Bruce.  Or is it true what I heard?  You’ve given away most of your fortune to save the goddamn planet?”

Bruce smiled.  “I see nothing gets past you, Mr Garrett.”

“Why’d you want to go and do a thing like that for?  Other guys with your kind of means are building rockets and heading off to Mars or some dumb shit like that.  Why bother to save this planet when you could just up sticks and move to another?”

Bruce laughed.  “I never thought of it like that.  But that’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh?” Mr Garrett bristled.

“Yes,” Bruce fixed him with a stare.  “I believe there’s something you want to say to me.  Something you want to get off your chest.”

Mr Garrett cast his eyes around, to make sure no one was within earshot.  “Sort of like a last confession, do you mean?”

“If you like.  And it’s strictly off the record.  You may be aware I hung up my cape a few years back.”

Mr Garrett’s eyes widened.  “I knew it!  I knew you were the bat guy.  Well, how about that?”

“My time is short,” Bruce said brusquely, “And to be frank, I understand yours is shorter.  So, let’s waste no more time.”

Mr Garrett blinked.  A tear made a break for it down his cheek, dropping to freedom unnoticed and unwiped.  “Always thought you’d catch up to me sooner or later.  All right already, I admit it.  I did it.  I’m the Snipper.”

“Go on.  Get it all out.  Why did you — do what you did?”

“It was a long time ago.  You remember what it was like, back in 2020.  Whole world turned upside down.  I was a newlywed.  My Ginny was the sweetest angel you ever did see.  But our honeymoon was cancelled.   No flights going anywhere. No big deal, we thought.  What better start to a marriage than being forced to stay home alone and nobody to interrupt us.  Hoo-ee, those were glorious days!  And the nights, even better!

“But then we got sick.  We were among the first, during those first terrifying weeks.  I was knocked off my feet for the best part of a week but Ginny – my sweet angel – she got it worse.  Straight to the hospital, attached to one of those, whadyacallems, breathing machines.  And I couldn’t go in to see her.  My angel died alone, and I never got to say goodbye.

“And nobody was allowed to go to her funeral.  What’s that line ol’ Shakespeare had about the wedding meats being served at the funeral?  Something like that.  But nobody was allowed.  Not safe, you see.

“And all the way home, all I see is people not wearing their masks like they was told to.  Now, being exempt is one thing.  I ain’t got no problem with people who are genuinely, medically exempt – I just never thought there would be so many of them!  No, what got my goat was those assholes who had masks sure enough, but had them dangling down like some kind of fashion accessory — what’s the word?  Cravat?  That’ll do.  And their goddamn noses are poking out like that fella you used to see in the old-fashioned graffiti before it became all hip-hop and what-not.  You remember him, fella with his nose peeping over the wall?  Well, that’s what these assholes reminded me of.

“Months later, they’re still doing it.  As if their half-assed attempts to comply with the regulations was good enough.  And they go about their business with their damn noses poking out, and they’re spreading the virus as surely as if they had no mask on at all.  More so, probably, because they thought they were doing it right.

“So, I got me a pair of long-handled garden shears and I put together a costume out of my cycling clothes and a ski mask.  And I went around, snipping off those goddamn noses.  Every time I saw one, snip!  Off it came!  I must have done hundreds of those morons over that period. But how many thousands were infected by the ones I didn’t get? How many people died or lost their loved ones because those assholes couldn’t be bothered to wear a mask?” His voice cracked. “But I least I did what I could.   And the cops, and not even you, ever came close to catching me.”

Bruce, with some difficulty, got to his feet.  “Well, Mr Garrett, thank you for your honesty.  Now, it’s my turn to be honest with you.”

He leaned down and whispered in the old man’s leathery ear.

“Oh, I knew all right.  And I covered your tracks so the cops wouldn’t find you.”

He pressed something into the old man’s shaking hand and left.

Old Man Garrett opened his hand and looked at what he had been given.  It was a photo of Bruce in his familiar bat costume, and it was signed.  “To the Snipper, with thanks, B.W.”

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Filed under Short story

The Stranger

“Pardon me, but who are you exactly?”

“Well, I’m –” the stranger began but Mrs Evans cut him off.

“Leave him alone, Peter.  He’s all right.”

Peter Evans drew his wife aside and hissed in a loud whisper.  “What’s he doing in our house?”

Josie Evans squirmed with embarrassment.  “Quiet!  He’ll hear you!”

“I don’t care if he does!” Peter roared.  “I want to know who he and what he’s doing in my living room.  Are you knocking him off?  Is that what this is?  And you flaunt it, right under my nose!”

“Mr Evans,” said the stranger.  “I can assure you –”

“Shut it, you!” Peter snapped.

“Peter!  He’s our guest!  I’m sorry,” Josie wrung her hands.

“Don’t apologise to him!” Peter was aghast.  “You should be saying sorry to me.  On your knees, begging for forgiveness.”

Josie shook her head.  “It’s not like that.”

“Ha!” Peter emitted a bitter laugh.  “Then what is it like?  Why don’t you tell me exactly what the hell is going on here?”

“Mr Evans,” said the stranger, “You need to calm down.”

“And you need to piss off!” Peter was red with rage.  “Go on, get out of it.  Get out of my house and never show your smarmy face around here again, or so help me, I’ll –”

He stopped, his mouth working like a breathless goldfish.  He clutched at his left arm and pressed a hand to his chest.

“Peter!” Josie cried in alarm as her husband dropped to his knees, his eyes rolling white like the flesh of hard-boiled eggs.  He fell forward, planting his face at the stranger’s feet.

Josie stooped into a crouch and felt her husband’s neck for a pulse.

“Don’t bother,” said the stranger.  “He’s gone.”

“No!” Josie gasped.  “An ambulance –”

The stranger reached for Josie’s hands and helped her to her feet.  He looked her in the eyes and pressed her hands to her abdomen.

“It’s done,” he said, his voice warm and soothing.  “You are with child.”

Josie frowned.  She looked down at her hands.  Her eyes grew wide with amazement.  She knew, somehow it was true.  She was pregnant at last.

“Well,” the stranger winked, “My work is done.” 

He moved to the door.

“Wait!” Josie called him back.  “We never discussed terms.  Your payment.”

The stranger glanced at the prone figure of Josie’s late husband.  He smiled.

“You’ve already paid.  In full.  I’ll see myself out.”


Filed under Short story

Martina the Marmot

“Cooee, Gran!  Only me!”

Letitia let herself in, finding her grandmother at the kitchen table, a sour look on her face.

“You’re late,” Gran observed, a pout puckering her lips like a cat’s backside.

“I had that thing, remember?” Letitia busied herself with the kettle and teacups.

“What thing?”

“That job interview.  I told you; remember?”

Gran shook her head.  “And?” she prompted.

“And what?” Letitia spooned sugar into one of the cups.

“Did you get the job?”

“Oh, I hope so!” Letitia enthused.  “I know it’s not my big break into acting, but you’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?  Besides, it’s only for the summer.  Until I go back to RADA.”

Gran muttered darkly.

Letitia rolled her eyes.  “I know, I know,” she placed a cup and saucer in front of the old woman.  “I should get a proper job.  Something to fall back on.”

Suddenly, Gran’s arthritic claw of a hand shot out and seized Letitia’s wrist.  Her rheumy eyes searched her granddaughter’s face imploringly.

“It’s not that, love,” Gran’s voice cracked even more than usual.  “It’s that place.”  She spoke the word as if it left a bitter taste.  “They should never have reopened it.  It’s cursed.”

Letitia sighed.  “Not this again.  That was a long time ago, Gran.  You wouldn’t recognise the place.  And they’ve got Health and Safety now.”

Gran shook her head.  “Kiddies died,” she said sadly.  “It was all hushed up.  They said it was a freak accident.  But it weren’t no accident, my girl.  I might be short of a marble or two but I’ll never forget that terrible day.”

Letitia sipped at her tea.  She glanced around the kitchen.  “Got any biscuits in?”

“I’m serious!” Gran snapped, slapping the table.  “You’d best keep well away from that park.  I’m only thinking of your wellbeing.”

“I need the job, Gran.  It’s good money.  All for waving at people all day.  Posing for photos.  You don’t believe the rumours, do you?  You don’t really think Martina the Marmot went rogue and rampaged through the Enchanted Forest?”

“Rumours!” Gran spat the word out.  “Your mother once sat where you’re sitting, all bright-eyed about her new job at the new theme park.”

“My mum?” Letitia blinked.  “You never talk about her –”

“Well, it’s high time you heard the story.  She was pleased as Punch when she got the job.  And to play a main character!  Martina the Marmot, no less!  But, after just a few months, she was tired of it.  Covered in bruises – Don’t go thinking that padded costume will protect you from the pummelling those brats will give you.  All day every day.  She was little more than a punchbag with a happy face.  A what-do-you-call-it, a pinata!  Well, it nearly broke her.

“Then, on the hottest and busiest day of the year, something went wrong.  Martina the Marmot shoved a particularly obnoxious brat into the Fountain of Fantasy.  They tried to save him, but he drowned.  Then she pushed a pushchair into the path of the Choo-Choo of Choice.  Twins!  Gone!  Just like that!  She stormed down Happy High Street, hurling babies through souvenir shop windows.  It took Elroy the Elephant and Gloppy the Dog and a dozen security guards to bring her down.  But when they took off that huge grinning foam head, they found the suit was empty.  There had been nobody wearing it.  Years of hatred and resentment, born of every punch and kick from ungrateful, entitled children, had built up, until the suit took on a life of its own.  Of course, they had to pin the blame on somebody, and your mother took the fall, even though she’d booked the day off to visit the fertility clinic.  On the day it was confirmed that you were on your way, she was arrested and charged with mass murder.”

Letitia shuddered.  Tears sprang from her eyes.  “You always said my mum was dead.”

“As good as, love.  She had her life taken from her just as much as those kiddies did.”

“But – her appointment at the clinic!  She had an alibi!”

Gran smiled sadly.  “The Dalton Wisley Corporation is a powerful entity.  There’s nothing they can’t do.”

A strange light appeared in Letitia’s eyes and a look of grim determination set her features like stone.  “Know what, Gran?  If they offer me the job, I’m going to take it.  I’ll show them.  I’ll show those bastards the meaning of revenge.  Now, where are you hiding those biscuits?”

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Filed under horror, humour, Short story

The Last One

Hond held up a hand, signalling for stillness and absolute silence.  Zarb obeyed, her visor scanning the immediate vicinity for life signs.  Hond’s digit pointed at a tree directly ahead.  Slowly, he raised his blaster.  Zarb saw it, the creature, its eyes first of all.  Two pools of liquid black, unblinking.  Its tiny paw clutched at a leaf and tore it.  The creature chewed at the leaf, its eyes never faltering in their steady gaze.

“There you are, you little fucker…” Hond muttered, taking aim.  His visor showed him a zoomed-in view, the creature’s head divided by crosshairs.

Suddenly, his blaster was knocked aside by Zarb’s weapon.

“What are you doing?” Hond hissed.  “She’s right there.  The last one!”

Zarb’s voice rasped in his headphones.  “We need to think about this.  She’s the last one.  Or so we thought.  My scanner tells me she is pregnant.”

“All the more reason to finish the job before she gives birth.  It’ll save us bullets.  And, in case you’ve forgotten, it will save us a great deal of hassle further down the line.”

Zarb sighed.  She hadn’t forgotten.  The very reason they had come back to this humid, primordial age was to save their present from widescale shortages and extremes of weather.

But now she was faced with the completion of their mission, for some reason she didn’t want to take the final, decisive step.

“I’m not sure we should be eradicating an entire species.  Look, just one mother, one litter.  We could take them back with us.  To be studied.”

Hond shook his helmeted head.  “We have our orders.  That thing cannot be allowed to survive.  We cannot let it become what it will become – what it became.  Oh, time-travel can be confusing.  You know what I mean.  It must not be allowed to evolve.”

Zarb covered her visor with her gloved hands.  “There must be something else we can do.  What if we, I don’t know, alter the temperature around here?  Divert a watercourse.  Then this little thing, as you call it, will take a different evolutionary path.  It might even return to the oceans.  Problem solved.  Planet saved.”

Hond gave her the courtesy of considering her proposal before dismissing it.  “I’m sure the Council thought about that.  It’s too risky.  We can’t let this thing change and grow.  We can’t let it take over.”

“But that’s generations down the line, millions of years from now.”

“And yet, once they’re here, it only takes them a relatively short while to ruin everything.  They must be exterminated.  Now, come on, stand aside.  Our portal won’t stay open for ever and I want to get back for the podball.”

He couldn’t see Zarb’s eyes rolling. Males and their sports! Hond lifted his blaster again and took aim.  There was a high-pitched whine and a flash of light, and Hond’s helmet disappeared.  His headless corpse toppled forward.  Behind him, Zarb lowered her weapon.

The branches quivered and rustled as the creature fled.

“Run!” Zarb urged it.  “Run and have your babies in peace, little one.”

She returned to the portal site and blasted it to oblivion.  There would be no further landing parties.

Well, looks like I’m stuck here! She took off her helmet and breathed the humid air.  Perhaps I can do something to keep an eye on things, see that things don’t get out of hand.

She filled her lungs again and her unaided vision took in the scene around her.  The greenery, the glistening water, the blue, blue sky.  It certainly was a wonderful world.  Zarb would do everything she could to keep it that way.

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Filed under science fiction, Short story

Fast Food

“Delivery!” the liveried cyclist announced, holding up an insulated bag.

The front door was barely open.  Must be shy, the cyclist thought.  He was accustomed to delivering to lots of shut-ins.

The cyclist pulled apart the Velcro strips that kept the lid on the bag.  He reached in and pulled out a cardboard package.  Already, grease from the contents was seeping through to the outside.

“Smells yummy!” he enthused.  “Here you go.”

The door remained ajar.

The cyclist frowned.   “Is something wrong?   You did place an order, didn’t you?  On the app?  You know, Quickie Nosh?”

The door didn’t open any wider, but neither did it close.

“Excuse me?” the cyclist took a step forward.  “But I’d better buzz off.  I’ve got other drops to make.”


“Look, I’ll just leave it here on the doorstep.  No skin off my abdomen.”

He placed the package on the step and backed away, hands in the air.

Before he could hitch his leg over the saddle, something hit him in the thorax, and he found himself being pulled from his bike at great speed toward the house.  Gasping with surprise, he threw out his hands, clutching onto the door jambs, but the force was too strong.  He was yanked into the darkness of the hall and the last thing he heard was the front door slamming shut.

At Quickie Nosh headquarters, the phone lines were buzzing.  Complaints were pouring in from customers who had not received their orders.  The shift supervisor was in despair.  The refunds and free meal vouchers would cost the company a fortune.

“Damn it,” he thumped the despatch desk.  “I’ve told you repeatedly, Stephanie.  Never send our bluebottle employees to make deliveries in Frog Town.”


Filed under Short story

Pride in my work

Many of my protagonists are gay, but their stories are not about the problems of being that way.  They have plenty of other stuff to deal with!   Here’s a brief look at my gay heroes, without giving too much away, I hope.


Throughout the series (currently running to ten books) D I Brough has a couple of serious relationships and also periods of being single (hello, hook-ups; hello, internet pornography!)  He has to deal with turning 40, which is like Death in gay terms, and he has to come to terms with loss, domestic violence, and even a spot of conversion therapy.  All of this while solving bizarre murders.  He is handsome, prefers his hair long, and keeps himself in shape, but he can also be pedantic and snitty. 

OCTAVIUS MINT – Octavius Mint and the Indigo Dragon

Octavius is quick-witted and promiscuous.  Pansexual, I suppose you’d call him (in fact, one reviewer complained they couldn’t tell if he was male or female because of his attraction to both of those genders!  How narrow their world-view must be!).  He spends most of this sci-fi adventure searching for his love interest, ‘Love Interest’, while navigating a life that keeps resetting itself, like a video game.  He can’t understand asexuals at all.  To him they are the opposite of what he believes in (unbridled hedonism, and hey, perhaps the bridle is OK too) and so he tends to see them as the villains of the piece.

HECTOR MORTLAKE & CUTHBERT – The Hector Mortlake series

Victorian fop Hector meets Cuthbert on the Orient Express of all places, in their first adventure Kiss of the Water Nymph.  He employs the younger, more athletic man as his valet – or at least, that’s the facade they present to the world as they bonk their way through some outlandish adventures in exotic locations.  Hector is louche, vain and insecure, while Cuthbert is cheeky and chirpy and, dare I say it, handy with his fists.  There is nothing Cuthbert hasn’t done, nowhere he hasn’t been, it seems, in his short life.  Hector is lucky to have him.

DAMIEN DEACUS – Trapping Fog

Poor Damien!  He is too embroiled in the grisly murders of sex workers in Victorian London to do anything about his proclivities.  He is probably the least queer thing about this book, which I describe as ‘a slice of steampunk’ but he does have a nice line in Cockney rhyming slang.  


Best-selling author Paul is haunted by his past.  Perhaps if he hadn’t fancied his co-worker at the time, there wouldn’t have been the inciting incident that triggers his torment for the rest of the book!  This is my most Stephen King-like novel, so of course, the protagonist is a writer.  I don’t think Mr King has ever had a gay writer as his leading man, but I’m ready to be proved wrong about that.

SPARAFUCILE – The Assassin and His Sister

Pronounced ‘sparra-foo-chee-lay’, this character was inspired by Verdi’s Rigoletto, but don’t let that put you off.   My Sparafucile is dapper and dashing and ultimately too kind and/or incompetent to be an effective assassin.  Good job sister Mad is on hand to do the necessary.  Sparafucile suffers the pangs of love, but it’s not all pain without pleasure.  He’s one of my favourites, bless him.

CARADOC SPRAT – Space Pickle

Captain of space liner, The Merry Widow, Caradoc Sprat is what Captain Kirk might have been like if he were gay and indecisive and involved in Customer Service. Hooking up with an irresistible passenger is just the start of his problems.

QUENTIN QUIGLEY – Quoits & Quotability

What if the protagonist of a Jane Austen novel were a young gay man? That was the question I set out to answer in this Regency romp. Quentin is pretentious, petulant, and proud, infatuated with the local doctor and wary of the impertinent stable boy who seems to dog his every step. Oh, and a lesbian features quite significantly too. Forget Bridgerton; this book would be fabulous on Netflix!

DOMINIC and SEBASTIAN – The Rough Rude Sea

A gay pirate love story fantasy adventure. What more do you want? Inspired by the song Gay Pirates by Cosmo Jarvis, this rollocking, romantic romp puts our two leads through the mill and then some. Bonus points if you can identify the Shakespeare play I nicked the title from.

There is more LGBTQ+ representation in other books.  Banishing The Bogwitch for example (but that would be telling!)  I don’t think queer stories have to be about coming out or homophobia – other people have already written those stories countless times, and probably better than I could.  My characters’ queerness is a facet of their identity, just like mine is of me.  I write books that I would like to read, in the hope that someone else will like them too.

You can look up my books here. They’re all available to download, and some are out in paperback too, for you traditionalists.

Happy Pride Month to all my lovely readers, whatever lights your candle.

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Filed under On Writing, Update


“Dennis!” Carol grinned.  “Lovely to see you!  Come through, come through.”

She stepped back to let Dennis cross the threshold.  “We’re all out the back, of course.”

Dennis nodded.  “Got you on door duty, has he?”

Carol laughed.  “You could say that.”

“I did,” said Dennis.  He lifted his carrier bag which clinked.  “Put these in the fridge?”

He followed Carol along the hall to the kitchen.  The back door was open.  Music played, children played.  Dennis stopped.   He took a bottle from the bag and opened it.

“Don’t blame you,” Carol touched his arm.  “Bit of Dutch courage.”

Dennis took a big swig.  “How is he?”

Carol rolled her eyes.  “Well, you know Colin.  But we’ll have none of that.  This is a big day for him.  Heralding a new start.”

“He’s well shot of her if you ask me.  I’m sorry, Carol.  I know you were friends.”

Carol cut him off.  “After what she did?  That bridge is well and truly burned to cinders.”

“She won’t show up here, will she?”  Dennis’s eyes darted around the kitchen, as though Colin’s estranged, deranged wife might spring out of a cupboard at any second. “Like Maleficent at a christening?”

Carol laughed.  “I doubt it.  Come on.  The kids’ll be thrilled to see their Uncle Dennis.  Do you know, it’s the first time our lot have been able to get together with Colin’s kids for ages.  It’s just like old times.  Well, almost.  Come on; Colin’s on grill duty.  Happy as a pig in muck.  And my David’s manning the bar.”

Dennis finished the beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Just,” Carol raised a warning finger, “Just don’t say her name.  We don’t want to give Colin a setback.  Not now he’s come so far.”

Dennis nodded.  He’d spent months on the phone talking with Colin at all hours about his faithless, treacherous wife.  Friends do that for friends, don’t they?  But there are limits.  Dennis didn’t want to hear it all again, the lies, the betrayals, the secrets uncovered… He just wanted a relaxing afternoon with his old buddies.  Colin needed normality after all the upheaval.  It was a positive step, Dennis agreed, for Colin to invite friends back to his house and home.

He stepped out into the sunlight, narrowing his eyes.  The kids were running around, squealing with delight, trying to catch each other.  There were people Dennis didn’t recognise—colleagues of Colin’s, he presumed—standing around chatting under wide-brimmed sun hats.

“Dennis!” David hailed him from a makeshift counter, a bottle of lager raised aloft.

Dennis made his way over.  Perhaps if he didn’t wander far from the bar, the afternoon might not turn out to be so awkward after all.

“Well met!” David grinned.  “How the hell are you?”

He handed Dennis the lager and clinked his own bottle against it.

“Cheers,” said Dennis.  “Good to see you, mate.”  He leant against the counter and scanned the gathering.  “Everyone looks happy.”

“Relieved, more like,” David lowered his voice.  “Because you-know-who isn’t here.”

“Ssh!” Dennis flapped in mock panic.  “Don’t even think about her!”

They laughed.

“Still, good old Colin,” David reflected.  “Finally getting his act together.  Moving on.  This is a big step for him.  I thought he’d never even try.”

“Phone calls in the middle of the night,” Dennis diagnosed.

“And the rest of it,” David puffed out his cheeks.  “At last now, perhaps we’ll be able to have a night of uninterrupted sleep.”

“Amen!” Dennis held up his bottle for another clink.

“Colin’s a mate and everything,” David continued.

“But there’s only so many times you can hear how much he wants her back.”



They looked across to the patio, where a queue was forming.  People helping themselves to paper plates and serviettes.  At the grill, Colin in a chef’s hat and an apron designed to look like women’s underwear, was cheerfully serving up charred cuts of meat and sausages blackened by fire.

“He looks happy enough,” Dennis observed.  “Last time we spoke, he was in pieces.”

“Ha!” David laughed bitterly.

“What?” Dennis frowned. 

“Nothing,” David shrugged.  “But take my advice and restrict yourself to liquid intake.”

“What do you mean?”

David took the cap off another bottle.  “Remember how throughout his married life, our mate Colin was a devout vegetarian?”

“That was her doing.”

“Yeah, her influence.  Let’s just say if she knew what he was serving up today, she’d be the one in pieces.”


Filed under horror, humour, Short story

Tea with Stepmother

“What’s wrong, love?  You don’t usually come to see me unless you want something.”

Bella blushed.  Her stepmother’s words cut deep.  In the past, family gatherings were to be avoided and Bella had wanted nothing to do with the wicked woman who had married her widowed father.  She toyed with the teaspoon on her saucer, feeling the penetrating gaze of her stepmother’s green eyes looking directly into her, as though she could read Bella’s thoughts projected on the inside of her skull like advertisements on a cinema screen.           

“Your husband,” Bella’s stepmother nodded.

Bella stopped fidgeting and lifted her eyes.“Yes,” she admitted, her cheeks reddening.           

Her stepmother did her best to suppress a smirk but didn’t quite manage to.  “So… ‘happy ever after’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?”           

Bella shook her head, her eyes brimming with brine.           

“Oh, my dear!”  Her stepmother reached across the table and squeezed Bella’s hand.  “Life can’t always be a fairy tale.”           

“I know that!” Bella snapped, instantly regretting her harsh tone.  “I’m sorry.  But I never for the life of me imagined the man I married would turn out to be so… so… beastly!”           

Her stepmother arched a thin eyebrow.  “He was literally a beast when you met him.”           

“I know,” Bella sighed.  “But he was so gentle and considerate.  Uncouth, yes, and uncultured, but he was so eager to learn, to improve himself.  I fell in love with the man beneath the teeth and claws.”           

“And you stuck with him, my dear.  You are to be commended for that.  Your persistence paid off and you broke the spell.  And now you have a beautiful castle and a handsome husband—”           

“Pah!” Bella scoffed.  “You don’t know what it’s like.”           

The eyebrow went up again, the cruel lips pursed.  “My dear, all these years married to your father, I have a good idea.”           

“Oh, I know Daddy’s not perfect, but he can’t be as bad as the monster I’m saddled with.  I’ve never met such a selfish, boorish prig.  And his hygiene!  A rat in a sewer has a better cleanliness regime!  He’s rude, controlling, egotistic and ignorant.  When he’s not being bad-tempered and violent.  I can’t be in the same room when he’s eating.  And the nights!  The nights are the worst of all.  Him huffing and puffing and sweating on top of me—at least that’s all over in a couple of minutes!  I really can’t take any more.  He’s like the exact opposite of how he used to be.”           

“My poor dear,” the stepmother sympathised.  “Well, I’m here, if ever you need a cuppa and a chat, to get away for a couple of hours, but I don’t see what else I can do.”           

Bella’s pretty face twisted into a mask of anguish.  “Please, stepmother; please help me.  I know we’ve had our differences.”           

Her stepmother waved dismissively.  “You were young.  You’d lost your mother.  It’s understandable.”           

“And I also know,” Bella continued, “that you have, shall we say, a special set of skills.”           

Her stepmother’s eyes narrowed to emerald slits.  “Go on.”           

“Turn him back!” Bella blurted out.  “Make him a beast on the outside and a prince on the inside.”           

Her stepmother shook her head.  “I regret I am unable to do that, my dear.  That kind of enchantment is out of my league.  Yet,” she added, seeing her stepdaughter’s distress and disappointment, “I can fix up one of my special apples…”           

Bella perked up.           

“Then, with your husband out of the picture, I can introduce you to a nice young man I know who is suddenly back on the market.  He found out his Mrs was a mermaid!  Can you imagine?  He’s chucked her.  Back in the sea.”           

But Bella wasn’t listening.  She was already imagining her pig of a husband with a shiny red apple rammed in his ignorant gob.

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Filed under fairy tale, Short story

Meanwhile, in the park

“Excuse me, sir?” the boy approached the park bench.  The old man sitting on it looked up from his newspaper with bleary eyes.

“I haven’t got your ball, kid,” he grumbled, dropping his gaze to an article about rising tensions in the Middle East.

“No, I know,” the boy nodded at the football he was cradling under his arm.  “But it really is you, isn’t it?”

The old man ignored him, but the boy was showing no signs of going away.  “I’ve been watching you for weeks.  You come to this same bench at the same time every day, and you sit in the same spot and you read the same paper.”

“And this is a crime?” the old man shook the newspaper to straighten the pages and to show his intent on continuing to read it.

“It’s okay,” the boy lowered his voice and took a step closer.  “I won’t tell anybody.  Your secret is safe with me.”

The old man froze.  Slowly, he lowered the paper and peered at the boy who was smiling, fresh of face and bright of eye.

“What gave me away?”

The boy shrugged.  “The way you walk.   Sometimes you forget to limp.  Or it changes from one leg to the other.  And sometimes your movements are a little too quick.”

The old man nodded.  “You’re observant.  What do you want, a badge?”

“No…” the boy’s tone suggested badges were babyish.  He sat beside the man.  “I want you to train me.  I want to be your apprentice.”

The old man let out a laugh.  “Listen, kid, I don’t know who or what you think I am.  But I can tell you this: I am retired.  I have no need or desire for an apprentice.”

He made to lift his newspaper but the boy snatched it away.

“See!  I can be quick!  Teach me!  Train me!  I can take over where you left off.”

“This is important to you.  Why?”

The boy held up the paper.  “Because of this.  It’s full of problems.  People doing horrible things.  Natural disasters causing misery and devastation.  The world needs…”

“The world needs what?  You?”

“No!  Well, it doesn’t have to be me.  It should be you!  Why did you abandon us?  Why did you hang up your cape?”

The old man sat up straight.  He fixed the boy with a steely gaze, his irises pulsating red.

“You wouldn’t understand, kid.”

“I might!  Tell me why you have abandoned humanity!   Why aren’t you there for us anymore?”

“Because…” He shook his head.  “Because I no longer believe mankind is worth the effort.  I drop in, solve one problem, and you go and do it again.  I rescue people from disaster, and still you persist with the root causes of that disaster.  And the wars.  And the terrorism.  And the oppression, the hatred, the bigotry… It doesn’t matter how many times I save the day, humanity never changes, never gets any better.  And I am sick of it. Now go, before I pop that ball of yours with my laser vision.”

The kid got to his feet, his eyes brimming with brine.

“I hate you!” he snapped.  “What happened to ‘each individual can make a difference’?  That’s what you used to say.  Well, you’re a liar.”

The boy ran away.

The figure on the bench shrank into his old man disguise.  He picked up the paper but couldn’t concentrate.  Two holes appeared in the page, smouldering and smoking, before the entire newspaper went up in flames.

Damn it.  He shed his raincoat and shot up into the sky, a blur of red, white and blue.  Looks like I’m off to the Middle East to knock some heads together.

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Judy’s Secret

While Judy was out, Roger snuck into the bedroom they had shared for twenty years and immediately felt like a fool.  What am I doing, sneaking around, he wondered?  This is my house, isn’t it?  I’m the one paying the bloody mortgage!

He sat on the bed and opened the drawer in the cabinet on his wife’s side.  He didn’t know what he was expecting to find, but for quite some time now, he had the feeling that she was keeping secrets.  Perhaps there would be clues, hidden in plain sight.  He’d seen online that you could download an app to a loved one’s phone and track their whereabouts.  It seemed a bit extreme.  He supposed it was more for people keeping an eye on their children.  He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. But she had been staying out late a lot recently and wouldn’t tell him where she had been…

The drawer rattled as lipsticks rolled and clinked against a jar of cold cream.  Cotton buds lay unused in a packet.  Roger’s fingers brushed them aside, feeling like an intruder, a burglar of his wife’s privacy.  But he kept looking, his mind both eager for and dreading confirmation of his suspicions.

But there was nothing.

He pulled out the drawer and upended it on the duvet.  An eye mask for extra darkness.  Ear plugs for when the neighbours went at it with gusto.

Roger’s heart sank.  He realised he would have to put everything back in the drawer and hope Judy wouldn’t notice things had been touched.

He was about to slide the drawer back into its grooves when he saw something in the cabinet, something taped to the back wall.  He reached in and pulled the object free.  It was silver and looked for all the world like a child’s water pistol.  Why would Judy have concealed a child’s toy in her bedside cupboard?

They had never had children.  His sperm count wasn’t up to it.  He had been led to believe that Judy was okay with that.  She had dismissed the possibility of adopting.  Perhaps the toy was an indicator of her true feelings, her longing for a child…

“What the hell are you doing?” Judy spoke in the doorway, making him jump. 

“Er, I was just fixing the drawer.  Remember you told me it was sticking?  Well, I’m finally getting around to it.”

Judy shook her head.  There had been no such conversation.

“Oh, Roger,” she said sadly.  “I didn’t want you to find out like this.”

Roger gaped.  Confirmation!  There was something going on!

“Who — who is he?” he stammered, forcing himself to look her in the eye.

“Not a he,” Judy sighed.  “They.”

Roger frowned.  This was worse than he thought.

“And who are they when they’re at home?”

“The Imperial Intergalactic Peace-Keeping Army.”

Roger gave a hollow laugh.  “Don’t think you can joke your way out of this!”

“I’m not,” Judy sat beside him and took his hand in both of hers.  “You have to listen.  I know I’ve been distant, lately.  Preoccupied.  Staying out late.  I’ve been going to meetings.  I’ve had no choice.  We are being summoned.  A return to active duty.  The planet is in grave danger.”

Roger stared at her.  His wife was suddenly a stranger to him.

“You know how I never told you about my upbringing.  I just let you assume I’d had a rough time of it and didn’t like to talk about it.  And you know how I didn’t want to bring a child into this house.”

Roger’s mind was racing, having trouble in latching onto what he was hearing and making sense of any of it.

“I have been activated,” she said, spiny gills appearing at the sides of her neck.  A filmy membrane nictitated across her eyes.  “I’m sorry, my love.”

She prised the silver gun from his grasp and pointed it at him.  He stared at the glowing nozzle in disbelief.

“If Earth is to survive, the human infestation must be eradicated.  It starts today.”

Roger raised his hands, a futile gesture of surrender.  It was true what they say, you never really know anyone, do you?

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Dancing with the Devil

The TV producer looked up from his tablet, his nostrils flaring at the sulphurous whiff that had pervaded the office.  He was startled to see a figure standing in front of the desk; he hadn’t heard anyone come in.

The figure was dressed in a shiny black suit.  A blood-red tie matched his eyes.

The TV producer swallowed.  “It’s not time already, is it?  I thought I had a few more years yet.”

The figure waved a dismissive hand.  He perched a buttock on the edge of the desk.  “That’s not why I’m here.  Well, not directly.  In fact, I’d like to renegotiate the terms of our arrangement.”

The TV producer shrank back warily.  “I don’t know what else I can give you.  I’ve already signed away my eternal soul.”

The figure cringed.  “Keep your voice down!  We don’t want everyone knowing our business, do we?  What I want, old chum, old china, is for you to put me in the show.”

The TV producer blinked as the request reached his brain.  “You what?  You – YOU! – want to be on Dance For Your Life?”

The figure nodded enthusiastically.  “I think the time has come.”

“What as?  A special guest?  We’ve got enough judges, thank you.  They’re demonic enough already.”

The figure shook his head impatiently.  “No, no.  That’s not what I want.  I want to be a contestant.”

The TV producer scoffed.  Then his face fell.  “You’re serious.”

“You better believe it.”

“No, no.  It’s out of the question.  You’re not really Dance For Your Life material.  I’m sorry.”

The figure pressed a hand to his blood-red tie.  “It hurts to hear you say that.  I’m not Dance For Your Life material!  What about that hate-fuelled harridan, Ann Whatserface?  You had that vile creature on, galumphing about like a crippled hippo.  She espouses views that even I blench at.  Yet you rehabilitated her in the popular imagination.  She’s now on game shows, talk shows, you name it.  I want some of that.  I want the public to see me in a new light.”

The TV producer looked pained.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t do it.  There’d be an outcry.  From religious people.  Saying we were forcing an alternative, ungodly lifestyle down their throats.”

The figure snickered.  “Wait till they find out what I’m really going to force down their throats when they get to my place!”


“Never mind.  Listen, put me on the show.  I won’t even cheat.  Well, not much.  And in return, I’ll tear up the contract that got you this gig in the first place.  What do you say?”

“For real?  I’d get my soul back?”

“For real!  Even though you don’t really need it in your line of work.”

“I don’t understand,” the TV producer put a hand to his brow.  “There’s a catch.  There’s always a catch.  And there’s more to this than a PR exercise.  What are you really up to, eh?”

The figure tried his hardest to look innocent.  “Who, me?  Oh, all right then.  Yes, I want the masses to love me, blah blah.  But also, and this is the genius of the programme, it provides a distraction.  The nation is obsessed by the series, year in, year out.  It’s all anyone talks about.  Can’t get enough of it.  Meanwhile, my little helpers are working their socks off doing my good works.  And nobody takes a blind bit of notice.  Child poverty?  So what?  Let’s talk about that slapper from the soap opera and the tango she did.  Do you think she’s shagging her partner?  I bet she is.  Deprivation and corruption?  Catastrophic climate change?  Couldn’t give a toss, mate.  I want to post tweets about the twonk from breakfast telly whose trousers split during the paso doble.  Your programme is better than drugs, my friend.  Keeps everyone oblivious to my shenanigans.  And I want to be on it.  The viewers might be willing to let their country go to Hell behind their backs and under their noses.  If they’re not going to take an interest and put up the slightest challenge, the complacent fuckers well may as well watch me dance. One way or another,” the red eyes flashed like warning signs, “victory will be mine!”

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Tough at the Top

Arch-Vizier Strank dipped his head.  He was a slender figure, clad entirely in black, his robes covering every inch of him apart from his face, which hovered like a grey mask.  His headdress stretched to the ceiling, three antlers webbed with silver strands.

“What is it, Strank?” Elida sounded irritated.  She was chewing on her thumbnail again, which was never a good sign.

“Now that I have a moment alone with you, my lady,” Strank’s pale lips curled in what might have been a smile.  “There is something I wish to address.”

“Can it not wait?” Elida gazed upwards in exasperation.  “There are Barbariloids at the gates of the citadel and Night Lurkers swarming in the Murky Mountains.”

“These are indeed troubling times,” Strank agreed.  “Which is why what I have to ask is all the more pressing.”

“Get on with it then,” Elida fidgeted on her throne, her foot tapping in agitation.

“Highness, it pains me to ask this, but certain things have come to my attention that necessitate the question.”

“Less waffle, man!  Get to the point or get out.”

The Arch-Vizier leaned in a little closer than was comfortable.  He lowered his voice, which only served to make it more sinister.

“Your handmaiden came to me in a state of distress, Highness.  I believe you bathed last night.”

“What of that?  You should try it yourself some time.”

“I understand that you prefer to bathe alone.  Unattended, I mean, by servants.”

“It is the only time I get to myself.  What is so peculiar about wanting a little privacy?”

“Your handmaiden tells me that last night she forgot to put out your towels and so she snuck back in to place them within reach.  You were lying back with a flannel across your face and so you did not see her.”

“And what of that?  Honestly, Stranky, I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“You did not see her, but she saw you.  The birthmark above your clavicle.  It was gone!”

Elida scoffed.  “Nonsense!  The girl is obviously a fool.  I’ve had this birthmark longer than anything else.”

She pulled at the collar of her gown, revealing the blemish in question.  It was there, a curving cross, like two scimitars.

“I see,” said the Arch-Vizier.  Then, quick as a flash, he reached out and wiped at the birthmark, smearing the cross.  He showed her the purple dye on the fingertips of his glove.

“This is an outrage!” Elida roared.  “You may not touch me.  I am the Chosen One.”

Strang pulled a face.  “Not really though, eh?  You’re just an unremarkable peasant girl from the sticks after all.”

All of Elida’s anger evaporated.  She seemed to shrink, deflated on her cushions.

“All right, all right, you’ve got me.  But what was I to do?  Things got out of control pretty quickly.  Before long, it was too late to say anything.”

“When the Big Council hears of this, that you lied on your application…”

“No!” Elida sprang to her feet.  “You must not tell them.  The people are counting on me to make peace with the Barbariloids and to rid the land of the Night Lurkers – or is it the other way around?”

“Well, it hardly matters now, seeing how you’re a phoney.”

“What am I going to do?  The future of this realm rests on my shoulders.  I can’t summon balls of lightning with my fists.  I can’t turn my enemies to water and pop them like balloons.  I can’t speak to Fire Demons and enslave them to my will.  I’m useless.”

“Perhaps I might be permitted to step in.  I am no stranger to the arcane arts.  I could raise an army of wraiths.  It might buy you a little time.”

Elida stopped her anxious pacing.  She nodded rapidly.  “Yes, yes, Army of Wraiths. That’s good.  What else have you got?”

“I have a kraken I’ve been secretly nurturing in the moat.”

“Great!  Fantastic!  Unleash that, then.  Anything else?”

“Might I suggest a discreet visit to a tattooist?  To make your distinguishing feature permanent?”

“Yes!  That’s a brilliant idea!  But,” Elida’s face darkened, “Wouldn’t you be better off searching for the real Chosen One?  She must be out there somewhere.”

“Nah,” the Arch-Vizier shrugged.  “I think between us we can make a winning team.”

“Right, then,” said Elida.  She returned to her throne.  Let the Arch-Vizier sort things out.  She would get her tattoo, then have the tattooist and the handmaiden who had blabbed silenced.  And then she would see about getting Old Strank framed for treason or something.

The Arch-Vizier bowed low and stalked out of the room.  Let the peasant girl take the blame for the army of wraiths that was about to slaughter the people and for the kraken that was about to smash the place up.  There will be an uprising and she will be torn to pieces, leaving that throne vacant for a loyal servant of the realm to fill…

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Sir Roger saves the world

“Sir Roger de Lyons! Oscar winner, BAFTA fellowship, three Olivier awards, and a knighthood for your services to British theatre” the General entered the bunker with a smile of welcome.  The octogenarian actor got to his feet and looked the uniformed man up and down.

“I suppose you want me to salute you, do you, darling?” A suggestive pout played on his famous lips.

The General stiffened.  “That won’t be necessary.”

Sir Roger looked around the small grey room disparagingly.  “Where’s this you’ve brought me to?  Some underground club?  I’ve played in some dives in my time, I can tell you.  There was a time when this kind of thing was all the rage.  Your more intimate kind of venue.”

The General cleared his throat.  “You are correct about the underground part at least.  We are three miles below the earth’s crust.  Our defences are impenetrable.  What I am about to tell you is classified information.  Any disclosure on your part and you will be facing charges of treason.”

“I’ve had agents like you,” Sir Roger twinkled.  “You don’t scare me, love.”

“It is not my aim to frighten you,” the General nodded to a subordinate, who activated a screen.  “But what I’m about to show you just might.”

“I’ve heard that before, ducky!”

The screen showed outer space with a grid superimposed.  “Here,” the General used a laser pointer, “is Planet Earth.  Our moon.  Mars… and here,” the image scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, “is the boundary of our galaxy.”

“Lovely at this time of year,” quipped Sir Roger.

The General’s eyes closed briefly as he summoned his last shred of patience.  “We have intercepted a signal from beyond this boundary.  It’s a message.  I shall play it to you now.”

“Oh!  And I have to guess who it is!  Is that what’s going on?  I bet it’s Dickie.  Or Judi.  It invariably is when I’m not available.”

“Sir Roger, this is not a game.  Please, listen to the message and give us your analysis.”

“Alright, love; keep your shirt on.”

The General nodded again.  The subordinate pressed Play.

The bunker was filled with a booming voice, the fruity tones of Sir Roger himself.

“…stout invasion!  Be Mercury and set feathers to thy heels, and fly like thought from them to me again…”

Sir Roger mouthed along.  “Why, that’s me!” he pressed a hand to his breastbone.  “How gratifying!  I thought you’d brought me here to do This Is Your Life again.  I’ve done it twice already.  Once with Eamonn and once with Michael.  I don’t know who they’ve got to do it these days.  Probably some perma-tanned twonk from one of those Essex programmes.”

He suppressed a shudder.

“And the message?  How do you account for it?”

“Account for it?  It’s Shakespeare, man.  It’s a King John I did for Radio Four, yonks ago.  Dickie was in it, too.  And Judi.  Where are they now?”

“So, it’s not a threat?  That talk of a ‘stout invasion’?”

“Set it to music and bung in a dance number and it’s a triple threat I suppose!” Sir Roger laughed.  “I can’t believe you’ve dragged me down here, all cloak and dagger, to play back some old radio thing nobody listened to in the first place.  I’ve read about this kind of thing.  All the broadcast material we’ve sent out, bouncing back at us.  It’s not little green men at all.”

The General and the subordinate shared a look.

“We’ve explored that possibility.  And discounted it.  We firmly believe a hostile force is on its way to invade Mercury.”

“Let them,” Sir Roger shrugged extravagantly.  “Dreadful place.  No atmosphere.”

“They could set up a base there from which to observe and possibly attack Earth.”

“Everyone’s a critic, love.”

“Sir Roger, it pains me to say it, but the fate of humanity rests on your narrow shoulders.  We are putting you in a craft on an interception course.  You can communicate with these beings.”

He nodded to the subordinate, who pushed a button.  Two military policemen arrived and escorted Sir Roger from the bunker.

“Well,” chuckled the general.  “That’s got rid of that insufferable old ham.”

He peeled off his prosthetic nose.  The subordinate took off his beret and shook out long blonde locks.

“Oh, Dickie!” laughed Judi, unbuttoning her uniform.  “You were marvellous, darling.”

“You too, love,” Dickie wiggled his epaulettes.  “You see, the Method can get you anywhere. All those months of masquerading as top level personnel have finally come to fruition. Now come over here and watch the lift-off.”

A launchpad appeared on the screen, shown from a distance.  At the top of a crane, a tiny Sir Roger was being manhandled into a space shuttle.

“Want to pop to the Ivy after this?  Drop of champers to celebrate?”

“Rather!” Dickie enthused.  “But first, I want to make sure he’s gone.”

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The New Arrival

Lord Bracket turned around in the main hallway, his arms spread wide.  Lucinda took in the grand bifurcated staircase, the drooping chandelier, the rows and rows of family portraits in gilded frames with their austere stares.

“They won’t give you an ounce of trouble,” Lord Bracket laughed.  “So many ancestors; I can’t remember all of their names!  Come through to the salon; I hope you’ll find it less intimidating.”

He strode away and Lucinda had to hurry to keep up.  He was right.  The salon was comparatively cosy, compared to what she had seen of Bracket Hall so far.  Here, chintz held sway rather than the gothic starkness of the rest of the building.  A fire crackled and glowed in the hearth.  An overstuffed armchair seemed to invite Lucinda to sit on it, to read, perhaps, or to doze.

“Feel free to explore the rest of the house,” Lord Bracket smiled.  “I expect you’ll want to spend most of your time in here.  Through those doors there is my library.  It too is entirely at your disposal.”

Lucinda smiled in gratitude.  His Lordship had been so welcoming, so kind.  She hadn’t the heart to tell him she could not read.  Neither did she know how she could tell him, for Lucinda was quite unable to speak.

“I have work to do in my study,” Lord Bracket inclined his head.  “I shall see you later at supper, I expect.  And if any of the other occupants trouble you, you must let me know.”

He bowed and backed out of the room, pulling the doors closed as he went.

Lucinda shivered.  She moved closer to the fire to try to warm her hands.  Nothing seemed to shift the cold she felt at her core.

The door opened and a maid came in.  She flicked a feather duster around before coming to a sudden halt.  She shivered.  Lucinda stepped aside as the maid approached to add another log to the fire.

Lucinda reached out to touch the girl.  It had been so long since she had felt the warmth of another human.

The girl stiffened.  She snatched up the poker and whirled around.  “Who’s there?” she stammered.  “Is someone there?”

Lucinda was pained.  She reached for the girl, to comfort her, to assure her she meant no harm.

The girl’s skin prickled.  She dropped the poker and screamed.

Lord Bracket burst in.  “Mabel!  What on Earth has got into you?”

The maid ran screaming from the room.  Lucinda’s head sank to her hands.

“Excellent, my dear!” Lord Bracket grinned.  “Mabel will no doubt tell everyone downstairs about her encounter with our new resident ghost.  Soon, word will get out and people will flock to this crumbling old pile, and I shall be able to afford the renovations it so desperately needs.”

He crossed to a cabinet and poured himself a Scotch.  Raising his glass in a toast to the tortured spectre hovering by the fireplace, he congratulated himself and thanked the occult master who had sold him the spirit trap.

Lucinda wailed but there was no sound.  In her experience, the aristocracy had always been so cold.

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You Will Get Your Reward

Anna sat up in bed with a jolt, gasping for breath.  Beside her, Simon stirred.  He reached a hand to his wife’s shoulder. 

“It’s all right, love,” he said, his voice thick with sleep.  “It was just a bad dream.” 

Anna shrugged him off.  “Not just a bad dream.  The bad dream!  Oh, why does this keep happening?  It’s horrible, horrible.” 

Simon stretched out to switch on the bedside lamp.  “Look, I’ll go down and pop the kettle on.  Why don’t you flick through a magazine or something, to take your mind off it?” 

He got out of bed and went barefoot down the stairs. 

Anna rubbed her face with both hands and was not surprised when they came away wet with sweat.  Beside the bed, a stack of magazines and a couple of frothy novels waited to provide distraction.  On the top of the pile were a notepad and pen, and the beginnings of a speech Anna was due to give. 

Perhaps that’s it, she reasoned.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so anxious lately and the old nightmare from childhood has come back. 

She was booked to give a speech to the sixth formers at her old school, about how she had made a name for herself in business.  It was meant to be inspirational, to show the girls they had options.  There were other lives to lead. 

She was looking forward to it.  It would be fun to go back to the school she hadn’t seen since the day she picked up her A Level results.  I bet it seems a lot smaller, she thought, even though she was the same size she had been at eighteen! 

Simon came in with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. 

“Here,” he handed it over and pecked her cheek.  “This will keep the giant penguin at bay.” 

“Don’t!” Anna frowned.  “Don’t mock me.  I wish I’d never told you about it.” 

“I think you should lighten up,” Simon got back into bed, tucking his feet and his legs under the duvet.  “If you laugh at it, it will lose its power over you.  Come on, love; a giant penguin chasing you and, what’s that it says, ‘Come and get your reward’?  Hilarious!” 

“It’s ‘You will get your reward’ and it’s not funny.” 

“Only trying to help,” said Simon, rolling over onto his side in a huff. 

The day of the speech arrived.  Anna drove through the imposing wrought iron gates and there it was, her old school with its arched windows and its ivy-covered walls.  It didn’t look smaller at all.  In fact, it seemed to loom larger than ever.  It’s because I’m jumpy, she reckoned.  Nervous.  And there’s the lack of sleep… 

She parked around the back, feeling the thrill of doing something illicit just by being in the staff car park.  Silly, really.  She was allowed.  She had been invited

“So good of you to do this,” Miss Jarman, the Head Teacher’s assistant, simpered.  “I know the girls are looking forward to it.  I know I am.” 

“You haven’t changed a bit,” Anna marvelled. 

Miss Jarman blushed and squirmed with embarrassment.  “I’ll just take you to the Head.  She’ll want to see you before you start.” 

She rapped on a panelled door and opened it without waiting for a response. 

“Someone to see you!” she cooed, beckoning Anna over the threshold. 

“Anna!” cried the Head Teacher, Sister Mary Tribulation, rising from her seat.  She extended her hand, the fabric of her voluminous black habit rustling like leaves.  Her smiling face was framed by a white wimple and her nose, Anna remembered that nose, large and hooked – like a beak! 

During the handshake, Sister Mary held eye contact with her guest.  “I hope you’ll be able to stay for a spot of tea afterwards,” she smiled.  “It’s the least we can do, with you giving up your valuable time like this.  Do say you’ll stay and get your reward.” 

Anna screamed and ran out to the car, as buried memories burst to the surface of her mind, flooding out all other thoughts. Memories of punishment, of cruelty and humiliation.  

Panicked, she fumbled the key in the ignition.  It was almost like she could feel the sting of Sister Mary’s ruler all over again. 

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Scooby Don’t

“I’m terribly sorry,” the veterinarian hung his head.  “There’s nothing more I can do.  The kindest, most humane thing is to let him go.”

Velma gasped.  Daphne clung to Fred’s arm.

Shaggy shook his head.  “No, no; this can’t be right.  He’s my best friend!”

“I’m sorry,” said the vet.  “I’ll let you have a moment with him to say your goodbyes.”

The vet withdrew to his office.  The gang approached the table where the fifth member of their mystery-solving group was lying on a blanket.  His tongue was lolling from the side of his mouth and his eyes were half-closed.  Each breath sounded like a struggle.

“Poor thing,” said Velma.  “But he’s had a good innings.”

“What are you saying?” Shaggy was appalled.  “This is one of us!  Not just some ordinary dog.  He’s my friend.  He talks to me.”

“I think you’ll find that’s the drugs talking, you stoner,” chuckled Fred.  Daphne swatted at him.

“You could be a little more sensitive,” she scolded.  “Why don’t we leave Shaggy to say his goodbyes in peace?”  She touched the sleeve of Shaggy’s green t-shirt.  “We’ll be in the van,” she said.

The others filed out.  Shaggy held onto the dog’s paw.

“Oh, my friend,” he fought back the tears.  “I don’t get it.  One minute you’re fine, jumping up and down for snacks, and the next you’re at death’s door.  It just doesn’t make sense.”

He scratched his head.

A thought dawned.  “The snacks!”

He patted his pockets but they were empty.  He ran out to the van.

“You guys!  Where’s that packet of snacks I was feeding him yesterday?”

The others didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You know!” he insisted.  “A red packet.  We bought them last week when we brought him in for his check-up.”

Velma’s jaw dropped.  “Now, wait a minute…”

Stroking her chin, she got out of the van.

“Velma?” Daphne followed her.  “What’s going on?”

Velma paced to and fro.  “He was fine right up until you fed him the snacks, right?  The snacks you bought for him here at the vet’s?”

“Yes!  That’s what I’m telling you!” Shaggy cried.

A look went around the group.  Galvanised, they ran on the spot before bursting into the surgery.  The vet was leaning over the table, a huge syringe poised near the dog’s neck.

“Stop right there!” Velma commanded.  Fred and Shaggy seized the vet by the arms.  It fell to Daphne to pull off the rubber mask that was disguising the vet’s true identity.

“Old Man Ferber!” the gang gasped in amazement.

Old Man Ferber hung his head.  “Well, I got sick of you disrupting my money-making schemes so I posed as a veterinarian to do away with your pesky mutt once and for all.  And I would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.”

Then his eyes rolled back and he slumped.  Shaggy took the syringe from the old man’s neck.

“What have you done?” Velma cried.  “You didn’t have to kill him!”

“He was kind of asking for it,” Shaggy shrugged.

On the table, the dog woke up and saw what was going on.

“Ruh-roh,” he barked.

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Ugo’s Night Out

Ugo let himself in to find Svetlana, his wife, waiting for him in the hallway of their Gothic mansion.

“Sorry, my dear,” he cringed.  “I was trying not to wake you.”

Svetlana threw her hands up in the air.  “You expect me to be asleep at a time like this!  As usual, you are cutting it fine.  The first streaks of daylight are stretching across the horizon.”

“Always so poetic, my darling.”  He pulled her into a hug.  She resisted at first.

“You know how I worry.”  Her arms, like fire-blackened twigs encircled him, giving rise to a chink from deep within his cape.  Her eyes widened and flashed.  “You got them?”

Ugo nodded, his glee reminded her of the child he was all those centuries ago.  He swept back his cape and withdrew several glass bottles from its deep pockets.  Svetlana snatched one and held it up to the cobwebbed chandelier.  The bottle’s contents glowed a deep crimson.

“For the children,” Ugo enthused.  “For their cornflakes in the evening.”

“I will put them in the unfrigerator to keep them warm,” Svetlana swept through to the kitchen. “The bottles, I mean, not the children.”  Her husband followed, his boyish giggle infectious.

“It was touch and go,” he admitted, watching his wife’s slender frame as she stocked the bottles in the cabinet.  “They have a new security system at the bank, including a new guard.  I tried to hypnotise him but, I don’t know, I think he had been eating garlic bread or something, because I could not get close enough to exert my powers.”

Svetlana straightened and looked him in the eye.  “What did you do?”

Ugo squirmed under her scrutiny.  He tried to shrug it off.  “I may have decapitated him, a little.”

“And how does that work, exactly?”

“All right then, a lot.  Totally.  Completely.  Head clean off.”

Her eyebrow arched.  “Clean?”

“Well, I did not have time to tidy up.  I was conscious of the hour.  I only had a quick feed before I took his key card and let myself into the bottle repository.”

Svetlana paced the floor, the train of her black dress sweeping the tiles.  “And you are sure you were not seen?”

“Darling, dearest, you know we do not show up on CCTV.”

Svetlana chewed a fingernail, a black talon, in anguish.  “I do not like it.  There will be clues.  We will have to move on.  Again!”

“Relax and go to your coffin.  It is almost dawn.  I blame the humans.  Messing about with the clocks to shorten the night.”

“Hmm.”  She thought it rather had something to do with the rotation of the Earth, their hemisphere tilting towards the sun but there was no time to argue. She pecked his cheek good morning.  She climbed into the wooden box, lined with the soil of her homeland, and he slid the lid over her, sealing her in darkness.

She knew she’d get no sleep for worrying, and the daylight hours were long.  Welcome to summer time!

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The Bottle

Derek arrived home after six weeks away to find suitcases stacked in the hallway.  “Petal?” he called, dropping his keys into the dish on the side table.  He went through to the kitchen, the living room.  There was no sign of his partner.  He called up the stairs.

“Are you up there, Petal?  What’s going on?”

There were muffled sounds, hushed voices.  Derek bounded up the stairs and into the bedroom.

Petal was in bed.  Alone.

“Taking a nap?” Derek smiled but his eyes darted around the room.  The wardrobe doors were open, revealing half-empty shelves and hangers.  “What’s with all the bags?”

Petal sniffed and blew his nose into a tissue.

“I’m leaving you.”

“What?  No!”

“I’m sorry but it’s true.  The cab should be here in a few minutes.”

Derek sat on the bed and put his head in his hands.  “What did I do wrong?  Tell me.  I’ll make it right, whatever it is.”

“Oh, baby, you haven’t done anything wrong.  In fact, you did something right.  If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met Black Bartholomew.”

“What?” Derek stared at his partner.  “Who?”

“Not my usual type,” Petal reached for a brush to tidy his hair.  “But we’ve got to know each other lately, while you’ve been away on your dives.”

“What are you talking about?  Who is this guy?”  Derek’s eyes widened.  He dropped to the floor and checked under the bed.  “Where is he?  My God, were you two… when I came home?  In our bed!”

Petal chuckled.  “What can I say?  I’m in love!”

Derek stalked across the room and yanked the curtains aside.

“I don’t get it.  You never go out.  You never meet anyone.  Is it someone you found on an app?  Some sleazy pick-up that’s put these stupid ideas in your head?”

“No!” Petal looked shocked.  “I would never!  Listen, it all started after you brought that bottle home.”

“What bottle?  What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know.  The green one with the barnacles.  And the tiny ship inside it.  You said it might be worth something, but I said let’s keep it.”

“And?  What?”

“Well, off you went, diving for something else God knows where.  Little did we know, you’d already brought me my treasure.”

Derek stared.  “I don’t get it…”

Petal laughed.  “I opened the bottle!  Some water trickled out and a puff of green stuff.  But then, that night, there he was, standing at the end of the bed like you are now.  Large as life.  Larger, truth be told!”

Derek blustered.  “So who is he, this Black Barnaby?

“Bartholomew, actually.  He said he was a pirate but he was made to walk the plank because of his… proclivities.  They treated gays badly in those days, you see.”

“So, what you’re telling me is you’re leaving me for the ghost of a gay pirate?”

“Yes.  If you put it like that, I am.”

“Petal,” Derek took both his partner’s hands in his.  “Listen to me; you haven’t been taking your medication.  I know it’s not easy for you, staying here all alone while I’m away, but it’s going to be worth it.  One day I’m going to find something that will set us up for life.”

A car horn tooted in the street.

Petal sprang out of the bed.  “My cab!  Toodles!”

“Oh no,” Derek moved to block the door.  “You’re not going anywhere.  I’m calling the doctor.”

“Don’t be silly,” Petal swatted him aside.  He tripped lightly down the stairs and opened the front door to give the cab driver a friendly wave.

“Shut the door,” Derek said from the top of the stairs.  He was holding the green bottle above his head.  “Shut the door now or I’m smashing this bottle.  You’ll never see your pirate boyfriend again.”

Petal whimpered.  “You wouldn’t!”

“Oh, no?” David snarled.  “Watch me!”

He was about to dash the bottle to the floor when a glowing sword appeared through his sternum.  Gagging and coughing up blood, Derek toppled forward and plummeted down the stairs.

Petal clapped his hands.  “Oh Bart!” he called up to the ghostly outline of a figure on the landing.  “It looks like we’re staying after all.”

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Minnesota Smith and the Board Meeting of Doom

“I’m afraid, Professor, the board has no option but to terminate your contract with the museum and the university.”

Professor Henry ‘Minnesota’ Smith scratched his bristly chin and sneered.  “You stuffed shirts don’t know squat about archaeology.  I’ve filled the shelves of your museum with priceless artefacts from every period in history and prehistory.  I’ve taught classes at the university for years, publishing many papers about my finds and their cultural implications.”

The chair of the board raised her hand to cut him off.  “That’s precisely our problem.  You have filled the shelves, to be sure, but with what?  Nothing but fakes and forgeries, however well executed they may be.  Did you think we wouldn’t seek to authenticate your contributions?”

Minnesota Smith shook his head.

The chair consulted a list.  “Robin Hood’s bow.  You say this came from a dig in Nottingham.”

“Near there,” Smith squirmed. 

“And yet our dating methods show the wood from which it is fashioned to be only months old.”

The other members of the board shook their white heads.

“The Roman statuary.  The paint on them is barely dry.  And here, the stegosaurus egg.  It was warm when you brought it in.”

Minnesota Smith gaped.  “You let it get cold?  You short-sighted fools!  You could have hatched a stegosaurus and made your names once and for all.”

The board muttered and murmured their consternation.  The chair shouted over them.

“Professor Smith.   I have no other recourse than to insist you clear your desk at once.  Hand your pass in to the security station as you leave the premises.  Now, leave; or do I have to summon assistance?”

Professor Smith spat on the floor.  “Everything I brought you is genuine.  Everything I published is true.  But you’re too blind to see it.”

He put on his fedora at a jaunty angle, turned up the collar of his battered leather jacket, and stormed from the room.

Waiting on the broad steps outside the main building, his sidekick, Coral, rose to meet him.

“Well, Minnie,” she had to hurry after him to keep up. “Where next?”

Minnesota Smith stopped. “I’m through with the past.  And the present ain’t no fun neither.  What say we jump ahead a couple of centuries for a change?  Go somewhere where they appreciate the potential of time travel.”

Coral linked his arm.  “Count me in!”

“Just don’t call me Minnie.”

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“Something’s upset you,” Maggie observed.  “You’ve got that look.”

“Have I?” Jenny snapped.  She sighed, “I’m sorry, Mags.  I can’t hide anything from you.”

“No, you can’t,” Maggie laughed.  She gave her friend’s hand a squeeze.  “I’ll put the kettle on and you can tell me all about it.”

Jenny watched as Maggie busied herself with the tea things.  She had known Maggie for years –  decades, now, it must be!  And Maggie was always there for her in a crisis.  And she never asked for anything in return.  There were no phone calls from Maggie in the middle of the night, bewailing the latest crisis.  There were never any crises in Maggie’s life, as far as Jenny could tell.

She realised, as the water came to the boil, that she didn’t really know what was going on in Maggie’s life at all.  Or even if Maggie had a private life!  How terrible of me, Jenny felt ashamed.  Well, that would change.  She would make sure Maggie knew she, Jenny, would be there for Maggie, if and when the need arose.

Just as soon as Maggie had helped her through this latest disaster, of course.

Maggie brought a tray to the table.  She’d put some fancy biscuits on a plate.  Good, Jenny helped herself.  She needed the sugar.

“Now,” Maggie smiled, “What’s all this about?”

“Oh, Mags,” Jenny’s shoulders heaved.  “It’s Malcolm.”

“And what’s the lovely Malcolm done this time?”

“Not what.  Who!” Jenny snapped a biscuit in two.  “Or do I mean ‘whom’?  Oh, I don’t care!  I just know he’s having an affair; I just know it.”

Maggie scoffed.  “I find that hard to believe.  Not your Malcolm.”

“Oh, no?  Well, you think you can trust someone, you think you know someone…” Jenny snatched up her handbag and fished something out.  “I found these in his drawer.”

She held up a pair of women’s underwear.  They were large and plain, and saggy with loose elastic.

“I don’t get it,” Jenny sobbed.  “What kind of woman wears old knickers like that?  And why is my husband cheating on me with a woman like that?”

“Oh, come on,” Maggie shook her head.  “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Well, what is it, then?  Because I’m buggered if I can think of anything other than the obvious.  My husband is cheating on me.  With a frump!”

Jenny put her hand to her eyes and wept.

Maggie chewed her bottom lip, pained to see her friend in such distress.

“Perhaps,” she said, “perhaps it’s time for the truth to come out.  Those are my knickers, Jenny.”

Jenny looked up, horrified.  “What are you saying?  You’re the frump!  Oh, Maggie, no!  I couldn’t bear it.  You, of all people!”

“It’s not what you think,” said Maggie, her eyes watering.

“No?  Then what the hell is it?  And make it good or this teapot is going right up your arse.”

Maggie took a deep breath.  She reached up and pulled off her wig.  Then she peeled the false lashes from her eyes and smudged the lipstick from her mouth.

Jenny was aghast.  “Malcolm?”

Jenny’s husband tried to smile.  “I guess you really did marry your best friend.”

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“Hello, TV 4 U, you’re speaking with Rachel; how may I assist you today?”

Gary Grimes cleared his throat, dry from forty-five minutes of being on hold.  “Ah, hello.  Yes.  It’s about my tv-broadband package.  It’s not working.”

“Oh dear, that’s not very good.  Let’s see what you can do for you… Can I take your name, please?”

“It’s Grimes.  Gary Grimes.”

“Super,” he could hear Rachel typing.  She asked for his postcode and his account number.  Then her tone of voice altered.  “I’m sorry, Mr Grimes, but I’m going to have to terminate this conversation.”

“What? Wait, why?”

“I cannot discuss it further.  Thank you for being a valued customer of TV 4 U.”

Mr Grimes was puzzled.  “Wait!  Please!  Rachel!  I don’t understand.  My payments are up-to-date.  I’ve been a customer for twenty years.  What’s going on?”

Silence.  He could hear Rachel steeling herself.

“I’m sorry, sir, but it appears you have been cancelled.”

“What?  Well, can’t you just reinstate the account?  Or open a new one?”

“No.  Not your account.  You.  You have been cancelled.  I can’t say any more or I’ll get the sack.  Goodbye.”

The line went dead.

Grimes tried to call back but there was not even a dialling tone.  Great, he thought, so now my mobile isn’t working either.

He was about to hurl it across the room when a text message came through.  From his mobile provider.  “Dear Mr Grimes, this unit is no longer operational.  You have been cancelled.”

“What the f—” Grimes tried to call the helpline but the touchscreen wouldn’t respond to his fingers.

Damn it.  He would have to go next door and ask to use their phone.  His heart sank.  He hadn’t spoken to them for weeks, not since they’d had that online argument about whether the Royal Family were worth the money or they should all be locked up for sheltering paedophiles.

Grimes stopped himself from opening the front door. 

He remembered that his Twitter account had been suspended for offensive tweets.  Someone had reported him.  No prizes for guessing who.  That stuck-up twat next door.  Had it gone further?  Had the stuck-up twat somehow reported him to his internet provider, his phone service?   Is that what had got him cancelled?

Well.  No more pussyfooting around online.  He was going to have it out with the stuck-up twat the old-fashioned way.  Face to face.  Who the hell did he think he was?  I was only exercising my freedom of speech.

He stabbed his feet into his shoes and thrust his arms into the sleeves of his coat.  He wrenched the front door open, already worked up into a belligerent state.

He stepped out into nothing.

Empty space surrounded him.  White noise fizzed quietly in the background.

What the f…

He turned around.  His house was gone.

There was nothing.  I’m dreaming, he thought.  That must be it.

He looked down.  His shoes disappeared, dissolving to nothing.  So did his legs, his hands, his arms.

I didn’t mean it, I didn’t mean it!  Grimes wailed but no sound came out, because his throat was gone and next went his face, his brain, his mind.

Within seconds there was nothing left.

Gary Grimes was well and truly cancelled.

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The Mop Girl

Suri was assigned the task of mopping the throne room, the largest room in the castle.  Fine by me, she thought.  It will take all morning, and it will keep me away from the gossiping tongues of the other servants.

In the cavernous hall, she hummed to herself and, liking the way her voice resounded in the room, gave way to full-throated singing, filling her chest with air, and the throne room with her voice.  Up in the highest rafters, a pair of pigeons stirred from their roost.  They circled the ceiling for a while before finding their way out of a window.  Suit yourself, shrugged Suri.  Everyone’s a critic.

Some days, the mop would become her dance partner.  Together they would swirl around the flagstone floor, while music played in her mind.  She imagined her partner whispering sweet nothings or suggestive remarks to make her giggle.  She would curtsey to the mop and thank him for the dance, but she wasn’t that sort of girl, no matter how often it promised to sweep her off to its kingdom overseas, a land of untold riches.

Some days, she kept her energies focussed on the task at hand.  It was tiring work, requiring several buckets of hot water and a lot of backbreaking toil.

Must be getting old, she paused to wipe the back of her hand across her brow.  Oof!  But at least the floor was clean.  When it was dry, she would have to put out the rows and rows of chairs that were stacked against the far wall.  The King was holding court after luncheon; the room would be full of courtiers and petitioners, all vying for His Majesty’s attention.  I wouldn’t know where to start, Suri thought.

She arched her back and felt her joints strain and crackle like twigs underfoot.

Just a moment, just a moment, a quick sit-down before I carry on…

But the chairs were all down at the far end of the room, and she didn’t want to tread over the newly mopped flagstones.

She glanced around.  There was only… No, she couldn’t?  Could she?  Not even for a moment.  They’d lock her up for sure if they found her.  But who would find her, if it was only for a moment?

She stepped up onto the dais and lowered her backside onto the throne.  Exhaling, she sat back.  She lifted her arms to the rests and surveyed the scene, imagining herself a queen with everyone hanging on her every word.  She lifted a hand and waved it in a regal fashion.

Suddenly, something twanged.

Suri’s ear felt hot.  Her hand flew to it and came away wet with blood.

There was an arrow protruding through the back of the throne.

Stifling a scream, Suri leapt from the seat.

Behind the throne, there was a contraption, a large spring that reminded her of a mousetrap.

It was meant for the King, Suri gasped, her hand to her mouth.  But I triggered it.

Her mind was galloping and she couldn’t keep up.  The King —  he would be dead!  He’s much larger than me, the arrow would have come right through…

I’ve just saved the King’s life!  He’ll pay me handsomely for this!  I’ll be a servant no more.  He might even marry me…

She stopped.

How could she tell anyone?  They would know she had sat on the Royal throne, a deed that was strictly forbidden.  She’d be locked up or – her hand flew to her throat – worse!  They’d have her head for this, she was certain.

What to do, what to do, what to do?

Surely the King would want to know he was in danger, that somebody was out to get him?

It was too much.  Who would listen to a simple servant girl who was given to fantasies and daydreaming?

Suri ran from the kitchen, ran from the castle and home to mother. Mother would know what to do.

The Chamberlain entered the throne room half an hour later to check that all was in order.  He was dismayed to find the chairs still stacked and a mop and bucket left unattended.  Then his gaze fell on the throne.  He stepped up to get a closer look.

Damn it.  The trap had gone off prematurely.  Probably it had made the muddle-headed mop girl run off in fright.  Primitive fear of loud noises.

He reset the arrow, plumping the cushions to hide the hole.  Then, summoning some guards to lay out the chairs, he went to consult the housekeeper.  She would know the whereabouts of the mop girl.  The Chamberlain would pay her a visit, to gauge what, if anything, she knew. A pity if she were to become the revolution’s first victim.

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Stepping Out

The reporter cleared his throat, checked his earpiece and waited to be counted in.  “I’m coming to you live from outside Stepworth Hospital, the site of an historic first for the medical profession.  Any moment now, Archie Trotter, the recipient of the world’s first double foot transplant will be walking out of these doors, taking the first steps of the next leg of his life.  I have with me the surgeon who led the team that performed this historic procedure.  Doctor Treadwell, I understand Mr Trotter has made a full recovery?”

Dr Treadwell looked sideways at the camera and leaned toward the reporter’s microphone.  “That’s right, Trip.  The operation itself took fourteen hours but it has taken months of intense physio therapy to get Mr Trotter on his feet again.”

“You mean ‘on someone else’s feet’!” the reporter chuckled.  “And here he comes now.”

The camera swung away to focus on the doors which swished open automatically.  Followed by a herd of nurses, Archie Trotter hobbled into the sunlight, aided by a couple of walking sticks.  He stood straight and took a lungful of fresh air.  He let the walking sticks fall.  The nurses gave him a delighted round of applause.

The reporter hurried up the steps to meet him.  The camera operator lumbered after, wary of trailing cables.

“Mr Trotter, Mr Trotter,” the reporter stuck the microphone under Archie Trotter’s nose.  “Trip Hazard, Teatime News.  How does it feel to be standing – nay, walking again?”

Archie Trotter smiled nervously.  “Er…”  His eyes darted, taking in the microphone, the reporter’s perfect teeth, and the camera lens glinting in the afternoon sun.

“Mr Trotter?”  Trip’s smile faltered.  “A few words for the folks at home, please?  What did it feel like when you took your first steps to recovery?”

Archie Trotter backed away.  He stood on the toes of his right foot and, pirouetting around, kicked the reporter in the throat with his left.

Gagging, Trip Hazard staggered backwards.  A second kick, to his stomach this time, doubled him in half.  Archie Trotter kicked the reporter down the steps.  Dr Treadwell and the nurses rushed to placate their patient, but Mr Trotter administered kicks to heads, jaws, chests, whatever came close.  Within seconds, everyone was flat out on the stairs.

Archie Trotter directed his attention to the camera.  He stared directly into the lens.  The camera operator moved back, stumbling over the trailing cables.  A foot lashed out, filling the screen, and cracking the glass. 

Dr Treadwell scrambled on his belly, a syringe full of sedative in his grasp.  Trip caught the doctor’s arm.

“He’s gone crazy!” the reporter gasped.  “Whose feet did you give him, Doc?  Whose?”

Dr Treadwell shook his head.  “I had no choice.  The hospital trust was pressuring me for results.  There was no alternative.  The only matching donor we had that day–”

The reporter wasn’t listening.  He was already Googling.

“That was the day the Kung Fu killer went on his spree.  The police brought him down in a hail of bullets and the body…”

“…was brought here,” Dr Treadwell’s voice cracked.  They looked over at Archie Trotter who was busy stomping the camera operator’s head to a pulp.  “We had no way of knowing this would happen.  You have to believe me.”

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Based on a True Story

Helena heard the van door slam before the doorbell rang.  Her groceries were here!  She opened the door.

“All right, love?” said the driver, in a bright yellow tabard with a baseball cap to match.  “Delivery.”


The driver paused in his unloading of carrier bags to hand the customer a print-out.  “Some substitutions, I’m afraid.”

Helena grimaced.  She read the list.  Within seconds, she was shaking her head.

“Oh, no, this won’t do.  Instead of tangerines, you’ve brought me lemons.  That’s hardly the same thing.”

The driver shrugged.  “They’re both citrus.”

“Yes, I know they’re both citrus.  But they’re hardly the same.  You don’t just peel a lemon and eat it like you would a tangerine.”

“It’s an acquired taste.  But you know what they say, when life gives you lemons…”

“Life’s not giving me lemons; I’m expected to pay for them.  Well, I won’t.  You can take them back.”

“Suit yourself.”  The driver continued to unload the order.

“And what’s this?  Instead of window-cleaner, you’ve brought me… oh, look!  More lemons!”

“Ah, now, you see, bit of lemon juice will work wonders on your windowpanes.  All that dried fly spit, comes right off!”

“Take them back!”

“You’re the boss.”

“And, here, where I ordered batteries, you’ve sent me…surprise, surprise!  More fucking lemons.”

The driver looked hurt.  “You can’t speak to me like that.  It’s a perfectly acceptable substitution.”

“Let me guess!  There’s enough electric current in a lemon to run a car.”

“Well, that’s an exaggeration.   That’s why you’ve got so many lemons.  To guarantee you have enough power.”

“This is ridiculous. Where’s my detergent?”

“Er, they sent lemons.”

“My moisturising cream?”


“My bathroom cleaner?”

“Guess what!”

“Have you brought it?”

“No, just lemons.”

“Hand sanitiser?”


Helena was exasperated.  “Have you brought me anything I asked for?  Is there anything in these bags that hasn’t been swapped out for lemons?”

The driver lifted his cap and scratched his head.  “I don’t know what to tell you, madam.”

“Fine, fine!” Helena gnashed her teeth.  She began to grab the bags and bring them into her hallway.  “But I’m telling you, this is the last time I order online from World of Lemons.”

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