An Exterminator Calls

Jane was unable to turn onto the drive until the big red van pulled away.  The driver honked in salutation as he sped away, the giant rubber rat on the van’s roof wobbling and quivering like an overexcited jelly.

Odd… Jane got out and locked the car.  She found Brian in the kitchen attaching an invoice to the fridge with a magnet shaped like a slice of lemon.

“Trouble, love?” she asked.

“Looks like it,” Brian shrugged.  “I’ll put the kettle on.”

While he made tea, he explained that since he’d been working more and more from home, he’d become aware of certain noises in the house.  Sounds of movement and scratching around.  In the end, it became so distracting he found he couldn’t concentrate on data entry or spreadsheets or anything and so he had called in an expert, an exterminator.  The man had found nothing as yet but swore blind he had heard something, something large, moving about behind the walls.

“He’s put poison down; that should sort it,” Brian scooped sugar into his cup.  “He’ll be back in a fortnight in case there’s any bodies to be disposed of.”

“Hmm,” said Jane.  She sipped her tea.  As usual when Brian made it, it was horrible.  Her mind was racing.  An idea flashed behind her eyes and she seized on it.  “I could murder a biscuit,” she sighed, knowing full well the biscuit barrel was empty.

“You’re out of luck there,” laughed Brian.

“Oh, please, love,” Jane wheedled.  “Pop down to the shop and get me some hobnobs.  I’ve been on my feet all day.”

“I work too, you know,” Brian wagged a finger.  “It’s not all daytime telly and scratching my belly, you know.”

After a couple of minutes of pleading, he relented, pulled on his anorak and, rolling his eyes, said he might even bring the chocolates ones if she was lucky.

As soon as the front door closed, Jane sprang into action.  She went to the living room wall and rapped on it with her knuckles.  She listened… The knock was returned from the other side.  Jane stuck her head in the fireplace.

“You’ve got to go!” she hissed.  “Brian’s got a man in; you’ll be discovered!”

“Bloody hell!” wailed a voice from beyond the brickwork.  “What’s he doing working from home anyway?  When are we going to have some time to ourselves?”

“Calm down, Colin!” Jane urged.  “He’ll be back in a minute.  Get your arse into gear and get the hell out.  We’ve had a good run but now we’ll have to think of an alternative arrangement.”

“Six months I’ve been living here,” said Colin.  “Six months of having it off with his wife, behind his back, under his nose.”

“Colin!  Will you get a move on?”  Jane cast a panicked look to the window.  Brian could be back at any second…

“I’m starving, chick,” said Colin.  “Make me a sandwich or pass me some biscuits, would you?”

“Brian’s gone to fetch the bloody biscuits, Colin!  Get out of there now.”

“Oh, hold on.  I’ve found something.  Did you put this here?  Hmm, nice… Bombay mix, is it?”

“Colin!  What – no!  Don’t eat anything, Colin!  COLIN!”

At the window, Brian watched, a smirk stretched across his face.  He phoned the exterminator.

“It’s worked,” he said.  “And whatever’s on the invoice, I’ll pay double!”

biscuits

 

 

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A Night Out

Charlie ducked out of the club and turned up his collar against the damp night air.  Another disappointing night.  There simply weren’t the pickings anymore.  Oh well, the students would be back in town in a couple of weeks and suddenly the sea would have plenty more fish.

A figure stepped from the alley between the club and its neighbour, an all-night kebab shop.  Eyes glinted beneath the figure’s hoodie.

“Oh, you’re not leaving already?”  The voice was rich, deep and more than slightly mocking.

Charlie shook his head to signify he wasn’t interested but the man in the hoodie blocked his path.

“I was watching you,” the voice continued.  “Across the bar.  You were looking for something – for someone.  Looks like you didn’t find him.”

Charlie shoulders twitched in a shrug.  “There’ll be other nights.”

“There’s still this one.”  The hooded head jerked toward the alley.  “And it’s still young.”

“And so are we!” Charlie laughed.  “All right then.”

He followed the stranger into the alley.  The walls were wet and slippery; on one side, the pulsating music, a dull, humming throb that got into your bones; on the other, the spicy aromas of the kebab shop, the tang of overcooked fat, the stench of death.

Charlie unzipped the hoodie, revealing the stranger’s incongruously frilled shirt, like something from a costume drama, from a time long ago.  The stranger’s hands, pale and skinny, reached for the buckle of Charlie’s belt.   His mouth nuzzled against Charlie’s neck while his long fingers searched in Charlie’s underwear.

Panting, Charlie sought to pull back the hood, to get a look at the man he was snogging.  The stranger froze, stepped back.

“If you don’t mind,” he said in steely tones, “I’d rather keep it on.”

Charlie laughed.  “I’ve been with worse, mate.  Don’t worry about it.”

The man took another step back.

“Bloody hell,” said Charlie.  “What are you, some kind of vampire or something?”

“Actually,” the man straightened, “I am.”

He swept back his hood to reveal a high forehead, the blue-black hair in a sharp point, the eyes red rimmed and hungry, the cheekbones sharp as the fangs teasing the thin line of his lips.

“It’s not a problem, is it?”

“Not for me,” said Charlie.  “You do what you want, mate.  Just not with me, OK.  Not being funny but it just won’t work.  I’m a – a – Undead too.”

He lifted his Britney T-shirt to reveal the stitches and scars of an autopsy.

“Impressive,” the vampire traced the Y shape with a pointed fingernail.  “But not my thing.  I need the blood of the living.”

“And I need their life-force to keep me going.”

“Oh well, no harm done.”

“No fun had either!” laughed Charlie, pulling his shirt straight.  “Tell you what, Sniffers is still open across town.  We could double up, try our luck there.”

The vampire zipped up his hoodie and linked his arm through Charlie’s.

“Double trouble!” he chuckled, “I’ve never done a three-way.”

They stepped out into the street.  The vampire’s grin glinted in the streetlight.  “I’ll get us a cab.”

alley

 

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Breakfast in Bed

Rebecca woke with a start.  She froze, listening hard.  She held her breath.

Someone’s in the house!

She hitched herself onto her elbows and wondered whether she should get out of the bed and hide underneath it – or the wardrobe, perhaps… Or the window.  She could climb out, then there was a short drop to the garage roof, the neighbour’s fence…

Who am I kidding?  She lay back, head reeling.  How much did I have to drink last night?

Footsteps on the stairs struck terror in her heart.  She whimpered; the handle on the bedroom door turned.

“Morning!” came a chirpy voice, a man’s voice, as a tea tray came in followed by the man in a cardigan who was carrying it.  “Oh, good; you’re awake.”

He held the tray over the bed until Rebecca sat up, then he placed it on her lap.

“Croissants and jam, coffee black, grapefruit juice, just how you like them.”

Rebecca gaped in horror.  “How did – how do you know?  How did you get into my house?”

The man smiled patiently, the circular lenses of his spectacles resting on the ruddy apples of his cheeks.

“There’s no need to get upset, love,” he whispered.  “It’s only me.”

Frowning, Rebecca shook her head.  “No, no, no!  I don’t want this!  I don’t know who you are!  You could be trying to poison me for all I know.”

She flung the duvet aside, sending the breakfast tray clattering to the floor.  She tried to swing her legs to the floor but the effort made her swoon.  She fell back onto the pillow.  The man stooped over her and covered her with the duvet.  He stroked her face.

“There, there,” he cooed.  “No harm done.  You’re just a little confused.  What kind of husband would I be if I minded a bit of confusion after all our years together?”

Rebecca’s mind reeled.  Husband?  Years?  This was all news to her.

She searched the man’s face for something – anything – she might recognise.  He looked kindly enough, she supposed, pleasant… but who the hell he was and what the hell his name was, she had no clue.

“The doctor spoke to us about this, remember,” the man retrieved a syringe from the bedside table.  “And those nice people at the dementia club.”  He tapped the barrel of the syringe and pushed the plunger with his thumb.  A spray of droplets sprang from the needle’s tip.

“There’s a good girl,” he smiled as he took Rebecca’s forearm.  “This will help you calm down.”

As the needle went in, Rebecca stiffened.  Images flashed across her mind.  A hand over her mouth, a dark alley, the boot of a car.  And that voice, that same soothing voice, calling her Sally and saying how glad he was to have her back.

croissant

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Lucky Sandra

“I’m lucky!  Lucky to be alive!” Sandra breathed in the salty tang of the seaside air.  Behind her, her fellow passengers grumbled, wishing the silly bint would hurry up and step off the coach so they could get off and begin their holidays.

Sandra and her friend Tanya collected their luggage from the underbelly of the coach and took a taxi to their B&B.  Sandra drank in the sights as they passed: the glittering promenade, the noisy funfair… Tanya suspected the cabbie was taking the scenic route to fleece them of an extra few quid, but Sandra wasn’t listening.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” she kept gasping.  “After all these years.  I want to visit all the old places – if they’re still standing, while I’m still standing.”

Tanya was less than enthusiastic.  The trip had been planned as a diversion, a getaway to help her get over the terminal gasps of her failed marriage, but Sandra had hijacked it somehow and made it all about herself.  She had visited this very coastal resort as a small child.  The place held many fond memories of her father – before The Accident that had robbed young Sandra of what the neighbours called ‘a steadying male influence’, much to her mother’s annoyance.

“No men in your room after ten o’clock,” the landlady wagged a finger.  “Unless you bring one back for me an’ all.”

Sandra and Tanya cackled obligingly and headed out to explore the promenade.

“In here first.”  Sandra pulled Tanya toward a newsagent’s.

“But we’ve got newsagents at home,” Tanya protested.  “I want fish and chips.”

“We’ve got fish and chips at home,” Sandra countered in a mocking tone.

“Not like here,” Tanya pouted.  “They always taste better at the seaside.”

Petulant, she waited outside while Sandra went in.  Supposed to be my holiday, Tanya frowned.  Supposed to be doing what I want to do…

An elbow nudged her from her moody musings.

“Here you go, Tan,” Sandra offered her a scratchcard.  “Got us one each.  I’m feeling lucky.”

They found a bench, unearthed 50p pieces from their purses and rubbed away at the cards.

“Huh,” Sandra was deflated.  “A measly two quid.  Oh well, got my money back, I suppose.  Hold on while I go and cash it in for another couple.”

“No – you hold on,” Tanya caught her arm.  “Look,” she paled before Sandra’s eyes.  “I’ve…won!”

“You never have!”

“I have!  Look: a hundred thousand smackers!  I’m going to be sick.”

Sandra snatched the card and pored over it, searching frantically for some error or small print that discounted the win, but no, it was true: Tanya had won the top prize.

“Of course, by rights this is mine,” Sandra sniffed.  “I paid for it.”

Tanya reached for the card but Sandra held it at arm’s length.

“Oh, don’t be like that, San.  I’ll give you half; of course I will.  Goes without saying.”

She lunged for the card; Sandra pushed her away.

A seagull swooped down and snatched the scratchcard from Sandra’s grasp.  To the women’s dismay, it flew off, soaring over the beach.

“Ah well,” said Sandra, but there was a gloating glint in her eyes.  “Easy come, que sera.  Looks like we’ll both remember this place for what we have lost.”

“Oh, give over,” wailed Tanya.  “Perhaps we can go after it.”

“Too dangerous,” Sandra shook her head.  “Like when I tried to wade out after my dad on his wayward airbed.  A strong current took him; a cheeky seagull took your money.”

“Oh, so it’s my money now we’ve lost it.”

Brightening, Sandra leapt to her feet.  “I fancy those fish and chips now,” she announced.

“I hope it bloody chokes you,” muttered Tanya.

gull

 

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One-to-One

“You wanted to see me, Janice?”

Team Leader Janice Fairbrother glanced away from her monitor and beckoned him in.  “Yes, come in, John; pop yourself on a seat.”

Smedley pulled up a chair and waited for Janice to finish typing.

“Just pinging this off… and there!”  She pressed SEND with a flourish and then turned to Smedley with an earnest expression.  “I’ve called you in because it’s been quite a while since we had a one-to-one.  I’m sure downstairs can manage without you for five minutes.”

Smedley nodded.  He kept his palms flat on his thighs, willing them not to sweat against the polyester trousers he was obliged to wear.  He could guess what this was about but when someone is about to open a can of worms, you don’t hand them the can-opener.

“Are you happy here, John?”  Janice’s eyes sought his, giving her a more bovine expression than usual.

“It’s OK,” he shrugged.

“Getting on well with everyone?  I like my team to be happy bunnies.”

“They’re OK.”

“Hmm.  Well, I’m not one to beat about the bush.  When I see a spade, I call it one right away, no messing.  It’s just that I’ve noticed – and Head Office has noticed – you’re not your usual chirpy self down on the shop floor.”

“Hmm.”

“Now, we don’t expect you to be all-singing and dancing, doing flipping backflips every five minutes – Health and Safety would be on my back in no time.  Janice, they’d say, this is a frozen food shop not a flipping circus.  But we do expect certain levels of courtesy, John.  Service with a smile.”

“Yes, I know – I’ll do better.”

“You look tired, love.  I think you’re taking too much on.  Working two jobs is affecting your performance.”

“Oh, now, look –”

Janice threw up her hands.  “Far be it from me to tell you how to live your life, sweetheart.  But my priority is the team.  The business comes first.  Now, I expect that’s what your other boss says as well.  So it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.”

“No, it’s –”

“So think on!  And get those pearly whites on show.  Your face won’t crack, I promise you.”

She turned her attention to her monitor and set her fingers tapping.

Smedley stood.  He put the chair back where it had come from.  As he made his way through the building, his phone buzzed.  It was his other boss.

“Is it done?”

“Yes.”

“Get yourself out of there.”

“On my way.  I was thinking about quitting anyway.  Just one question.”

“No questions; you know that.”

“Spies and diplomats, I can understand.  But the team leader of a shitty frozen food shop?”

“Let’s just say it’s personal.”

The line went dead.

Smedley had enough time to retrieve his jacket from the locker room.  As he walked away, the entire upper storey of PriceFreeze went up in flames, the windows bursting outwards in a shower of flame and glass, as the device he had concealed under the chair in Janice’s office detonated right on cue.

Smedley got his pearly whites on show.

Many miles away in a top secret location, Nigel Fairbrother deleted an email refusing him a divorce.

Freezer

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Warren makes Peace

“I can’t believe you have done this!” Steven’s voice cracked with anger.  Warren panicked.

“Keep your voice down!” he hissed.

“Make your mind up,” Steven complained.  “You bring me here because you say you want to talk and now you’re telling me to pipe down.”

“It’s just that the walls are thin and my mother’s in the next room.”

Steven laughed.  “You still live with your mother?  Christ.  Then don’t you think you should have found somewhere – I don’t know – a little more private for this – whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.”

“I – I – wanted to – needed to talk.”  Warren put his fingertip on the upturned glass.  Overhead, the dim blue light from which Steven’s voice was emanating flickered in time with Steven’s laughter.

“Oh, I think we’re beyond the moving-the-glass stage, don’t you?  And if you want me to spell out a message letter by letter, I remind you I fucking hated Scrabble.”

Warren despaired.  Things weren’t going well – the opposite to the way he had hoped, the way he had rehearsed and rehearsed.  Where was Steven’s gratitude, for one thing?  Warren supposed the dead have little to be grateful for.

“So, what do you want to know?” the blue light flickered.  “What it’s like over here?  Frankly, there’s not much to tell.  It’s all one big fat load of nothing.”

“No – no, there’s some things I want to tell you.  Things I never said when I had the chance.”

“Christ.  Not this again.”

“Look, I know I was a pain in the arse sometimes.”

“Putting it mildly!”

“And I’m sorry you had to block me on social media and everything.”

“So you said.  You were becoming obsessed with me and – look at you now! – you haven’t changed!  You just can’t let me rest in peace, can you?  You just had to summon me with your little incantation and your little trinket thingy.  Take a hint for once in your life.”

“But you still came!”

“I didn’t have much choice.  Don’t take it as encouragement, for fuck’s sake!”

“Listen!  There’s not much time.  To make up for all the hassle I caused you, let me do this one little thing.  And then you’ll never have to speak to me again… Unless you want to.”

“I won’t!  What thing?”

“I’ve been studying.  The amulet, the incantation, they’re just the start of it.  What would you say if I could bring you back?  You could live again!”

“I’d say you were round the fucking twist.”

“Possibly – but look!”  Warren sprang across the room and whipped the duvet off his bed.

“Fuck, no!  No!” The blue light flared angrily.  “Tell me you didn’t.”

“Ta-daa!” Warren grinned.

“You dug me up!  You went and fucking dug me up!  What, you couldn’t have me when I was alive so now you – You’re sick, man.”

“No!” Warren blushed.  “It’s not like that.  This is for you.  Let me complete the ritual and you’ll be right as rain.  And you probably won’t hunger for the flesh of the living at all.”

The blue light swooped over the bed, scanning the desiccated corpse, shrunken in its Sunday best.

“But – people know I’m dead.”

“Go abroad.  New life somewhere else.  It’s the least I can do.”

The blue light circled Warren, scanning him.

“It’s crazy!  You’re crazy!  But you’d go to all this trouble for me?”

“I really was your friend, you know.  I just didn’t know how to show it until now.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

The blue light hovered in front of Warren and took on Steven’s form.

A sharp knocking on the bedroom door was followed by Warren’s mother’s voice.

“Warren Makepeace!  You better not have anyone in there, do you hear me?  We’ve talked about this.  You promised me you wouldn’t do anything unnatural.”

blue light

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Boruba Makes a Deal

Garlo Baint sneered.  His stubby tusks caught the light of the low-hanging lamp above their booth.  Across the table, Boruba Meinfarb maintained a poker-face.

“It’s a good offer,” she repeated.

Baint grunted.  “So you keep telling me.  I do not like to be rushed.  Another round of drinks.”

He signalled and a waiter materialised, bearing a tray.  Baint tossed him a few coins without looking and the waiter withdrew.

“I’m thinking I could get more…” Baint stroked the wiry hairs on his chin.  “More than what you’re offering – if…”

His eyes flickered.  In an instant, two henchmen appeared and seized Boruba’s wrists.

“…If I sell you on the open market.”

“You duplicitous hog,” Boruba spat.  “The deal was to free my sister.”

“And so I shall.  Then we shall see if she will stump up the cash to broker a similar deal for your release.”

Boruba sighed.  How could I be so dense, she scolded herself?   I should have guessed Baint would double-cross me.  I should have listened to Zed.

The waiter returned.  “Is there a problem here?” he intoned.

Baint waved him away.  “Keep your nose out or lose it.”

“Very well,” the waiter nodded.  Boruba rolled her eyes.

“No, it’s not very well!” she cried.  “These men are trying to abduct me for the slave trade.”

“Against your will, madam?”

“Of course, it’s against my bloody will!  Do you think anyone willingly becomes a slave?”

“Should I alert the manager?”

“That would be lovely.  Thank you.”

“Hey!” Baint got to his trotter-like feet.  “This ain’t no ladies’ tea party.”

He reached for his weapon but the waiter was quicker on the draw.  He pulled out his own plasma-blaster and bashed the tray off Baint’s brow into the bargain.

“At last!” said Boruba.  The waiter peeled off his face to reveal her partner-in-crime-busting, Zed Bronco.

A couple of Hongoolian martial arts moves later and Baint and his henchmen were trussed up and under arrest.

“My hero,” said Boruba.  She pecked Zed’s cheek.

“One question,” Baint snorted.  “Do you even have a sister?”

The slavering slaver went ignored.  Linking her arm through his, Boruba steered Zed toward the exit.

“I just might have to post a review praising the service in this place,” she cooed into his ear.

“Permit me to give madam a tip.”

“Oh, Zed!” she slapped his arm.  Laughing, they went to their hotel.

boar

 

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Indoor Watch

Billy Rain hated Indoor Watch.  Indoor Watch was boring.  There was no one to talk to, for one thing; you just had to stand stock still in a corridor like one of those suits of shining armour Lady Fireblast had on display throughout the castle.  Empty armour could do this job just as well, he grumbled to himself, and I could be out there in the sunshine.  Perhaps having a bit of a paddle in the freshwater pond he knew was beyond the castle grounds.  The very thought of it made his toes itch.

A sudden noise roused him from his wishful thinking.  Instantly alert, he pressed his ear to the thick, oaken door he was supposed to be guarding.  Behind it was the apartment of Lady Fireblast’s daughter, the Infanta Svetlana.  It was Billy’s rescue of her from a gang of hoodlums on the High Road that had won him his post in the Guard.  That day had changed his life forever.  So too for the Infanta: she had not been seen in public since the attack.

Beyond the door: silence.  Billy Rain hesitated.  What if the Infanta was in trouble?  What if some accident had befallen her?  What if an intruder had climbed in to accomplish what the thwarted hoodlums had not?

Steeling himself – which was ironic, considering he was already clad in armour – Billy Rain turned the handle, shaped like a dragon’s head, and pushed the door open.

The chamber was dimly lit.  Heavy drapes blotted out the sunlight.  The air smelled stale and… of porridge!  Billy Rain slipped in a puddle of it, landing with a clang on the flagstone floor.  A silver platter lay nearby, along with the remains of a shattered china bowl.  The wall and the back of the door were newly redecorated by a splatter of creamy oats.

As though someone had dashed their breakfast against them…

Billy Rain began to suspect the intruder was a Goldilocks figure – Don’t be silly, Billy!  Affrighted of storybook characters!

He got to his knees and then to his feet, using the staff of his pike as an aid.  A pair of blue eyes stared at him from the shadows beneath the four-poster’s canopy, two turquoise gems resting on velvet.

“Your Highness,” Billy cleared his throat and bowed as much as his armour would allow.  “I didn’t mean to wake you.  I heard a noise.”

The Infanta did not respond.  But then she wouldn’t, would she, he remembered?  Ever since her rescue, Svetlana Fireblast had not uttered a word.  The castle was rife with rumour.  She’d be better off if those louts had murdered her, the poor lamb, the lesser folk gossiped.  Instead of being shut up in her room, shut up in herself, all dead on the inside.

Billy Rain approached the bed.  The Infanta was propped up on pillows, her face pallid and expressionless, her mouth slack and her eyes – those brilliant jewels – unmoving and unblinking.

“I thought happed I’d better check it out,” said Billy.  “The noise.  Looks to me like somebody didn’t want their porridge.”

Behind him, the door slammed shut.  He almost jumped out of his armour.

A draught, happen… But no; all the casements were shut and curtained.  Billy Rain was at a loss.

The Infanta didn’t seem to know he was there.  He dared to wave his gauntleted hand in front of her eyes.

Nowt.

He sighed and reckoned he ought to get back to his post.  And to think, I’d been mithered about being stuck indoors for a few hours!

The door wouldn’t open, pull on it as he might.  He tried to prise it open with his pikestaff but the weapon was torn from his grasp by an unseen hand.  It flew across the room and directly into the forehead of a portrait of Lady Fireblast.

On the bed, the Infanta did not, could not, move.  But her eyes were shining a little brighter.

“You did that?” gasped Billy Rain.  “And I reckon you chucked your breakfast at the wall an’ all.”

Svetlana Fireblast said nothing, did nothing.  But the porridge on the wall began to shift and crawl.  Billy Rain watched, transfixed, as a message took form.

WHY BRING ME BACK?  I WAS RUNNING AWAY

Billy Rain’s jaw dropped and his knees buckled.

What the hell was he supposed to do now?

blue-eyes-hi

 

 

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The Baron has a visitor

“You will hardly know we are here.”  Lord Holdfast was strutting around the state room as if he owned the place –  My state room, Baron Dumplypump grumbled in his seat at the head of an otherwise empty table.

“But ten thousand men!” he cried, exasperated.  “I have neither the room nor the resources to accommodate –”

Lord Holdfast cut him off with a patronising smirk.  “That has all been taken care of.  We have been commandeering provisions from farms and villages en route and as for the sleeping arrangements, we shall pitch our tents on common land.”

“Then why, prithee, do you need me at all?” Dumplypump blustered, setting his chins awaggle.

“My men need to rest,” Lord Holdfast deigned to perch a slender buttock on the edge of the table, “and your stronghold is ideally situated, being within coo-ee of Fireblast’s territory.  And, since we were passing, I thought the opportunity ripe to pop in and invite you to join us.  What do you say?  Your army joined with mine; Lady Fireblast won’t know what’s hit her!”

The baron performed a good impression of someone mulling it over when, in truth, the idea had already occurred to him.  To join with Holdfast and unite against the scourge of the Eastern Realms!

As always in these situations, it did not pay to appear too keen.

“I think…” he said, as archly as he could, “…that is an excellent idea.  But I do not wish to appear inhospitable.  I shall send casks of ale to your men to bid them welcome.”

“Capital!” Lord Holdfast stood.

“And you shall dine with me this evening, My Lord.”

“You are exceeding generous, Dumplypump.”

“Osterban, please.”

“And I am Terkus.”

The men nodded curtly to each other.  Lord Holdfast clicked his bootheels together and strode out.  Baron Dumplypump let out a girlish giggle.  He rang for Nebbish, his chamberlain.

Having given the servant his orders, the baron slipped into his private chamber.  He drew aside a velvet curtain to reveal a tall looking-glass in an ornate frame.

“My Lady?”

The surface of the mirror seemed to shimmer and a shadowy figure appeared, slender and sinuous and with glowing eyes like emeralds.  Out poured the Baron’s news, his words tumbling over themselves like horses in a stampede.

“Excellent!” said a voice like scraping on the glass.

“And the poison in the ale should be taking effect right about now,” Dumplypump tittered.  “I cannot wait to see Lord Stuckup’s face when he finds himself alone and surrounded by thousands of my men.”

The image in the glass grew as the figure stepped closer.  It took on the shape of Lord Holdfast and an arm reached out and seized what it could find of the baron’s flabby neck.

“Treacherous toad!” Holdfast spat.  The baron choked and spluttered.  Holdfast stepped from the frame and drew his dagger.

“Wait, wait!” Dumplypump cried.  “We can still work together!  We can take that bitch down!”

Holdfast’s nose wrinkled as though the baron had emptied his guts on the flagstones.

“I don’t think so.  You see, this was all a test, my fat, flabby friend; and you failed.  I don’t have ten thousand men; I have barely half a dozen.  Those casks of ale were sent back to your own troops.  A modest bribe to your man Nebbish allowed me access to this room.”

Dumplypump gaped.  “All is lost!” he quailed.  “I’ll get you for this!” he roared as Holdfast shed the cloak that had been his disguise.

“Oh, yes?” Holdfast arched an eyebrow.  “You and whose army?”

castle tower

 

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Space Nuptials

Boruba Meinfarb adjusted her veil and gazed at her reflection, now hazy, in the full-length mirror of her dressing room.  To her, the veil seemed redundant, a sentimental throwback to her intended’s heritage on Old Earth, when, in more barbaric times, men would wed their brides unseen.  Ridiculous now to cover her face when Zed Bronco had memorised her features – if the sketches he kept sending her were any proof.  The drawings had helped to win her over, eroding her resolve.  Zed Bronco was many things but he was also loyal and his affections unwavering.  And good-looking to boot!

A comms link booped.

“Ready for you, Miz Meinfarb,” intoned the voice of the robo-minister.

“Right.”

This is it!

She smoothed the bodice of her arctic-white dress, noticing her hands were clammy.  Why am I so nervous?  Beings get married every day.

Steeling herself, she entered the wedding chamber.  An android rolled up on caterpillar tracks, offering to give her away.

“Bug off!” she snapped.  She began her slow and steady progress along the aisle, at the head of which her groom was waiting.  Even with his back to her, Zed Bronco cut a dashing figure.  Her heart fluttered.  He had rented an intelli-fabric Tuxedo that shaped itself to show off his  physical attributes, its colour changing with his moods.  At present it was a serene shade of blue.

How is he so calm, Boruba frowned?  I’m like a Hongoolian jumping bean on a griddle.

The rows of seats she passed were sparsely attended.  Robotic witnesses for hire sat patiently, their smiles painted on.  Neither she nor Zed had what you might call friends.  It had always been just the two of them in their on-and-off relationships, professional and personal.

At last, she reached his side and the soft organ music which she only now realised had been emitting from the belly of the robo-minister faded to silence.  Zed glanced sideways and his wedding suit flashed red – just for a nano-second but Boruba grinned.  He is nervous!

“Dearly beloved,” the robo-minister began, his teeth glowing, the chromium dome of his spherical head gleaming.

“Never mind that!” Boruba cried, drawing a plasma-blaster and shooting the robot’s head off.

“What the flub?” Zed sprang back, his suit oscillating between yellow and green, the fabric as confused as he was.

“I can’t do this, baby,” Boruba pouted sadly.

“But – but – it’s always been you and me and always will be!” Zed protested.

Boruba tore off her veil.  “I can’t do this!”  A sob escaped her.  “Run, Zed!  Save yourself!”

“What?”

“It’s all a lie, a trick to lure you here.  Go!  I’m so sorry!  I love you, I truly do!”

It was too late.

The witnesses surrounded them, shedding their metal casings to reveal the henchmen of Zed’s greatest enemy, Dorudine Bigshot.  All the colour drained from Bronco’s Tux.

“You sold me out!  How could you?”

“It’s what we do, baby.”  Boruba tossed him a weapon.  “But I regret it now.  What say the two of us blast our way out of here and get a new start?”

“Go on then,” Zed shrugged.

They stood back to back and started shooting.

space bride

 

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