The Tattooed Hand

Murphy sat back and rubbed his eyes, as though that would enable him to see the kid across the table in a new light.  Hard to believe this skinny, preppy streak of piss could rip a man to pieces with his bare hands but hey, here we are.

Hard but not impossible.

“Come on, kid.  Save us both a lot of time and effort.  It’ll go easier on you if you co-operate.  Make your confession.  You killed that guy; time to admit it.”

Beside the kid, a lawyer shook his head and put a finger to his lips.

“Kid?” Murphy prompted.  “We got the guy’s blood on your hands.”

The kid looked at his lap where his hands, clean now, were wrapped the one over the other.  He looked up and met the detective’s gaze.

“I already told you, I was walking past the alley when some guy rushed out, knocked me over and ran off.  That must have been how I got the blood on me and – there’s – this.”

He uncovered his hand and held it up.  Murphy took in the intricate design: a mountain of gaping, grinning skulls, with a sword at the summit.

“Nice ink,” he said flatly.  “Where’d you get it?”

“I – don’t remember.”

“Drunken night out, was it?  Wake up next day with a headache and a bunch of regrets?”

“No – no, I – don’t drink.  I’d never seen it before until your officers cleaned me up.  It was there.  Under the blood.”

Murphy’s eyes darted to the lawyer, whose pursed lips suggested the kid might be going for an insanity plea.

“That tattoo looks pretty old to me, kid.  Some of the lines are smudged and faded.”

It was true – but at the top of the pile, several of the skulls were sharp and pristine as if they had been recently added.

“I keep telling you, I don’t know how I got it.  It just – showed up.”

The lawyer leaned toward his client and murmured something the kid apparently didn’t like hearing.  In a flash, the kid leaped to his feet, his tattooed hand seized the lawyer’s throat and crushed his windpipe.  He discarded the body; the lawyer’s chin struck the table on its way to the floor.  Murphy was quick to react: he sprang back, drawing his gun.

“You better stay back, kid.  Don’t make things no worse for you.”

Uniformed cops burst in.  They grabbed the kid’s arms but he kicked out, knocking Murphy’s gun across the room.

“Your turn now, detective,” the kid cried out as he was dragged away.  “It’s your turn now!”

Murphy stooped to pick up his gun and was startled to see the kid’s tattoo blossom on the back of his hand, like blood seeping through a bandage.  At the top of the pile grinned another newly-added skull.

skulls tattoo

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Deal of a Lifetime

First of all, I’d like to thank you for inviting me into your lovely home.  It really is quite – well, let me put it this way: it has real potential.  It’s a real fixer-upper!  Is that what you have in mind?  Fixing this place up?  Or perhaps you want to move to something bigger?  With a better climate!  Somewhere where it’s hot all year round!  I can think of somewhere…

If it’s travel you’re into, the whole world is your oyster – if it’s pearls you want, you can shower yourself with them and any precious stones you can think of!  The only limit is your imagination.

Perhaps you just fancy the idea of limitless funds in your bank account.  That’s OK, too.  Then you can dip into it whenever you like.  You can splurge to your heart’s content; it’s never going to run out.

And you can put that money to good use.  Charities!  There’s a lot of need, a lot of suffering in the world these days – same old same old, am I right?  But think of the good you could do!

You’d be famous!  Or, if you don’t like that sound of that, your donations could be completely anonymous and only you would know.  Imagine the secret thrill of knowing you had changed someone’s life!

Honestly, the possibilities are limitless.  You would want for nothing.  You’d be set for life!

Of course, I am honour-bound to draw your attention to the small print.  Nothing much to worry about.  The usual blah-blah.  In exchange for anything you want, I get, upon your death (and let’s hope that’s a long time coming, am I right?) your immortal soul to do with as I wish.  Are we clear on that?

Now, are you ready to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime deal?  Or do you have questions?  Questions are good, questions are welcome.

What’s that? You want what?

Oh, no, sorry!  Can’t help you with that.  I’ll have my pen back, if you don’t mind!  Inviting me in here, making me go through the whole spiel.  If you’d told me at the start all you want is to be rid of your depression, you could have saved me the effort.

There’s nothing in this deal for me.  You already know all the torments of Hell.

Bloody time-waster!  I’ll see myself out.

devil-md

 

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The Night-Watchman

“Oh no, you don’t, sunshine.  Stop right there!”

At the sound of the night-watchman’s voice, the slender figure in black raised its hands.  The beam of light from the night-watchman’s torch danced around the scene.  At first glance, everything seemed to be intact – then how had the bugger got in?

High above the intruder’s head, a skylight was ajar, letting in the chilly night air.  A rope ladder dangled like a broken pendulum.

“Don’t you bloody move!” the night-watchman threatened.  He sidled to a nearby control board, twisted a key and pressed a red button until it turned green.  The skylight whirred and clanked into place.  “Right, sunshine,” the night-watchman shone the full beam of his flashlight into the intruder’s face.  Only the eyes, blue and squinting, were visible; the rest was covered by the coarse wool of a balaclava.  “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”

“Three guesses, grandad.”

A young woman’s voice.  The night-watchman chuckled.  “You’re from the university, aren’t you?”

“Might be.”

“You kids and your idealistic nonsense.  Animal liberation, is it?”

The intruder didn’t reply.

“Look, love, you’re barking – up the wrong tree, I mean.”

“I’m not your love!”

“You should be so lucky!” the night-watchman laughed.  The young woman gasped, aghast.  “What I’m saying is, you’ve got it wrong.  There are no animals here.  Not even a mouse.  This is a strictly controlled environment.  Air quality, temperature, light – well, it was until you forced your way in.”

The young woman jutted her chin in defiance.  “Don’t feed me your lies, grandad.”

“Now you’re being ageist!” the night-watchman interjected with a look of faux offence.

“I’m sorry,” the intruder faltered.  “But I don’t believe you.  Everyone knows what goes on in here.”

“Do they?”

“Yes!”

“Are you sure about that, lo –  I mean, are you?”

“Well, it’s wrong, isn’t it?  Everybody knows that.”

“Wrong?  Wanting to feed people is wrong?  I may only be a part-time security bloke but even I know there’s a food crisis going on.  I don’t claim to know all the science behind it but it seems to me the boffins here are heroes.”

“Bah!” the intruder crossed her arms.

“No, hear me out.  They’ve come up with a way to provide meat for everyone on the planet.  Healthy, sustainable meat that doesn’t decimate the rainforests and – this is for all you bleeding hearts – doesn’t involve the harming of a single living creature.  Now, you tell me what’s wrong with that?”

The young woman opened her mouth, stretching the fabric of her disguise, but she couldn’t reply.

“That there,” the night-watchman directed his torchlight at her boots, “That tank you’re standing on fills this entire enclosure.  It’s the width and breadth and depth of a swimming pool and it’s full of ethical protein – or will be, when it finishes growing.”

The young woman looked down.  She was standing on one of the narrow metal walkways that crisscrossed the tank.  A pink substance, glowing faintly, pulsated beneath the clouded Perspex.

“It’s wrong!” she persisted.  “It’s Frankenstein food!”

“Think of it, love!  World hunger solved!  Deforestation halted!  Factory farming a thing of the past!”

The young woman put a hand to her brow and shook her head.

“Come on, love,” the night-watchman held out his hand.  “In the spirit of compassion, I’m going to let you go.  I’ll take you to the way out and no harm done, eh?”

“I –” the young woman’s knees buckled.  The night-watchman rushed to catch her.  He steadied her on her feet and helped her along the walkway.

“You’re bleeding,” he observed, as red drops landed on his hand.  “Must have cut yourself when you forced that skylight.”

“I’m – sorry –” the young woman sounded dazed.

“You just be sure to tell your friends at that university not to trouble us again, OK?  You can do that for me, can’t you?  And let that be an end to it.”

The young woman nodded weakly.  The night-watchman took her through an airlock and the car park beyond.

“Releasing you back into the wild, love,” he laughed.  “Off you go!”

“Sorry,” the young girl was downcast.  She shuffled away.  When she was some distance from the compound, she straightened and laughed to herself.  Job done!

The night-watchman returned to his office and put the kettle on.  Kids, eh?  They mean well but they should do their homework first.

On the bottom right screen of a bank of monitors, unnoticed by the security guard, the intruder’s blood seeped through a tiny crack in the Perspex.  Beneath the lid, the pink mass darkened and trembled.

And an appetite for human blood was born.

torch

 

 

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Accept or Decline?

Alistair’s phone pinged on the bedside table.  His sleepy arm groped for the device and Alistair squinted, trying to focus on the message.

You have a friend request

He had to read it three times.  A friend request!  He hadn’t received one of those in a long time.  It was part of the problem.

He lay back and rubbed crusty sleep from his eyes.  Light washed over his face as he held his phone aloft like the lamp on a dentist’s chair.

Who on Earth would be sending me a friend request?

There was, he knew, only one way to find out.

He swiped the notification aside, thereby opening his email app.

To respond to your friend requests, please log into your MyLife account.

Alistair pressed the link.

MyLife… He thought he’d deactivated that account years ago.  Oh, well…

The MyLife log-in page filled the screen.  Alistair typed his email address into the username box, having to redo it three times until his fingers work up and gave their full cooperation.

Please enter your password

Oh.

Damn it.

What the hell could that be?  How was he supposed to remember every goddamn password?

He tried the usual.  He tried variations of it.

A warning flashed red:  You have one more log-in attempt before your account is locked

Shit.

Alistair admitted defeat and pressed the ‘Forgot password?’ option.  He had to re-enter his email address and wait for a reset link to come through to his inbox.

Two minutes later, it did.

Now, what to choose for the new password?  Did it matter, he reflected?  It’s not like I’m going to need it again.

He typed.

Goodbyecruelworld

It was rejected.

Passwords must contain at least one numerical character

OK.

Goodbyecruelworld69

Please confirm your password

Alistair obliged.  The box disappeared and his MyLife homepage swelled to fill the screen.  Alistair felt a surge of recognition as he scrolled through names and faces, pictures of people he used to know.  So-and-so’s eldest had just graduated.  Such-and-such was getting pissed in a Majorcan nightspot.  Whojimmyflop was ‘feeling annoyed’ and, evidently, craving attention.

Ha ha!  They were all there, still living their lives, still chronicling every event, every mood swing, every cup of coffee.

Alistair was tempted to give the odd post his approval.  Would anyone remember him?  Would he be able to forge anew links with old school chums, distant relatives and his erstwhile friends?

His thumb hovered over the update button.

How’s YourLife? the screen prompted him.

Alistair shook his head.  It all came flooding back, the reason why he’d sought to distance himself from social media in the first place.

None of it was real.  Nobody really gave a shit.  People just keep posting edited versions of themselves, photos filtered, to show how great a time they were having, to show that they were still living.

Oh, So-and-so has checked into a fancy restaurant.  Such-and-such is at his kid’s football match.  Whojimmyflop is debating getting a haircut and is canvassing opinions.

Big deal!

Who are all these people?

Alistair would bet they weren’t all as happy as they pretended.  He’d bet So-and-so was overweight and that’s why all his selfies are taken from a high angle to hide the chins.  He’d bet Such-and-such only got to see the kids every other weekend and only then with supervision.  He’d stake his house that Whojimmyflop was a shut-in who spent all day in his pants, pounding at the keyboard, posting gifs of kittens and trolling celebrities.

No, I’m better off out of it, he decided.  Better off out of everything.  He had come to that decision long ago when pulling the plug on social media had resulted in his total isolation and crippling agoraphobia.

He reached for the bottle of pills.  Time for some real deactivation, he thought grimly.

But the bottle was empty.  Puzzled, Alistair sat up and leaned over – perhaps he’d knocked it over and all the pills were on the floor… He couldn’t remember taking them.

In his hand, the phone buzzed insistently.

You have a friend request

“All right!  All right!”  Alistair tapped the glowing icon of a little person waving hello.

You have one friend request from Saint Peter. 

ACCEPT or DECLINE?

hand

 

 

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Father’s Day

“It is Father’s Day, Taryn, the twenty-first you have seen.  Therefore, you must come forth and take your place in the chamber.  This is an honour bestowed on only the very few.  It is the moment for which you have been prepared your entire life –”

Taryn crumpled the letter and tossed it into the hearth.  The flames seized it hungrily, turning the parchment bright orange and then black as it was devoured.  If only that were an end to it, thought Taryn.  If only things were that simple.

A knock at the door startled him.  It was Vestus, the priest.  “Are you decent, boy?” the old man cooed from outside.

Fuck off, Taryn cursed under his breath, along with several other indecent thoughts.

“The hour is upon us.”  Vestus pushed the door open.

“Hoi!” Taryn protested.  “I’m getting dressed!”

Vestus kept his milky eyes averted, a smile bending the wrinkles of his cheeks.

“To think that one of mine, one of my own, should be chosen!  It is a miraculous thing!”

Huh, thought Taryn, pulling the white robe over his head.  This is what being a good student gets you.  This is what knuckling down brings.  This is where bettering yourself gets you.  Bloody ‘chosen’.

Vestus risked a glance.  “You look – radiant, my boy!”  The eyes began to water.  “People are going to remember you for all time.  The radiant one, they will call you.  The golden boy.”

“Father Vestus…” Taryn sat on the bed.  “What if – what if I don’t feel like it?  What if I don’t want to go?  What if –”

The old priest’s knotted claw seized Taryn’s hand.  “You are bound to be nervous, my boy.  It’s perfectly natural.  But once you have drunk of the sacred elixir, all that will vanish.  All doubt will evaporate like the morning dew – which reminds me: we have to get a move on.  We cannot keep the elders waiting.”

He shuffled to the door but before he could reach it, Taryn flung himself at the hunched back and brought the priest to the floor.  Taryn clasped his hands around the old man’s bony neck and squeezed the life from him.

Minutes later, in Vestus’s hooded garb, Taryn shuffled out of the hut and through the streets.  The crowds were gathering for the annual sacrifice to the Father.  It was all Taryn could do not to run.  He kept his head down and his pace slow and made his way to the city gates.  They were unguarded – everyone and his dog was heading for the temple.

Taryn slipped out and took his first breath of freedom.  It would not be long before the alarum was raised.  Someone would find the old man’s body when they came to investigate the delay.

Taryn quickened his step.  Over the mountains lay another city, another life.

And the first thing he would do upon arrival would be to inquire what were the local customs when it came to Father’s Day.

temple

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Beware! The Peckish Dead are abroad!

With his third adventure now available, here are some thoughts about unlikely hero, Hector Mortlake.
The Man
Working as a hack writer, Hector Mortlake when we first meet him is single and seeking inspiration.  He embarks on a trans-European journey and, inspired by Chaucer, decides to collect tales from his fellow travellers with a view to deciding a winner.  Hector is a bit of a prig but basically a decent cove.  And he’s gay, which, at the fag end of the 19th century is not quite the thing to be.  He meets a younger man named Cuthbert on the Orient Express and they team up to defeat a horrific Water Nymph.  Hector enjoys lording it over his new valet although it is quite clear the pair are devoted to each other, and it is Cuthbert who most often ‘wears the trousers’, so to speak.
Hector’s past is much of a mystery – he’s remaining tight-lipped about his background but I suspect details will be teased out in future novels.  We know he has aspirations to move in higher social circles and would love to earn enough from writing to be able to retire.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that he is good enough!
The other love of his life is his car, Bessie, an early Mercedes Benz.
Bessie
The Books
We first meet our arrogant narrator in KISS OF THE WATER NYMPH – an account that turns out to be his first bestseller.
Kiss+of+the+Water+NymphHis second exploit, XOLOTL STRIKES! turns out to be his first flop, despite being as outrageous and outlandish an adventure as the first.
xolotl
Now, his third and craziest tale is available to the public – will Hector achieve his goal and re-top the bestseller list?  Or will he be consigned to the bargain bucket of poorly-selling fiction?
peckish
Victorian hack Hector Mortlake and his trusty valet Cuthbert are at it again. This third outing takes them to the Scottish Highlands – but that’s just the start. A mysterious portal and a ghostly gang of ghouls threaten to separate the pair for good. With a host of new characters and their craziest story yet, Hector and Cuthbert deliver high adventure and shameless innuendo in equal measure. Fans of William Stafford’s inimitable style will not be disappointed.

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The Mantle of the Bat

I approach the boy with caution.  I say ‘boy’ – recent tragic events have shown him to be more of a young man.  Emphasis on the ‘young’. I have to say.  He is not ready for this.  No one is ready for this.

He is sitting at the desk, slumped over the blotter.  He has tilted back the head of the bust of Shakespeare and his finger toys with the red button exposed by the Bard’s decapitation.  He presses it again and again.  Behind him, a door disguised as bookshelves slides open and closed, open and closed.

I clear my throat and make a suggestion of soup to keep his strength up or perhaps a cup of tea.  He barely registers my presence.  Beneath his mask, his eyes flicker.  I wait.  Eventually, he straightens and looks at me.

“People will know,” he says.  “After all this time, how careful we were – Everyone will know.”

I know at once what he is talking about but I act as if I do not, just to keep him talking.   Saying anything is preferable to the quasi-catatonic state he has been in since it happened.

“With him – and Bruce – disappearing at the same time, never to be seen again – People have come close before.  They’re bound to put two and two together.”

I want to say I can’t see how that matters and perhaps it is time his guardian’s efforts to keep the city safe are recognised.  But I hold my peace.

The boy – he is the young master now, I suppose – pushes away from the desk as though repulsed.  He strides around the study, yellow cape swirling behind him.

“They’ll come for me!” he stops in his tracks.  “They will know who I am and they will come for me.”

He launches himself at me and seizes the lapels of my tailcoat.

“Alfred!” he urges, spittle spraying onto my pencil moustache.  “You’ve got to get me away from here.  I can’t stay here – like – like a – like a – sitting robin!”

A bell chimes.  The front door.  I glance at the grandfather clock.  The mail!

I leave Master Dick and cross the hall to receive the delivery.  There is no mailman on the doorstep, just a package, a box wrapped in red ribbon.  There is no label but two slashes of red, curved to make a broad and grotesque grin identify the sender.

That diseased maniac…

Gingerly, I pick up the parcel and remove it to an outhouse at the far end of the grounds, wary that it might explode in my face at any second.  So, he has worked it out already.  Others would not be far behind.

I hurry back to the study.  Master Dick has changed into sweater and slacks, looking all the younger because of it.

“You have to help me pack, Alfred,” he paces the rug in front of the fireplace.  “I must leave the country and live the life of a fugitive.”

Ka-BLAM!

The sound of the shed blowing up rattles the windows and sets the chandelier aquiver.

“Already?” Master Dick pales.  “I must leave!  Now!  You can send my things after me.  I’ll send you a code – my coordinates.”

“Master Dick!” I snap, getting his attention as surely as if I had slapped his face.  I move to the Shakespeare bust and press the button.  “Just one more sighting of the caped crusader will put everyone off your scent and then you may remain here at Wayne Manor in peace and unmolested.”

He frowns.  He’s not getting it, but I am already embracing the fireman’s pole like a koala in a eucalyptus, ready to descend to the subterranean cavern, the hub of the late master’s endeavours.

Master Dick’s eyebrows lift.  “Holy sacrifice!  You would do this, Alfred?  For me?”

“Why, yes!  And for Master Bruce and for everything he stood for.  I shall put myself about a bit, rough up a couple of ne’er-do-wells, that sort of thing.  The time has come,” I announce dramatically, “for me to assume the mantle of the Bat!”

And do you know what?  I’m rather looking forward to it.

bust1

In memory of Adam West 1928 – 2017

 

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Quilp’s Quest

“Are you sure you were not followed?”  Professor Quilp’s eyes darted up and down the narrow street before he closed the door, bolting it and turning the hefty key in the lock.

I gave him every assurance that I had stuck to his instructions to the letter, doubling-back, zigzagging my way through the bustling souk, even turning my coat inside out at one point.

He nodded but I could tell he was too agitated, too worked up to be satisfied.

He ushered me into a darkened study; the only illumination came from a green-shaded desk lamp.

“Did you bring it?”  The prof was practically salivating.

“Of course!” I felt in my pockets.  Panic struck me.  I patted myself down while the professor trembled with anticipation.  Then I remembered my coat was inside out!  Seconds later, the item was produced.  Quilp snatched it from me and held it under the lamp.

“What is it?” I had to ask.  To me it looked like a worthless washer of the kind you can buy for a dime a dozen at any hardware store, but the professor was smacking his lips with delight.

“This, my boy, is the next part of the puzzle.  This is the ring from the staff of Amon-Ra.  This ring enables the staff-bearer to direct unfathomable power!”

“Oh.  Cool, I guess.  And where is this staff or Eamon Holmes, or whoever?”

“Amon-Ra,” the professor gave me a sour look.  “The staff is the ultimate prize of our quest.  First, we must translate the markings on this ring.  There’s a man at the British Museum who is mustard at that sort of thing – but he has, alas, been kidnapped and it falls to us to release him from his captors; we are not the only ones interested in acquiring the staff.  Then we must secure transport to Cairo, where a contact awaits with the other half of the map that reveals the location of the sacred daggers we shall need to fight off the demonic, hound-headed sentinels who guard the submerged temple of Bastet, which contains the scroll with the incantations to summon an army of scarab beetles that will devour our rivals and lead us to the Valley of Peril where we must solve the riddles of the Sphinx in order to pass through to the Forbidden Realm.”

He paused for breath.

“Gee, I don’t know, Professor,” I rubbed the back of my neck.  “It sounds like an awful lot of work to me.”

Our eyes met for a moment.  I thought Professor Quilp was going to yell at me or at least tell me how disappointed he was in my attitude.

Instead, he gave me a sad little smile.  He tossed me the flat little hoop.

“You’re right.  I’m far too old for this kind of thing.  Go, boy, into the kitchen.  I think you’ll find that doodad is just the thing for fixing the dripping tap.”

egypt-clipart-clipart-best-egyptian-clip-art-1229_2388

 

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Fuggoff

Dwight exited the landing craft with caution.  He waved to Delilah to stay back.  “No signs of life,” he scanned the shoreline.  “And under no circumstances lift your visor.  The air…” he paused to check, “…is toxic.”

Delilah didn’t care to be left behind.  She defied the orders of her commanding officer and stayed close behind him as Dwight picked his way across a grey and ashy beach.

“There’s no birds,” she whispered.  “I can’t hear any birds.”

Something skittered in the undergrowth.  Delilah yipped out a little scream.  Dwight shook his head.  “Keep your stun-stick primed,” he advised.  “No one has heard a peep from them in years but you never know.”

The foliage was sparse, as if it couldn’t be bothered.  Chunks of stone slabs showed greasy between the tufts of green and brown.  The explorers followed the slabs, like stepping stones across a bog, towards the tumbled wrecks of broken buildings, slumped sullenly beneath a lowering grey sky.

“What happened here?” Delilah wondered out loud.

Dwight shook his head again.  “Neglect,” it looks like.  “Just left to rot.”

They ventured further; the broken slabs became the ghost of a path, a square, a highway.

“Do you think they were happy?” Delilah craned her neck to look at the upper storeys.

“Who?” frowned Dwight.

“The – people.  Who lived here.  So far out.  All alone.”

Dwight shrugged and shouldered his stun-stick.  “I don’t give a shit.  Just keep your eyes open.”

“Um – might be a bit late for that, Dwight.”

He spun around to find Delilah with her arms raised.  A ragtag creature with a sharp stick and a wild look in its eyes was holding her prisoner.  Dwight tensed, his stun-stick at the ready.

“Fuggoff,” barked the creature.  “Gerrout oveer.  We doan wancha.  Fuggoff.”

He was joined by others, similar in stature and ragged state.  They were emaciated and filthy, their eyes dull and their expressions vacant.

“Fuggoff,” they repeated, building to a feeble crescendo.  Delilah squeaked with fear and disgust.

“We’re going,” said Dwight.  He reached for Delilah’s hand.  The chanting mob fell silent.  The first one grunted and shoved Delilah from him.

“Fuggoff,” he added.  “Bladdy forrinners.”

“All right!” Delilah hooked her arm through Dwight’s.   “Jesus.”

“I’ll just leave this here,” Dwight said calmly.  He reached into his suit.  The natives tensed.  Dwight withdrew a golden envelope made of plasti-metal and placed it on the ground.

The natives sniffed and grunted suspiciously.

“Come on,” Dwight urged.  He led Delilah back the way they had come, their pace increasing as they drew near to the craft.  Delilah looked over her shoulder while Dwight summoned the boarding ladder.

“Do you think they’ll read it?” she chewed her lower lip.  “Can they still read, do you think?”

“Who knows?” said Dwight, ushering her inside.  “We’ve achieved our mission.  It’s up to them now.   They tried to go it alone, outside of the Federation but, well, just look at it.  What a shit-hole.”

He pulled the door shut behind him and began the take-off procedure.  Delilah, helmet off, shook out her long, pink hair.  She put her arms around him and placed her chin on his shoulder.

“We’ve done our bit.  We’ve invited them back.  They can be prosperous again, if they want it.  It’s their choice.”

“It was back then,” said Dwight with a sigh.

The craft barely hummed as it rose through the atmosphere, away from the derelict world, to reunite with the mother-ship.

blast off

 

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Meanwhile, on the pirate ship…

Doll heard Bart’s familiar footstep tap-tapping across the gangplank.  She wiped her hands on a towel and went up top to greet him, leaving the galley in the capable hands of Reginald the cabin boy.

Her husband was leaning on the gunwale, staring out to sea, his back to the harbour.

“Hello, love,” Doll took a step closer.  Bart did not turn around.  “Love?”

His shoulders slumped.  Flintlock the parrot flew from him with a squawk and flapped his way to the crow’s nest, screeching in protest.

“I tried, m’dear,” Bart seemed to deflate like a punctured bladder.  “But those scurvy dogs won’t give an inch.”

“But – but – what are we supposed to do?  How are we supposed to live?”  Tears sprang to Doll’s eyes.  It was Reginald she felt sorry for.  The lad knew no other way of life.  “You showed them your leg?”

“Aye, that I did, Doll.”

“And?”

“They peered at it, asked how I’d got it, so I told them about that altercation with that shark.”

“And did they say you could claim compensation?”

“They said it wasn’t a work-related injury, what with us being on holiday in the Bahamas at the time, and because we had no travel insurance – well.  They did day I could sell it to an antique collector or some such.  Lovely bit of carving – they did say that, at least.”

“But – if you sell it, you won’t have a leg to stand on!”

“Told them that an’ all.”

“Your hook!  Did you show them your hook?”

“O’ course I showed them my damned hook, woman!  But when they heard how I lost my hand in a duel with French Peter, they said I should take the blackguard to court. Only I can’t, can I, seeing as how I sent French Peter to Davey Jones’s locker.”

“Your eye, then!  What did they say when you lifted your eye patch?”

“They – they laughed at me.”

“They what?”

“When I told them I how I come to lose my eye.”

“Scurvy landlubbers!” Doll seethed.

“Oh, come on, love.  It is pretty funny when you think of it.  Me only just having the hook fitted, then ol’ Flintlock shitting in my eye and without thinking I reach up to wipe it off and – well, you know the rest.”

He put his good arm around her and pulled her close, planting a kiss on her brow.

“We’ll get by, love.  We always do.  I’ll just have to do a few more raids, that’s all.”

“But how?  There’s no crew because there’s no booty to pay them with.  You’re only half the man you used to be.  You’re old – I’m old.  Why can’t we retire?”

“Because, my dear, as you well know, when he sank to the bottom of the ocean, French Peter took our treasure map with him.  That was our nest egg, our security.  I never thought of taking out a blasted pension.”

Doll gave up fighting back her tears.  “So, we have to go on working, do we?  Pirates until we drop.”

“Arr,” said Bart sadly.  “It ain’t such a bad life, me hearty.”

But even he did not sound convinced.

“Avast!” roared young Reginald, joining them on deck.  “Don’t cry, Doll.”  He patted the arm of the woman he had come to regard as his mother.  “I say we aim our guns at yon DWP office and blast it off the map.”

Bart tousled the boy’s hair.  “Belay that.  The Department of Work and Pensions has got offices everywhere.  We can’t attack them all.”

Reginald sniffed.  He put his arms around the pirate captain’s great belly.

“Look at us, lily-livered, yellow-bellied landlubbers,” Bart smiled.  “We’ll do fine.  I heard tell while I was in the harbour of the shiny new Royal yacht heading this way.  Plenty of plunder on that particular waste of public money.  We shall be set for life!  Now, up anchor, splice the main brace and set a course to intercept.  There’s life in this old sea dog yet!”

With that, Black-Eyed Bartholomew straightened his tricorn and took hold of the wheel.  The Saucy Susan set out to sea.

pirate ship

 

 

 

 

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