Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy what you find here. Whilst you may not agree with everything I post, if you respect my right to my opinion I'll respect your right to disagree with it and we should get along just fine. :)

Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

Right then, on with the blog...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories Christmas Special: The Cleaner

This is the Christmas episode of my ongoing web serial, The UCF Stories, which I update weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through Goddess Rising, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Crowley however, was still up, having promised himself another chapter of A Guide to Inner Transformation before bed. And so it was that the only creature awake when the cleaner came knocking was a rather large, grey rat.

A pair of rubber-soled shoes landed with scarcely a sound on the kitchen lino. The cleaner paused for a moment, removing his balaclava to wipe perspiration from his face with a black handkerchief. A spare little man, the cleaner had the sort of face that could lead to a legitimate charge of “sneaking” even while sat in an armchair drinking tea. The sort of person for whom close-fitting black clothing had been specifically designed, despite the discomfort writ large upon his face as he adjusted his trousers.

Setting his backpack down carefully on the kitchen table, the cleaner producing a net, a large sack and a pair of what appeared to be army surplus night vision goggles festooned with extra lenses. He was particularly proud of the goggles, his own design, each of the lenses enchanted to see through a different type of magic.

Replacing the balaclava, the cleaner pulled on the goggles, thumbing the power switch. His vision swam for a second until the goggles came online, the kitchen now a fuzzy, speckled green. He crept towards the door.

* * *

Crowley almost squeaked with excitement. In that last chapter he had finally found what he was looking for. It was all so ridiculously simple, he thought, slapping his paw to his forehead. Crowley began to murmur a chant.

* * *

Aveena was never quite sure afterwards whether the sound of Crowley's book falling off the sales counter, or the cleaner stepping on the squeaky floorboard in the passage woke her. She sprang from her makeshift bed in Goddess Rising's stockroom poised for action and crept to the door. Slowly pulling the door open just a little, she glimpsed a particularly disagreeable aura padding slowly into the shop. Aveena shrugged, ink running into her hand until she was holding a wickedly sharp knife before opening the door and creeping out into the passage.

* * *

Sweat matting the fur of his snout, Crowley continued to chant. He felt decidedly strange, as though something grew inside him. It was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate but he persevered, the book suggested he only had one shot at this.

With a flash of eerie blue light, Crowley's rat skin split from snout to tail, a grey cloud blossoming out into the shop. Writhing, the cloud expanded upwards as it coalesced into a roughly humanoid shape.

The eerie blue light played havoc with the cleaner's night vision goggles. He was fumbling with the settings when he heard a man's triumphant shout. Clawing the goggles from his face, the cleaner stared bewildered at the bald, portly man standing naked before him in the shop. The cleaner was sure he hadn't been there a few seconds earlier.

'At last!' roared Crowley.

Phut, phut. The cleaner's silenced pistol spat twice, the bullets catching Crowley neatly in the heart.

Crowley's body slammed into the lino, his outstretched arm pulling a stack of books from the counter as he fell.

The cleaner sucked in lungfuls of air to ease the trembling. He was still wondering where the man had appeared from so suddenly when Aveena slipped the knife between his ribs.

* * *

'Nay laddie, I have no clue who he is,' said Jamieson pulling the balaclava from the body leaking all over the shop floor.

Swazzle was none the wiser now he could see the man's face, though he almost swallowed his tongue when Botchett exclaimed, 'By the gods, it's Nick!'

Swazzle, Pogmorton, Jamieson and Aveena all looked expectantly at Botchett.

'Allow me to present Nick Christmas,' Botchett said sheepishly, 'an elf formerly in the employ of a certain Mr. N. Claus, like.'

'An elf?' chorused the Pixies, Jamieson and Aveena.

'Elves are a myth,' said Swazzle.

'Or ith it juth the way they walk?' sniggered Pogmorton.

'No, really, an elf.' Botchett lifted up Nick's hair, revealing a pointed ear.

'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Aveena.

'Anybody got something I can collect the blood in?' asked Jamieson, eyeing the puddle in which Nick lay. 'Elf blood's worth a fortune if,' he coughed, 'you know the right people.'

Further discussion was cut short when there arose from outside such a clatter. The assembled company ran down the passage, throwing open the back door to find a large red sleigh complete with nine reindeer neatly shoehorned into Goddess Rising's back yard. A large man in a fur trimmed red suit clambered laboriously from the driving seat.

'Hello Noel!' shouted Botchett, waving. 'How are you, bonny lad?'

'Canny for a young 'un, Botchett!' replied Santa, 'How's yersel?'

'Can't grumble, like. By the way, how's the sleigh running? My VTOL system for the reindeer working out alright?'

That explained the panniers strapped to the reindeer's sides, thought Swazzle.

'Canny, man, very canny. I'd never have got it in here without that reverse thrust option. Glad I let you talk me into it.' Santa beamed.

'Howay in then, have a glass of summat,' said Botchett, 'then perhaps you can help us out with a little problem.'

'Problem?' Santa waddled towards the door, a sack dangling over his shoulder. As he stepped through the door Santa caught sight of the elf's body. 'Nick bloody Christmas!'

'We were wondering if you might have any ideas what to do with him, like?'

'Do with him?' bellowed Santa, 'Do with him?' He kicked Nick soundly in the ribs. 'I'll feed the bugger to me pigs, that's what I'll do with him.'

'Don't ask, like' whispered Botchett as Swazzle opened his mouth. Swazzle shut his mouth.

* * *

Suitably fortified by Mistress Botchett's Midwinter Spiced Sloe Gin, Santa threw the elf's body into the sleigh. Botchett stood with his arm round his wife's shoulders on the back step with the Pixies and Aveena, each clutching a small neatly-wrapped gift from Santa's sack.

'No peeking mind,' shouted Santa with a wave as the sleigh wheezed into life, 'or they'll turn into coal and sticks.' He winked, pulling on a red leather flying helmet and goggles while the steam pressure rose. The reindeer pawed the ground as steam ran along the pipes to their panniers.

A light winked green on the dashboard and Santa flicked the reins.

'Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!' He winked at Botchett, shouting over the roar of the sleigh's engines, 'They love that bit!'

As the sleigh began to rise slowly into the air, steam blasting from the turbines in the reindeer's panniers Santa yelled, 'Rudolph! The beacon!'

A red glow sprang from the nose of the lead reindeer as the sleigh banked to the right and shot into the night sky.

* * *

Crowley moaned softly. Opening an eye, he put a paw to his head, wincing as he felt the lump on the back of his skull. That was one hell of a dream, he thought. Feeling something sticky on his fur, Crowley examined his hand, for a moment more curious about the pads and claws than the drying blood covering his palm. Realisation dawned as he gazed past his paw to the furry body, tail limp against the cold lino.

'Bollocks!' muttered Crowley.

Thanks very much for reading. Now, if you fancy something a little darker, may I respectfully point you in the direction of my Deck The Halls story, 'Tis the Season to be Jolly. Consider it my Christmas present to you, dear reader.

to one and all!


Deck The Halls

Thanks to the wonderfully talented Jodi Cleghorn, co-owner of eMergent Publishing, my story "Tis the Season to be Jolly" is to appear as part of Jodi's Deck The Halls Christmas literary mix tape project.

Inspired by the lyrics of that old Christmas favourite, "Deck the Halls," twenty short stories from twenty different authors will premiere, one an hour, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, beginning with the first story at 6pm GMT (10am PST) on Christmas Eve.

The story release timetable for Deck The Halls is here.

Don't panic if you can't be there for them all, the whole collection will be released as a free ebook shortly. There's also been talk of a charity paperback version to be published next year, more information as I get it...

In the meantime, Deck The Halls has a Facebook page, so sign up now and you'll get project updates as they happen.

Thanks must also go to Icy Sedgwick for producing the fabulous cover for Deck The Halls. Icy has a story in Deck The Halls too.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #32: Extraction

This is episode 32 of my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.

Bishop Barclay's visit provoked much debate among the basement residents, the general consensus being the Bishop hadn't noticed anything amiss. Even so, a lot of surreptitious packing took place that night amid much shushing in case the neighbours heard. The neighbours were, of course, engaged in much the same activity. This included Swazzle, who was shoving the last of his belongings into a bag when knocking rattled his front door.

'Who is it?'

The muffled response made Swazzle sigh as he went to open then door.

A group of rather shifty looking Goblins crowded around the doorstep, behind them a large cage teetered on top of a child's go-cart. One of the Goblins shoved its way to the front of the group.

'Cage,' it growled. 'For dragon. We hook up?'

Swazzle recognised the voice as belonging to the Balkan Goblin he'd commissioned to construct the draig's kennel and, despite some misgivings about having Goblins in his quarters, invited them in.

'No fit,' announced the Goblin after much huffing and puffing. 'We take door off.'

Before Swazzle had a chance to object the Goblins set to work and shortly afterwards Swazzle's front door and much of the front wall of his hut lay neatly stacked in the street. As the cage slid in through the widened gap, a familiar voice called from outside.

'Got the builders in, Captain?'

'Not exactly, Salkeld. It's your mates delivering the draig's new kennel.'

'Ohh, champion! You want me to let Master Botchett know?'

'Tell him I'll be over later for the draig,' replied Swazzle, distracted by the sound of sawing wood. He swung round to find a pyramid of Goblins supporting one of their number who sawed a hole in his ceiling.

'For gas pipe,' a Goblin growled in response to Swazzle's expression. 'No gas, no fire. Unhappy dragon.'

Swazzle gestured at them to continue, wondering idly how long this job was likely to take.

* * *

Botchett was trying to enjoy his pipe when Salkeld stuck his head round the door. After a few seconds his eyes alighted on Botchett, sitting scrunched up on a stool in the corner furthest from the stove, his eyes fixed on the scaly tail dangling from the firebox.

'Good evening Master Botchet. Captain Swazzle asked me to let you know he'll be collecting the draig shortly.'

'And not a moment too soon. That thing's eating me out of house and home, like.' Mistress Botchett appeared in the pantry doorway. 'The children are terrified to leave their room for fear of being eaten, and he,' she stuck a thumb in Botchett's direction, 'is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.'

'Now listen here, bonny lass,' began Botchett.

'Well you are. You've done nowt but sit in the corner since yesterday, like.'

Salkeld excused himself and set off in the direction of the hospital to visit Pogmorton, relieved to be putting distance between himself and the Botchett's “domestic.”

* * *

Swazzle was a little wary of leaving the Goblins to finish off unsupervised, they assured him they'd tidy up after themselves and put the cage fire on for his return as they bundled him out the door. Reluctantly he set off up the street, arriving outside Botchett's home in time to hear crockery smashing. Fearing the draig had gone on the rampage, Swazzle dived through the door right into the path of the bowl Mistress Botchett had launched at her husband.

'Ow!' wailed Swazzle as the bowl caught him full in the face.

'Oh, sorry kidda.' Mistress Botchett's hand flew to her mouth as she bustled over to make sure Swazzle wasn't injured. The floor around Botchett's stool was peppered with crockery fragments.

Swazzle rubbed his nose ruefully. 'I've come to collect the draig.'

'About time, bonny lad,' called Botchett, brushing the remains of a plate from his lap.

'Thank you, thank you,' Mistress Botchett clapped him on the back. 'I don't know what would have happened if we'd had to keep it here for much longer, like'

'We'd have run out of plates for one thing,' muttered Botchett, thinking better of adding anything further in response to his wife's venomous look.

'Err, any idea how I'm going to get it to come out?'

'You'll need a stout collar and lead,' said Botchett, 'and summat to tempt it out, like.'

Swazzle held up the lead and collar the Goblins had pressed into his hand as they'd shoved him out of his house.

'Aye, that ought to do. Have we got any of those sausages left Mother?'

'No, and well you know it! You could try a bit of ham though.' Mistress Botchett proffered a thick slice of her home-baked gammon.

Three hours later and Swazzle had resorted to wearing one of Botchett's shoulder-length Wyrm catching gauntlets and was rummaging about up to the elbow in the firebox, thankful the glove was both heat and teeth proof.

The draig was proving a wily customer, but eventually Swazzle managed to secure the collar round the beast's neck and drag it out onto the kitchen floor. The draig tumbled from the firebox in a shower of hot embers and stood glowering at it's new master, the expression on its face leaving Swazzle in absolutely no doubt how it felt about being forced to leave its nest.

The Botchetts stood silently in the corner of the kitchen as Swazzle coaxed the draig towards the door, only rushing forward to beat out their smouldering rug once the pair had finally left.

* * *

Getting the draig into its new kennel proved easier than Swazzle thought. Presumably the draig was cold from its short walk and scampered straight into its new cage, snuggling down in the fire and falling straight to sleep.

Swazzle took a few moments to check on the state of his home, but it appeared the Goblins had been true to their word, leaving the place as they'd found it. Not until the early hours when Swazzle was woken by a freezing draught coming in under the bottom of the badly re-fitted front wall did he consider more than a cursory glance at the Goblins' handiwork might have been an idea.

'Bloody Goblin builders,' he muttered, pulling the blankets over his head.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #31: Infestation

This is episode 31 of my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.

Bishop Barclay watched the entirety of Rev Beresford's video footage in silence, his eyes glued to the TV screen. When Pogmorton's hand emerged from the cauldron he jumped, rattling his tea cup, and smiled apologetically at Rev Beresford. Only when the video had finished did he speak.

'Very interesting, Austin. I think we may be able to use this witch.' The bishop glanced over his shoulder at the imperfection hanging in the air. 'There's the Book for a start.'

'I am not sure she will be able to help us with that, Your Grace.'

'Why ever not, my dear man?!'

'She said something about only the one who wove the original enchantment being able to dispel it...'

'In that case,' Bishop Barclay interrupted, 'She has aided us immeasurably by raising that, that...'

'I believe it is a pixie, Your Grace.'

'Yes, quite. By raising that pixie from the dead. It sounds to me as though we are already halfway there. She just needs persuading to get it to aid us a little further.'

'I'm not so sure...'

Bishop Barclay flapped his hand for Rev Beresford to be quiet, cocking his ear towards the fireplace.

'Austin, is it me, or is your fireplace singing?'

'Pardon, Your Grace?'

'Shush and listen, man.'

Together they both listened, straining to catch any hint of sound emanating from the fireplace. Rev Beresford, being a little hard of hearing, heard nothing. Bishop Barclay by comparison, became quite animated.

'Where does the chimney run in this building?' he asked, beaming.

'Err...there's a fireplace in the shop, Your Grace, but it was bricked up before I bought the building. There might even be one in the cellar, I believe that was once servants' accommodation, but with these old legs,' he indicated his walking stick, 'I haven't been down there for years.'

'No matter.' Bishop Barclay dismissed Rev Beresford's frailty with a wave of his hand. 'Perhaps I ought to take a look myself.'

'Oh, I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble, Your Gra...'

'Nonsense man! It would be my pleasure.'

'Well, only if you're sure. Access to the cellar is through a trapdoor in the floor of the shop.' Rev Beresford held out a key from his waistcoat pocket. 'This opens the connecting door to the shop at the bottom of the stairs. Just inside the front door.'

'Jolly good,' Bishop Barclay beamed as he rose and took the key. 'Thank you, Austin. I shall return shortly.'

* * *

Swazzle and Jamieson stood rooted to the spot, eyes wide in terror as the Draig's song drifted up the chimney. Suddenly, Jamieson sprang into action, wrenching open Mistress Botchett's larder and proceeding to shovel handfuls of bacon and sausages in to the stove's firebox.

'Och, c'mon laddie, give me a hand.'

Between them, they managed to get through Mistress Botchett's entire week's stock of breakfast ingredients before the Draig stopped singing, its song replaced by the sound of munching. The aroma of a cooked breakfast wafted out of the stove and Swazzle was beginning to wonder if he shouldn't put some eggs on to fry when Jamieson froze.

'Shite! There's somebody on the stairs,' and with that he vanished.

Swazzle was rummaging around for a frying pan when Jamieson re-appeared moments later.

'This is serious laddie. Get everyone up, wands at the ready,' he urged, 'While I go and prepare a little something of my own for our visitor.

Within moments Swazzle had assembled most of the basement residents at the bottom of the stairs, dismissing their questions with a wave of his hand and shushing them into silence. Jamieson appeared shortly thereafter, explaining the Bishop was having trouble getting the key to turn in the lock. He winked.

'It won't hold him for long,' Jamieson continued. 'Now here's what I need you to do...'

* * *

Bishop Barclay cursed under his breath. Why on earth didn't Rev Beresford maintain this old lock, he wondered as he jiggled the key. Eventually he managed to get it to turn and was soon hauling up the trapdoor to the cellar. Snapping on the torch from his pocket, Bishop Barclay set his foot on the top stair and tentatively began to descend.

* * *

As the Bishop's foot made contact with the illusory floor Jamieson had created, a group of Pixies shuffled forward and pointed their wands at the sole of his shoe, just in time to stop it sliding straight through the illusion. A second group did the same thing with the Bishop's other shoe, and together they began an awkward dance as Bishop Barclay set out to explore the apparently deserted cellar.

After several tense minutes of wandering to and fro, Bishop Barclay headed back to the stairs and began to climb, calling up towards the shop, 'You were right, Austin. There's no sign of anything down here.' The assembled Pixies grinned, breathing a collective a sigh of relief.

* * *

After exchanging pleasantries with Rev Beresford, Bishop Barclay bade him farewell and headed back to his car. Sinking into the air conditioned warmth of the leather seats he sighed.

'Thomas?' he called to his driver.

'Yes, Your Grace?'

'When we get home you'd best call the cleaner. It seems Austin has an infestation in his basement.'

The black Jaguar slid out of Gallows Close into the morning traffic.


This week also marks the release of the final episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 15 over at Nishi's blog Breathing With Butterflies. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow Joke...

Okay, so there's plenty of snow about at Future; Nostalgic Towers, and the roads round here are like skating rinks...

It's winter, get over it!

Well I would, but...

I am moved this morning, watching the blizzard swirling outside my window, to have a bit of a moan about the snow. Well, not the snow exactly...

+++ Caution, snow rant ahead! +++

Our Skiing Correspondent ventured, at much risk to life and limb on the icy pavements, down to the local grit bin last night, only to be accosted by two of our erstwhile boys in blue (and just so you know, I have the utmost respect [usually] for our emergency services who do a very difficult job in often dangerous circumstances).

'What do you want the grit for?' they asked.

'I have two elderly neighbours who can't get out of their house because of the ice and snow, they haven't been out for a week, and I have a disabled family member who needs to make a hospital appointment. '

'Okay, but what do you want the grit for?'

'I'm going to clear my neighbours' paths* and put some grit down so they don't fall and hurt themselves if they have to go out. Then I'm going to dig our car out and put some grit down so my disabled family member can get to their next hospital appointment. You know, community spirit, like it says on the radio - look after the elderly and infirm...'

'Yes, but what do you want the grit...'

'Oh, go away!'

And they did! As soon as they'd gone, there followed a feeding frenzy around the grit bin. One old bloke said to Our Skiing Correspondent, 'I'm so pleased you did that. I wanted to, but was too frightened to say anything to them in case they arrested me.'

+++ Rant over. As you were. +++

* without having to be asked, I hasten to add.

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