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, 30 September 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #22: Infiltration

This epsiode is number 22 in an ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.


As Botchett and Aveena sat down to dine with Lady Mandrake, elsewhere in the Other World, a small figure could be seen darting between the trees, heading in the direction of the fairy fortress.

Swazzle was making slow progress. Since the recent events at Goddess Rising, the fairies were taking no chances and had flooded the forest with sentries. For hours it had seemed that whenever he'd taken one step forward he'd been forced to take two steps back. Getting into the fairy fortress was going to be particularly difficult, Swazzle thought as he pulled himself deep into a patch thick of brambles to consider his position. He was halfway through one of Mistress Botchett's ham and peasepudding sandwiches when he spotted the hole in the bramble roots. The beginnings of a plan began to germinate.

By the time the sandwiches were finished, Swazzle felt sure the plan would work. Firmly grasping a small stick he'd found lying on the ground, Swazzle gingerly poked it down the hole, stopping now and then to feel for any resistance. After a moment or two something grabbed hold of the end of the stick and there followed a brief tug of war before Swazzle was able to haul the spider from its lair. Popping it deftly into Mistress Botchett's sandwich bag, Swazzle tucked the spider into his satchel and set off in the direction of the fairy kingdom's border again.

* * *

Oberon weaved unsteadily across the castle courtyard, a large bottle of Marigold nectar clutched in his fist. The castle had been on high alert for two days and nights and all the stress had shredded his nerves. Carefully climbing the rough stone steps to the castle wall walk on all fours, Oberon shushed theatrically every time the nectar bottle chinked against the stones. As usual these days, Oberon was hammered. At the top of the steps Oberon waved at the two sentries who snapped a neat salute as he staggered towards them, waiting until he had passed and disappeared into the garderobe passage before rolling their eyes and sniggering.

Once inside the garderobe passage, Oberon slumped onto one of the seats and took a long swig from his bottle. The cool darkness of the passage did go some way towards soothing his frazzled nerves, the Marigold nectar did the rest and soon Oberon was snoring, his face pressed against the cold stone wall as drool ran slowly from the corner of his mouth and dripped onto his tunic.

* * *

It was past midnight by the time Swazzle reached the midden beneath the fairy fortress walls. Picking his way carefully up the slimy pile, Swazzle soon reached the base of the wall and, as he stared upwards, he could just about make out a hole in the overhang high above him. He pulled the bagged spider from his satchel, musing idly about why fairy ordure had the faint aroma of flowers.

Whispering soothing words to the spider, Swazzle encouraged her out of the bag to sit in his palm. As he stroked her abdomen she began to spin, Swazzle deftly weaving her silk as it appeared until he estimated he had enough spider rope to reach the opening above him. Thanking the spider for her help, Swazzle set her down at his feet and she scuttled quickly into the darkness while he fashioned one end of the rope into a sticky ball of spider silk before swinging it round and round, letting go at the opportune moment so the ball flew silently up the castle wall. With unerring accuracy, the ball sailed straight through the opening and came to rest somewhere within, a few hefty tugs on the rope satisfying Swazzle that it had attached itself firmly to something immoveable. He began to climb.

* * *

Oberon was awakened by an urgent need to relieve himself. Lurching to his feet, he fumbled with the front of his leggings before bracing himself with one hand against the back wall of the garderobe to relieve himself. Oberon had a blissful look on his face, which changed slowly to one of confusion when he spotted the silvery thread stuck to the adjacent toilet seat. His aching bladder was thanking him for its relief when a pointed hat, smeared in excrement and looking somewhat wet appeared through the hole next to him, closely followed by a head. Oberon recoiled in horror as the head swivelled towards him.

'Thanks a lot,' muttered Swazzle, fairy pee dripping off his eyebrows. He hauled himself quickly through the hole and dropped lightly onto the stone floor. The fairy was still looking repeatedly from the bottle he clutched to Swazzle and back again when Swazzle whipped out the small club he kept for such occasions and whacked the fairy right between the eyes. The fairy crumpled in a heap at his feet, the bottle glugging the remains of its contents all over the fairy's tunic.

Wiping himself down with a handful of the leaves placed in a small basket next to holes, Swazzle crept silently to the doorway of the passage and squinted out onto the wall walk. Two sentries lounged a few yards away, deep in muttered conversation and passing a small flask back and forth between them.

Damn, thought Swazzle. He'd rather hoped this section of the wall might have been unguarded, or at least sparsely patrolled. He'd have to get past the sentries the old fashioned way, he was sure the fairies would have enchantments in place to detect Pixie teleporting by now. Taking a deep breath, Swazzle eased out of the doorway, dashed along the wall walk and began to descend the steps.

So far, so good, he thought. Now, to find what I came here for.


This week also marks the release of the fifth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 5 over at A Shift in Dimensions. 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.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #21: An Audience With Lady Mandrake

The gateway to Lady Mandrake's citadel.

In which Botchett and Aveena, in search of an amulet, venture deeper into the lair of Lady Mandrake...

As Botchett and Aveena made their way to the citadel it began to rain, a cold, hard rain that fell in sheets, swirled by the biting wind. They were almost upon the entrance when Aveena spotted a slight, unkempt figure lounging against the wall of the porch, trying to keep out of the weather. Layers of ragged, filthy clothing swathed the figure, giving it the appearance of a large hamster.

Sensing their approach, the figure snapped upright as Botchett stepped into the porch. Aveena caught sight of a much thinner man than she had at first thought, shoulder length greasy hair framing a narrow, weasely face. Twinkling brown eyes shone out above a narrow, pointed nose which, in turn, gave way to a set of protruding, yellow teeth as the face smiled in recognition.

'Pilgrim? What brings you here?'

'For a start that's Master Pilgrim to you, bonny lad, and it's none of your business why I'm here.' Botchett moved towards the door, the figure sidling round to put himself between Botchett and the entrance.

'Shift,' barked Botchett.

'I can't,' whined the man. 'I have my orders. Lady Mandrake said...'

'Listen, bonny lad, I am going in there to speak to your mistress whether I gave to go through you first or not.'

'But...but...I'll have to announce you...'

'Which will mean leaving your post, won't it? And we both know how the Lady feels about people leaving their post, don't we? Eh?' Botchett winked at Aveena.

The man was still spluttering as Botchett and Aveena pushed past him into the citadel.

'Thank you, Rat,' Botchett called back over his shoulder then, turning to Aveena, 'That bugger's well named. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could spit, like.'

Aveena was about to reply when the combined smells of overcooked vegetables, unwashed humanity and smoke from braziers fuelled with rubbish assaulted her nose and throat and she gagged, coughed, tears leaking down her cheeks. Botchett seemed unaffected by the stench.

Botchett glanced around the huge chamber they found themselves in. Moonlight filtered in through many windows set into a high, vaulted ceiling. Moonlight combined with flickering light from the braziers gave just enough light to reveal a community of ragged figures standing in the shadows around the perimeter of the room, the murmur of countless conversations slowly stilling as Botchett and Aveena made their way towards the dais at the far end of the room.

Lady Mandrake reclined on her throne as Botchett and Aveena approached. Dressed entirely in black leather, her shock of shoulder length blonde hair tipped with red seemed to shine out of the darkness of her ensemble, which was topped off by an old fashioned black top hat. Aveena shuddered as she realised the aura coming from the clothing was of human skin, not leather. Botchett seemed either unaware or he chose to ignore the fact.

Lady Mandrake glanced slowly up from the crystal goblet, the contents of which she had been contemplating.

'Master Pilgrim. What a pleasant surprise. It's been far too long.' Her honeyed tones made Aveena feel particularly uncomfortable. 'To what to we owe the pleasure of your company in our humble abode?' She punctuated the last sentence with an expansive gesture.

'My Lady,' Botchett bent his knee to her, Lady Mandrake laying a hand upon his head. Aveena could see from his aura that it took all of Botchett's self control to keep from cringing at her touch. 'We are in need of your unique expertise, like.'

'Oh,' Lady Mandrake's eyebrow rose into her hairline, 'How so?'

'I...we have need of an Amulet of Resurrection...'

'Vincent,' Lady Mandrake interrupted absently, 'Refreshments for our guests.'

The tall, thin faced man in the black suit standing just behind the throne nodded imperceptibly before disappearing into the shadows, returning shortly with a tray of crystal goblets and a matching jug of deep red liquid. He filled a glass for each of them, refilling Lady Mandrake's goblet as she held it out for him.

Lady Mandrake drank deeply, 'Ah, that's better. Now, what was that you were saying about an amulet, Master Pilgrim?'

Botchett lowered his voice and a whispered discussion took place to which Aveena was not privy. She could however, get a sense of the toing and froing of the negotiations from the periodic flares in Botchett's and Lady Mandrake's auras. By the time Botchett called her forward, Aveena had a sense the negotiations had concluded with each on an equal footing, though perhaps slightly in Lady Mandrake's favour, but only just.

'Allow me to present Miss Aveena Murphy,' Botchett said as Lady Mandrake held out her hand to Aveena. Aveena took the proffered hand and in an instant understood more about Lady Mandrake than she could ever have wished. She attempted to pull away, but Lady Mandrake held her fast, Aveena sensed her gazing deep into her eyes.

'Yes, Master Pilgrim,' purred Lady Mandrake, 'I think perhaps we can do business.' She turned her attention again to Aveena. 'There is much power within you, young one,' she said matter of factly.

Aveena finally managed to wriggle her hand free and turned to Botchett, her face a barely concealed mask of anger. She was still fighting to control herself when Lady Mandrake spoke again.

'You will of course stay and dine with us. I will have Vincent draw up the contract while we eat.' Lady Mandrake rose languidly to her feet and strolled towards a large mahogany table, loaded with dishes of fine foods.

As they followed at a distance, Aveena hissed at Botchett, 'Contract?'

'Well, you didn't expect her to give us the amulet for nothing, did you, bonny lass?'


This week also marks the release of the fourth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 4 over at Crone's Cauldron Publications. 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.


Friday, 17 September 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #20: Lady Mandrake

The Asian youth crouched, terrified, at the base of the dais. Shirtless and grubby, his upper torso bore the signs of a recent beating. Wide-eyed, he stared up at the woman on the throne above him, flickering light from oil drum braziers making her eyes periodically sparkle with an unsettling intensity.

'Asif,' she commanded, 'the court has found you guilty of pilfering, and everyone here has heard the confession you gave after questioning. Do you have anything to say before sentence is passed?'

Wiping the sweat from his eyes, Asif stammered something about being sorry and was begging for a second chance when the woman cut him off.

'You know the penalty for pilfering. We rely on each other here. There are no second chances.'

Asif began to cry, great wracking sobs so that he almost did not hear when his name was called.


The youth looked up, shivering.

'There can be no leniency in cases of pilfering, however...'

Asif looked suddenly expectant, praying that perhaps a lifeline was about to be thrown in his direction.

'You have been a valuable member of our community, and we are not without compassion. The sentence of this court is banishment.'

Asif sighed with relief as a murmur ran through the assembled crowd. The woman held up her hands and the murmuring ceased instantly.

'The sentence of this court is banishment. You will be taken from this place and expelled from our community. There will be a hunt.'

Asif screamed as the guards seized him under the arms and began dragging him towards the door, the assembled crowd cheering as he passed by.

The woman glanced left to where a tall, thin-faced man stood cradling an ornate antique tortoiseshell box. 'Vincent, the box if you please.'

The man stepped forward, bowed and held out the box.

Asif's screams were quieter as she opened the box, the guards having dragged him the full length of the former shipbuilding yard's cathedral vaulted drawing office. Taking a moment to consider her choice, the woman carefully withdrew two amulets from the box, each a large quartz stone wrapped around with silver wires. Within each the demon could clearly be seen snarling and scrabbling to escape, their claws scratching ineffectually at the inside of their prisons.

The crowd shuffled back to the margins of the room as the woman held both amulets above her head. She paused for a moment.

'Release the prisoner.'

As the guards relaxed their grip, Asif sprang to his feet and sprinted, limping, out of the double doors into the night.

Laying the amulets gently at her feet, the woman closed her eyes, threw her head back and began a murmured incantation. The stones seemed to grow, then fall back upon themselves, dissolving to leave two snarling creatures at her feet. Seemingly part dog, part something else characterised by glowing red eyes, a mouthful of fangs and leathery wings, the demons growled and scratched at the floor, their mistress's bond holding them back.

Reaching the climax of the incantation, the woman brought her hands suddenly together, the sound like a rifle shot in the silence, and the demons surged forward, their claws throwing up chips from the sandstone floor as they accelerated. Swooping down the length of the room, each executed a sharp gliding turn and vanished through the same doors Asif had exited a few moments earlier.

The woman reclined on her throne, one leg thrown casually over its arm. The thin-faced man stepped forward once again, this time with a crystal goblet of deep red liquid proffered before him.

'Thank you, Vincent.' She took the goblet and drank deeply.

* * *

Heart pounding in his ears, chest heaving, Asif rounded the corner and could see the compound gates a couple of hundred yards distant. He felt no pain from his injured leg, though the tightness and ache in his chest made him regret not giving up smoking years ago as he pounded towards the gates.

With a hundred yards to go, Asif risked a glance over his shoulder but of any pursuit there was no sign. He could not hear anything either, save for the wind in his ears as he ran.

Fifty yards to go and a low, rumbling growl from behind him made Asif's bowels turn to ice water. He risked another quick glance and saw, eyes wide in terror, the two demon dogs bearing down on him, though still a good few yards distant. Sprinting as fast as his leg would allow, Asif reckoned there was still a chance.

* * *

'And let me do the talking,' Botchett instructed Aveena, 'Lady Mandrake and I go way back. She'll be more likely to help if I talk to her, like.' He pulled the bell rope for the second time. 'I wonder what's up. There's usually someone on the gate all the time.'

'Here's someone now, so,' Aveena pointed at the Asian youth running full pelt for the gate. 'Are they always that keen to attend to visitors?'

Botchett pushed Aveena suddenly back into the shadows and away from the gate. 'A hunt,' he said grimly. 'Well, that explains the lack of a reception committee, like.'

Aveena was about to ask about the hunt when there was a tremendous crash as the Asian youth collided with the gate. After shaking it ineffectually a couple of times, he began a desperate climb to the top, and was halfway over, relief on his face, when something grabbed his leg and hauled him quickly back the way he had come. For a split second his eyes met Aveena's, then he was gone.

Botchett shuddered as an unearthly scream rent the night air, followed by a few moments of growling and scraping before everything was still and silent again.

Shortly afterwards, a face appeared from a nearby doorway as a stooped figure dressed in layers of ragged clothing shambled towards the gate.

'I request audience with Lady Mandrake,' demanded Botchett.

The figure squinted down at him before the filthy face split wide into a huge grin. 'Why, it's Master Pilgrim, isn't it? Come ye in, come ye in.'

A heavy chain was removed from the gate, and it was dragged open just far enough for Botchett and Aveena to squeeze through the gap, before being slammed and securely locked again.

'Ye know the way, Master Pilgrim,' said the gatekeeper, 'Just mind your step, it's likely to be a mite slippery underfoot this evening.

Botchett and Aveena gingerly picked their way across the cobbles in the direction of Lady Mandrake's citadel.

This week also marks the release of the third episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 3 over at Attack of the Muses. 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.


Thursday, 9 September 2010

#FridayFlash - 6 Word Story

I've fancied trying having a go at this for a while and so, in place of the usual UCF Stories (which will return next week), I am pleased to present my attempt at the six word story:

Trial by jury. Bring your toothbrush.

This week also marks the release of the second episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 2 over at Mari's Randomities. 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.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

#FridayFlash: The Great Chocolate Conspiracy – Episode 1

Magnifying glass image element courtesy

Welcome to The Great Chocolate Conspiracy! Chocolate Digestive biscuits have disappeared from the shelves right across the eastern seaboard of the USA, and now the shortage has spread to London. Detective Chief Inspector Sam Adamson and his international team of investigators from the Metropolitan Police's Confectionery Crimes Unit (CCU) have been tasked to solve the mystery.

This is the first installment of this multi-part flash fiction story that originated during a chat between the authors on Twitter. You can read how it all began here (links to all the installments will be added to the author list as they are posted).

The next installment will appear on Friday, September 10th at Mari's Randomities, and you can keep up on developments in the meantime by following the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter.

'What do you mean, there's no bloody choccy biccies?' thundered DCI Adamson, banging his mug down on the desk. 'I ALWAYS have choccy biccies with my morning cuppa,' he scowled, mopping at the puddle of tea soaking into the reports littering his desk. 'Oh, never mind. Just get out.' WPC Fox turned on her heel and almost sprinted for the door.

Out in the main office, DI Monica Marier rolled her eyes. Yes, she thought, the boss is well and truly back.

'Don't worry,' Marier consoled the sniffling WPC, 'The DCI's not himself. This is his first day back off sick leave after that terrible cinder toffee business last year, but,' she paused, 'You weren't with the Unit then, were you?'

WPC Fox shook her head and blew her nose productively into a tissue. No, thought Marier, I'm the only one of the original team left. She remembered the case vividly, it was the first major investigation for the Met's newly formed Confectionery Crimes Unit, someone had rigged a batch of cinder toffee chocolate bars with explosives and iron filings so they exploded when the packets were open and had then attempted to blackmail the manufacturer.

DCI Adamson had got very close to catching the perpetrator, until that fateful day he'd received a package of the bars and had absent-mindedly opened a jumbo sized one. The resulting explosion gutted the unit's office and left the DCI deaf in one ear and his left leg full of shrapnel. He'd been off work eight months and still needed a cane to get around, which had done nothing for his usually volatile temper.

The Unit had been re-housed in temporary offices above an Asian grocer's in Camberwell, for a time it had seemed they would be dis-banded, but recent events had seen the Unit reinstated, it's meagre staff bolstered by the addition of a couple of new members seconded from overseas forces.

Marier had overseen the office move and settled in the new staff, Vice Ispettore Mari Juniper of the Italian State Police, all designer suits and fine fragrances with a penchant for espresso, but an expert in all matters gelato-related, and the Unit's new forensics officer, Professor Grace Motley, formerly of UCLA, a crotchety woman of middle years, what the professor didn't know about US confectionery, or candy as she insisted on calling it, wasn't worth knowing.

Then there were the two uniformed PCs, Fox and Bournville who acted as runners, investigators' assistants and general dogsbodies. Both straight out of the Met's training college at Hendon, Marier presumed neither had actually volunteered to work for a unit run by a DCI passed over for promotion for “procedural irregularities” with the Assistant Chief Constable's daughter. She wondered just what they had done wrong to earn the assignment.

Her reverie was broken as the main office door flew open, heralding the arrival of DI John Hawthorne of the Met's Special Branch, Adamson's long time sparring partner.

'Morning Crumblies! Is he in?' Hawthorne didn't wait for a reply and marched straight into the DCIs office. Marier winced at Hawthorne's use of the Unit's unofficial nickname, the Crumbly Cake Squad.

* * *

'What the hell do you want?' barked Adamson.

'Charming,' remarked Hawthorne, nochalantly throwing his long raincoat over the back of a chair. 'Actually, I've got a case for you.'

'I've got a case for you, sir,' Adamson emphasised the “sir.” 'Just because you're Special Branch, don't think you can ignore proprieties.'

'Err, yes...sir. Sorry, sir.'

'Well, what is it then?' Adamson eyed the packet of chocolate digestives and the report in Hawthorne's hand.

'It's these,' Hawthorne indicated the biscuits. 'Every last one has vanished from shops right along the eastern seaboard of the USA. There've been riots, apparently.'

'So? What's that got to do with CCU? Unless it's escaped your notice, we're a British police unit.'

'Ah well, here's the thing,' Hawthorne warmed to his explanation, 'It seems the shortage is spreading.' He set the biscuits and the report down on the edge of the DCI's desk. 'There's not a chocolate digestive to be had anywhere in London as of last week, and reports of the same have come in from Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle. The manufacturer's output remains constant, and the delivery firms have plenty in their warehouses, but any time they send stocks out to the shops, they've vanished by the time the truck arrives.'

Hawthorne watched in horror as DCI Adamson leaned casually over the desk, picked up the packet of digestives, opened it and proceded to dip one into the remains of his tea.

'But, but,' spluttered Hawthorne, 'Those are evidence!'

'Bollocks, John, they're biscuits, and they go lovely with my tea.' Adamson beamed. 'Anyway, what's this got to do with Special Branch? Oughtn't you be out catching terrorists instead of bringing me presents?'

Hawthorne fought to retain his composure. 'My boss had a call from Homeland Security in Washington D.C. last night. They don't have anyone with your, err...expertise over there, so my boss cleared it with ACC McVitie.'

Adamson shot him a sour look.

'And you're all off for a jaunt over to sunny America. I have plane tickets for you here,' Hawthorne fumbled in his jacket pocket, 'You leave for Washington D.C. tonight.'

As if on cue, the soggy half of a chocolate digestive detatched itself from the biscuit Adamson held and dropped into his mug with a dull plop.

'Shit!' muttered Adamson. 'See yourself out John, seems I have work to do. Oh, and on your way, ask Monica to step in for a moment, she'll be handling the logistics so I'd better brief her.'

* * *

It was a pleasant summer evening as the 747 lifted off from Heathrow bound for Washington D.C. Having pulled rank for an upgrade, DCI Adamson settled back in his first class seat, sipped his champagne and pondered the dinner menu. Secretly he was quite excited, not that he'd let any members of his team know it, he'd never been to America.


I hope you enjoyed the first episode. Don't forget to check out Mari's episode next Friday (Friday, 10th September) over at her blog, Mari's Randomities, and keep up to date with developments by following the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Dog Days of Summer Flash Fiction Contest Winner

I've just had some wonderful news – Michael J Solender of Not From Here Are You? Has just announced my story, The Pit of Hades, as the winning entry in his Dog Days of Summer flash fiction contest.

*pauses till the wild applause subsides*

It really was a great contest, and not a little bit challenging, having to fit an entire story, plus two specific words, into only 101 words. Michael tells me there were close on 100 entries to the contest, which have now been compiled into the Dog Days of Summer 2010 chapter book. Congratulations to everyone who entered, there's a wealth of fantastic flash fiction in the book, and a special thank you to Michael, obviously a man of excellent taste, for choosing my story as the contest winner.

If you'd like a peek at the book, here it is:

If you'd like a copy of your own, please follow this link.

Don't forget to head over to Michael's blog to read the interview with yours truly.

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