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...

Friday, 1 July 2011

#FridayFlash...well, kinda...


Just a quick note to let you all know that our skiing correspondent, aka my darling daughter (DD), has decided to have a bash at writing a FridayFlash, which can be found here if you wouldn't mind stopping by her blog for a quick read.

DD is dyslexic and this is the very first thing she has ever written (all by herself with no help from yours truly, despite me having offered), so she'd appreciate a little feedback. Thanks.



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Thursday, 26 May 2011

#FridayFlash: Driftwood




This is a tale of the Dark Ages set somewhere along the north Northumberland coast. Driftwood concerns two children, Islaeg and his younger sister Aeggith, who make a grim discovery after their mother sends them down to the beach to gather driftwood the morning after a fierce storm.


Beadnell Bay from The Snook
Photo © Lisa Jarvis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

________________________________

‘Is he dead?’

The little girl shivered in the icy on-shore wind, clutched her bundle of driftwood tighter to her chest.

‘I don’t know Aeggith,’ Islaeg said, poking the body with the end of his staff, trying to show more bravado than he felt, ‘He looks dead.’

‘You’d better fetch Ma.’

Aeggith watched the gangly youth sprint out of sight among the dunes.

Overhead, wispy white clouds tacked across a washed out sky, gulls wheeling and diving in the blustery air, their plaintive mewling melting in and out of the song of waves crashing on the shore.

The wind was playful today, tugging at Aeggith’s clothes, slicing through her threadbare smock like a knife to raise goose bumps on her arms. It whipped the hair across her face, stirred up small clouds of coarse grains to sting and bite at her legs. Last night it had been a howling dark beast, madly driving a torrent of rain and roaring spume-topped breakers relentlessly onto the shoreline. It was the reason their mother had sent Aeggith and her brother down to the beach that morning - driftwood for the fire was always plentiful after such a storm.

Aeggith looked down at the man’s body lying half in, half out of the lapping waves. He had a look of her uncle about him, her uncle the Huscarl, with his clothes of fine wool and linen, boots of hard, tooled leather, gold and silver at his neck and arms. The sword at his hip was like her uncle’s too, plain, unornamented, a workman’s sword - a blood-drinker, a soul-taker.

She knelt by him then, her eyes drawn to the serpent-inscribed ring of silver, one of several about his arm. A single arm-ring like that would keep her whole family for a year or more, and anyway, she thought, he had others, not that he was likely to have need of them now. Slowly, tentatively, she reached out a trembling hand, grasped the cold metal with fingers still gritted from beachcombing, and tugged.

Aeggith screamed as he grabbed her wrist, the rings on his fingers biting savagely into her flesh. She fell backwards, kicking and scratching desperately at him, her feet scrabbling against the wet sand, but he held her fast.

His eyes flashed open, fixing her with a piercing emerald gaze, spasms of coughing wracking his chest.

‘Lëorith? Have you found Lëorith?’

When she shook her head he slumped back onto the sand, shuddered, then lay still. Slipping her hand from his, Aeggith sucked her wrist where his ring had cut her skin, salt sea tang mingling with the metallic taste of her blood.

She was standing a little way off still watching him, the driftwood bundle clutched to her chest, when Islaeg returned with their mother and Father Nistian. None of them noticed the glint of silver deep within Aeggith’s armful of kindling, nor any sign of the blood-spattered rock hastily hidden in the sand at her feet.

‘Is he dead?’ she said.

________________________________

One from the vaults for you this week, I hope you enjoyed it. Driftwood was originally published as an entry in Laurita Miller's Seaside Fiction contest over at Calling Shotgun last year, where it won an Honourable Mention.

Driftwood is one of the stories I mentioned in my recent interview by EP Marcellin, which, if you missed it, can be found here.



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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Author Interview over at Pen Dragon


The lovely Elizabeth Marcellin is interviewing me today over at her place, Pen Dragon. I'd love it if you could spare me a few minutes to stop by and see what I have to say for myself here.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Book Launches: 100 Stories for Queensland and Nothing But Flowers


Today's the day folks! Two paperback book launches with a story of mine in each are happening right now, and both in support of very worthy charitable causes. If that in itself is not enough to convince you to rush off and buy both books right this instant, it's OK, I'll wait...

*insert Countdown theme music here*

...you're back? Great!

Now, as I was saying, please allow me to tell you a little more about each book in turn.

First, 100 Stories for Queensland...

As you may remember from the media coverage at the time and from my post here, back in January (2011) the Australian state of Queensland was devastated by flooding. Very shortly thereafter, Jodi Cleghorn of eMergent Publishing and herself a resident of Queensland, and Trevor Belshaw, a fellow UK writer proposed an anthology project in support of those affected by the floods and 100 Stories for Queensland was born. An international team of authors, editors, beta readers (too many wonderful people to name individually here) gave freely of their time and writing to bring the project to fruition, you can find out more about them here.



So, just what is 100 Stories for Queensland? Well, dear reader, I'll tell you.

100 Stories for Queensland is a charity anthology of flash fiction, that is, short stories of under 1000 words, in aid of the survivors of the worst flooding in history in the Australian state of Queensland. 100 Stories DOES NOT contain real life accounts of the floods. Everything between the covers is fiction.

There is something for everyone, with stories in a number of genres, including literary fiction, science fiction, magical realism, romance, fantasy, humour, paranormal and slice of life. Includes my story, Kittens!

The stories were penned by an international contingent of writers. A quarter of the stories came from Australia, a third from the UK and the rest from across the globe including the USA, Spain, France, Austria, Malaysia, Israel, Greece and Canada.

Money from the sale of the book goes to The Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Fund. 100% of the sale price of the eBook is donated and, 100% of the wholesale price (less printing costs) of the paperback is donated.

100 Stories for Queensland is available in ebook format here, and in paperback format from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and should be available to order from your favourite local bookshop in about a week or so, but please don't wait, buy it today and help contribute to the 100 Stories for Queensland Amazon Chart Rush of today, 17th May, 2011.

You can also download the foreward and first eleven stories as a free sample in PDF and ePub formats.

The ebook retails for A$4.99, and the paperback for £9.99.



Nothing But Flowers is an anthology of twenty-five short stories, including my story, Daisy's Café, centred around the premise of love in a post-apocalyptic world. I wrote a blog post about the project, which you can find here.

Here's the blurb...

In a devastated world, a voice calls out through the darkness of space, a young woman embraces Darwin, a man lays flowers in a shattered doorway, a two-dimensional wedding feast awaits guests, a Dodge Challenger roars down the deserted highway …and that’s just the beginning.

Inspired by the Talking Heads’ song of the same name, Nothing but Flowers explores the complexities and challenges of love in a post-apocalyptic landscape; from a take-away coffee mug to a gun to the head, a fortune cookie to a guitar, the open road and beyond.

Poignant, funny, horrifying and sensual, this collection of short fiction leaves an indelible mark on ideas of what it means to love and be loved.

All profits from the sale of this anthology go to The Grantham Flood Support Fund. Grantham is a town in Queensland that was devastated by flooding in January 2011.

Nothing But Flowers is available in ebook format here, and on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and should be available to order from your favourite local bookshop in about a week or so.

The ebook retails for A$4.99, and the paperback for £5.99

Go on, buy them both, you know you want to...

By the way, this happens to be the 150th post here at Future; Nostalgic and I for one can't think of a better subject to celebrate such a milestone. Now go buy the books, okay?



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Thursday, 12 May 2011

#FridayFlash: Northern Vampire Tales – The Female Of The Species...Part 2




This story is part 10 in the Northern Vampire series. It follows directly on from part 1 of the story, which I posted last week and which can be found here. I also have a blog page here that lists all my vampire stories in chronological order.

________________________________

We join our hero, tied to a chair in a disused warehouse by the Tyne, being lectured by Charlene Benson. He is fairly sure a good kicking, or worse is in the offing...

---------

Well bugger me, Geordie Benson has a big sister! I bet there's no younger siblings though, one look at Geordie as a baby would be enough to put anyone off from breeding again.

'I divvent normally get involved in stuff like this, like,' Charlene says, ' but you've cost me money, Mr Wheeler.' She lets that sink in for a bit. 'I can't say I'm too keen on that.'

It's not topping my list either.

'So what's going to happen in a minute is that Dave and Sean here are going to extract from your hide what you cost me in cold, hard cash, bonny lad.'

She seems to have got a grip on herself now. Looks like it's all business from here on in.

'And when they're finished, Mr Wheeler, I'm going to blow your knackers off,' she indicates the gun with a flourish, 'for what you did to poor Geordie over there.'

'What did I do, exactly?' I feign ignorance.

It was Marek and Piotr's bomb as I recall.

'What did you do? What did you do?!' she asks, her voice rising. 'If poor Geordie hadn't been in the bog when your bomb went off he'd be dead.' There's an edge to her voice now. 'The blast blew him into the bath and that saved his life, like, but not before it'd blown most of his face off.' She's shaking again now as she backs off a few steps.

She nods to Dave and Sean and they take a step forward.

Time to go.

I flex my wrists and ankles and the cable ties holding me to the chair snap like liquorice laces.

Ah, so that's what they were, cable ties.

I duck out of the chain and stand, just in time for the heavy to my right, Dave is it, to swing his baseball bat at my midriff. Dancing backwards over the chair at the last moment, I flick the end of the bat away as it passes. Dave is off-balance and over-extends himself in rotation, stumbling as I step in behind him and shove him forward at the same time as Sean lunges with the knife.

Sean's knife slips in under Dave's ribs with hardly a sound, just a surprised grunt from Dave as he keels over, ricochetting into his mate. Sean has his hands full of Dave and is still trying to focus on the hilt sticking out of his mate's chest as I snap out my fist and crush the cartilage in his throat. He claws at his neck and goes down gurgling, all tangled up with Dave.

I can move quite quickly when I have to.

The air parts and I feel something hot graze my cheek before the percussive shock wave and the boom of the shot reach me. In a heartbeat I'm behind Charlene, one hand on her wrist and the other wrapped tight about her neck. Behind me I can hear gurgling and quick breaths being taken.

'Didn't Geordie tell you?' I whisper, my fangs sliding into place as I relieve Charlene of the gun. Charlene goes rigid, her eyes like saucers as she cranes her neck to catch a glimpse of my face.

God, she smells good. O+ I think.

I swing her round and lob her down the factory where she lands in a winded heap a few yards away.

'Now then, Geordie, lad.' I advance on the wheelchair. 'Christ, mate, you're a bit of a sight.'

Geordie's nose is gone, and most of his eyelids too. The combination of burnt flesh and ointment is almost enough to make me gag. I mean, he was an ugly bugger to start with, but now...

'Typical of you,' I continue, 'lurking in the loo when there's work to be done. I wouldn't be surprised if you were hiding in there, cracking one off?' I poke the end of the pistol's barrel into his crotch and he whimpers.

'Shut up, Geordie.'

He tries to claw the oxygen mask from his face with hands encased in pressure dressings. The bits of his fingers I can see are livid with new scar tissue. Realising he's never going to be able to get the mask off, Geordie slumps in the chair.

'That looks sore,' I venture, then, glancing over my shoulder at Charlene who's managed to get herself into a sitting position and is gasping in great gulps of air, 'does she have to wipe your arse for you an' all, Geordie?'

I see him stiffen.

'Now then, bonny lad,' I mimic Geordie's accent for the last bit, 'I don't take too kindly to being dragged away from my evening constitutional without so much as a by-your-leave. It makes me, irritable. And when I get irritable--'

Geordie screams as I force the gun into his hand and curl his ruined fingers round the grip. He jumps when I help him pull the trigger, then lapses into soft mewling as he sees the bullet take Charlene full in the chest, crimson blossoming out over her white blouse. She grunts and slumps over.

'Canny shot!' I say by way of encouragement.

My ears are still ringing as I manoeuvre the wheelchair slowly over to the open loading dock on the eastern side of the building. Geordie's snivelling and I'm sure he thinks I'm going to tip him out of the chair into the Tyne.

'Didn't the hospital give you a pair of those dark glasses, seeing as how you can't close your eyes now?' I chuckle at the thought of Geordie all done up like Roy Orbisson. I bet he's got a crap singing voice. Geordie sobs softly and scrabbles for the top pocket of his jacket.

'Here, let me.' I reach into his pocket and pull out the glasses, theatrically fumbling them out of my grip off the edge of the loading dock. 'Oops. Butter fingers.'

I look at my watch. 'I'd better be off now,' I whisper in Geordie's ear. 'I reckon you've got an hour before the sun comes up, a couple more before it gets really painful. You might want to call someone while you can still see to dial--'

A dark stain spreads out from Geordie's lap. He understands the implication.

'Aw, Geordie, man. Have a little class, will you?'



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Thursday, 5 May 2011

#FridayFlash: Northern Vampire Tales – The Female Of The Species...Part 1




This story is part 9 in the Northern Vampire series. I have a blog page here that lists all my vampire stories in chronological order.

________________________________

The following takes place about four months after Lucien's new club opens. Everything has been quiet since the events of Northern Vampire Part 8 until...

What's that? I'm a bit disorientated when I come to in the dark, sitting down and tied to a chair. The last thing I remember is stepping out of the private entrance behind the club after closing time and then...nothing. It does go to show that, whatever anyone may tell you, vampires can be rendered unconscious. While you're dwelling on that little nugget, let me get back to the story.

Under the circumstances, I reckon not showing any outward signs of being awake may be the way to go here, at least until I can work out where “here” is and what I'm up against. My senses are working overtime. There's a breeze in my face and it's cold in here. I haven't burst into flames yet so either it's still night time or I'm inside.

There's a pigeon in here. It's somewhere up and to my left, I can hear its claws skittering across metal, a girder perhaps? There are also chains rattling gently in the breeze that's blowing in my face. The breeze brings a low rumble of traffic in the distance and closer, the put-put-put of a diesel engine, marine I think, not a large one; a work boat, launch or something about that size. Without moving my head its hard to pinpoint, but I think it's ahead of me somewhere and moving diagonally to my left.

There's a smell of dust, brick dust I think, and decay about the place, I'm also getting dampness and a hint of mould. There's a whiff of oil and something else metallic that I can't quite place, then in the background the tang of salt and ozone, but no sound of waves on the shore so that rules out the coast. Rotting fish, diesel fumes and a hint of something unmentionable – a river. Tidal. The Tyne?

I feel the rough ground through the soles of my rather expensive shoes. It idly occurs to me that if my shoes are ruined there'll be hell to pay.

My ankles are tied to the legs of the chair, I presume its a chair, with something narrow. I can feel it biting into the skin even through my socks; not a rope then. My arms have been similarly treated, only they're pulled back and tied to the chair back. There's something heavy and cold against my neck that comes over both shoulders, draping in a diagonal cross over my chest then onto the floor. It feels like a chain against my skin.

Okay, enough is enough. I raise my head slightly and open my eyes. There's the scuff of a shoe on the broken ground to my right, quite close, and a sharp intake of breath. I think I just gave somebody a fright.

'Err...he's awake, like.'

I recognise that voice. Last time I heard it, it ended up in hospital with several fractured ribs.

'Glad you could join us, Mr Wheeler.' This voice is different, more of a whispered croak really, not a voice at all.

I focus on where the voice is coming from, taking in the two big lads in my peripheral vision, one standing each side of me about six feet distant. A few yards ahead is a wheelchair, the occupant of which looks familiar silhouetted in the moonlight streaming in through the old warehouse's open loading dock.

'As I live and breathe,' both lies but I force some levity into my tone, 'Geordie bloody Benson! Fancy seeing you here. I thought you were dead?'

'As you can see, Mr Wheeler,' Geordie whispers, 'Reports of my demise have been--'

'Greatly exaggerated?'

'Aye.'

'Shame.'

That earns me a crack on the skull from “Ribs” to my left.

'Leave him,' Geordie tries to shout as you would at a recalcitrant dog, instead he dissolves into a fit of coughing and needs help with the oxygen mask from the person who up until now I haven't noticed standing behind the wheelchair.

'It's alright, pet,' she croons softly, 'Take a few belts of this and you'll be champion, like.'

That's a turn-up for the books. I didn't think Geordie had a girlfriend.

'Hey, Geordie,' I call over, 'One of those slappers from the club providing personal services for you now?' Geordie had a nice little sideline in prostitution the last time I saw him.

More coughing and spluttering.

'I'm nee slapper, you cheeky bastard,' she barks, stepping forward. 'He's me kid brother, like.'

I'm still reeling from this revelation when “Ribs” smacks me in the side of the head so hard the chair tips over.

'Divent dee that, man,' she bellows while the two heavies turn me back the right way up. 'He's mine.' Geordie gurgles in the background.

I focus on her again. Where did that gun come from? The pistol looks huge in her small hand but I'll worry about that later, right now I'm more concerned with the fact that she's pointing it at me. I may have to do something about that. You see, Geordie I knew...I know. Evil he may be, but he likes a good speech before the tire irons start flying. This one I don't know, but I can see she's wound tighter than a watch spring, her knuckles white against the pistol's grip, and that's what makes her dangerous, not the gun.

She's shaking as she walks slowly towards me, and I don't think it's because of the cold. Nor do I think she's scared. She nearly turns an ankle on the rubble underfoot and I start praying the gun isn't going to go off.

'My name, Mr Wheeler, is Charlene Benson. Geordie works for me.'

With her accent, it comes out as “Mista.” So, this is the power behind the throne.



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Thursday, 28 April 2011

#FridayFlash: The Vampire Rabbit of Dean Street




The following is inspired by Icy Sedgwick's Photo Prompt 29 - Vampire Rabbit.

The story takes place first thing on a Monday morning in Newcastle and, owing to the location in which the story is set, includes a few words in the local dialect and idiom of the area. The building in question, and the rabbit statue really do exist, the characters on the other hand, are fictional.

Geordie and Jack are having a quick mug of tea before starting work on the facade of the building they are employed to rennovate...


Photo courtesy Icy Sedgwick. © Icy Sedgwick 2007 - 2011. All Rights Reserved.

________________________________


'Geordie, will you look at that?!' Jack pointed up to the front of the building they'd been working on.

'What, man?' Geordie put down his copy of the Daily Mirror swivelled round and glanced in the direction Jack pointed.

'Some bugger's nicked the rabbit, like.'

Geordie's gaze zeroed in on the plinth above the building's main entrance.

'Aw, shite! We'll be right in the clarts when Jamieson sees this.' Geordie tipped the rest of his tea onto the pavement and stood. 'Give us a hand then.'

'What with, like?'

'That, Jackie man, that.' Geordie indicated the hydraulic platform they'd been sitting on for their tea break. 'One of us is going to have to gan up and have a shufty.'

Jack did not reply, instead he busied himself with the platform's controls, manoeuvring it into place in front of the doorway. Geordie climbed onto the platform's deck and thumbed the switch to raise himself up level with the portico.

'Jackie man, this is a bit bloody weird, like' he called down as he surveyed the rabbit's plinth.

'Why?' Jack was more concerned about finding and replacing the statue before Jamieson, their foreman, discovered it was missing. Jamieson's temper was legendary and Jack had been the one responsible for locking off the platform the previous Friday night. It had been his daughter's birthday and he'd wanted to get away early, though as he thought about it, he was sure he had locked the platform's controls. Hadn't he unlocked them just now? If he hadn't locked them on Friday, that meant the platform had been left accessible all weekend.

'There's nee sign of any fixings, like,' replied Geordie as he reached out to run his fingertips over the smooth stone of the plinth. 'Not a bloody bolt hole nor nowt. It's like the rabbit was never here.'

'That's queer.'

'Queer? It's bloody odd is what it is, Jackie, man. There's not even a weather mark for where the statue's been neither.'

Geordie's eyes lit upon something he hadn't noticed at first.

'What it is?' called Jack.

'I divent narr, bonny lad. I know what it looks like, but,' Geordie paused, 'It can't be.'

'Can't be what, like?'

'Claw marks. On the front of the plinth. It's like summat was up here, flexing its fingers--'

'Paws'

'What?'

'Paws. Rabbits haven't got fingers.'

'Listen, clever shite, whether whatever it is has fingers, paws or whatever is the least of our worries. A better question is where the hell's it gone, like?'

Jack shrugged.

'Fat lot of help you are,' Geordie fumed as he lowered the platform back to ground level, wondering what sort of excuse they could come up with that Jamieson might go for. 'There's nowt for it, bonny lad. We'll have to tell him before he finds out, like.'

'But what are we going to tell him?' Jack ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair.

'I'm buggered if I know, but if he finds out second hand we'll both be collecting our cards.'

With weary hearts, Geordie and Jack headed for the site office.

'You did lock off the platform on Friday, Jackie, didn't you?'

* * *

A large black rabbit, about the size of a spaniel, crouched in the shadows of an industrial sized bin washing the last of the blood off its face with both paws. Thankfully the street was still deserted this early in the morning and, as soon as the two men passed, the rabbit broke cover and raced towards the building.

Its muscular back legs pumping, the rabbit hurtled towards the hydraulic platform. At the last second, when collision seemed inevitable, the rabbit leapt, describing a perfect arc through the clear morning air to land, with what appeared a well-practiced move, right in the middle of the plinth above the doors.

As the rabbit settled quickly into a crouched position, a roar of anger echoed from the nearby tin hut, followed closely by the sight of three men, a larger red-faced man preceding two others, running towards the building.

Three pairs of eyes raised skywards to meet the re-painted ones of the crouching rabbit statue above the building's entrance.

'So, it's gone, has it?' The red-faced man rounded on the other two, who quailed under his gaze. 'I don't know what you pair of silly bastards are trying to pull, but any more practical jokes and I'll sack the bloody pair of you.'

With that Jamieson spun on his heel and marched off toward the tin hut.

Geordie and Jack exchanged bewildered glances before Geordie shrugged and went to buy tea from a nearby café.

Jack, shielding his eyes against the morning sun, squinted up at the rabbit atop its plinth. His stomach turned to ice as he could have sworn the rabbit winked at him.

By the time Geordie returned with the tea, Jack had resolved to pack his job in and change careers. He wasn't sure what to exactly, but he figured he should be fine so long as it had nothing to do with rabbits.



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Thursday, 21 April 2011

#FridayFlash: Northern Vamp Tales Part 8


aka a Story, a Boo and a Question.



This story is part 8 in the Northern Vampire series. It follows on directly from my story Answers Part 3, which can be found here. I have a blog page here that lists all my vampire stories in chronological order.

________________________________

I'm in Newcastle, for my sins, sorting out the refurb of Lucien's new club. It's in a back lane off the Bigg Market, a bit of a dive, used to be a solicitor's offices.

Lucien's got this team of Polish builders in, and I don't understand a word they say but they're a canny bunch of lads. At least the foreman, Marek, speaks a bit of English. They seem to like me too, which might have something to do with me sorting out that traffic warden who came sniffing around the first night they were here. They're dossing down on site, see, and their van's on the double yellows out front.

I was in the office when it happened – I heard raised voices and a lot of Polish so I went down to see what was up and there's this little parking vulture tapping away at his computer. He was going to give them a ticket and Marek was doing his nut, so I called the warden over, showed him my fangs and told the specky little twat to piss off. God, I hate traffic wardens.

What do you mean, worried about drawing attention to myself? Bollocks! We're fireproof we are, well, you know what I mean. Friends in all the right places.

We've had no trouble since, and the van's been there a month now; funny, that.

I'm not enjoying sleeping on the office floor mind, it's not what I'm used to, too much like being back on the streets. Marek said yesterday he was surprised they didn't wake me during the renovations.

'We make early start, every day. Finish late,' he says, 'hammering, banging, all the time.'

They've been taking a wall down.

'But we not see you. You not disturb by our work?'

I shake my head.

He shakes his, 'You must sleep sleep of dead, no?' then jabbers something in Polish at Stanislav who's just put a nail through his hand, the silly sod.

He doesn't see me smile as I excuse myself. I tell him the sight of blood makes me nauseous and he laughs. It doesn't of course, it makes me hungry and it wouldn't do to eat the staff.

They also like me 'cos I can drink them under the table, which is no mean feat if you've seen how much Polish vodka these lads can put away; 95% proof it is and you could probably run your car on it. It's an interesting fact though, that I can still drink, but no matter how much alcohol I pour down my neck I never get pissed. Impresses Marek no end, that does.

You remember that woman in the back of my white van? Yeah, that's the one. Turns out she was a “goodwill gesture” from Lucien to the head lad up here, something about sealing the deal in blood, Lucien says. Aye that's right, we're everywhere if you'd only look, not too hard though, you might not like what you find.

In the end I swapped vans in an industrial estate in Gateshead a night late, but I reckon we must have got away with it because I haven't heard anything about the late delivery since.

The deeds to the club and a bundle of used fifties were in the glove box as arranged, which is handy 'cos Marek's very obliging for cash.

The only bother we've had so far is with the knuckle-dragging arseholes who owned the club further up the street. They reckon they're hard lads, Geordie Benson and the Bigg Market Boys they call themselves. Bunch of wankers. Anyway, two of them caught Tomas having a fag out the back by the bins the other night and gave him a right good going over. Broke all his fingers, which is a bit of a bastard, him being a chippy.

Piotr found him, he's Marek's gas fitter. He comes in all full of hell, the veins on his neck in danger of bursting. I had to look away. When I found out what had occurred I was all for calling the emergency number Lucien gave me, but Marek's all, 'Is no problem. We take care of this.'

He looks at me with this half smile and an expression that'd chill you to the bone. He scares the fuck out of me when he's like that, and I'm a vampire. I wouldn't want to have to take him on. He'd lose, but still.

'I was not always builder,' is all he says and I believe him.

Next morning's gas explosion, that's what plod says it is and who am I to argue, completely levels Geordie's place, taking him and most of his crew with it. We knew they were still in there 'cos Tomas had been casing the place from our front window. Poor sod couldn't do much else, his fingers splinted like that, just watch, drink vodka and curse.

I met Geordie the first day I arrived. He couldn't wait to pop over and “introduce” himself. I put two of his lads in hospital that time. Fat, greasy bastard is, was, Geordie. Forehead like a set of stepped balconies and beady eyes like a rat, but you could see the menace behind them. Smoked like a chimney too and didn't give a fuck about rules and regulations. I'm pretty sure the anti-smoking law didn't extend as far as Geordie's office in the club, I just neglected to appraise Marek of that fact.

Turns out Piotr was over there the night before after closing time, doctoring the booze in Geordie's office so they were all sound asleep when it blew. I never did find out how he got in, probably best not to ask, know what I mean?

I think Marek and Piotr only planned to gas Geordie and his lads but hey, two birds with one stone and all that. Lucien's club should do quite nicely now the competition's out of the picture.

Anyhow, I'd better get on. We open tomorrow night and there's still a million and one things need doing. I've got pole dancers to interview for one thing, and the very thought is making me peckish.

________________________________

And now, as Monthy Python would say, for something completely different...

Having been “encouraged” for months I have finally, and with much trepidation, taken the plunge and recorded the above story as an AudioBoo. If you could spare me a couple of minutes, four minutes and fifty-five seconds to be precise, to have a listen and to hear the world-famous voice that has been described as a cat gargling with spanners for the first time, please hit Play below; I'd appreciate it. I have the perfect voice for print, so don't say I didn't warn you!

Listen!

And finally, the question, well, three questions really: how does listening to the story as opposed to reading it change your perception of my character and story? Would you care to hazard a guess at the number of spanners the cat is gargling with? And, should I do it again?

If you'd like to read my thoughts on AudioBoo as a concept, last year I was kindly invited to write a guest post for Tony Noland's Landless blog.



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Thursday, 14 April 2011

#FridayFlash: Answers Part 3




This story is part 3 in the Northern Vampire: Answers series. The previous instalment can be found here, and if you'd like to read it from the beginning, please go here.

________________________________

So there I am, propped up in Lucien's armchair, feeling like shite while he regales me with more of his story. I'm not really sure I'm up to this, it feels like my brain's in danger of dribbling out of my ears. As I was to learn later, much later, there's no stopping Lucien once he's got a bee in his bonnet about something, of course I'd don't know this yet, for now it's like having to sit through your Auntie's holiday snaps in a single sitting, all of them.

Anyway, Lucien's still speaking, banging on about his Conversion...

...my brain finishes the thought for me with, “...on the road to Damascus” and I nearly get the giggles. Thankfully Lucien doesn't seem to notice, so wrapped up is he in his memories.

'I lay in cellar for two days and nights while the Purge was upon me, and was close to immolation when, on the third day I attempted to leave my sanctuary during daylight. It was not until darkness fell that I gathered my courage and left that accursed cellar. I fervently prayed--'

He laughs.

'Prayed I would not be discovered by the Infidel, and I was not. I know now that I had some power over their minds even in my weakened state, though at the time I concluded luck, and God must be on my side.'

Lucien pauses and sips his drink.

Is that red wine?

'Passing through the enemy lines proved a more simple task than I had imagined. My senses tingled, I was alert to everything. I presumed this was because of my fear of being discovered, of being captured, I know now it was my body's natural reaction to my new state of being.'

I don't think that is red wine, you know. And it ain't fecking Ribena either.

I'm having trouble following this. Feels like someone is blowing a high-pitched whistle right in my ears. I lean over and puke my guts up into the bucket.

'A crippling weakness came upon me suddenly as I neared the camp of my Order, and had the shepherd's hut not presented itself I fear I may have died lying in the desert when the sun rose.'

Lucien pauses again, staring over my shoulder with a glazed look in his eyes.

Is that a tear rolling down his cheek?

'What I did to Marzuq and his family that night...I regret to this day, especially to little Basim. A lovely boy, he seemed to have no fear of us despite our sickness, he often assisted me with the care of Mistral--'

He gestures at the horse in the glass case.

'That I should repay that kindness with death has haunted me to this day.'

'You killed...all of them?' I croak.

Lucien takes a moment before replying. 'I did not wish to, but once the urge to feed comes upon us, only a supreme effort of will prevents us from feeding at the first opportunity. You have yet to face the Urge,' he says with a wry smile and my guts turn to ice.

'When I stumbled into camp, my fellows took my being covered in blood to mean I had been attacked and carried me to my tent where I lay in a stupor for what seemed like days, unable to rise or to speak.'

Lucien wanders over to the French doors, slides them closed, staring out through the smoked glass for a while. I concentrate on trying to stay upright in the chair.

'Most of the camp was sure I had been struck down with the plague and would come nowhere near my tent, though after two days with neither food nor water two of my brother knights ventured to see if I still lived. As they approached the pallet on which I lay I was seized by the Urge once more--'

He's a bloody maniac! How many people has he killed?

Lucien glares at me. 'I know not what was different, but suffice to say my two brother knights and I left our camp under cover of darkness three days later and made for home.'

I fumble through the maths on my fingers.

That means there's...

'Three of us. Yes, you are correct, though only two of us still live.'

Lucien looks genuinely sad and for the first time I feel a sense of pity for him.

'Do not pity me, boy,' he roars and I nearly jump clean out of the chair. He's next to me in a heartbeat, his face inches from my nose.

'Never pity me,' he hisses. I make a mental note never to pity him.

'Enough!' he says, 'You need to rest. We will talk again once you have regained your strength.'

Lucien produces a blanket from somewhere, chucks it over me and stalks off into the hall. I just sit there, dribbling.



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Monday, 11 April 2011

Emma Newman on Tour


As I sit here listening to the heavy rain bouncing off my windowsill, my mind is drawn back to the splendid sunshine of yesterday and to the lovely couple of hours I spent in the company of Emma Newman at her book signing event in Sunderland.

Emma recently released her anthology of short stories, From Dark Places, and as part of her book launch and tour she kindly agreed to make the trek up to the north east for a signing.


Emma Newman looking suitably enigmatic behind the cover
of her anthology of short stories, From Dark Places.


Over the next few weeks, Emma will be appearing at events in London and the southwest, if you can spare her a couple of hours of your time you won't be disappointed.

As part of the event, we were treated to a reading of The Letter, one of the From Dark Places stories, and a personal favourite of mine.

Emma reading "The Letter," one of the From Dark Places stories
at her Sunderland book signing.

From Dark Places is an eclectic mix of twenty-five wonderfully dark stories, some shot through with humour, and all told in Emma's inimitable style. What makes them all the more special is the stories were inspired by prompts given by members of Emma's Short Story Club; if you haven't signed up yet, you really should. I'll wait, it'll only take you a moment...

...You're back? Good. Here's the rear cover blurb:

Abby finds a creative solution to her father’s problems. Ben makes a pact with the Devil for a new Mum. Katie is pursued by unrelenting voices. John just found his colleague’s hand in a strange girl’s lap. Jarvis is falling apart on his wedding day. Rosalind comes face-to-face with her number one fan. And that is just the beginning.

E.J. Newman’s debut anthology is a dark and twisting journey across the urban landscape, mining the rich seam of human frailties with insight and humour. The stories traverse the magical and the mundane, where supernatural beings are indistinguishable from their mortal counterparts in their complexity and complicity.

Edited by Jodi Cleghorn, writer, managing editor of Chinese Whisperings and joint owner of eMergent Publishing along with UK writer Paul Anderson, From Dark Places is published by eMergent Publishing in the UK and Australia and is available in both ebook and print formats from Emma's website.

Emma Newman signing books at the Sunderland event.

From Dark Places gives an excellent introduction to Emma's work ahead of the publication in July of her debut novel, 20 Years Later. Published by Dystopia Press, 20 Years Later is a Young Adult tale of life in a post-apocalyptic future London, and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.



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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

#5MinuteFiction: And...We Have A Winner!


Afternoon all! Well, the poll is now closed and the results are in. We've had 31 votes cast since yesterday, so a huge thank you to everyone who took part and voted.

And now, with out further pontificating on my part, I am pleased to announce...

...pauses to build the tension like on TV talent shows...

...not yet...

...nearly time for the announcement...

Drum roll please! And the winner is...

Corinne O’Flynn (@CorinneOFlynn on Twitter) with a whopping 18 votes. Here's her entry:

The police detective stood over the body that was sprawled on the floor at his feet. There was blood everywhere, so much blood. And the way her body'd been flayed open like that was clearly the work of the same guy. No doubt about it.

"You wanna call it?" The police officer asked.

"Yeah, no question. It's the work of the same guy." The detective said. "We've got to catch him soon, or the chief's gonna have us for breakfast."

This was the fourth body to be found in as many days. Usually a serial killer took a break in between kills. Not this guy. If you counted the hours he was actually ramping up. Not good. Not good at all.

The two detectives stood on the edge of the room, careful to touch nothing and stand still on the small patch of dry wood floor available amidst the blood. The forensics team was still five minutes away.

There was a creaking sound above them. The two officers looked up and stared, the brains not comprehending what their eyes were clearly seeing.

The creature crouched on the ceiling like a fly. It was looking down at them with a curious look on its leathery purple-skinned face. It was covered in orange fur that seemed to sparkle in the harsh light from the single bulb in the corner of the room.

There was a snick as it opened its blade-like claws, a single drop of blood dripped to the floor. Its face spread wide in a grisly smile. The two detectives had nowhere to go, the door behind them was shut and opened inward.

The creature had them trapped.

Congratulations, Corinne!

Even if you missed the contest, you can still read the entries here, and find out what our guest judge, Julie Morrigan, thought about the finalists here.



Thanks again to everyone who took part in this week's #5MinuteFiction. Catch you later!



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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

#5MinuteFiction Blog Tour: The Finalists


Evening all, Sam here again!

Thanks to everyone who took part in #5MinuteFiction this week. Julie has given me her picks and the poll is up in the sidebar to your left. Yes, yes, I know I said it was going to be in the previous post, but I guy can change his mind, right? Especially when he can't work out the HTML code to put the poll into the previous post. *ahem*

Anyway, without further ado, here are Julie's thoughts on the contest, her first experience of #5MinuteFiction. Over to you, Julie...

First of all, I want to say that I am full of admiration for everyone who wrote something for the challenge. See a prompt, come up with an idea, write it in five minutes, post it. For an inveterate word-tinkerer like myself, that is a scary prospect. It can take me longer than that to compose an off-the-cuff email. So, well-deserved respect and props to all concerned. You rock!

Now, to the final five. I have to say that my approach to this was the same as the one taken by a lot of the ezines and magazines I like (and sometimes submit to): there were no rejections, just acceptances. From a read through of everything submitted, I got three that stood out for me straight off. Then I had the pleasure of reading through everything again and picking two more favourites. And it was a pleasure, make no mistake. Hanging out with creative and talented people could never be anything else.

So, the five, in the order they appear in the comments:

1) D. Paul - I love how this opens a window onto what is clearly a much bigger conflict, how it takes a small part of the whole and distils it into personal danger, courage and sacrifice. For me, that’s how big issues are understood: by looking at how they affect the individual. Nice work!

2) S.P. Bowers - this is such a lovely snapshot of a dysfunctional relationship, of the destructive games people play. The characters are beautifully drawn and one cannot help but wonder how many sets of drawn curtains in suburbia shield us from this kind of nightmare.

3) Corinne O’Flynn - just brilliant. It was horrific enough to think a serial killer was on the loose, but the locked door and the monster on the ceiling? And that single drop of blood was chilling.

4) Rebecca T - I felt like I had been caught in an avalanche when I read this. So nicely written - and yet absolutely suffocating.

5) That Neil Guy - I love this, the set-up, the pay off. I laughed out loud. This is truly a cautionary tale for anyone tempted to nick a woman’s beer. Be warned!

Thanks again to everyone who took part, and to Sam for giving me the chance to get involved. Great fun, I absolutely loved it!

So, there you have it. Thanks so much for judging, Julie.

To read the entries, please go here:

Now, go and vote, people!





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#5MinuteFiction Blog Tour


Hello #5MinuteFictionistas! Are you ready for this?

First of all, welcome to Future; Nostalgic and many thanks to Leah Petersen for inviting me to be part of the #5MinuteFiction blog tour, I'm thrilled.

For anyone who hasn't participated before, I'd just like to run through the rules, and then I'll introduce our guest judge for this week. First, the rules...

The Rules

The contest starts at 6:30pm GMT (1:30pm EST) and I'll ammend this post at that point to include this week's prompt. You will then have five minutes (hence the name #5MinuteFiction. Good, eh?) to write a piece of prose in any style or genre. Your piece must reference this week's prompt.

Post your piece in the comments on this post by 6:45pm GMT (1:45pm EST); the extra time is to take account of the vagaries of the internet. I'll round out the contest with a comment at the end then hand the judging over to our guest judge for the week, more about them later. Our guest judge will nominate five finalists and I'll add a poll to this post at 8:00pm GMT (3:00pm EST) and you can all vote. You do not need to have taken part in the contest to vote.

The poll will run until just before 2:00pm GMT (9:00am EST) on Wednesday, 6th April, when I'll close the poll and announce the winner here at Future;Nostalgic.

This week's prompt is: Trap



(Note: The prompt is the word. The picture is for inspiration.
Thanks to Future; Nostalgic's Skiing Correspondent for the photo.)


Our guest judge this week is my good friend and fellow northern writer, Julie Lewthwaite, who writes as Julie Morrigan. Julie has recently published her first e-book, a short story anthology entitled Gone Bad, which is available on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and over at Smashwords. Gone Bad is an excellent collection of dark tales of human nature, here's the Smashwords description:

Tales about bad people doing bad things. This short story collection features a rare cast of characters: flawed, foul-mouthed, misguided and downtrodden, all of whom might be said to have, in one way or another, ‘gone bad’. This is strong stuff, no holds barred and no punches pulled. You wouldn’t want to be sharing the last bus home with these people!

I must confess to not having published a review of Gone Bad yet as I'm reading it through laced fingers from behind a cushion! It really is a great anthology, and I heartily recommend it.

Right then, just a couple of things before I sign off...

In the interests of ease, it's probably better to just type your submission directly into the comments box at the end of this post. Don't forget to save a copy before you hit Send, just in case Blogger eats your entry. Any problems, drop me a line through my Contact Me page and I'll do my best to assist.

Don't forget to add your Twitter handle to your entry if you have one, and a link to your blog if you'd like to.

And finally, there is no prize for this contest, so just do it for fun and enjoy yourself!

Right then, see you back here at 6:30pm GMT (1:30pm EST) for the fun and games!



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Thursday, 31 March 2011

#FridayFlash: Answers Part 2



As the long velvet curtains closed behind Lucien I considered my options. On the one hand, he did tell a good story, on the other hand...

In a heartbeat, ironic turn of phrase don't you think, I'm sprinting through the long hall, hoping I can find the exit. It's not going to be back up those stairs, so I plunge through the ground-floor door and skid to a halt in a tiled-floored lobby.

I have a quick look round – there's a door ahead of me and one to my left, but it's the big iron-bound oak door to my right that looks like my best best, I reckon. I dash past a rail of coats and muddy boots and throw my shoulder against the door. And bounce off. It's locked. Shit.

Oh, hang on, this door's got one of those posh locks on it that means it's locked from the outside, but has a latch on this side so you can always get out. I flick the latch, haul the door open – why do you always push a pull door when you're panicing – and dive through.

There's the brief sensation of gravel under my bare feet. Next thing I know, I'm going arse-over-tit, coming to rest upside down in a flowerbed. I'd expect to be winded, but I'm not. Odd, that. Lucien's leaning against the front wall rubbing the scuff mark off his shoe where he tripped me.

'I told you you'd never make it,' he says, helping me to my feet. 'You'd best come back inside, the sun will be up in an hour.'

The sun? What the hell does that have to do with anything, I wonder.

Lucien slings an arm around my shoulders and propels be back into the house. I mutter every curse I can think of, and he chuckles when I get to, “may his ears turn to arseholes and shit down his neck.” I glare at him out the corner of my eye.

'Aren't you going to lock that?' I tip my head towards the front door as Lucien kicks it shut behind us.

'No need. Once the sun rises, neither of us is going anywhere.'

So, the part about sunlight and vampires must be true, but why's he including me in that statement?

Reality dawns with a suddeness that makes my legs turn to jelly and my stomach turns over. Lucien catches me before I fall, but can't stop me chundering a mixture of whisky and bile all over his expensive-looking carpet.

I swear, if he says, 'Better out than in,' I'll swing for him.

'The Purge has begun. Good,' is what he says instead and I still want to take a swing at him, but I'm feeling decidedly wobbly so he half-carries me back to the armchair and sits down opposite.

My head's spinning and I'm not sure I'm taking this all in. I only dimly notice Lucien placing a bucket next to my chair before the rest of the whisky comes back up.

'How long?' I croak.

'The Purge?'

I nod, weakly.

'Twenty four hours, or thereabouts.'

Looking back on it, I'm quite surprised it doesn't take longer to remove every last, lingering shred of my humanity. You'd think it'd take longer.

'You will feel better once the Purge has run its course. You might even feel like eating something by tomorrow.'

Did he say eating someone? I'm having real trouble keeping up. Feels like my brain is being extracted through my eye sockets with a blunt teaspoon.

'Rest, don't try to talk. You will need all your strength later.'

Rest? No kidding! I'll put my plans for running the London marathon on hold for now then, shall I?

'Since you seem to be prepared to listen to the rest of my story, I shall continue.'

Prepared to? Prepared to?! And just what else did I have on my social calendar for this evening? As I feel as weak as a kitten and probably couldn't stand even if I wanted to, I decide it might be better not to mention this out loud.

Lucien's eyes narrow. Oh shit, he thought-heard me again.

'As I was saying,' he continues, 'it was dark when the woman came. I know this for there were no chinks of light through the rocks which entombed me and it was cold. From her speech I thought her a Saracen woman. The only part of me left exposed was my left forearm. I never saw her face, just felt a stabbing pain in my wrist and began to feel weak, so very weak. I thought she had opened my veins and left me to bleed to death when I heard her piling rocks over my arm.

I know not whether I slept or was unconscious but, as I later discovered, I lay beneath that pile of stones for two days and nights until my strength returned and I was finally able to claw my way out. I was still weak, as you are now, but I was alive. Or so I believed.'



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Friday, 25 March 2011

#FridayFlash: Answers Part 1




Where was I? Oh aye, I was telling you about Lucien wasn't I? So there I was, sitting in one of Lucien's high-backed leather armchairs, a fine single malt sloshing round my glass because I couldn't stop my hands from shaking, and there he is, peering down the length of the blade of that sharp-looking broadsword he has pointing vaguely in the direction of my chest. I remember thinking I wish he'd put that bloody sword down.

Lucien crosses to the fireplace and hangs the sword on some sword stand-type thing. My shaking hands step down a notch. He pours himself a drink while I go to sip mine, miss my mouth and pour half of it down my front. Shit.

There's a smile on Lucien's face as he turns. It's like he heard me or something, but that's daft, I never said a word.

'My name,' he announces like a music hall impresario, 'is Luc de Senniere.'

He bows. All I can think is, Oh God, not only is he a paedo, he's French too. No hint of an accent, mind. I start wondering if I can make it through those open doors to the garden before he can stop me, he seems a bit nifty on his feet. I'm so caught up in that thought I almost miss the next bit. Almost.

'And I am a vampire.'

That last word knocks on my brain to attract attention like a bloke with a sledgehammer. I go all hot and cold at the same time. It's like I'm not really in my own body. I hear myself giggle, then laugh, then guffaw so hard my sides ache. Lucien looks genuinely hurt. I don't think that's the reaction he was expecting. I don't think he was too impressed with my next utterance either.

'Bollocks!,' I hear myself say, still fighting to get my breath. 'You're French.' I still don't know why I said that.

Lucien sits down in the chair opposite and broods for a while. I desperately try to get myself under control while still eyeing the doors out of the corner of my eye.

'You'd never make it,' he says and I believe him.

'Alright,' I reply, 'Presuming for just a moment you really are a vampire, where's your fangs then, eh?'

A half smile crosses Lucien's face, then his eyes roll back in their sockets like a shark's and his fangs slide into place.

'Fuck me!' I'm on my feet now, wreathed in a cold sweat.

'Thave yourthelf the trouble,' Lucien lisps round his fangs, 'Thit down and allow me to exthplain.'

I sit down. I'm about to be shagged up the arse by a French vampire, can this get any worse?

Lucien's face returns to normal and he fixes me with those grey eyes of his.

'You have nothing to fear from me--'

I'll be the judge of that, I think.

'—especially not in the way you seem overly concerned with.'

I do my level best to stop thinking. It's not easy.

'As I said, my name is Luc de Senniere, I am indeed French,' his eyes narrow for just a second, 'from a small village in Bretagne, which sadly no longer exists, and I am a vampire.'

I'm not laughing this time.

'I was born in the year of Our Lord 1163, and Awakened in the Holy Land during the aftermath of the Siege of Jerusalem in 1187.'

I've gone cold inside, very cold. My brain's desperately trying to do some quick maths here.

'So that makes you--'

'847 years old. Yes, that is correct.'

I'm still having trouble taking this all in. I did mention history is not my strong point, didn't I?

'So what were you, some sort of knight or summat? A Templar?!'

Lucien laughs, puts his head back and roars with laughter. It's infectious, and soon I'm giggling along with him, until he stops dead and says, 'No. Not a Templar.'

No-one's laughing now.

'I will tell you my story, but you must promise not to interrupt.'

Oh God, don't tell me there'll be questions at the end, I wonder.

'No, there will not be questions.'

I wish he would stop doing that. Gives me the willies, so-to-speak.

'To cut a very long story painfully short, I was born the youngest of four brothers to the lord of Senniere. My family's holding was a poor place so there was no chance of land or wealth for me as the youngest. My father had designs on the church for me, though I had other ideas and determined to make myself, umm...an unattractive proposition for our bishop. On the day of my twentieth birthday I took the cross, my father having no alternative than to arrange the confirmation of my knighthood. His pride would not have allowed him to do otherwise. With horse and armour I set off for Jerusalem in the Spring of 1183.'

There's a sadness about Lucien at this point so as I almost believe him.

'Jerusalem was not how you might imagine it. An ancient city, yes, but not the place described in history books. I could not believe I had been so naive. The heat, the flies, the smell, the sanitation, the Templars under the command of that bastard Gerard de Ridefort,' he pauses, 'and that devil's whelp Reynaud de Chastillon.'

Lucien almost spits the names so I reckon there must be some history there. I watch as he composes himself again before continuing.

'I was able to find myself a place in the retinue of Guy de Lusignan, and that is a story in itself, but soon I became ill. Leprosy. My lord sent me to the hospital of the Order of St Lazarus outside the city walls, though when Salah ad-Dīn laid siege to the city I, and nineteen of my brother knights similarly afflicted were recalled to duty.'

He pauses and sips his drink. 'Six days and nights we fought. I was next to my lord Guy when the wall came down on September the twenty-ninth. If I had not pushed him to safety he would have been crushed. Of course if I had not acted as I did I may not have ended up buried in the rubble myself. I was hurt, badly, but not dead, though I wished to die before the enemy found me.'

Lucien looks over at me and does that half-smile of his. He must be able to see my eyes are like dinner plates and, despite myself, I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to hear how the story ends. That will have to wait though, Lucien has gone all maudlin and doesn't want to talk any more. He mutters something about the battle of the horns, I think, and wanders back out into the garden.

Please note: the views expressed by the characters in this work may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.



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Friday, 18 March 2011

#FridayFlash: In Pursuit of Knowledge




I come to lying on something softer than the usual concrete floor and it takes me a few minutes to realise I'm in a bed. The black silk sheets are a nice touch. Then I realise I'm naked and have a little wobble, okay, a big wobble. I may even have called Lucien a dirty fuckin' paedo out loud, at least till I check round the back and since my arse doesn't hurt I start to relax a bit.

It's a bit of a shock, let me tell you, waking up starkers in a strange bed. The last thing I remember is being in Lucien's car, and the word Rohypnol keeps marching across my mind in pit boots. I'd better go and have a word, just in case liberties have been taken. I'll not stand for that.

There's a wardrobe full of clothes, expensive designer stuff. That's mildly worrying. Presumably he's done this sort of thing before? Well, if nothing else I may as well profit from a new outfit, so I rake out a pair of decent-looking jeans, a t-shirt, hoodie and a rather nice leather jacket. I dress quickly, then check myself in the mirror, only I don't, 'cos I'm not there.

Whoa! What the f--! What the fuck's going on here? I'm in front of the mirror, slap-bang in front of it, but the reflection only shows an empty room. Alright, time for some answers I think as I head for the door, half expecting to find it locked from the outside, but no, it isn't and I'm padding down a stone corridor cursing myself for not grabbing a pair of trainers to go with my new outfit. In my defence, I'd had a shock. It's not everyday you discover you no longer have a reflection.

The corridor gives out onto a balcony overlooking a long room with a high-ceiling. It looks a bit like the reading room at the British Library. Not that I'd know, I've never set foot in the place. Wouldn't want you thinking I was some sort of literary geek or something. There's some posh furniture in here, sumptuous as my old Mother would say, and a bit at the far end separated off by bookcases. I can see a roaring fire through the gap between them.

I head down the stairs and across the room. The carpet's warm and soft on my feet. I can't resist wiggling my toes in the deep pile, I can't remember the last time I had carpet under my feet. I reach the gap in the bookcases and peer through. It's some kind of office-come sitting room, all big fireplaces and leather high-backed chairs. There's also a desk with one of the latest touch-screen computers on it. So, Lucien's not short of a bob or two. I might make a few quid out of this yet.

Stepping through the gap, I stand in front of the fire, which is nice as I can't seem to get warm since I woke up. As I look round the room from this side, my eyes take in the paintings, old ones like the bollocks you usually find in museums, there's also a table with decanters on it, I make a mental note to help myself later. Then there's the book cases, only they aren't from this side. They're glass display cases. Bloody hell! Running almost from floor to ceiling, the display cases are full of weapons and armour – axes, those spiky ball-on-a-stick things and swords, big bastard sharp looking swords. I feel my stomach turn over.

The other one has a horse in it. Yes, a fucking horse! It's stuffed, I think. I mean, it has to be, either that or it's the best mime I've ever seen. It's got a saddle on, and one of those fancy cloth things knights used to have. A Comparison, or something like that. Can you tell history wasn't my favourite subject at school? The cloth-thing is black, or at least it would have been when it was new, and there's a crest on it – a green cross, a bit like the Knights Templar, but not.

I freeze. Hang on a minute, what's the noise? Sounds like somebody chopping wood. The noise is coming from behind a set of floor to ceiling red velvet curtains. Funny, I hadn't even noticed them before., but now I do I can see there's a draught coming under them that makes the bottom ends billow a bit. I pad over and peep through between them.

There's a big picture window behind, with tinted glass, and a pair of French doors, one of which is open. These look out over a walled garden, in the middle of which is Lucien, stripped to the waist and knocking seven colours of shite out of a wooden post with one of those big swords. And it's dark as pitch out there, must be night time. How long did I sleep?

I let go the curtain and take a step back. Lucien appears as if by magic. Christ Almighty he can shift when he wants to, it must be at least fifty yards to that post.

'You're awake,' he says matter-of-factly.

'Err...yeah,' I murmur. God, I could do with a drink. My hands are shaking.

'You'll be expecting answers.'

I nod, like one of those flamin' dogs you see in the backs of cars. For some reason I can't seem to get the words out.

'Help yourself to a drink and take a seat. I shall explain.'

So I do, and he does, but that's a story for another time. Right now I'm more concerned with that bloody big sword Lucien still has in his hand, it looks sharp and it's pointed my way.



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Thursday, 24 February 2011

#FridayFlash: Just The Driver





All being well the pixies will return next week, but in the meantime, here's a new vampire story starring the same character as in last week's #FridayFlash, A Rude Awakening. He's gone a bit noir in this one, you have been warned!

___________________________

I'm 'Up North' for the first time in ages, delivering a package for Lucien, and it's been a ball-ache of a journey so far. Having to travel by night places a fair few restrictions on a trip of any length, and it doesn't help when the van gets a puncture and I have to spend valuable time changing the wheel in a lay-by, my arse inches away from the traffic in the slow lane. Oh yeah, and it's raining so I'm bloody soaked. 'Triffic.

No Aston for me this trip either, too conspicuous according to Lucien, so here I am, playing at being “white van man,” with my rear end twitching faster than a ship's cat in a barrel every time one of those artics thunders by.

And then there's Plod. Never around when you bloody well need him, which can be a blessing in my line of work, but by God doesn't he always show up at the most inconvenient of moments? Just don't ask to look in the back of the van. No, really. Don't.

Here he comes now, a black rat, a traffic copper. All spit and swagger, tapping his pen on his pad of traffic tickets and moaning something about the van's tinted windows. He goes back to his patrol car, pulls a gadget out of the boot and puts it up against my driver's window. I reckon he can smell a ticket in the offing for the tint on the glass being too dark. As he takes his reading I thumb the button on the key fob in my pocket and the little device Lucien had installed adjusts the tint to just within legal limits. Not too much mind, just enough.

Plod does not look happy. He packs his kit away and I wish him a cheery good evening as I throw the jack onto the passenger seat. Trouble is, now I'm stuck with one of those bloody “space-saver” spares, it'll be like driving on a feckin' ice skate, and I'm limited to 50mph. Bollocks. This is going to put a serious crimp in my evening.

About half an hour later I'm starting to feel peckish so I swing the van into the motorway services' car park. Well hello, what do we have here then?

My headlights splash over a little car tucked away almost out of sight in among the trucks in the HGV parking area. Steamed up windows and rocking like there's a high wind, which there isn't. I hop out of the van and stroll over. Tapping on the passenger window stops the rocking. Stops it dead. There's some scuffling then the door opens a crack. Bugger me, it's the copper from earlier, all red-faced and sweating with his trousers round his ankles, and some tart young enough to be his daughter in the back seat.

She squeaks something unintelligible and flings an arm over her naked breasts while he climbs out and starts blustering, fumbling with his belt. I reach into my back pocket and flash the DI's warrant card at him. That gets his attention. I can see the look in his eyes as he mentally chews over whether or not his career's fucked. It's not a real warrant card, just a little insurance policy Lucien suggested I carry, he has them run up in bulk by some bloke in a lock-up somewhere. It's not brilliant, but it's good enough to fool the copper. I don't give him time to read it properly either, just long enough to register my supposed rank. I keep my finger over the name.

The wedding band on his fingers gives me an “in,” and he's soon on his way, mightily relieved he (a) didn't nick a senior officer earlier in the evening, and (b) that I've agreed, after some persuasion, to say nothing to his Inspector about the position I've just found him in. I did suggest transferring him to the dog section, or was that dogging section? Just my little joke.

He'll have more to worry about than that soon enough I reckon as I climb back into the van's driving seat. As soon as the SOCOs find the girl in the car, her throat ripped out and full of his semen he'll be screwed. Literally I shouldn't wonder, once the old lags get their hands on him. A life sentence on Rule 43, your arse kept firmly against the wall, it's enough to give a bloke the shivers. Silly sod should have used a condom.

My fangs retract as I throw the van into gear and roar out onto the motorway. I can still taste her. Eighteen years old if she was a day and very fresh, like one of those juicy green apples I used to like. Used to.

I'm not going to make it before dawn, so I pull the van off the motorway and manage to get parked up in a quiet spot down some faceless country lane just as the sun's starting to come up. This is going to be tight, I think as I sprint round to the back doors and throw myself inside. I can already feel the heat in my skin as I haul the doors shut. The sunburn's going to hurt like a bastard by the time I wake up.

I chain the doors tight shut behind me. Can't have the package getting loose while I have a kip, and there's no way I'm hunting about the countryside for it, not during daylight at any rate. I'll go up like a Roman Candle if I try that.

Just before I settle down I check the cable ties keeping the woman trussed up in her sleeping bag. She rolls frightened eyes at me and tries to wriggle away, not that she's going anywhere, strung up the way she is like a Christmas turkey.

“It's alright pet, I'm just the driver. You've nothing to fear from me.”

I curl up on the other side of the van and drift off to sleep. No, I have no idea who she is. Pays not to ask, know what I mean? I'm just the driver.



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Thursday, 17 February 2011

#FridayFlash: A Rude Awakening





The pixies are taking a short break, but in their stead here's one from the vaults. I'm planning to have an all-new vampire story for you next Friday too.

___________________________

Kat and I had spent the day hanging round the Theatre Royal’s stage door trying to keep out of London’s bitter winter weather. Luckily we got on well with Joe, the stage doorman, and he’d kept up a steady flow of mugs of tea to ward off the cold. A serial tea drinker, our Joe. Now we were looking for somewhere warm to sleep.

So there we were, round the back of the theatre, sheltering from the stinging sleet which had begun lashing down at dusk, and wondering whether we could bed down among the discarded cardboard in one of the theatre’s big industrial bins when that last mug of tea started to make its presence felt to my bladder.

Diving round the other side of the bin, I went to relieve myself while Kat stayed out of the worst of the sleet storm. I was just tugging my zip down when a figure turned the corner into the alley. All I could see in the flickering light of the single, faulty streetlamp was a tall, thin man in full evening dress, complete with cane, opera cape and a top hat. This was the sort of bloke Joe would have called a “proper toff.”

Kat hissed to me from her side of the bin, ‘You seen that knob over there? Bet he’s got a few quid.’

She winked and, as I zipped up thinking the tea would have to hang on a bit longer, I knew exactly what was going through her mind. At least I thought I did.

Did I tell you about Kat? Willowy little Irish thing in her late teens, all pale skin, flaxen hair and delicious curves. Eyes like a spring morning sky that could melt icebergs, if she was in the mood. And as hard as nails. We first met that summer when we were arrested in a police raid after both taking a wrong turn on the way back from separate spots of petty larceny on Oxford Street. I never said I was a saint.

We’d ended up among a crowd of protesters yelling vociferously about something or other - ban the whale, save the bomb, whatever. By the time we were released from custody we’d become friends and had been looking out for each other ever since.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.

As the man drew level with my side of the bin, I stepped out of the shadows slowly so as not to frighten him too much, just enough, and did my best to look pathetic and needy, with just a hint of menacing. I wasn’t too good at menacing, dressed as I was like an advert for ‘Man at Salvation Army.’

He began turning towards me, then Kat sprang at him from the other side of the bin. I thought we were only going to rough him up a bit, I didn’t know she had a knife till I caught a flash of the blade in the streetlamp’s orange glow.

I suddenly had the uncanny feeling this wasn’t going to end well and started forward to head her off, but I’d only moved a step before the man’s arm shot out and, in a perfectly timed manoeuvre, grabbed Kat by the throat, swung her up off the ground, and I heard a sickening crack as he broke her neck with nothing more than a flick of his wrist.

‘No style,’ he muttered as Kat’s lifeless body landed at his feet.

I registered the shock on her face, saw the knife slide out of her hand, then turned and ran. I must have made it oh, a whole five yards before I felt, rather than saw, the shadow pass me, then suddenly there was an iron band round my throat and my feet were the ones windmilling as I was hoisted into the air.

My heart was hammering in my chest as I dangled like a rag doll in his vicelike grip. I struggled for breath and began to choke, all the while surveyed by the most piercing green eyes I have ever seen, framed in a pale, angular face.

Then he sniffed my face, not the snuffling sniff of a dog, a single long delicate sniff like a chef examining the heady aroma of a rare ingredient and, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, my fear melted away in that instant, replaced by a burning white hot rage and I swung my fist at his face. My clumsy punch connected with his right jaw and he grunted. I winced as a wave of pain radiated up to my wrist from my newly broken knuckles. I’ve never been a fighter.

“Spirit,” he murmured with just a hint of surprise, “I like that.”

I didn’t, my hand was regretting it already.

As his eyes rolled back in his head and his fangs slid into place, a couple of things happened almost simultaneously – I felt my eyes widen to the size of saucers and, as he pulled me close and sank his fangs into the side of my neck, I pissed myself all over his shoes.

Then everything went black.

Now, let me tell you something. The entertainment industry has a lot to answer for as they have, en masse, got it wrong. Very badly wrong. There is nothing even remotely sexy or exciting about waking up in the muck and filth of a London alley, in clothes that haven’t been off your back for a month, and covered in your own urine. Just sayin’.

As Lucien introduced himself and began to explain what had just happened to me, it crossed my mind that this was not how I’d have imagined a vampire’s awakening to be, had I ever thought about it. I was still ruminating on this when Lucien pulled me to my feet, slung his arm affectionately around my shoulders, and together we headed down the alley toward his car.

Was that a speck of my blood at the corner of his mouth?



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Monday, 14 February 2011

(Nothing But) Flowers Valentine's Day Anthology Goes Live!


All because I can't tell the time (or at least because I got confused between AEST and GMT, sorry!), you get to enjoy my story, Daisy's Café early! It's live right now over at the (Nothing But) Flowers website. I'd appreciate you popping over there and letting me know what you think of it.

Here's the link: Daisy's Café

And if you're on Facebook, why not drop by the (Nothing But) Flowers Book Launch and chat with the writers.



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Saturday, 12 February 2011

(Nothing But) Flowers Literary Mix-Tape Anthology


Valentine's Day is just around the corner, which means it's almost time for the (Nothing But) Flowers Literary Mix-Tape.

Inspired by the lyrics of the classic Talking Heads track of the same name, the anthology features post-apocalyptic love stories from twenty-four talented authors (including yours truly) and goes live over at the (Nothing But) Flowers website from 7pm (GMT) on Monday, 14th February. The anthology will also be available to purchase as an e-book and as a print paperback.

My story, Daisy's Café is a tale of young love set against the backdrop of a collapsed society. There are some tough choices to be made, with happiness far from assured. To find out more, make sure you tune in at 8pm (GMT) on Monday, 14th February for my story.

From the (nothing But) Flowers website:

The second Literary Mix Tape, and the first for 2011 is “Nothing But Flowers: Tales of Post Apocalyptic Love”. The stories explore the complexities and challenges of love in a post apocalyptic landscape. Inspired by the Talking Heads song of the same name, the anthology will go live at 9am (AEST) on the 14th February and run online for 24 hours. The anthology will also be available for purchase as an eBook and a paperback.

All proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go to the Queensland Premier’s Disaster Fund to assist with the rebuilding of Queensland communities after the worst floods on record.

The (Nothing But) Flowers anthology features stories from: Sam Adamson, Jim Bronyaur, Jen Brubacher, Chris Chartrand, Kil Conor, Rebecca Dobbie, Annie Evett, Susan May James, Emma Kerry, Lily Mulholland, Dan Powell, Icy Sedgwick, Benjamin Solah, Graham Storrs, Adam Byatt, Jason Coggins, Janette Dalgleish, Rob Diaz, Rebecca Emin, Laura Eno, PJ Kaiser, Maria Kelly, Emma Newman and Dale C Roe (USA). Editor Jodi Cleghorn is contributing a bonus story only available to purchasers of the e-book and paperback.

For more details, and to read the stories as they go live on Valentine's Day, please stop by the (Nothing But) Flowers website, and if you happen to be on Facebook, don't forget to stop by the (Nothing But) Flowers Facebook page and say hello.



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