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

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

Right then, on with the blog...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories Christmas Special: The Cleaner

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

'At last!' roared Crowley.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

'Elves are a myth,' said Swazzle.

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

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

'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Aveena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

'Bollocks!' muttered Crowley.

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

to one and all!


Deck The Halls

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

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

The story release timetable for Deck The Halls is here.

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

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

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


Thursday, 16 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #32: Extraction

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

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

'Who is it?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Got the builders in, Captain?'

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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


Thursday, 9 December 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #31: Infestation

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

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

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

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

'Why ever not, my dear man?!'

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

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

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

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

'I'm not so sure...'

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

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

'Pardon, Your Grace?'

'Shush and listen, man.'

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

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

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

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

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

'Nonsense man! It would be my pleasure.'

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

'Thomas?' he called to his driver.

'Yes, Your Grace?'

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

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


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


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow Joke...

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

It's winter, get over it!

Well I would, but...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Oh, go away!'

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

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

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


Thursday, 25 November 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #30: The Bishop of Rosedene

This episode is number 30 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.

The watery morning sun was just peeping over the roof of the church when a black Jaguar with tinted windows glided quietly into Gallows Close, ignoring the street signs declaring the street a pedestrianised area. Coming to a stop outside Goddess Rising, the car sat for a few moments, brake lights glowing like a pair of rubies in the early dawn, exhaust pipe quietly belching clouds of grey fumes into the crisp morning air. The engine shut off and a grim-faced chauffeur climbed from the driver's door. He stood silently next to the car, scanning the street in both directions before striding over to Rev Beresford's front door where he rang the bell. His passenger's presence announced, the chauffeur returned to the vehicle and opened the passenger door, extending his arm to offer assistance to the black leather gloved hand that gripped his wrist.

Exiting the car, His Grace, Septimus Barclay, Bishop of Rosedene, paused momentarily to allow the stiffness from the journey to work itself out of his spine and legs before he marched purposefully to Rev Beresford's door and, finding it unlocked, stepped inside. His chauffeur returned to the Jaguar and backed the car slowly out of Gallows Close to find a parking space that would afford him a good view down the length of the street. Can't be too careful, he thought.

Taking the stairs two at a time, Bishop Barclay called out, 'Austin? Where are you?' as he reached the landing.

'I'm here, Your Grace. In the kitchen,' the chink of china betrayed what Rev Beresford was up to. 'Go into the Study, Your Grace. I'll be with you as soon as the kettle boils.'

Stepping into Rev Beresford's study, Bishop Barclay made straight for the fireplace, gratified to see that even at this early hour a roaring blaze sat in the grate. Removing his gloves, he rubbed the feeling back into his chilled fingers then sank into an armchair, holding his hands out in front of the fire.

The Bishop had just begun to loosen the buttons of his heavy overcoat when a rattling and clinking announced Rev Beresford's entrance with the tea tray. Setting the tray down on a side table, Rev Beresford hobbled over and took Bishop Barclay's hands in his.

'Good to see you, Your Grace.'

'And you, Austin. I was intrigued by your telephone call but,' he paused, 'Why don't we have some tea before you show me the video footage. Sit yourself down, Austin. I'll be mother.'

Rev Beresford shuffled slowly over to his armchair by the fire as Bishop Barclay rose and poured the tea, adding a good tot of whisky to each cup from the decanter next to the tea tray.

Setting the cups down, Bishop Barclay slurped his tea.

'That's a decent drop of malt you have there Austin,' said Bishop Barclay, an approving look on his face, 'even your appalling taste in tea can do little to detract from its flavour. Wherever do you buy that foul stuff?' He chuckled. 'Now then, Austin, where's this video you rang me about?'

* * *

Pogmorton had been moved to the hospital and, following a tearful reunion with Rushalka, was tucked in the next bed to hers, snoring softly. Swazzle had checked on the Night Packer while he'd been there, only to find the creature still in the grip of a fever. The remainder of the evening had been spent with Salkeld and the Goblins, the upshot of which was that Swazzle had a draig cage on order and a very thick head from rather too much Goblin ale.

Sitting in Mistress Botchett's kitchen, Swazzle rubbed his sore head and sipped his tea. As he'd filled Mistress Botchett's huge teapot, the draig had stuck its nose out of the firebox and made him jump. Hot water had splashed on its snout, but rather than injuring the creature as Swazzle had feared, the draig just shook the last sizzling drops from the end of its nose, narrowed its eyes at him and crawled back into the fire.

Swazzle was wondering whether his sour stomach would benefit from sustenance when Jamieson appeared in the kitchen, his face a mask of worry.

'What's up?' asked Swazzle, wincing as the words rang in his ears.

'Shush!' Jamieson flapped his hands. 'The Bishop's just arrived,' he hissed, 'He's upstairs now. We need to keep totally silent. If he realises we're here, we're done for.'

Not entirely sure what Jamieson was wittering on about, Swazzle held up his hand. The urgency in Jamieson's voice was making his hangover worse. After a few moments the throbbing began to subside.

'So who exactly is this Bishop?' asked Swazzle in a whisper.

'He's in charge of the ORG that the Master's a member of, ye ken?'

'No, I don't ken. ORG? What's one of those?'

'The Occult Research Group, O...R...G. Studies magical phenomena, creatures and such. Tries to find ways to use them for their own ends.'

'Creatures? Like...'

'Us. Yes.'

'I thought it was a bit odd a vicar owning an occult bookshop.'

'Oh, there's more to it than tha...'

A beautiful, unearthly song was drifting out of the firebox of Mistress Botchett's stove. It sounded like choirs of angels, harps and flutes all rolled into one eerily beautiful refrain. For a moment Swazzle and Jamieson were frozen to the spot as the melody rose and fell like a heartbeat, their cares and worries drifting away, carried aloft on the notes of the song.

Suddenly, Jamieson shook himself.

'Och, shite!' he muttered.


This week also marks the release of the thirteenth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 13 over at Adam Byatt's blog A Fullness of Brevity. 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.


Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to wish all of Future; Nostalgic's readers and friends a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Thursday, 18 November 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #29: Resurrection

This episode is number 29 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.

The little Pixie hand gripped the side of the cauldron, gobbets of the foul liquid dripping from the tips of its fingers to sizzle in the embers of the fire. For a few moments all was silent before Aveena drew in a huge shuddering gasp. Pogmorton broke the surface simultaneously, hacking up great lumps of the cauldron's contents as he supported himself shakily on the side of the cauldron with both hands. Rivulets of it ran down his face and arms, coating a swathe of the cauldron with bubbling, foul-smelling ichor.

Swazzle could not help himself from a sudden intake of breath at the sight of his old friend swinging his leg gingerly over the edge of the cauldron and half climbing, half falling out of its embrace to land with a thud on the ground next to the fire. After a few moments of silent chest-heaving, Pogmorton wiped the sticky liquid from his eyes, rolled over and scanned his surroundings. Their eyes met and Swazzle's breath froze in his throat. It is Pogmorton, but it isn't, he thought as he caught sight of the flat, dead look behind Pogmorton's eyes.

Recognition seemed to dawn on Pogmorton's face, he grinned weakly at his friend before collapsing to the ground again. Involuntarily, Swazzle started forward, stopping only when Aveena waved him back. The witch had begun to stir but had not recovered her strength sufficiently to stop Pogmorton when he suddenly stiffened, raised his head and sniffed the air before falling upon her bleeding leg and lapping like a dog at the blood oozing from her wound.

Following a short struggle, Aveena managed to at last dislodge Pogmorton, who scampered a few paces away, drew his knees up to his chest and whimpered like a wounded puppy. Aveena eventually reached her knees, staunching the blood with the bandage she had placed next to the cauldron, all the while murmuring to Pogmorton in that sing-song voice parents use to calm frightened infants. Gradually this seemed to have an effect, Pogmorton's body uncoiling as the whimpering subsided. He allowed Aveena to wrap him in the blanket she had ready for the purpose and lead him to the circle's edge.

Swazzle found himself drawn forward even before Aveena beckoned to him. Forming a door in the circle's edge with her finger, Aveena passed a shivering Pogmorton through into Swazzle's arms before sealing the gap and beginning another ritual to close the sacred space.

' I alive?' Pogmorton whispered as Swazzle lead him towards the back door of Goddess Rising.

'Yes. Yes, I think so,' replied Swazzle trying to ignore the haunted look in Pogmorton's eyes. Mostly alive, he thought.

* * *

Following a brief flurry of activity all was calm in Mistress Botchett's kitchen. The children had been packed off to bed and it had been suggested in no uncertain terms to Master Botchett that he might like to go and find something useful to do elsewhere. Pogmorton, still swaddled in Aveena's blanket, reclined in Botchett's rocking chair, Swazzle sitting beside him on a stool at the kitchen table while Mistress Botchett bustled about, making tea and smothering thick doorsteps of fresh bread with honey.

'Just the thing when you've been re-born,' she muttered with more conviction than she felt.

Under the circumstances Mistress Botchett felt she could forego sniping at Swazzle about the scaly tail still dangling from the front of her now battered stove. Had it not been for the Draig's predilection for Gnome flesh, she could almost have liked the thing, it seemed a dab hand at keeping the stove fire going. There again, she considered having to feed the stove less wood small recompense for the possibility of being devoured any time she fancied a cup of tea.

* * *

Rev Beresford stood, leaning heavily on his cane as he shut off the video camera he had pointed out of his bedroom window upstairs at the rear of Goddess Rising. Lathered in a cold sweat and squinting from intently studying the camera's small monitor, Rev Beresford trembled with more than old age as he made his way to his study and picked up the phone.

'Your Grace? Hello, Your Grace, it's Beresford. Pardon? Yes, I apologise about telephoning you at this hour, but this really couldn't wait.' Rev Beresford went on to explain what he had just witnessed and video-taped.

'As you wish, Your Grace. First thing in the morning. I'll see you then. Goodnight, Your Grace.'

He replaced the receiver. Well, he thought, this was a turn up for the books, and no mistake.


This week also marks the release of the twelfth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 12 over at Emma Newman's blog Post Apocalyptic Publishing. 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, 11 November 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #28: The Amulet, The Witch And The Womb

This episode is number 28 in my 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.

It was the night of the dark moon, and since Botchett had “fixed” the flickering streetlamp in the back lane, its intermittent orange glow no longer a distraction, there was little to disturb Aveena as she sat cross-legged in the back yard of Goddess Rising, only the faint traffic noise from the ring-road and infrequent bursts of merriment from revellers at the pub on the corner.

The basement residents were under strict instruction to remain inside and to keep away from the small, barred window that provided the only natural light into the cellar. Only Swazzle remained, hovering outside on the back step after helping Aveena with her preparations. Hopping from one foot to the other, not sure whether it was fear or excitement he felt at the coming ritual, he was sure of his embarrassment at seeing Aveena naked. He had never seen one of the Big Folk without their clothes before, male or female.

Aveena sat in the centre of the circle she had constructed, her back to Swazzle, illuminated only by the flickering glow of the small fire she had built in front of her, onto which she carefully placed a small iron cauldron. To the left of the fire lay a wickedly-sharp looking knife, the firelight reflecting writhing serpents in its blade. Next to that, three small crystal phials. These Swazzle recognised. One held Pogmorton's blood, gathered at the time of his death, another held Twinkle's blood, taken at the same time. A third was filled with Rushalka's tears, Swazzle still had a knot in his stomach at the way he had followed Aveena's instructions at Rushalka's hospital bedside, provoking her sobs with the blunt news of her brother's death. A little way off nestled the final item, a dull green stone the colour of phlegm and about the size of a hen's egg.

This was Lady Mandrake's amulet, a simmering malevolence seeping from it to the point that Aveena had placed it within its own circle. A circle within a circle. Swazzle was secretly relieved he had not had to have anything to do with the amulet. He had seen the effect obtaining it had had on Aveena's relationship with Botchett.

As the witching hour approached and the liquid in the cauldron gently warmed, wisps of steam beginning to curl into the chilly night air, Aveena began to rock gently backwards and forwards. Dead on the stroke of midnight, how did she know, Swazzle wondered, Aveena rose and began to whisper, the chant rising to a gentle murmur as she turned to her left and moved slowly round the circle.

Swazzle blushed and tried to avert his eyes as Aveena came around the circle towards him but found he could not, his gaze drawn to the Pogmorton tattoo on her thigh. He could have sworn it looked different about the eyes, clearer, glittering. Must be the firelight, Swazzle thought as Aveena turned her back on him, continuing her circular journey.

As the ritual progressed over the next half hour, Swazzle's rising unease made him wish he had not asked to be present. A ghostly mist swirled around the circle, drawn from the earth as Aveena passed, curling and eddying in the wake of her passage, forming a sharp edge where it met the circle's edge. Within the mist spectral shapes started to appear, among which Swazzle could make out a fox, a raven and several other, more worryingly humanoid outlines.

The chant continued, clouds rolling in slowly to blot out the stars. A sudden rumble of thunder made Swazzle jump. He released a breath he had not been aware of holding. Aveena's voice rose slowly, always remaining slightly louder than the thunder that rumbled closer with each booming peal. The shadows, seemingly energised by the approaching storm, capered at the circle's edge, growling and snapping at eachother while Aveena continued moving, oblivious, concentrating her energies on maintaining the chant unbroken.

Every third time she passed her starting point, Aveena bent without breaking step and cast one of the phials into the cauldron, which hissed like an angry cat on receipt of each morsel. Once all the phials had been fed to the cauldron, and the surface of the liquid took on an oily sheen, Aveena stopped dead, her back towards Swazzle. She knelt, cradling the amulet in her hands before spitting on it and tossing it into the cauldron. The instant the liquid closed over the amulet a silent shockwave blasted out from the cauldron, blowing away the mist surrounding the circle, scattering the creatures.

Aveena picked up the knife, thunder crashing overhead as she held it up to the storm. An instant before she began the downstroke, Swazzle had a sudden premonition of what was coming and clamped his eyes tight shut. As a result he did not witness Aveena plunge the tip of the knife into her thigh, nor did he watch as she drew the blade carefully around Pogmorton's outline. By the time he dared to peep through laced fingers, Aveena was holding something childlike and bloody above her head while blood pooled under her leg in the firelight.

The chant reached a crescendo with a sudden shout in a language Swazzle did not comprehend, and Aveena cast the body into the cauldron. Seconds later a single bolt of lightning arced through the night sky into the cauldron. For a split second Aveena's circle was alive with tendrils of silver light, which slithered and danced over its surface, giving it the appearance of a huge, domed spiderweb. Then it was gone, the night an inky black once again, only the odour of ozone on the breeze and spots dancing before Swazzle's eyes witness to the lightning's presence.

Aveena collapsed backwards, her outstretched hand falling dangerously close to the circle's edge. Swazzle stuffed his knuckles into his mouth as a Pixie-sized hand, still wreathed in the cauldron's slimy ichor, grasped the cauldron's edge one finger at a time.


This week also marks the release of the eleventh episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 11 over at Angie Capozello's blog Techtiggers' Soapbox. 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, 4 November 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #27: Questions, Questions

This episode is number 27 in my 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.

In his sitting room above Goddess Rising, Rev Beresford was on the phone.

'Yes, Your Grace, I am still working on it, but the witch seems somewhat distracted at present.' He paused, listening. 'There have been developments though. Pardon, Your Grace? No, on another matter I have been unable to inform you of as yet.' Another pause. 'Of course, Your Grace, as soon as I can get away. On the original matter, did you receive the video footage I sent you? You did? Good...'

Rev Beresford's voice trailed off, his eyes drawn to the wooden cabinet on his sideboard that had begun, very gently, to vibrate.

'My apologies, Your Grace, I will have to call you back.' Rev Beresford replaced the receiver and struggled to his feet, his arthritic knees creaking in protest. The vibration had become a rattle and he began to worry the cabinet would shake itself onto the floor. Not wishing to risk damage to its valuable contents, Rev Beresford shuffled towards it as fast as his old legs would carry him, absently picking up his copy of The Daily Telegraph newspaper as he went.

By the time he reached the sideboard, heart pounding and palms clammy, the vibration had become quite violent. Resting his hip against the sideboard to roll up the newspaper, Rev Beresford felt the vibration coursing through his whole body. Steadying himself with one hand, he carefully reached into his waistcoat pocket for the small, brass key and reached out towards the cabinet.

'Hold still,' he muttered as the cabinet tried to escape its key, jiggling across the sideboard top.

Eventually, he managed to insert the key into the lock and, taking a deep breath, opened the lock. The cabinet doors shot open, Rev Beresford staggering back with a gasp clutching his cane. Something flew out of the cabinet like a bullet, buzzing around his head, easily eluding the newspaper he swatted ineffectually at it with. With a high-pitched squeaking cackle, the old fairy flew straight at the Rev's face, raking his cheek with razor sharp claws. Rev Beresford cried out in equal measures of shock and pain and the fairy, still cackling, sped off, flying a tight spiral course that took it straight up the chimney.

As Rev Beresford hobbled over to his armchair and poured himself a large whisky the fairy, trailing smoke from its wings shot out of the chimney pot with a “phut” like a cork from a bottle and climbed into the cold morning air. It was last seen riding a very recalcitrant seagull towards the climbing eastern sun.

After a few minutes when the whisky had taken the edge of the Rev's jangling nerves, he risked approaching the cabinet again. How on earth did Oberon escape he wondered, the thought freezing as he spied the fairy, wild-eyed and thrashing as it attempted to loose its bonds.

'My goodness!' said Rev Beresford reaching into his pocket for his spectacles. Bending forward, he took a closer look at the cabinet's new incumbent. Similar in size to the previous occupant, this fairy, he noticed, seemed a little more richly dressed, though the stain on the front of its trousers seemed a little suspect. And it looked drunk.

'Well, well,' Rev Beresford straightened up slowly. 'I'll have a proper look at you later, my lad,' and with that he shut the doors of the cabinet, locked them and dropped the key back into his waistcoat pocket.

* * *

Swazzle bumped into Salkeld on his way to the hospital to see Rushalka.

'Captain Swazzle,' Salkeld waved and hurried toward him. 'I've been looking for you. There's something at the hospital I think you ought to see.'

'I was just on my way there now,' Swazzle fell into step with Salkeld. 'I was meaning to ask you, how did you survive that fairy attack?'

'It was a close run thing,' replied Salkeld, hoisting up his shirt to reveal an ugly scar. 'Still hurts a bit, but I'm getting better day by day.'

'I also owe you an apology, and my thanks for rescuing us. How did you find us?'

'That was the Goblins,' chuckled Salkeld. 'I've been spending quite a bit of time with them since we got here. Their healer is,' he lowered his voice to a whisper, 'Better than ours. I owe my good health to him really.'

Swazzle raised an eyebrow.

'No, seriously. I've no idea what he did to me, don't remember much of it, but it seems to have worked.' Salkeld flexed his arm. 'See?'

Swazzle saw and looked suitably impressed.

'You'll have to meet him,' Salkeld continued, 'He's quite something. From the Balkans originally, at least that's what I think he said, my Goblintongue's a bit rusty. Came over here after the siege of Sarajevo apparently, which is where he learned his doctoring, so he says.'

Swazzle and Salkeld chatted in amiable companionship as they walked to the hospital. Once Swazzle got Salkeld off his hero-worship of the Goblin healer, he began to explain his predicament with the Draig.

'Aha!' beamed Salkeld, 'I know someone who might be able to help.'

Swazzle looked questioningly at him.

'Another of the Balkan Goblins who came over with Mratic, that's the healer's name by the way. Anyway, this other chap's a dab hand at make do and mend, so he's bound to be able to scrounge you something up. You know the Goblins have installed gas heating in their burrow?'

'No I didn't. How'd they manage that?'

'Broke through the building's gas pipe and rigged up something involving garden hose and tap fittings apparently. I'm still a little hazy on the details. We should go and have a word when we're finished at the hospital.'

Reaching the large tented hospital, Swazzle and Salkeld ducked inside, a ragged cheer erupting from the patients when they saw Swazzle. He was on the point of asking where Rushalka was when a nursing Pixie bustled up.

'Captain Swazzle? Yes? Good. Follow me please.' She turned without waiting for Swazzle's reply and led him and Salkeld to an alcove, curtained with blankets, in the corner. 'In here,' she whispered, holding the blankets back for them to enter.

A strange creature inhabited the alcove's only cot. Thin and gangling, the creature was apparently covered head to foot in soft black fur. Its emaciated arms lay on top of the bedclothes, ending in wide, spindly hands, each finger tipped with a sharp black claw. The large eyes were closed tight, a sheen of sweat dampening the fur of its forehead.

'It has a fever,' the nurse explained. 'We're not quite sure what to do with it.'

'What is it?' Swazzle asked, aghast.

'A Night Packer,' whispered Salkeld. 'It was with the prisoners you rescued.'

Swazzle was shocked, 'Why would the fairies take it prisoner, I thought they were allies?'


This week also marks the release of the tenth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 10 over at Cecilia Dominic's blog Cecilia's Random Writings. 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, 28 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #26: An Unwelcome Guest

This episode is number 26 in my 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.

Master Jamieson was halfway across the landing, on his way to discuss accommodation arrangements for the newly-arrived escapees, when the other front door opened and Swazzle stepped inside, the little wyrm at his heels. Jamieson took one look at the beast, let out a very Scottish sounding squeak and fled back into his Butler's Pantry, slamming the door behind him. Swazzle listened curiously to the lock being thrown, the door bolted, shrugged and headed for the stairs.

Botchett was in his kitchen and in a foul mood to boot when Swazzle arrived.

'There are times, Mother,' Botchett said to his wife, 'When I could cheerfully strangle that bloody witch, like.' He cast an angry glance towards the ceiling.

'Yes dear.' Mistress Botchett continued stirring the huge pot of pease pudding on the stove.

'I mean,' Botchett thundered, 'Is it my fault Lady Mandrake's the only person in these parts who could've supplied the amulet we needed? Well, is it?'

'No dear.'

'So Aveena owes her a favour, like. So what? It could have been a lot worse. She's had a few favours out of me over the years, and I'm still here, aren't I Mother?'

'Yes dear.'

'And will you stop saying “yes dear,” “no dear,” “three bags full dear.” This is serious, like'

'Yes de... Oh look, it's Captain Swazzle! How are you, bonny lad?'

Swazzle nodded to Mistress Botchett.

Botchett gave his wife's back a hard stare. 'Aye, well...' he muttered, trailing off as the little wyrm poked its snout around the leg of the kitchen table. Botchett's eyes widened and he leapt backwards off his chair. 'By the god's balls, bonny lad! What's that doing in here?'

'Hello, Master Botchett.' Swazzle indicated the little wyrm, which was now rubbing its head against the table leg. 'What, him? Followed me home from the fairy castle raid. Cute isn't he?'

Botchett had gone pale, sweat beading on his forehead and there was a definite tremor in his voice when he spoke. ' you know what that is, like?'

'Some sort of baby wyrm?' Swazzle shrugged.

'Bonny lad, that,' Botchett pointed shakily at the little wyrm, 'Is a young Welsh Draig.'

'Oh good,' beamed Swazzle, 'I'd hoped you might know what it was. I'm going to need a hand looking after it.'

'Looking after it?!' Botchett's eyebrows climbed into his hairline, his eyes now the size of saucers. 'Looking after it?! It's not stopping here, Captain. No way, like.'

'Why ever not?'

Botchett took a few deep breaths. 'You wouldn't happen to know what Draig's eat, would you, bonny lad?'

'No.' Swazzle skritched the Draig behind its ear. 'I was rather hoping you could enlighten me on that score.'

'Gnomes, bonny lad. Gnomes!' wailed Botchett. 'Pretty much anything else as well, but Gnomes is their favourite, like.'

Swazzle looked crestfallen. This could be a problem, he thought.

'And it's not just that,' Botchett ticked points off on his fingers. 'Draig's only understand Welsh. And need a fire to sleep in.'

Swazzle noticed the Draig eyeing Mistress Botchett's stove covetously.

'And they're totally untrainable,' Botchett continued. 'No, bonny lad, it'll have to go. Off back to Wales with it, and the sooner the better, like.'

'What about the Welsh Gnomes?' Swazzle asked, stalling. 'Won't they object?'

'Aren't none,' replied Botchett, 'Bloody Draigs ate 'em all, like.'

As if on cue, the Draig made a sudden break for the stove, growling and snapping at Botchett as it rounded the table. Mistress Botchett shrieked and fled into her husband's arms as the Draig leapt, squirming into the firebox until only the tip of its tail hung down the front of the stove like a limp, scaly bell-pull.

Botchett glared over his wife's shoulder at Swazzle, who, hands raised in supplication, backed out of the kitchen intent on finding someone who could make him a stout cage with central heating.

* * *

When dawn broke, the wyrms broke off their attack against the fairy fortress and all uninjured personnel set themselves to the task of searching the rubble for survivors. Titania thundered into the courtyard just as Oberon tumbled unsteadily from a hole beneath a heap of stones.

'Seize him!' Titania bellowed, fairies from the nearest rescue party jumping to her command. Grabbing Oberon they dragged him unceremoniously to where Titania stood seething, the guard captain, shirtless and slicked with sweat, snapped a salute.

Titania sniffed Oberon's breath. 'Drunk. Again.' Oberon stared blearily back at her, belched, then grinned. 'Oh, I have had enough of this,' she sighed turning to the fairy guards, 'Hold him still.' This should have been done a long time ago, she thought.

'King Oberon, you have, and not for the first time, been found drunk when this kingdom needed you, when your people needed you. You have run from conflict, endangering your people and your Queen. The finding of this summary court is that you are guilty as charged. Our sentence is banishment.'

Oberon's legs gave way as sentence was passed, a dark stain spreading down the front of his hose. His eyes pleaded with Titania to give him just one more chance, his body sealing his fate by at that moment letting loose a stinking fart that made his guards gag.

Titania raised her wand, flicked her wrist, and Oberon vanished in a cloud of silver sparkles.

Turning to the guard captain, her eyes appraising the rippling muscles of his slick torso, Titania slung a languid arm round his shoulders.


'Plantain, my Queen,' he replied as Titania steered them toward her private apartments.

'Plantain, eh?' she purred, 'I'm not so sure I'm keen on that.' She thought for a moment. 'I know! I'll call you Oberon.'

If Titania had but looked she would have seen the dubious look in Captain Plantain's eyes.


This week also marks the release of the ninth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 9 over at Icy Sedgwick's blog Icy's Blunt Pencil. 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, 21 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #25: Escape and Banishment

This episode is number 25 in my 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.

The last of the prisoners only just cleared the tunnel mouth when the outer wall of the fairy castle shuddered and, with a great sigh, began to slip, falling in a single piece right along its length like the icing from a cake. There was a good deal of sphincter twitching as the Pixies and Goblins raced to outpace the falling masonry. When the wall reached the base of the cliff on which the fairy fortress was built and started to break up, stones the size of cows rained down around the slowest of the group, throwing up a hail of dirt clods as they landed and miraculously missing the last in line by mere inches.

'Close run thing, eh?' shouted Salkeld above the rumble of falling granite.

'Yes,' wheezed Swazzle as he half carried, half pulled Rushalka along. Either she's getting heavier, Swazzle thought, or I need to take more exercise.

The little wyrm capered and gambolled, scampering in rings around the group, gently herding them in the direction of the forest and safety. Suddenly it stopped dead, raised its head, ears cocked and stared into the night sky. Swazzle glanced in the direction the wyrm was looking, his insides turning to ice water as he spied, silhouetted against the moon, a huge flying wyrm bearing down on them.

'Run!' bellowed Swazzle kicking forwards. The company sprinted for the border, Swazzle knowing with a certain dread they would never make it. Behind them, wyrms burrowed and crawled over the ruins of the fairy fortress, winged ones swooping and wheeling above the shattered castle, breathing deadly fire over anything that moved.

The little wyrm dashed towards its flying cousin, wings beating furiously until finally it managed to claw its way slowly into the air, making a beeline for the incoming beast. Its flight seemed ponderous to begin with, the little wyrm rising uncertainly into the night sky, though after a few moments a new confidence seemed to sweep over the little creature and it streaked forward, a small red dart aimed directly towards the head of the larger beast.

Some of the prisoners stopped to watch, and even Swazzle found himself involuntarily slowing down, eyes fixed on the unfolding drama above him while still trying to keep the group moving. He watched transfixed as the distance between the two wyrms decreased rapidly, then his mouth fell open as the larger beast sent a jet of flame right at the smaller one, sending it tumbling over and over in mid air as flames washed over it.

As the fiery breath died away, the little wyrm righted itself and flew at the larger beast again, smoke trailing from its singed tail. Swazzle accepted the inevitable and stopped dead to gawp at the unfolding drama above him. Salkeld ran straight into him and went sprawling just as the little wyrm reached the larger beast, executed a neat wing-down turn above its snout and sank its fangs into the tip of the larger beast's nose.

Bellowing in rage, the larger wyrm abandoned its attack run, wheeling away and climbing over the fairy fortress, the little wyrm clamped firmly between its nostrils. In that instant Swazzle recovered his composure and amid much shoving and cursing got the prisoners moving again, not stopping again until they were through the forest and in sight of the portal. With the last of them through the portal, Swazzle took one last look around before stepping through himself, wondering idly what had become of the little wyrm.

Swazzle had just begun to erase the chalk outline when something caught him full in the chest, knocking the wind out of him as it threw him a few yards up Hangman's Passage. A faint singed smell accompanied the missile, which came to rest tangled in his clothes. Swazzle strained to get air into his protesting lungs as the missile struggled and wriggled, then proceeded to wash his face affectionately with its serpentine tongue.

'Urgh! Argh! Gerroff!' spluttered Swazzle, batting at the little wyrm in a vain attempt to calm it down. The creature was now sitting on his chest, bouncing happily up and down on his bruised ribs. One of its ears was badly burned and there was a nasty gash across its snout, but the little wyrm seemed in raptures to see Swazzle again.

Eventually, Swazzle managed to struggle out from under the creature and clamber shakily to his feet. Struggling over to the wall, he completed removing all signs of the portal, the little wyrm twisting through his legs the whole time. The task completed, Swazzle turned and set off up Hangman's Passage in the direction of Goddess Rising, a sad whimper bringing him up short after only a few paces.

'Come on then,' Swazzle called resignedly over his shoulder, rewarded with the sound of claws clicking on the cobbles and together, Pixie and wyrm strode away up Gallows Close.


This week also marks the release of the eighth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 8 over at Danielle La Paglia's Flash Fiction blog here. 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, 14 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #24: Dragonrise

This episode is number 24 in my 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.

Swazzle felt as though he'd been sitting on the damp flagstone floor in total darkness for hours. Rushalka huddled next to him, wrapped in a threadbare blanket. Elsewhere in the chamber, other prisoners sat or lay, the only sign of their presence the occasional cough or groan.

When the door had been slammed shut and the grille obscured, Swazzle had attempted to pace out the dimensions of his prison, for no other reason than to keep himself occupied. Based on his estimate, the chamber probably held around twenty prisoners, though who or what they were, and why the fairies had not returned them to the camps, were questions to which Swazzle did not yet have answers. Presuming the rest of the prisoners were in the same physical state as Rushalka however, Swazzle was sure there could be no assistance for an escape attempt from that quarter. It looked like he was on his own.

Swazzle must have been dozing because he felt a moment of confusion when a bellowing roar echoed along the corridor outside and jolted him awake. There was movement among the prisoners as they shuffled further away from the door as the roar sounded again, and some of them screamed or whimpered as a tremendous bang shook the walls of their chamber. A second thump blew a cloud of what Swazzle presumed was stone dust over him as the wall around the door shifted slightly. The chamber door twisted a couple of inches in its frame, a thin shaft of light illuminating scything across the chamber floor.

The prisoners retreated from the light into the shadows while Swazzle pressed his eye to the gap and squinted into the gaoler's chamber. Torches still burned in the wall brackets, but of the gaoler Stinkweed, there was no sign. Swazzle put his shoulder against the door and heaved. He heaved, pulled, kicked and battered at the door but it would not budge. He had just collapsed, exhausted, to the floor again when there came a commotion among some of the prisoners, who retreated to reveal a small drain in the middle of the floor from which came a faint flickering light.

'Captain Swazzle?' hissed a voice from the drain, 'Are you in there, sir?'

Swazzle dashed over to the drain. 'Yes, I'm here...'

'It's him,' said the voice, speaking rapidly to someone else in the drain passage. 'Start digging.'

The ringing of metal on stone echoed from within the drain.

Swazzle addressed the prisoners. 'It looks like someone's come to get us out. As soon as they break through, you need to be ready to move. I know some of you are very weak, but either we all go together, or...'

A general muttering, which Swazzle took as agreement, came from the assembly as once again a great thumping came from outside the chamber, this time dislodging a stone from the roof that missed Swazzle by inches as it crashed to the floor, stone chips and dust blossoming outwards from where it fell. A few seconds later, the stonework around the drain collapsed in on itself and a pointy hat appeared in the resulting hole.

'Cap'n Swazzle, sir?' asked Salkeld as he stuck his head up into the chamber, lighting his way with a firefly lantern.

'Here,' called Swazzle. 'By the gods, am I glad to see you.'

'We'd better be quick, sir. It seems the fairies was keeping a number of Wyrms captive and somehow they got out. They're raising merry hell and I wouldn't be surprised in the whole castle's about to collapse.'

Swazzle grabbed Rushalka by the shoulders and began steering her in the direction of the hole. A couple of goblins clambered out of the hole, and between the three of them, the prisoners were soon passed down to waiting hands in the drain passage. Swazzle was passing the last of the prisoners through the hole when there came a huge bang as the prison chamber door was hit by something powerful and collapsed inwards. Swazzle swung round in an instant, anticipating combat, but there, silhouetted in the doorway, was something the size of a very stocky rabbit, growling and swishing a scaly tail back and forth.

For a split second, Swazzle simply stared, then the beast let out a series of sharp barks and, claws scrabbling for purchase against the stones, hurled itself forward. Swazzle threw himself desperately into the drain hole, and had only just scrambled to his feet before the creature tumbled in after him, landing in a heap of claws, wings and tail at his feet. Righting itself, the creature sat at Swazzle's feet, thumping its tail on the floor. By the light of Salkeld's lantern the creature appeared to be a very small wyrm, russet coloured and sporting a full compliment of clawed feet as well as a pair of leathery wings. Lowering its head, the Wyrm dropped something cylindrical and wooden at Swazzle's feet. As Swazzle bent to retrieve the object, he was sure the beast was panting, then it flicked out a long serpentine tongue and licked him right on the end of his nose.

'It is!' Swazzle held his wand up to Salkeld's lantern. 'It's my wand! Well done, lad,' Swazzle ruffled the beast's ears and it gazed adoringly at him.

Salkeld coughed softly.

'Yes, you're quite right,' replied Swazzle, 'Let's get out of here.'

Preceded by the goblins, Swazzle, Salkeld and the prisoners made their way along the newly dug tunnel, some of the prisoners walking unaided, others supporting eachother and the weakest carried in makeshift blanket stretchers. Above them the fairy fortress rocked and crumbled as the Wyrms vented the fury of their incarceration upon their gaolers. At one point Swazzle was sure they were done for as the tunnel shook violently before a Wyrm tunnelled straight through it and vanished out the other side. The goblins diverted into the Wyrm's tunnel and they were soon at the mouth of the tunnel, cool night air rushing over them as they crouched, looking out at the scene of devastation surrounding the fairy fortress. Much of the surrounding area was burning as flying Wyrms wheeled this way and that, blasting anything that moved.

Swazzle turned to Salkeld and his Goblins, 'And how are we going to get past that lot?'


This week also marks the release of the seventh episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 7 over at Anne Tyler Lord's Don't Fence Me In. 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, 7 October 2010

#FridayFlash: The UCF Stories #23: Rushalka

This episode is number 23 in my 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.


Keeping close to the wall, Swazzle skirted round the edge of the courtyard until he came to a door, which, he presumed, lead into the undercroft of the keep. Judging by the barrel, small piles of ash and partly burned pipe-herbs next to the door, this was where the servants came for a smoke, so Swazzle was relieved when he found the door not only unlocked, but the hinges well greased so it swung open silently. He slipped quickly inside and shut the door behind him.

A wide corridor stretched ahead, firefly-filled lanterns making shadows dance along the walls. An opening in the right hand wall gave onto a set of smooth stone steps leading down into darkness. Swazzle crept slowly down the steps, keeping the side wall at his back until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The steps seemed to go on forever, the air was cool and damp by the time Swazzle reached the bottom. Stepping off the last step, he flattened himself against the wall and peered into the blackness.

To the right darkness continued unbroken, to the left a faint flickering glow hinted at occupation. After a moment's hesitation, Swazzle started carefully down the left hand passage, keeping close to the wall and stopping every few yards to listen.

A few dozen yards down the passage was a doorway on the right from which came the flickering light and a faint sound of contented snoring. Peeping quickly round the corner, Swazzle saw a portly fairy reclining on a low chair in front of a small brazier, hat tipped down over his eyes, feet up on a stool and swaddled in his wings. Beyond stood a heavy oak door, locked by the look of it, with a small iron grille set at eye level.

Swazzle tiptoed silently to the door and squinted through the grille. There was no illumination beyond, but just enough light filtered into the chamber that Swazzle could make out several shapes huddled together on the floor.

What we need here, thought Swazzle, is a diversion.

Re-tracing his steps, Swazzle set off back down the corridor, past the steps and on into the darkness beyond. Conjuring a tiny flame into his palm, Swazzle found himself in one of the castle's cellars, crates and barrels stacked floor to ceiling. He was pondering how flammable the contents of the store might be when he spotted a small door on the far wall. Moving quickly over to it, Swazzle tried the handle and was surprised to find the room unlocked. Slipping inside, he found himself in a small chamber about the size of Rev Beresford's sitting room and filled to the rafters with piping, valves and arcane looking machinery. The air in here was distinctly warm.

Swazzle was just wishing Botchett were here to make sense of the equipment when he noticed a line of wooden boxes laid out on staging down one wall. Closer inspection revealed a familiar design, the faded and peeling lettering marking the boxes as the property of Botchett and Son. Wisps of steam rose intermittently from the farthest box into a metal hood suspended above the box that in turn connected to the piping.

An icy chill ran down Swazzle's spine as he realised what the boxes held. Cheeky bastards, he thought, they're using them for central heating.

Moving closer, Swazzle nearly jumped out of his skin when something cold and limp brushed his hand. As he fought to control his hammering heart, Swazzle held his light closer to the box, the small flame illuminating the tip of a leathery wing poking out from an aperture on the side of one of the box. Swazzle laid a hand gently on the box. It was cold. He checked the others, all bar one other gave off a gentle warmth.

A grim smile was fixed on Swazzle's face as he moved quickly to the last box in the row and began to loosen the fastenings, the Wyrm within growled low and Swazzle felt it moving about. Undoing the last fastening, Swazzle sprinted for the door and was halfway along the corridor when an unearthly roar reached his ears. He ducked quickly into the gaoler's chamber and in one fluid movement, hoisted the gaoler out of his chair and pinned him against the wall, his wand poked into its ear.

'Now,' snarled Swazzle, 'Get that door open.'

The fairy gaoler could do nothing except comply, blinking repeatedly in fear and surprise as he fumbled with the key to the cell. The door squeaked in protest as it swung open.

'Rushalka?' called Swazzle softly. 'Rushalka, are you in there?'

In reply came a general rustling among the inhabitants of the chamber before, after a few moments, a ragged figure struggled to its feet and shuffled slowly towards the doorway, it's pace quickening as it recognised the questioner.

Rushalka threw her arms around Swazzle's neck, nearly knocking him off his feet. Had he not already shoved the gaoler in front of him, the fairy would have bolted as he lost his grip on him, overwhelmed by Rushalka's grateful hug.

'Well, well, well, what do we have here?' a familiar voice dripping with malice sounded behind Swazzle. He swung round, still almost smothered by Rushalka, to face Twinkle and a squad of fairy guards standing in the doorway to the gaoler's chamber.

'Drop the wand, Captain Swazzle, and back away.' Banshee rifles were cocked and levelled at the doorway to underline Twinkle's order. Swazzle did as he was ordered.

'Stinkweed!' barked Twinkle, 'Get out of there and lock that door at once.'

The gaoler scuttled past him, scooping up Swazzle's wand as he went.

The door slammed and the cell was plunged into darkness. As the key turned in the lock Swazzle could hear Twinkle berating the gaoler. Swazzle slumped to the floor next to the softly sobbing Rushalka.

'It's alright,' he soothed, cuddling her to him. 'There's got to be a way out of here.'


This week also marks the release of the sixth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 6 over at 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, 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.

Related Posts with Thumbnails