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.

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Friday, 18 June 2010

#FridayFlash: UCF Stories #13: Wyrm Hunting

A light drizzle began to fall, the kind of soft rain that soaks everything in minutes without appearing to be raining at all. Swazzle and Pogmorton sat hunched under a Hawthorn bush, large drops of water running periodically from its leaves straight down Pogmorton's neck; he was beginning to think Wyrm-hunting was not quite as exciting as Botchett would have him believe.

'Bugger!' he grumbled as another drop fell with unerring accuracy into the gap between his neck and his collar. 'It doesn't seem to matter where I sit, I'm getting soaked. You'd think these raindrops were doing it on purpose.'

Swazzle chuckled.

'It's all right for you,' continued Pogmorton, 'the smell's probably keeping the rain away from you.' His stomach rumbled.

'By the gods, Botchett, I nearly swallowed my tongue!' exclaimed Swazzle as Botchett's head appeared between the branches of a nearby Blackthorn bush.

'Hehe,' replied Botchett. 'Time we were about our business, like. The Wyrm lies not half a league from here,' he paused, 'One thing first though...'

Botchett dug around in his backpack, emerging with a small sachet wrapped in muslin, which he instructed Swazzle to rub all over himself and then tuck away in an inside pocket.

'Ancient Gnomish magics?' Swazzle asked as he rubbed the sachet over his clothes.

'No, bonny lad, it's some of Mistress Botchett's pot pourri. To help with the smell, like.'

Swazzle scowled. Pogmorton collapsed in a fit of silent giggles.

'Right then, this is the plan...'

Botchett proceeded to explain how he intended to capture the Wyrm, illustrating his lecture with diagrams scratched in the earth at his feet with a stick. Swazzle and Pogmorton looked on with increasing unease, it appeared someone would be required to get rather close to the beast in order to lure it into the trap.

Swazzle and Pogmorton exchanged glances. Botchett was obviously too old and they doubted whether he would be able to move quickly enough to avoid being eaten. That meant one of them would have to be the bait. As if anticipating their thoughts, Botchett looked pointedly at Pogmorton.

'Err, no...'

'It'll have to be you, bonny lad. I can't move fast enough any more.' Botchett looked apologetic and patted his leg. 'Rheumatism, bonny lad. And before you say it, it's no good sending Captain Swazzle, ol' Wyrmy won't be able to get his scent, even with that pot pourri, like.'

Swazzle beamed as he clapped Pogmorton on the shoulder in congratulation. Pogmorton looked anything but relieved, and was still grumbling as the three of them set up Botchett's Wyrm trap.

A large silvery net was strung from the trees just to the east of the ruins of the Pixie citadel. Strong iron pegs were driven into the ground at intervals along its perimeter ready for ropes to be attached, and Botchett closely supervised the set-up of a nefarious looking, box-like contraption at the end of the net furthest away from the anticipated direction of the Wyrm's arrival.

Once preparations were complete, Botchett pulled from his backpack three unfeasibly long iron-bound staves, topped at each end by wickedly barbed iron points.

'Just on the off-chance, like,' he said, handing one each to Swazzle and Pogmorton. 'Jam it into the roof of Wyrmy's mouth,' he mimed a demonstration, 'and you should have time to get clear, like. With a bit of luck.'

Swazzle and Pogmorton did not look the least bit reassured; no-one had mentioned any possibility of being eaten.

Satisfied with the preparations, Botchett gave Pogmorton his final instructions then settled down to wait with Swazzle as Pogmorton crept quietly away in the direction of where Botchett had last sighted the Wyrm.

Once Pogmorton was out of sight, Swazzle turned to Botchett. 'What are his chances?'

'Can he run, bonny lad?'

'Err...I think so. We Pixies can transport ourselves if we can't run fast enough.'

'No good. The Wyrm'll lose the scent if you try those sort of shenanigans, like.'

Swazzle looked even more worried. He crossed his fingers and muttered a quiet prayer to the gods for Pogmorton's safe return.

* * *

'Yes, she's here...yes, just as you said she would...Where? Downstairs in the shop with Simeon...' Rev. Beresford took a mouthful of scotch from his glass, listening with increasing irritation to the caller. 'Yes, yes, of course I will.' He replaced the heavy Bakelite receiver with a sigh. This was likely to become complicated.

A wave of light-headedness washed over him and he had to grab hold of the back of his armchair and set his whisky glass down carefully on the side table. Hobbling over to the large antique sideboard that occupied the wall next to the fireplace, Rev. Beresford took from his pocket a small brass key and, with shaking hands, unlocked the mahogany box on top of the sideboard.

He felt faint as he fumbled to open the box, sweat running down his forehead partly obscuring his vision, it made him squint as he regarded the wild-eyed, emaciated fairy secured within the box. Below the fairy an inscription in copperplate handwriting read, “Fairy: Oberon, captured circa 1930.”

'Sorry, old lad,' murmured Rev Beresford as he leaned into the box, the fairy recoiling as far as its iron shackles would allow. As he ran his tongue gently over the fairy's wings it tried to growl and spit but was restrained by a padded gag; all that escaped was an angry whimper. Locking the box once again, Rev Beresford could already feel the fairy dust beginning to work, and with a welcome euphoria he sank gratefully into his armchair before the fire.

* * *

Pogmorton picked his way gingerly towards the spot where Botchett said he had seen the Wyrm, dropped to his belly and crawled slowly to the top of the small rise. From the crest he could see past the forest edge to the Fairy kingdom's border and the fairies' frantic preparations. Closer, just the other side of the slope, lay the Wyrm, intermittent wisps of smoke rising from its nostrils, the tip of its tail twitching back and forth like a hunting cat.

Pogmorton took a deep breath and wriggled forward.


Friday, 11 June 2010

#FridayFlash: UCF Stories #12: Early Morning Call

A small pink teddy bear, resplendent in top hat and tails, tap-danced along the counter twirling an ebony cane. The bear's footwear, which looked more like coal miner's pit boots than tap shoes, set up a staccato tap-tap-tap that made Simeon cringe, each step echoing like a kettle drum inside his head. Only when the bear began bashing the tip of its cane against his forehead and shouting, 'Are you in there?' in a soft but insistent Irish brogue, did it begin to dawn on Simeon that he may, just possibly, be dreaming.

Jerking awake, Simeon was afforded the luxury of a few seconds grace before the full horror of his predicament hit him like a runaway train and he only just managed to lean over before he vomited into the waste paper bin behind the shop counter. The shell, he'd lost the fairy's walnut shell. The knocking persisted while Simeon dry-heaved, two empty whisky bottles mocking him from the bottom of the bin.

'Are you in there? Simeon!'

'Shit.' Simeon dragged himself upright and made his way along the edge of the counter, hand over hand, gingerly towards the front door of the shop. His head throbbed and he still felt queasy, stomach acid burning his throat and leathery tongue as he tried to fathom who could be at the door at this ungodly hour. Risking a glance at his watch, Simeon revised his estimate of ungodly, it was 11.36am. He wondered why his right foot was cold.

The knocking continued.

'Alright, alright, I'm coming,' Simeon croaked as he shuffled nearer the door. 'Just stop that god-awful racket. I'll be there in a minute.'

The knocking stopped as Simeon finally reached the door.

Drawing the bolts sounded like rifle shots inside his head, and when he bent down to undo the bottom one, Simeon was hit with a wave of dizziness and was only able to keep his balance by hanging onto the bookcase by the door. He noticed one of his bunny slippers was missing, that explained the cold foot. Eased the door open to the limit of the security chain Simeon peered into sunlit street beyond. He wished he hadn't.

'Uncle Simeon, are you okay?'

Forcing his eyes to focus, and shading them with his free hand, Simeon squinted at the young woman standing on the doorstep. He took in the black leather biker jacket, the jeans and heavy square-toed biker boots before his aching brain could process the word “uncle.” As he squinted past the mane of curly brown hair to the woman's face realisation dawned, confirmed when she spoke.

'Uncle Simeon, it's me, Aveena. Moira and Connor's daughter. So, are you going to let me in, or what?'

Simeon shut the door, wondering as he fumbled with the chain whether this was going to be a good idea or not. Dragging the door open again, he winced as the bottom edge caught on the metal sill, squeaking like fingernails on a blackboard. Aveena squeezed past him, her enormous rucksack almost catching Simeon full in the face as she navigated through the piles of books just inside the door, her white stick beating out a gentle rhythm against the linoleum floor tiles. Simeon closed and carefully locked the door behind her.

'You do know there's a rat sitting on the counter over there, don't you, Uncle Simeon?'

'Eh? Oh, err...yeah,' Simeon muttered. 'Don't worry about him, that's only Crowley.' He paused. 'Hang on, how do you know...'

'I can see his aura.'

'Oh. Is he reading?'

'Yes. It looks like...,' Aveena's sightless eyes narrowed, '...Practical Ceremonial Magic, a Beginner's Gui...'

'Bloody rat,' Simeon interrupted as he pushed gently past Aveena, snatched the book up from in front of Crowley and slammed it shut. Simeon winced.

'What have I told you?' Simeon growled at the rat. 'Just because you got yourself reincarnated as a rat doesn't mean...' Simeon paused as sweat broke out across his forehead. His legs felt rubbery and he only just made it onto the stool behind the counter before they gave way.

Crowley grinned.

Aveena dumped her rucksack next to the counter, and headed for the kitchen, calling out over her shoulder, 'I'm after putting the kettle on. I'm parched, so I am. Tea, Uncle Simeon?' As she filled the kettle, Aveena could still hear Simeon berating the rat in the other room.

A mug of strong tea and a handful of paracetamol later and Simeon was beginning to feel a little more human. Aveena had even managed to locate his missing slipper, which she found on top of the bookcase behind the counter. In response to Simeon's question, Aveena explained that all things have an aura and it was by these auras that she was able to navigate. Living things and books, especially old and esoteric books, had the strongest auras, she said, which was why she had no trouble finding her way around the shop.

'So,' began Simeon, 'What brings you all the way over here? You didn't make the trip just to visit your old uncle Simeon, surely? I haven't seen you since you were, let me think...'

Aveena looked suddenly serious, 'Six, Uncle Simeon. I was six last time I saw you. And you're not that old.'

She contemplated the dregs of tea swirling round the bottom of her mug. 'I did mean to come and see you, but you're right, this isn't just a social call.'

A single tear ran down Aveena's cheek.

'Something's wrong, isn't it?'

'It's Mam,' Aveena sniffled. 'She's...she's...dead. Da too.'


'Murdered.' Aveena threw her arms around his neck and sobbed on his shoulder.

It took Simeon a moment or two to return the hug, awkwardly rubbing Aveena's back and trying to make the right soothing noises, while reeling from the news his only sister and her husband were dead, and the thought that Aveena was leaving a trail of snot on the shoulder of his best work jacket.


Thanks for stopping by to read my #FridayFlash. "Early Morning Call" is the twelfth instalment of my flash fiction serial "The UCF Stories." If you'd like to read the serial from the beginning, the first instalment is here.

Please also check out the rest of this week's #FridayFlash stories (just click the #FridayFlash graphic in my blog's sidebar), and don't forget to check out the #FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter.


Thursday, 3 June 2010

#FridayFlash: UCF Stories #11: Walk Softly And Carry A Long Glove

Swazzle and Pogmorton, with Botchett and Delilah in tow, crept down Gallows Close, into Hangman's Passage and up to the wall that marked the end of the alley. Swazzle pulled from his pocket an irregularly-shaped lump of white chalk and scratched the outline of a door on the brickwork then tapped it twice with his wand. At once the bricks shimmered as the portal sprang into being and, with a quick glance over their shoulders, they stepped through into the Magical Realm.

All about them lay devastation. Pre-dawn mist mingled with the smoke that curled into the lightening sky from the smouldering remains of the Pixie citadel. Uprooted trees and deep gouges in the earth marked the passage of the Wyrm, making the landscape look completely alien.

Botchett sucked breath in through his teeth. 'It does seem a bit narked, your Wyrm. This is the worst Wrym damage I've seen in a long while, like.'

'Which way, Master Botchett?,' asked Swazzle. Botchett pointed and set off towards the east, skirting the worst of the damage as he sought a path towards the Wyrm. Delilah scurried along in his wake, her nose quivering at the myriad of scents hanging in the air, pervaded throughout by the powerful scent of their quarry.

'I meant to ask you,' Swazzle whispered to Botchett, 'What exactly did happen with Jamieson and Delilah? I didn't think spirits had much to fear from animals.'

'Ah, well,' began Botchett with a low chuckle, 'the last time Master Jamieson got anywhere near Delilah, she err...stuck her nose up his kilt, like.'

Swazzle looked blank.

'It wouldn't have been so bad,' Botchett continued, 'if Master Jamieson wasn't a proper Scottish spirit, if you catch my drift bonny lad, and shrews didn't have a psychic bite as well as an ordinary one. He wasn't walking straight for weeks, like.'

Swazzle cringed as Pogmorton dissolved into a fit of silent giggles. Jamieson may be a bit straight-laced and miserable, Swazzle thought, but even he didn't deserve that.

* * *

The Wyrm slithered slowly to the forest edge, undulating waves of muscle propelling it silently through the trees. It paused where the trees ended, working its muscles to steadily sink into the soft earth until only the tips of its dorsal spines and the top of its shovel-shaped head remained visible. Here it waited, powerful eyesight taking in the frantic preparations along the border of the fairy kingdom. Fairies flew this way and that, beating work gangs of prisoners so they dug faster, excavating ditches, planting sharpened tree trunks and hastily constructing barriers of thorn bushes and, it seemed, whatever else was to hand.

A fairy sentry buzzed past, scanning the tree line for signs of movement. The Wyrm snapped its nostrils shut, the last wisps of smoke dissipating in the gathering dawn as the fairy approached. Sensing something, the fairy flew past, wheeled and returned. She was staring intently at the exact spot where the it lay when the Wyrm's sticky tongue shot out, caught her full in the chest, and reeled her into its mouth. She only had time for a soft squeak before the Wyrm's jaws snapped shut and it lay, eyes half shut, savouring the flavour of its latest snack as it rolled the fairy around its mouth, sucking out the juice.

* * *

'Shit!' grumbled Swazzle as he tripped over something and fell full-length into the stinking pile that filled the path. He held his nose. 'By the Gods! That's a bit ripe. Botchett, is that what I think...'

'Wyrm shite? Aye, it is, bonny lad' Botchett grabbed a long leather gauntlet from his pack, pulling it on before helping Swazzle up. Thrusting his arm into the steaming heap almost up to his armpit, Botchett rooted around for a while before pulling a long thick-set bone out of the heap. He sniffed it.

'It's been catching pixies.' Tears streamed down his face from the smell. 'And judging by the warmth, this is fairly fresh so we must be close, like.'

Swazzle heaved into the bushes.

'What now?' whispered Pogmorton turning an unhealthy shade of green at the sight of the bone's naked whiteness.

'Well, bonny lad, now it's time for softly-softly-catchy-Wyrmy.' Botchett winked. 'You lads wait here while I go and have a scout about, like.'

Swazzle and Pogmorton settled themselves under a Hawthorn bush as Botchett and Delilah crept away into the forest.

'Swazzle, mate,' hissed Pogmorton, 'Would you mind awfully swapping places?'

'Eh? Why?'

'I really need to sit upwind of you. Nothing personal.'

'Charming,' muttered Swazzle as he changed places.

'Oh, it's not that, it's just the smell of that, err... stuff is making me feel hungry.'

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