At Last, The Weekend

It’s a Bank Holiday – a chance for a long weekend. Well, it would be but I worked on Saturday so today is the first real day of my break. 

A nice slow wake-up, with neither myself or Lady M needing to rush anywhere, was a good start. Body Balance class is done now, and the house is resounding to the sounds of combat in Assassin’s Creed 3 as Lady M continues her rampage through the whole game series.
This evening we’re meeting the Charleesi and the ex-Lady M to go see Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, and on any given weekend that would be a brilliant day in its own right

But then neither Lady M or I are working tomorrow either! How civilised.

Short Story: The Obsession

He always bought red cars, because he honestly believed they went faster. It was a myth he’d heard in his early teenage years, relayed with wide-eyed enthusiasm by another boy who had not understood his own father’s sarcasm at a rising car insurance quote. He had laughed with the rest of his friends at the time, but the seed found fertile ground in his eager mind.

What had begun as a joke stuck like a catchy tune; and every knowing laugh or passing reference watered it so that he couldn’t tell you when it changed from a catch-phrase within the group of friends to a heartfelt belief.

He painted his bicycle red when he was sixteen. He and the small gang tore around the estate, in and out of pedestrian areas, always with him pedalling quicker than anyone else to be out at the front. The rush of wind in his hair and cutting across his eyes didn’t bring as much colour to his cheeks as the belief that his magical colour choice continued to work.

The first car he stole was a black Ford, and he blamed his capture on the fact that it wasn’t his preferred colour. He worked his community service in a sullen funk, and then made sure that the first car he bought was a bright cherry red in colour. It was only a small Fiat, but it was light and the engine gave it a tremendous burst of speed from a standing start. He maintained his belief in the face of quiet ridicule from his oldest friends. He didn’t care.

It was perhaps inevitable that he would gravitate towards working in logistics. He loved the speed and risk of driving bikes and vans to deadlines, and the challenge of a difficult commission completed. He may have been forced to drive white vans after the Royal Mail shed most of the drivers at his local depot, but his pride and joy was a deep red Subaru. The throaty noise of its passage always made heads turn. He saw no dissonance in tuning up the car to match the potential implied by its colour – the one fuelled the other in his mind.

I still maintain it was the obsession that colour was linked to speed that led him to superstition. His pre-journey habits became pre-race rituals as he engaged in drag races late at night on the motorways and main roads heading out of town. He had his car re-upholstered and detailed in as many shades of red as he could, and took to wearing red in some form or other in his clothing.

His friends gave him a new nickname – the Flash – after his favourite show, and the mantra of the main character that he adopted for himself. “I need to get faster” became his rallying call, and “I’m not fast enough” a lament when success eluded him.

Obsession can warp perceptions and, when strong enough, the world. And he seemed to prove that point with faster and faster speeds set. People began to not want to race the vision in red that left smoking tyre tracks and outran police patrols. They were there for a challenge and a thrill, not to be trounced by some avatar of velocity.

I’m told that the night he disappeared he was trying out a new mixture injected into his cars systems. There was a throaty roar, a blossom of flame from his exhaust and every window in a block’s distance shattered as he broke the sound barrier from a standing start. Everyone assumed and then reported that the car had exploded or crashed; but wreckage was never found.

I think he’s still out there, pushing faster and faster, a red flicker in people’s rearview mirrors before the storm front overtakes them. I kind of hope he is, it makes for a better story I think. I hope you agree

Short Story: Worship Woes

It has to be said that having lesser gods take an interest in your picnic makes for a good story after the fact; but the actual experience in the moment is not all it’s cracked up to be. The problem is that they assume the spread of food and drink on the blanket is an offering to them. The thought that it might be your lunch doesn’t even seem to cross their tiny but specialised little minds.

If that sounds disrespectful that is entirely your right. I call it simply a pragmatic and empirical assessment of the situation. These small kerbside gods – the locus genii so beloved of the Romans – are basically elemental manifestations of their immediate surroundings. Unless you’re in a library – in which case the librarians are already annoyed by your bringing food near the books – most places aren’t intrinsically intelligent, self aware, or even cogniscent that there’s any difference between you, a sheep, or even the small pile of rocks by your feet.

They just want to be adored. Your implied worship when you admire the view is like bread and butter to these things, and when sacrifices are made, they positively glow. You might see it as a few dropped crumbs, or a spilled drink, but to a small god that’s fuel. With animist thought being pretty thin on the ground these days they’ve had to get creative in finding more.

They can’t control much of their surroundings – well, not usually, but please don’t go picking a fight with Father Thames to test that theory. It never goes well. But if you’ve ever wondered where the wasps come from that fall into your drinks, or the ants that spontaneously get into your fruit salad and clothing are doing there well perhaps the jigsaw puzzles are starting to fit together.

Whether you discard food that’s been ruined, or just knock it over while being divebombed, it counts as far as the small gods are concerned. It’s like being mugged by babies while they throw tantrums.

For the most part people can’t see them, which does spare some blushes as the more anthropomorphic small gods tend to not quite understand the concept of clothing, or indeed modesty. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, we did invent the concept after all. Every so often though, they try it on with someone who has the Sight, and that’s often when things start to get thrown around the place.

Kay really should know better, especially with her background, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the sight of an angry buxom redhead chasing a naked river god around our car to get her bottle of rioja back absolutely deserved to go up on Instagram. The river god didn’t show up in the picture, so it looks like she’s falling over her own feet to catch an airborne wine bottle. The picture has three hundred “likes” already. Here’s hoping the small gods don’t work out social media any time soon!

A Mixed Week

I’m slowly coming out the other side of a low patch, hence the hiatus in posting and writing. Most of the last week was spent curled up and struggling to get out of bed or off the sofa, but at least it was in company while Lady M and I had a week off.

We did get some nice walks in, and it was good to recharge our physical batteries; there’s been a lot of stress going on so we both needed to shut down a bit.

Now we’re back to work and I’m brushing myself off to get back up to speed. I’m not one hundred percent, and won’t be for a little while yet, but I’m keeping my head down and plodding forward.

Short Story: Run Around

Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument. Doubtless these are wise words; but when there’s a baying pack of werewolves on your track (again), the urge to swear quite loudly is considerably more difficult to resist. I thought I’d distracted them by diving through the restaurant and it’s kitchen. I thought I’d lost them in the evening crowds around Covent Garden. I’d even hoped that jumping in a taxi and tipping extra would get me enough of a head start to make my trail go cold.

No such luck. The pack had all the tenacity of the hungry, coupled with the anger of the betrayed, and seasoned with that tricky human knack for subterfuge. I’d hoped that I could at least match the latter while outrunning the former. I had hoped to talk my way out of things when it all started heading south, but you know when you get that sinking feeling that the other person already made their mind up? Yeah, trust me, it’s worse when your audience really is hoping you’re going to die on stage.

So let me give you some context here. My name is Dorian Quiller, and I spend an awful lot of time these days choosing discretion as the better part of valour. People ask me to fix things that go bump in the night. Those things are usually quite happy not to be fixed, and believe me I can really relate to that.

This evening had started quite simply, with an email from someone who had obviously been talking with an old client of mine in Southall. He was running an adult learning course in stand-up comedy which usually cumulated in an evening above a bar near Leicester Square where everyone performed material. He was a bit spooked, if you’ll pardon the phrase, by a visit from the boys in blue.

Apparently the worst-rated acts from the last three courses he’d run had ended up going to pieces shortly afterwards. To be more precise, each had been found in pieces, in what had been thought to be animal attacks. What had got him reaching for my email address wasn’t the suggestion that he had anything to do with it; but that when he’d tried and failed to recall anything about performances on the nights in question.

I have no idea how the guy came to the conclusion there was something unusual going on that couldn’t be explained by the presence of alcohol, or how he knew Hari. The offer of a night out in town and the possibility of some half decent comedy wasn’t to be sniffed at, especially as it was a bit of a skint month. I’d left Kay doing online Christmas shopping (yes, I know it isn’t even May yet), and jumped on a train to Waterloo.

Now, when you have a tendency to see what’s really there and are walking through areas redolent with history and heightened emotion, things can be distracting. There are memories of ghosts in window reflections, and the music of the past plays in the tinkle of bicycle bells and engine roars. And of course, Jonah’s venue had at least three ghosts in the audience and a travelling cold spot on the narrow wooden staircase.

The ghosts weren’t the problem. That would have been the rowdy group of students who took over one end of the back row and started heckling the performers. I was backstage, watching for trouble when they started. Heckling is something that any stand-up comedian has to deal with, so at first I wondered if this was a set-up as part of the course assessment. Two things dismissed that thought.

First was the annoyance on Jonah’s face, and as he tried to compere between acts that didn’t improve. Second was the feeling of the air on stage getting thicker, and the increasingly wooden expressions on both audience and performers’ faces. The familiar prickling sensation in my protective tattoos were my best clue. Something or someone, and it didn’t take a genius to guess who, was pulling a Veiling on the room.

Veilings are pretty much what they sound like – hiding the truth from the world. In this case it was making everyone not care about the increasingly bestial and aggressive students now openly jeering and debating who they were going to eat out of the performers. I’ve heard of comedians being thrown to the wolves, but never thought it could be literal in this day and age.

Now Kay will quite happily tell you I have less sense than a March hare when it comes to people in trouble – especially when it comes to women. It’s probably not going to be a surprise then when I tell you that everything hit the fan when they started to advance on the last act of the night: a mid-thirties woman called Shona.

She was stuttering and stammering through her routine despite the mind-numbing influence of the jackal-faced creatures now starting to gather at the foot of the stage. Most of the audience was sitting slack-jawed in a stupour. The rest of the class and Jonah weren’t faring much better. I noted that even the ghosts seemed to have lost a degree of animation.

That’s when I stepped out onto the stage and started talking loudly over Shona. I started with a couple of one-liners in quick succession and then faltered in the face of the frankly hungry expressions on the werewolves. Rather stupidly, I ventured the beginning of a knock-knock joke. Silence fell.

There we were. Comedy club critics, red in tooth and claw on one side; yours truly wishing I’d thought this through on the other. Fortunately I have another talent that helps in moments like these. I lie for a living.

Oh, I’m not talking about spinning tall tales, though I’m told I’m reasonably entertaining when I get going. I’m talking about being very convincing when i need to be. Convincing enough to make people believe the improbable, and to be able to push that suspension of disbelief quickly into the realms of the impossible. If I do it fast enough and well enough, I can trick the universe into going along with things for brief periods.

That’s how I was able to casually reach into my pocket and pull out an ampoule filled with what can best be described as military grade nasal nausea and spray it over the werewolves. It’s a nasty trick, an improbable thing to have to hand, but not so impossible that the universe couldn’t not believe I’d do it. There is a shorter word for this type of trickery and lies: magic.

I wanted them so angry at me that they would forget the comedy club and come after me. Spraying them with something that surely had skunk oil in a porta-loo on top of road kill at a chilli cook-off competition definitely fit the bill. I just wish that sometimes I would remember to stop and think of the end game before setting things in motion.

So that’s how I came to be running into the no man’s land woods out the back of the Sunbury skatepark, having bailed out of the cab a short while ago. The horrendous stink still clung to the vehicle rather than to me – how lucky, I know – and that gave me enough time while the pack chased it another few miles to pick my spot.

When they finally worked out where I was, they came creeping through the hole I’d cut in the wire fence. I’d bent the wires back so it wasn’t easy, and I’m sure the scratches they got getting through continued to endear me to them. I wanted all their attention to be on me. I didn’t want to shout to get it. In short order I had my attentive audience. Their leader, a grey-furred brute, approached but stopped when my hand dipped into my pocket. I flourished another vial, this one emblazoned with even more lurid warning labels. Several of the werewolves flinched.

“If I drop or damage this, you will never get the scent out of your nostrils so back off.” I spoke calmly. I had improved my argument. It would never have worked with wild animals, but that’s the point people forget with werewolves: there’s still a mind in there to intimidate and then talk to.

Now to open negotiations, and prove again to the universe that there’s more than one way to spin a story round on its axis. I guess in some ways this proved to be more of a shaggy dog story than even I anticipated.

Short Story: Adventures In Misapplied Mathematics

“What is that, and why are you shaving it?” The Director had been called down to Lab Six as a Matter of Urgency ten minutes ago; and wasn’t particularly happy about it. The phonecall bearing the bad news had interrupted her morning coffee break with Ms Enfield from Procurement and prompted a round of bad-tempered briefing requests. These had been less than illuminating beyond broad mission statements and schedules of suppliers and services suggesting an unholy amalgam of high energy physics and biology experiments.

“We need to get proper bedding sites for the hardware, um, and our original visualisation didn’t anticipate some of the grosser physical architecture.” Dr Jennings had the sort of tired nonchalance that hinted of long nights trying to explain unexpected results to people for quite some time now.

“I can see that, but what is it? Assume I haven’t had the time to do more than skim your brief.” The Director drummed her fingers on the window pane as they looked down into the surgical theatre below. Dr Jennings winced.

“Ah, please, if you could not do that, we’ve had a hell of a time working out sedation levels and we’d rather not risk waking him.”

“You’re shaving it with electric razors; my fingers tapping on a window aren’t going to raise a flicker compared to that.” She did stop though. “What is it, and why does it have both feathers and fur?”

Below them, technicians were carefully working on a large and heavily muscled creature that seemed to combine features of birds, mammals and reptiles with gleeful, colourful, abandon. The jaws in particular seemed to sprout razor-edged teeth like cavalry sabres.

“Alright, so we were tasked with looking at how some of the new conceptual mathematic proofs impacted on pre-existing models relating to euclidian causality arguments in a high energy environment, with a particular eye on condensates and information artifact retrieval from parallel and precession stacks…”

“Ah, the public sector defense subcontract? I’ve signed the NDAs too.” The Director shuddered at the memory of an eye-watering document signed in blood. “Go on, I’m with you so far.”

“Right, so the hope was that, along with our work in Lab Three on exotic alloy conductivity, we could overlay boundary condition transforms in a traditional summoning grid configuration and – to use Arnold’s turn of phrase – do a bit of a fishing expedition.”

“Arnold? Your lab assistant?” The Director looked at her notes.

“Yes…” They stopped to look down at the scene below them again.

“So that’s hair rather than fur?” She narrowed her eyes in contemplation. “So that’s why you requested the urgent consultation.”


“Not much of a fishing trip for Arnold was it?”

“Turns out he didn’t ground the circle properly so the ley line earthed through him.” Dr Jennings rubbed his eyes, betraying his exhaustion. “You know, I always wondered if I would recognise when my career veered into mad scientist territory, and I turned out to have missed it a couple of years ago.”

“So was it a past time portal, or a parallel dimension in the end?”

“We think a neighbouring brane where causality is a bit more…”

“If you say wibbly-wobbly or timey-wimey, I’m cutting your budget.”

“… I was going to say a bit more of a permeable interface.” Dr Jennings flipped a page over on his clipboard and looked at the schematics there.

“Alright, so we have a rogue transformation algorithm superpositioning Arnold with a sauropod from the prehistory of a neighbouring dimension, and you want to continue weaponising it?”

“In a nutshell, yes. I have the Residual Resource paperwork all ready for you on the table there. We’ll fit wheel mounts for now so we can relocate him until we know which set of reflexes have survived the process.”

“Fine.” The Director walked over to the table and signed the prepared docket. Then they watched as technicians prepared to use wrenches and socket sets to fit what looked like the world’s largest set of rollerskates to what could only be described as a tyrannosaurus rex. The Director couldn’t wait to see what else could go wrong by lunchtime.

And away we go

It’s Easter weekend, and we’ve actually managed to scrape some time and an approximation of energy together so that Lady M, the Charleesi, and I are escaping The Smoke for a couple of days. We’re off to Alton Towers. Let the silliness commence.

Of course you could be forgiven for thinking it had already started early. We went to join Lady P and a select bunch of glorious misfits in celebrating her birthday yesterday evening, which led to a Jurassic Park-themed chocolate tray bake and an inordinate number of shots.

Today, while not hungover, nevertheless did drag a bit as I was working. It seemed a good idea at the time. Still, we’re settled at our lodgings now, despite the best efforts of traffic and roadworks. Tomorrow is going to be great.

Short Story: Ambush on the Common

The pathways that crossed the swathes of green land between Sam’s house and work were as dangerous as ever. Few dared walk there, for fear of injury, or even just the contempt of the monsters that had laid claim to them. It hadn’t been so bad in the winter, when harsh frost and black ice had kept all but the most hardy from the area. At that point he had been able to risk the short cut with a degree of confidence. Sam knew he could usually see or hear trouble coming long enough to sidestep it.

That was then. Now the warmer weather had added new hazards. The open grasslands attracted mushroom circles of students ostensibly studying in the sun. They either reduced the space to sidestep the hunters on the pathways, or worse joined their numbers and rejoiced in making the lives of humble pedestrians as difficult as possible. In this city, the bicycle was king.

It had started, as these tyrranies often do, as simple expediency. Take a large student population – in other words one not necessarily flush with money – and add a young tech-heavy economic powerhouse or two. Sprinkle with a desire to reduce pollution, and see bicycle lanes and traffic calming measures waltz in, hand in hand.

Then add some self-interest and entitlement, because that’s what humans do, and watch as those who cycle come to see those who don’t as part of a problem to be fixed. Any area not specifically designated for motor vehicle use was implicitly claimed, and the gods help any poor pedestrian or tourist who didn’t realise this.

During the winter, only the most dedicated cyclists used the paths, and they were easy to avoid, if only for their regular schedules. The summer though was far more chaotic, and injuries were far more common. He’d witnessed plenty for himself, avoided many, and been unlucky once or twice. Sam wasn’t bitter about that however. The occasional – rare even – mishap or encounter was just the luck of the draw.

No, his anger had a very specific focus: the Darrens. A youngish couple who had moved into the area recently, but who had embraced the bicycle cult with fervour. Their matching matt-black steeds were built for speed, and matched the dark lycra in which they wrapped each other before they headed out. It was no coincidence that they featured in the nightmares of so many; for they took a perverse pride in forcing people to leap aside.

For the Darrens, few things could beat a stealthy glide along the pathways across the common, and then a ring of their bells at almost the last minute to prompt cries of panic and frantic attempts to leap for safety. They even had a scoring system based on the perceived vulnerability of their victims and whether they could cause collisions between their victims and bystanders as one leapt into the other in their panic.

The only thing better than that was causing another cyclist to flinch – and in that there was perhaps the seed of Sam’s current course of action. Every day, the Darrens came up the rise to the crest of the Common at around midday, heading home for lunch.

This time, as they focused on the pace of their ascent they found Sam, on a borrowed bike, coming the other way.

They looked at each other and smiled, and then accelerated. They would not turn aside. The game of chicken was one they loved. Sam and the Darrens closed rapidly on each other. Students in the grass either side of where they would clash began to back away. All eyes were on them.

Sam barrelled towards them, head low to reduce wind resistance and legs pumping steadily. The Darrens too also kept up their brisk face, a hungry anticipation visible on their faces.

And then, a little more than a bike’s length or three away from them, Sam drew his sword and charged straight at them. The sword glinted in the sunlight as he drew it in a tight arc from the scabbard on his back. There was just enough time for horrified recognition of the shape in Sam’s hands and then it was too late.

The Darrens tried to peel away to either side, but failed to count the effect of going from smooth asphalt to soft earth and grass. As they both tumbled from their bikes, Sam streaked on and past, dropping the plastic toy sword on the path behind him. It clattered loudly in the sudden silence as he sped away, laughing into the distance. The Darrens were never quite the same, or as feared, from that day

Short Story/Drabble: The Fight

Five seconds into the fight, and Bob knew it was a mistake to have placed the bet. Never mind the ethics of it, there was the very real chance that any action in the ring was going to equalled by action taken outside it when Hannibal found out he had no money.

With a growing sense of appalled immanent doom, he watched as limbs flailed between the equally matched opponents. Harnesses contained the fighters, and reins attached to them were quickly deployed when voices of authority rang out to halt the barbarism.

“You’re making our babies wrestle? What’s your problem?”

Short Story: Seeking Pretty Things

The clatter of wheels on cobbles filled the air as Fenton and Gillie left the alley. A broad thoroughfare lay before them, thronged with horse-drawn vehicles and people who all seemed intent on either heading to or from places with great concentration and purpose. Here and there small stalls sold hot food or newspapers, and the voices of the people running them blended with the noise that washed over them.

“We’re looking for Peddle Lane.” Fenton said, linking arms with Gillie so that they didn’t get separated.

“Over there,” Gillie responded,”I recognise the pawnbroker sign next to the entrance. Charlie’s boys keep using it for slingshot practice – that’s why the top ball’s so dented.” Her finger pointed it out unerringly. Fenton squinted to make it out.”

“Your eyesight’s better than mine. Come on then.”

“Well of course, I haven’t ruined it peering at old ledgers by candlelight, have I?” She kept pace with him, guiding him between a couple of hansom cabs and out to the middle of the road. They paused there a moment to let a tarpaulin-covered cart rattle past, and continued to the relative safety of the other side of the street. Their way from there to the pawnshop was simple; with the crowd light enough for them to walk side by side. Sure enough, a side road could be seen next to the shop, bounded by an archway between the buildings.

Fenton led Gillie past the shop and into the mouth of the lane, which was lined mostly with the doors to tenement buildings. The buildings were tall and crammed side by side. Families and workmen lived side by side here, behind the shops and offices on the main roads. Gas lights were already glowing at intervals here and there even though the day’s light had barely begun to fade. The other end of the lane wasn’t far away.

“Why are we going down here? I thought you said you had something to show me?” Gillie asked. They were about halfway along the lane already. Fenton looked across and grinned.

“You keep teasing me about all the old books while you gallivant round causing trouble. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations we’ve had about the amazing things you’ve found while thwarting your colourful nemesis collection.” He grinned and pushed his glasses back up where they had drooped a little down the bridge of his nose. “So there I was last night, working my way through Hawksmark’s Primer and I found something that I think you’re going to love.”

“Oh? So that’s what you get up to while I’m defending the Realm?” Gillie pretended to be affronted, but the little smile quirking her lips suggested otherwise. “If I didn’t know better Mr Fenton, I would think you were a little jealous of my midnight perambulations!”

“Perish the thought.” They were nearly to the other end of the lane, and Fenton stopped. He turned to look back the way they had come, and gestured for Gillie to do the same. The little gasp of joyous surprise was exactly what he’d been hoping for.

“Oh Fenton – ” The sun was in just the right angle. The plans in the primer had hinted at it, but the reality was far more than he had hoped. The placement of the local architecture had been a labour of love  – written in stone, bricks and mortar – and right here and right now the day added the final touch: a rose formed of sunlight and shadows right in the middle of the lane.

“You keep finding wonders in times of danger or in the darkest places, but I thought that seeing something beautiful in and of the light would help bolster you when it gets tough.” Fenton’s voice was quiet.

“It’s so pretty. I’ve never been given flowers by a city before.” She admired the sight before her a little longer. “You old romantic, I thought you didn’t care.” Gillie beamed, and enjoyed his momentary discomfort.

“Well, of course, we work so closely, I have to make sure you’re operating at your best with how important the Work is…” he twisted and turned in the light of her regard.

“Of course, Fenton, of course.” She patted his hand, linked arms, and let him walk her back out into the City.