Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Free Halloween Story - One Last House


Halloween morning:

‘Please don’t ask me again. You’re the child, I’m the parent and that’s that. What I say goes, there’s no discussion. Now drop the subject or I won’t even allow you to go trick or treating.’ Elaine’s mother, Glenda, emphasised her statement by tapping her foot and shaking a finger at her daughter. Elaine’s face reddened and her eyes began to glisten with the promise of tears. ‘And if you start crying again it will only confirm that you are still too young to understand and perhaps it would be best if I did keep you in tonight.’ With a superhuman effort the little girl bit back on the sob that threatened to escape from her tight throat, nodded and went up to her room.
     ‘Glenda, you can be hard on times,’ Elaine’s father, Jim said looking up from his paper, his breakfast finished.
     ‘Listen, she’s too young. Once she’s of an age to understand the dangers out there then I’ll let her do what she wants. It’s different from when I was a child. Things were safer then, I could go out dressed up and knock on strangers’ doors, but times change. It’s not safe.’
     ‘You don’t have much faith in our daughter,’ Jim said folding the paper carefully.
     ‘It’s not a matter of faith. It’s just Prudence.’
Jim closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Of course, sorry.’
     ‘That’s ok; you know how I get this time of year. I’ll never forget.’
     ‘But you’ve said that was a long time ago dear.’ Jim rose and gave his wife a hug.
     ‘Yes, that’s just what I mean. People are more aware nowadays.
     ‘Ok, perhaps I’ll have a quiet word with her too,’ he said.
Glenda nodded then gave her husband a peck on the cheek. ‘Thanks you know she listens to you more than me. Daddy’s little girl.’
Jim smiled, looked at his watch and said, ‘I’ve just got time before going into work.’ Then he shrugged on his jacket and went up to his daughter’s bedroom.

Halloween Evening:

     ‘Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?’ Glenda asked her daughter as she fussed with the little blue jacket the child was wearing.
Elaine rolled her eyes and sighed. ‘Yes, Mum. Will you stop fussing? I’m going to be late.’ She picked up her plastic bag which contained the canister of silly string for her ‘tricks’ and plenty of room for her ‘treats’.
     ‘Ok, ok, go, enjoy,’ her mother said as she ushered her child out of the door and into the chilly night. The street outside was already thronged with a plethora of ghosts, ghoulies, vampires and all other manner of fancy-dress costumed children. One, a mummy, trailing an unravelled piece of bandage from one leg, approached Elaine and the two children walked off excitedly into the night. Jim came from the living room and put his hands on Glenda’s shoulders.
     ‘Looks like she’s one of the very few without a costume,’ he said.
Glenda turned. ‘Perhaps next year.’ She glanced out once more for a final look but the children had already gone from view. Reluctantly she closed the door.

     ‘Have you got it?’ Elaine asked Rachel, her mummified friend.
     ‘Of course, you didn’t think I’d let you down, did you?’ Rachel mumbled through the bandages over her mouth.
     ‘Cool!’ Elaine replied excitedly and just checked they were out of sight of her house before delving into Rachel’s bag and extracting the clothing. It was a witch’s costume, complete with pointy hat, false wart-covered nose and broomstick. ‘Great, I thought you looked really scary in this last year, thanks for letting me borrow it.’
     ‘S’ok, doesn’t fit me anymore anyway,’ Rachel said as she helped Elaine get dressed. ‘What’s the matter with your mum? Why won’t she let you dress up?’
Elaine shrugged. ‘Something to do with her sister, my aunt. She died. A long time ago though and mum won’t really talk about it.’
     ‘Oh,sorry,’ Rachel said as she straightened Elaine’s cloak, ‘there, you look fab. I’m really scared, that nose looks horrible, all those ugly warts and veins.’
     ‘Har har, I haven’t put it on yet!’ Elaine said testily.

The two friends commenced their tour of the small town. Before long their plastic bags were weighed down with loose change, sweets, an apple or two and even a piece of homemade cake. Rachel’s canister of silly string had been exhausted and consigned to a wastepaper bin but Elaine shook hers. ‘Plenty left in mine yet.’
     ‘You’re just not nasty enough to be a witch,’ Rachel commented. ‘I emptied mine ages ago.’
     ‘Yeah, I noticed,’ Elaine said as she pulled clumps of the silly string out of her hair. ‘I’m bound to need this here anyway,’ she motioned towards a dark house set back from all the others. A single light from a naked bulb shone from an upstairs room.
     ‘Old Man Robinson? They say he was a preacher, you know, before he got kicked out of the church,’ Rachel said looking warily at the shadowy house.
     ‘I heard he was a surgeon who lost his licence for cutting off a man’s leg,’ Elaine replied.
     ‘Aren’t surgeons supposed to do that, anyway?’ Rachel turned towards Elaine and tilted her head.
     ‘Yes, but they’re also supposed to cut off the bad leg, not the good one...’
     ‘Yes, ohh... Anyway, whether he’s a mad preacher or a stupid doctor I bet he won’t give us any treats, so he’s going to have this! The rest of the canister!’ Elaine said brandishing the silly string.
     ‘I don’t know, it’s getting late. Perhaps we should go now,’ Rachel said glancing at the house again.
     Elaine tapped her foot mimicking her mother’s actions flawlessly. ‘Late? You’re just scared, big baby.’
     ‘Not scared, it’s just late. Come on we’d better go, don’t forget you’ve got to change too.’
     ‘You go then; I’ll catch you up and meet you at the corner again where I changed into the costume. I want to finish off my silly string. Just one last house.’
     ‘And what if Old Man Robinson gives you a treat instead? Are you going somewhere else then to use it up? You could be out all night!’
Elaine frowned. ‘Didn’t think of that.’ She scrutinised the dark house. ‘Bugger it, even if he does give me a treat he’s gonna get stringed. Anyone with a creepy old house like that deserves a good stringing.’
     ‘Potty mouth. Ok, go do your dirty deed, I’m off. I don’t want my legs sawn off.’ Rachel said and shambled away glancing once over her shoulder as Elaine approached the shadow-filled porch to Robinson’s house.

Former Lay-Preacher Ezekiel Robinson put down the book he was reading and sniffed the air. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and he frowned. When his doorbell rang he just nodded as if confirming to himself that his premonition had been correct, then he raised his wiry frame out of the threadbare chair and went down to confirm his suspicions.
     ‘Trick or treat, sir?’ The little witch asked him when the door opened and he stood there open-mouthed, hardly believing his luck.
     ‘What?’ He managed to mumble finally.
     ‘Halloween, trick or treat,’ Elaine faltered, Robinson seemed mesmerised by her, ‘sir...’
His face brightened. ‘Of course, Halloween. Come in, child, come in.’ He stepped to one side and motioned for Elaine to enter the dimly-lit hallway.
Elaine swallowed nervously. She hadn’t expected an invitation to go into the old man’s house. She looked around quickly, but Rachel had gone. She hesitated.
     ‘The treats are in my study, please, do come in,’ Robinson repeated and before Elaine knew it the man had gripped her shoulder. He urged her inside.

Glenda paced back and forth in the passage way. ‘She should be back by now.’
     ‘You know what kids are like; she’s probably playing with Rachel. It was Rachel in the mummy costume wasn’t it?’ Jim asked.
     ‘Of course,’ Glenda replied and then sighed as the doorbell rang. ‘She’s back!’ She pulled the door open and looked past the little mummy-figure expecting to see the blue-coated shape of her child. Elaine wasn’t there. ‘Where is she? Rachel, where’s Elaine?’
The mummy shuffled uncomfortably and dropped the plastic bag. Out spilled an apple, some sweets, a piece of cake, loose change and the sleeve of Elaine’s blue coat.
     ‘Talk, now!’ Glenda commanded and Rachel spilled the beans. She told Glenda everything, unable to do otherwise.
     ‘Preacher Robinson, shit. Of all the damned places to go into alone. Jim, take Rachel home.’ Glenda picked up Elaine’s coat and narrowed her eyes. ‘I haven’t finished with you yet, Miss,’ she said softly to Rachel and the child’s blood seemed to freeze in her veins. ‘She’s wearing your costume, too?’
     ‘Yes, it was too small for me, a witch’s costume,’ Rachel stuttered.
     ‘A witch’s costume...’ Glenda echoed and Rachel nodded glumly.
     ‘Ok, Rachel. Let’s get you home,’ Jim said and patted the child’s head. ‘You want the car?’ He asked Glenda.
She raised an eyebrow at him. ‘No... I’ll be fine.’
     ‘Just be careful,’ he said.
     ‘Obviously,’ Glenda replied as she pushed him out of the door and went back to the kitchen and opened the tall cupboard.

Gloominess shrouded the porch to Preacher Robinson’s house. A gloominess that seemed to emanate from the small child that sat sobbing quietly on the door step. She fingered something wet and slimy at her side and jumped when a rustling from nearby bushes startled her. ‘Who’s there?’
     ‘Your mother,’ replied Glenda as she stepped out of the foliage, brushed herself down and looked around suspiciously. ‘Are you all right?’
Elaine nodded. ‘Yes. I didn’t expect him to invite me in. I didn’t expect him to do what he did. I’m sorry, mum, I really am. I should have listened to you. The costume too...’
     ‘So, what happened?’ Glenda asked as she approached the step.
     ‘I asked him for a trick or treat and I sort of got dragged into his house. The door closed and...’
     ‘...and?’ Her mother prompted.
Elaine shivered and motioned to something on the step next to her. ‘And...’
     ‘That’s the trick? Or is it the treat?’ her mother asked as she picked up the slimy toad and examined it.
     ‘That’s... Old Man Robinson,’ Elaine replied.
     ‘Ah...’ nodded her mother, ‘he perceived you then. He saw you for what you really are. I feared as much when Rachel said where you were... and just look at you. Why don’t you just wear a great big placard too?’
     ‘I didn’t think...’
     ‘Undoubtedly, that’s why I’ve been so protective of you. Not everyone is capable of perceiving us, but some are. He’s one.’ She nodded at the toad which squirmed in her grasp. ‘But, on the plus side, you did very well. Transfiguration isn’t all that easy, yet you’ve done a fine job. Unfortunately we can’t allow him to revert back. It just wouldn’t be a good idea at all,’ Glenda said as she closed her hand and the toad exploded with a wet plop.
     ‘Sorry, mum,’ Elaine said reaching up for her mother.
     ‘That’s ok,’ Glenda replied as she picked her child up and carried her to the bushes, ‘perhaps it’s time I told you about Aunt Prudence and what happened to her in 1780. We thought the witch hunts were over, we were wrong then and many of us have been wrong now. They still remember. Some still perceive us. We have to be more than careful now. There aren’t that many of us left.’
     ‘Is daddy mad?’ Elaine asked.
     ‘Of course, dear!’ Glenda laughed. ‘What sane man would marry a witch? But, that’s beside the point. Now, jump onto my broom and let’s get home. By the way I like what you’ve done with your nose...’

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Free Story set in Flames World

For those who are waiting for the sequel to Flames of Herakleitos, here's a short story set in that world which can be read as standalone. Hope you enjoy it. It's over at Wattpad and if you want to leave comments there then please do.  :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

BristolCon 2012

Attended my first BristolCon today (Sat 20/10/2012) and a pretty fine con it was too, with I'd guess between 250 to 300 attendees. After wandering through the arts room and dealers room I went to the first event on the program in room1 where (from left to right) Dev Agarwal, Aliette de Bodard., Michael Dollin, Ben Jeapes and Guy Haley discussed the possibilities of colonizing other planets and if we could, would we want to go? Dev and Aliette didn't seem all that keen but I think Michael, Ben and Guy might be persuaded!

Next up was Juliet E. McKenna interviewing Guest of Honour John Meaney and the conversation covered such subjects as when did John first start writing, to the novels he has written and also touched on martial arts. When question time came around I was really tempted to ask Juliet (akido) to demonstrate some moves on John (karate) and then stand well back... but I chickened out :)

After a quick cup of tea the next event was Netiquette for Writers - How not to make a twit of yourself online. Giving advice were, from left to right again, Robert Harkess, Dolly Garland, Mark Aplin, Marc Gascoigne and Guy Hayley. Subjects included, never respond to bad reviews! Don't get dragged into posts that get out of hand, the recent spate of sock-puppetry and much more.

And then it was time for a spot of lunch and a couple of pints with my mate Steve Upham who insisted on doing his impression of  'Chad'

After lunch I went to see the next Guest of Honour Gareth L Powell being interviewed by Kim Lakin-Smith.
Gareth spoke about the writers that influenced him when he was a youngster and surprised me by saying Capt. W.E. Johns' Biggles was one. He then explained how his new book's hero, Ack Ack Macaque forced his way into being and bullied him into taking his Interzone short story on to novel length. Finally he read an excerpt of the novel and finished at a cliff-hanging spot so all listening were motivated to go buy the book!

The third Guest of Honour was the artistic and beautiful Anne Sudworth who designed the cover for the 2012 program and with other artists discussed art techniques in a digital age.

Finally, before I had to leave, who should I spot propping up the bar? None other than Joe Abercrombie (one of my favourite authors) who'd been signing copies of his new book, Red Country, just up the road in Waterstones. He generously exchanged a few words with me and then signed a copy of the book. Then to top it all I forced a copy of my book on him (Flames of Herakleitos) and even signed it for him. He graciously accepted it and although couldn't promise to read it (he has a massive stack to get through) said it might come in handy to prop up a leg on his wobbly desk...

Dedication says: To Bob, Best of luck with the lonely profession. (that's what I put on his one too...)

And finally, here's my haul from the con. A nice freebie bag from  Forbidden Planet, Steve Upham's Antho edited by Johnny Mains, The Screaming Book Of Horror and Probably, Maybe, Perhaps by Terry Martin of Murky Depths. A great con and well worth going to, see you in 2013 guys!