Sunday, 31 May 2015

Friend of Foe by Matt Porter


Matt Porter's 'Friend of Foe' was the third place winner in August 2014's Short Fiction Contest.

Friend of Foe by Matt Porter


Children are born without prejudices. They won’t make assumptions based on skin colour, or gender. They’re pure, a piece of clay to be moulded. Of course, some things have to be taught. Don’t touch the flame, it’s hot. Don’t touch the knife, it’s sharp. Other things we take for granted though. Little Tori’s parents didn’t think to tell her to stay away from the infected. Because why would they? It was obvious. 

So the first time Tori encountered one, she didn’t know what to do. To her, it was scary looking, sure. Its face was barely human anymore. Colourless, unblinking eyes constantly surveyed its surroundings. Faint, wiry strands of hair were all that remained on top of its head. Its mouth was the most terrifying of all, sharp fangs interlocked each other across the front of its face. She wasn’t actually afraid though.

In fact, she thought this man looked quite sad, but she didn’t know why. She had stumbled into this room accidentally, and found him huddled in the corner, shying away from the light. His breathing was heavy, perhaps he was sick? His beady eyes watched her as she skipped towards him. With the man bent over, she was just about as tall as him.

“Hello, I’m Tori. Are you okay?”

The man in front of her didn’t reply, he averted his gaze, scanning the rest of the room. Tori frowned. 

“We have some medicine if you want it, my daddy keeps it in a box.”

Still no reply. The man was panting harder and harder, almost trembling. She put her tiny hand against his forehead. 

“You feel warm.”

The man suddenly stopped heaving and simply looked into Tori’s eyes. 

“Do you need a friend?” She asked.

A commotion erupted outside.

“Victoria?! Where are you?”

Suddenly, Tori’s parents burst in through the door. 

“Oh my God, Tori, get away from it!”

Her mother rushed towards her, grabbed her up into her arms and dived onto the floor. The creature huddled in the corner quickly straightened out, and seemed to seethe with rage at the incursion. It snarled, but before it could act, Tori’s father aimed his shotgun and fired. The headless creature twitched once, and crumpled to the floor. As the noise from the shot died down, Tori’s screams still echoed around the room. Her father moved over to where her mother was cradling her child on the floor.

“What were you doing? Those things kill people!”

“I thought he was lonely, I was going to be his friend.” 

Tears were pouring from her eyes. Her parents explained to her what the infected were, and how dangerous they could be. Despite that, for the rest of her life, Tori never forgot her friend in that small room, and the frightened look he gave her just moments before he died.

Dead End by Kath Middleton


Kath Middleton's 'Dead End' was the second place winning story in August 2014's Short Fiction Contest.

Dead End by Kath Middleton


It has been reported in some of the more dubious press outlets that 3.7 million Americans believe that they have been subjected to alien abduction. Ridiculous. Why would aliens choose one nationality above others? I know that they don't. They took me.

I lost a week from my life last year. I went to bed as usual and when I woke I assumed it was the following morning. I felt a bit sore but otherwise I had no reason to think anything was amiss. People asked where I'd been when I went into work 'next day' and I didn't know what they were talking about. Reality came back slowly, like the snatched morning memories of nightmare.

I went to bed one night and woke, sedated and partially anaesthetised, in a gleaming laboratory staffed with metal ‘workers’. I never knew where it was situated: on a ship: on another planet? An ovum was removed from my body and returned fertilised. I was left alone then, but for the metal beings which brought me food and drink and removed my waste products with mechanical efficiency. My belly swelled at a frightening rate and three days later the true nightmare began.

The hot, tight mound of my abdomen began to lurch and writhe. It appeared that the gestation period was mercifully short. I lay upon the couch, groaning as my body tried to wrench itself apart. I was mortally afraid. I did not see any of my abductors so, thank god, I didn’t know what the father of the hybrid child looked like. I struggled to expel it, screaming both in pain and in rage at the violation of my body.

With one final lurching contraction I expelled the monster in a slurry of stinking mucous and it lay, writhing and tormented, between my trembling thighs. It was unnaturally thin and long and had been curled, folded, within me. It stretched and opened a ghastly mouth ringed with needle-like teeth and I could immediately see that there was no throat, no oesophagus. This thing could not feed! I felt elated and hoped they would discard this as a failed hybridisation experiment.

They returned me to my bed at home but the horror is not yet over. Unwilling to admit defeat, the alien beings seem bent upon keeping this creature alive, perhaps to backcross it and introduce some element of its genetic make-up into their moribund species. I am not expected to feed it as I would a human child. Thank god! But they return it to me every night to clutch at my body, lie along the length of me in a travesty of a human hug, and leech the life-force from my body as it grasps me with its cold, sticky limbs.

This cannot go on. I am losing weight and will not live much longer. When I die, it will die too, this hybrid disaster; this evolutionary dead end. I am happy, on both counts.

The Going Rate by John Boden


John Boden's 'The Going Rate' was the winning story in August 2014's Short Fiction Contest.

The Going Rate by John Boden



Cloth over  mouth, her breathing slowed. She looked so much like her mother. If it weren’t for that bitch, he wouldn’t be doing this now. She left him with their daughter so she could “Find herself,” left him with a replica of herself, one that called him Daddy and a mountain of debt.

It was a tax month and  Denny had to pay in. He rubbed his eyes and watched the clock. The Collector would be by soon.  Looking at the bill and the amount owed, he picked up the shears. 

He knelt beside the sofa and stared into his sleeping daughter’s face. He took her hand in his,  folded the fingers, allowing only the pinky to remain extended. Holding it between his thumb and finger, he slid it between the blades. The bones snapped with a small crack. The girl winced but did not wake.  He grabbed the ice pack beside him and held it against the spurting stump, then took the shoelace and tied off the base of the finger as tightly as he could. 

He picked up the finger and wrapped it in the proper form, stuffed it into the red envelope and went to the porch. The porch lights winked on one at a time. There were three lights crying red.
He slid the clear pane from the light box and swapped it for a red panel of glass. 

At the end of the street, a shadow broke free, a long shape that took on more detail as it stretched to the center of the street.  Denny stepped back into the house ,closing the door. He peered through curtains as the Taxman approached.

Tall as time and as long as hours, it strode down main street,  boots clicking on asphalt. Its fish-belly skin glistened like fungi. A black suit, stitched with black hole and strychnine. Taxman's arms ended in hands like squid. Impossible fingers, like lengths of living rope.  He stopped at Ordini’s house, stepped on the porch, knelt and picked up the red envelope from the mat.  The thing swiveled in the direction of Denny’s house. It smiled at him. The smile was stitches and railroad ties. The eyes that nested above it, were beetles in cataract flesh. 

The Taxman tore open the parcel and extracted something red and dripping.  He ate it, reached into the mailer and with a bloody finger, drew a large circle on the door.  The light went out on the  porch and the Taxman was back in the street. 


Denny had watched it collect its wages. A tongue from the Melvoins; Old man Mellick must have owed more than anyone, for his envelope bulged ,a hand dangling from the unsealed end.  

Denny sighed and sat on the floor, he could not bear to watch this thing eat his little girl’s finger,  to see its face up close. His wife had always done the taxes, knew the ins and outs, not him.  Had he still had a tongue, he'd have screamed.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Have You Entered June's Short Fiction Contest?

By Cyberjunkie (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
June's Short Fiction Contest is in full swing and if you haven't enetered yet then it's time to get those fingers tapping on the keyboard! There's already some surprises lurking behind the door in this month's image and you can add your own. It's easy to enter - write a story of no more than 500 words based on this month's image. It can be of any genre and unlike many similar competitions there's no entry fee.

Submit your story through the form on the contest page here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/june-short-fiction-contest.html

The winning story will receive a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize and there's prizes for second and third place winners too.

If you've not read the winning stories from May's contest yet then you can read them here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/may-short-fiction-contest-winners.html

And make sure to share them with your friends!


Friday, 29 May 2015

Book Review - Deep by Adam Moon

Up front I think it's fair to say I'm not a fan of serialised novels and I'm not convinced that 32 pages can count as book 1 of anything. Although the blub sounded interesting so I thought I'd give it a go. And it starts well. It's a tense story with some good mystery. There's some good character interaction and I thought that I'd made a good choice in giving it a chance.

Then I reached the end and it ranks with Bobby Ewing waking up in the shower as a disapointing ending. In a full novel I would probably have kept reading and maybe the rest of the story would have made up for it, but instead it was a thankfully short read.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The earth is doomed.

But a new world has been discovered that has all the right ingredients to sustain human life. The vessel Seeder will travel four thousand years with its crew members and colonists to this new seed planet to ensure humanity lives on.

But the stasis pods malfunction. When the crew is revived they discover they've been traveling for the past eighteen million years, and the colonists are all gone.

And it only gets stranger.

Book #1 of the best selling Seeder Saga (34 pages)


Book Review - I, Hell by Ben Stevens

Judging from some of the other reviews for this book it was originally released as a single short story, but the version I've just read was more a collection of short stories, so I'll treat them separately.

The title short story is a decent short story. It's well paced and I enjoyed the style of it. The experiences of Hell were well done and the conversations with Hitler were amusing. To be honest while I was reading it I thought this was the first part of a longer work until I hit the end. The ending felt a bit cheap to me and while you could certainly argue that it demonstrates the basic selfishness of evil it diminishes all of the drama and the build up of what preceded it. Still it's a decent short story and well worth reading.

The other stories didn't stand out for me. They were all reasonably well written and had some entertainment value. However they were mostly short pieces that didn't quite hit the mark. I'm a big fan of very short fiction, but there is an art to making such short writing punchy and memorable and these felt more like longer works that hand't been fully developed.

The book's saving graces were the longer stories, in particular the first and last stories. They could have been more developed, but were still entertaining reads. Overall it's a bit of a mixed bag, but worth checking out for the title story alone.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

No one has ever escaped from Hell. But when one determined young man finds himself sentenced to eternal damnation, he hatches a daring plan...

From the author of 'BURIED ALIVE' and 'THE METAL MAN'.

'I have become a big fan of Ben Stevens. He writes extremely well...' Lloyd Tackitt, bestselling author of A DISTANT EDEN and EDEN'S WARRIORS.(Amazon US ***** review for THE WHISTLER.)

Click here to buy I, Hell from Amazon (and it's a decent read)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Drabbles of the Gods - Amun


We visit ancient Egypt for this week's Drabble of the Gods. The pantheon was such a rich one that it wasn't easy to pick one to focus on until I discovered prayer to Amun which provided the inspiration I needed.

You can read the previous drabbles in the series here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/p/drabbles-of-gods.html


Amun

The hidden one comes at the call of the meek and wretched in our misery. His breath sustains us with no voice of our own.

You are Amun, the Lord of those unheard. The one who listens to the laments of the impoverished. When I call to you in my distress; your presence strengthens me.

All too easily your servants descend into sin, although we are fortunate that you are disposed to forgive. Your wrath lasts for the briefest instant.

I fall upon your mercy and may you grant forgiveness in my confession of weakness.

It shall not happen again.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

May Short Fiction Contest Winners

By The creator of the Art piece- Lars Widenfalk- Poderedellaluna
I had a fun evening reading through the entries for May's Short Fiction Contest and this morning have decided on the three winners. As expected the image of the black violin on red silk inspired some great stories and always it was tough selecting just three winners. I'd like to thank everyone who entered and also those who support the competition by sharing the links.

And now I am pleased to announce the winners:

 - First prize of a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Sheila Deeth for her story 'My Brother's Keeper'
 - Second prize of a £20 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Nav Logan for his story "The Midnight Serenade'
 - Third prize of a £10 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Lauren M. Gunter for her story 'Unfinished Symphony'

Congratulations to the winners and here are their fantastic stories:

My Brother's Keeper by Sheila Deeth

http://sheiladeeth,blogspot.com

D’you remember that song about the devil playing violin? Or was it a story? Or was it real?

I guess I remember something about a crossroads, and I see my brother there. The fields behind him are red with poppies glowing in the sun, flowing like blood in the breeze, sown like a song on the seas. I hear his voice. No. Not singing. And not a violin. I’m not talking devils here. My brother’s just talking to me, soft and quiet, and he makes me want to sing because, well, my brother always had that kind of voice; you know, musical, low, rhythm and rhyme all the time. I remember him there and I see this black violin on a bed of scarlet silk and I think I’m just imagining his words falling down onto poppies. The trouble is, I can’t work out the words. Like an opera sung in Italian, or a perfect meal cooked in Chinese; like a page of music where the notes won’t stay still, or writing where the letters jump and dance to their own tune. I remember him and I see these black lines and shapes all rippling together on red sheets, all twisted and torn. I tell myself I’ve imagined his last night on earth, because he’s not been seen, never again, since I left him at that crossroads, since his breaking voice sang like music and the poppies stirred.

I hung a blank piece of paper on my wall the other day, to cover up the stain. It just appeared one day, the stain I mean. I don’t know where it came from; general decay? It was red, leaking on gray; gray paint; gray walls. So I hung up the paper and thought I’d paint myself a picture one day. But I woke in the morning and saw the charcoal outline of a violin. I don’t even own any charcoal. Still, it looked good. I promised myself I’d paint over it, but when I came home from work it next day, the violin was already painted black. Okay, thought I; I’ll buy some red paint for the background tomorrow. Then it was done, red rumpled bright like silk behind the notes.

This morning I stood by the coffee machine and couldn’t smell the grounds. I stared at a blank sheet of paper on my wall and thought, yeah, I’ll really have to buy some charcoal and paint and make a picture there. Then I looked at my bed. The sheets were red like poppies in a field, and the body was mine, black as death and twice as gone. I heard my brother’s voice on the wind and knew I wanted to sing. Then I saw the crossroads through the window; saw him waiting there. No. Not my brother. Him.

D’you remember that story, that song? Or was it real? Or will it be? Can you hear the music playing?

The Midnight Serenade by Nav Logan

www.navlogan.com

With hands still grimy from digging his most recent grave, the maestro lifted up the string and fitted it into the violin. The task was not a simple one for two reasons: Firstly, it was pitch black in the graveyard, and he needed to complete the task by touch alone. Secondly, the wire was still slick with fresh blood.

Each of the strings of his violin was anointed thus. Each wire had been consecrated by the blood of a young female victim. It was part of the ritual he performed whenever he needed to replace a string.
Since his rise to stardom, it had become so much easier, of course. He didn’t need to hunt his victims down anymore. They came to him; all wide eyed and simpering over his music. They eagerly accepted his offer of a private dinner, away from the crowds and paparazzi. The lavish dinner, prepared with his own hands, was followed by too much wine. Heady with drink, they would fall into his arms, and later, into his bed. It was there, during a night of wild passion, that they would meet their demise.

He loved the look of shock on their faces as the garrotte bit into their soft tender necks. He often became aroused again during their final struggles.

Later, he would carry their still naked bodies out into the family graveyard at the back of his mansion, and there they would be laid to rest, forever to listen to his midnight serenades.

When the new string was set in place, he would tune his instrument; a wonderful Mendini, as black as his heart. Plucking the newly-baptised string, he tightened the peg until the sound of the note was just right. Tiny droplets of blood flicked across his cheek as he nuzzled the chinrest and began to play.
Standing over his mother’s grave, he always played her favourite piece: Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. In his mind, he can hear the rest of the orchestra playing along as he performed the piece in front of a packed arena, perhaps even for the Queen herself.

He could also imagine the sighs of his many victims. They rested nearby, keeping his mother company through the long years of darkness. She had always demanded to be the centre of attention.
It was his mother who had bought him his first violin. She, who demanded the best on every occasion. She, who beaten him and locked him in his room whenever his performances where not up to scratch. She, who eventually became his first victim.

Playing his violin afterwards, with her blood still slick on the strings, he had found a new sense of peace. He had played like never before … and so the ritual had begun.
He was sure that his mother would have understood. It was such a small sacrifice to make for the art. He was sure that they had all understood eventually, once they had heard him play his midnight serenade.

Unfinished Symphony by Lauren M. Gunter

Black on white. Black on white on red, glinting off the liquid notes of an obsidian violin.

Lilting, melancholy music coaxed forth from the fingers and bow of an expert. An expert who for years had played the greatest concert halls in the world. But tonight, in the enclosed, velvet-curtained atmosphere of his inner sanctum, the professor played for a special audience. An audience of no more than seven.

One moment the music flew in the strains of a gypsy csárdás, the next dropping deep into the notes of a lullaby. In the small room, the strains of music seemed to resonate, twining round the white lights, entrapping themselves in the heavy red velvet of the curtains. Then the notes of the black violin took on a life of their own, swirling into a wild, unearthly music.

A quiet stir sounded as one of the audience left the seats. A rustle of velvet brushed the professor’s sleeve as his fingers caressed the bow. At the gentle touch, the notes, of their own accord, quickened and rose higher.

“You waited for me.”

The professor inclined his head, his eyes remaining on the fiddle and bow.

“Very few people surrender it willingly.”

He turned, his extended arms holding out the fiddle and bow, but the music played on.. “I am tired. And it will always be yours in the end.”

Her eyes softened as she reached for the violin. As her fingers touched it, a spark leaped from the ebony surface. Her eyes drifted closed, a shudder running through her frame. She grew, taller and taller, no longer a young woman, but a presence that seemed to tower to the roof. Smoke billowed, curling round her until she was transformed into a living pillar of smoke and black velvet. Her skin remained smooth as silk, but her black hair changed to gray in the space of a heartbeat. Her eyes flew open, revealing wells as old as time, but somehow new and fresh. The music flew to a fever pitch, then slowed abruptly to a lull.

“Your notes ring true in my song and you returned it to me willingly. For that, you have earned the right for yourself and these others to go peacefully, with no struggle of parting.”

The professor’s face settled into peaceful lines, his eyes drifting shut as if in sleep.

The woman turned to the audience. Five had followed the professor, leaving only one. She beckoned gently and the young girl left her seat, making her way slowly to the professor’s stand.

“Why was I left behind?”

The woman smiled, “They were taken because they were ready. You, however, were summoned for a different purpose.”

The ebony violin again changed hands. The music began to sparkle with a new, vibrant note.

“Much good can be done in one life, as well as much evil. This is now yours to use, but remember, I shall be back. Be ready. Until then, add your notes to my unfinished symphony.”

Book Review - The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

I enjoyed the first book in The Long Earth trilogy, it had interesting ideas and some interesting characters. This second book provides more of the same but somehow doesn't quite hit the same mark as the first.

The story continues some time after the close of the first book with humanity continuing its expansion across the long Earth. This is causing problems with the government back on earth as well as the indiginous populations with the other Earths. As with the first book it explores some interesting effects that the parrallel worlds have. The flaw for me is that they're not fully realised. The navy expedition is a good example for this disconnect.

And for me that was the problem with the book generally, it doesn't follow up with all the good ideas and brings very little depth to them. I'm hoping that these will be better resolved in the next book. And I will be reading the next book because while I don't rate this as highly as the first it did do enough to keep me reading. WHile there were flaws in the details the quality of writing was strong and I did enjoy the book.

I am hoping that the final book in the trilogy provides a return to the first book's form though!


A generation after the events of The Long Earth, mankind has spread across the new worlds opened up by Stepping. Where Joshua and Lobsang once pioneered, now fleets of airships link the stepwise Americas with trade and culture. Mankind is shaping the Long Earth - but in turn the Long Earth is shaping mankind... A new 'America', called Valhalla, is emerging more than a million steps from Datum Earth, with core American values restated in the plentiful environment of the Long Earth - and Valhalla is growing restless under the control of the Datum government...

Meanwhile the Long Earth is suffused by the song of the trolls, graceful hive-mind humanoids. But the trolls are beginning to react to humanity's thoughtless exploitation... Joshua, now a married man, is summoned by Lobsang to deal with a gathering multiple crisis that threatens to plunge the Long Earth into a war unlike any mankind has waged before.

Click here to buy The Long War from Amazon (and it's a decent read)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Drabbles of Art - Untitled by Zdislav Beksinski


Finding the pictures for the Drabbles of Art series is a lot of fun and sometimes I receive some excellent recommendations and last week it was suggested that I check out Zdislav Beksinski and this untitled piece immediately grabbed my attention. I wasn't sure what the story would be at that point, but that didn't take long to come.

If you want to read the previous drabbles in the series then you will find them all here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/p/as-promised-in-last-weeks-final-post-in.html

If you klnow of a piece of art you'd like me to consider featuring then leave a comment below and I'll take a look.


Untitled by Zdislav Beksinski

Even in Hell you can find love, and perhaps that is the greatest torment of all.

Alone the pain is endless. The scorching dust shrivels the flesh and desiccates the soul. There’s no respite, but eventually you almost grow accustomed to it.

Then I met her. Another traveller in this desert of suffering. In the howling gale we couldn’t talk and never even learned each other’s names. Small comfort came from holding each other close, entwined in limbs as dry as sticks.

Alone I endured, but watching the constant despair in her eyes my pain is magnified a thousand fold.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Drabbles of the Gods - Toyotama-hime

"Edmund Dulac-Urashima Taro-1916" by Original uploader was DreamGuy at en.wikipedia
In this week's Drabble of the Gods we travel to the far east and meet the dragon of the sea - Toyotama-hime.

If you want to read the previous drabbles in the series then you can find them all here:#

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/p/drabbles-of-gods.html

Toyotama-hime

In the gaijin tongue she is the lady of the bountiful soul, the dragon of the sea. She fell in love with the mortal fisherman Hoori and they lived beneath the waves. In time he yearned to return to the land above and despite her pregnancy she agreed.

They lived in harmony until the time of their son’s birth. She bade her husband to leave them unobserved for she knew that only in her natural form could she give birth.

He allowed curiosity to overwhelm his promise and ashamed that he’d seen her true form she fled into the sea.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Sun Dragon Featured in SpaSpa Book Awards Long List 2014

I'm very pleased to reveal that Sun Dragon has been listed twice in the SpaSpa Book Awards 2014 long list. The first entry is in the science fiction category and it's also been listed in the best cover category. You can check out the all the listed books here:

http://bookhippo.uk/awards/longList2014.php

While you're there why not sign up for the newsletter with dailt Kindle book bargains and a drabble?


2012: NASA's Curiosity Rover lands on Mars to search for signs of whether microbial life existed on the planet.
2018: The first alien lifeform, a simple wormlike creature is discovered, gripping the world's imagination.
2022: The first manned mission to Mars begins the longest and most dangerous journey ever undertaken by humankind.
From hundreds of potential candidates, six astronauts from countries around the world are selected to crew the historic mission. Led by Commander Samantha Collins, they must travel across the gulf of interplanetary space, over 150 million miles from home and help. Their mission is to investigate alien life, but what they discover is far beyond what anyone ever imagined...

Review Highlights
"The crew went to Mars to find a small worm, evidence of life outside of earth. What they found was amazing. I love this premise and the uncompromising way it played out for the rest of the book."

"At the very end, there is one description that is so stunning that it left me with a great sadness, but also with a great sense of beauty and hope, and it is what Sun Dragon is, really. Look beyond the words, read the book with your imagination."

"I thoroughly enjoyed this. The level of detail about space flight is astounding and for someone, like me, who has fantasised about being an astronaut since I was a lad it's riveting."

Buy now from Amazon (US): http://amzn.to/ZRrQ5v
Buy now from Amazon (UK): http://amzn.to/12zV5eX

Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCultofMe

Guest Author Interview - Tony H. Latham

I am joined by crime fiction author Tony H. Latham in this week's Guest Author Interview - discover more below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Please introduce yourself - who are you and what do you do?
For most of my adult life, I was a Conservation Officer charged with enforcing laws protecting wildlife in the wilds of the western United States. In the U.S. the job is colloquially referred to as a game warden. (If there are similar, law enforcement jobs in the U.K. they are probably assigned to the Wildlife Crime Unit.)

The job involved patrolling for poachers, initiating overt investigations taking on long-term undercover assignments and making arrests. I hung up the gun and badge in 2009 and retired. I really loved it. Given another life, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

What first inspired you to start writing?
In the early part of my career, I was assigned to infiltrate a group of crooks that were trafficking in wildlife. For six months I worked the group in an undercover fashion and lived, “played,” drank, and broke the law with them. It turned out that this group went far beyond wildlife crimes, and I was shocked by their ludicrous depravity. Rape seemed to be part of their culture. Thievery and violence were part of their chosen life styles.

It was my first undercover assignment, and I found the role I took was twisted; one big walking-talking lie. It was contrary to my law enforcement training and the way I was raised.

For eighteen years, that investigation haunted me. I knew there was a book inside me that wanted out. With retirement, I didn’t have an excuse. Curiously, the book helped me put things to bed that had been walking in my sleep for a long time.

I found that I really enjoyed writing, Trafficking, a Memoir of an Undercover Game Warden.

And what attracted you to writing crime fiction?
Some of my earliest memories are of jumping on my bicycle and heading to the library. I must have been around ten when I started those crosstown road-trips. I’d check out five or so books and by the end of the week I’d haul them back and check out another bike load. Invariably, those early books were from the Hardy Boys mystery series. I recall at some point in my youth being chilled by The Hound of the Baskervilles. In telling this story of my youth, it makes me wonder if my early reading didn’t have something to do with my crime fighting days. Or was it always in me?

After my memoir was labelled a success by readers and reviewers, I hungered to write another book. But what? Although I had been involved in many other investigations that had affected me, I felt that none of them had the depth needed to form a novel-like story. I didn’t have another Trafficking in me.

To this day, my go-to reading genre is mystery. I love Michael Connelly’s, Harry Bosch Series and James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series and of course Tony Hillerman’s tales.

So how can a burgeoning author write anything other than what he loves to read? Thus, my debut crime fiction became Five Fingers which is a story about a small-town game warden chasing an extra-evil bad guy.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
As we say on this side of the pond, it’s a no-brainer: Jack the Ripper. How would I respond to a monster? How human was he? What created him? Would I change history? Would we have closure? Or would my blood end up on the cobblestones of London? It’d make for one hell of a day.

What was the last book you read?
I just finished Gettoside: A True Story of American Murder by Jill Leovy

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes.

Where do you like to write?
I have an office that my wife calls the Growlery. She says there are voices that echo from the room when the door is shut. I explain it away by telling her that dialogue doesn’t pass muster without hearing it first. I think there’s truth to that.

What is your favourite word?
I’d have to say that it’s ludicrous. I had so many absurd experiences in my undercover days that the word has just stuck with me.

What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a stand-alone sequel to my debut novel, Five Fingers. I had so much fun creating the characters in that book that I just had to find out what happened to them. At least the ones that I didn’t kill off. And of course it gave me license to create another evil bastard. It’ll be titled Seven Dead Fish and will be available early this summer.

Tell us about your latest release and how we can find out more.
Five Fingers is a tale about a game warden stationed in a small town in the western U.S. He’s trying to solve a string of night-time deer killings. His investigation leads him to conclude his perp is involved in a burglary and stolen firearms. What he doesn’t realize is that the guy has a much darker plan for a two-legged victim. If you’d like to find out what it’s like for a backcountry lawman to be chasing meth-fueled psychotics in the middle of the night, give it a go but keep the light on. You can read more on my webpage at www.tonylatham.net

Click here to buy Five Fingers from Amazon

Sunday, 17 May 2015

June Short Fiction Contest

By Cyberjunkie (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Quite often it can take ages to find the image for the next month's contest. This month's proved an exception. I'm sure that you'll agree that this is quite an awesome door! It might be a bit much for my house but it does make a good piece for inspiring June's contest submissions. I wonder what lies behind that door...

As always the stories can be of any genre. They just have to be inspired by this month's image and no more than 500 words.

Entry to the contest remains free and there are prizes for the three winners. I will also feature any of the stories that don't win but I believe are worth showcasing on this blog.
  • First prize is a £50 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Second prize is a £20 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
  • Third prize is a £10 Amazon gift card or PayPal prize
The money for the prizes come out of my own pocket, although I do make a little from advertising on this blog. So if you see something of interest then feel free to click on the links and purchase away! If you haven't tried my books yet then check them out at the top of the page, as well as buying a good read you'll be helping this contest.

Please make sure to check your story for typos before submitting. I don't mind a few errors, but my enjoyment of a story is diminished if I have to wade through too many.

I'll post the winning entries by July 1st 2015.

As with everything in life there are a few rules:
  • Only one entry per person.
  • The story must not be longer than 500 words.
  • Closing date for submissions is June 21st 2015.
  • By submitting the story you grant me a non-exclusive license to post the story on this blog. I do ask that I post it here first.
  • You also grant me a one time non-exclusive license to include the story in an e-book release.
  • The judge's decision is final.
Use the form below to enter your submission. After you've submitted please leave a comment on this page stating that you have submitted. And please help spread the word. Great stories deserve great readers!




As well as comments section below you can chat about this competition in any of the threads I've listed below. If you don't know the sites then entering the competition is a good way to introduce yourself. Note that these sites are not affiliated with the competition in any way!




If you've started your own thread or discussion somewhere about this month's competition then let me know and I'll add the link to this page.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Derby Day Leftovers by Rick Haynes

Following on from the fantastic Alfred the Great I have the pleasure of posting another short story from Rick Haynes - 'Derby Day Leftovers' If you want to read more of his short fiction the make sure to check out his collection 'Shorts 'n' Drabbles'.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

DERBY DAY LEFTOVERS
by Rick Haynes



I will never forget those wonderful fifties summers; the endless hours of daylight, the wall to wall sunshine, time spent with your mates; it was brilliant, because all I wanted to do was play outside in our terraced street. Television? I had never heard of one, let alone seen one, and if one had magically arrived, I doubt that it would have changed my life very much. Nah! I loved playing too much; football in the winter, cricket in the summer, and rounders at any time. Whoever came out with the ball had first pick.

Of course I forget the wet and the wind, and the fact that the number 95, one of London Transport’s finest red machines terminated at the end of our road in Tooting Broadway south west London. It was a pain in the arse to keep moving our goal posts out of the road. And all the mums got really angry when the council regularly decided to tarmac and gravel it. Our shoes would be covered in tar, our clothes too, and woe betides if you fell over; I still have the scars.

But on one day in June every year, life changed for us kids, for about an hour or two anyway. The races came to Epsom, and the crowds would flock to see the big one - The Epsom Derby. To us, the race meant nothing at all, but our street joined onto the main road; the road that took huge volumes of traffic back to London after the races had finished. Due to the sheer numbers, the lights changed to red more frequently than usual. And that made the buses, the open topped coaches and the charabancs stop ... right at the end of our road.

And as soon as they did, my mates and I would swarm around them like an army of ants.

Shouting loudly, our cries would echo along the main road.

“Chuck out your mouldies!”

“Chuck out your mouldies!”

And those that had won on the gee-gees would shower the road with pennies; sometimes with silver sixpenny bits. I quickly learnt the lesson; only approach those with a big smile. It didn’t always work and I did miss the odd miserable sod turning into a Good Samaritan. But it was learn fast or suffer the consequences, as over the years I learnt to ignore those with a full glass of beer in their hand. Stinking of stale ale dropped from the top deck of an open topped bus wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it would only mean a gentle clip around the ear when I got home.

Being quick and agile, I never made less than a shilling; usually I got closer to two bob. That was two months pocket money. I loved Derby Day.

But as the years passed the number of buses began to fade like the setting sun. And as I was off to grammar school in September, big boys didn’t stand on corners shouting, “Chuck out your mouldies!”

Still, I had one more Derby Day evening ahead and I was going to make the most of it. Being older, wiser, and one of the biggest kids also played a part in my decision.

As usual the pavements were full of kids and some parents. There were more cars than before, many more than the coaches. The world was changing but I was too young to realise. Pickings were few, but an open topped bus stopped in exactly the right place and the scene changed in an instant. They were singing and dancing on the top deck; having a good old cockney knees-up.

“Knees up Mother Brown. Knees up Mother Brown. Under the table you must go ...”

The song went on and on. It echoed off the walls and pavements; you would have heard the noise in the next borough. And as if that wasn’t enough some of the punters left the bus and started dancing on the pavement. In those days Cockneys didn’t need any excuse for a party and this was rapidly turning into a big one. Alas those grumpy bastards in the cars and buses behind refused to join in. With the queue quickly growing, the bus driver reluctantly ordered them all back on board. Our joy quickly turned into disappointment as none of the happy-mob remembered to throw us some coins. I ran after the bus, banging on the side, yelling for all I was worth. Eventually some pennies did arrive but my mates and I had strayed along the pavement into the territory of the boys from the next street. Plenty of coins but too many kids meant many disappointed faces. I trudged back to our own pitch and wearily shouted, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

I thought about calling it a day when a number of black cars appeared. Clearly full of toffs, I didn’t need to see their money, I could smell it. I usually avoided their cars, mainly to escape the verbal abuse should I dare to wander too close. But as it had been a quiet evening I cautiously approached the first car. He threw me a disdainful look as well as a long arm out of the window, so no change there then. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that my mum had arrived. Dinner was ready then, so after yelling for the last time I turned away disappointed, only to see my mum pointing. I looked over my shoulder to see a face, and a head of grey, leaning out of the front window of a large car. One hand stroked his whiskers and his eyes twinkled with mischief. He went to speak but it was his petite wife who had called me from the back seat. She beckoned me forward, her smile as beautiful as a film star.

The lady whispered in the man’s ear. “My wife said that I should give you this, young fellow.” His voice sounded deep like the ocean, and as rumbly as a huge teddy bear.

His large hands could have held anything but as I neared he waved a ten bob note at me. I stood speechless, yet desperately wanting to say something.

Eventually the words came from my tight lips.

“Thank you, thank you very much.”

My discomfort was broken by the soft words of his lady.

“Do you know why I asked George to give you ten shillings?”

I shook my head.

“It’s because you said, ‘Chuck out your mouldies … please.’

I thanked them again but couldn’t move. It seemed unreal, dreamlike even, as if this note would disappear like a magicians trick. I had never been given so much money.

His voice boomed out. “Now be off with you young fellow, your mother is waiting.”

As I walked towards my mum, I could see her waving. The toff and his lady waved just as vigorously. I naturally joined in, continuing to wave as their car disappeared into the heavy traffic.

“I am so proud of you son.”

The lessons that my working class parents had instilled in me had been recognised and rewarded. I would never question their principles again, for did not my mum always say.

“Good manners cost nothing.”


Friday, 15 May 2015

Book Review - Pride by Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill is one of a select group of authors who entices me from my comfort zone of mostly genre fiction with carefully crafted writing and rich characterisation. Whether it be a strange old lady, boys at a boarding school or this latest tale - he hasn't failed to entrance and entertain. After his debut full length novel last year I had high expectations from this latest release and I wasn't disappointed. I don't think it's as stand out as that novel, but it it is still a fine read.

The interesting aspect of the story for me is that it means different things depending on the reader. For me the experiences in the book aren't ones I have encountered, while for others there will be familiar elements that they can compare with their own experience.

The story follows two timelines, the first is Liam as a youth and him attempting to come to terms with his sexuality. Now this can be an emotive subject and in some books come across as quite confrontational or preachy. This isn't the case with Pride, so doesn't act as a barrier to understanding what this man is experiencing. The other perspective is from him as an older man with more wisdom under his belt and provides contrast to his younger self.

As with all of the author's works the writing is exemplary. There is a gentle humour evident as well and together they make this an easy read even while tackling serious topics. I'd recommend this even if it doesn't seem like your type of read as it is quite likely to surprise you.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

“Where are you going, Liam? You're always going somewhere. I feel as if I don’t know you anymore.”

“I told you, Mum, I’m going for a pizza then seeing a film with a friend.”

But Liam is not having pizza or seeing a film; he’s going to his first Gay Pride march.

Liam has always felt different in a way he couldn’t quite pinpoint… until now. He’s been a caterpillar all his life and his parents want him to stay that way. But Liam wants to be a butterfly.

A tender, funny and moving novella from critically-acclaimed author Jonathan Hill.

Click here to buy Pride from Amazon (and it's a wonderful read)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Drabbles of Art - The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


This week's image is a new one to me and suggested by someone at work. I'm surprised I'd not encountered it before and I'm sure you'll agree The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder provides some spectacular inspiration!

If you want to read the previous drabbles in the series then you will find them all here:

http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/p/as-promised-in-last-weeks-final-post-in.html


The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Wherever I look the taint of death blemishes the world and brings an end to the living. I see the Reaper lurking in our shadow, wearing a cloak weighed heavy with sickness, violence, age and grief.

There’s no escape, no way to prevent the inevitable. Rich or poor, young or old, we all meet him when our time comes. He follows our lives with his skeletal visage, waiting for that final moment.

Is he the cause of our mortality? Or merely witnesses its passing?

Does he welcome the meeting?

I imagine he does, for why else would he always appear?

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Book Review - Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

I have to confess that I have tried on a few occasions to read Metro 2033 and didn't get past the few pages. It just felt a bit dull., However I recently completed the games and I enjoyed the storylines in those so thought I should give the original material another try. I'm very glad I did as it's fantastic read and illuminated aspects that were skimmed over in the game. Although the shift from first person in the game to third person in the book felt a bit weird :-)

It's a post apocalyptic tale of the survivors of Moscow living in the metro after a global nuclear war. It's an idea that works well with the stations being centres of civilisation amid the horrors of the tunnels. There's a fascinating mixture of cultures within the population leading to conflict but also representing the various forms of politics from the Russian psyche. There's also some stunning folklore generated from these histories which provided a high point from the story.

I enjoyed the basic story and the journey through the metro. There's a good mix of characters in the story which also reflect the different philosophies of the survivors.The followers of the Great Worm was an interesting idea, and in some ways there's an element of many smaller stories coming together through he thread of Artyiom's quest to save his station.

It can be a little difficult judging a book that you don't read in its native language. I did wonder if some of the nuances were lost in translation. The form of the language is quite dense and archaic in places, although after a couple of chapters I settled into the style and it was fine.

The ending deserves a mention. While it did feel a bit abrupt in the way everything coalesced into a single point, but it was also an interesting and thought provoking ending. In summary this is an excellent story with some strong horror elements and a slightly different post apocalyptic world.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

The civilization most northern outpost, a lonely metro station, attacked by mysterious creatures that somehow have awoken in the recent war. The world lies in ruins, the surface is contaminated, and a prey to the sun's deadly rays. One last human remnant have sought protection in the Metro, the world's largest nuclear bomb secure bunker, where stations have been transformed into small city states with their own ideologies and governments.

Everywhere there is a constant struggle for living space, water filters, electric heaters and fungal cultures, all while darkness and terror reigns in the tunnels.

A young man is forced out on a dangerous journey through the subterranean maze of tunnels, shafts and sidings, where nobody knows what to expect around the next corner.

(This translation originally copyrighted in 2009).


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Alfred the Great by Rick Haynes

Rick Haynes is the master of short fiction, whether in short stories, drabbles or poems. One of hos collections - Drabbles 'n' Shorts' - contains on of my favourite stories of his. Rick has generously allowed me to post that story and add it to the Short Fiction Archive here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy the story as much as I did and if you do then you should check out the book it's taken from.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

ALFRED THE GREAT – THE OLD BULL

THE CHAINS THAT BIND


Alfred the Great was a King with no subjects, unless the ticks, fleas and flies that infested his coat were taken into consideration. Over the years, he had wandered the field, his field. It was a solitary, lonely existence. He regularly considered his fate for his life was mundane and completely lacking in anything remotely exciting. Yet once a year his passion soared. For on that one special day he was obligated to service the prize herd of cows. Then, he was truly the King of the Bulls. There was never a need for introductions- he never saw their faces anyway. The girls were paraded in the next meadow. He would perform and then be allowed to relax. The farmer did not believe in artificial insemination so it was Alfred’s responsibility. It was both his duty and his pleasure for he took great pride in being a champion bull of absolute pedigree. His offspring already numbered in the dozens; more and more would follow. That was his role; the only reason that he was allowed to live. It was produce or die. He had little choice in his destiny.

Monotony was his constant enemy as little by little it diminished his strength. It ate away at his heart but, because he so desperately wanted to live, he mounted the cows with vigour every year. That was his true birthday but he knew that it could not last for much longer. A prize bull should have enormous size and power. Alfred was known to have both but the passing of too many seasons was slowing him down. Sooner, rather than later, he would fail in his duty. He knew that death would quickly follow. It was not a pleasant thought.

The dull patch of earth on which he stood he knew as home. The adjacent field was the breeding ground but everywhere else, apart from the winter barn, remained a mystery. At times, little outside of the field mattered to him, for his brain had diminished with the weariness of age and tedium. Yet on other days his imagination wandered to pastures new. On this day he surveyed his familiar surroundings with contempt as he trod his lonely path. He knew every blade of grass, every root, plant and weed. He was bored in every fibre of his body.
At the top end of his field, he could just make out the roof of the farm in the next hollow. The red tiles looked scoured and weathered, but the tall chimneys stood proud, poking their snouts up to the flecked skyline. The twist of wood smoke wafted its way upwards and towards him. He hated the smell, as it seemed both alien and obnoxious to his senses. Messages of disgust flowed from his brain. It was time to move on. He turned his proud head and began the descent to the lower areas.

At the far end of his prison, liquid trickled through his own muddy prints, depositing the filthy mixture in to the frothy mess of the water wallow. The weeping willow looked unusually graceful as its long slender branches danced across the stream. They appeared to be serenading him as they crooned in the wind. The tree sang as it greedily sucked in the running effluent through its monstrous roots.

The droplets of water from the recent downpour gently dripped into the stream from its branches. However, even this semblance of nature’s beauty could dissuade Alfred. This was not a pleasant place to live. He hated it!

For the thousandth time he surveyed the walls of his prison. He saw the electric wires running through a line of posts, carefully situated just inside of the periphery bushes. The current was permanently live. The bushes beyond the wires held their own unpleasant surprise. Blackthorn had been carefully entwined to create a continuous hedgerow barrier. Needle sharp thorns grew on every branch. The bushes were gnarled with the seasons, deep-rooted and extremely tough. The combined barriers made escape seem impossible.

Over the years, some blackthorn thorns had even managed to pierce Alfred’s face. He had stuck his head through the wires when the electric current failed and received a mouthful of pain for his trouble. He failed to suppress a wan smile as the memory of times gone by manifested itself.

The rest of his paddock was reasonably flat, but there was a long hump in the middle. It was his normal resting place for here he had a good view all around. It was the place where he thought, dreamed and planned.


It was only the sky that gave him any real pleasure. No matter the weather, he stubbornly shunned the barn. The farmer had learned some years ago that it was far less troublesome to let his bull remain in the field. Only extreme weather conditions would force Alfred into the barn. He was happy with that.

Be it summer or winter, the old bull looked upwards. The view was never the same; it constantly changed. Some days were bright and sunny, others cloudy and wet, but the sky was open. It was at liberty to move as it wished. It was free.

Freedom was something that he desired with all his heart.

That desire had been gradually building up inside of him, and like a volcano, it was ready to erupt. The old bull knew exactly what he had to do.

He was going to escape.


DREAMS AND DESIRES

For the last two years, he had often dreamed of his breakout from confinement. That very thought had urged him to consider ways to achieve his goal.

The fences were high, the gates strong and always locked. He knew that he could run off at feeding time, as the gate would stay open for a short time. The farmer would stand between him and the gate, but in his rush for freedom, a tragedy would occur. The farmer would likely be trampled. The old bull had always had an affinity with him. The man was kind, had treated him well, and had always known when to stay out of his way. Alfred was huge, he looked dangerous, but he never thought of himself as violent. But he was a pragmatist. It was obvious that an early capture would ensue, should he burst through the open metal gate. That was the last thing that he wanted. He yearned to slip quietly away, to enjoy a few days or even a few hours of freedom.

He reminded himself that the drab colours of the pasture, the oak trees with their rotting branches, and the muddy wallow in the bottom corner, were not going to be his main memories. He desired far more than that.

On one side of his confinement, he could hear the sounds of a herd of cows drifting up over the steep wall. He had never seen them up close unless they were the ones that he had been obliged to mount. Even then, they would be strangers. He thought that it was the only real pleasure he had enjoyed over the years. But regrettably short lived.

Some years ago, a cow told him that there was a green, green field, high on the hill to the south. From there you could see to the edge of the world. She said that an enormous pond stretched forever and that when the moon was bright and the wind at ease, it would appear to shimmer and dance in the moonlight. Alfred desperately wanted to escape and realise his dreams that had engulfed his mind. He had thought of little else over the years. His desire to see the end of the world and the dance of the water grew daily. If he delayed too long it would be too late.

His thoughts and senses wandered on the wind like the fluffy white clouds, high, high above.

There was another bull not too far away; he could smell his powerful odour on the gentle breeze filtering through his meadow. He had often wondered what he was like. Large? Powerful? Rival? Mental images regularly appeared in his mind and not only of the other bull. He had much to consider.

Alfred stood on his mound, his eyes seeking solace in the heavens. His movements were few and far between over the next few days as he contemplated his future.

He questioned everything in his waking hours as doubts and determination fought for prominence in his troubled head. He hoped that his dreams and thoughts would become reality.

Freedom was all around. The taste of it hurt deeply. It was a constant pain in his muscular chest. It never waned, never receded. The anguish was so real that freedom had become an obsession.

The weeks passed by.

Something had to give; soon!


THE FAMILY BIGGINS

Edward and Samantha Biggins lived in Moor End Farm, adjacent to Dartmoor. They worked the land, as their parents had farmed before them. Being the proud parents of five children they had a lot of mouths to feed. Occasionally the family had a short break but life was tough. They coped!

Ed had spoken to Sam about the worsening weather. He was only slightly concerned as all the forecasters were in agreement; snow would fall but it would be light and slushy. There would not be a freeze.

As he stood by the farmhouse door he sighed, as he contemplated another, slightly harder, day looming. Another day, another headache, he mused.

Walking across the yard, he pulled himself into the comfortable cab of his tractor. The reassuring paintings and messages from his children welcomed him. They always did. As he looked out of the large windscreen he watched a flock of starlings wheeling against a background of blue and grey. The ballet was flowing with graceful purpose and Ed warmly appreciated it.

His thoughts turned to the afternoon jobs that required his attention - the animals would need a little extra feed, should the cold spell last - he would need to coax Alfred into the barn - seasoned fire wood would be required indoors and the second tractor required a top up of anti-freeze. As his mind produced the list his body automatically selected first gear. The tractor rolled forward with Ed wondering why the list of his chores never ended.

Sam’s last words were ringing in his ears as he turned out of the farmyard.

‘You be late for your dinner husband and the pigs are getting it.’


TIME TO GO

Winter had fallen and with it came the long hours of darkness. Alfred knew that his best chance to leave was now. He had to go; there was no other way. He felt that he would succumb to madness if he did not.

The fence post in the corner, the one farthest away from prying eyes, had not yet taken the full force of his massive bulk. However, his constant pushing in the last few days had nicely loosened the post.

As the black curtain of night enveloped the meadow, the old bull looked at the post with a rising anger. He carefully stepped back, measured his run, and then slammed his mighty head forward with all the power that he possessed. The post moved but did not succumb. In his mind the post became the symbol of his imprisonment so his anger turned to fury as he prepared to charge once more. Another short run, a furious roar and the old bull hurtled headlong to meet his destiny.

Snap!

The pulse of the electric fence was no more.

Alfred knew that freedom was imminent, so without hesitation he launched his final assault. He savagely head-butted the cause of his hatred again and again, until the post lay in pieces on the ground. Once the first post lay smashed, his anger evaporated as fast as it had arrived. The second and third broke easily to his more measured attack. He forced his bulk over the strands of the electrified wire and through the blackthorn hedge. He was stabbed by the thorns, and blood flowed from his nose and face but he ignored the pain.

Alfred was through and liberated.

The cry of freedom echoed all around him and he paused to savour the moment. He had waited a long time for this. He was not going to rush now, especially as there were so many options available.

Inhaling deeply, he already felt more alive than ever before. The air seemed so different in the richness of the night on the other side of the fence. His long tongue lolled over his teeth and gums as if tasting the air. Alfred smiled with contentment and pondered his next move.

He had to go south to see the dance of the water. His journey would take him upwards and away from the farm, away from his captive surroundings and into the unknown. Small steps, big steps, he held sway over his own destiny and gloried in the thought of it.

Alfred heard a sound. He turned and saw the familiar outline of the farm dog trotting towards him. As his mind prepared for the worst, Alfred lowered his head in challenge. Molly, the black Labrador from the farm, completely ignored his posturing. She wagged her tail as she approached, giving a welcoming bark. Away from the commands of the farmer, this was a different Molly. She had come to greet him, not to betray him.

The old bull grinned at her. He began to swish his tail in acknowledgement of her friendship. Thinking that she may join him in his quest Alfred followed her along the track. Unfortunately, Molly speedily disappeared into a row of tall nettles and grasses. Her departing back told Alfred all he needed to know. She had already lost interest and he was on his own.

He stretched his powerful frame, looked back over his shoulder, and then restarted his trek along the track leading up to the hill. It was cold, dark and empty, but to the old fella it was sheer heaven. The worsening weather meant little to him. The track was thick with mud but it was quickly turning into a slushy morass as the first snowflakes began to fall. The sky had turned to grey so Alfred knew that the white shroud was an illusion. He could feel the temperature dropping. The land would surely harden as the freeze took hold.

He paused in his journey.

He snorted! It was a quiet snort at first, but as his confidence grew, he repeated it as loudly as he could! It felt good to be alive, to choose, to decide.

The journeying to the top of the hill took over thirty minutes, not that it was particularly arduous, for Alfred the Great took his time. To him it felt like hours as he savoured his freedom. The old fella walked, tossed his head in the air and stamped in the snow. He was young and carefree again, wearing the invincible cloak of youth with intense pride.

Heightened senses revelled in the sombre grey of the sky and the total contrast of the whiteness of the ground. His gaze took in the surrounding features of the landscape. Trees devoid of their foliage were being covered in soft white blankets, as if wrapped up against the cold of night. They appeared to extend fluffy white tentacles of yielding softness. His eyes viewed everything both real and imaginary in his desire for today.

He hoped that he would survive until tomorrow.


ALONE

At the top of the climb, he stopped to view his new world. The falling snowflakes obscured some of his view so what he could not see, he imagined. To him, the clouds in the north sky were distant mountains. He searched for the twinkling stars in the south which normally appeared as pin holes in the curtain of night. Unfortunately for Alfred the dark was closing in, drawing a veil over the fields. The skies to the east and west were obscured so he was forced to ignore them as his disappointment grew.

Alfred the Great had a massive decision to make over the route that he should take. He had to avoid the farmer and man in general. He thought about whether the farmer would notice his absence tonight, but doubted it. Nevertheless, he still wanted to leave the area as soon as possible.

Now he had left the confinement of his meadow he had no wish to resume his previous life style. With each step that he had taken, his confidence had grown. The desire to stay free, never to return was growing stronger. Alfred was growing bolder by the minute.

He made the decision to head south, which would take him on a circular route. Unfortunately, it was likely that he would pass the field of the other bull. Alfred had little choice but to walk in that direction, as there appeared to be no other way which would lead him towards the water dance.

The air tasted even cleaner and fresher as more soft flakes fell. The snow provided a degree of illumination but the blackness of the night still prevailed. He had no fears for he relished the night. To Alfred the darkness offered comfort, for a land devoid of lights had the converse effect of a welcoming beacon. He walked confidently towards the unknown, towards the unseen bull and his destiny.

The track veered to the left and then descended into and through a copse of beech and hazelnut trees. Here the path was muddy but not slippery, as the low hanging branches provided some shelter from the snow.

On reaching a five bar gate he paused. He clearly heard the sound of approaching hooves. It had to be the other bull. The sound grew louder and louder until a young bull stood defiantly before him. It had the impetuosity of youth stamped all over its head and agile flanks.

Alfred snorted a greeting which was quickly challenged. Clearly, this young immature bull wished to dominate. Sadness washed over Alfred’s body. Turning his head away, he just avoided a goring of his face as the younger animal charged. The young bull’s head hit the gate and smashed through the panelling. Nicely stuck and winded, he looked a forlorn sight. Alfred hit him firmly in the face with a quick butt. The message he gave out was very clear. Behave or be off.

The young bull decided that discretion was the better part of valour and so beat a hasty retreat, withdrawing a touch slower than he had arrived. Sighing, the old fella licked the taste of fresh blood from his nose. He knew it was not his and he felt angry with himself for acting so hastily. The youngster had so much pride, but then again so did Alfred. Images of the young bull taking his place on his ‘birthday’ troubled him. He wondered if he was to be his replacement.

He sighed again. It was time to move on. He still had much to do and yet, perhaps little time in which to do it.

As he turned to depart, he noticed a large male tawny owl perched on a fence post. The bird was looking at him intently through large piercing yellow eyes. As Alfred approached, the bird cocked its head on one side. He saw a very old owl with many years under its wings. It was a seasoned veteran of countless miles and insufficient patience. The cold gaze of the bird held him transfixed as it appeared to be conducting an examination; as if it knew about the great escape. Alfred felt like a traveller lost in a sea of uncertainty.

The owl turned his head and flapped his wings as if deriding Alfred for his slow progress. He seemed to pour scorn on his headway, as if suggesting that Alfred was suited to going nowhere. Without further ado the veteran bird hooted loudly and flew to a high hanging branch of a weathered oak.

As the mocking sound of the bird vanished on the air, the old bull walked slowly away with his head low to the earth. He pondered over the owl’s actions, wondering whether he was right.

Taking time to re-evaluate his plans and pull himself out of his self-pity, Alfred sought solace under the elderly oak. Steam was rising from his flanks as he stood under the tree. He could hear the owl high above him in the uppermost branches.

He castigated himself for his doubts, reiterated his purpose to proceed and planned to enjoy his time of freedom. Enough was enough; he needed to push on so he told his heavy bulk to move along the track. The end of the world was calling louder than ever and the call needed to be answered.

Snowflakes were now falling with more purpose for they settled as they hit the ground. The transformation from old rutted tracks to a dangerous carpet of white sparkle was in full swing. Large flakes fell on the old bull’s nose as he trudged along, so he snorted loudly to clear them off. He felt so alive and so full of energy, that he raised his huge head up to the falling snowflakes. He opened his mouth wide to allow them to settle on his tongue. He relished them melting on the sensitive pinkness and swung his head from side to side in sheer pleasure.

Whilst he admired the stillness and the freedom, the voice of the owl still bit into his brain. But Alfred was determined to prove him wrong. He moved forward a little faster, to try to give the illusion that he knew where he was going. He liked his new life, his new choice.

As he walked forwards, he noticed that the track was narrowing and gently slipping downhill. It was turning him back the way he had come. It was the wrong route. Nevertheless, he had little choice but to continue. The surrounding fences were just too high, even for one of his size.

Alfred was beginning to doubt whether he would see the end of the world on this night of constant snow. His sense of direction was failing, for the snow was blinding his eyes, impairing his vision. He slowly continued but the seeds of doubt were growing inside his head.

With the fall of snow increasing, it was becoming difficult for him to know north from south and east from west.

Alfred the Great felt very uneasy.

He was tiring, he was cold.

And he began to wonder whether he was in fact, lost.


ROSIE

Some thirty minutes earlier, a very young and very active Rosie Biggins had unlatched the stable door of her farmhouse kitchen. Wearing her bright cape and colourful wellies, she had decided to venture outside to play in the snow. She shrieked with joy for she had never seen snow before. Her eyes sparkled; her body transfixed by the wonder of the flakes gently caressing her face. She giggled as they tickled her nose. Rosie tried to catch them all, as they fell and swayed through the air.

As she skipped and danced, she edged closer to the lane and danger. The lane was out of bounds to little Rosie, but the white thistledown blanket was seducing her into a false sense of security. Before she realised that the snowflakes had played tricks with her eyes, she had exited the farmyard.

Normally, Rosie loved to play, to climb and leap, and especially to dance. Her boundless energy and carefree attitude had already ensured a constant stream of cuts and bruises. Yet she always bounced back for nothing seemed to deter her exploring nature. However, a heavy snowfall was something new and alien to her. She had no idea of the dangers for her mind was urging her to play, and to have fun.

Her fervent imagination took over and she began to see little animals in the snow. They were joining her in dance. She imagined that a squirrel had landed on her back. Rosie spun and tried to catch it, but it ran away and then quickly vanished.

In her mind a bright and cheeky robin flew in and out of the snowflakes, calling for Rosie to follow. She did just that which took her farther away from the safety of home.

A fluffy bunny manifested itself before her. It was white with black ears, identical to her pet rabbit – Roger. It leaped in the air, ran rings around her and urged Rosie to join in the ballet of the snowflakes. Utterly lost in her own make believe world, she joined in ardently. Rosie squealed with delight as she twisted and turned. Her own vivid imagination held her in its sway. Only Rosie could break free. She was on a snow slope to disaster but Rosie was far too happy to care.

As the snow fell with increasing intensity, she became hopelessly lost. Her nice warm hands began to tingle with pain, even though she wore waterproof gloves. The cold had penetrated through her clothes and her skin had begun to chill. Rosie cried out for help. She shouted for her parents but all her pleas failed. They were absorbed into the white and the black of the heavens.

For the first time in her life, no one answered her cries. Her parents did not arrive to comfort her and to soothe away her hurt. Strong farmhands did not appear to pick her up. Nothing came except fear. It flowed effortlessly into her mind, as easily as the flakes fell on her troubled head. Fear had begun its contamination of her brain.

However, little Rosie was a fighter for a 3 year old. She fought to stay warm and as she did, remembered what her mother had always taught her. If she ever got lost on the farm, she had to remain where she was. Rosie knew that their farm was a dangerous place to explore because she had the bruises, and a few stitches to prove it.

Therefore, she sat down near a small bush and pulled her cape tighter around herself. Mummy will come she thought. She always did.


THE MEETING

In the deteriorating visibility, the old bull sensed rather than saw movement ahead. If the track had not considerably narrowed at that point, he would probably have missed seeing anything at all. An alien patch of bright yellow sprang up through the sea of white. Alfred instantly sensed danger. His senses urged caution. He was very, very nervous.

Being cautious of anything different, he carefully moved forward. Alfred lowered his head to nose at the yellow plastic. It had already been partially obscured for the descending white blanket had seen to that.

To his utter astonishment, the plastic cape revealed a small child. He could see the fear in the child’s eyes. A fear that he knew only too well. The child jumped and moved, but did not cry out. In his surprise, Alfred panicked and nearly lost his footing on the treacherous surface.

He had seen children on the farm and tended to be indifferent to their comings and goings. To him they were just too noisy to tolerate. This one however looked different. She was quiet, unusual to say the least, but she was very young. He knew that this little child was far too young to be out on such a cold night. The freezing conditions were beginning to turn his blood to slush, so he wondered how this baby human would survive. He was troubled for himself and concerned for the child. What was she doing here?

He saw the fear dissipate from her ice blue eyes so he moved gently forward once again. Immediately, Rosie leaned forward and grabbed the ring in his nose. She held on tightly as she pulled herself upright. It appeared to be her only lifeline in the blizzard wilderness.

The noises she made were unintelligible to the old bull but the intention was clear; she needed help. She was as much lost as he was. A wave of empathy surged through his veins as compassion tried to engulf him. Yet he knew that all humans were dangerous and danger was now extremely close indeed.

He looked at her small frame and knew that she could not have been out here for too long; otherwise she would already be a stiff body on the ground. He had seen it all before in a bygone winter. The farm men had arrived to coax him into the barn. On the way, he had literally fallen over a frozen body hidden deep in the snow. The tramp, covered by the snow flurries, had pale ghostly features and long icy talons. They had hung from his jaws like a cat baring its teeth in a fight. The tramp was dead, the body as hard as the ground itself. Alfred remembered it all. It was not a memory that he wished to see repeated.

The old bull wanted to move away but he did not want this little one to end up the same way as the man tramp. His heart was torn between her survival and his desire to see the big pond water dance.

The child looked deep into his eyes with such a longing; a desire to be safe and warm. He moved to the left and she held onto his ring. He moved to the right and she did the same. He backed away and still she held on. Her strength surprised him.

Alfred wanted to leave, but he did not want to hurt the shivering wraith-like child by wrenching his head backwards.

Her eyes were cutting into him, pleading, begging for help. He could take no more. Alfred’s resolve crumpled in an instant as compassion overtook his desire to depart. A shudder coursed through his massive flanks and he snorted into the air. It was time to move.

Taking the only course of action he could, Alfred gently turned around. He thought that humans were more likely to be near the young bull, than anywhere else on the farm. Rosie hung on stubbornly to his bowed head. Her feet slithered and slipped in the drifting snow, but she did not let go.

Alfred knew with all certainty that he would never, never see, the end of the world, the pond and the water dance.


PANIC

Rosie was the second youngest child of Edward and Samantha. Her little brother Daniel was 18 months old. She was used to the rough play of her two elder brothers James and Col, and adored her elder sister Dolly. The boys treated her like a brother and Dolly picked up the pieces. Farms were dangerous places, life was tough, but generations of farming had taught them how to survive. Rosie seemed to bounce when she fell but she always bounced back.

Rosie's parents were not initially concerned about her disappearance. It was a common habit of hers to hide around the farmyard. They knew that she preferred playing with her brothers, so at first they were more concerned about the safety of their animals. She was a little toughie and she had her wet weather gear on. Rosie had to be close by.

When a search of all the normal hiding places yielded nothing, Ed and Sam started to worry. Their concerns rocketed when her siblings confirmed her absence. She had not been playing with them.

Rosie was missing!


THE SEARCH WAS ON

As the weather worsened, and the falling snow obliterated tracks, their confidence dissipated as fast as phantoms on the wind. The cry for help went out to all their neighbours, friends and the police. Calls were made to emergency rescue and search teams. Men and dogs began to pour in to the areas surrounding the farm but none of the specialists were confident of a successful outcome.

Tom, their chief hand was co-ordinating the search as he had previous experience in locating a missing person. He made sure that another search be carried out within the farmyard and outbuildings, and had made further appeals to nearby farmers. They would need to comb the whole area as well as the land adjacent to Moor End Farm. Ed and Sam were relieved that Tom had taken control of the search and rescue efforts for they were too closely involved to think effectively. With his previous knowledge, Tom’s leadership was easily accepted.

Tom swore loudly after being informed that Alfred the Great had disappeared. Now there were two problems to contend with. It was hard enough to track down a small child in the poor conditions, let alone keep an eye out for a testy bull. The search teams would have to take a few extra precautions but the child would come first.

Time moved quickly and yet there were still no signs of Rosie. All of the available lights in the area had been switched on. Tom made sure of that for even the smallest glow might catch Rosie’s attention. Search parties had been organised and sent out to comb the land around the farmhouse but the job was getting harder. Bit by bit, sleepy, fluffy snow began to cover the whole area. The wind had increased and a few small drifts were already building up.

Wondrous to see by some, snow made the work of farmers and their families much, much harder. Their attitude was one of resignation. They did not like it, but as there was little they could do about it, they put up with it. In this case, the farming folk loudly cursed the appalling weather, for it made the hunt and rescue of Rosie Biggins that much harder. They also prayed for her deliverance.

The visibility closed up like thick drapes shutting out the cold. In reality, the snow drapes were just another part of the problem as the cold prevailed.

One of the search teams were scouring up the lane so Edward and Samantha moved in the opposite direction. Tom moved the Land Rover to give them extra light, as their torches were ineffective in the conditions. Even the bright headlights reflected back on themselves as the snow and the dark seemed intent on sucking the light out of them.

Progress was slow, as they had to prod poles into the few deeper drifts. Sam was trying desperately to be optimistic but her face betrayed her. Their team reached a fork. Tom drove forward and pointed the 4x4 towards the left hand track. They would commence the search on this one, as the team behind them would search the right hand track.

The wind suddenly ebbed and died. A strange stillness enveloped the land. The sound of distance voices travelled across a neighbouring field as the snowstorm soundlessly vanished. The communications chatter via mobile phones and walkie-talkies, was suddenly loud and devastating. It was all negative. Ed and Sam’s anxiety grew with every passing minute.

Time was running out!

If not found soon, little Rosie Biggins would die!


A RING OF HOPE

Slowly, ever so slowly, Alfred the Great edged along the lane with Little Rosie hanging onto his nose ring. She was almost trance like in her shuffling movements, so he took great care not to knock her under his hooves. She would not perish by his carelessness. He constantly peered into the gloom and then back to his small charge for he sought a light in the wilderness, any light. A light meant humans and humans meant her only chance of survival.

As if on cue, he saw faint red lights ahead of him glowing in the darkness, but not moving. He thought that this was very odd because lights were usually white, but a beacon like this would have to do. Alfred heard voices ahead. Although slightly muffled by the falling snow the sounds were becoming stronger and stronger as the wind ceased. He plodded onwards, his head still low to the ground. The humans were close. He heard a deep voice, looked up and almost hit the back of the Land Rover.

Samantha Biggins turned around, her female intuition telling her to do so. Her little girl, her yellow caped Rosie came into view, and then the huge massive body of the bull filled her sight. She screamed! It was a scream of relief and a scream of fear, all rolled into one. Samantha Biggins quickly recovered and tried to race towards her young daughter. Her feet slipped in the muck. She fell heavily onto her backside as her footing gave way. Her brain gave out contradictory messages as it urged instant action yet at a snail’s pace to ensure success. The latter option seemed to be the more prudent one so very carefully Samantha stood up. With arms extended, she was going to grab her child no matter what.

Alfred saw the women, heard her scream and panicked. As hard as he tried, he could not keep his footing on the snow-covered morass. His legs would not respond to his brain’s command to stand still.

Slipping on the blanket of rutted ice and snow, his tremendous bulk crashed forward heavily to the ground taking the small figure with him. He bellowed out in pain and anguish. Completely unafraid Rosie Biggins held on. It was as if Rosie knew that he now needed her support, however fragile it was. Lying in the snow next to the old bull, she tried to coax him up. She was very cold and weary beyond belief, but she would not give up. Rosie tugged and pulled but he was just so huge and so heavy.

Alfred lay motionless in the snow. He could not comprehend why the little human had tried to help him, but he was grateful. He thought that this human, this little child, would soon look after him. He would be good to her. Alfred saw her smile; he was safe, so he closed his eyes.


THE END OF THE WATER DANCE

As Samantha tried once more to secure her footing and go to aid her child, Edward Biggins stepped forward. He had to protect his daughter so he took the only option that was open to him. He raised a high powered rifle to his shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The projectile flew forward to thud into Alfred’s proud forehead. Death was instantaneous. Blood sprayed all over little Rosie. She sat motionless in the snow as she watched the crimson stain spread out to engulf her. Tears flowed freely down her young face.

As her mother ran forward, tiny Rosie Biggins uttered the only words she would say for many a year.

“My friend! My friend!”

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