Wednesday 31 December 2014

Seventh Drabble of Christmas - The Best Christmas by Jennifer Hanning

For the seventh drabble of Christmas Jennifer Hanning delves into the spirit of Christmas:

The Best Christmas by Jennifer Hanning

“This will be the best Christmas ever,” Sheryn said, clutching the £20 note they'd found in the gutter.
Harry agreed. “We'll get chicken and veggies to roast … plum pudding, custard, and a bottle of wine too.”

Harry was more pleased for his wife. She deserved much more than he'd been able to give her during their twenty-three years of marriage.

On the way to the supermarket they passed homeless people, warming their hands around an old incinerator.

Next day, able to share their salami sandwiches and orange juice, Sheryn smiled at her husband. It was the best Christmas ever.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Sixth Drabble of Christmas - Nativity by Nav Logan

We're halfway through the Twelve Drabbles of Christmas and for this sixth drabble Nav Logan provides a different version of the nativity:

Nativity by Nav Logan

Many moons ago, a bright light shone in the heavens.

Far, far away, a group of shepherds watched their flocks by night, and gazed up in wonder at the bright star.

Somewhere nearby, at the outskirts of the nearby town, a man led his pregnant wife into a cow byre, for her waters had broken and there was no room at the inn. 

Soon, the cries of the new-born filled the night sky, drawing the shepherds down from the hills. A shepherd’s life was indeed boring.

Three wise men stayed far away, as they had seen the deadly meteor’s approach.

Monday 29 December 2014

December Short Fiction Contest Winners

Attribution: Bobamnertiopsis and Immanuel Giel
I've just finished the fun task of reading the entries for December's Short Fiction Contest and picked the winners. December's fairy tale themed image inspired a good variety of excellent stories and as always it was difficult to select just three winners. I'd like to thank everyone who entered and also everyone who has helped promote the contest by sharing the links - your help is much appreciated and please continue to do so.

Here are this month's winners:

 - First prize of a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Stuart Ayris for his story 'Under the White'
 - Second prize of a £20 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to John Moralee for his story 'A Hunter's Tale'
 - Third prize of a £10 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Andrew K Lawston for his story 'Hansel and Grendel'

Congratulations to the winners and now let us enjoy their excellent stories...

Under the White by Stuart Ayris

“Boy! Listen to me! And you, girl, get down off his shoulders!” the old lady said.

The two children, who just moments ago, were having fun, had suddenly felt a darkness come upon them.

“What’s h-h-h-appened?” the boy murmured. “Why is everything black and white, me, you, my sister, everything?”

“Nothing is ever all black and white.” The old lady grinned an entirely toothless grin. “Now how old are you?”

“I am five.”

“And your sister?”

“She’s six.”

“Well I am one hundred and seventy-four at the very least. So listen to what I have to say.”

All the world was white within and white without, no shade, no light but white, no bright but white.
“As you can see and, no doubt, hear children, I have misplaced my teeth. They fell out during the colourful night. Do you understand?”

“Yes miss,” the boy mustered.

“Now I am an old lady of at least one hundred and seventy-four years. My bones ache and my eyes are not what they were. They used to be made of crystal during which times I could see through mountains. These days they are made of clay. That’s what happens when you get older. Have you ever got older boy?”

“I think I have.”

“Then you will know what I am talking about. But enough of this. I need for you to find my teeth. Your sister may be of some help if she manages to stop crying.”

“What do your teeth look like Miss?”

“Well they’re white of course!”

“But everything is white.”

“Precisely! Now get looking.”

The boy turned to his sister who wiped her black tears from her black face with the back of her black hand.

“Oh,” said the old lady as she was about to turn away.

“Yes?” said the boy, looking up.

“If you find them, I will use this stick here to bring colour back to the world and you will be returned to your parents.”

At once, the boy and his sister began their search. They searched under the white, outside of the white and above the white. They ran around and the crawled, they walked and at times they just stared, ever in search of the old lady’s white teeth. Then, at long last, the boy squealed.

“I’ve found them! I’ve found them!”

He and his sister rushed to where the old lady was standing.

“I’ve found them!” he said once more, handing the teeth to her.

The old lady reached out and took the set of teeth from the boy. She opened her mouth wide and pushed them in. She chomped up and down once or twice just to assure herself that they were indeed her teeth.

And then, when all was quiet, when all had settled down, she lifted the stick that she held in her hand and brought it down upon the heads of the two children. She ate first the boy and then the girl. Well what the hell did you expect?

A Hunter's Tale by John Moralee

Witches. They live everywhere – but most people can’t see them. Only the young and those gifted with the second sight can see through their glamours.  For everyone else, you only see what they want you to see – which is how they can hide in plain sight.

There are clues to finding them, of course, if you know what to look for. You can follow the cats on any street because eventually they’ll lead you to a witch’s door. That’s how I found the one living in the corner house on this street.

The evil crone at Number 18 lives alone and rarely leaves her home – but she has several cats that flit in and out of her house at all times of day. The cats look cute and harmless, but they are dangerous predators. They hunt small animals for her and bring them back for her meals.

For days I’ve been watching the activity at her house from my van parked down the road. A grey striped tabby guards the front through the window. It must be her familiar – the leader of her pet army. I watch and wait for it to go hunting, leaving her vulnerable to attack.

My name is Will. I’m an ordinary human – a fifty-year-old man with no family because of what a witch did to me. When I was a little boy, I went with my older sister trick-or-treating. We knocked on the door of a old lady’s house. She invited us in to see her kittens. We fell for it and paid a high price. She drugged us with sweets and locked us up in steel cages in her cellar, where she starved us and mutilated our bodies. She ate our fingers and toes and tore flesh off our bones. My sister died after a month. I would have died too – but I escaped through the bars of my cage because I was so skinny.

This morning I’m armed with a crossbow with bolt tipped with silver, the only metal that can kill a witch – and only if shot into her heart. I had the crossbow specially made so I can aim, load and fire it with the two good fingers of my left hand. I wait until the tabby leaves before approaching the house. I’m carrying a ladder like a window cleaner so nobody thinks it is odd when I climb up it and sneak through an open window.

I sneak inside a dark bedroom smelling of cat urine and creep across the room to the landing, where I stop and listen.

I hear snoring from another bedroom.

I approach the door and kick it open.

The witch is in the bed waking up.

She looks surprised and scared.

I can’t let her cast a spell.

I aim and fire.

The bolt flies towards her.

It slams into her chest.

“Got you,” I say.

In death she looks like an innocent old lady.

They all do.

Hansel and Grendel by Andrew K Lawston

The caramel windows were the first sign we were dealing with a troubled mind.

By the time she'd locked me in a cage to fatten me for the oven, we twigged she was barking. When we convinced her that an old bit of bone was my forearm, we realised she was both blind and gullible.

Seriously, I scoffed so many cream buns locked up in there that by the time my sister sprung the lock, you could build your own confectionery abode from the muffin top I'd developed.

"Quietly," she murmured. "She's napping."

I hauled my newly enormous arse from the cage. "Have I got time for a wee? I think I've become diabetic."

I waddled after her through the crone's living room towards the hallway and, well, the walls might have been gingerbread, but you wouldn't have touched them if you'd seen the three inch layer of dust over her greasy marshmallow-stuffed armchair, or the four foot stack of newspapers in the chocolate fireplace.

And then the dreadful clackclackclack of the old crone's stick, and the grasping old witch had shuffled between us and the front door, her bonneted head swivelling to track whatever tiny noise we'd made.

"Where are you going?" she screeched, lurching towards us. "Prepare the oven for your greedy brother!"

My cake-distended stomach lurched, but my sister had slipped behind me, in case the crone could make out our shapes, and spoke for me.

"You ate my brother this morning. I sobbed and pleaded."

"I... who?" the crone wavered, and the full extent of her decline struck us. "Didn't I... ask you to check the oven?"

"Yes. The heat singed my face at a dozen yards, and I ran out so as not to see my brother's awful death. His screams filled the cottage and the stench of his crisping skin will never leave my nostrils as long as I live."

The crone wept then. "But I'm hungry," she whimpered, "is there any left?"

My sister's hands touched my shoulders gently as I struggled to contain my revulsion. "You left his haunch in the oven for supper. Don't you remember?"

The cackling witch clackclackclacked into the kitchen, and jerked across to her huge bread oven.

"Supper!" she screeched, flinging open the door.

I don't know how my sister rigged the ferocious jet of flame that tore from the blazing oven and set to devouring the crone's face, but I'll never forget her banshee screeches of torment, nor the dreadful Sunday lunch smell of her searing flesh.

The witch roared and flailed, trying to avoid the flame with one arm beating at her burning head. When my sister had finished laughing, we saw we had to finish what we'd started.

She was a bit too big for the old oven, but with her toffee hammer and pastry knife, we got most of her in eventually, slammed the door, and left hand in hand.

This might not be exactly what we told our case worker.

Fifth Drabble of Christmas - Memories by Marko Susimetsä

The fifth drabble of Christmas brings us 'Memories' courtesy of Marko Susimetsä:

Memories by Marko Susimetsä

Garacg ran, breath freezing onto his muzzle hair. The moonlit forest was untouched but by the rare animal. It was Garacg’s world. Its creatures his to hunt down and eat. The cold winter kept the humans huddled inside their strange dwellings.

A sound carried in the air.

Garacg hesitated and stopped by the trunk of a frozen tree. A village ahead.

A door opened. Someone staggered out. For a moment the sound became clearer, its notes familiar.

He shivered. Memories. Of a time when he had sung Yule songs.

Garacg howled at the moon, trying to drive the pain away.

Sunday 28 December 2014

Fourth Drabble of Christmas - Happy Christmas, Dad by Jonathan Hill

I'm posting this a little later than usual thanks to a fun weekend visiting family. I now have an abundance of tanks that need building! I'm back now which means it's time for the fourth drabble of Christmas and today's is a poignant one from  the master of drabbles Jonathan Hill:

Happy Christmas, Dad by Jonathan Hill

“I know it’s not much, but I had to get you something, didn’t I? Mum won’t like me giving you them, what with your diabetes, but I won’t tell if you won’t. They’re your favourite. You once complained of them playing havoc with your teeth but that didn’t stop you scoffing the lot. Make these last, eh?”

I shivered as the wind unpicked my coat’s belt. Dad didn’t seem fazed by the cold. He didn’t even mind when a robin came and relieved itself over him.

“Happy Christmas, Dad,” I said, carefully resting the bag of toffees against the headstone.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Third Drabble of Christmas - Midwinter by Ulla Susimetsä

The Third Drabble of Christmas brings us 'Midwinter' by Ulla Susimetsä

Midwinter by Ulla Susimetsä
Snow buries field and forest. Darkness shrouds the world. The day barely dawns before dying into dusk.

Tonight, the longest night, the darkest night, the dead walk among the living.

In these dark hunting grounds of merciless cold, ancestors are always close, remembered, revered. Tonight, once the feasting is over, food and ale is left on the table for the dead to enjoy. Fire glows in the sauna oven long after the living have bathed: the dead may come and warm their icy limbs.

I slip into the smoky darkness. Ahh, so much better than the grave in frozen ground!

Friday 26 December 2014

Second Drabble of Christmas - Christmas Time by Kath Middleton

For the second drabble of Christmas Kath Middleton gives to us:

Christmas Time by Kath Middleton

Christmas time, sherry and wine.
Gin and tonic? That'll be mine.
I do love a whisky and ginger or two.
Someone say cider? Don't mind if I do!
Rum is so warming, my nose is quite red.
One port and lemon won't go to my head.
Here comes the Queen's speech. Let's stand for a toast.
Champers is best, dear (such a generous host).
Let's have a brandy, it helps you digest
All that plum pudding. I'll loosen my vest.
I stretch by the fireside a glass in my hand
My socks are on fire! I'm too tipsy to stand.

Thursday 25 December 2014

First Drabble of Christmas - 1st Day of Christmas by Chris Bailey

Merry Christmas everyone! The Twelve Drabbles of Christmasc ompetition has ended and I've read through all the entries and selected the twelve drabbles. I'd like to thank everyone for entering. I will post one each day throughout the Christmas period and we start with a cracker from  Chris Bailey. I will contact all of the winners tomorrow to organise the prizes.

1st Day of Christmas by Chris Bailey

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

One dismissive comment, one look of disdain, one flimsy excuse of her whereabouts and a stone cold tea in the microwave!

So on this cold winter’s day, I decided to follower her for answers. She was watched like a hawk as she boarded her bosses’ yacht. I saw the boat was rocking, I found it truly shocking and now she’s chopped into pieces and stuffed into her stocking.

So on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; that feeling of finally being free.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Tuesday Tease - Face/Mask by Gabriel Boutros

This week's Tuesday Tease is provided by Gabriel Boutros from his thriller 'Face/Mask'. Discover more below:

Click on image to buy from Amazon
by Gabriel Boutros


October 17, 2039:
When the time came Richard knew there would be a high probability of serious injury, not only to the Cons, but also to innocent by-standers. He’d told them he didn't want anybody to get hurt, and that, despite his big talk a few days earlier, he believed they should remain a non-violent movement.
But Suzanne had spoken to him quietly the night before in her kitchen. She held his hand and gazed into his eyes as she told him how proud she’d been when he’d spoken up at the last meeting. She was glad he understood that some pain was necessary, or else people wouldn’t react.

“The sheep,” she said, “will keep walking down the chute unless something scares them. Only then will they open their eyes and see where they’re headed.”

Richard didn’t respond. He knew that even scared sheep couldn’t stop themselves from going to slaughter, but he didn’t want to contradict her. She saw his hesitation and asked him if he was afraid, with a look that told him she would only accept one answer.

“Of course not,” he lied, looking down to avoid her searching gaze. “I just want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”

“What else can we do, Richard? The public is so apathetic they can’t be shaken out of their torpor with clever slogans and colourful signs.”

She brushed the hair out of his eyes and bent her head to look into his face.

“Without some pain they’ll never see that the administration is run by militarists and elite industrialists who are happily enriching themselves while families are poisoned by the very air and water around them.”

Now Richard stood inside the library’s entrance, remembering her words, and smelling her perfume like she was still holding his hand. He watched as his fellow students trudged in and out of the building. Most carried small waist-packs containing their study discs and maybe some nutri-snacks under their slickers. He worried that somebody would wonder why his pack looked bulkier than everybody else’s. Surely nobody would expect him to be carrying an actual textbook around. But nobody gave him a second look.

In the street, in front of the RCMP station that was next door to the library, several patrol cars were parked. He watched as two Cons, their air-masks hanging from their belts, chatted amiably while they leaned against their cruisers. They were happy about something: one of them laughing out loud while squeezing his colleague’s arm, before they both strolled into the station.

Richard wanted to imagine that they were laughing about an arrest they’d made, maybe some innocent and harmless old man, but he couldn’t. It was easier to hate a faceless administration than it was two buddies sharing a laugh. Whatever passion he’d felt in Suzanne’s apartment had dissipated. This would have been easier for him if his heart was still full of anger, but there was no turning back.
He looked at the antique digital clock on the library wall: it was 9:45 AM. They’d told him to plant the bomb at 10 o’clock, five minutes before the planned detonation, to minimize the risk of discovery. But his heart was beating too rapidly, and he could feel the sweat pouring down his face. He was sure he’d faint if he had to wait much longer.

Nobody’s going to find it anyway, he told himself, as he placed the waist-pack behind a bench near an exterior wall. 

The detonation was set to expand outward, toward the police detachment, and not inward where the students were crowded into a tight space. Still, the chances of some of them being seriously injured, maybe even dying, were fairly high. 

He repeated to himself some of Suzanne’s arguments that he’d memorized as a mantra: All shortages are tools of the administration; hungry people must pay more for food; there’s always someone else to blame.

He took a deep breath and told himself that it had to be done. After this act of defiance the administration would have to take them seriously. And Suzanne would know that he was a real man.
He just hoped that nobody he knew would get hurt.

Chapter one

June 6, 2039
Nobody said a word. The people gathered as they did every weekday morning, starting at the corner nearest to his house, then in a line that snaked down the block to the next street. In a matter of minutes there were two hundred of them, their faces hidden behind the rubber and glass masks that kept them alive.

It was another orange alert. Eight straight days. Allen Janus couldn’t remember it ever being this bad.
He waited for the metro-bus, trying to ignore the cries of a baby in a plastic-covered basket carried by the woman behind him. Every time she slid her hand through the vent-slot to comfort the colicky child the basket jostled Janus, who stared up at the murky sky and thought of blue skies and open fields. His own plastic cover-all, zipped up to his neck, pinched him at the waist. It had begun fitting him quite snugly due to his sedentary lifestyle and the fact that exercise was not recommended for people over forty.

Janus sniffed at the heavy air out of habit. Odours couldn’t get through the administration-issue air-mask protecting him from the floating poisons that hung over the city. He regretted getting his hair cut so close over the weekend, leaving the back of his neck with little protection from the chafing caused by the mask’s rubber straps. He resisted a nagging desire to stick a finger underneath and rub his sore scalp. There would be no getting over the irritation until he got to work. 

The discomfort he felt was nothing compared to what would happen if his air-mask stopped functioning. He thought of the clean white gauze he’d placed into its filter that morning. By the time he got to work it would be shit-brown and need to be replaced. The orange-flashing signs above the exits of his office building reminded all employees to make sure the gauze in their mask-filters was regularly replaced.

He remembered a middle-management type named John something who hadn’t bothered to clean the filter for two days during an orange alert. On his way home on the metro-bus he began having difficulty breathing because no air was getting through. The old gauze had solidified, clogging the mask’s air passages. In a panic, he’d pulled his mask off and taken in great gulps of the toxic air.
He ended up dying on a gurney in the hallway of the Montreal Super-Hospital’s over-crowded emergency ward, his lungs full of puss from the infection that had rapidly spread through-out his body. All because he had ignored administration regulations that filter-gauze be replaced at least twice a day during orange alerts.

On red alert days there was no question about replacing gauze. Everyone simply stayed inside their sealed homes, filtered air piped in via the neighbourhood vacu-pumps. House-sized diesel generators were set up every three blocks as ready back-ups for the frequent power failures caused by the city’s crumbling infrastructure. All across North America, the most successful start-up businesses specialized in residential vacuum-sealants and industrial-sized generators, as the air in every urban center was often unbreathable. Green alerts were merely a memory from years gone by.
Janus thought of the spacious, five bedroom cottage that was home for him and his family. It was much larger than the humble farmhouse his parents had owned, but at least the soil there hadn’t been too toxic to grow real vegetables. Now his children read about fresh vegetables in history class.
Richard, the eldest, was constantly questioning how things had gotten so bad, looking for someone to blame with the wide-eyed zeal that was the privilege of all young men. Janus felt a mixture of pride and sadness at the idealism of his son, aware that it would surely die out as he grew older.
Janus’s thoughts turned, as they often did, to happier days spent on his parents’ farm, and of his older brother, Frank, with whom he’d shared a bedroom. They’d spent their summer days running through the fields, unaware that such a simple joy would be almost unknown to future generations. Frank had died from emphysema shortly after graduating from college, at a time when the mass-production of air-masks had not yet begun. A picture jumped into Janus’s mind: Frank in a hospital bed, under an oxygen tent, his young eyes showing fear and confusion over his inevitable fate.

So much for happier days, he told himself, trying to push his thoughts away from his brother’s death.
It was too late to avoid the wave of sadness that passed through him. This wasn’t something he wanted to think about while waiting in line to get on the metro-bus. Even behind the air-mask’s anonymity he worried that his emotions might be visible to the people around him. He cleared his throat and turned his thoughts back to the present.

He looked down the street and wondered if the metro-bus was ever going to show up. At this rate, he’d have to start leaving the house by six to get to work on time. Not that he slept much anyway; a wide yawn inside his mask confirmed his sleepy state. Still, there was little reason to stay awake these days: the Vid-bots mostly ran reruns of docu-dramas and reality shows, except for the 24-hour porn stations. Between the poisonous air and the strictures against large public gatherings hardly anybody went out any more. And it had been years since a book of any quality had been written.
Several people waiting in the queue looked like they too were ready to fall asleep. On more than one occasion he’d seen fellow riders sleep while standing; held up by the bodies that squeezed onto the metro-bus, barely getting sufficient oxygen into their lungs through the filters of their masks.
Janus occasionally made up for his own sleepless nights by grabbing a cat-nap at work, the only way he could get through the day in a job he found dull and unrewarding. He told people, those who bothered to inquire, that he was the head of a major municipal department. This was true, although purposely vague, and sounded impressive as long as nobody asked him to specify exactly what it meant.

What he did, and had been doing for over eight years, was head the Department of Municipal Infrastructure which monitored Montreal’s electrical grid. They made sure that traffic lights changed when they were supposed to, and that street lights came on each night when the sky dimmed.
Dimmed, Janus thought despondently. There was a time when night and day were easy to tell apart.
Now, according to administration-approved scientists, the toxins just beyond the atmosphere barely let any sunshine in during the day, and reflected light from the sun at night. The night sky was never quite black anymore, nor were the days particularly bright.

Janus didn’t believe the administration’s explanations. He’d read once that the glow in the night sky was caused by the constant burning of hydro-carbons at the uppermost level of the atmosphere. That burning never stopped, but was less obvious when the sun crept up past the horizon and took its place behind the clouds and swirls of dust that resided perpetually in the sky. But nobody talked about that other than those independent bloggers who still functioned on the net. The sky being permanently on fire was something that you didn’t bring up in casual conversation.

Turning his attention to his surroundings he noticed it had gotten quiet: the baby had fallen asleep inside its protective bubble. With the crying silenced, Janus could hear the cheerful twittering of the robins that once populated the trees in his neighbourhood. The recorded morning-song, played over speakers on every corner of the city, was the brainchild of Janus’s predecessor at Infrastructure. At the time it was a charming and welcome addition to people’s daily routine, an audible reminder of happier times. Now it was generally ignored. But the recordings played on every morning, one of the few city services that wasn’t constantly breaking down.

A soft, but growing, rumble could be heard over the fake chirping, and several people in the usually silent line began whispering nervously. He looked around, trying to see what was making the sound coming from behind a squat apartment building two blocks away.

After a few seconds he saw a multi-track approaching; it was the RCMP’s preferred vehicle for urban patrols. Several agents hung off the sides of the lumbering grey truck, holding small wooden bats in their free hands.

What the hell’re they up to? 

There was the sound of scuffling behind him, followed by a muffled yell. He turned and saw two people, their faces and shapes hidden under their protective clothing, pushing through the crowd and heading away from the multi-track. The sudden roar of the vehicle’s engines announced its acceleration toward the pair, and they burst away from the crowd, running frantically in the opposite direction. One of them slipped a package out from underneath his topcoat and threw it away as he rounded a corner.

Nobody tried to stop them, nor yelled out in their direction. As the multi-track approached the metro-bus line several people turned their heads instinctively, or averted their eyes. Janus, though, found his attention drawn to the nearest agent, hanging off the passenger door. The glass shield of his air-mask was mirrored, making it impossible to see the agent’s eyes, unlike the masks worn by civilians. Yet the man seemed to be staring right at Janus, who couldn’t pull his own eyes away. As the vehicle rumbled past their intersection, the agent’s mask remained fixed on Janus, who suddenly felt sweat soaking his shirt.

With the multi-track about 50 meters away the agent turned his head and pointed his bat toward the corner where the two runners had disappeared. The vehicle turned the corner; the slowly-fading sound of its engines indicated that the RCMP agents were getting a run for their money. Janus’s heart was beating rapidly. He was unsure why he’d felt compelled to stare at the agent, yet wondered why such a simple act should be so terrifying.

He took a deep breath and reassured himself that the RCMP had no interest in someone like him. It was obviously different for the poor bastards they were chasing. Perhaps they were criminals or radicals; maybe even enviro-terrorists. There had been reports that groups like that were becoming more active in town. He wondered what would happen when they were caught, never doubting that they would. Few people ever got away. 

The unexpected events had shaken him. In his youth nobody ever got chased down city streets by paramilitary squads. And middle-aged civil servants had little reason to fear being noticed by police. He thought of Richard’s adolescent idealism, and wondered if one day his son might become an activist, protesting against the administration’s policies and getting into trouble. He tried to protect his children from the harsh realities of their world, but this could no longer be done with a curious and opinionated 17-year old.

Irritated by what he’d just seen, he turned to say something to the woman with the basket, but then thought better of it. He had no way of knowing who she was, nor her opinion on any administration policies, so why risk any problems? Besides, the street cameras could make out faces even through the air-masks, and he didn’t want anybody at work questioning him about any conversations he might have had in the queue. 

There was some furtive whispering among the people in line, but this quickly died down. Soon, everything was back to normal. Some people coughed lightly or cleared their throats, and several, trying to behave casually, gently touched the timer on the coms in their ears. Janus did so as well. It was 8 AM. 

The metro-buses are getting later every day, he thought, pushing his thoughts into less dangerous territory. I wonder what the hold-up is. And just like that, he pushed the multi-track and the fate of the two runners into the deepest recesses of his mind. 

He tried to rub the sore spot on his neck through the mask’s rubber again, but it was hopeless. Technological advances should have resulted in smaller, lighter masks by now, but that wasn’t the case.

He remembered archival photos he’d seen of World War One soldiers wearing gas masks in the trenches. Over 120 years later the mask he wore was even bulkier. The administration distribution centre claimed there were many more things to be protected from than plain old mustard gas, so the masks had to be much larger. But Janus had never been convinced by this argument. Having to replace those gauze pads in the filter proved that technology wasn’t always advancing, that some things were becoming less sophisticated with time.

The rumble of an approaching metro-bus’s multiple engines drew his attention. He studied the six attached cars riding atop large rubber tires, as they rolled past him to the front of the line. Each car was powered by a diesel-electric hybrid engine in order to move the whole train more efficiently, although the technology hadn’t been updated for thirty years. 

Somehow, despite all the fears about the environment, electric motors hadn’t caught on. A cheap method of extracting oil from the tar sands had lessened dependence on foreign oil reserves, driving a boom in heavy industries in the late teens. The combustion engines that still dominated the world’s roads and airways were only marginally more efficient than those of a few decades earlier.
Along with everyone else, Janus shuffled to his right, closer to the vehicle’s front door.
Six cars, yet only one door to get on and one to get off. How’s that for modern efficiency?
The outside of the metro-bus showed the vehicle’s age, with large spots of rust competing with random patches of paint. Most of the windows sported cracks of varying sizes, not that it would matter to the passengers: nobody would chance taking off their air-masks inside the metro-bus.
Once he was up the three steps into the metro-bus a cold, electronic eye scanned his lapel pin to make sure his monthly transportation allowance was paid in full. As far as Janus knew nobody ever tried to cheat the eye, even if there was no security on the metro-bus. People knew it just wasn’t worth the trouble. 

He would stand for the duration of the trip, his car having been stripped of the twisted metal and torn vinyl that passed for seats on other metro-buses. Finding a spot where the crush of the crowd wasn’t overly painful he allowed his thoughts to drift along until he was lulled into a near-comatose state by the vehicle’s rocking motion, the rumbling of its engines and the heat of the bodies around him.
It occurred to him that reliance on general apathy was a fairly effective way to control a population. The military ran all police operations in the city, with the RCMP long ago evolving into the Re-Constituted Military Police. Tanks and multi-tracks like the one he’d seen that morning were a rare sight now, no longer stationed at every major intersection as they’d been when the American “advisers” had first been brought in, after the mini-nuke hit Quebec City in 2018.

At the time many people fought against the imposition of the draconian rules that were supposed to govern their lives in the name of collective security. The government ordered Canadian soldiers into the streets to battle citizens who were more concerned about their stolen freedoms than any terrorist threats.

But 21 years had passed since Quebec City and there were few true activists left. Like the two who’d been in the line that morning, he thought. Were they really activists, or just petty thieves? Maybe I’m projecting my feelings about how crappy everything is.

Janus couldn’t imagine the men and women around him, standing slumped under the weight of their air-masks, their fears and their redundant jobs, taking to the streets to protest terrible living conditions and their generally meaningless lives. His own method of surviving in this crumbling world was through borderline illegal distractions that he kept hidden from his family.

He wondered how many passengers had parents who’d fought and died in the urban riots that now seemed like ancient history. 

Imagine dying so that your children could have a life like this. Maybe they preferred dying than living in a decaying world. 

Janus’s rambling thoughts occupied his mind enough to keep him half-awake throughout the ride, until the metro-bus pulled up in front of the administration building where he worked. The squat, square building had once been a rich brick-red in colour, but now was orange-beige, not far different from the colour of the rusty fence that surrounded it.

Half of the passengers disembarked along with Janus, moving as a single slow wave toward the lone gate that would lead them to their jobs, inside the inner workings of the municipal government that was tasked to run, as best it could, their city.

Janus spent the day slumped behind the melamine desk in his office, sipping the tepid dishwater that passed for coffee and trying to ignore the constant hum of voices outside the thin walls that enclosed him. The barely functioning P-screen that was standard-issue municipal equipment struggled to keep up with the reports that were streamed to him. He sat in what had become his default position, resting his chin on the palm of one hand while tapping an impatient finger on the binder in front of him, waiting for the screen to change. Against the background of rolling green hills of an Ireland that existed only in fairy tales, a small clock-face flashed repeatedly.

Although the over-worked server ran at the speed of molasses, Janus eventually received the over-night reports of several major intersections that were clogged due to malfunctioning traffic lights. He pictured frustrated drivers trapped in the congestion and honking their horns. He doubted if anybody would ever get out of their cars to confront other drivers, though, at least not while the poison air hung low over the city.

The potential for damaging one’s mask in a road-side scuffle had cut the cases of road rage down to a fraction of what they were back in the teens. It was another example of how little there was to gain by putting up a fight or taking chances. Those who did were looked upon as extremists.

Some days, mixed in with the traffic updates, Janus also received reports about damage caused by enviro-activists: small groups of brave, or foolish, people who risked arrest to protest what was being done to the planet in the name of military and economic progress. He wouldn’t have been surprised if they were responsible for knocking out traffic lights, although so few of them worked properly nowadays there seemed little point to sabotaging any part of the city’s grid. There were no reports of arrests so far today, despite the chase he’d witnessed that morning.

Maybe the Mounties hadn’t gotten their man, he mused.

A faint ping brought Janus’s attention back to the screen which now displayed the Sector M site map, flashing yellow at several spots to indicate blown transformers. Once upon a time, Janus enjoyed telling his younger subordinates, blown transformers and melted switches were rare occurrences, and didn’t require two dozen repair crews to be out on the road around the clock.

Two decades earlier there had been an influx of refugees from the eastern half of the province after the attack on Quebec City. Combined with a high birth-rate among immigrants, the population of the Island of Montreal had grown to four million people, although the electrical grid was built for a city half that size. Little had been done since the late teens to upgrade the grid, resulting in frequent power failures and equipment breakdowns. Problems with any kind of electrical equipment on a public street came under the jurisdiction of Janus’s department.

He keyed in the codes on his screen to see which crews would be available next, and then sent them the co-ordinates of the trouble-spots. The men who joined these crews were among the most desperate of the city’s unemployed, taking a job that required them to work outdoors in all conditions, risking their health if not their lives. Eventually, even the best body-protection suits got infiltrated by long exposure to the toxic air, and the suits that the city could afford to buy were far from the best.

The crews were supplied with scooter-bikes that let them manoeuvre more easily in the traffic, quickly getting to the location of the problem and out again. The ones who lasted on the job learned to perform the necessary repairs in the shortest time possible, and usually within an hour any malfunctioning lights were up and running.

The Department received reports over the net, by e-message, and even on paper, and all problems were funnelled through Janus’s office via his antiquated processing apparatus. Day after day, the complaints came in, and day after day he had to make sure there were enough crews and functioning equipment to handle the latest breakdowns. Each day he sat behind his desk and the mind-numbing boredom of his work slowly ground him down. He supposed that being jobless and lining up at food banks was a worse fate, especially for a man with family responsibilities, but that didn’t make him feel any better.

His thoughts turned briefly to his family: his wife, Terry, their three boys and Uncle Joe. Richard and Francis, aged 17 and 16 respectively, were on the verge of becoming young men, with all the problems and complications that entailed. Their youngest son, Rollie, had lost a school year after spending six months in hospital due to recurring emphysema, the same disease that had taken Janus’s brother. The treatment he’d received had, for the most part, repaired the alveoli in his lungs, although the doctors had told Janus that the boy would always be at risk.

This Friday would be Rollie’s eighth birthday, a celebration Janus and Terry had feared they’d never see. They planned a party with all his school friends for that Saturday, an innocent distraction from the outside world that should have provided Janus with some pleasure. Instead he knew that, with Uncle Joe’s involvement, it was certain to cause him more than a little aggravation.

Janus allowed a sigh to escape his lips, grateful for the privacy that his office provided. He remembered his father frequently quoting some ancient playwright when faced with an unhappy truth: “Aye, there’s the rub,” his father would say ruefully.

Somehow good old Uncle Joe, Terry’s uncle to be exact, would find a way to take over this latest family occasion, as he did everything else that Janus’s family did. Aye, Joe was very much “the rub” in Janus’s life.

Giuseppe “Joe” Pizzi had been living with them for two years and was as warm and loving to Janus as he was to everyone else in the family. Barely five feet tall and with a fair-sized belly, he was seventy-three, but still healthy and active after a lifetime of physical work.

Back when he’d had hair it had been a light brown. That, and his clear blue eyes, indicated that his origins were from the northern part of Italy, just south of the border with Switzerland.

Terry’s father had died when she was five and his older brother, Giuseppe, had stepped in to help raise his “Principessa Teresa.” He never married, although there’d been the occasional whisper that he might propose to his brother’s widow, as he had clearly taken over the role of the man of the house. Such talk ended when Terry was 16, and her mother moved with the children to Montreal, where her own brothers operated a modest chain of clothing boutiques. 

Terry had recounted to Janus how her Uncle Joe cried when he’d accompanied her family to the airport, and how she felt like she was losing her father for a second time. When her own mother had died of lung cancer many years later she got it into her head that Joe could only be happy if he was reunited with his remaining family, all of whom had moved to Canada. For five years, every com-call and every e-message between Terry and her uncle included several pleas for him to join them in their spacious home.

He finally came to stay with them in August of ’37, selling the small piece of land he owned in northern Italy. That was after the third coup in a seven year span had installed yet another military regime in Rome. There was no reason why he should continue living under a permanent state of emergency rule, he told friends, when Teresa, “la preferita della mia famiglia,” was willing to sponsor his immigration to Canada. 

He’d imagined then that Canada was still America’s friendlier neighbour that Europeans had so long heard about. Well, too bad if we’re not as friendly as he’d expected, Janus found himself thinking after a few weeks.

He had honestly tried to make Joe feel welcome when he’d first arrived, but Joe’s constant paternalistic interference with every aspect of Janus and Terry’s life quickly soure.

Click here to buy Face/Mask from Amazon US / Amazon UK

Monday 22 December 2014

Book Review - The Experiment of Dreams by Brandon Zenner

This was a fun read. I liked the premise of the story with a machine that can record your dreams.and the main character is an interesting one. For most of the book there's an element of mystery that I appreciated as to what was going on. Throughout the beginning of the book it seems as if the plot meanders along and while it is quite slowly paced it does provide ample opportunity to get to know the character.

Things shift quickly though after the first half into an accelerating path of twists and turns. While they're not too difficult to follow they did keep me guessing as to what was actually going on. It's unusual for me to read a book where I don't figure out the ending so kudos to the author for that.

The ending though is a bit of damp squib compared to the excellent build up. For me the issue was mainly the fact it tried to explain everything, which meant retreading over all ground. I also think the story had one twist too many which kind of weakened the ones that came before it.

The journey through the story was a good one though and worth a read just for that.

Click on image to buy from Amazon
A machine capable of recording our dreams has been created...

Benjamin Walker’s lifelong career of testing experimental drugs and medicines, as well as participating in fascinating sleep-related studies, has come to an end. A new and lucrative job opportunity is offered to Ben, working on a project named Lucy, a machine capable of reading and recording a person’s dreams in intimate detail. Headed by the genius Dr. Peter Wulfric and privately funded by the elusive millionaire, Mr. Timothy Kalispell”"a man with a fascination of the arts that borders on the obsessive”"takes Ben all over the world, from the Louvre in Paris to the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Along his travels, Ben meets a beautiful girl named Sophia, who might just help him overcome his crushing depression over the death of his lost love, his Emily. All is finally going well for Ben . . . until strange dreams of a town named Drapery Falls begin to plague him, and memories once hidden begin to reveal themselves. The doctors and staff onboard team Lucy are not who Ben thinks they are, and Mr. Kalispell will stop at nothing to keep Ben’s emerging memories buried for good. Ben is put on a collision course that will bring him to the brink of total insanity, and perhaps even death. At the heart of it all, Ben’s worst enemy is his own mind, and he must confront his past in order to save his future.

Click here to buy The Experiment of Dreams from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's an interesting read)

Sunday 21 December 2014

January Short Fiction Contest

By Creator:George Grie (Own work, [1]) [Public domain, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to January's Short Fiction Contest here on The Cult of Me blog. As winter is closing in I thought I'd pick something cold and seasonal for this month's image. And it has a ghost ship to boot! I'm already looking forward to some spooky tales :-)

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 February 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 January 24th 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.

Monday 15 December 2014

Guest Author Interview - Rhoda D'Ettore

Rhoda D'Ettore joins me for this week's Guest Author Interview to discuss her writing and her latest release 'Newborn Nazi'. Discover more below:

Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Hi. I'm Rhoda D'Ettore, a Jersey Girl from the Philadelphia Metro area. I earned a degree in Human & Social Services, come from a large family, and volunteer for community service organizations to help children, Veterans, and animals.

What first inspired you to start writing?
I received a manuscript from a friend, Blood Chain by Jonathan Francesco, and was quite impressed. When I saw that he did the impossible task of writing a book, it inspired me and gave me the confidence to go for my dream.

Where do your best ideas come from?
Family. I have a large family with branches in Germany, Ireland, and Italy. Because of this I have an incredibly interested heritage. Some of my characters are based on the real people in my lives, which I think brings them to life.

Which author do you most admire and why?
David Baldacci. He is fast paced with strong characters. His ideas are new, and I am never disappointed.

What was the last book you read?
Vengeance is Mine by Leon Opio-- what a gory thriller that was! Loved the ending.

What makes your books stand out from the competition?
I want to shock people, and take the book in a different direction than they expect. For example, on one couple's wedding night, the scene is very romantic and you expect a love scene. Instead, a bayonet came through the husband's heart. The father of the woman had been off at war and did not know of the nuptials. He thought he was protecting his daughter.

What is your favourite song lyric?
Free Bird's lyrics. The song always reminds me of my late sister, and I miss her dearly.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on two projects. The second book of The McClusky Series, Liam's Longing. This is a family saga about Irish immigrants who come to Philadelphia for a better life and find suffering instead.

The other is entitled: Mob Kids: Growing up Philly Style- This explores the ramifications of children growing up with family who are mafia related. It discusses the violence and a way of life they thought was normal.

Tell us about your latest work and how we can find out more.
I just released Newborn Nazi which started as a Historical Fiction and soon became a suspense. Here's the blurb:

"This family is amazing! A Nazi spy. A future SS officer. A brother in America oblivious to everything. And a sister who would kill us all."

Germany, 1934 -- SS officers entered the house of Hedwig Schultz and ripped her 14 year old brother, Edmund, from her arms. He has been selected for an elite division of the Hitler Youth that will train him for indoctrination into the feared SS.

Horrified, Hedwig enlists the help of her brother in America to thwart Nazi plans regarding the Final Solution of the Jewish people. It becomes a cat and mouse game as the family enters a world of Nazi spies, double agents and the Underground movement. All the while, Hedwig must prevent their brother, Edmund, from becoming suspicious. One report of treason to his Hitler Youth instructors would result in death... or worse.

It can be purchased at Amazon, BN, Smashwords, and other retailers.

Click here to buy Newborn Nazi from Amazon US / Amazon UK

Sunday 14 December 2014

Book Shout Out - Happy Birthday King BewIlliam

Click on image to buy from Amazon 
Happy birthday, King Bewilliam, officially “born” on Dec. 14, 2011 with the publication of “The Lost King, “ 

The seed for the story took root in my writer’s mind many years prior to that but sprouted during my first writing marathon, National Novel Writing Month 2010. Since then he’s continued to grow and thrive in The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam high fantasy series, with Book Two, “The King’s Ransom” and Book Three, “The King’s Redress.” I began “The Redoubt,” Book Four, last month during National Novel Writing Month 2014.
To celebrate and give new fans a chance to enjoy the series at a bargain price, I have created a Kindle Countdown promotion for Book Three, “The King’s Redress,” on Kindle US and Kindle UK, beginning with 99¢ on the king’s birthday.

Dec. 14: $.99
Dec. 15: $1.99
Dec. 16: $2.99
Dec. 17: $3.99
Dec. 18: return to regular pricing at :$4.99
Dec. 14: £.99
Dec. 15: £.99
Dec. 16:£1.99
Dec. 17:£1.99
Dec. 18: return to regular pricing at £3.06

The Twelve Drabbles of Christmas Competition

Calling all drabblists!

The festive season is almost upon us and what better way to celebrate than with twelve of the finest Christmas themed drabbles? I am therefore looking for a drabble for each of the twelve days of Christmas to be posted here on my blog and for each one I post the winner will receive a £10 Amazon gift card.

To enter simply post your drabble in the comments section below. You can enter more than once, but only post the same drabble once. The prize is for each drabble used so you could win more than once. The drabbles should be related to Christmas in some way but can be from any genre - although extreme erotica should probably be avoided :-)

I'll pick the winners and post the first drabble on Christmas Day - so get writing!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Last Week to Enter December's Short Fiction Contest

Attribution: Bobamnertiopsis and Immanuel Giel
We're entering the final week for December's Short Fiction Contest so if you haven't entered yet then now is the time to do so! This month we have a bit of a fairy tale theme with the Hansel and Gretel silhouette which has already inspired some great entries. To enter you just need to write a story of no more than 500 words and submit it through the form provided on the competition page here:

There's no entry fee and the winning story will receive a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize. There are prizes for the second and third place winners as well.

The monthly contest isn't just for writers, readers get a treat to - in the form of some excellent stories. Check out last month's winners to see what I mean:

Friday 12 December 2014

Drabbles of Art - The Scream by Edvard Munch

As promised in last week's final post in the ABC Drabbles of Death series I have a new series of drabbles. In my monthly short fiction contest I post an image for other writers to create stories from so I thought I would do something similar. This series is an open ended one and each week I'll pick a work of art, some famous and others not so well known and write a drabble based on that work of art.

I should point out that I'm not trying to interpret what the artist had in mind - I'm creating a story I see when I view the work. Considering what I normally write Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' seems like an excellent place to start!

The Scream by Edvard Munch

And so the moment arrives and it isn’t what you’d expected.

You have searched for so long to see me. I’m not the fanciful glory you heard in stories when you were a child. You behold my true self and so witness a magnificence turning the sky to blood and the world to water.

You stare into my being and for the briefest instant you understand what it is you have discovered. You sought a secret and have found only truth – a truth beyond your simple imagining.

And now that you know, is it any wonder that you scream?

Thursday 11 December 2014

Book Review - Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks

I'd heard good things about this book and I wasn't disappointed. It's a well written sci-fi tale set in the near future. The main character isn't the most likeable of people but his motivations and struggles develop throughout the story in a well thought out way.

There's some interesting tech and associated issues at the core of the story - namely that of memory recording. It's also used to good effect for the flow of the story allowing flashbacks to integrate seamlessly into the plot.

My only real down point was the setting. California having been captured by the Chinese seems a bit unlikely and I would have liked to have learned more about how this came to be. Once into the story it didn't make any difference as it did make for an interesting setting. Although again a bit more of the culture clash would have made for interesting reading.

Apart from that the story is well paced and well written. It didn't suffer from any bloat. There's a good blend of technology and the human side and it ends in a decent fashion. I also enjoyed the mix of action and more contemplative side of the main character. Overall a recommended read.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

An Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist

Jonah Everitt is a killer, a DRMR addict, and a memory thief.

After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.

Mesa's abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war's early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.

In a city where peace is tenuous and loyalties are ever shifting, the past and the present are about to converge.

Click here to buy Convergence from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's a thrilling sci-fi read)

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Blog Shout Out - 100 Word Reviews

For this week's blog shout out Jonathan Hill tells about his 100 Word Reviews blog:

I love reading and writing fiction of all lengths. It was last year when I encountered drabbles for the first time. Defined as 100-word stories, these are a challenge to write but so satisfying when they work. I ended up publishing two books of drabbles, 100 One Hundred Word Tales and Beyond 100 Drabbles, the latter with fellow author Kath Middleton. As a self-confessed culture vulture, I also enjoy writing reviews for films, theatre and books. It suddenly occurred to me that I could combine the drabble and the review and write… a 100-word review, which is the basis for my blog,

We live in such a fast-paced world and most people do not have the time to wade through lengthy reviews to find their next piece of entertainment. 100-word reviews are so good because they can give a real flavour of something and take less than a minute to read. The reviews can be challenging to write and occasionally frustrating. Sometimes you have to miss out some of what you want to say. But, because of that, it makes you focus on the most important aspects and there is no room for beating about the proverbial bush. If something doesn’t work you just have to come out and say it. I believe reviews restricted by word limit in this way have a greater tendency to be transparent and honest.

My favourite post? That’s impossible to say! I enjoyed writing them all. The most satisfying reviews, to me, are the ones for things I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. I recently saw the film Gone Girl with no expectations whatsoever and it blew me away. I couldn’t wait to get my thoughts down in a review.

My most popular post? Again, it’s hard to say. They all seem to take turns in being liked, shared and tweeted. It’s great to see blog readers taking something from my reviews.

I believe the best blogs are the simplest so I intend to keep it crisp, straightforward and easy on the eye. I haven’t ruled out plans to set up a linked Facebook page and Twitter feed. Nor have I ruled out the possibility of guest reviews. These are all options for me to consider, time permitting. For now, though, it’s liberating being able to share my thoughts with the world.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Tuesday Tease - Dining Out Around the Solar System by Clare O'Beara

Clare O'Breara provides this week's Tuesday Tease with an excerpt from her collection of stories 'Dining Out Around the Solar System'.

Click on image to buy from Amazon

Dining Out Around the Solar System
by Clare O'Beara

Our editor George mentioned out of the hearing of other media representatives that he was intending to run an article on the SS Richard Montgomery shortly. The civil servant may have thought it was just another revisiting of an old theme. But George did not elaborate and the civil servant did not want to give the impression that there was more to the issue than the casual reference would have suggested. So George had done his duty. 

We published. 

Front page main headline, which in zine parlance is the splash; four inside pages.


Don’t blame us for the headline, that was a sub-editor’s job in most cases, and they were always aiming to grab attention.

We covered everything from the Heathrow congestion and planned new airport to the bird sanctuary interview; from the explosives off the Isle of Sheppey to the specialist off-planet team arriving to provide expertise.

The turn of the year meant that small pleasure craft would no longer ply the Thames Estuary. Where I would have picked summer for better weather, the worse weather meant fewer members of the public and small boats, a decided advantage when dealing with thousands of tonnes of explosives.

“You should know that.” Pietr sounded serious. “You guys find a great story like this in some different zine, it gets taken away from you and handed to me. You might get your names as researchers on the bottom. You find this story as a freelancer, what do you think happens?”

“We sell it?” Myron asked.

“You go to jail,” said Pietr.

We were invited out to the working boat. Myron and I looked at Pietr. 

“I’m not getting on any boats,” he said. “If you want to go, I believe these people will take good care of you. I’ll sit here with binoculars, if someone can find any.” One of the bluer of the workers promptly went and got him a pair, which had a removable adaptation to fit Neptunian shaped eyes.
Myron and I went happily along with our new friends. They took us to the marine engineering firm’s Portashells which were near the edge of the water. The engineers assumed that we had clearance and invited us to come in and get into drysuits. The water was cold and the wind-chill was increasing, and we would fare much worse if we were wearing normal clothes.

A RIB is a rigid inflatable boat, and this has an engine at the rear which pushes the nose up and out of the water as it bounces along at a great speed. This was a good-sized one and I realised that it must have an antigrav component because it never sank in the water though the team of Neptunians got on with us. The marine engineer steering it took us out to the dive boat, a large – to our eyes – vessel over a mile offshore. We sat back and gripped the rope lacings along the sides and breathed in salt spray air, grinning foolishly at our friends and each other. The RIB engine was so noisy that we couldn’t really talk but we were relishing being right down at water level, streaking across the Thames estuary, heading for the most dangerous boat in the world.

Click here to buy Dining Out Around the Solar System from Amazon US / Amazon UK

About the Author:

Clare O'Beara is a tree surgeon and expert witness, and a former national standard showjumper. She has qualified in ecology and includes environmental issues in some of her stories. She serves on the Royal Dublin Society Forestry and the Environment Committee. 

Clare is an award–winning writer of fiction and non–fiction, whose journalism work has been published in more than thirty countries. Her credits include Mensa Magazine and Mensa International Journal. 

2013 - Winner, Print Journalism in Ireland's National Media Awards.
2014 - Winner, Arkady Renko Short Story Contest.
Top 500 Reviewer:
In 2013 Clare independently published seven books of crime, science fiction and romantic suspense. In 2014 she published four more. Clare reads extensively and reviews books for Fresh She contributed a story to A Pint And A Haircut (Lon Dubh, 2010), an anthology in aid of Concern's Haiti fund. 

She lives in Dublin with her husband and cats.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Two Weeks Left to Enter December's Short Fiction Contest

Attribution: Bobamnertiopsis and Immanuel Giel
There's only two weeks left to enter December's short fiction contest. So if you haven't entered yet then it's time to get those creative juices flowing! The rules are simple - write a story of no more than 500 words based on this month's image. You then submit the story through the form provided on the contest page here:

There's no entry fee and the winning story will received a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize. There are prizes for second and third place as well.

The winners from November's competition have been announced and you can read the the stories here:

Sunday Story - Not Dead, Not Dead by Anita Dickason

Anita Dickason's story 'Not Dead, Not Dead' won third prize in April 2014's short fiction contest.

Not Dead, Not Dead by Anita Dickason

The doorbell ringing at 4am was not what I wanted to hear after two hours in bed.  The last three days had been hell, with little sleep and excessive cups of coffee.  The reason: Amanda Hawkins, age six, three days missing.  Following leads from the Amber Alert meant pounding the pavement, with an urgency of minutes passing with no success.  Being the police chief was not always a desk job.

Flipping on a light, I step out my front door.  Finding no one at my door did not improve my mood.  Seeing a creepy and battered old doll leaning against the porch rail added more irritation. The doll was a child’s nightmare come true: tangled grey hair, dirty and cracked face, black eye socket with an eye missing and a ragged looking dress.

Not having time to deal with someone’s idea of a prank, I turn to walk back in the house.  I hear a voice echoing in the dark: “not dead, not dead.”  Looking back, the doll’s one eye seems to bore into my very soul.  For a second I am disoriented, everything whirling around me.    Following an urge I did not understand, I pick up the doll.  Suddenly, I am no longer on the porch.  The doll is pulling me through a fog laden tunnel.  I have a momentary vision of the doll in a stark and barren room with peeling wallpaper and skulls hanging on the wall.  Another child is there.  Somehow, I knew the child had been abducted and tortured.  The doll is hers.  As the little girl dies, the doll changes from a pretty toy to the ghoulish figure I hold. The doll absorbed the horror of what happened to the child in that room.

The doll pulls me further into the tunnel to a street corner I recognize.  I walked this street talking to the Hawkins’ neighbors.  The street disappears and the tunnel ends in a basement.  I see Amanda lying on the floor, hands and feet are tied.  The voice repeats: “not dead, not dead.”  Before I can reach her, I am pulled back into the tunnel.  When my vision clears I am back on my porch still holding the doll.

At that moment I knew, with absolute certainty, where to find Amanda.  I had talked to the owner of the house during the neighborhood search.  Dropping the doll, I run to my car. I call for backup as I race to the location.  When the search team enters the house, I immediately head to the basement.  I find Amanda lying on the floor, just as I had seen her. She was alive and again I hear the voice, this time with a note of joy: “not dead, not dead.”

At home, I cannot find the doll.  It is gone.  As I ponder my incredible experience, for a brief instant I see the doll: desolate and alone, standing guard in a barren room of lost hope.