Battery Bob … Short story

Another taster story from my upcoming Canine Tales, Book Two in the Creature Tales collection. As can probably be assumed from the cover, many of the stories sit firmly in the blood and gore horror category, but sitting alongside them are several softer and more heart-warming ones. This is one such story …

 

Battery Bob

3D2Billy Marston had been a butcher’s boy before volunteering for France. At only 15 yrs. old, he’d lied about his age to join up, not that the recruiting sergeants inquired too closely when they suspected something amiss about a barely five ft tall youth claiming to be 17. They would inwardly smile at the boy’s naivety at thinking they had fooled anyone yet admiring their decision to try. It was just that sort of courage that would be needed for what was facing them

Billy wasn’t alone in doing that, so eager were most young men at the time wanting to go fight and for their country. But then, the real fighting had hardly started yet, they still had no idea; everyone thought it would all soon be over and they’d be home in time for Christmas.

After a mere two weeks’ training in some god-awful cold army camp along the South coast, Billy was passed out as ready and fit for action, a junior Gunner and assigned to an artillery battery.

Mum and dad, his little sister, Ruby, and the family dog, Bobtail, were all there to see him off for his journey to France.

Although the family dog, everyone knew Bobtail was really Billy’s dog. The two had been inseparable before Billy had gone away for his basic training. In fact, Billy’s mum and dad had joked he’d miss that bloody dog more than them.

Whether that was true or not, the little terrier had whined and moped around the whole time Billy had been away and seeing him once more was the first time since the little dog appeared happy. The truth was, Bobtail had no intention of being separated again from the boy who had raised and loved him from the first day he had opened his eyes as a tiny hand-sized puppy.

 

“Hey, boy, be home before y’know it, Bobtail,” Billy was telling the dog, stooping down on one knee to clasp his arms about him in one last hug before boarding the troop ship. Bobtail was licking at the boy’s face, his hands, furiously wagging its tail just like he used to as an excited puppy before reluctantly having to give up his attentions as Billy rose to his feet.

Like countless other parents that day, Billy’s mum and dad watched tearfully as their young son, still more boy than man, proudly marched across the gangplank with the last of his comrades to board the troop ship bound for the war in Europe.

Billy’s parents weren’t the only ones with tear-filled eyes. Bobtail too watched anxiously, seeing the figure of his beloved master disappearing from sight. He’d already spent two long weeks absent the boy’s loving hugs and playful belly rubs, determined not to be so any longer…

A sudden and unexpected pull of the leash Billy’s little sister was holding him by saw the dog break free. Cheering roars of approval accompanied Bobtail’s mad dash across the gangplank just moments before it was pulled away for the ship to set sail.

There was no way the captain or anyone else was going to delay the troop ship’s sailing while they searched it just to return one little dog. For better or worse, master and dog were both now bound for France …

 

“Well, Gunner Marston, this is a fine fucking mess, ain’t it boy?” the young soldier’s sergeant was bellowing at him, trying to mask his amusement with his sternest face and tone. Billy stood fixed to the spot, sure that he was more afraid of his sergeant than he would ever be of the whole German army.

Bobtail stood beside his master as if to attention too, his sorry ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ soulful brown eyes looking up at the human making all the noise. Despite the shouting, Bobtail could see kindness in the human’s eyes, sensing this was a good human beneath the stern exterior.

Sgt. Rickman looked down at the dog, their eyes meeting. He also had a dog back home and understood the bond that existed between Billy and the sorry looking dog looking back up at him. Still, he had to at least make some show of punishing the young gunner for the dog’s presence aboard the ship …

“Well, Marston, if you think the ship’s crew are gonna look after yer pet mutt y’can think again, laddy!” The sergeant paused for effect …

“I can tell y’now if this were a longer trip, the little fella would be fish food now!” Billy took an involuntary swallow, convinced Sgt. Rickman had some horrible punishment in mind.

“Still, what’s done is done. He’ll be your responsibility. You’ll be the one feeding and cleaning up after him and sharing your bunk and rations in case yer thought the army was gonna pay for his grub?”

Relief swept over the trembling young gunner, much preferring to keep Bobtail with him than be locked up in some room out of the way. Still, all he could think to say was: “Yes, Sergeant!”

“Okay. Be on yer way then,” the sergeant huffed, and then just as Billy was about to turn away, Sgt Rickman gave him a wink, and a hint of a knowing grin before he left. A beaming smile swept across Billy’s face as he and Bobtail made their way back to the troop quarters.

“Thanks, Sarge,” Billy had answered before closing the door before him, anxious to be away before the sergeant changed his mind.

Sgt. Rickman sighed and shook his head gently from side to side, wondering what would become of the two of them once they got to the front. He wasn’t hopeful about their chances …

 

scottie2They were a bit cramped in their bunks, but the boy soldiers all gave quite a cheer seeing the two of them come in. Little Bobtail had become a firm favourite among the lads, many of whom were no doubt missing their own dogs. Perhaps Bobtail was a little reminder of home for them? Needless to say, they all chipped in with scraps and titbits from their grub for the little dog that had become their unofficial mascot.

Bobtail absolutely loved all the attention and fuss he was getting. Of course, he still loved Billy the best, but this was like a whole new family for him, and he loved them all.

 

It wasn’t long before the troop ship was docking, and they all were marched off the ship to waiting trucks for the short drive to where their real soldiering would begin.

Bobtail was clearly becoming a little agitated, the sound of guns and artillery already in earshot even before they’d boarded the back of their transport. Billy held him close, and Bobtail seemed to calm down, safely wrapped up in his master’s arms.

“It’s okay boy, nothing’s going to hurt you, you’ll be safe with me, I promise,” Billy said softly, though far from sure he’d be able to keep that promise. Billy had been overjoyed to see Bobtail across the deck, but only now was he beginning to realise how much danger the little dog had put itself in by dashing aboard the ship to be with him. If it had been in his power to do so, Billy would have whisked the little dog right back home that moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t; whatever the enemy had to throw at them, they would face it together.

Billy doubted the little dog would ever be totally at ease with the sound of the guns and artillery shells, the sirens, or any of the deafening sounds of frontline warfare. He was immensely proud though of the way Bobtail was coping, no longer whining or barking at them now. In fact, Bobtail seemed to be coping a lot better than he was. Until now, Bobtail had pretty much kept out of the way other than to follow behind his master.

No one seemed to mind the extra couple of feet the unofficial battery mascot took up among them in the trenches and had now taken to calling him ‘Battery Bob.’ Even a few of the officers had taken to throwing Bobtail the odd titbit from the scarce rations, grateful for the morale boost he seemed to be giving the men.

After what they’d seen and done in the few days they’d been there, they had long since left their ‘boyhood’ behind them, however much they might have lied about their ages.

 

“We need a volunteer to run a telegraph wire to our forward battery trench to coordinate our advance,” Sgt. Rickman said as he addressed his troop. It wasn’t the sort of assignment anyone wanted to volunteer for. The trench the sergeant was referring too was some three hundred yards across the field of fire of snipers and the constant bombardment of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, so called for the black billowing smoke that accompanied their detonation.

A man made for too big a target running across the no man’s land, and stealthily crawling made him too slow a one, either way making him a sure and likely target. Nonetheless and knowing full well the danger, Billy stepped forward …

 

“Good lad,” Sgt. Rickman said.

In truth, Billy was the last one he wanted to volunteer. There were older and more seasoned soldiers better suited to the job, but he didn’t have time to argue and wouldn’t have been doing Billy any favourers showing him favouritism.

“Pass me the wire-roll end as soon as I climb up top,” Billy told the sergeant. Unnoticed by anyone, Bobtail trotted after him as Billy edged himself up and out over the top edge of their trench before someone passed him the wooden rod to which the one end of the telegraph wire was attached. Billy’s job would be to keep hold of it while it unfurled from the wire-roll back in the trench as he crawled through the mud-soaked and barbed wire strewed land. No one had any illusions as to Billy’s chances of making it, but equally, he had to try.

“Shoo, get back down, back in the trench, boy” Billy urged the little dog that had followed him up, trying to shoo him away with his hand too. For once, Bobtail ignored his master’s commands. Bobtail had seen others of the ‘family’ he’d grown to love try crawling across the no man’s land with such things … they hardly ever came back.

Bobtail lunged towards him, grabbing the rod and wire between his teeth before scurrying off into the night. Being little, Bobtail was no greyhound, but he could still run and dart in and out of the tiniest holes in the ground way faster and effectively than any human could.

Billy wanted to shout out to the little dog to call him back but knew that would only attract enemy fire in their direction. Sgt. Rickman too had popped his head above the parapet to see what was happening …

“What the f…?” Sgt. Rickman started to say.

“I’m sorry, Sarge, he just grabbed and run off with it before I could stop him.”

“It’s okay, lad, he’s going in the right direction. And honestly, he’s already got a lot farther than I thought you would, Marston,” the sergeant added, giving Billy a gentle nudge of the arm.

Bobtail completed the task like a seasoned professional, darting this way and that, occasionally stopping to take cover in one of the bomb blast craters before continuing. The whole operation took less than five minutes.

Through their field binoculars, Sgt. Rickman and Billy watched Bobtail make it all the way to the forward battery trench. Five minutes later they watched the plucky little pooch start on its return run, this time carrying a letters pouch, probably containing more detailed communications from their forward battery.

“Good, good dog, great job, love you little fella,” was all Billy could blubber over and over again, hugging and stroking Bobtail the moment he landed practically in Billy’s arms from jumping back down into the trench. Sgt Rickman took the letters pouch from around Bobtail’s neck to take them to the officer in command.

scottie3From that moment on, Bobtail was regarded as much a part of the artillery battery as any human soldier, a canine combatant that had won the hearts and admiration of its comrades.

*

Following the latest offensive, Billy had been catapulted headlong into one of the abandoned makeshift trenches by an exploding artillery shell. Knocked unconscious by the blast, Billy just lay there for several hours, assumed to have been killed by the rest of his battery which had been forced to retreat …

 

Billy had no idea what was washing over his face. He knew it wasn’t the poison gas, he’d either be dead or retching up his insides if it had been.

 

“Urgh,” Billy exclaimed in mock disgust, yet he really couldn’t have been happier. He would have recognised that wet slobbering tongue anywhere, though he did have a moment of panic, wondering if he was, in fact, dead and now reunited with his beloved Bobtail in heaven? But no, the dog’s scent and smell were that of a real flesh and blood creature.

They were both still in the land of the living, though from behind enemy lines, probably not for much longer Billy feared. He may have been alive, but the pain in his leg and blood-stained uniform was a sharp reminder their chances weren’t good. He knew he’d lost a lot of blood, and the effects of that were causing him to drift in and out of consciousness.

Bobtail licked at his face for a few moments. It surprised him when a second later his faithful dog suddenly turned tail to run back in the opposite direction towards their own lines of defence.

Billy was confused, though pleased Bobtail might have a chance of getting back to safety. A moment later, Billy passed out.

 

By the end of their time at the front, Bobtail had saved dozens, possibly hundreds of lives from his many runs between the trenches and across enemy territory, carrying vital information, and locating wounded soldiers.

Bobtail hadn’t deserted Billy in running back to the battery trench. As he’d done many times before by now, Bobtail had been sent out to use his acute sense of smell to try and find the wounded Billy in case he was still alive. Bobtail hadn’t failed and led Billy’s comrades right to him before their return to the UK to treat Billy’s injuries.

*

Bobtail had no idea what all the fuss was about, other than he couldn’t remember being happier, having so many lovely people patting him, giving him treats, and smiling.

He wasn’t so impressed with being plonked on a podium and some human he didn’t know placing a ribbon about his neck. Some metal thing was hanging from it too, but Billy seemed okay with it given the beaming smile and look of pride across his face.

If Billy was happy with then so was he, though he was tempted to pee over the other human’s arm to show his annoyance. Thankfully he didn’t.

 

“In honour of the brave actions of Bobtail, also known to his many friend and comrades as Battery Bob.” At that point, there was a spontaneous roar of laughter and approval from many of Billy’s – and Bobtails’ – comrades from the frontline. Bobtail gave a loud bark too, his tail wagging furiously in sync with his persistent yapping.

This was Bobtail’s moment, and Colonel Smythe who had been giving the speech wisely allowed the crowd their moment …

Smiling and giving a gentle rub and pat of Bobtail’s head before continuing: “I take immense pleasure in having presented our canine hero here with this medal for bravery in having saved innumerable lives and to express how proud and grateful to him we all are.” The villagers and crowd cheered their agreement.

Amid the cheering, Sgt. Rickman shouted in his loudest and most terrifying Drill Sergeant voice, “Three Cheers for Battery Bob.”

After several rounds of ‘Hip Hip Hoorays,’ Colonel Smythe concluded his speech with the simple words …

“Bobtail aka Battery Bob, we salute you.”

***

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Book Review – Of Wolves and Sheep.

My review of S.E. Meyer’s captivating novella …

Of Wolves and Sheep (Anna Wool Book 1)

click Here for Amazon US link – Here for UK link

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5stars Loved this terrifying little glimpse into a scarily all too possible future …

This novella lengthed tale of murder, personal and corporate greed, and a mysterious ‘Lonewolf’ character’s attempts to uncover the truth of a mysterious disease infecting the whole world eventually progresses to some startling revelations. Amid the wider story too, a lone detective, Anna Wool, is also looking for a more personal truth, of why her mother was murdered. 

There are many frightening themes touched upon in this story, namely those of the growing influence of social media, the internet, and other surveillance of our everyday lives to name but a few. Combine these with increasing corporate wealth and power, and the lengths to which the rich will go to maintain both, and you have the ingredients for a bleak and sinister future. Admittedly here they are taken somewhat further than in the present, but all the beginnings of the dystopian world in which detective Anna Wool lives can be seen in embryo in the world of today. 

While this reads well as a stand-alone story, it leaves plenty of scope and unanswered questions for Book 2 in the series. Anna Wool Book 1 would though more accurately be described as ‘part one’ of a longer story rather than book 1 of a series of stand-alone books, which isn’t made as clear as it might be from the Amazon description. For entertainment value and quality of writing, it gets a 5-star rating; the characterisation and dialogue are first-rate, and just the right level of excellent description and action to paint a visual picture of the story being told. However, I think it might have read better as a full novel, and for that reason alone, if there was a more precise rating system my overall rating would be, say, 4.7/8. Nonetheless, a darned good read and wider story premise with heaps of potential for further instalments, and certainly enough to entice me into buying Book 2 when it becomes available. 

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See below for S.E. Meyer’s social media links …

Twitter:  @SEMeyerBooks

Fb author page:  @semeyerbooks

Amazon profile:  S.E. Meyer Author page 

 

More about the author …

meyer2S. E. MEYER has been studying ancient civilizations and religions from around the world for over ten years. As a boy, Meyer grew up in the wilderness of northern Ontario Canada and spent his time learning how to hunt, fish, and survive in the north. He moved to the lovely state of Wisconsin at 18, where he has now spent his entire adult life.

Self-employed, a part-time consultant for the Department Of Defense, and now living in the northwestern part of Wisconsin with his wife and two sons, Meyer still loves the outdoors and tries to spend as much time there as possible.

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Gardening, campfires, travelling and fishing are some of his favourite things and Mr Meyer also loves to entertain; either by playing the guitar or through captivating stories on the page. Additional hobbies include reading non-fiction and fiction as well as spending hundreds of hours thoroughly researching the topics in his books.

S.E. Meyer is also a long-standing member and contributor to the IASD Fb group and its sister site at: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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(Pre-release) Book Review – Spectral State

Senan1Senan Gil Senan is an author who I’ve reviewed several times before, namely IASDpichis two-part (to date) highly acclaimed Outlander Sci-Fi series, and his equally well-received short story collection, A Stitch in Time

In addition to his regular writing, Senan Gil Senan is a regular reviewer and valued contributor to the IASD FB writing group and its sister site at:

  www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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Available for pre-order now prior to the 9th February launch date …

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stars5How ‘The Matrix’ might have turned out had it been written by Michael Crichton … Senan’s best yet!

SG9bA first-rate thriller that effortlessly blends elements of different genres. The central premise of the story definitely excels in the traditional thriller style, bringing into it rival intelligence agencies, international and domestic espionage, enemies both home and abroad, and a host of enigmatic characters, particularly several ex-military. Amid all the high-powered spying and covert warfare, there’s also a horrifically unpleasant brutal assault and murder that provides the catalyst for further events. Added to this more familiar framework, the author soon incorporates a variety of high-tech and speculative parapsychology/esp themes, adding a distinct ‘sci-fi’ feel to the story. Some of these ideas and technology, and indeed several of the characters, bear an obvious resemblance to elements of the Matrix, though minus all the ‘human battery’ nonsense I’m glad to say – I couldn’t help thinking at one point this might well have been how ‘The Matrix’ ended up had it originally been a Michael Crichton book. Indeed, early in the story the author deliberately plants those similarities in the reader’s mind with a few throwaway references, and yet, they are quickly expanded upon and treated in an entirely different and original way while drawing in other topical areas of research ie, quantum physics and nanotechnology, to enhance the story. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, with many of the original similarities with The Matrix re-emerging again in the latter part of the story, but again, retaining their own originality. 

The central character, Hano, at first seems like a most unlikely hero or main protagonist, and certainly no ‘Neo,’ at least not initially. Superficially, Hano couldn’t be more different to his potential colleagues – young, no military background, lacking ambition, and socially awkward/shy on account of some unspecified level of autism, possibly linked to the unique talents that lead to his recruitment as a ‘remote viewer’ with a secret government agency. 

For such a clever and ambitious storyline, the author avoided over-complicating things, and I found it surprisingly easy to follow. I was particularly impressed too by the way in which the author handled Hano’s autism, treating it as just another descriptive aspect of his character/persona, alluding to it only where necessary in the same way being young or old, male or female, or even tall or short might be relevant in a story. The science/tech aspects were subtly explained/shown without too much ‘info dumping,’ and again, pretty much at a level that might be expected for the sort of reader with at least a modicum of interest in science and technology, but not obviously beyond the average layman in such areas. Likewise, the military action/characters were not over-emphasised to the point of turning the book into a semi-military story, though having said that, the one tiny reservation I had here was that there were times when some of the military characterisations, fight scenes, and confrontations felt a little ‘skimmed over’ (though better that than over-elaborating and getting stuff wrong), and where, if I’m honest, I felt the author was slightly ‘winging’ it in that respect. Thankfully it didn’t spoil the writing or story in any way, just one tiny area where there might be a little room for improvement in any future/similar books of what has the potential for a cracking good series.

Though I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books, this latest ranks as his best to date in my opinion. An easy and well-deserved 5 stars!

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To follow Senan Gil Senan  elsewhere on social media, please see below: 

Blog: www.senagilsenan.wordpress.com

Twitter: @AngusCactus

Amazon: Sean Gil Senan author page

 

More about the author …

Senan Gil Senan believes that it is the job of a writer to visually transport a reader to a place he or she is unlikely to venture. Then without alienating them, it is to introduce them to a pattern of thought that may differ from their own.

SGSamazonHis writing is not typical of the science fiction and dystopian genres. It is more visionary, in that it examines the effect of technology and bio-engineering on future society. He is an adamant believer that humans will integrate more and more with technology in order to keep up with the deluge of technological advances created by the advent of artificial intelligence. He believes that this emergent sentience will be shaped by human interaction, much the same as a child.

His own interests include psychology, noetic science, physics, theology & philosophy and ancient history. He agrees with RR Martin who said that any writer who is looking for an intriguing character, a gripping scenario or plot twist, needs to look no further than the pages of a history book.

He was named Senan, by his father Patrick Gilsenan who thought that the name would look good on the cover of a book. He was an Irish printer who yearned to see his own prose and poetry appear in print. Sadly he died before achieving either ambition. Senan left behind the beauty of Sligo in Ireland to set off for London and oblique strategy of career choices. These included working fourteen years as a computer systems engineer. He has also worked as a self-employed financial trader, a writer, an employment adviser, and as a bar manager. He still lives in South London with his wife and family.

Short story – Blind Devotion

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Another short story taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales: A  Growling Pack of Hungry Horrors, book 2 in my Creature Tales collection (due out the end of March this year).

Blind Devotion

puppy1Lucy first met her master to be as a wee young pup, no bigger than a palm-sized tiny ball of mischievous fur, but with a heart as big as the world. In stark contrast to the gorgeous golden coat of fur starting to emerge, she had the sort of big beautiful brown puppy eyes that made you instantly fall in love with her.

The introduction was to see if she immediately took to the man whose life she would hopefully transform. From the moment she was placed on the couch beside him, Lucy nestled up beside his leg. The man sitting there instinctively reached down to caress and stroke her back. Lucy liked that, turning to lick his hand. It was clear from the start they were going to be a good match when the time came.

Vince Downing had slowly been losing his sight for several years. It was just a matter of time, perhaps a year to eighteen months at most before the last flicker of light disappeared forever. He wasn’t bitter about it, just one of those things, the luck of the draw as he would say. But he already missed his independence and hoped a guide dog would at least help make him less reliant on others. In return, he would love and care for that dog with every fibre of his being; like Lucy, he had the kindest nature you could hope for in a man, or indeed a dog too. Thankfully, Vince still had enough sight left to cope with the 12 months of puppy raising before she went off to the training centre. It practically broke his heart when the time came to wave his faithful companion off after guide dog trainer, Chris Morton, arrived to collect her.

 

puppy2Lucy had been a dream to work with, and Chris Morton would be sorry to see her go, more than he cared to admit even to himself. He’d made the cardinal mistake of any trainer in becoming overly fond of one of his charges. Lucy too had grown to love the man who had patiently taught her all she knew, but even so, Chris was a sighted man, and would never need her in the way she was being trained for. Lucy understood this.

She was a natural for the job; it wasn’t that she was some blindly obedient canine equivalent of a sat-nav, she had a wilful and mischievous playful streak, but when it came to the important stuff, she instinctively knew what was expected. Come ‘playtime’ though, she always enjoyed the rewards of all the hard work she was putting in. But after nearly 9 months of obedience and guidance training, Lucy was ready to fulfil the role she’d been earmarked for when her loveable nature and extraordinary intelligence had first been remarked on.

The timing was fortuitous – Vince had less than 5 per cent of his sight now and had officially registered as fully blind. All that was forgotten though when Chris brought Lucy back. Vince recognised her bark immediately.

 

“Hello, my Lucy, I’ve missed you so sooooo much, girl,” Vince said, kneeling to give her a welcoming stroke of her back. Lucy licked at his hand, just like she used to when he was puppy raising her. Now though, she held her boisterous personality in check – no sudden jumping up at him or quite the same playful nature as before. Lucy had been taught well; she knew her master’s limitations and her role as his guide and protector.

For the next three years, the two of them were very happy together. Lucy was everything Vince could have wanted in a guide dog, and just as importantly, as faithful a friend and companion as ever lived.

With all the modern technology and speech to text software available, Vince was able to continue his career as a successful writer. With several best-sellers to his name, Vince was now a very wealthy man. Such success had attracted a lot of interest of late, though in the most recent case, not from a good source. In a recent interview, the subject of his blindness had come up, something a certain career criminal by the name of Dean Smith had picked up on. Dean was a thief, burglar, and one-time street robber, the last of which he’d given up when one of his victims decided to fight back. Nowadays he was far more selective about his victims, usually picking the elderly or otherwise vulnerable. Vince Downing sounded like a perfect candidate.

Though not the smartest guy in the world, Dean knew his way around a keyboard and the internet and was soon able to discover the well-to-do address where Vince lived. A quick check on StreetView showed it to be an expensive house too, no doubt filled with valuables. He made his plans accordingly …

 

It seemed like the perfect night to put his plans into operation. Months of planning and preparation, and exploiting Vince’s blindness, had allowed him to neutralise the problem of Vince’s burglar alarms and other security measures. His only concern was Vince’s guide dog. Observation had revealed she had free run of the extensive gardens to the back of Vince’s house day and night. Dean figured that throwing  several pieces of drugged meat in them enough to keep her quiet on the night; his first thought had been to simply lace said meat with some fatal poison, but he’d read somewhere that if he used enough to ensure death, a dog’s acute sense of smell might alert it to the danger. On the other hand, if he used less than a significant amount, he’d have no way of knowing how long it would be to take effect. Reluctantly, Dean opted for lacing it with a sleeping draft, harmless in the long-term, but sufficient to knock her out long enough to rob Vince’s house without interference once inside. As it happened, his plan worked better than he could have hoped for. Lucy enthusiastically devoured the bait, quickly succumbing to its effects.

Noticing the increasing lethargy of his beloved companion, Vince wasted no time in calling for a vet, and Lucy’s trainer, Chris Morton. The fact that she simply appeared ill rather than there being any obvious effects of being poisoned, it didn’t arouse the same sort of suspicion that would have followed the latter.

Dean was watching from inside his van at a discreet distance when both the vet and Lucy’s trainer arrived. Shortly afterwards, the dog was taken away in the veterinary ambulance with Chris in attendance. Vince had wanted to go too but had reluctantly accepted Chris’s assurances that he would stay with her until the vets gave the okay to bring her home.

Vince was now in the house alone. It was already getting late and the time Vince usually went to bed. Nonetheless, Dean waited another hour, not being able to rely on the usual turning off of lights to indicate Vince going to bed as he would with a sighted person.  Dean figured though on having several hours at the very least, and more probably until the next day before the dog was likely to be returned home. Still, he was anxious to get in and out asap; the last thing he wanted was to wait too long and risk being interrupted in the middle of a robbery. With the alarms already taken care of and the dog out of the way, Dean made his way through the rear garden, entering the house via one of the back doors. That was the point where things started to go awry. Dean had been wrong to think Vince would simply go to bed, knowing his beloved Lucy might be fighting for her life. Of course, he hadn’t gone to bed. What would be the point given the worry and turmoil raging through his mind? Even so, being worried and anxious wasn’t enough to stop Vince from picking up on the faint noise Dean was making as he rummaged through Vince’s study and other rooms to the rear of the house, assuming the occupant to be asleep upstairs. It was perhaps that same worry and anxiety that prevented Vince from thinking straight; he had a panic button/app on his mobile phone to trigger an alert to the local police station, but he’d left it in the kitchen, and instead. instinctively called out …

“Hello, is someone there?” Dean froze. The voice sounded like it had come from close-by, an adjacent room maybe, but certainly a downstairs one. The sensible thing to do would have been to get the hell out. But not Dean. He had invested a lot of time and effort into this job and wasn’t about to give it up.

In the semi-dark, he worried that Vince might have an advantage in a confrontation and switched a light on to see better. He took an involuntary gasp at seeing Vince standing in an opposite doorway just a few feet away.

“Please, I know someone’s there. Please, just go, I won’t call the authorities or anything,” Vince pleaded. Again, Dean was being given a second chance to cut his losses and run.  Instead of taking it, he instinctively lunged and struck Vince with the flashlight he was still holding. It was a hard blow that sent him crashing to the ground and combined with the force his head hit the polished wooden floor, a fatal one too. It wasn’t how he had planned things, but Dean knew he could dispense with being so quiet now and proceeded to ransack the house for any cash or high-value items.

Chris tried phoning Vince later that night to let him know Lucy had had her stomach pumped and would recover just fine. There was no answer. He guessed Vince must have gone to bed, and so elected to return with Lucy the next morning. Again, there was no answer to the doorbell. Lucy was barking loudly; not the usual enthusiastic barking that you might expect from being reunited with her owner, but a more urgent and agitated sort, so Chris used the key Vince had given him to let himself in. As soon as the door opened, Lucy pulled free of Chris and ran inside to where Vince was lying. Had he simply been unconscious or asleep, Lucy would have licked at his face, nudging him with her nose to try and waken him, but Lucy knew the smell of death, and that her beloved owner wasn’t going to be getting up to stroke and caress her ever again. She slumped beside him, softly whining. Chris joined them a moment later, kneeling to take Vince’s pulse to check for life despite the futility; he could see from Lucy’s body language and lack of interaction with her owner that Vince was surely dead.

 

Chris Morton was not happy with the decision to assign Lucy elsewhere quite so soon after her owner’s death, especially given that Vince had left him his house and a large sum of money for Lucy’s future care and veterinary bills. Ideally, he would have liked to take Lucy himself, allowing her to continue living in the home she had shared with her former master. But guide dogs possessed exceptional qualities and were expensive to train. There simply weren’t enough of them to go around, and not to reassign her would be too much of a waste. Chris understood the reasoning and agreed to introduce her to a prospective new owner.

The man in question had recently been blinded in a street attack, acid thrown in his face according to the file. While feeling sorry for the man, Chris couldn’t help but wonder might have provoked such a vicious attack. It could of course have just been another senseless act of violence, but if not, it worried him then just what sort of man he would be leaving Lucy with? He forced himself to put the thought from his mind as he made his way to the man’s apartment.

There was no garden for her to play in, and the area was in the poorer part of town, not the sort of place he would want for Lucy. But rich and poor alike were deserving of the very best help they could get, and if he was a decent sort, there was no reason to believe Lucy wouldn’t adapt and be just as happy as she had been with Vince.

The meeting was short and perfunctory. The man seemed to have little interest in asking questions about Lucy’s care other than how much it cost to feed a mutt? Lucy for her part didn’t display the usual degree of curiosity and affection either when meeting someone new for the first time. Oddly, she seemed more interested in sniffing about the man’s apartment, in his closets and cupboards like a sniffer dog looking for drugs. After completing a few formalities, Chris reluctantly left Lucy in the man’s care, determined not to allow his misgivings to influence him.

 

Lucy was guiding her new master to some local street corner. To exactly where and what for, Lucy had no way of knowing, her job was to simply ensure he got to wherever he was walking without mishap. It was night, and while that made no difference to the man at the other end of the leash, it was not ideal for Lucy guiding him.

They stopped at a crossing. Despite the late hour, there was a lot of noise and activity, too much for the audible warning to either wait or cross to be heard. Lucy could see and hear the approach of the oncoming bus. A gentle tug on her lead was the cue for her master that it was safe to cross. A split second later he caught the full force of the bus, killing him instantly. Thankfully, Lucy had managed to jump back in the nick of time, her leash immediately dropped from her master’s grasp at the moment of impact, and so she remained safe. The police and an ambulance quickly arrived on the scene, but too late. Lucy had stayed put where she was just as she was trained to do. The emergency service staff arranged for Lucy to be returned to the guide dog training centre as per the information on her dog tag. 

Back at the centre, there was some discussion on how such an accident could have occurred. Lucy was by far the best guide dog they had ever trained, but Chris was able to successfully argue that given the circumstances, Lucy could no longer be relied upon in the role. No one objected to Chris applying for her custody.

 

Epilogue …

Subsequent investigations into the background of Lucy’s second deceased master threw up some interesting results. A search of his apartment revealed several items stolen from Vince Downing’s house along with forensic and DNA evidence linking him to the tragic robbery and murder. It was those same items that had almost certainly prompted Lucy to immediately start sniffing around the apartment when Chris first took her there. Some remnant of Vince’s scent was probably what had alerted her, though Chris was hardly to know that at the time. Speculation immediately arose as to whether Lucy may have deliberately allowed Dean Smith to walk into oncoming traffic, leading to do his death?

There were a few jobsworth officials who tried to insist that Lucy might be a danger to people and since, for obvious reasons, Lucy could not be questioned on the matter, it might be best to have her put down. On the other hand, the consensus was that Dean had got exactly what he deserved. There was little doubt either that the acid attack had most likely been related to his criminal activities, and besides, any suggestion of taking action against Lucy would have outraged every dog and other animal lover in the country. The last thing any Texas judge wanted was to be the first in the world’s execution capital to be the voted out of office by the dog vote.

To this day, Lucy still sleeps on her favourite rug in the exact spot where her former master, Vince, had died.

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For more canine-themed stories – some sad, some savage, and others more subtle – keep tuned for:

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Publication date – 31st March 2019

Flash Fiction story – Bad Review

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Based on an Fb news post that was shared with my ISAD writing group, I decided to apply a little of the ‘Rudders Writing’ touch to it.  Hope you enjoy it …

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Bad Review

typewriter2Sonia Dixon just loved to read. Her favourite genre was crime and murder, the bloodier and gorier the better. She was also a successful author, blogger, and reviewer, and just as she strove to produce the very best in her own writing, she demanded it too in the many books she was sent for review on her blog.

The cover and blurb for ‘Piling up the Bodies’ by Nick Hazelwood had promised much but delivered little. In fact, it was by far the worst book she’d read since she couldn’t remember when. Unfortunately, Nick hadlittlerat1 already been blogging and posting that the famous authoress, Sonia Dixon, was eagerly devouring his debut novel, even before she’d read the first page. In doing so, Nick had made it difficult for her to privately message him with a polite ‘it’s not really my thing, sorry. Good luck with your future writing.’

Well okay, he would get his public review …

 

‘A great idea for a story but poorly handled. The methods of execution and body disposal were too bland for me. Personally, I prefer something a little more imaginative than simple bludgeoning and dismembering and feeding the bodies to the dogs? Sorry, but not my cup of tea.’

 

To say Nick Hazelwood wasn’t pleased with the review of his literary masterpiece would be the mother of all understatements. He imagined all manner of horrible things he would do to the high and mighty Sonia Dixon, ways of killing her far worse than that of any of his literary victims, though not of course before giving her a piece of his mind on how wrong she was about his fantastic book. With the aid of social media, it was a straightforward matter tracking down the address of a high-profile authoress. It was a bit out of the way, some farm in the middle of nowhere in fact. That suited his purposes perfectly …

 

Living in the remote highlands of Scotland, Sonia Dixon wasn’t used to visitors, so was more than a little intrigued at who might be at the door …

 

“Hello, can I help you?” she asked the man standing before her. It wasn’t anyone from one of the neighbouring farms, and yet, he looked familiar, though she couldn’t remember from where

 “Call yourself a writer?” Nick screamed at her, “what’s wrong with feeding body parts to the dogs? All the crap you write is more like the stuff of cheap, second-rate B-movie horror scripts.”

“Uh?” was her first response, not sure of what else to say?

“It’s writers like you who keep readers hooked on a diet of cliched rubbish while real talent goes undiscovered.” Sonia Dixon was confused. Yes, she’d heard the same old drivel a thousand time before, but only online, not on her fucking doorstep. Then the penny dropped, his mention of feeding bodies to the dogs. She remembered where she’d seen him before, well, his blog avatar anyway.

“Don’t you think it would have been more appropriate to say all that in an email rather than travelling hundreds of miles? Or did you just want to be offensive in person?” That wasn’t the response Nick had expected. She was supposed to be scared, terrified even of what was going to happen next, just like his literary victims. Instead, she was mocking him, just like she’d done in her review. He was about to push past her when she invited him in.

“Why don’t we discuss your issues inside? I’ll make you a nice cup of tea while you calm down, and then we can talk about your book and the review.” Nick nodded his agreement. The first thing he noticed were the shelves and shelves of ‘true and unsolved’ crime books lining the walls and every little nook and cranny. Meanwhile, Sonia had made her way to the adjacent kitchen. Nick kept her in his sight, checking she wasn’t using her mobile to call for help. Actually, that was the last thing on her mind. A few minutes later she returned with their tea.

 

Nick was too drowsy from the sleeping pills she’d slipped him to see the blow coming. A solid whack with a poker to the back of his head had put an immediate end to his now slurred droning of how wrong she was about bludgeoning victims to death and feeding them to the dogs.

 

One week later …

block1Nick’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. ‘Writer’s Block’ had been crippling Sonia Dixon’s creativity, not that that stopped readers from screaming for another blood and gore fest horror from her. Thanks to Nick, she was now several thousand words into what she hoped would be another best-seller. She had to admit, elements of Nick’s story had worked a treat for her. She only had the one dog, ChiChi, a pint-sized sausage dog, and hardly big enough to devour a whole man, but she did have several pigs that fulfilled the role even better.pigs1

She made a note to write more scathing reviews in the future, especially for when the dreaded Writer’s Block hit again.

 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like this, please stay tuned for:

Scheduled for publication, June/July 2019

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Short Story – A taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales, book2 in The Creature Tales collection …

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Still some final edits to go, but a little preview taster story from Canine Tales, book 2 of my Creature Tales collection – Twenty-four ‘canine-themed’ tales, drawing their inspiration from mythology, folklore, and traditional horror: tales of touching loyalty sit alongside those of throat-ripping savagery, from the modern day all the way back to Biblical times.

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Cerebus

df1There aren’t words to accurately portray the sheer viciousness of an organised dog-fight. Think of the most brutal boxing or cage fight you ever saw. Now imagine that fight being fought bare-knuckle instead of gloved, and the fighters wearing sharp protruding rings on their hands to rip at their opponents’ face, eyes, and body. There are no rounds between which wounds or injuries can be attended, no referee to ensure fairness or enforce the rules – there are no rules.

Perhaps not since gladiatorial Rome had such barbarism existed for viewing entertainment, and even then, at least those combatants knew why they were fighting, with the remote possibility of freedom or some reward for putting on a good show. Imagine all this multiplied a thousand times, and still it won’t come close to the bloody spectacle of a dog-fight.

Seven such dog-fights had taken place the night Geoff Richards’ life was to change, quite literally forever.

It had been another profitable show, not even marred by two of the combatants having died from their injuries. Geoff had made a lot of money and was proud it was two of his own Staffordshire Bull Terriers that had been the ones to inflict those fatal outcomes. They had been hard fights though. Every dog that had taken part fought with a savagery to match that of any wild born creature. But Geoff’s dogs, they were something entirely different. If it weren’t that every combatant was checked over before a match, the baying spectators and other dog owners, or ‘dogmen’ as they called themselves, would have sworn Geoff’s hounds were either possessed or infected with some maddening rabid disease, making them fight like the devil. Even so, there was no occult or extraordinary secret to Geoff’s dogs’ extreme savagery other than the dogman’s willingness and determination to use every trick in the book to make them so. He gave no thought of the long-term health problems in using the same anabolic steroids he used in his own bodybuilding to increase their muscle mass and aggressiveness. Like most fighting dogs, Geoff’s were devoid of any social skills from having been raised in isolation, mostly at the end of short heavy chains. But even without the drug-induced ‘roid-rage,’ such a life was practically guaranteed to produce brutalised hate-filled creatures or ‘canine killing machines’ as he liked to call them.

In many ways, Geoff Richards was a man born out of his time. He would have been more in his element amid the Victorian London seedy alehouses, when and where all manner of such barbarous blood sports were at their height of popularity, and more shamefully, were as legal and accepted as placing a bet on the horses is today. A century later though, a more civilised society had moved on; the likes of Geoff and his fellow dog fighting enthusiasts had not.

After the usual night’s drinking, settling of bets lost and won and the swapping of fight and other dog-related stories that followed such an event, Geoff made his excuses and left. He faced a long drive home from the remote farm where this latest dog fighting horror had taken place, one of many such venues where fans of the supposed ‘sport’ could indulge their perverse fascination with such heinous cruelty.

Getting into his car was the last thing Geoff remembered from his life as a dogman.

 

Were it not for the immediate danger, Geoff would have given more thought to where he was and how he came to be there, but such trivial concerns were the last thing on his mind at the moment …

They were getting closer. Never had Geoff seen such a ferocious looking pack of dogs, which for a dogman, was quite something. He counted three, but it was difficult to tell given the darkness and remote location. Still, the roar-like bellowing of distant, angry growls and snarls made him think there might be several more just out of sight. He knew it would be a hopeless task attempting to outrun them if they gave chase, but an instinct for survival compelled him to try.

 

Three-headed dog Cerberus.Mention the name Cerebus and most people if they’ve heard it before would likely tell of some mythical three-headed beast of a dog guarding the gates of Hell. Of course, no one believed such myths now despite the test-tube monstrosities presently being created in rogue laboratories across the world. Nor do most still believe in the concept of Hell, except perhaps ones of their own making.

It was quite a shock then when Geoff Richards found himself confronted with both; the sight standing before him was several orders of magnitude more frightening than the horror he had just run from, only to see it leap and land to his front. It was another shock to realise too it had not been three dogs he had seen, but one enormous three-headed monster, the like of which defied even the darkest imagination. The creature’s teeth would have glistened like finely sharpened ivory tusk-sized fangs but for being coated with copious amounts of foul-smelling drool, mixed with the still warm blood of its last meal. Everything Geoff’s father had ever said about never showing fear to a dog, that they were more afraid of you, suddenly seemed absurd. Only an imbecile wouldn’t have trembled before the monstrous sight towering over him. Geoff doubted that even the Devil himself could induce the slightest fear in this particular dog, wondering if this was indeed the Devil himself in canine form. He was not far off the mark in his speculations …

Cerebus was a great favourite of Satan and was confident the Horned one would let him keep this mortal dross for his own savage amusement. Oh yes, Cerebus had grand plans for the quivering frail man creature.

 

Geoff was past any hope he might soon wake up from his starring role in the bloody nightmare unfolding around him. Cerebus had bellowed another mighty growl, the deafening intensity of which had sent Geoff fleeing for all his worth, headlong into the dark of the surrounding woods. It was only the fire and lightning illuminating patches of the ground and sky that made it possible for Geoff not to hurtle face first into some tree trunk or tumble head over heels. But whatever benefit the flames of the fire provided in the way of light, it took back in other ways. Great wafts of smoke drifted and blew all directions, sometimes obscuring his vision, but mostly filling his lungs to the point of choking. Still, it was a relief there seemed no open space where the creature he had just fled might reappear. Sadly, for Geoff, that relief wasn’t to last.

df2A new pack of growling hounds had appeared. They were immeasurably smaller than Cerebus, and yet, they seemed all the more terrifying for their seemingly normal size up close. This time there were no heavy chains to keep the dogs in check or a weapon with which he could defend himself should a dog go rogue on him. At any other time, he would have felt embarrassed by the slow trickle of urine now escaping his bladder, but given the circumstances, it was quite inconsequential. Geoff knew Cerebus could snuff out his life with a single swipe of a paw, or rend his body into a dozen pieces in the blink of an eye if it chose – either would be a quick and merciful death – but these, they were of a size that made it possible for Geoff to perhaps offer some token resistance, enough to drag out his suffering several more agonising minutes.

They were circling him now, making it impossible for Geoff to know from which direction the first bite or clawing would come. Before he knew it, teeth and nails were ripping through his soiled trousers, simultaneously shredding the flesh from his lower legs even as he felt his body falling to the ground. More bites quickly followed, more rending of flesh by sharp claw-clad paws, but now, all about every part of his body.

And then, quite suddenly, the attack stopped, the dogs’ angry growling silenced by a more thunderous one from God knows where. Just as suddenly, the dogs scampered away into the night. Geoff didn’t know whether to be relieved for the however brief respite or further terrified that instead of a quick death, it would be an excruciatingly slow and painful one from the savage mauling he had suffered. Oddly though, the pain was beginning to subside ever so slightly, and looking down and about his bloodied legs and torso, neither was pouring out blood as he expected. His mind returned to the dogs that had just attacked him. Now that he had a moment to think, he was reminded of the many dogs he had trained to fight, and that same look of wretchedness of their opponents. Those minute details started to haunt his mind: the ripped ears and every old wound and battle scar screaming of a violent and savage past. They were clearly fighting dogs, dogs that had taken part in battles to the death, and evidently the victors in such battles. Even with his own steroid fuelled pit bull like physique, he doubted now if he really could have fended them off for any amount of time had they continued their attack. For now, he was simply glad of the chance to rest. Everything started to go black as lay back on the grass …

*

“It’s an unusual case,” Dr Ronald Marsh was telling his attentive audience, students from the sanatorium’s neural studies department. “Despite the patient’s comatose state, he’s prone to violent thrashing about, hence the use of the restraints while we sedate him. He should remain quiet now for several hours.” Geoff was strapped down on a gurney, like some state prisoner about to be administered a lethal injection. Were such an action able to release him from his nightmare state, Geoff would have gladly accepted it.

“And he’s been like this for how long?” asked one of the students.

“Seventeen years now to the day since he was dragged from the burning car he’d crashed. I can’t imagine the traumas running through his mind to invoke such reaction, even under heavy sedation.”

Though loath to admit it, the sanatorium staff thought it might be a mercy to their comatose patient to ‘gently slip away’ in his sleep one quiet night. They weren’t to know that Geoff’s many years of suffering were just a prelude to his eventual arrival in a realm beyond that of his mortal mind and body. However long he had or was destined to suffer his nightmares, it would seem like a fleeting moment in comparison to the eternity that awaited.

*

Geoff wasn’t sure how long he’d slept but he was sure it had been several hours, maybe longer given how much better he felt. His body no longer hurt or ached. As his mind brushed aside the cobweb strands that briefly tie us between that half-way state between sleep and consciousness, memories of his ordeal with the dogs came flooding back. Hell, that was some nightmare, he thought, judging from the drenching of stale sweat he was lying in. Still, it was over, time to get up. He went to pull back the bedclothes he assumed would be covering him. They weren’t there, and he felt cold – much colder than if he were back in his own bed if that was the case? Nor was he lying on some nice comfortable mattress. Whatever it was, it was stone hard and icy too. Perhaps’ he’d fallen to the floor in his sleep? Geoff raised himself up. All he had to do was turn on a light and this nightmare would be done with. He’d barely taken two steps when a sudden and painful jolt to his ankle stopped him in his tracks. He reached down to feel what it was. He was chained by the ankle to what felt like a rock-like wall, the sort of chain he used to tether his dogs before a match. His eyes were adjusting to the dark and he could see he was in some sort of pit, about 20 or so feet square, much like the pits many a dog fight took place. Coincidence? Geoff thought not. He was still in his nightmare, albeit seemingly recovered from the last part of it, but equally dreading what might be coming next? He didn’t have long to wait to see just what.

Fires sprung up to the sides of the pit, while a rapid succession of lightening sparks lit up the sky. Hideous faces started to appear, peeking over the pit wall with an intense look of curiosity. More startling though was the gradual appearance of dozens of rats, emerging from scores of little cracks in the pit walls. Soon there were far too many to count. Was this to be his next ordeal, to be attacked by rats? For the moment they seemed mildly indifferent to him. Directly opposite to where Geoff was standing, part of the pit wall started to crumble before his eyes. Through the rubble of the crumbled wall, several pit bull dogs scampered over the ruins. They were smaller than the last pack, but what they lacked in size they made up for in numbers, six in total. Geoff recalled reading of such spectacles, of monumental rat baiting battles where some rat killing dog would kill scores of the loathsome creatures in quick succession. Is that what this was about, to be made to witness such horror first hand? But no. Something was wrong. Rats and dogs alike seemed totally at ease with the others’ presence. One by one, their eyes focussed on Geoff. The dogs slowly started their approach while the rats darted back and forth about his feet. This time, the ordeal was to last much longer. There was no outright attack, more a slow wearing down as the rats and dogs intermittently nipped away at him, sapping his strength while the life and blood gradually drained from his body. Geoff knew he wouldn’t die though, at least not from any horror in his nightmares. Memories lingered of countless other such encounters. Once again, he recalled hazy images of hospital staff sticking needles into him, of white-coated doctors and nurses during those brief moments when he would occasionally emerge from his comatose state. Those fleeting memories were enough for him to realise everything that was happening was just in his mind, even if the pain was a real as any he remembered from his previous life. It was made worse knowing too that the current terror could and probably would continue till the levels of sedation from the hospital staff were sufficient to plunge his mind into darkness again. As always, Geoff prayed the level might finally be a fatal one.

 

Such nightmares continued through the years, too long for Geoff to know just how many? They no longer shocked him in the same way, not that that diminished the pain each time. Sometimes it was rats, others it was insects crawling about his body, but mostly it was the biting and clawing of the dogs that was to be his ongoing punishment. His only solace lay in the fact that his body would die someday, and with it his mind too, that he’d one day be free of the nightly creature inflicted torments. It suited Cerebus to allow the comfort of that belief to continue till such time as Geoff did indeed die. But there was never to be the eternal peace the dogman craved so desperately. The three-headed canine lord had promised its growling minions as much, and whatever else, Cerebus was a demon of its word.

 

Such was the vileness of Geoff’s ‘business,’ Satan Himself had taken an interest in the comatose man, initially seeing great promise in him. Such evil depravity in the heart of man might make for another fine minion of Hell, Satan had thought. But the dark one had misjudged the mortal creature he had shown interest. Had Geoff truly revelled in the cruelty and torture he made his living by, been the sort of man who took pride in being an offence to all that was good and decent, then indeed he might have been worthy to sit by Satan’s side. But Geoff Richards was none of these things. Looking into his soul, Satan saw him to be everything he loathed in mankind. Unlike a few of his fellow dogman who were both evil in mind and heart as well as deed, despite appearances, Geoff was a coward of the worst kind; he made a pretence of honest respectability, and while he took no pleasure in the suffering of those poor creatures at the sharp end of his activities, neither was he repulsed. Instead, he was utterly indifferent, his sole motivation being money and the luxurious lifestyle it provided. No, he was just another sick greedy bastard – a worthy inhabitant of Hell by any means, but not one to enjoy the prize of Satan’s favour. Cerebus was welcome to him.

The old saying, that the Devil looks after his own, wasn’t just applicable to the Lord of the underworld. Cerebus’s drool dripping tongues swirled around its three jaws, salivating at the prospect of the dog fighting Geoff’s arrival in Hell, the real Hell, where the three-headed demon would be waiting … they may not have had much of a life in Geoff’s world, but every dog he’d ever trained, or those others that had died fighting his ‘trained canine killers’ would be waiting too, as would every other creature ever to suffer at the hands of a cruel master, waiting their turn with the dogman … . In this one dark corner of Hell, it was the creatures that tortured and tormented man, not the other way round … forever.

For many more stories like the one above, stay tuned for the March publication of:

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Book Review – The Herbalist: Memoirs of a ‘so-called’ Witch.

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norman7A great introduction to a talented and new author for me, Norman Turrell is the best-selling author of several books covering Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, and other strange stories, and one Iiasdpic1 discovered via the IASD Indie Author Support And Discussion Fb group/website.

 

The Herbalist:

Memoirs of a ‘so-called’ Witch

stars5A sometimes sad but equally enchanting tale of recollection and another time, when the magic of nature and witchcraft were often confused.

norman5Advertised in an online social media post as ‘a short, cheap read’ hardly does this little gem justice. I must admit, a cursory glance of the cover would have had me scroll pass this one, assuming it to be a book on either homoeopathic remedies or cooking with natural ingredients. Thankfully I was intrigued enough to catch the sub-title and blurb, and was rewarded with a short novella length story and an hour and half of bewitching entertainment. Even before I got into the wider story, the opening imagery struck me as some of the best I’ve read in a long time. Far from just providing unnecessary padding or distracting me as is so easily the case when they’re over-done, the descriptive elements here really brought the story alive for me; images of picturesque woodland cottages with old-worldly rustic kitchens and sitting rooms, norman3bottled potions and herbs sitting on shelves, and wizened old witches and the spritely younger generation learning their craft  filled my imagination.

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This is a story that through its flashbacks to the past spans three generations, of old and now somewhat forgotten knowledge being passed from mother to daughter in each case. It’s also one filled with drama as both a young and then aged Amelia recalls the past, and what today might be called superstition and old wives’ tales, but which was once as very real to the people of the time as modern medicine and science are to all of us today. Though hardly on a par with the witches of Salem or burnings at the stake, there is throughout a strong undercurrent of witchcraft and magic, and indeed the danger of such practices or even the suspicion of it brought on by the use of herbs and potions. If I had but one minor concern, I would have preferred a more conclusive ending, though having said that, perhaps the author will reveal more of the young Amelia’s past life in the future and answer some of the questions the story left me with. Nonetheless, an easy five stars for this one. 

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With the exception of the cover, images are simply to illustrate my review and do not form part of the book

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Norman Turrell can also be found at the following social media links …

Author site:  www.normanturrell.com — Twitter: @NormanTurrell Facebook: @AuthorNormanTurrell

Click HERE for the Norman Turrell’s Amazon author page …

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Book Review – Wolvz: Whispers of War

toneye3Toneye Eyenot is an author I discovered via The Bold Mom horror review/promotion blog. With an extensive catalogue of novellas, short stories, and even some flash fiction covering everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls and demons to freaks and the supernatural, there’s pretty much something for everyone among the horror fan community … 

This is the first story of his I’ve read/reviewed, but it proved to be every bit as good as I had been told.

See below for the author’s social and other media links …

Facebook: @toneyeeyenothorror  & @luniakkpublications

Twitter: @ToneyeEyenot  & @Luniakkpub

Bookbub: @Toneye Eyenot

Website:  www.luniakkpublications.com

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Wolvz: Whispers of War

stars5Be afraid … Be VERY afraid … Creature savagery at its very best!

toneye1This is a fine and well-written novella length story that draws on the folklore and mythology of werewolves and Lycans, those creatures of the night that epitomise the horror that can accompany a full-moon. Written in the first person from the perspective of Shona, a Lycan and high-ranking member a werewolf/Lycan pack, we learn that she has good reason to hate humankind, showing them no mercy when she confronts them.

As the Wolfhaven pack prepare for their long-term and, ultimately, final battle with their hated human adversaries, the action is both savage and gory, yet doesn’t rely on overly explicit bloody detail for its impact, instead being portrayed in a cold and matter-of-fact way that, if anything, makes it all the more chilling.

While this is a story filled with savagery and hatred towards humans, the author skilfully avoids losing the reader’s sympathy with subtle commentary on why such animosity exists, and the differences between how wolves and humans interact with nature and the environment. Amid all this savagery though, there are some wonderful lines of subtle humour too i.e. …

‘… the humans played their final hand, and we are biting it off.’

‘… he showed a bit of guts, so I won’t gorge on his.’

Although this is an easy five stars for me, I would have liked just a tad more explanation of the subtle differences between werewolves and Lycans woven into the narrative, but otherwise, this is an absolute must-read for any horror or ‘creature tales’ fan. I’m not sure at this point if ‘Wolvz: Whispers of War’ is to remain a stand-alone novella or is the first of a continuing series (hopefully it is!), but either way, I’m looking forward to reading a whole lot more from this author.

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Click HERE for Toneye Eyenot’s Amazon author page:

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More Longer Wacky Stories with Twist Endings – Book Review

jmw9

jmwThis latest short story collection is the fifth by John M. W. Smith that it’s been my pleasure to read and review. John M.W. Smith has had many stories published in various women’s weekly magazines and literary journals, and his short story collections are an established favourite among Russian readers where as well as being hugely popular, are also used as an English language teaching aid.  

In addition to my review here of ‘More Longer Wacky stories,’ I’ve also included my past reviews of some of his other collections.

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See below for John M.W. Smith on social media …

Website:             www.johnmwsmith.my-free.website

Blog:                    www.johnmwsmithswackyweeklyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook:          @twistendings

Twitter:              @wackyscribe

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More Longer Wacky Stories with Twist Endings

stars5‘Twist in the Tales’ scenarios done to sheer perfection, loved every one of these little gems !!!

jmw3It’s been a  few years since I read one of this author’s excellent short story collections, and I must say this latest novella lengthed 13 story anthology is the best so far. As in previous collections, the stories culminate in some unexpected twist in the tale, some quite startling while others are more of Ah-ha moment, though not once did I remotely see what it would be in each case. Mostly the stories stick to just one or two female characters (though not always), allowing the author to develop them more than is usual within the confines of a short story. Some of the tales are truly uplifting and will make the reader smile, but in a bit of a departure from previous books, others are indeed a tad sad, and equally sad, are more reflective of the not so nice side of human nature, as is the case in A Lonely Heart Breaks Easily.

This collection is definitely grittier, and with more of an edge to some of the stories that I’ve seen in previous ones, venturing into more controversial (almost taboo) themes such as in the third offering, It’s So Easy to Fall in Love, where the wronged woman turns out to be far more predatory than the reader is originally led to believe. 

Most of the author’s stories centre around female characters, some strong and self-assured while others are often more fragile and vulnerable, so in some respects it’s easy to see why they would enjoy such popularity in women’s magazines/journals, and yet, I maintain, these stories are of a much wider appeal to anyone who enjoys cleverly crafted scenarios, great writing and dialogue, and in every case, an unexpected but totally satisfying conclusion to a story. I really can’t praise these little gems more highly.

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MY PREVIOUS REVIEWS OF THE AUTHOR’S WORK …

Wacky Stories with Twist Endings  – Volumes  1 to 4

(Available in eBook & print formats via Amazon)

 

 

Volume 1: 

stars5Stories to bring a smile and a chuckle to any reader

This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the later stories, the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.

The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well-developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.

By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.

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Volume 2:

stars5 More chuckle-inducing stories with a mischievous and unexpected twist at the end.

Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.

For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well-developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.

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Volume 3:

stars5Another ‘naughty but nice’ addition to this highly entertaining series …

Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.

Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.

What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such techniques, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.

I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended …

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Volume 4: 

stars5A deliciously diverse collection of stories to both shock and make you smile …

This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘wacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.

One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile-inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.

Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…

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Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page, and links to all his books …jmw9a

Please, Granddad … Flash Fiction story.

A little ‘Flash Fiction’ piece, part of another little project I’m working on for later in the year, hope you like it …

 

Please, Granddad …

I’d been pretty darned healthy my whole life and fit too – a long stint in the army had seen to that! Even after I joined civvy street, despite a brief period of being a complete and utter slob for a few months following my freedom from the discipline of military life, I stayed active. The one blot on my otherwise healthy lifestyle though was the fact that I smoked. We all did back then. Most of my friends, including many from my army days, had long since given up the filthy habit. I hadn’t though. It had never occurred to me to even try. The fact was, I enjoyed smoking. And why shouldn’t I? I mean, I was a damned sight healthier than most of my non-smoker friends. Maybe it was just good genes; my grandparents had both smoked all their lives and lived well into their eighties. And what would the National Health Service do without the exorbitant taxes I paid on every puff I took? It was us smokers who practically financed the NHS, I told myself.

smoking6And then I got the news, the diagnosis that nobody wants to hear. I had Stage Two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I had no idea what stage two or non-whatever it was actually meant other than it was cancer. I couldn’t help thinking the worst. For it to be stage two meant there was a stage one, and that stage two must be worse?

            The news hit me hard. Why me? Apart from the smoking, I had always looked after myself. I drank only moderately, I got plenty of exercise, cycled, and hell, I even climbed bloody mountains.

I was 57. I knew I was no spring chicken, but I’d hoped for maybe another 20 good years of life, or at least long enough to see my grandson grow to be a man.

Was I just one of the unlucky ones, or had I only myself to blame? I’d never really believed my own rationalisations about smoking. I knew damned well it was bad for me.

            My doctor didn’t approve of smoking. Well, they don’t, do they? But he knew it was a typical reaction to blame oneself. He reassured me it was just one of those things, that the smoking had nothing to do with it. I was sure it was through gritted teeth he admitted that last bit. I was grateful though. Still, whether it had anything to do with or not, I was going to give up anyway.

smoking1I failed miserably – quitting cold-turkey, nicotine patches, vaping – nothing worked. I was a confirmed addict, even with the threat of death staring me in the face. I gave up trying to ‘give up.’

 

smoking2It had been several months since my last chemo session. I’d deliberately not visited my family for over a year. Of course, I’d seen my son and his wife when they visited me in the hospital and at a few other times. One thing I was adamant on though, young Patrick, my grandson wasn’t to see me while I was going through the barrage of treatments I was having.

I knew it upset him not being able to see me. It worried me that he’d think I’d stopped loving him. But what could I do? Seeing me completely bald, no eye-brows, sickly and gaunt looking, it wouldn’t have been right for a wee lad.

 

Since my last treatment, my hair had grown back, and I’d put most of my weight loss back on (and even a bit more). I just couldn’t wait to see my grandson for the first time since I had started the chemo and radiotherapy treatments. My son and his wife were spending the day with friends, leaving Patrick and me to some quality grandson and gramps time together.

We’d spent hours just playing, laughing, and watching films together until I was pretty exhausted. Amid all the fun we’d been having, I’d gone without nicotine for several hours now …

 

smoking3“Now you sit here, Little man, and watch your cartoons while Granddad goes for a smoke.”

“Please, Granddad, please don’t smoke. I don’t like it.”

            “It’s okay, Patrick, I’m going outside to keep all the smelly smoke out of the house.”

The look on his face told me his reaction had nothing to do with the smell of cigarette smoke. I sat beside him on the couch, putting an arm around his shoulder.

“What’s up little buddy?”

“I’ve missed you. I don’t want you to be ill again.” It was beginning to make sense now.

“Aww, you don’t have to worry about that. It was something quite different that made me ill. The smoking won’t make it come back.”

He stared at me. I could see he was trying not to cry.

“Smoking’s bad for you. It makes you have cancer.”

That last bit startled me. The little lad was only six, but he already knew the word cancer. He certainly didn’t know exactly what it meant, but clearly, he knew it was bad. By now it was me trying not to cry.

“Smoking didn’t cause my cancer, Patrick, really it didn’t.”

I held him a little tighter, hoping that might reassure him. He was having none of it.

“Promise you won’t smoke again. Please, Granddad … I don’t want you to die.”

smoking4By now, the wee lad was sobbing. Now you all know the feeling: You feel your throat tightening, and a screwing up of the eyes as they fill with tears. You breathe a little harder. You take an almost ‘gulp-like swallow, and then another. All the while, that ‘welling up’ feeling overcomes you, right down to the pit of your stomach.

            “You win. I promise.”

I’ve not smoked since …

smoking5

 

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