Category Archives: Short Stories

Unrequited Love – flash fiction short story

 

 

Unrequited Love

Vector silhouette of a woman.Lucy Brannen simply adored Tommy, and why shouldn’t she? He was a handsome fella, what with his thick, jet black hair, and eyes that could entrance the most reluctant heart.

Everyone loved Tommy; Lucy’s parents, her friends, and even complete strangers too immediately took to him. It was something Lucy understood and accepted, having fallen for Tommy’s charms more than two years before. Yes indeed, Tommy was something special, even if his demands and attention-seeking sometimes made her feel invisible. She had some sympathy now for how new mothers must feel when everyone’s attention and compliments were all directed towards the baby, like the mother wasn’t even there other than as some glorified slave … where was the appreciation and attention she deserved? Whatever her occasional misgivings though, Lucy continued to dote on him, attending to Tommy’s every whim, everything from preparing his meals right down to even trimming his nails, nothing being too much trouble for her. All she asked in return was the occasional show of love and affection, to be treated as something a little more special than his personal servant.

It wasn’t entirely true of course; Tommy did treat her to the occasional glimmer of attention, snuggling up to her when she least expected it or gazing into her eyes, enchanting her all over again. But such emotional shows were few and far between, and invariably seemed to coincide with when he wanted something, like a snack from the kitchen; as smitten as she was, Lucy was not stupid, fully aware the relationship was utterly and completely on his terms, and not hers.

The truth was, Tommy treated their home as little more than a hotel, often lounging around all day while she went out to work. The least she could have expected was for him to be there for her after a hard day’s work, but no, Tommy was a law unto himself, coming and going whenever he pleased, and at all hours of the night.

Lucy often wondered if Tommy would even notice if she just left, walked out and never came back, at least apart from the need to get himself another dogsbody? She knew she never would though; Tommy meant too much to her, and besides, what would have been the point? Tommy knew his worth and would have been sure to land on his feet elsewhere, perhaps even with that little blonde next door, the one always paying him compliments and attention.

There was one person though who wasn’t seduced by Tommy’s charms, and that was Lucy’s best friend, Clara. She treated Tommy with the same indifference he pretty much treated everyone else. When Tommy and Clara were in the same room, you could almost feel a literal drop in temperature, such was the coldness between them. It was not surprising then that whenever Clara visited, Tommy would either make himself scarce all together or at best, somewhat rudely go and feign sleep in another room.

And so it was today when Clara called, Tommy just huffed his annoyance and flounced out past them when Lucy opened the front door to her friend.

 

“Sorry about that, he’s in a bit of a mood,” Lucy apologised.

“Don’t apologise for him, he’s always in a mood,” Clara reminded her in reply. “If he wants to behave like a spoilt brat, that’s his problem.” Lucy just shrugged, her loyalties torn as they always were.

“Look, Lucy, I’ve no sympathy,” Clara bluntly told her. “I told you at the start … if you wanted slobbering affection, undying loyalty and the rest of it, you should have bought a dog … Cats are different.”

*

Tommy surveyed his kingdom from atop the mahogany bookcase, having snuck back in via the cat flap. Satisfied that all was well, he looked down on his devoted human.

Even though Clara had now left, Tommy was in no mood to jump back into Lucy’s arms. No, he would make her wait for another snippet of the attention she so desperately craved and needed from him, and why not, she was after all his slave, as all humans were to their feline owners.

Clara on the other hand, she clearly had no understanding of the honour and privilege it was to belong to some feline God or Goddess, never having shown him the deference he was entitled to, not even so much as kneeling before him to present some delicious offering. Her presence or lack thereof was therefore of little interest to him, assuming her to be one of those evil creatures that didn’t bow down to their feline masters or mistresses, or worse still, she might even be … a dog person … urghh, was all Tommy could muse to himself at the thought …

Tommy leapt down from the bookcase, landing beside Lucy on the sofa. He had kept her waiting long enough, a suitable penance he thought for giving some of her attention to another. Nonetheless, he snuggled beside her, again gazing up into her eyes, allowing the soft touch of his fur to brush against her bare skin. He even allowed her the rare privilege of stroking and caressing him.

Any thoughts of replacing Tommy with some slobbering little puppy as Clara had suggested instantly evaporated, Tommy’s mastery and ownership of her once again more assured than any cage or set of chains could ever do.

cat3

 

***

Enjoyed this story? Would like to read more? Then stay tuned for the publication of Flashbulb Moments towards the end of this year …

Azzz

 

Two opening stories from Book Three in the Creature Tales collection – Six, eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings.

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For a short time only until book three goes live sometime next month, here are two of the opening stories from the third and final book of The Creature Tales collection.

 

 

 

 

Mutant Mozzies! 

Mozzie3Clinging to the stem of a leaf, she watched the human from about twenty feet away. It was rare to see one out at night so deep in the woods, but there he was, nestled in position by the river for a spot of night-fishing, probably to supplement his other poaching activities, not that the minuscule hungry predator was to know that.

She flew in a little closer. The distinctive hum produced by the rapid beating of her wings and movement through the air might have alerted the human but for the orchestra of other tiny nightlife sounds that filled the woods. The bigger danger was alerting any of the other innumerable tiny predators that filled the woodland air whatever the time of day or night. Even a flight of two or three feet might expose her to the lightning strike of a reptilian tongue, an airborne attack from a dragonfly, or even being caught in the web of some equally predatory spider. Had such a rival got to her first, the unsuspecting human might have remained undisturbed but it wasn’t to be.

The one stalking the human for her next meal was of course from that deadlier than the male, blood-sucking half of the winged pests, a description that was equally true of most of the insect world, and indeed those larger creatures farther up the tree of evolution. Having avoided being eaten, squashed, or other violent death for the past month, she was a veteran of the swarming army of more than a trillion mosquitoes that patrolled practically every last inch of the planet.

The light touch of her slender elongated body and its three pairs of long hair-like legs were too light and gentle to induce the slightest flicker of response in any of the many nerve endings of her prey’s soft warm skin. It wasn’t the human’s skin she was interested in though, but the nutritious substance it housed just millimetres beneath its surface, the delicious blood she would need to grow her eggs and another generation of her kind.

She had the element of surprise; she was after all a hunter, and a creature immeasurably better adapted and more practised in day-to-day survival than any two-legged giant; humans were little more than embryonic infants on the planet compared to her own species’ two-hundred million years plus.

Once comfortably settled, her feathery antennae hover over the surface of the minute patch of skin she had landed. Although also used for other purposes, they act as the mosquito’s nose to determine the suitability of the food source. The human is a type ‘O’ blood type, and while she, the mosquito, plays no favourites in who she feeds off, type ‘O’ is the mosquitoes’ vintage of choice for nourishing their soon-to-be young. Without further hesitation, she thrusts her two serrated cutting blades to literally saw through the outer layer of the human’s epidermis while two retractors prise open a passageway for the straw-like proboscis through which she will suck out the blood she needs like a drill extracting oil from the ground. To hasten the feeding process and reduce the likelihood of the victim swatting her away or worse, splattering her into little more than an unsightly stain, a sixth and final anatomical needle spikes the skin to inject an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting.

It’s all over in a matter of seconds, though before she flies off to safety, she leaves behind an unpleasant reminder of their encounter, the irritating blotch from the allergic reaction to her saliva; in this case, the human is lucky that he’s not in one of those parts of the world where that same saliva might do something far worse, like infecting him with any number of fatal diseases such as  malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue or yellow fever. But the danger is not over yet. She is a new and far more dangerous specimen of her species than even she realises, the latest result of the white-coated humans’ meddling in things  …

*

If they’re close enough for you to hear them, then unless you’re drenched in DEET or imprisoned inside several layers of head-to-toe clothing, it’s probably too late. That all too familiar humming buzz of the mosquito is enough to have the potential human meal here in the west and in cooler climes immediately pulling down shirt sleeves, donning long trousers, or reaching for the insect spray, anything to lessen the likelihood of the blotchy red bumps, the days of maddening scratching, and hourly applications of anti-histamine lotions.

In other parts of the world, the consequences were usually a lot worse, often adding to the mosquitoes’ 700,000 annual fatalities

Someone once said that God had a lot to answer for allowing those two bloody mosquitos aboard the ark.  Quite apart from the plague of malaria, every hiker, rambler, or anyone who had ever suffered the maddening irritation of a mosquito bite would probably agree.

Nowadays of course, everyone agreed …

*

Seth Packard was making his way home after another successful night’s poaching. The nearby estate provided him with not only most of his own food needs, but quite a nice income on the side from the adjacent salmon-rich river. The estate gamekeeper and local police were more a minor inconvenience to Seth’s activities than a real obstacle. Having grown up in the countryside, Seth was at home in the woods and forest any wild-born creature, practically immune to the irritating effects of most insect bites. Nonetheless, even he was becoming concerned by the growing number of ticks and mosquitoes, a fact he was reminded of when he felt that immediately recognisable heat and tingling of the after-effects of just such a bite to the back of his neck. It surprised Seth – it wasn’t that he never got bitten or was totally immune to a histamine reaction to the insect toxins or saliva from some tiny six and or however many-legged creatures, but it was rare for him to notice their effects. Perhaps that was why he instinctively brought his hand up to scratch at the inflamed area. In the process though, he had accidentally grazed his hand on either a thorn or the sharp or broken edge of an overhanging branch.

In contrast to the inflammation following most insect bites, Seth was used to such scratches and minor cuts, an inevitable consequence of spending so much time in the wild. This time it was a tad deeper though, and probably needed a proper dressing. Still, Seth had suffered worse in his time and simply wrapped a bit of cloth around it to help clot the blood, for now, not giving it a second thought beyond that.

The makeshift bandage around Seth’s hand didn’t clot the flow of blood though, and the wound it was covering continued to trickle blood throughout the night.

Another effect of the mosquito bite was to make him sweat, but not the sweat of exertion or from being too hot … every pore and orifice of his skin and body was seeping blood, draining it like some water-filled container with multiple holes in it. When they found his body a few days later, it looked like the theatrics department had gone overboard on a Hammer Horror film set.

Despite his naturally acquired immunity and tolerance, Seth Packard’s fate had been sealed on his last night of poaching in the estate forest; he would likely as not have been unaffected by the mosquito bite, but combined with the thorn it was just a matter of time, not that he would have had long to wait.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Seth’s insect immunity and lack of irritation from the mosquito bite had dulled any sense that something might be wrong. Had it not been so, he would have suffered the fear of knowing just how he was going to die long before the full effects of the mosquito bite combined with his minor cut took their toll.

Seth Packard was the first recorded UK victim of what the Press would later call the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease … he was not to be the last.

*

Sumatra Genetics had been tasked with developing a delivery system for the World Health Organisation’s newly developed universal flu vaccine, HN247. There had been a time when conventional methods of vaccination would have done the job. But that was ten years before … things had changed.

As well as more virulent human and avian strains, they were now having to cope with a new one on the block – Rodent flu. Like its avian counterpart, this too had jumped the species barrier, and worse, it didn’t kill its rodent hosts or trouble them in any way.

China alone had suffered near on a hundred million casualties, with India close on its heels. It was only stricter quarantine regulations and more efficient rodent control measures that had lessened the impact on Europe and North America, with their death toll still limited to the low tens of millions. South America, on the other hand, was reaching close to sixty million dead.

Quite apart from the logistical nightmare of trying to vaccinate 8 billion people, and the cost, the death toll and other debilitating health effects on the estimated billion or so already infected made it a race against time. If the current pandemic wasn’t stopped in its tracks, it would soon cripple the world’s ability to react at all.

It was ironic that Sumatra Genetics should be the one the WHO should look to for help given that it was their experiments with rats that had led to Rodent flu in the first place. That little nugget of information was something only Sumatra’s most trusted staff knew about. And since those in the know had all been bought off with substantial share options, that was the way it was likely to stay. It was a further irony that this latest crisis was an opportunity for the shady genetics company to become even more successful if they came up with a solution.

Sumatra already knew there simply weren’t enough doctors, nurses, or similarly trained medical staff, let alone the facilities or resources to manually vaccinate 7 billion around the world. Clearly, a new and radical approach had to be devised, one that took no account of borders, quarantine zones, or any other obstacle to a vaccine delivery system.

They put their Microbiology department to working on the problem, and more specifically, their entomology section. The nanoparticle-based universal flu HN247 vaccine the WHO had developed made it ideal for viral delivery via almost the tiniest of nature’s multicellular life-forms, namely insects.

Unbeknown to the WHO, Sumatra were already ahead of the curve on the problem; they had several years’ worth of research into viral delivery systems, the only difference being that theirs was for weaponised agents, not life-saving ones.

Within a few months they had adapted the vaccine to be carried by insects, any and every insect in the world in fact. By infecting selective insects with a harmless virus carrying HN247, they anticipated that it would take less than a year for some 90% of the human population to be likewise infected. And they were right. Within a matter of months, half the world’s population were now immune to the Rodent flu.

It had been an unqualified success in the more rural and less developed parts of the world, where daily and multiple insect bites were more a plague than a lifesaver. In the developed world, progress was slower; the greater cleanliness of the cities and their population’s obsession with keeping their homes sterile and germ-free was less conducive to an openly thriving insect population.

The public announcements though about Rodent flu immunity being spread by harmless insect bites weren’t popular at first. Fortunately, perhaps, the increasing death toll from Rodent flu was even less popular, inducing, or rather frightening. most of the public to briefly dispense with their insect and pest repellents and take to walking bare-armed through the parks and countryside.

With the third world and countryside largely vaccinated, that left the developed world free to supplement the insect viral delivery system using more conventional methods of vaccination to spread the life-saving infection, free of the international communities’ condemnation of only looking after themselves.

Sumatra Genetics had once again come up smelling of roses to quote the old saying. Unfortunately, the roses, in this case, had nasty and unexpected thorns …

*

In the aftermath of the Rodent flu crisis, the world had breathed a collective sigh of relief at its resolution. It was probably why the first reports of a mosquito problem largely went unnoticed; compared to the death of some 400 million from the Rodent flu, no subsequent crisis seemed to warrant urgent attention.

Mosquito bites had plagued mankind since it first climbed down from the trees. Admittedly, some repellents worked better than others, and a small lucky percentage of the population seemed immune to the annoying winged pests. Still though, mosquitos were high on the list of most people’s pet hates.

Despite the drug companies’ best efforts, there as yet remained no way of preventing most people from being bitten from time to time. Worse still, it was rare to suffer only the one bite when attacked. It was just a case of having to suffer the several days of excruciating itching and inflamed red blotches that invariably followed.

Had people known what was to follow they would have been glad to put up with the maddening but temporary annoyance of a regular mosquito bite.

*

The disease had first hit the poorer parts of the world around the filthy pools of stagnant water where the mosquitos thrived. Just another tropical disease running its course in some backward part of the word nobody cared about had been the original assumption. That had changed.

Only a small number of mosquitos were carrying the new disease as far as anyone could tell given the tiny ratio of deaths to mosquito numbers. It was enough though to finally get the WHO’s attention. It wasn’t so much how many were dying but who that had prompted them to take notice, namely the inclusion now of rich westerners.

Dozens of cases were cropping up all over the world, not that the actual death toll was yet anywhere near high enough yet for the health authorities to start panicking. The public though were another matter – not since the early 80s during the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic had they been so thoroughly gripped by fear.

It was the way people died from it that really had them scared. It started with a single bite, that’s all it took; unlike most insect bites, it was one you actually felt rather being alerted to it by the post-bite irritating blotchy inflammation.

In the beginning it had been thought to be some strange form of advanced haemophilia for want of a better definition given the excessive bleeding. It didn’t take long to determine whatever it might be was being transmitted by insect bites. Narrowing it down to mosquitos had come later. It was bizarre to think the media had been the first to make the connection with their Mutant Mozzies and Sweating Blood hysteria-inducing headlines. Either way, it had come as a relief to the WHO that it had been narrowed down to one specific insect.

Despite assurances from Sumatra Genetics to the contrary, the WHO had originally feared it might be a delayed side-effect of the insect carried viral delivery of the HN247 flu vaccine. Had that been the case and all insects had been carriers of the new disease it5 truly would have been the end of mankind. Nonetheless, they were still investigating along those lines … and so too was Sumatra Genetics.

Something unique in one of the Mosquito’s fourteen thousand different genes had combined with the HN2247 nanoparticle-based vaccine, boosting the naturally occurring anti-coagulant in the mosquitoes’ salivary glands. Instead of the usual maddening but non-fatal effects, victims were dying. It wasn’t that the anti-coagulant was any more effective, it was simply longer-lasting; whereas a normal mosquito bite would only disable the regular clotting ability of the blood for a few minutes in the immediate area of the bite while the mosquito fed, these others were causing the effects of the anticoagulant to spread throughout the body for up to twelve hours.

In the young and elderly, it was even longer. Any significant injury during the active phase of the mosquito bite would see the victim sweating blood from every pore of their body – even a simple cut or a bruise could be fatal for the less robust victim.

“Well, we’ve identified the problem. We just don’t have a solution … or know if there even is one?” Dr Natalie Martins was telling the board.

It wasn’t often any of Sumatra’s research staff were quite so blunt with their bosses. But then of course, it wasn’t often the company’s survival or keeping the Sumatra board of directors from a prison cell depended on one of them either.

“You are aware of the urgency of the matter, aren’t you Dr Martins?” Simon Cadwell asked, one of Sumatra’s vice-presidents.

“I’m aware of the urgency, yes. A lot of lives depend on our coming up with a way of either neutralising whatever it is causing the disease or fighting its effects.” Natalie knew very well the ‘urgency’ being referred to had nothing to do with saving lives.

“We’re all aware of that, Dr Martins. But we also have to provide answers for the medical enquiry board.”

“Probably best I don’t waste any more time here then. I’ll be able to answer your questions a lot quicker if I’m allowed to get on with looking for the answers.” 

Simon Cadwell didn’t bother to reply, instead simply looking down to make a few notes in his sheaf of papers … I’ll remember you, Dr Martins, when this is all over, the Sumatra VP thought to himself, annoyed some little jumpstart of an employee should be in a position to speak to a member of the board in such an insolent manner.

In their desperation to eliminate themselves from any blame for the new disease, the Sumatra Genetics investigatory board had finally allowed Dr Natalie Martins access to their sealed files on their previous failed efforts to find a way of eradicating Malaria.

With the new though still classified information in her hands, she discovered Sumatra’s previous efforts to splice a modified gene into the malaria transmitting Anopheles mosquito, one that would neutralise the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

She was not impressed by the shoddy science and shortcuts they had taken in their efforts. Like most of Sumatra’s projects, their eye had been on quick profits rather than being prepared for years of painstaking research and trial to verify their results.

Not only had it not worked, instead of neutralising the malaria-causing parasite it was originally meant to, but this new modified gene had also now found a more compatible receptor in the nanoparticles of the HN247 vaccine. It was now snugly nestled between the same anti-coagulant producing gene in the mosquito salivary gland and another responsible for the mosquito’s tolerance for changes in temperature. This tiny realignment of its DNA was making successive generations of its host mosquitos better able to survive the cooler conditions of the Northern hemisphere.

Once she had reported her findings, Dr Martins was given the task of heading the team Sumatra formed to eradicate the mutated Anopheles mosquito. Of course, every Anopheles mosquito now carried the mutant gene but it was a simple matter for Sumatra to breed and release a variant into the wild with the mutant gene removed. Given that the modified gene was essentially a foreign body in the mosquitos’ DNS, nature was quick to accept the new variant, and the rate at which all insects bred, it quickly became dominant. But nothing was ever quite that simple when it came to meddling in the very building blocks of life. While the gene responsible for the mosquitos’ anti-coagulant had returned to normal, the exposure of all the new generations of mosquitos had migrated north had permanently adapted them to its cooler temperatures. The malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito was there to stay … the wealthy industrialised north had swapped one disease for another, and with a

*

It was Dr Martins’ work that had stopped what the media had coined the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease. Unsurprisingly it was Sumatra Genetics that took the credit. Again, the relief at having averted the latest of the pandemics the world seemed to be lurching between had shielded Sumatra from public condemnation, allowing it once again to bask in the glory of being its saviour.

Yet again, one of Sumatra’s lines of research had almost spelt disaster for the entire human race. The dodgy genetics company had destroyed many of its research archives in response to investigations into their activities over the years. They had so many rogue scientists and laboratories working under the radar, they weren’t even sure themselves just how many ticking time-bombs were waiting to blow up in their face.

In the meantime, the WHO continued their close monitoring of the increasing occurrence of more virulent strains of malaria across the northern hemisphere …

Dr Martins wasn’t the only one to suspect their problems were only just beginning …

***

Night of the Bed Bugs

BdEver since many of the genetically modified crops and insects had started to mutate in ways their god-playing creators had never imagined, instead of adapting the environment as it had always done, mankind was instead having to insulate itself against it.

Mosquitoes the size of small birds, ant colonies so colossal that they thought nothing of descending on human towns and cities, and a host of new and fatal diseases carried by pesticide-resistant insects had made even a stroll in the countryside a dangerous thing of the past in many parts of the world.

*

Rachael Mills had never felt comfortable venturing beyond the city limits, much preferring the hum of an air-conditioning unit to the sound of the wind, and the feel of carpet or wooden flooring beneath her feet rather than insect-ridden grass or earth. Perhaps it was the spider and cockroach-infested slum she had grown up in that had led to her irrational fear of them, and in turn, of what she thought of as the insect-infested countryside; it wasn’t agoraphobia in the strictest sense, more a fear of nature itself. To her, the growing insect problem was a confirmation of all her views, that the buzzing, stinging creatures of the wild were nothing more than a living disease that crept and crawled.

Even in the relative safety of her sterile city apartment, Rachael had all manner of insect repellent devices humming away, periodically releasing bug killing toxins into the air. The smell of DEET clung to every inch of flooring, furniture, and the walls. In her own room, such was her fear that as a last defence against the insect enemy, Rachael slept under the sort of fine-meshed mosquito net more usually found in the tropics, again drenched in extra-strength DEET.

Mozzie2Little Peter Mills was all of six years old, and not nearly as afraid of monsters as he used to be. He was a big boy now, and while he still enjoyed the magical imagination of a child, he was starting to feel more grown-up every day. But that wasn’t to say he didn’t welcome the reassurance of having his mum tuck him up in bed, safe and sound, telling him not to let the bed bugs bite. So why were they biting?

At first it was a just a slight irritation that had Peter tossing and turning in his bed. To anyone looking in, they would have probably just put it down to restless fidgeting or having a bad dream. But the irritation was getting worse; not enough to wake him, not yet, but the pinprick like sensations sweeping over most of his body were turning his bad dream into a nightmare.

The little lad was thrashing about now, so badly that the tucked in ends of the bed covers had come loose and been thrown to the floor. Just for a moment the irritation stopped, only for it to return with a vengeance as Peter’s tiny but entire body become immersed in it. It was no longer just the increasingly painful nipping away at his skin, every inch of his body now felt like it was on fire. Until then he had been shielded from the worst of the pain by the anaesthetising effect of still being in a half sleep-like state, but the continuous assault on his nerve endings was too much …

Earlier in the day, Peter wished they hadn’t squished so many of the little bugs when his mum had taken him to one of the designer parks, enclosed bio-domes professionally designed for maximum aesthetic appeal.

Though a good imitation of the outside and natural world, to anyone who had grown up before the need for such bio-domes, they were more like a landscape painting, but with all the colour, life and imagination sucked out of it first. But never having been to a real park let alone run wild in the countryside, Peter thought it was just great, with birds flying high above, and little squirrels popping out of nowhere to look up and investigate visitors to their enclosed domain. And to maintain such a good imitation of such natural beauty, a computer-generated optimum number of non-modified insects too had been added to encourage more natural behaviours of the equally optimum numbers of birds and mammals.

His mum had led him to the grass verge beside the artificial wild-life pond for them to enjoy their picnic. The sandwiches and sugary goodies she had packed soon attracted ants and other assorted flying bugs to join them too, and so she immediately gave the flying ones a blast with the super-strength insect repellent spray most citizens now carried with them. She also took hold of a napkin and started brushing the ants away, squashing the ones that were crawling about the grass near where they had placed their picnic food and drinks. She encouraged Peter to brush them away too. He had been reluctant at first, fascinated by the animated movements of the creepy-crawly creatures, happy too to peer at them more closely as he held up an ant-covered hand before his eyes, entranced by their scurrying movements up and down his fingers. His mother was having none of it though, Peter’s hand suddenly finding itself engulfed by a squirt of super-strength insect repellent.

Peter thought it cruel to kill them that way, but his mum had made a game of it, laughing and joking as she went about her crushing of the loathsome little creatures …

“There’s another … and another. Gotya!”

Again and again she would bring her hand down on the tiny helpless ants.

Not wanting to upset his mum or make her think he wasn’t happy she had brought him out, Peter half-heartedly joined in the ant-squishing slaughter …

Peter’s mind exploded into consciousness. The almost instantaneous awareness of the pain he was in sent his body into spasms. He tried to scream but no sound escaped his throat and nor would his body respond to the instinctive urge to move away from whatever it was attacking him. Something in the bites must have paralysed his muscles. He had to lie there, unable to fight the pain while thousands of tiny insect mandibles tore away at his flesh, boring under his toe and fingernails, crawling inside his ears and mouth, eating away from the insides, and lastly the eyes.

It was a small mercy that the same mind that amplified his pain with its awakening was now shutting down, separating what little was left of the boy’s sanity from the reality of what was happening.

The following morning, his mother screamed at the sight of her little boy, a half-eaten body with what little remained covered in vicious swollen red blotches from the thousands of tiny bites of the clearly visible huge bed bugs, still feeding on what was left …

“I don’t understand,” she was sobbing over and over.

“I thought we’d be safe here in one of the population concentrates, away from the country and open ground. Is nowhere safe now?” she asked again and again.

The police officers exchanged worried glances with the security detail attached to them while the white-coated medical staff took samples, sealing them in small vials, and the bedding in toxic bio-hazard bags. Having attended at least a dozen more in the past few months, it wasn’t the first insect-related death the police and white-coated investigators had been called to, but it was the first one in a typically sterile domestic home setting, the smell of DEET and other insect repellents hanging thick in the air.

Until now it had mainly been attacks on stray cats and dogs and other relatively small animals such as the city rat and urban fox populations, though in a city of more than five million, these minor incidents had gone relatively unnoticed, even when they increased in frequency. It wasn’t until the victims became bigger, when street patrols started finding the lifeless remains of the city’s homeless that the authorities started to pay more attention. Some had been stung to death in the way one might expect from a swarm of bees, while others had literally had the flesh stripped from their bones, the only clue to their fate being a few dead insect specimens of the victims’ attackers.

Rachael watched as the authorities carried her son out on a stretcher. She had wanted to accompany them to wherever they were going, but she had been politely but firmly restrained from doing so.

It was neither the morgue nor the hospital they were taking Peter’s body, but a government facility set up to investigate the growing insect problem.

Given Rachael’s naturally distraught and hysterical state, they had also insisted on calling an ambulance to take her to hospital to be treated for shock and grief, but more importantly, to also keep news of the latest incident becoming public knowledge while they tried to convince her of some other believable explanation for her son’s death. They hoped that would be possible, otherwise, she faced becoming another statistic in the missing person figures. 

*

In a nearby apartment to Rachael’s, innumerable tiny eyes watched the two giant residents’ return from their Centre-Parks holiday, a bio-dome resort much like the one Rachael and Peter had visited the week before, only bigger.

To the residents’ uninvited guests, it meant they would once again be vulnerable to attack from the death delivering bug sprays their larger enemies drenched them in at the mere sight or sound of anything that crawled or buzzed.

Though once indifferent to the humans’ presence other than as a source to occasionally snack on small quantities of their blood, the watching eyes now regarded them as a dangerous enemy, one to either be avoided at all costs or attacked without mercy rather than merely tolerated for the sugary foods the tiny creatures were so greatly fond of and which the human giants provided in such abundance.

There was a time when they would simply have moved on to a less hazardous feeding environment, but though tiny in comparison, the bugs were getting bigger too. When a million bugs double in size and number in the space of a single generation, so too does their appetite; blood alone was no longer enough to satisfy their nutritional needs, and the sugary treats the humans unwittingly left for them were hardly an adequate substitute – they had acquired a taste and need for protein-rich flesh to satisfy their growing size and numbers, particularly that of a food source that wasn’t protected by fur, scales, or able to retreat to an environment hostile to the tiny predators.

The human residents’ return had been aptly timed for them; the bugs were hungry with a million more young to feed. They were smart though and didn’t attack immediately, waiting instead till it became dark and their intended food sources retired to their nice warm beds, the same beds the bugs were also partial too.

It was almost a week before the human couple’s absence had been noticed, more than long enough for the bed bugs to finish their meal before the police and white-coated investigators discovered the two human skeletons.

The sight that greeted them was a less ghastly one than on their first visit to the bed bug-ridden apartment block, the bugs having had time to feed uninterested this time. They might have been discovered sooner but similar reports had come in, not just about residents of Rachael’s apartment block, but other throughout the city – the skeleton couple’s discovery was just one among thousands in the coming days following what the press was calling the night of the bed bugs.

Bigger, stronger, and in greater numbers, the bees, the ants, the mosquitoes, and as many different types of insects as you could think of, they all needed to feed … there would be many more such nights of a million other species in the future …

*** 

If you enjoyed these two stories, then stay tuned for next month’s publication of Six, Eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings, the third and final book in The Creature Tales collection … in the meantime, Books 1 & 2 are also available …

Coming soon …

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Guest short story reblog … A Killer in the Mist by Tom Benson …

As regular readers of my blog will know, many of my flash fiction and regular short stories have karma and retribution themes to them. Another author who also writes some of the best revenge/retribution you could ever hope to read is multi-genre writer/author, Tom Benson.

Tom’s first book of such short stories, Smoke & Mirrors, is a real classic of the retribution genre … At around the 750-word mark, Killer in the Mist falls into the longer end of the Flash Fiction category, but like all good flash fiction, it packs in way more entertainment and content than it’s relatively short length would suggest.

Am delighted to say, Killer in the Mist will be appearing as a ‘guest’ story in my Flashbulb Moments F/fiction collection later in the year

***

A Killer in the Mist

 

picAThe evening fog was getting heavier, so Philip flicked his headlights down to dipped beam. Unknown, unlit countryside and the earlier incident had been bad enough.

“You agree, don’t you?” Philip glanced at his passenger. “We couldn’t have done anything else.”

“Whatever ….” Lauren said, not looking at her married lover.

“What do you mean, whatever? If I’d stopped, there would have been questions, and names would be required.”

“I’ve got nothing to hide.” The teenager peered into the illuminated grey mass ahead.

Click HERE for Tom Benson’s original post and full story …

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Cell Bitch – Flash fiction short story

Another little taster from my up-coming under 1000 word flash fiction stories, Flashbulb Moments …

 

Cell Bitch

 

Luke Thompson was as nice a young man as you could ever hope to meet, the sort of boy parents hoped their daughter would bring home to meet them. In Luke’s case though, it was correctional officer Vince Zackery introducing Luke to his parents. It was okay though; Vince’s parents took to Luke the moment they met him. And likewise, when Luke introduced Vince to his own family, they were delighted Luke had found himself a boyfriend who obviously adored him, and given Vince’s 6’3” height and build, one they knew he’d be in safe hands with.

It was an unlikely pairing; they’d met and fell in love during Luke’s monthly visits to his older brother serving a seventy-five-year sentence for armed robbery at the penitentiary where Vince was an officer.

 

Luke was attending a staff Christmas dinner and dance night. He had thought about not going what with Vince working nights, but Vince had told him to go and enjoy himself, and besides, Luke would have felt guilty letting Kathryn down. Being a popular guy, Luke had no shortage of girls happy to dance with him, which was more than could be said for Nathan Morrison. Nathan was your stereotypical homophobic racist, and a jealous one to boot, given that the girl he fancied, Kathryn, was more interested in limp-wristed Luke, as Nathan called him. Luke and Kathryn were best friends in a brother and sister sort of way. All night the girl whose knickers Nathan wanted to get into had spurned him, preferring to chat and dance … with some nancy boy … instead. Afterwards, Luke and Kathryn left together, Luke insisting on walking her the half-mile to her house.

cell7Along with two of his knuckle-dragging mates, Nathan followed at a discreet distance before taking a shortcut in readiness to confront the pair …

 

“So, what’s girly little Luke got that I ain’t?” Nathan demanded to know as he stepped out from the shadows.

“Maybe she’s a dyke and reckons on Luke providing some girl on girl action,” one of the other Neanderthals suggested. Had it just been Nathan on his own, Luke would have taken his chances and struck out at him, but he had Kathryn to consider, and was fearful of what they might do to her if he angered them in any way? In that respect, he needn’t have worried; the three Neanderthals had no intention of raping or hurting Kathryn, knowing full-well what the consequences of that might be. But Luke was another matter – they figured he’d be too ashamed to complain given just what they had in mind for him, and even if he did, they’d say he tried to touch one of them up, that they were fearful of his homosexual advances … sadly, it was a defence that was often successful in some of the ‘less than liberal’ states of America.

Nathan and another of the trio slammed Luke up against the wall, unbuckling his pants at the same time, while the third one kept hold of Kathryn, making her watch. Nathan then produced a bicycle pump he’d stolen from a bike while following them.

“I bet this is what you want, I mean, a hole’s a hole, and you want it, don’t ya?” Nathan whispered, “and if ya scream out, ya little girlfriend here will be getting the real thing from all three of us,” he added, knowing Luke wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise Kathryn’s safety.

 

Nathan had been right in assuming they wouldn’t report the assault, though not because Luke was ashamed. Luke was worried what the others might do to Kathryn if Nathan went to prison. Nonetheless, Kathryn pleaded with Luke to go to the police, but ultimately, she respected his wishes not to.

*

cell2.jpgA month later, Nathan was convicted of a similar assault against a young girl. Hearing the news, Kathryn finally told her father, who just happened to be the judge trying Nathan’s case, what had happened. She also told Luke’s partner, correctional officer, Vince Zackery … 

Nathan Morrison entered the three-man cell somewhat nervously to begin the first day of his ten-year prison sentence for sexual assault. He nodded to the two man-mountain sized figures looking across at him from their bunks, one from a single bed, and the other the lower one of a set of bunk beds.

 

cell5“What’s ya name, boy?” asked one of them while the other returned to flipping the pages of his porn mag.

“It’s Na … Nathan … Nathan Morrison,” he finally managed to blurt out.

“Well young … Nathan … your pit will be on the top bunk above me, though most of the time you’ll down here keeping me happy … oh, and it’ll be me on top.”

“Don’t be greedy, Jim, there’s more ‘n’ enough of that sweet little ass ta go around.” The two cellmates both laughed. Unsurprisingly, Nathan didn’t see the funny side of the crude interjection.

“Too sweet an ass t’be called ‘Nathan,’ that’s for sure … I think we’ll call him Natalie instead.”

“Look guys, I mean …” Nathan began, “I’m … I’m not gay or anything, not that I got owt against anyone who is or anything …”

“Neither are we, but unless you’re hiding a pair of tits and a pussy under that jumpsuit, you’re all we’ve got … and besides, what was it you said … A hole’s a hole?” Nathan didn’t know what to say, too terrified to even notice the flow of urine soaking the front of his prisoner jumpsuit.

cell3“Luke Thompson’s my kid brother … and if you’re thinking of yelling out to the guards, ya know that mean looking muthafucka of an officer that’s in charge of out wing, his name’s Vince,” Jim revealed, brandishing an officer’s nightstick in a somewhat obscene manner before adding: “… and he’s Luke’s partner.”

It was going to be a long ten years was all Nathan could think … that’s if he even survived the night?

cell1

***

 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read many more like it, please stay tuned for my up-coming anthology later this year, with guest stories from an additional six authors (3 more still to be confirmed)

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Two Different Specimens – ‘Rat Tales’ short story

Two Different Specimens

rat1RS2179 had been given its final injection. Perhaps this would be the one to bring it the peace it craved. It hoped so.

It was a cold and clinical reference for a living creature. That was the intention – experience had shown such impersonal referencing to be an effective means of helping insulate the laboratory staff from any guilt. Many a brutal dictator had used similar victim classification systems as part of their extermination processes, mainly when they were short on the sort of person who enjoyed such work.

The tiny creature was number two thousand, one hundred and seventy-nine in the extensive list of rat specimens used in the secret 101 faculty’s nasty experiments. ‘Secret’ was a good description of the place in more ways than one. It was not listed in any public domain. It was purposely hidden away from peer scrutiny, its very existence kept secret from all but the shadowy upper echelons of its parent company. Given what went on there, it was as much a dirty little secret as it was a location.

The little creature sensed it was coming to the end of its relatively short existence. But that was okay. It had not been a good life and RS2179 would be glad to see it over. From the moment of RS2179’s birth, the only world it had ever known was the chilly sterile one of the laboratory it had been allocated to. It was never to experience the feel of grass under its feet. The joy of finding some tasty morsel for its next meal was unknown to it. All it knew was the hard-smooth Perspex floor and the dry and tasteless mixture the white-coated laboratory technicians would leave in a tiny bowl at the end of its foot-long cage. The only sounds it heard were the deep thunderous voices of the two-legged giants and the hum of the air conditioning unit that kept the experimental environment at a distressingly low temperature. The lack of any other external stimuli seemed to amplify whatever distress the lifeless prison inflicted on those creatures unfortunate to find themselves there.

Within hours of RS2179’s arrival a few months before, the experiments had begun. It was a rare day when it hadn’t been roughly manhandled from its cage for some new horror at the sharp end of the shiny spikes they would plunge into its body. It had tried struggling and even biting its handlers, but the clothing they wore was too thick to penetrate. The shiny spikes though, they were razor sharp, far more so than its own teeth. And oh, how they hurt. It was a blessing when the rat would sometimes be sent into sleeping darkness less than a minute after one of them pierced its skin. Each time it had hoped not to awaken, only to face disappointment when consciousness returned.

Depositphotos_10948446_dsThe last few times that had been the worse. Usually, the skin piercing spikes would be stabbed into some rear part of its body. The latest ones though had been directed towards the areas around its forehead. For some reason, it wasn’t so frightening when the entry point was out of sight, but seeing the sharp, gleaming tip coming into focus distressed RS2179 so much more.

Unbeknown to RS2179, the laboratory staff had been pumping all sorts of cognitive enhancers into its brain, And, equally unbeknown to the laboratory staff, they were working immeasurably better than their maze running tests would suggest. The microscopic chemical and electrical information exchanges between the synapses were now jumping across time and space, reaching farther out with each new injection.

For now, that wasn’t much of a consolation to RS2179. Its use was at an end other than what details might be gleaned from a post-mortem of their effects on its general physiology. That would have been fine were the rat actually dead.

Just as lethal injections were far from being a failsafe procedure with humans, they were even less so with rats. There had been no check on the complete absence of brain activity in the rat, just a rudimentary investigation of its heartbeat and non-response to being gently stabbed at with a pencil. Most of the life had indeed slipped from its body, but deep inside the rat’s brain and mind there was still a dying flicker of life, enough to make it aware of everything going on. It had been robbed of its ability to struggle or resist but sadly, not its feeling and consciousness. It was aware of being lifted and placed in the dissecting tray. Then the cold feel of the Nitrile gloved fingers moving about its body, poking and pulling, feeling about its abdomen and head, contorting its limbs into unnatural positions.

Its enhanced awareness helped limit the confusion and emotional distress it might otherwise have felt, but it was a double-edged sword – it now had a rudimentary understanding of the various instruments it could see in its limited field of vision, and even some of the human sounds they were making. Glad though it was, knowing it would soon be dead, the suffering it was likely to endure beforehand was ample reason to be afraid.

dissecting_tools“I’m ready to proceed,” Lance Nelson told his colleagues. They had already prepared the equipment he would need: a dissecting tray and board, scissors, a scalpel, a variety of probes, and several pins.

RS2179 was again manhandled from the dissecting tray to being placed on its back on a wooden board. Its limbs were stretched out in a spread-eagled position and pins inserted, one through the palms of each of its tiny feet, and three more along its tail. The pins were super sharp and thin, and so the pain of their entry was quite momentary. Still, the rat wished for the darkness and death to overcome it, watching the white-coated two-legged giant reach for a scalpel. Lance hesitated for a moment, imagining he saw a flicker of recognition in the creature’s eyes. He dismissed it as a trick of the light and proceeded to cut along the surface skin and tissue of the abdomen. No sound emerged from its mouth, but inside its head, RS2179 was screaming, its short-lived enhanced awareness now given over to overwhelming fear and blind panic. Another perpendicular slice of the scalpel, this time a fraction deeper, sent its pain receptors into over-drive, flooding its mind with sensations no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever have to purposely endure. A probe was used to prod at its internal organs, moving them this way and that to check for inflammation and discolouring …

“Everything looks normal. Respiratory, heart and other organs all look intact. Now moving onto the muscle and fatty tissues,” the voice was saying. RS2179 didn’t understand the words but realised what was about to happen, watching the scalpel move towards one of its limbs. It was all too much for the suffering creature to willingly endure. Its mind was beginning to shut down, severing itself from the torrent of impulses attacking its pain receptors. The pain was still unimaginable, but it was mostly starting to subside. The end was mercifully close, but there was one more ordeal to come, and the worst.

The scalpel disappeared out of sight. The suffering creature soon became aware of its new location though when it felt the pain inflicting instrument slicing through the back of its skull. Its mind filled with an explosion of light and colour as its brain was literally cut in two. Such trauma came as a blessing. There was no more pain, just the dying of its brain cells and the last remnants of its tortured mind. The last flicker of life passed into darkness.

“Nothing much to be learnt here,” Lance said, “might as well clean up. Dispose of it will you?”

*

Three months later

Lance Nelson felt a buzzing about his head as he got into the car. He wasn’t particularly alarmed by it. There was all manner of wildlife about given the proximity to the nearby extensive forest. The high walls and other barriers kept most of it at bay, but even the faculty’s state of the art security and remote location wasn’t going to keep out the bugs and insects.

TLS1, the first two-legs human specimen of its kind was laid out on the rocky surface of the cave floor. It had amused the rats to choose a classification mocking that of their human counterparts.

TLS1’s mind was now stirring as it returned to consciousness. The first things it saw and felt were the various insects and spiders crawling about its body, biting, and feeding off him – it was a far cry from the clean and gleaming sterile environment of the lab but more than adequate to serve the same purpose. The human specimen was in pain too. That was the first realisation that everything about him was horribly real and not the nightmare he had thought, and indeed hoped it might be. There was a thumping in his head, worse than any hangover he’d ever had, and he was sure of a couple of cracked ribs too. He could just about roll his eyes to look down and along his body; he was bruised and scratched. Another worry was being naked as he was. How had that come about? Had he been kidnapped? Something to do with his work at the lab he speculated. His mind began to clear. He could see rats, lots of them darting back and forth, just out of reach had he indeed been able to move.

Those same creatures he had once experimented on and cut into pieces now inspired in him the same sort of fear they must have felt.

He was briefly reminded of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the Room 101 scene where people would be confronted with their own worst fears. The central character’s overwhelming fear had been rats. It dawned on him why the research centre where he worked was often referred to as the 101 Faculty. Someone’s idea of a sick joke?  Whatever the reasoning, it was hardly amusing given his present circumstances.

The insects and other crawling things were minute in comparison, and so the rats were content to allow them some tiny share of their spoils. It would have been ungracious not to, especially given the help they had been in delivering the specimen – rats weren’t the only creatures being experimented on in that place.

Lance wanted to scream, to struggle, to swat and brush them away just like he would if seeing a fly or a spider buzzing or crawling about his home. None of that was an option now. Not a sound escaped his lips, and except for the occasional involuntary shudder, his body made no response to any mental commands to move. He tried thinking back on how it came to be there. The last thing TLS1 remembered was getting into his car. Something had stung or bitten him. It hadn’t been painful, but enough to get his attention. He remembered thinking at the time of being glad he hadn’t been driving and paid it no consideration other than to reopen his car door to shoo whatever it was out of the car. After that he’d set off for home, confident that whatever it was had flown off into the night air. And then … nothing.

Like those laboratory victims, this human one had also been rendered incapable of movement or resistance, though not by the same means. The rats had no access to or even the means or understanding yet to administer muscle relaxants or anaesthetising drugs, not that it mattered. They would not have been inclined to using them regardless if they had. They had other means for now, albeit cruder and somewhat less ‘humane.’

While still unconscious, several of the rats had nibbled deep into TLS1’s naked flesh, not to feed but merely sever vital nerves, paralysing its movement. It was unfortunate for the specimen they hadn’t miscalculated and severed more vital ones, either killing or at least neutralising its pain carrying nerve endings too. They had done neither. The specimen remained conscious and aware of the slightest touch to its skin, right up to the gentle breeze of a nearby mosquito fluttering its wings.

The rats’ purpose in bringing the specimen there was two-fold. Firstly, they wanted to know just how much tissue loss and damage a human could sustain before death quickly followed, and anything else they could learn. The other reason was a more basic one – revenge; they not only knew of RS2179’s ordeal before it died, but they had also felt it too, living every moment of their little cousin’s pain and fear, powerless to help. Their minds had been connected, and along with all the pain they had shared, they had also taken on its cognitive enhancements and had their own synapses super-charged. The new-found intelligence it gave them was as much a curse as it was a gift, or so it seemed at the time. It was an experience that would stay with the thousand plus numbered mischief of rats for as long as they lived. It seemed only fair to share that experience with their current specimen …

A lone rat, the dominant one of the mischief, crawled up onto its abdomen. It started to nibble away just above the belly button. Its teeth and claws were more than sufficient to tear away a few inches of skin and subcutaneous tissue beneath. More of them approached, hesitantly at first. The dominant looked round to them with a nod of acknowledgement. After that, they approached more confidently. The specimen silently shrieked as one it hadn’t seen started to crawl up the back of its head and over the face. Claws scraped along its eyes. It tried to close them, the eyelids being the only part of its body other than the eyes themselves that still responded. It was no use. Another rat had joined it, using its claws to pull back the other eyelid while a third used its teeth to literally slice at the eyeball itself. There are no words to adequately describe the sense of panic and revulsion going through the specimen’s mind at that moment. And that was just the beginning … it was about to get worse … much worse.

Depositphotos_8609426_dsThe slow and meticulous way the rats tore away at the flesh and internal organs had been calculated to cause the most amount of pain for the maximum amount of time. All the time the specimen clung to life, its blood remained warm and tastier to its insect and arachnid feeders. The rats too were feeding off the extremities, but only in small tiny rat-sized bites. They paid particular attention to its genital area, knowing from its mind the additional psychological impact of that.

*

The rats learnt a lot from TLS1: rates of blood loss, pain tolerances, and even some insight into the working of its mind from their synaptic connection – that last aspect hadn’t been as intense or well-defined as with their little cousin, RS2179, but enough for them all to revel in the hated two-legs’ suffering.

Despite their giant size and, for now, superior intelligence, the two-legs were not so nearly adept at coping with the sort of procedures the rats and other creatures had had to contend with for as long as any of them could remember. The two-legs feared death and would fight its inevitability in any way they could.

They would need more such specimens, different ages, sexes, and the like if they were to learn more. They would also need a more efficient means of getting them too; relying on their insect allies stinging them into darkness was not ideal. The one they had just dissected might well have died in the car crash, and it had been no easy task dragging its body back to their underground cave. As it was, it was already bruised and damaged when they got it. The rats still had much to learn in trapping live prey like the two-legs did, but they would learn from them, adapting their methods to suit their own smaller size and different skill sets.

Still, there remained over a hundred more of the two-legs working at the 101 faculty. There would be plenty of time and opportunity for the rats to improve their skills.

rat2Lance Nelson had taken three days to die. It was a death no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever deliberately have to suffer.

That rats had thought otherwise. Not bad for a first specimen, they congratulated themselves. They could, and would do better … Next time.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more rat-related tales, they can all be found in Book One of my Creature Tales collection …

Click title below for universal amazon link …

Rat Tales: A Mischief of Little horrors

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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 would-be recruit’s naivety at thinking they had fooled anyone yet admiring their decision to try. It was just the 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 barely 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 twelve 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 and 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 twelve 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 that 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 for an unenviable task. 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 breathing 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 the 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 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 six simple words …

“Battery ‘Bobtail’ Bob, we salute you.”

***

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Short story – Blind Devotion

a2z

 

 

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:

a2y

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 …

***

 

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

a4x

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:

rattales5c

 

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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