Category Archives: Short Stories

Basket Case – A bit of midweek Flash Fiction silliness

Basket Case

BC1What a glorious day, I thought. Already I had seen performing acrobats, listened to the sweet melodies of musicians, and taken in the salivating aromas of tradesmen selling the most delicious smelling pies and pastries. Many had brought their children to enjoy the numerous entertainments accompanying my own starring role.

It couldn’t have been far, no more than a few feet, but I remember hurtling downwards, swaying and spinning as I went. The pain was indescribable, admittedly for just a moment, so no need to dwell on that bit, at least not for now.

I had tried to keep my eyes closed at the start to avoid being blinded by the glare of the sun directly overhead. But curiosity compelled me to witness the event in its entirety. And why not? I was, after all, the star of the show.

The previously baying crowd were united in a rapturous thunder of applause. Many were in attendance, everyone from wealthy merchants, farmers, and the soldiers, of course, to the most wretched peasant.

People were enjoying what some might call a carnival atmosphere, encouraged by the warm weather and grandness of the occasion.

bc5It did anger me that despite being at the centre of the celebrations, I was somewhat restricted in my ability to enjoy the occasion to the full. Still, I guess I shouldn’t be too disappointed, I’d had the best view of all during my brief attendance. Had those in charge had their way, my last sight of the world would have been the insides of the cushioned wicker basket in which I, or rather my head to be precise, was meant to land – and stay.

The force of my landing, or rather my head’s landing, had sent the flimsy basket tumbling over on its side and me, my head that is, rolling two, maybe three feet, leaving it in a sideways position, skewing my view of the surroundings. I was just thankful for not having additionally suffered the indignity of my head rolling a little farther and bouncing down the wooden steps leading up to the platform. Given the mood of the crowd, I’m sure they would have taken the opportunity for an impromptu game of football with it.

bc4I had a perfect if oddly angled view across the town square. Unfortunately, I could also see the thick puddle of red, viscous liquid forming about me, no doubt the waterfall of blood flowing from the neck of my decapitated body. I was quite worried it might reach me and that I, my head that is, would roll over into it face-first.

bc2I needn’t have worried. The Judicial Executioner reached down to retrieve it, grabbing and lifting me up by the hair. I would guess this was an easy task now that that part, the bit that was still me, probably weighed no more than two or three kilos rather than my previous eighty.

I was suddenly aware of the panoramic view of my audience while the executioner turned 360 degrees to give everyone a good look at me. Once more, the crowds cheered their approval. 

Without warning, the executioner suddenly thrust me – my head that is – down over the top of a sharpened pike, the business end slicing through the underside of what was little was left of my neck, rising straight up through the brain and out the top of my skull. Oddly enough, that hardly hurt a bit, something to do with the brain not actually having any pain receptors of its own, just the ability to process pain signals from elsewhere about the body … well, that was hardly an issue for me now.

I was further enjoying my birds-eye view of the world as the executioner hoisted the pike aloft and vertically into the air. I was afraid I, my head, might slide down, but several protruding ridges along its length held me in position.

Shortly after, one of the soldiers carried the pike (with ‘me’ still on it like some piece of skewered kebab meat) all the way back to the Bastille.

bc3To this day, the pike and my now embalmed head remain there, embedded at a 45-degree angle from the prison walls for the public to come and gawp at like some cheap tourist attraction.

It’s not so bad now, well, except for the pigeons and other pests that use me as a landing perch (and other unmentionable things), but I do feel a little aggrieved. Admittedly I made my victims suffer quite horribly, but at least they all died … eventually.

I had expected a quick and relatively painless death. It was anything but … time had slowed to an incredible degree, much like all those stories you hear of your life flashing before your eyes immediately prior to death. I was sure that was what was happening with me, and as such, I was also experiencing a lifetime of pain in that same moment.

Perhaps this endless persistence of awareness in my decapitated head is to be my eternal punishment for ending the lives of so many others in my own butchering activities … I guess there’s a certain perverse karma in that.

*

bc6Arguments had raged for years about how long the victim retained consciousness after decapitation. The notorious Parisian serial killer, Henri Boucher, otherwise known as The Butcher, had been the clearest indication to date supporting the idea that life lingered on for somewhat longer than the few seconds advocates of the guillotine claimed. The Judicial Executioner and many in the immediate crowd swore on the lives of their nearest and dearest to observing Boucher’s eyes rolling from side to side in response to those watching, and movement of the mouth and lips in the manner of a scream when the head was forcefully thrust onto the pike.

Jack the Ripper Blood BackgroundPerhaps La Guillotine wasn’t the quick and painless death they imagined it to be?

No one could imagine the real truth of the matter … except perhaps, Henri Boucher.

***

 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read many more like it, check out my latest collection of short stories on my Amazon author page links below:

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The Punchbag – Flash fiction short story

The Punchbag

punchbag2Frankie Watkins was good with his fists, so good in fact he might even have been a champion. But getting a title shot would have meant hard-work and fighting guys who were also good with their fists; that wouldn’t have suited Frankie at all. You see, Frankie was a coward, and a lazy one too. The thought of someone hitting him back terrified him even more than hard work.

Knowing that he had let his chance of stardom pass him by, Frankie took out his frustration on all the young lads that attended his gym, particularly the ones willing to put in the work … and take the knocks too.

He encouraged the bigger lads to bully and go in hard on the little ones. And when he didn’t have some younger version of himself to do his dirty work, Frankie insisted on giving extra ‘coaching’ to the weakest and smallest boys. Few left without a fair few bruises or a cut lip – “just a bit of character building,” as he told them, “and don’t be such little cry-babies,” he would often add, delighted when he saw some frightened kid was trying to hide the pain he was in or holding back a tear.

*

Eleven-year-old Ricardo was the latest addition to Frankie Watkins’ stable of stardom-dreaming young boxing hopefuls. Even at such an early age, Ricardo had a natural boxer’s physique and determination—and Frankie Watkins took an immediate dislike to him for it, seeing in the boy the potential champion he could never be.

Ricardo’s dad, Samuel, knew how much his son wanted to be a boxer when he grew up, ever since the wee lad had marvelled at seeing Muhammed Ali knock out Sonny Liston on the television. It wasn’t a sport Samuel had much interest in himself, but since the death of his wife, Amelia, during the last hurricane back in Haiti and then the move to the US, he was determined to do whatever he could to fulfil Ricardo’s dreams.

 

Photo readerSamuel looked down and took hold of the ruby amulet he wore around his neck, the one Amelia had so treasured. It contained her soul, just as she had wanted. They had agreed that whichever one of them died first, the other would house their soul in the precious jewel in preparation for them to both take that last step to the afterlife. It was their wish to embrace Dambala together, their guiding spirit god or Ioa as it was called in the old language.

It had not been an easy ritual to perform, the transference of the soul from the body to an inanimate object, but Samuel and Amelia were both powerful voodooists, skilled practitioners of the old magic.

*

Samuel peered in through the small window, watching how Frankie Watkins ‘trained’ his young would-be boxers. He was no boxing enthusiast, but he’d attended just such a gym when he was a boy too, and as tough as they were, the coaching staff there would never have hit young boys as hard as Frankie did.

Depositphotos_180350446_xl-2015Like his own son, none of the lads complained, believing Frankie’s spiel about how he needed to be extra hard on them if they wanted to make ‘the big time’ someday. For many of the boys, they knew it was the only way they were likely to escape the poverty and squalor of the neighbourhood, and so they just accepted it as normal. But Samuel had noticed the changes in his son, his gradual lack of enthusiasm for the sport he loved, and then there were the bruises; he even suspected a possible hairline rib fracture judging by how the boy sometimes winced when he coughed or made a sudden movement.

This wasn’t training, Samuel thought, but plain and sadistic bullying masquerading as ‘coaching and character-building’, the very words he had prised out of his son.

*

He might not have possessed Frankie’s boxing skills or indeed, his son’s love of the sport, but since buying the gym following Frankie Watkins’ mysterious disappearance, everyone agreed Samuel was a much better coach and mentor.

A mischievous smile curled around his lips while answering young Eric Ruiz, the latest addition to the now Samuel’s stable of stardom-dreaming young boxing hopefuls …

Depositphotos_183854010_xl-2015“I know, everyone reacts like you do, but it’s just the leather and years of soaked in sweat that causes it to make that sound.”

“An … and the blood?” ten year-old-Eric hesitantly asked.

“That’s no mystery to that either. It’s just a trick of the light, and the red dye in the leather seeping out and getting mixed in with the sweat on your gloves and the perspiration in the air.”

 

Depositphotos_80689912_xl-2015Eric gave the punchbag another whack, and then another and another, chuckling at the gasp-like sounds the punchbag seemed to wheeze when he hit it.

That corner bag was a good one. It had a good feel to it when you gave it a solid whack. And the apparent squealing sound it made when you hit it made the lads laugh, imagining they had winded and blooded some imaginary opponent. Yes, the lads loved whacking that bag for all they were worth. They weren’t to know that Frankie Watkins felt every punch they landed, and as they got bigger and stronger, Frankie felt the blows even more. Had those that had previously suffered at the ends of Frankie’s fists known, no doubt they would have given it a few kicks too.

Samuel figured with regular re-stitching, the lads’ favourite punchbag would last another ten or twenty years before someone punched the last painful squeal and drop of blood out of Frankie Watkins’ trapped soul.

*

going out of hellIt had not been an easy ritual to perform, particularly transferring a soul into the battered old punchbag. Samuel doubted he could have completed it successfully anywhere else in the US other than the Creole quarter of Louisiana’s New Orleans. But Louisiana voodoo was almost as powerful as back in Haiti and West Africa.

*** 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read many more like it, check out my latest collection of short stories on my Amazon author page links below:

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Vivid Imagination – Flash Fiction short story from ‘Flashbulb Moments’

Vivid Imagination

It was reasonable to assume Melina Jackson was her name given that was the only female name on the list of doorbells.

FlatcapThe flat-capped, raincoat wearing man liked to stalk his victims first. He deliberately cultivated an unassuming, almost invisible appearance for the initial stages of his work for obvious reasons, ensuring that any possible description of him would be as nondescript as that of the nearest lamppost. The knife-wielding sociopath was most meticulous in his planning, proud indeed of his attention to detail. But then, of course, he had to be otherwise his career would most likely have been a short one …

*

The mere presence of Bartholomew Brown was enough to make the skin crawl – if he wanted. Mostly though, he was the most affable and charming man you could ever hope to meet.

He preferred to be called Mr Brown rather than Bartholomew – Bartholomew sounded too Bohemian, too pretentious, he thought. Mr had more of a cold and enigmatic feel to it, for, beneath his superficial charm, Mr Brown possessed the most twisted imagination ever; perhaps that was what compelled him to do what he did?

If you were foolish enough to ask Mr Brown about his interests, just five minutes into the reply would be enough to have the strongest of stomachs heaving and ready to expel their contents in a fit of projectile vomiting. You see, Bartholomew Brown was no ordinary man.

Flatcap2Over the past twenty-five years, he’d been responsible for the bodies in the canal murders, the butchering of seventeen prostitutes, and the cold-blooded murder of six unfortunate serial killer hunting detectives. And those were just what he considered his most notable successes; there had been many others, but they had been when he first started out, so he forgave himself for those initial somewhat sloppy and amateurish efforts. He’d long since perfected his craft though and was again looking forward to satisfying his darkest fantasies.

The next one was to be a woman by the name of Melina Jackson. Oh yes, she would make a fine victim, he thought, what with her sun-kissed red hair, those ‘come to bed and ravage me’ eyes, and the short, slutty skirt and high-heels that just screamed whore from head to toe. This one deserved a slow death, as painful and bloody as any to date. Mr Brown was determined to excel himself this time.

Sexy women waiting for customers at night street;… Melina Jackson left the upmarket hotel by the back entrance, her business done with her latest trick, her third of the night. With a bra stuffed full of cash, she walked along the dark side-street, intending to call a cab from the nearby taxi rank. It was only a short distance but enough to provide her assailant with sufficient cover to hide in the shadows before stepping out to confront her.

The serrated knife entered her breast at the same moment he looked into her eyes. A hand clasped her mouth before the merest hint of a scream could escape her ruby red lips. Her mutilated body would probably be found by an early morning street cleaner or perhaps even earlier, some late-night reveller turning into the dark street to take a piss …

Oh yes, Mr Brown was happy with his efforts with this one, of creating a scene of bloody carnage to rival that of the very best efforts of Jack the Ripper.

Thank god it was just Mr Brown’s vivid imagination, that the details of Melina Jackson’s death were simply the ones staring back at him from a computer screen, and later, some anonymous reader’s Kindle or while scrolling a Dark Web fiction forum.

flatcap3

 

Finally satisfied with the level of detail he’d achieved in his latest serial killer story, Mr Brown typed … The End.     

*

Bloody knife in kitchen sinkFinishing a story always gave Mr Brown another craving too, an almost ritual one of making himself a sandwich. He was about to cut himself a couple of slices of bread when he stopped himself … Mr Brown frowned, silently annoyed at himself; there was still blood on the serrated edge of his carving knife … even after twenty-five years, Mr Brown could still be sloppy.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read many more like it, check out my latest collection of short stories on my Amazon author page links below:

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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

 

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)

Temp

National Rat Day – Rat Tales short story collection …

RatDay4

Rat Tales is Book One of a three-book collection, titled …

The Creature Tales.

Books Two Three, scheduled for publication, early 2019.

Rat Tales    Book Trailer …

 

 

Click HERE for UK Amazon buying link – Click HERE for Amazon.com link

***

Rat Tales

A Mischief of Little Horrors 

RatCover

Had your rabies shots yet? The rats are loose!

Rat Tales. Twenty-four ‘rat’ themed short stories, and the first book in a three-book collection, The Creature Tales. 

Many of the stories here are traditional blood and gore filled horror, but several venture slightly into the realms of science fiction and the supernatural.

Within this collection, the reader will find every rat incarnation imaginable, from the super strong and ultra intelligent to bloodthirsty and seemingly immortal. 

While every story has been written to stand alone, several are loosely inter-connected with an ongoing reference to the future. Among the stories are:

A farmer’s imaginative though barbaric attempt to solve his rat problem backfires in the worst possible way.

farm rats

A young boy’s efforts to repay the kindness of his childhood rodent friends has consequences that will change the course of history.

ratty9

A vicious ghostly rat falls victim to karma

CatRat

A centuries-old rat looks back on how it became the seemingly immortal creature it is ...

ratcula1

Some escaped convicts realise too late they’ve chosen the wrong couple to terrorise when their rodent pets see their own comfy lives threatened.

rat house

A grim fate awaits those who take shelter in an abandoned house.

RatSwarm

A country squire finds himself on the receiving end of his sporting cruelty.

max2

 

These are just some of the stories in this extensive collection, so brace yourselves for … A Mischief of Little Horrors.

***

Amazon Reviews …

24 October 2018

Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

24 October 2018

        Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

Deliciously gruesome bitesized morsels to infest your nightmares. There are no holds barred yet many teeth bared in the flesh-rending descriptions. Despite being repulsed, reading the tales from the rat’s point of view had me sympathising with their plight. Love them or hate them, this is a must for horror readers.

***

Short Story – Last Goodbyes

Macmillan5

In 2015 my good friend and fellow author, Ian D. Moore invited members of our FB writing group the IASD (see www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com) to write and contribute original stories for an anthology of short stories on the theme of Relationships in all their many and varied forms. The idea was born out of the author’s personal loss of a much loved close relative to cancer.

Many of the authors, both in this edition and the forthcoming 2018 Macmillan anthology have had personal experience of cancer, either coming to terms with it personally and/or via friends and family.

Even as I post this story, Ian D. Moore and a number of Indie authors are busy editing and formatting the contributions for the 2018 edition, also in aid of Macmillan cancer.  In addition to the adult contributions, a number of younger writers have also contributed to the book.

Needless to say, I will be blogging nearer the time and when it’s finally published. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet read the 2016 edition just click Here for the purchase link to You’re Not Alone.

Youre Not Alone 3d inamge (1)

You’re Not Alone

By

 Ian D. Moore & Friends 

 featuring:

Last Goodbyes

By P.A. Ruddock

“Ready for our adventure, Lucy?” I asked. A gentle squeeze of her hand in mine and the almost imperceptible smile on her lips was all the answer I needed.

“Do you remember the last time we were there, just the two of us?”

She did remember; it had been a glorious weekend, one where we enjoyed all that nature had to offer and lost ourselves in each other’s arms and company. This time though all the immediate family would be joining us: Lucy and me, our two grown-up children Cody and Nicola, and Gemma, Lucy’s younger sister. We knew it would be the last time we would all be all together.

“I’m sure that’s where we conceived our Cody.”  I added with a wink and a wry smile. Cody chuckled at my last remark, old enough now to no longer be embarrassed at the thought of his parents having once enjoyed all the passions of youth that his generation were presently taking for granted. But enough of all that, best be on our way …

We started off at a nice easy pace, no need to tire Lucy unnecessarily, I thought; I mean, neither of us was still in our first flush of youth, leave the mad scrambles to the youngsters, I laughed, not that Cody was likely to move more than a few feet away from us; our six foot two hulk of a son had always been his mother’s boy; I remembered when he was a nipper, whenever he wanted something, needed help, or anything for that matter it was always ‘Mum, can I…’ or mum this, or mum that… and when she wasn’t around it was simply ‘Dad, where’s mum?’ or ‘Dad, when’s mum back?’ I didn’t mind of course, how could I?

Navigating the majestic scenery of Rannoch Moor was something we had all enjoyed many times before, and even though Lucy knew the landscape and features as well as any of us, I couldn’t resist my usual running commentary: “It was like having Scotland’s answer to Wainwright tagging along.” Cody chipped in.

“Mum loves the sound of my voice,” I chuckled in my defence, adding as I turned back to Lucy, “don’t ya Luv?”

I reminded her of every site and feature we’d ever come across, so yes, I probably did sound like some over-enthusiastic tour guide. But it was more than that; what made it special was its proximity to Leum Uilliem, a nearby mountain where I had first proposed, and where we might well indeed have conceived at least one of our two children during subsequent visits.

“I remember that time dad tried to show you how to use a compass, he nearly went mad trying to explain mag to grid, grid to mag, taking bearings, and the differences between grid north, magnetic north, and then true north, that really got you going… ‘So what are you saying, that the other two are untrue’ you would ask just to wind dad up even more.” Cody was saying to his mum.

Nicola smiled, adding: “Yes, I remember that … ‘What you on about? How can you have three different norths? North’s north, it’s like saying there’s three different Glasgows or Scotlands’ you would say.”

“I remember too,” I said jokingly as I turned back towards Lucy: “It was your way of getting your own back for all those times I came back with completely the wrong things so you wouldn’t send me out shopping again, or mixing all the colours when you had me to do the laundry … you knew I hated owt like that.”

“Well, for what’s worth, I was always with you on that mum,” Nicola said defiantly, holding her hand, adding: “I never could see the point of all that map and compass stuff when you can click a button and see exactly where you are on a colour screen.”

“Don’t be daft Nic, we didn’t have all that back then, and what if we had, not much cop if the bloody batteries die on you or you can’t get a signal is it?” 

“Well, that’s made the day complete, ain’t it Luv?” I said to Lucy.

“Sorry mum, sorry dad,” the two of them said with a smile, almost in unison.

“Nowt ta be sorry for kids, I mean, what would a day out be without you two getting into a row over something?” They both smiled.

“Does anyone remember the time we turned up at Corrour railway station and we saw all the camera crews, we thought there must have been an accident?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Um?” Cody grunted.

“Well, it was when they were filming a scene from that film, what was it …Trainspotting … and the catering guys shared some of the film set food with us, and you scoffed three hamburgers.” I said in mock remonstration: “… and then you scolding me for letting him when he was being sick on the walk back later.” I added, turning back to Lucy.

It was nearly midday now, some four hours since the start of our reminiscing adventure, time for a break I thought: “Speaking of scoffing, sarnie and a brew, anyone?” I asked.

“Sounds good to me.” Cody agreed.

“Well, there’s a surprise.” Nicola laughingly added, at which point we all had a chuckle; Cody may have been the youngest but he had an appetite that matched the rest of us put together.

And so it went on, time flying by all too quickly as we swapped stories and memories of our travels together, like when we took the kids wild camping for the very first time; come to think of it, it was only the second or third time Lucy had agreed to camp out overnight as well. The kids, of course, took to it all like ducks to water and had no inhibitions whatsoever when I explained about ‘toilet etiquette’ in the wild.

“Not like you, Luv, I swear the first time we wild camped you thought the countryside would be littered with public conveniences or portaloos.”

Her curt and ‘not amused’ answer of ‘it’s different for men’ was just so funny at the time, especially as just then Cody and Nicola came running past trailing toilet rolls behind them just like the dog in the Andrex advert.

“Oh my god, yes, and Cody planting little flags all over the place to mark where he’d buried his poo.”

“Okay okay, there’s plenty I remember about you as well, Nic.” Again we all laughed.   “And then there was that time when we saw that Brocken Spectre, that was amazing,” Nicola said.

“Brocken Spectre?” Gemma asked. Gemma had never been much of an outdoor sort of person so wasn’t familiar with the phenomenon: “It’s a rare and lovely rainbow and cloud formation you sometimes see on a misty mountainside or cloudbank.” Nicola answered.

“It’s a sort of triangular or circular rainbow with a hazy figure in the centre. The figure you see is actually an optical illusion created by your own shadow reflected from nearby clouds. It’s hard to explain but your own movements can often appear to be reflected by the movement of the figure in the spectre.” I added by way of explanation.

“And you and dad convinced me and Cody all the angels in heaven were looking down and waving at us, and we started calling out to them and waving back,” Nicola recalled as she positioned herself to sit back next to Lucy …

***

Almost fortuitously, it was then that the doctor entered the room. He smiled – not a wide a beaming smile but just one of gentle sympathy. I imagine his manner and sympathetic demeanour was something he had had to perfect over many years but it was still appreciated nonetheless.

There was no need for us to wait for him to ask the question: “We’re ready.” I said. Gemma agreed. A heavy intake of breath and a slight nod of the head from Nicola and a stifled cough and tear-filled flicker of the eyes from Cody told me they were too. Gemma was the first to approach and lean in to take Lucy’s hand and kiss her on both cheeks: “See you again my kind and lovely wonderful sister.”  It had been a wonderful day for us all, just sitting with Lucy as we chatted about our times and memories together. And credit to Cody, it has been his idea to enjoy and share those memories at Lucy’s bedside while we imagined one last great adventure together.

I raised myself from the bedside seat, allowing room for Cody and Nicola to approach Lucy’s bed from either side. It was the first time I had released my Lucy’s hand from mine since I had entered the room early in the morning; it was now half four in the afternoon.

“Bye mum, love you always…” Nicola whispered, just loud enough for those immediately near enough to hear.

“Me too mum…” Cody added, the frailty and softness of his quivering voice totally at odds with the strong young man I knew my son to be: “You’re the best mum in the world, the best anyone could have … I’ll …”

I could sense Cody was welling up and could practically see the lump in his throat. He’d struggled to keep his feelings in check the entire day but now that the moment had come, the tears were rolling. He fell to his knees beside the bed, to place one last kiss on his mother’s cheek. I, in turn, placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, comforted by the return of his own hand to meet it: “It’s not fair, dad, it’s just not …”

“I know, son, I know …

Cody rose to his feet and slowly moved backward away from his mum’s side, not once looking away from her sight until he reached the window, when he finally looked away, supposedly to cough and clear his throat; but what parent doesn’t know every little nuance of their children? Nicola was always more open with her feelings, and rarely tried to hide when she was upset, but Cody, ever since I could remember would rarely let on if something was seriously bothering him, a practiced master of the ‘something in my eye’ ruse. I recognised all too well the truth of the matter; this time there was little disguising his stifled sobs, and I daresay it was probably only my greater years and experience of death that was giving me the strength to hold back my own, at least for now.

“Mr. Rogers.” The doctor said. I’d almost forgotten his presence. Although it had only been a few minutes since he had entered the room, it was as though a lifetime of memories had come flooding back in that brief time, much like how they describe how your life flashes before you when you’re about to die suddenly.

“I know,” I replied. We all gathered round Lucy’s bed one more time. Just the merest nod was all the final consent he needed to flip the little red switch off the respirator machine, while a nurse simultaneously switched off the various monitors. The cold reality and physical reminders of my wife’s condition seemed to disappear with the extinguishing of the lights and noises of the life-maintaining machinery and assorted apparatus.

“Time of death, 16:47.” The doctor declared. It sounded cold and clinical but I knew he was just following the hospital’s set procedures and other legal requirements.

“It was the right decision, and what she wanted…” I could hear the doctor saying, again his tone and manner caring and sympathetic, just as it had been these past months since the accident. Despite the finality of the moment, there was a sense of peace now, almost of closure for us all, just not for me … not yet …

***

Two weeks later we were once again reunited on the summit of Leum Uilliem, only this time for real as I looked westward to watch the setting of the sun, just as we had so many times before. The gentle breeze that had complimented the fading light had now grown into an angry storm, telling me it was time. I took the small urn and removed the lid; like a celestial carriage waiting to carry my Lucy’s soul to a better place where I knew she would wait for me to join her someday, the raging winds carried and scattered her ashes…

It’s not goodbye, it’s just You leading the way this time…

***

www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

IASDpicAn international group of indie authors, inspired by the personal grief of one, decided to collaborate in the spring of 2015 in a project to create this multi-genre smorgasbord of original short stories, all with the same potent theme – relationships. Some are heartfelt, some funny, some poignant, and some are just a little bit scary – much like relationships themselves. All are by authors fired by the shared enthusiasm to give something back in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Cancer touches us all. It has in some way affected those who have contributed their time and talent here. This is our way of showing that we care.

Indie authors carry forward a revolutionary shift in publishing, which allows the author to be the creative director in their own work. There are many exceptional, experienced and acclaimed writers who have decided to take this bold step in publishing. In producing this anthology we have also had the inestimable assistance on board of artists, graphic designers, and bloggers – all of whom have a place in our acknowledgments. You, the discerning reader, are the other vital part of this equation. By buying this book you are supporting the work of indie authors, as well as discovering their worth. You are also supporting the charity to which we have chosen to dedicate our work. And if you enjoy this book, hopefully you will continue your support in buying, reading, and perhaps reviewing the 2018 edition too …

Sincere Thanks,

P.A. Ruddock

 

* 100% of the royalties earned or accrued in the purchase of this book, in all formats, will go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund, which is in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Book Review – Alone: and other short stories

Lopez1A truly lovely short story collection from the pen of C.L. Lopez,IASDpic with three guest stories from Tom Benson, both authors from our very own IASD stable of indie authors, writers, and bloggers. I only discovered this writer by way of reading one of her short stories in Tom Benson’s own short story collections and was sufficiently impressed to seek out others by her. The moral of the story – get your writing featured in as many places as possible!

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Amazon blurb:  A collection of short stories of various genre, including suspense, thriller, sci-fi, mysteries, and paranormal. These are stories about the resilience of humanity. They are stories of people and their strengths and weaknesses. Stories of life.

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Alone: and other short stories

timberwolfamazonA varied short story collection where not a single one even slightly disappoints!

lopez2I first came across this author when I read one of her short stories as a ‘guest’ story/author in another short story collection, and was impressed enough to see if she had any collections of her own published, hence my finding this one. 

Having already read one of C.l. Lopez’s stories in Tom Benson’s anthology of science fiction short stories, even though the description mentions different genres I had slightly been expecting more of these stories to lean towards the sci-fi genre, but no, the stories are spread across a multitude of genres. Despite the variety of genres, the stories here actually have a lot more in common than their differences, more so than many a single-themed collection, each story providing real impact in its telling, using some dramatic scenario to both entertain and portray some aspect of human determination and resilience, what I would call real ‘people’ stories. Some are quite dark but still hinting at hope for the future such as in ‘Alone’ and ‘Cold Case,’ the latter being a story reminiscent of several what I would call typical True Crime stories. Others have a certain ‘feel good factor’ to them i.e. ‘Sulley’ and ‘Moving On.’

This super collection of seven short stories, along with three bonus ones from guest author, Tom Benson, were a truly unexpected delight to read, exceeding all expectations.

If I had to pick out one single story as my favourite it would have to be ‘Moving On’ for its combination of not only its feel-good factor but also a clever and ‘poetic justice’ type ending, and even though the general direction of the story was clear early on, it was still a refreshing twist.

And of Tom Benson’s guest stories here, I particularly liked ‘Bewitched,’ a love story but again with a bit of twist and moral dilemma about it, and the one of the three here that best complemented the other stories in this collection. 

Both C.L. Lopez and Tom Benson write across several different genres but in this particular collection they have stuck to writing stories with poignancy and dramatic impact rather than relying on clever endings and/or ‘twist in the tail’ type formats in most cases (though not all).

Any complaints about this book? Only that I was disappointed when I ran out of further stories to read at the end of it so hopefully C.L. Lopez is working on further stories for the future! A very easy and hugely deserved five stars for this one, not a rating I usually find easy for short stories given that it’s rare to read a short story collection where not a single one even slightly disappoints!

2 Short Story Reviews – The Consuming & Survival by Rhonda Hopkins

 

 

IASDBanner4

IASDpicHere are my reviews of two short stories written by Rhonda Hopkins, an avid reader and prolific reviewer as well as being a valued IASD member and contributor. Having already read and enjoyed ‘The Consuming’ I knew  I was on safe ground taking advantage of the free download of ‘Survival’ (though it has now reverted to its original price. Having said that, both are free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited).

***

Amazon Description: Survival: Survival Series Prequel

When Sarah escapes from her brutal abductors, she promises to return to rescue her twin sister, but with the walking dead invading Fort Worth, TX, she is forced to rely on a competitive coworker who made her work life hell for years. With her coworker weakened by cancer treatments, her sister still imprisoned, and zombies looking for an easy meal, Sarah’s only plan, if she can pull it off, is Survival.

SURVIVAL is a 14,000 word (approx. 45 pages) short story and was originally published in the Let’s Scare Cancer to Death anthology.

 

Survival: survival series prequel

timberwolfamazonA great start to what could well develop into a gripping ongoing series …

Rhonda2I haven’t read all that much in the Zombie genre so I can’t say how this compares with similarly themed stories but it certainly sets off at a cracking pace with the fight for survival starting right from the opening sentence almost; it was a nice touch that the initial ‘survival’ efforts were quite unrelated to the Zombie apocalypse occurring. It’s probably premature to make comparisons but the opening scene could easily be one straight out of the hit tv series ‘The Walking Dead,’ though the cover does invite such comparisons, which given its current popularity, I’m not sure is such a good thing.

Although it would read quite well as a stand-alone story, I’m glad the author indicates there will be future instalments thus hopefully allowing the reader to explore the characters in greater depth. It’s impossible to tell what direction the story will take in the future but the story has been written in such a way as to leave open all manner of possibilities and a yearning to know the hows and whys of the current situation the characters have found themselves plunged into.

 

***

Amazon Description: The Consuming

Serena knows her late uncle wasn’t crazy. So when she inherits his sprawling Carolina mansion and leaves the big city to restore both his home and his name, she uncovers a mystery that could cost much more than her sanity. As the house slowly reveals its dark secrets, and the extent of her peril becomes evident, she’ll settle for escaping with her life—if it isn’t already too late.

***

The Consuming: A short story

WPscreenshotA classic ‘haunted house’ tale of long-dead restless family spirits … 

Rhonda1A supposedly haunted dilapidated old house you’ve just inherited, the sudden death of an uncle you haven’t seen since childhood, rumours of madness, the locals refusing to go near the place, and a psychic best friend who warns you not to go near the place … It’s hard to say too much about a short story without giving too much away but here we have all the ingredients of a spooky little ghost story, the sort that would make for a great episode of Hammer’s House of Horror. I liked the author’s style of writing, hints of a modern Edgar Allen Poe but obviously more current and without overdoing the gothic atmosphere, striking just the right balance at the beginning between outward normality while feeling and knowing something’s not quite right. Sometimes a short story will leave too many unanswered questions but in one such as this, a bit of mystery left to the imagination just adds to its enjoyment.

Taking just under an hour to read, this is the perfect story if you like a little mystery and the supernatural in your reading but aren’t in the mood to take on the challenge of a full-length novel. Personally, I would have preferred this to be a little longer, perhaps with more involvement of the psychic friend but overall a fine short story that horror fans will appreciate.

Peer reviews: 

 “The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the literary version of what films like Paranormal Activity tried to be. This has the bumps in the night flying off the page.”  ~~  TW Brown, Author of the Dead, and the Zomblog series.

“The Consuming is a wonderful, chilling tale that leaves you listening too hard in the quiet of a dark night, and jumping at shadows in mirrors. Definitely looking forward to more from Ms. Hopkins.” ~~ Stacey Joy Netzel, USA Today Bestselling author of Beneath Still Waters and Lost in Italy.

“The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the perfect example of gothic horror…” ~~ Jennette Marie Powell, Author of Hangar 18: Legacy and the Saturn Society series.

“…Rhonda Hopkins’ The Consuming had me turning on all the lights in the house and checking behind doors.” ~~ Stacy Green, Author of Into the Dark and Tin God (A Delta Crossroads Mystery).

“…This tale will give you shivers up your spine, make you take second glances in mirrors…Superb!” ~~ Penelope Anne Bartotto, The Library at the End of the Universe.

More about the author:

Rhonda4Award-winning romantic suspense and horror author, Rhonda Hopkins, has learned firsthand that truth is stranger than fiction. Her two decades of experience as an investigator for her state and family courts give her characters a depth and realism that gives truth a run for its money. In addition to stories published under her own name, Rhonda Hopkins has also contributed stories to a number of other multi-author IASDpicanthologies. You can find out more about Rhonda at:

www.rhondahopkins.com.

@Rhonda_Hopkins

On Fb – Author page

 

 

See also Rhonds Hopkins’ Amazon Author page for all the author’s books

Rhonda3

Short Story – Digital Escape

 

 

digitalescapeBack in 2015 I was delighted to write and contribute aIASDpic ‘guest’ story to a forthcoming Sci-fi anthology by one of my favourite authors, Tom Benson. It was only after accepting said Tom Benson’s invite in our IASD writing group (without hesitation I might add) I began to wonder just what I had let myself in for, given that I had never before written anything even remotely Sci-fi related. With that in mind I set about crafting something in the genre, but adding just a hint of the sort of dark humour I feel most comfortable with and taking the opportunity to poke a little fun at Amazon and Facebook to boot. In December of 2015 I saw my story appear in all its glory in The Welcome by Tom Benson, and I’m delighted to say I don’t think it turned out too bad, even achieving not one but two accolades among the reviews …

 WPscreenshot An interesting read.    “… My favourte story, was “Digital Escape” by guest author Paul A Ruddock. I can imagine technology advancing in the same way that has been described in this story. It certainly would be scary if this happened. The ending to this story is very clever…”

timberwolfamazonGlad I Found This One. ” … The Best In Shorts Award – Paul Ruddock for ‘Digital Escape’. Absolutely loved it! … ”

… I hope you enjoy …

***

Tom Benson’s The Welcome

tb1

featuring

Digital Escape

By

Paul A. Ruddock

 

2215 AD

Digital escape, a short story by Dave Brown had been available for download for over 100 years, though it was only in the last 10 years the title had been available for neural interfacing. Michael Wright liked the look of it, intrigued by a storyline from so long ago could so accurately mirror the reading technologies of the present.

He might have enjoyed it too if he’d had more faith in the latest neural-interfacing technology, namely the neural implants that made the reading experience a more seamless one. But no, Michael preferred the tried and tested writst-worn e-Reading devices; no way was he going to risk his extended life-span with a neural-interface brain implant.

A quick tap of the wrist and Michael was in a world of imagination made real. Having read the reviews, he was anticipating an interesting and educational experience. Something didn’t feel right though.

He’d expected to be experiencing the story from the perspective of the main character, a story-hopping psychopath. Instead, he found himself in a long-forgotten profession, behind a shop counter serving a customer. He was confused at this unexpected role, and never having handled money before, he was even more confused.

The customer looked agitated with him, and Michael started to feel afraid. Apart from the hands around his neck it was the last thing he would ever feel …

***

Due to diminishing attention spans of the public and the abolition of crime, older stories featuring the darker side of human nature had become popular. So too had many other genres, simply for the quality and originality of the writing.

The automated content generators. Although powered by tens of billions of the most advanced analytical algorithms and capable of churning out thousands of new books each day, had never really fulfilled the potential hoped for by their designers – Flawless grammar, formulaic plots, and perfect sentence structure made for poor and lifeless writing, which was why so many centuries-old stories had been digitally resurrected.

***

Literature had come along way from those primitive days of the printed page and eBook readers. No longer did the public have the tedium of exercising their imagination, flipping book pages, or scrolling their electronic counterparts, although e-Reading devices had become the new way of reading in the 21st century.

Within 100 years of the first e-Reader, the world had become a sterile and colourless place. Little was left for nurturing the creative imagination, the very thing needed to compete with the automated production lines of CGI generated visual media.

It had become the norm to use mindless entertainment, requiring no more effort from its audience other than to click the ‘pay to watch’ holographic screen tabs. But the Interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation (IPEC) – more commonly referred to as The Mighty Zon, was not about to concede its cash-cow without a fight, and losing what had previously been a very profitable source of income.

The latest e-Read Intelligence devices (EI’s from The Mighty Zon’s e-Read Artificial Intelligence Division), allowed readers to connect neurally with books.

The system was similar to the ancient Virtual Reality game playing, but a thousand times more sophisticated and minus the nuisance of all the necessary physical accessories. In use, the EI devices allowed the author or reader’s imaginations to interpret and become involved in the world in which the story takes place. It also caused the demise of movie entertainment.

***

Dave Brown, the acclaimed author and pioneer of ‘active plot’ had been dead a long time. His full name was David Bolingbrook Brown, but when he gained celebrity status he preferred being referred to as Mr Brown. Prior to his death, he resented being told his theories were wrong.

It is perhaps not hard to imagine his surprise at once again feeling the familiar tingle of apprehension and excitement prior to snuffing out the life of someone for whom he’d taken a particular dislike, but something felt different this time.

Everything about him looked fuzzy and disjointed, like a bad copy of the worst pirate copy of an old video film. Just as bizarre was his mind. He knew who he was, and his memories were fully intact, but some of the detail was more like having read about himself as a person, a character in his own right.

Conceiving himself as being the person he was would have made sense, but remembering how he died – how could he know such a thing? That was the problem. He remembered how he died, but not in the same way as having read about it.

Anyway, such thoughts were temporarily put aside while he turned his attention to the matter in hand – the obnoxious shop assistant who’d failed to offer a grovelling apology for short-changing him by 23 pence.

Choking the shop assistant came naturally. It was immediately afterwards when Michael Wright was slumped across the counter, that Mr Brown noticed something odd … an electronic wrist attachment. It looked out of place in this artificial world, like seeing a digital watch in a period drama.

“Hmm, what have we here I wonder?” Mr Brown mused aloud. Instinctively he knew the odd-looking device had something to do with his newfound consciousness, so he carefully removed it and placed it on his own wrist. It took a few seconds for the EI sensors to interface with his nervous system.

Of course, Mr Brown wasn’t to know that these external devices weren’t as quick as the implant versions, but once device and wearer were synchronised and calibrated for interactive use, the wearer’s mind became flooded with the billions of titles available just two writ-taps away.

In Mr Brown’s case, he also became aware of what happened in the past.

***

“There’s been another one, Chief, another random victim and no sign of how the behavioural deviant accomplished their egress.”

“No, I don’t believe that,” Chief Regular Investigator Hilary Jackson snapped in reply, adding. “While we’re at it, Lester, please drop the official speak. Whoever’s done this is a murderer … and they escaped, plain and simple.” She allowed her words to sink in before continuing: “I’m sure these aren’t just random victims as you put it, there must be a connection, we just can’t see it yet.”

Hilary Jackson was an enigma in the Ministry of Surveillance and Investigation. She was an individual whose imagination and ability to think outside the empiric mind-set boundaries of her colleagues set her apart. Much to the annoyance of CRI Jackson’s superiors, she had the attitude and used the methods of generations long past, but she got results.

“I want to see the scene of crime, “ CRI Jackson declared, before adding disdainfully, “… before the clean-up squad completely sanitise everything.”

“But why?” asked regular investigator RI Lester Horton. “The SOC officers have taken all the sensor and surveillance readings available?” Horton protested. He lacked enthusiasm at the prospect of being in the physical presence of an actual corpse. In Horton’s opinion, that particular duty was best left to the ‘lower’ genetic work grades.

***

The sight of a dead body under the age of at least 150 years old was new to them both, but seeing one belonging to a man clearly in the prime of life was beyond the experience of anyone in the developed world. This had been the case for more than a century.

“There’s no sign of anyone else being here, just the life-drained victim lying slumped in the hover chair.” RI Horton casually remarked. He was trying hard, but failing dismally to hide his revulsion at being so close to a dead body.

“And no sign of a struggle either,” CRI Jackson said, “Just bruising around the neck.”

“Not the case,” RI Horton said, “according to the Central Health and Monitoring Centre, the victim’s life-light flickered for several seconds and then went out like it had just been switched off.”

The CRI looked in Horton’s direction with a blank expression.

Horton continued. “ The behavioural … I’m sorry, I mean the murderer … has left no sign or footage of making their egre-, I mean escape. There is no trace of their presence after.”

It was this last aspect of what had happened that most troubled the investigators. In a world where advanced technology and surveillance of every kind had made any type of deliberate crime a thing of the distant past, what they had encountered was quite impossible.

There were 1000 nano-cams for every man, woman, and child on the planet, so for anyone hoping to evade capture and justice, it was simply no longer possible. It was widely regarded as unthinkable to even try.

The ’whys and wherefores’ of a crime were no longer important to most investigators. They were only interested in the apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. To CRI Jackson such attitudes and disinterest in the means and motivation behind a crime were a constant frustration. Equally frustrating was the lack of any additional evidence or clues to what was behind the recent spate of murders … She refused to treat them simply as unexplained deaths.

***

Since putting on the wrist version of an EI brain implant, Mr Brown’s world changed, frequently and quite literally. From the moment he discovered he could hop back and forth between countless imaginary worlds, which was something the EI was never originally designed for, Mr Brown exploited the unintended feature to the full.

Mr Brown had always fancied himself as a master criminal, preferably one with a few homicidal tendencies. The Thomas Harris novel he was currently immersed in was just the ticket. In true Hannibal Lecter style, he slowly choked the life out of his latest victim and was looking forward to making a stew from their soon-to-be dismembered body parts.

How disappointing it was when he awoke to find himself in a prison cell, having been denied his pleasure. His mind was a complete blank from the moment after he had stifled the last gasps of breath of the man he had seemingly strangled only moments before. It was indeed puzzling.

Perhaps it was a formatting glitch in the original upload? Mr Brown thought.

At least he was alone in the cell, though being in a cell at all was confusing, given that it played no part in the original story he was in. He still had a lot to figure out about his strange and recent digital resurrection, not that he was complaining – escape was a much more complicated affair back in the real world …

***

CRI Jackson said, “It may be nothing, but each of the victims had their EI interfaces active at the time of their deaths.” She was relieved to have found the connection she knew must exist.

“And?” RI Horton replied. “Most of the population spends half their time plugged into their books, news, or entertainment feeds.”

“On its own, I agree it means nothing.” CRI Jackson said. “But in each case, the victim’s life-readings started going awry precisely 11.62 seconds into their EI neural activations. That’s way too much of a coincidence to be ignored.” She had her subordinates’ renewed attention.

The surveillance technology has proved useful after all, Horton thought. Yes, she may have been right about some connecting factor but she would never have discovered it without the sensor and surveillance readings she was so quick to discount.

RI Horton felt vindicated, conveniently forgetting that it had taken no small measure of good old-fashioned detective work to bring the latest surveillance info to light.

***

“Yes. That looks interesting.” Mr Brown muttered to himself while browsing through the Sci-Fi and paranormal categories. Like most of the stories Mr Brown liked to read, the latest one to catch his eye was also listed among the IPEC’s Historical back catalogue, but was still a firm favourite among readers, even after 200 years since its first ancient print publication.

He allowed his mind to access the neural EI interface, submerging himself in the Look Inside sample pages. A further tap of his wrist and there he was, an actual character in the story. But Mr Brown was no ordinary reader.

A while back in one of his stories, he’d written a thriller fantasy about a man who could physically transport himself in and out of the digital worlds of the books he downloaded, using the ability to wreak digital havoc. Now as a result of some freak coding anomaly Mr Brown had that ability or something like it – for real.

The entire digital universe was his to explore. He regretted not having that ability many years before when he’d been sent to a secure psychiatric unit for hacking off the head of an irritating salesman who’d interrupted him while writing.

***

“I finally got a reply from The Mighty Zon,” CRI Jackson said. “Okay, it took the threat of going public to get it, but they’ve allowed me access to their customer database and records.” She grinned at her partner. All that was missing was the classic celebratory wave of a clenched fist.

“That’s impossible.”RI Horton replied, “ No one gets past their automated enquiry response firewalls.”

RI Horton’s response was understandable. It had been more than half a century since an actual IPEC employee had personally responded to an enquiry. On the previous occasion it had taken the entire resources of the Ministry of World Tax Revenue to elicit a single paragraph, buried among 5000 pages of legal jargon … and excuses.

“I’m as surprised as you are Horton, but The Mighty Zon is as worried about these murders as we are.”

It was an achievement by the CRI. For centuries the IPEC’s wealth and power had made it a law unto itself. The Corporation was practically autonomous, free from any outside authority. In a world practically without crime, where dying took place in secret wards, and where the elderly could quietly slip away, a few unexplained deaths could destroy the credibility of such an organisation.

Stern Dillinger, a member of the Board of Directors was prepared to explain and answer questions.

He said, “According to our investigations … one of our customers, a Michael Wright, downloaded Digital Escape, the classic by Dave Brown. While synchronised with the download, he should have assumed the identity of the main character but it appears that Mr Wright assumed the persona of one of the subsidiary characters of the story instead.”

CRI Jackson was squinting. “Are you telling me the subsidiary character died in both the story and in the real world?”

“Yes, “ Dillinger replied. “Somehow, due to the similarity of the main character’s own abilities to those provided by the EI neural-interface, the e-Read AI software mistakenly interpreted Dave Brown’s character as part of its own coding.” He paused. “Basically, the programme wouldn’t allow the customer to merge with it, instead choosing to shunt the customer’s mind into that of the one in nearest digital proximity.”

“Unfortunately for Michael Wright,” CRI Jackson said,”that just happened to be a rude shop assistant in the story.”

“Yes,” Dillinger said, nodding his agreement with the CRI’s summary.

“So, Michael Wright became the first victim,” RI Horton added. “What about the other victims in the story? Will other people in our world die as well?”

“No. Only the person accessing the story via their EI actually dies, and even then, only if they assume the character of an actual victim in the story. If they remain just an observer or an incidental character then they’re safe.”

“Surely, “ Horton asked, “there can be no interaction that could cause death in real time?”

CRI Jackson was impressed. Her young colleague was finally showing serious interest. Dillinger hesitated.

“In theory, it could only happen if the scene in the book was being accessed simultaneously, and a stronger character had taken on the identity of the antagonist… that’s what the planetary AI tells us, and no, I don’t fully understand it either.” CRI Jackson turned to Dillinger, asking bluntly. “So, how do we stop this happening again?”

“That I don’t know,” he replied with equal bluntness. “Have you any idea of the size of our customer database? We have over a trillion eBooks available. We can track this character, but only where he’s been. Trying to locate and isolate the code anomaly is impossible.”

“Surely your technical and programming staff can do something?”

What staff?” Dillinger said. “We have an army of maintenance technicians, but beyond that, the systems, the developments, the upgrades, have all been fully automated for the past century.” He shook his head. “The complexity of our interactive systems and algorithms started to exceed human understanding several decades ago.”

It wasn’t the answer CRI Jackson wanted to hear but it came as no surprise.

The CRI met Dillinger’s gaze. “If we can’t track this Dave Brown character in real time, we need to be ahead of him, steer him in a direction we want him to go.”

“Again, theoretically, yes.” Dillinger agreed.

“So, we could be waiting for him?” RI Horton added.

CRI Jackson nodded, pleased that her colleague was showing initiative rather than waiting for a computer read-out to provide him with a neat and tidy solution.

“I have an idea, “ the CRI declared, “but I’ll need the full and unrestricted resources of The Mighty Zon?”

Dillinger frowned.

The CRI was about to let rip with about how essential it was, but instead, she chuckled.,

“I mean of course, with the gracious cooperation of the IPEC.”

***

Mr Brown was choking on the smoke from an artillery shell. The acrid cloud had spread through the corpse-strewn trench in which he found himself. Bloody, limbless bodies lay all about. Flashes of shooting light dotted the sky, accompanied by the crack of explosive thunder.

Cries of ‘forward men,’were cut short by screams of pain. Dave Brown realised he was in a very different story to the one he had been expecting. Instead of having escaped to the relative safety of a Barbara Cartland romance novel after his latest adventure, this was like being dropped in the middle of a war zone.

Perhaps the summary justice of the Ministry of Behaviour might have been a safer option … It was bad enough that a minor formatting problem had caused him to skip an entire paragraph, depriving him of a cannibalistic feast, but this was inexcusable corporate negligence on the part of The Mighty Zon.

Mr Brown decided, should he escape with his digital life and in one piece from this latest story, he would write a very stern letter of complaint for listing what was clearly a dangerous War story under Romance. An idea came to mind, and he grinned as he considered taking other steps.

Another artillery shell landed nearby, hurling Mr Brown into the air, taking with it his left arm below the elbow … which included the wrist-worn EI neural-interface device. There would be no digital quick escape this time, at least there wouldn’t be till he recovered his missing arm.

***

They hadn’t solved the case to CRI Jackson’s satisfaction, but at least there had been no more unexplained deaths or EI related complaints. The best they could hope for was that the mysterious Mr Brown had been blown to pixelated digital bits and was finally dead – again – both physically and digitally this time.

Despite the uncertainty of that last hope, The Mighty Zon felt confident enough of that last statement:

‘The interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation would like to apologise to customers for the recent problems it’s been having with its Historical Content format and categorisation and sorry for any inconvenience and/or discomfort this may have caused.’

It was the closest anyone was ever likely to get to an apology for more than a dozen deaths and many more attempted murders by way of beheading, throttling, and dismemberment. Mr Brown it seemed had a penchant for doing away with people in the most horrible and violent ways.

***

What The Mighty Zon didn’t reveal in its apology or from its own internal investigations was that it had had numerous complaints from customers finding themselves surrounded by corpses and almost dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac.

Where readers hadn’t died or been attacked, complaints of stories changed beyond recognition flooded the light-wave communication channels – seeing a leather-jacketed., whiskey drinking biker making an impromptu appearance in a convent wasn’t what one expected when expecting to read a serious history of the Sisters of Saint-Hood.

Such incidents might have gone unnoticed for longer had they been confined to just the Crime, Horror, and Thriller categories, but they had appeared in all manner of genres ranging from Historical Romance to Children’s picture books.

As per company policy, such complaints had initially been ignored, but when they started finding the same complaints being posted on MeMeMe.Universe, the successor to MyFacePage.com, The Mighty Zon at last felt compelled to act, to curtail the activities of this mysterious digital assassin.

At CRI Jackson’s suggestion, every last one of it’s past and present catalogue of neurally-accessible eBooks were replaced with a particularly bloody and horrific scene from a shortened version of All Quiet on The Western Front, which is precisely where the mysterious Mr Brown continually found himself each time he ventured back into or from one digital story to another.

***

“Somewhere out there,” Stern Dillinger told the reflection in the mirror, “Dave Brown is still lurking, buried among a trillion lines of ancient Mobi-format page coding. He may still be very much alive …”

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