Category Archives: Short story

Professor Cuthbert’s Remarkable Vessel

PierA new short story inspired by @teddy_red @_polyhymnia @MoorseyL and @jtlovell1979, and written for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge using the picture on the right here.


“We’re here,” Lovell said. “Remember that the Professor might not be what you expect.”

“An eccentric professor?” I said. “What are the odds?”

“Just let me do the talking.” He pulled a handle by the door and a bell rang somewhere inside the cottage. It had taken me much guile, and not a little expense, to persuade Lovell to effect an introduction to the mysterious Professor Cuthbert. Many of the incredible inventions that we now take for granted as we approach the twentieth century originated in the mind of the reclusive Professor; the fountain pen and the gramophone to name but two miracles of the modern age.

When Lovell had told me at the club that he knew the Professor personally, I was determined to elicit an invitation to visit. Who would not want to encounter such a remarkable mind? To ask a hundred questions, and perhaps be made privy to what was coming next? It had taken me no little time, but finally Lovett had agreed to take me to see the Professor, and after a long railway journey and a bumpy ride in a brougham, we stood before the front door of a small country cottage in rural Suffolk.

In response to a second tug of the bell-pull, the door opened to reveal a woman with a cloud of grey hair held flat by a pair of goggles pushed back over her forehead. She wore a leather apron, a man’s shirt and trousers, and she held a hammer in her left hand. She seemed to me to be very old indeed, perhaps even into her fifties.

“Jamie!” she cried to Lovell, “How lovely to see you!” Her lined face crinkled even more as she smiled broadly.

“Good afternoon, Catherine,” Lovell said. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve brought along a friend who has been dying to meet you.”

“Not at all,” the woman said. “You’re just in time for afternoon tea. There are more than enough scones to feed a regiment. Do introduce me to your chum, dear boy.”

“Of course,” Lovell grinned at my shocked expression. “Catherine, I would like to introduce you to my friend, the right honourable Cecil Tilbury Moffat. Cecil, please meet Professor Catherine Cuthbert.”

“But you’re a woman!” I blurted out.

“He’s very observant, isn’t he?” Professor Cuthbert said to Jamie.

“Don’t let that vacant expression put you off, he really is a big admirer of your work. Cecil, where are your manners? Doff your hat.” I lifted my topper absent-mindedly, staring at the woman in front of me.

“Is that so, Mr. Moffat?” the Professor asked. “Which of my inventions caught your interest first?”

“You’re wearing trousers!” I babbled. The Professor and Lovell burst into laughter

“Come,” the Professor commanded. “You have arrived at an opportune moment. I am in sore need of a person of just your height to test my latest invention. And then we shall have scones.” She led us around the house and through a back-garden jungle to a large wooden shed. Projecting horizontally out of the left wall of the shed was what appeared to be a garden fence, clearly very securely attached for it stuck out some six feet above the flower beds. Professor Cuthbert struck a pose as if demonstrating a particular clever trick performed by a music hall prestidigitator.

“Ta da!” she said. I stared at her. “Well?” she asked. “What do you think, Mr. Moffat?”

“It’s … a very nice shed.” I was bewildered. Lovell had warned me of eccentricity, but even so. The Professor sighed and stood normally.

“Put him straight, Jamie,” she said. Lovell grinned. He was enjoying my discomfort far too much.

“This shed,” he said, indicating the shed, “is not a shed. This is Professor Cuthbert’s remarkable vessel to facilitate the exploration of the echoing cosmos above our heads.”

“What?” I said. I realised that perhaps that was not the considered response that might be called for, so I spoke again. “No, what?” I said.

“Young man,” Professor Cuthbert said. “This is an airborne vessel. It uses the invisible power of magnetism to free it of the bonds that bind us to this earth.”

“It’s made of wood.” I suggested, helpfully.

“Yes, well spotted, for a metal vessel would interfere with the magnetic forces needed to lift it beyond our atmosphere. This, my deliciously vacant chap, is a craft that will travel into space itself. A space-ship, if you will.”

“A space-shed?” I ejaculated.

“Ship,” said Lovell. “Space-ship.”

“Now, young man,” the Professor said. “Would you be so kind as to do me a favour? Would you please enter the craft and sit in the pilot’s seat? Jamie is way too tall, and it is imperative that I adjust the outer buoyancy cogs to allow for the weight of a passenger.”

“And then shall we have scones?” I asked.

“And then scones, yes,” she said.

“Very well,” I agreed. “What would you have me do?”

“Go inside, and sit in the seat before the window. Put on the air-helmet that you will find there, and then just sit back and enjoy the pleasant view that you will have of my cherry tree.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all. I shall make my adjustments, then call you out for scones once I have finished. Whatever you do, however, do not touch the red lever.”

“I shall certainly venture nowhere near any levers, madam,” I promised. I entered the shed, and wound my way through a clutter of equipment to what was clearly a captain’s chair by the shed window. On the chair sat a large glass bubble, presumably the Professor’s air-helmet. I removed my hat and put the helmet over my head. It was surprisingly comfortable, although it took some time to get the thing the right way round so that I could see. I sat in the captain’s chair and looked out of the window.

The Professor’s cherry tree was nowhere to be seen. The Professor’s garden was nowhere to be seen. The shed now hovered high in the arched heavens. Miles below a vast sweep of sunlit cloud swept across the surface of the planet. Somehow, I was now many leagues above Suffolk. But … how? I lifted my top-hat from the hat-peg. The red hat-peg. Or, as I now realised it must be, the red lever. I had inadvertently launched the space-shed with my hat.

What next? I had no idea, but now that they were out of my reach I truly fancied a scone.


Spaceship”But Wombie,” I hear you ask, “How on earth did that picture inspire this story? What has a jetty to do with a Victorian inventor?” When you get no inspiration, try a different angle – I just flipped the picture … and there my tale was: a wooden spaceship floating above a cloud-cloaked planet. Tricksy.

For those keeping track. Well, OK, me.

just the booksYes, yes, I know you could go check the “Buy my books” page, but to be honest can any of you be arsed to do that? I doubt I’d bother. With that thought in mind, here’s a list of my published books so far (of course there’s much more Wombie out there in Kindle standalones, stories in magazines & the like, but it would take YONKS to list them). If you fancy reading any of these books, find them on Lulu or Amazon. If you already HAVE read any, thank you and I love you and please leave a review somewhere.

WARREN PEACE: Novel. The Magnificent 7 with fur. “Warren Peace got me through the day”.

FOG: Novel. Sexy, funny, violent – Best Mystery, 2016 #Siba Book Awards. “Had me gripped from page one”.

CUBIC SCATS: Essays. A smorgasbord of Northcentric nonsense & recipes. “Where did you put the bread knife?”

MOTH GIRL v THE BATS: Novella. Steampunky sci-fi fun. “There’s a real excitement to this work”.

BLOOD ON THE GROUND: Short stories. A dozen dollops of wicked whimsy. “Good reading even for a scary cat like myself”.

SOUL OF THE UNIVERSE (editor): Stories inspired by music. “This collection will captivate you, pervade your senses and absolutely enchant you”.

CUTTHROATS AND CURSES (editor): An anthology of pirates. “The greatest assortment of pirate stories anywhere”.

MURDER AT WOMBAT TOWERS: Private novel with a limited print run.

HUMAN 76 (editor): Collaborativer. Fourteen authors take you on an unprecedented post-apocalyptic journey. “Thought-provoking, layered: a real gem”.

THE MUSEUM OF WHITE WALLS: Forty-one monkeybonkers tales & three poems. “The only book for you if you want to see this quote on the back cover”.

Beneath the Clock at Timothy Whites

A short love story for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge.

 I first met Midge beneath the Timothy Whites clock about a week ago. In the blackout it is sometimes difficult even to see your own hands, let alone other people’s, and she’d walked right into me. It was the first night of my week’s leave, and I was lonely as hell. When your whole life consists of sitting in a Halifax bomber with six other chaps, interlaced with periods of drinking yourself semi-conscious in the company of those same men, going on leave comes as a bit of a shock to the system. It’s hard to know what to do with the silence, for a start.

I am the bomb aimer; the bod who actually pushes the button to drop the bomb. I must admit I’ve never thought too deeply about what I do. I push a button, the bomb slides silently through the darkness, and an orange flower blooms below to delight the stars that look down. The thought that there might be people down there has never entered my head.

That evening I’d been to the cinema to see ‘The Stars Look Down’; a slow film about injustices in the mining community. Margaret Lockwood is in it, but even her considerable charms had proved insufficient that night to retain my interest, and I’d left half way through. The blackout was in full force, but a hazy half-moon cast enough of a glow to see. Or so I thought. Her fists caught me full in the family jewels, and I’m afraid to say I let out rather a girlish squeak.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see you. Is that an RAF uniform? Very good for hiding in the shadows, isn’t it? I usually carry a little torch, but the battery ran out.” I fell in love with her voice before I even saw her face. And her scent; a heady crescendo of sandalwood, amber, clove and bergamot.

“Are you quite alright, Miss..?” I left the question there for her to answer, or not. My heart did a little twist when she did.

“My name’s Midge,” she trilled. “Well, it’s Margaret really, but that’s only ever used by Mother when I’m in her bad books.”

“Flying Officer Hillary Fields,” I bowed, though I doubt she could see.

“Well now, Flying Officer Hillary Fields, perhaps you might assist a lady in distress? I seem to have got myself turned around in the dark. I was trying to find the cinema.”

Squadron Leader Charlton always berates me for my reticence with ladies; for not grasping opportunity when it is presented to me. “War is the biggest uncertainty there is, Hills, my boy,” he’d said that very morning, “and in uncertainty lies endless possibility. Promise me, when you’re in The Smoke you’ll grab the very next opportunity that presents itself.”

With these words in mind, of course I turned on my heels and escorted Midge to the cinema. Of course I paid for us both to go in and watch the film that I’d walked out of an hour previously. And of course I saw her home safely afterwards, and arranged to meet her at a small cafe the following afternoon.

Every day after that we met beneath the Timothy Whites clock. We visited art galleries, museums, and more than one cinema; Midge had a bit of a thing about Michael Redgrave. One sunny day we went boating, and one evening we even went dancing. Me, dancing! This woman had freed a pilgrim soul in me that I did not know existed. Over the course of six days I fell for Midge hook, line and sinker. This very afternoon I bought a ring from a backstreet jeweller in Soho, and had smiled to imagine Midge’s face when I dropped to one knee to present it to her. I heard the bomb go off, funnily enough, a low muffled roar beneath the traffic noise as I left the jeweller’s. Just the one bomb, most likely dropped by a straggler from a raid many miles away.

The Timothy Whites clock was shattered, though half of the face still clung defiantly to the remains of the brickwork. The Timothy Whites building itself had been transformed into rubble. Midge, who had been waiting for me as usual beneath the clock, had been ripped apart as a German pushed a button, letting slip a bomb into the darkness, and an orange flower bloomed below him. War doesn’t even know that we’re here, and it won’t notice when we go. War is uncertain, and the stars look down upon the tatters of my dreams.

The Collector

This photo was taken by Sirombo (Luca) from Italy over on Deviant Art.Another disturbing tale for Miranda, who likes them short. This one is here in its entirety.


I knew I had to have her as soon as I saw her. She was breathtaking. She was golden. Her skin gave out a faint glow; a sheen that was both powerful and sexual. She moved wildly, free of care, lost to the emotions of her dance. Her movements emphasised her shape; the roundness of her hip, the plumpness of her breasts. Her lips were slightly parted in a half-smile that sped my pulse, and an exotic difference to the cast of her eye drew me closer.

I wanted her. I was in a dark mood and I knew what I wanted, and I wanted her. The women, you see, it’s always the women. They awaken a feeling I don’t get from the males.

I waited until she was facing away from me before moving silently behind her. I grabbed her neck and forced her face down onto the pebbles. She struggled, of course, but my magpulse bracers always make any such retaliation fruitless. I pushed her face into the packed stones of the beach, and raised my machete. Three forceful hacks, and the wing came free from her shoulder blade. Her screams, as is usually the case when I obtain a new trophy, only added to the joy of acquisition. I gripped the root of her other wing, then looked up.

The blue sun was dipping below the rim of the ocean. I had watched her for too long before acting, and left myself with little time to get back to my ship. The nights on this planet could reach cryo temps remarkably quickly. Just the one wing, then. I lifted it to catch the last of the sun’s rays. It shimmered gold and blue and coquelicot. Even without its twin it would look magnificent mounted between the fin of the piscine girl I’d killed last, and that sex-frond from Anemone-3. I left her sobbing and dying, and swiftly reached the ship. I clambered through the hatch and pulled the wing in after me.

Now, where should I go next? There was a bipedal species near the outer rim, apparently, where the women only had two breasts and no sex-frond. Their planet circled a yellow sun, so I’d have to wear an EM-Veil, but it would be worth the effort to obtain a skin of that rarity. I flicked the controls and engaged the Magpulse Drive.

Chicken

Lapse by Camden Heibel-Schmidt, a photo manipulation artist over on Deviant Art called DarkStar797A very short piece for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge. You should totally go there and read the other stories. Maybe even write one yourself if the picture prompt makes you go WHOA MAMA like it did me.


“Imagine if you had clocks in your eyes and could see through time. Where – or rather when – would you look first? Would you draw down a hazy veil across the present and set your gaze instead to the dinosaurs? See for yourself the Titanic strike an iceberg? Or would you rather watch what really happened at Calvary, all those dusty years ago? Or something more personal: your own birth, perhaps?”

The professor peered across at me, eyes sparkling. I sighed, and hoisted my bosom more comfortably. “That’s very nice, Professor,” I said. Sometimes you had to humour him when he was in one of his excitable moods, all aerated and full of gusto. He’s as mad as a wet hen, but a proper genius. When it comes to science, no-one understands more, but with anything else he’s clueless. I folded my arms across my floral pinny.

“Very nice indeed, but I need a decision. Chicken or pork for your evening meal?”

“I can do it, Mrs. MacPherson!” he ignored my question, and waved a shiny object that looked like three forks taped together with a green pocket watch. “I can do it right now, with this! My calculations prove it!” he gestured towards his blackboard, a huge thing that blotted out any light that might have entered his study from outside. On it was a confusion of numbers and squiggles that only made sense to the professor. The front of his tweed waistcoat was covered by chalk-dust. I would have to pop that in the wash later.

“It has long been known that nothing can travel faster than light,” the professor raved, with nary a mention of chicken or pork. “I have discovered, however, that in certain circumstances, light itself can be accelerated beyond its usual speed. A gas of cold caesium, held within something as small as a simple pocket watch,” he waved his strange device once more, “and excited with a laser produces secondary ripples of light, leading to a wave distortion so large it causes the group velocity to become negative, which means the peak of the wave pulse appears to exit the gas before it enters! In other words, the light waves run backwards and we can see into times other than our own!”

“Chicken or pork, professor?” I persisted. “If I don’t get it in the oven soon it’ll be brawn sandwich again.”

“What? Chicken! Chicken, woman! What does it matter? I must commence my experiment immediately – but what should be my first port of call? I could watch Romans invading Britain, or perhaps look ahead to the unknown? Hmmm, perhaps…”

“Chicken it is,” I said, and left him to his experiments. Honestly, if it wasn’t for me I’m certain he’d forget to eat entirely. I busied myself in the kitchen for the afternoon; plucking and preparing the chicken, doing a little cleaning, having a small sherry, putting taters on to roast. When the meal was ready, I put his on a tray and carried it through to the study.

He was clearly dead, but I neither screamed nor dropped the tray. We do not do that sort of thing in Scotland. I put the tray down carefully and crossed to where the professor lay sprawled across his desk. His strange fork-watch device was attached to his eye, from which a grey fluid oozed. Beneath his hand lay a scribbled letter, which he had clearly been in the middle of writing:

These brief scratchings must serve as my final will and testament. Through hubris I sought to tread paths of scientific glory, but they have indeed led me to the grave – Thomas Gray had the right of it. My new time device works. It is a scientific marvel indeed, as proven by my first experiment. I had thought to look into the future, to see where science may take us in fifty years. What I saw, however, was my own end, brought about by the very device that I was testing. I can feel it now, pushing ever more forcefully against my eyeball. I am unable to disengage its mechanism. I fear I do not have long.

My house and all its contents I leave with gratitude for all her ministrations to the redoubtable Mrs. MacPherson, to do with as she wishes. I commit my soul into the hands of Almighty God, my final act on his earth.

Professor Fletcher Campbell, 3rd Marc…

Here the note ended. I sat down and ate the chicken.

AVAILABLE NOW: “The Museum of White Walls”

The Museum of White Walls front coverFancy forty-one tales and three poems from out of my head? Read tales of Robin Hood, torture, unicorns, death, poo, toffee apples, giant spaceships, stuffed dogs and more. With additional stories from the highly talented Alex Brightsmith, KJ Collard and Ellie Cooper, this collection might just burst all over you while you’re reading. So, you know, sorry about that.

If you get the PAPERBACK HERE, or download it for your KINDLE HERE, I will adore you forever.

COVER REVEAL: “The Museum of White Walls”

One problem with publishing a collection of forty-one disparate short stories (and three poems!) is deciding what to do with the cover. Do you clutter it with references to every story, or just pick a few items? I decided to go a third way, and just embrace the title story. When Thom White graciously agreed to continue our association for a fifth book, I specified “spare, simple, almost brutalist” for the cover. Here’s what he made:

The Museum of White Walls, cover by Thom White

He did a brilliant job. I love how the fold between front cover and spine form the corner of a wall spattered with blood. That wonky ‘THE’ emphasises the original subtitle of this book: forty-one tales of a world askew. It’ll certainly stand out amongst a slew of other covers on Amazon, and be easy to find on your bookshelf. Notice also that my running man motif continues, here making his first appearance on the spine.

“The Museum of White Walls” will be available on Saturday, for Kindle and in paperback from Lulu (then a few days later on Amazon when it filters through). Thom, you talented bugger.

Beginning–Middle–End

A short story for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge, which comes in at 770 words rather than the prescribed max of 750. I’m a rebel writer on a highway to hell, me, stuff your rules. The story grew from a seed planted by lovely Helen White, who likes stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Week2Photo“You have to stop yourself, Helen,” Keith said. “See what your weapon wrought. It’s all gone. Everything: animals, plants, people … civilisation. No more schools, shops, churches. No vicars, no football players, no scientists. No children.”

“I know what’s at stake,” Helen snapped. “Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Mine is no different. Thanks to you I can go back to the beginning of this one and stop myself from creating the weapon that destroys the world. I’ll make a happy ending instead of, well,” she gestured at the surrounding expanse of bone and ash, scoured by an ice wind. “This.”

“You never told me how you knew where the bunker was,” Keith said, adjusting the straps of Helen’s backpack. “Nor how it happened to contain exactly the equipment I needed to build my time machine.”

“I didn’t, did I?” Helen smiled, and stepped through the rectangular portal into the past. Keith wondered how long the change would take. Helen would have a two-step journey back to her younger self, thanks to the limitations of his time device. She’d have around ten minutes at the half-way point, waiting for the temporal calibrations to reset. Then she would be able to return to prevent her younger self starting the chain of events that had led to the destruction of the world. He shivered as the image of Helen disappeared from the portal as it began to reset.

“Gan canny, lass,” he sighed, and sat on the cold, hard ground. He hugged his knees, and waited for the hell around him to disappear, replaced by a better world.

***

Helen stepped out into the middle of the story. Behind her the time portal crackled as it began the reset process. She felt warmer. Above, the sky was blue, and the road beneath her feet no longer shattered and melted. She was also, to her surprise, not alone. Amazingly it took her a full half minute to recognise that the person sitting by the side of the road was an older version of herself. She crossed and sat by her doppelganger.

“Well, this is weird,” she said.

“Tell me about it,” the other said. “I’ve been waiting for you. “I’m from …”

“A different timeline?” Helen rummaged in her backpack.

“Yes,” the other said. “I’ve been through once already, on the same mission as you.” Helen took two cheese & banana sandwiches from her pack and passed one over. The other ate it eagerly, cramming it into her mouth as though she’d not eaten for weeks.

“You found our younger self?” The other nodded, her mouth full. Helen continued. “You directed her away from creating the weapon?”

“I didn’t have to. She was never going to make that discovery left to her own devices. Remember? The professor who gave us vital information?”

“You’re right! Horn-rimmed specs, grey hair in a bun? I’d forgotten about her.”

“Well, it turns out … but let’s keep this short since we only have ten minutes. I simply stopped the professor from passing on the vital information. Voila! World saved.”

“So why are you here?”

“Turns out saving the world wasn’t such a great idea. Mankind sucked it dry anyway, destroyed almost all plant and animal life. And,” she checked her watch, “with the exception of a very few elite rich, people were enslaved. The food ran out and, well, those in charge began using people for food. Murdered on their fortieth birthday, and processed into chicken-flavoured goo. There’s no cheese and banana there.”

She looked at Helen with a grim expression. “You have to allow the weapon to be made, rather than condemn the human race to that horrific existence. Eventually nature will overcome the devastation and life will begin anew. Green shoots from seeds buried deep.”

The portal fizzed and crackled. Was it possible? Could there exist a future that was worse than the destruction of the world? Helen thought for a moment, nodded, then stood and entered the portal …

***

… and emerged at the beginning. Her younger self – oh so young, with her beautiful red hair – was at the far side of the laboratory, working at a computer. Helen took a white coat from behind the door and put it on. From the pocket she took a pair of horn-rimmed specs. She tied her grey hair into a bun and stepped forward.

“Interesting theory! Now, I have an idea that might just make your experiment work. And then I’ll tell you about the bunker.”

Poor Keithy, hugging his knees in the ashes of the world, forever at the end of time.

Boxes

c512574b7df800cdcc0c36cfb24036e2Ayup, fancy a new story, written just today? Written for Miranda Kate’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge. I turned the prompt picture on its side, which worked better for me.


Where was he, the utter bastard? It was Ginny’s fiftieth birthday, after all – a big, special, scary number – and where had Hector been all day? “Out,” was all he’d said that morning. No other explanation, just ‘out’. He’d been just ‘out’ every day that week. Her stomach felt tight, the ball of anger that had been growing there for seven days rubbing her frazzled nerves raw. ‘Out’, leaving her stuck in this tiny box of an apartment, itself in the middle of a vast box crammed with other identical tiny apartments.

Ginny stared out of the window at a wall of other boxes across the courtyard, a grid of cramped spaces that stretched from side to side, from below to above. They filled the window, those boxes, each one containing a life, or maybe two – there wasn’t enough room in these ‘bijou homes’ for more than two adults. Boxed lives, boxed dreams; lives without ambition, lives without a future. Like hers, trapped in her own tiny box, in her own insignificant, pointless life.

People who had ambition and a future would not live here. Not for them a closed-in existence, trapped by the four walls of work, sleep, food and death. The rich, the fortunate, the ambitious would all be out in the leafy, sprawling suburbs, thriving amongst nature, and with room to breathe.

It was approaching evening now. One or two lights had begun to appear in the wall of apartments opposite. She had been alone all day. Happy birthday, Ginny. Happy fucking birthday.

Where was Hector, anyway? His laptop was still here, so he wasn’t away writing somewhere else, like the library – somewhere where his imagination had the space to spark and to fizz; where perhaps he at least managed to find some breathing space. Maybe there was something on his calendar. She lifted the lid of the machine and watched the screen flicker into life. She’d cracked Hector’s password months ago. Seriously, Hector, who would use ‘password’ as their password?

Before she could open the calendar app the machine warbled to announce a new email, and flashed up the subject line: “Come and see me”. Ginny idly clicked the notification, and the email opened up.

“Hey, Hec, it’s on for today. If you can manage it without raising Ginny’s suspicions, please come over early. I’ll be waiting, you lovely man. Love, Miranda.”

What was this? Ginny frowned. Hector had been distracted, cold, for a week now, spending all his time ‘out’. Ginny had assumed he might be mulling over a story idea, but perhaps … was it possible? Could he be having an affair with this Miranda? Shit, he was, wasn’t he! Twat! The more she thought about it the more it made sense, and the ball of anger inside flared into incandescence.

The front door opened behind her, and Hector’s voice announced “Hi, Ginny, I’m home!” How fucking dare he? How dare he act normal when he was shagging some scarlet whore in another box? Her vision sparked with fury, and she grabbed up a heavy metal jewellery box. She swung around and smashed it against his head, hard.

“Bastard! That’s for fucking another woman on my birthday!”

Hector sprawled on the rug, a thickening pool of blood soaking into the rough fibres. Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to care. A knock at the door startled her. She opened it automatically, just wide enough to see a beautiful woman smiling eagerly.

“You must be Ginny,” she said. “Hec’s told me so much about you!”

“Um, wh…”

“I’m Miranda, by the way. I’ve been helping Hec arrange your birthday surprise. Do you know, it took all week, going from apartment to apartment? You’re lucky to have such a lovely man. Oh, by the way, he forgot this – and that’s the best bit.” The woman thrust a small oblong box into Ginny’s free hand.

“Surprise? What?”

“He hasn’t shown you yet? The idiot, it’s almost time. Look, I’ll not keep you, he’ll be wanting to take you to the window. See you later at the party!” The woman pulled the door shut.

Ginny stared at the box the woman had given her. She opened the lid and found the most beautiful necklace, along with two first-class tickets to San Diego. She turned back to the window, and watched darkness fall outside while the lights in windows opposite came on, one by one, in a pattern of letters that spelled “I LOVE YOU. HAPPY BIRTHDAY.”

Familiarity (part 3)

The continuing adventures of Sebaster the cat and Johannah the raven. You can read Part 1 here and then Part 2 here. The whole story, as far as I’ve written it by then, will appear in the soon-to-be-published “The Museum of White Walls : forty monkeybonkers tales and three poems”


SebasterThe hellbeast sat on the windowsill outside and laughed.

“Sebaster!” Johanna scolded the laughing cat, “you terrified me!”

“God, that was hilarious!” he snorted, muffled by the glass but still audible. “You even did a little crap as you somersaulted gracefully into the ceiling.”

“A polite creature would not mention such things of a lady,” she huffed, returning to the inside sill.

“Cats don’t do polite,” he said. “Come on, shift your arse. Let’s get going.”

“But how? How did you suddenly appear outside? Was it a relocation spell? Perhaps you transmogrified yourself into a mist to slip through the keyhole?”

“Nah,” he said. “Catflap. Come on, buggerlugs, get out here and we’ll set off. We can pick up some food on the way.”

Johanna cocked her head and regarded the cat. He seemed serious about going out into the fog-shrouded world to search for Natty G, despite all the dangers that would entail. For one thing, there was the weather. At the moment it was so foggy that they could not even make out the trees at the far end of the stony lane that led up to the cottage. It was cold, too – and what if it rained? Where would they shelter? Would they be able to find food? Come to that, how on earth would they be able to find Bee Ewe Rye? Above all else, though, one particular thing was stopping her joining Sebaster outside. What on earth was a catflap? She would have to ask, and hope beyond hope that it was not some distasteful habit of his.

“What is a cat flap, Sebaster?”

“Oh! Little door in the big door. Just push it, you’ll see. Get a wiggle on – adventure awaits, JoJo!”

“Once and for all,” she said, exasperated, “My name is …” but the cat had jumped down, and she was speaking only to the fog. She flapped down to the door, and pecked once or twice at the square of plastic that she had always taken for a ridiculously low-set window. It moved in response to her taps, swinging a little on a top hinge. Johanna gathered her courage and bustled through, which proved surprisingly easy. Sebaster sat on the paved path nearby. The air was chill, and smelled of damp ashes.

Johanna hopped to Sebaster’s side, and the two set off, the onyx-feathered raven side-by-side with the powerful ginger cat, his marmalade-and-fire fur glistening with tiny droplets of fog-water. As they rounded Natty G’s herb garden, Sebaster said “I’ve had a thought.”

“Wonders never cease.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Sebaster said jovially. “No, I was thinking – can’t you just do a spell to transport us to Bee Yew Rye?”

“Well, no. You should know that. We are but familiars. We cannot actually perform magic; we simply assist Natty G as servants, spies, protectors and companions, aiding her on occasion by strengthening her magic when she bewitches enemies, or divines information, or turns one thing into a different thing. That is why she created us, after all. Ah, the day she created me was a mighty day indeed! I was mindlessly pecking away at the rotting eyes of a dead sheep when Natty G happened along. She willed me to open my mouth and she blew into me a fairy which gave me self-awareness and a command of language, along with a ridiculously long life-span.”

Sebaster was staring at her. “You’re pulling my plonker,” he said.

“I beg your pardon, I am most certainly not. Why, how came you into Our Lady’s service?”

“She bought me from that pet shop in the village; ‘One Man Andy’s Dogs’.”

“You did not have a fairy blown into you?”

“Like fuck, I did.”

“You do not suckle from the witch’s teat as a reward for helping with magic?”

“The who the what now? Natty G’s tits? Ew!”

“You don’t have a spirit name? The name of the fairy that was blown into you?”

“No, just the usual three names here; my regular name – Sebaster, my fancy name – Zingiber Officinale, and my secret name that only I know.”

“So you are not Natty G’s familiar? You are …”

“Just a moggy, yes. Sorry.”

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