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.
Another short little story for Miranda Kate’s Midweek Flash Challenge. Go check out the others.
I dreamt of them all again last night. All of my dead friends. I dreamt that I could see their emotions, shimmering veils of differently coloured lights, rather than their physical aspects. I saw Margriet’s russet fear and Kiera’s bright golden anger. There too were Elsie’s bronze sadness, Abigail’s confusion of citron and scarlet, and Ellen’s incarnadine sobbing despair. The colours made me so sad that I turned myself into a tree, and drew all their colours inside me; sucked them into my roots and way up inside so that they coursed through my entire being. The chromatic feelings mixed and melded, becoming songs that budded from my branches as vivid emerald leaves. No one noticed the new me-tree much until autumn when the leaves fell, and the city was filled with passionate music that caused people to weep with anguish for the dead souls of my friends.
A 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.
When did you start writing?
AB: I think perhaps I’ve always told myself stories when I might otherwise have been bored, particularly when I couldn’t sleep (I’ve always been a night owl, and I used to have a pretty rigidly enforced bed time). From my teens onwards I’d try to write a novel now and then, but I was fairly easily distracted until I had an idea for a series of short stories for one of the protagonists I’d toyed with most often. I finally gave her a regular antagonist and started writing outlines for the series, and one of them took off like a rocket and became Black Knight (The Novel That No One Will Ever See – not in anything like its current form, anyway).
Whilst I was wondering what to do with it I went back to the first outline, and it became Viennese Waltz – although only after a long period in the back of the cupboard when I thought that it was just an itch I’d successfully scratched. It still has one line in it that’s only there to support a scene in Black Knight, but I’m not telling you which one.
KJC: Story telling just seems like something I’ve done all my life. I remember a writing project in sixth grade (approx. age 11) that I enjoyed. But I think my real passion for writing started with a creative writing class I took in high school. My teacher said I would be published some day. I’m thankful to have benefited from her encouragement.
Do you write to a schedule, or as and when the mood strikes?
AB: I’m terribly decadent in my writing habits, and that’s how it’s likely to stay. I know just how slim the chances are of making a living at this game, and for me the risk of turning writing into a chore is one I’m not willing to take on those odds.
KJC: It’s definitely a free-for-all. I’ve tried to have a schedule, but if characters just aren’t willing to talk to me, it reflected in my writing.
What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?
AB: Smelling my honeysuckle from half way up the street as I walk home on a summer evening. The first day that I walk out of my front door and find the street full of swifts (I always feel a little bit guilty about this, because they nest round the corner from us so that we get the joy and not the hassle). A long and well told shaggy dog story wound up with a particularly excruciating pun.
KJC: The Chicago Cubs, piglets, and new lip gloss.
Who’s your favourite author?
AB: This changes a great deal, depending on my mood and what I’ve been reminded of recently, but today I’ll say Ursula K Le Guin, for writing such wonderfully alien alien cultures, and (to steal a phrase shamelessly from a friend) for being so damn humane.
KJC: I think I’d have to go with Anne Rice. She impresses me on so many levels. She launches herself into research when prepping a new story. She invokes every sense when she’s telling her story. She simultaneously leaves you satisfied and wanting more. I think if Anne were to read and comment on my work, I’d lose my mind.
Where do you do most of your writing?
AB: In notepads. Sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious, but there isn’t really one main place – in bed, on buses, in the kitchen at work (to be absolutely clear, there’s no comma missing there, I don’t write on company time) – anywhere, when the story is keen enough to be told. I don’t think I’ve actually written anything in a supermarket queue yet, but it’s a definite possibility.
KJC: At work over lunch hours or home on weekends.
Do you have any pets?
AB: I usually say we have an indeterminate number of cats. That’s three real residents and a shifting population of feral visitors in varying stages of socialisation. This is all my husband’s fault, and I’m still trying to deny that I’m in any way a cat person, but it’s a hard sell when there’s a cat sleeping on your pillow.
We also have a tortoise. The cats are fascinated, but don’t seem to classify him as a living being, fortunately. I assume it’s because he smells all wrong.
KJC: I just said good-bye to my Main Man Maximus. He was my wonderfully spastic toy fox terrier. His dedicated fur face will be hard to replace. However, my cat, Isis, is still sassy and insolent, as cats are much expected to be.
What’s your favourite book, and what are you reading at the moment?
AB: This is another one that depends on the mood you catch me in, but I’ve been saying Nevil Shute’s Lonely Road for a while now. It’s generally placed as one of his pre-war books, and I read it first as just a good yarn, but that’s not fair. For one thing it has a gloriously odd opening chapter, written from the point of view of someone who was extremely drunk at the time and somewhat concussed immediately afterwards – I’m rather impressed that his publishers were willing to run with it, given that he wasn’t an established name at the time. Secondly, there’s actually a grim post-war theme at the heart of it (it’s listed in the pre-war group because it was written before WWII). In a lot of ways it puts me in mind of Rebecca, but with the advantage that I don’t want to grab the protagonists by the scruffs of their necks and scream ‘just bloody talk to one another’ at them.
At the moment I’m working through all the Saint books (yes, as in the pre-Bond Roger Moore series) that we have in the house, which is rather more than we did – I picked up a dozen or so in a charity shop recently, some new to me, some that I read in my teens and had pretty much forgotten, so I’m reading them in order, which is interesting – for one thing the first few are much more serious than I expected, but on the other hand one of the light hearted collections that I’d always assumed was a later one (without ever thinking to glance at the copyright page) is actually from very close to the beginning.
KJC: There was a book my Grandpa used to read to me all the time called “Who Are You Looking At?” that is my all time favorite. I know, kid’s book… but nostalgia wins here. And although I have plenty on my To Be Read list, I’m not currently reading anything.
eReader or physical books?
AB: For me this totally depends on what’s most convenient at the time. Physical books probably edge it because I haven’t found an e-reader that’s as comfortable to read as a paperback yet (I’m willing to assume that this is purely because I’m such a cheapskate) and because the local library has a rather slender collection of e-books.
KJC: Both. I don’t have to choose!
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
Play with the cats. No, obviously not that, because I’m not a cat person. I’d say walk more, but I’m not twenty anymore and my ankles hate me, and I assume that listening to Radio 4 Extra is disqualified by association. I don’t know. I might have to actually talk to my husband.
KJC: Write in secret.
If your Glint story were to be filmed, who would you cast as the main character?
AB: I usually throw up a complete blank for fantasy casting, but for Chrissy I think Stephanie Cole would be perfect. (If you’re struggling to think of a Stephanie Cole character being nice to someone, even for cynical reasons, you haven’t heard of Cabin Pressure, which is a shame.) I’ll bet that the first character you thought of at her name was the black widow of Open All Hours, Delphine Featherstone, and perhaps the thought of her using her feminine wiles on anyone was a startling one, but what she and Chrissy share is a hard, guarded cynicism that’s hard to set aside, but harder still to live within.
KJC: Third Rosemary would be a newcomer. I can’t see anyone playing her.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
AB: Can I have a force field to keep the cats off the keyboard? Or does that count as general writing implements?
Sticking to the realm of things that actually exist, plenty of nibbles, a dull job to alternate with the writing (weeding and polishing things are both good), and a good dollop of guilt (this seems to work equally well whether it’s generated by the thought that there’s something more important that I should be doing or by a deadline).
KJC: Music, cheesy poofs, and a minion to rub my shoulders and bring me tea.
If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? (When I was asked this for Tattooed Mummy’ blog I invented a Potato Spider, spinning its intricate webs of French Fries and Waffles.)
AB: If I can stretch the definition to include herbs I’d love to hybridize the cats with something to make them self-deodorising, like mint or parsley. Better still, bay – a bay-cat snoozing in the sunshine would smell divine, and be a delight to all the senses.
If I must have a fruit or vegetable I’ll cross them with lemons, please, because someone told me once that if you leave a lemon on the tree it unripens in the winter and re-ripens next summer & if that’s true then you would always have kittens to cheer you up in February, and mature cats to leave you alone to get on with stuff in summer. I did mention, didn’t I, that I’m not a cat person? Not at all. Honest.
KJC: I want a Grape Kangaroo…. a never ending supply of grapes. Reach into her pouch and BAM!… Grapes.
Fancy 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.
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:
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.
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.
“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.
I know, it’s a crap word, but I couldn’t think of a clever one. If you do, let me know and I’ll edit this and credit you. They say you should always find a unique title for your book, but given the vast sweep of history and all its words, that’s not always possible. I set out to find out what other books share a title with mine.
First up, there’s a 64-page version of Tolstoy’s War & Peace presented using photographs of rabbits dressed in clothing. It’s called ‘Rabbit Warren Peace’ and it looks BRILLIANT. Also, famed science-fiction writer Bob Shaw has written a couple of comedies about a cardboard-like, sitcom-like hero, Warren Peace, called ‘Who Goes Here’ and ‘Dimensions’.
Warren Peace Title-twins: 2
I expected to find that “there’s loads of books called Fog”, as a visitor told me at Indie Litfest last year but, although a legion of books have the word within a longer title, only James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ comes close to the singular, and as I pointed out to my surly visitor, his doesn’t have a cool running man in the letter ‘O’.
Fog Title-twins: 1
In my innocence I imagined that ‘Moth Girl’ (even without her bats) would be unique, but no! Here comes ‘Moth Girls’ by Anne Cassidy, so called because girls are drawn to a particular house like moths (that’s light, Anne, not houses), rather than because, like my heroine Thea, they look like a moth when dressed in a weird cloak and flying goggles.
Moth Girl Title-twins: 1
This one surprised me. Who’d have thought there’d be other ‘Blood on the Ground’s? There are, though. There’s Paul Usiskin’s torrid tale of murder, dangerous love, and techno-porn (I know!) across the Israel-Palestine divide. Not a lot of laughs in that one, I’ll warrant. I’d prefer Lenora Rain Good’s ‘Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu’, 22 poems about the 1847 Waiilatpu massacre. Sod it, I’m buying that one.
Blood on the Ground Title-twins: 2
Happily, my other titles – Cubic Scats, Soul of the Universe, Cutthroats and Curses, Human 76 and the imminent The Museum of White Walls – appear to have no title twins at all. Which I choose to interpret as a 5-4 win for me, so ner.
Ayup, 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!”
“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.
“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.”
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”
The 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.”