Hello and welcome to my blog.
I'll be voicing my thoughts and opinions on the creative process as well as other random topics that enter my mind. I can't promise to be entertaining or informative, but if you like genre fiction, movies, TV or comics then there should be something to interest you.
Any errors and foul language are my own.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

No More Heroes?

Awake at 4.30 this morning, this is what went through my head.

There's a newspaper article that's been doing the rounds in the last week or so, bewailing all the superhero movies and TV series that are so popular on our screens of late. I didn't read it in full - barely skimmed it, if the truth be told - but the gist of it appears to be that any adults who like superheroes or read comics need to get a life. Apparently, such things are the domain of the adolescent or the immature. The author of the article even went as far as to say he "grew out of" comics such as 2000AD when he hit puberty and discovered the approved distractions in life. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are mentioned, but I can't recall in what context. I could read the article again, but it seems like that's what the writer would want me to do. A similar thing happened in a free newspaper when The Force Awakens came out, and it was a shameless publicity stunt. This one, though, is from one of the more "respectable" newspapers.

Me, I grew up with 2000AD. I'm not going to paint a picture of an only child with no friends, but that comic kept me company on the cold winter nights when nobody was playing out. My parents would watch TV downstairs - usually a cop show, it was all cop shows in the early 80s, wasn't it? - while I'd pour over the current issue, images of which I can still see in my head to this day. As I matured, so did the comic; perhaps too much, as there were a few newer stories that I didn't quite get. I've re-evaluated some of them for reviews lately, and found them to be bitingly satirical of the time in which they saw print and, more frighteningly, still relevant thirty years later.

I gave up on 2000AD in favour of the American comics. These would eventually become all about the art, which would begin to triumph over story at the start of the 1990s, but the issues of X-Men and New Mutants that I read at the time dealt with segregation issues, how people coped with the attitudes towards them for being different; depression and mental illness were even touched upon, bringing them out into the open at a time when they were all too often brushed under the carpet. Even Batman, the 1960s theme tune jangling in my head even now, turned out to be a man at war with himself as well as the criminals of Gotham City: so much so, that Bruce Wayne often seems to be the mask worn by Batman, rather than the other way round.

Stories such as this have translated well on the big and small screens, while others don't appeal so much. For me, the best Marvel films are the two Captain America movies. The ones I'd expected to like the least, they've turned out to be tales of bravery and friendship, with Chris Evans shining as Steve Rogers. Yet, go back a few years to watch him in the Fantastic Four and, while it has its heart in the right place, there's something uncomfortable about it, as if the actors sometimes feel like they're being childish rather than embrace their roles. It lacks much of the depth that would be seen in later films. Saying that, some of the more recent films seem to be more about spectacle than story. The parts of Age Of Ultron that worked for me were the quiet moments between the battles. That opening sequence was amazing, but made me want to reach for a game controller; Iron Man v Hulk was all it was cracked up to be, but it was how they got to that point that mattered to me.

That's just one film that can divide the fans. I'd say that anyone who disagrees with me has a right to do so; if they enjoyed Age of Ultron because of the scenes I've mentioned, then that's fine. Everyone's entitled to like different things, or like the same thing for different reasons, but they should never be judged based on their opinions of it. I wouldn't pay £50 to watch a game of football, but hundreds of thousands do just that, week in week out, but I'd never criticise them or tell them they need to grow up. For those fans, it's more than "just a game" and I'm fine with that; their lives, their choice. If their heroes wear a football strip rather than a cape and cowl, that's fine too.

I'm obviously biased when it comes to the things I like, but I'd never dream of criticising those who watch the programmes or films I don't like. TV talent shows pull in huge ratings, but I can't stand them: those early stages where people who obviously don't have talent are paraded on a stage for an audience to laugh at make me cringe, but the end result is that someone may get to realise a dream they've had for years, and who am I to criticise that? Same with the football fans who wear the strip, is there much difference between them and the person who cosplays as Batman? The former won't get a came, and the latter certainly won't fight crime, but both are equally entitled to show that allegiance to the things they like.

I'm not saying the world of comics and superhero media is perfect. The representation of women, be it creators or characters themselves, isn't as good as it could be, but it's getting there. The format does succeed in catering to all ages, be it in spectactular splash panels or dialogue that makes the reader think, and while what floats one boat may sink another, it's the variation that makes the format so interesting. A huge amount of stories can be told, stories that can entertain, inform, or both - just like in any media.

I don't watch soap operas, but they keep millions entertained day in day out, so something must be good about them, especially if they're used to tell a story that gets the viewer thinking or highlights issues that are often swept under the carpet (hey, just like those X-Men comics did all those years ago...) often winning awards and praise for doing so. The likes of Jessica Jones and Daredevil have done that too, and many viewers have said that watching the shows have helped them come to terms with current and past events of their lives. 

That's how good these stories can be - the heroes aren't just those in the costumes: they're the creators who have the ability to tell a story (be it about a superhero, a cop, a crook, the landlord of a fictional pub) that can resonate; they're the viewers or readers who can see them in action and take courage from what they see and use it to change their own lives for the better. Entertainment can be inspirational, just don't tell me what I should be watching or reading to get inspired.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Flash Fiction: The Night Terrors

Happy Hallowe'en.

Here's a creepy little tale I wrote a few months ago,  a challenge to tell a story in only 300 words.

Lights off.

Daddy closes the door, turns the key and leaves me alone.

Locked in my room.

With Them.

Daddy says it's for my own good; I have to learn the lesson.

Daddy says I shouldn't be afraid of the dark, but I'm not. It's the monsters lurking inside the darkness that scare me.

Daddy says there's nothing under the bed, but he's a liar. I've heard them whispering, seen the smoke curling upwards, smelled the breath of nightmares. Every night I huddle under the quilt, whimpering because Daddy stopped listening to my screams ages ago.

I close my eyes tight, try to remember the prayers Mummy taught me, but that was so long ago. I stumble over the words, and I know I've got some of them wrong when I hear the laughter below me.

They're coming.

I can't move, frozen into place as if a great weight is being pressed against me. I can't see anything, but I know they're there, here for me. Shadows, cast from a slice of moonlight through the tiny gap in the curtains, shift and shimmer to take on new forms that shamble towards me. Arms are raised, hands outstretched to haul me back to whichever hell they come from.

They approach from all around, leaning in to get a good look at their latest feast. They like what they see, because they all smile; my hair is ruffled by a tentacle, then swept to one side by a claw that scratches my forehead.

“Sorry, little guy.”

The words unlock something inside me. I can move again, but I'm happy to stay here and listen to what they have to say. I smile, and realise everything's going to be all right.

My new friends are going to help me teach Daddy a lesson.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Anxiety Attacks!

It's been a while, etc.

I can't say I'm going to be deep and meaningful, a fountain of wisdom here, but I've been hearing a lot about mental illness lately, specifically anxiety and depression. 

Writer Scott Lynch has had to put back the release of his next book due to his health issues, which I won't pretend to fully understand. Scott's one of my favourite writers, and it just feels so unfair that someone with so much talent should be battling such crises of confidence, and more. All too often, there's the assumption that creative types are always a little "eccentric" at best, so it tends to be something that's brushed under the carpet. If not that, then it's assumed the person will "snap out of it", sort themselves out and get better. Piece of cake, right?

Even from my limited knowledge, it's obvious that mental illness is a real medical condition that has to be treated, not just somebody being "down in the dumps", which I'm sure is somewhere we've all been a certain times in our lives. There are so many things that can get us down, piss us off, that it becomes difficult to cope, but we "bounce back" and life goes on. I suppose true mental illness is when we can't do that, and the struggle gets worse. Being physically ill has signs and symptoms - measles gives you spots, for instance - and, while anxiety and depression can also manifest themselves, it's deep inside where the damage can really be done. And this can be hidden, sometimes until it's too late. At least, that's what I believe. Like I say, I can't pretend to fully understand, but I can appreciate that it's a true illness, one that won't go away by reading motivational slogans on Facebook and Twitter.

I wasn't going to write this, afraid that I would be showing ignorance and misunderstanding - at worst, be offensive, which I don't mean to be - but something happened yesterday that really moved me, and I wanted to share it.

I'm 45 years old and I read comics. That sounds like a confession, but it's not. It's nothing I'm ashamed of, and there are some amazing tales, deep and profound stories, being told in that format. People may laugh, but so what? Those films you're flocking to see at the cinema? I was reading about those characters years ago...

This time, though, it wasn't the stories that moved me, but the letters from readers and the replies from writers and artists. It's ironic that Image Comics, purveyors of the muscles and tits and ass that made me give up on comics in the early 1990s, are now producing superb creator-owned titles such as Low and Lazarus that have valid and frightening commentaries on our society and selves. It's even more stunning to know that these works can have a  profound effect on their readers, often serving to help keep their heads above water in extremely difficult times.

That's why I wanted to write this. I'm about as far from an expert as you could get, but if just one person reads this and feels better, then it's a success. I'm like that with all my writing; that's always been my thought, that if I could make one single person feel better, then it's worthwhile.

And yet... I'm scared. Always have been. Even now, I'm debating if this post will see the light of day, wondering who'll care. I've been writing for decades now, but I've always held back at that last minute, only ever finished a handful of the ideas I've had. What use is an idea if it stays in your own head? Every day, I promise myself I'll write; when I do, I feel great, but when I don't I'm a grumpy bugger, lamenting what I haven't done and wondering what if. Lately, though, a few things have happening in my life that have got me thinking, made me reassess my priorities and goal. I need to make good on my promises, instead of letting myself get filled with stupid fear and apprehension. I often tell myself I'll "do it tomorrow"; well, today IS yesterday's tomorrow.

Like the readers whose letters I read, I'm finding myself inspired. Writers like Rick Remender, Monty Nero and Greg Rucka have, through their personal stories as well as their fiction, helped me battle my own personal demons (or laziness, depending on how you look at it). Author Sarah Pinborough made some comments on Twitter that boiled down to "just sit down and get on with it", which may be easier said than done, but it's what all the inspirational quotes are essentially saying. It's better to write crap that can be tidied up later, than not to write at all or - worse, in my opinion - talk about it but do nothing. 

There. I think I've said enough. I mentioned earlier that making the difference to one person would make this post (and everything else) worthwhile. Maybe, by getting these feelings off my chest and being able to look back on what I've written here, that person may prove to be me.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: Paradise (part 1)

There's nothing random about this week's challenge; not yet, anyway. This week, the gauntlet was laid down to write 1000 words of an incomplete story, which will be continued by other challengers to create a 4000 word finished story. I'm not sure how this is going to work just yet, but it sounds like it will be fun, as well as connecting with other writers and their works.

The story below is the start of my second completed short story (coincidentally weighing in at just over 4000 words), written in the early 1990's and massively influenced by William Gibson and Philip K Dick. Some of the ideas from it drifted over into one of the previous challenges, but the real reason for using it is that I'm fascinated to see what direction another creative mind will take.

Welcome to Paradise.

Dying wasn’t so bad. That was the easy part. Bomb in my car, open the door and-


-I’m history.

Yes, dying was really easy. Overrated, I thought.

It was afterwards when things got difficult.


From darkness came light, and with it the knowledge that I had passed into another state of being. There was no definition, no clarity, just a blurry mass of white.              

A sudden sharp pain in the back of my neck told me that the plug had been removed, so the socket at the base of my skull was now empty. The skin on my abdomen and chest stung for a moment as the electrode pads to read my now non-existent vital signs were ripped off.

“He’s lost it,” I heard the nurse say. “He just ran out of it.”

I could imagine the doctor, patronising bastard that he was, shaking his head slowly in disgust. “Get him out of here.”

Thus, I was dismissed.

I felt myself jerk forwards as trolley wheels began to roll. Before slipping into darkness, my eyes closed…


…only to open again, staring steadily into a bright light. It was no heaven, merely a fluorescent tube. A face looked down at me; not God, just an excited medic. His smile showed tombstone teeth as he switched off his torch.

“Dilatory response,” he droned. “This guy’s okay.” His unholy face disappeared from view. “Give him his gear and let him go.”

I blinked slowly as reality beckoned.

Shit. I was still here.


Several minutes later I sat up, helped by a pair of burly orderlies. Natural muscle wastage, they told me. Happens all the time to anyone who spends more than a month wired up.

I watched them leave, their uniforms crisp and sterile white to match the room. I looked around, but mine was the only bed. I felt alone and lost. I didn’t belong here. I was in the wrong reality.

When I told the phoney faces on the monitor screen how I felt, I was given no sympathy. All I received was my clothes, along with quarter of an hour to get dressed and leave.

It took me ten minutes to remember how to walk. I was dressed in three, giving me time to ponder my reflection. They had declared me in the land of the living, but I wouldn’t have looked amiss in a coffin. Even I couldn’t recognise me.

I was unceremoniously escorted from the premises less than a minute later. Morphean Conceptualities Incorporated have tremendous business sense. When hooked up to their machines, they take good care of you: washed, shaved, fed intravenously, even defecated; everything except a muscle massage.

When your money runs out, your time is up, so they disown you and kick you out. Sound management strategy in these mercenary times.


Outside was warm, a sticky and humid day that was typical of Florida Free State. In a couple more decades, the eco-scientists were predicting, the State would be almost flooded. They were scorned, but I believed them; you could almost hear the remaining icecaps melting.

I believed, but I didn’t care. I’d be dead or back where I belonged. As soon as I scraped enough money together, I’d get myself hooked back up to a machine, return to my own reality.

For now, I had to be content with Miami, its streets busy with shoppers and tourists. The heat from the sun told me it was mid afternoon; I had no watch.

No cell-phone, either. I staggered weakly towards a phone booth, my limbs like lead weights. Every joint in my body was stiff, every muscle ached. I was tired, my head pounding, and I didn’t know who I was going to call.

I suddenly realised that I had no idea who I was.

A hand rested gently on my shoulder. I spun round to look at the owner, saw a face grinning broadly. When she saw me, the grin faded very quickly.

“Are you okay?” she asked, concern in her voice.

I wasn’t. I tried to tell her, but I couldn’t speak. Maybe I’d forgotten how to do that, too. I was dizzy, I felt sick and couldn’t see very well. I held onto the side of the booth, my only anchor in a spinning, warping world that seemed intent on spewing me out.

“Vincent!” she yelled.

That had to me my name. If this woman was someone important to me, then I didn’t recognise her at all. She was tall and skinny, her blonde hair short and ratty. She wore a faded Hawaiian shirt and a pair of Bermuda shorts that were too big for her. They looked roughly my size.

“It’s okay. It’s me. Wendy.”

I looked at her through watery eyes. My stomach convulsed and I retched dryly before passing out, my head resting on concrete colder than any grave.


The next few days were hell. They are vague memories to me now, a time without time, but I will always remember the pain. It was as if someone was peeling away the outer layers of my skull, hoping to find the core beneath, pull out the seeds of my mind. Emotional pain, difficult to forget.
I drifted between realities, in limbo for over seventy-two hours; unsure of where I was, still not knowing who I was.

As for my time in the machines at Morphean, I could recall it vividly. There I had played cricket in the Caribbean, saved the world from an evil despot with enough time to rescue and fall in love with the girl of my dreams.

The Girl.

That was my lifeline with which I maintained my vague grip on sanity. In my time at Morphean I had returned from several places to several women, all of who – I now realised – were one and the same.


All of those beauties weren’t dreams. They were based on reality.

Wendy existed in the real and in the unreal. She was the only constant in my lives, my oasis in this desert of chaos.

She saved my sanity, and with it my life. I woke up…


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Subgenre Blender

The dice have spoken once again, this time rolled by my lovely wife.

Here's the challenge:


Tracey rolled a 7 and an 8, which meant zombies meet disaster porn. Don't worry; the latter refers to films where weather goes nuts, famous buildings are zapped by lasers or wiped out by falling asteroids, or mysterious diseases decimate humanity. Phew.

Anyway, here's the story. It's called Waiting For Janie.

Dawn came and banished sleep, the leak of sunlight through the gaps in the planks enough to melt his dreams.

He tried to hang onto them, but they were ever elusive, leaving him one last image – Janie’s smiling face, lips mouthing “I love you, Adam” – dissolving as stark reality intruded. He’d dreamed of an older time, a better time, of promises made. Promises denied when everything had turned to shit and he’d lost all he cared about.

His bedroom was exactly as it had been two years ago when he’d left for Leeds; the same posters, the dated duvet covers, the dark paint from a brief but fascinating near-Goth experience. Back then, he’d been bright with hope, anticipating the brilliant future a university education would bring. Now, mere days before his twenty-first birthday, the future was grim.

Pulling back the duvet, Adam felt morning’s chill biting into him, despite the two layers he wore. His feet, clad in thick walking socks, touched the bedroom floor. The carpet that had bounced with luxury as a teenager was now pressed flat from use, faded in places. His mum had promised to get a new one when he returned from university, but events beyond anyone’s control meant that wasn’t going to happen.

He went quickly to the clothes draped over the chair by his desk, quilted trousers and jacket that were as familiar to him as his skin, and equally necessary. Slipping them on in seconds, he topped the ensemble with a woolly hat, splitting the slivers of sunlight as he walked to the window, peered through a crack.

He was no DIY expert, but he’d done a decent job of nailing the planks to the outside of the frame. Sure, he was on the top level of a two-storey house, but there could never be too much care.

Outside was, as ever, deep with snow. It reminded him of childhood Christmases, the four conifers at the bottom of the garden shrouded in blinding white, the shed roof heavy with a thick dusting, lawn covered with a crisp, thick layer.

It could have been the past, if not for the headless corpse in the flower bed.    

Three days ago now. That was the last time he’d known real hope. He’d heard the movement, thought it was Janie, but it turned out to be Billy. Adam had liked his neighbour, had been sympathetic when his wife had left him for another man, but that had vanished as soon as Billy had attempted to tear out Adam’s throat.

Adam had seen enough movies to know what to do. The kitchen knives his mum had ordered from the home shopping channel were of surprisingly high quality, and the cleaver had bitten into Billy’s neck as easily as if it was a rare sirloin. There was blood, and it took a couple of hacks, but Adam managed.

Billy still lay there, neck surrounded by a dark blossom of blood, the animal tracks heading to and from him as if he was a terminus. Noticeably, none of them had feasted from him.

Adam had kicked the head into the shrubbery, unable to take the stare of the bloodshot eyes. Unseen, yet he was sure those eyes were looking at him now, thanking him for his mercy.

He had to look at it that way. Anything else would make him a murderer.

Sitting on the chair where he’d revised for exams and plotted adventures, Adam put on his boots, picked up the crowbar and torch lying where books and CDs once lived, got to his feet and opened the bedroom door.

The stairs were immediately to his left, and he shone the torch down them before peering around the corner. Clear. Each third step had a trip wire, to which cans and cutlery had been attached. It made a noise that could wake the dead – pun intended – which, his mother would have joked, was a 50/50 chance of waking Adam.

He smiled at the recollection, then proceeded down.

The living room was darkness, punctuated only by his torch beam. He’d done a better job of the planks on ground level, simply because he hadn’t been up ladders, ensuring there were no cracks to look out of and, more importantly, nothing could peer in. He’d done well; since coming home, there’d only been Billy to deal with.

Adam dropped onto the sofa, his favourite spot, facing a blank TV screen dusty from months of disuse. For now, he was content to sit and stare at his dull reflection and ponder.

Returning home seemed to be the right thing to do after it happened.

There’d been no warning, other than a headline on the news that another asteroid would be passing by earth. He and Janie had laughed over the phone, sung Aerosmith, joked about Bruce Willis, but hadn’t given it another thought.

Then the meteor showers began, and the TV screen was filled with images of boulders hurtling from the sky, trailing flames in their wake. They hit less populated areas at first, third world countries that weren’t deemed newsworthy enough to care about.

When a rock the size of a football pitch ploughed through Big Ben, people sat up to take notice.

By then, it was too late. Panic ensued, and with it the usual rumours that the rich and influential were being kept safe underground until it passed. The rocks struck with frightening accuracy (some claimed the first wave of alien invasion), and any that hit a city or town resulted in mass destruction and chaos.

Adam had watched the Eiffel Tower topple, the stones of China’s Great Wall pulverised to dust, the dome of the Taj Mahal shattered like an eggshell, before the screens had gone blank, communications destroyed as satellites were knocked out of orbit by this new wave. The end was nigh.

That was only the start. The battered planet reacted to this assault as only it could. It wasn’t quite a new Ice Age, but it felt pretty close, and for the last year and more, Adam had dressed for cold weather every day and night. His housemate, high on weed, had joked that God was watching celestial disaster movies as inspiration to teach us a lesson for fucking everything up.

He’d also said things come in threes and, if Adam doubted the heavenly conspiracy theory, of this he was sure. The rocks had brought a disease from outer space, one that turned humans into ravenous beasts with a craving for the flesh and blood of others, creatures that could only be destroyed by severing their spinal columns. God, it seemed, had quite the movie collection.

The disease spread like wildfire, and everything man had created was gone in less than a month. As infrastructures crumpled,  technology had ceased to work; it became everyone for themselves, which was why Adam had stayed on his own in the time it had taken him to get home. He’d seen people on the way, but had avoided them, hiding in bushes or abandoned buildings until they passed.  Besides, there was only one person he wanted to be with; he and Janie had, over a cracking phone line, promised to meet here.

He’d done everything he could to survive, but now he was desperate. There was no alternative.

Today, he had to go shopping.


The trick, he knew, was to blend in by scent. It had worked on the road, improving with experience until he’d been able to pass through groups of them without attracting attention. For someone who hadn’t washed for weeks, it shouldn’t be too much trouble. His only acknowledgement to hygiene had been to chew gum to clean his teeth. With no-one else around, how he smelled didn’t seem to matter anymore.

Crowbar at the ready, he opened the back door. It moved on silent hinges, letting in a blast of cold air that whistled around him and up the stairs, rattling the cans and slamming the bedroom door.

Heart pounding, he waited to see if the noise had disturbed anything, but only the plants moved, disturbed by the wind.

He approached Billy carefully, ignoring the growing reek as he drew closer. Repulsive, but exactly what he needed; Billy had seen food as a remedy for his broken heart, so his stinking clothes were large enough to get over Adam’s protective gear.

All he had to do was remove them from Billy’s rotting corpse.

It turned out easier than he’d anticipated. Adam had expected the stiffness of rigor mortis, but Billy’s limbs were as pliable as putty, squelching as they were manipulated. The toes came with Billy’s shoes, but other than that it was a relatively simple task.

Now Adam looked to the shed, hoping nothing was in there but the tools he needed for the mission.


The four shops formed a U-shape, premises that had once been a newsagent, a takeaway, a betting shop and a convenience store. A precinct spread out before them, complete with a playground and picnic area that, back in Adam’s schooldays, was a haunt for thugs and bullies.

Nothing much had changed. Adam counted thirty of them milling around, all without apparent purpose. He’d heard that the places frequented in life were where the victims normally returned, and he recognised a familiar face or two amongst them.

Tightening the straps of his rucksack, lowering goggles and pulling a scarf over the lower half of his face to conceal his minty-fresh breath, Adam shambled towards them, crowbar in hand, dad’s tool-belt around his waist.

Adam’s feet crunched snow as he worked his way through swings and roundabouts, rides hidden beneath this latest permafrost like dinosaurs, relics of a world gone by. He wondered, as he sometimes did, if he was the only survivor. If he wasn’t, if the owners ever came back, did this make him a thief?

He walked between a gang of five, all but one turning towards him. Apart from pale skin, crimson eyes and the blood crusted around their mouths, they looked normal. The quartet sniffed at him for a moment, but 
Adam didn’t falter; even though his heart was bouncing off his ribs, he ignored them, staring at his destination.

He’d expected the roller shutter to be down, had brought dad’s tools especially to get it open, but someone had beaten him to it. The glass it revealed was broken at its centre, cracks coming from it like a spider’s web. Dark streaks ran down from the source of the impact, pooling at the sill.

Someone had been here, and not too long ago.

Adam stopped at the door. He’d have to risk contact, share whatever food was within. His stomach rumbled, and the beasts around him made a groan in horrid accompaniment.

He reached for the handle.

Before he could touch it, the door swung inwards and there was someone blocking his way. Bundled in clothing, face hidden behind goggles and mask, but the blonde hair was wonderfully familiar. The sword was an entirely new accessory.

“Janie?” he said, voice muffled under his scarf and hoarse from disuse.


The beast in front of her gave the same guttural sound as its friends, alerting them to her presence.

Janie cut off the sound along with the creature’s head. The body teetered for a while, as if it couldn’t believe what was happening, before dropping to its knees and falling backwards.

Janie slipped past it and ran, as fast as her legs could carry her. Yet, none of the creatures gave chase, strangely more interested in the one she’d killed.

She smiled. Someone was looking down on her after all. It had taken her so long, but Adam’s home wasn’t far now. She’d made a promise, and would keep it.

The smile became a grin. Janie knew he was close by.

She couldn’t wait to see him.


Friday, 30 January 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Contain Three Things

Here we go again...

Another challenge from author Chuck Wendig's site, this one to write a story that must contain three things generated randomly from the lists on the link attached.


So, I ended up with a pocket watch, a vampire and a resurrection. Easy; a Gothic horror in the style of Dracula, right? Well, not quite. It started that way, then something changed and I ended up thrashing out what you can see below. It's been a tough one to write, but I hope it's an enjoyable read.

The Raven burst through the door, cape billowing, but Mister Midnight was ready for him.

He had Betsy, an arm curled tight around her neck, a revolver pressed at her temple, as he backed towards the window, through which the Raven could see the airship making its steady approach.

“Once again, we see there is nothing you have that I cannot take away.”

The Raven said nothing, looking into the eyes of his love. She smiled, winked, then pressed her foot down hard.

Midnight bellowed his pain and frustration, releasing Besty and firing the gun.

The Raven felt the bullet smash into his chest. He looked at his nemesis in disbelief, face blurred behind the smoke rising from the gun barrel, heard Betsy screaming as the world faded to black.


Heaven consisted of a room, each surface rendered in a stark white, lit by a bulb far from the warm glow of candles he was expecting. There was a door to his left, while a mirror hung from the wall on the right.

At some point, the choirs of angel had sat him in a metal, high-backed wheelchair, like the one’s he’d seen in the sanatorium after the war, although this one thankfully wasn’t a commode. His ankles and wrists were shackled tight – none of the moves he’d been taught by the swamis and gurus of the far east could budge them – and his head was kept facing forward by the cushioned framework that surrounded it.

He could see enough, though, and he didn’t like it. He wore a white jumpsuit that felt like it was made from paper, itching inside his elbows, knees, and crotch. The sight of his hands disturbed him somewhat; gone were the thick fingers that could curl into a pugilist’s fist, replaced by knobbly joints and pale, thin skin through which the veins looked fit to burst.

The mirror was worse. In it, the costumed crime-fighter had been replaced by a shrivelled old man, one fastened into place for his own safety rather than to foil any escape attempts.

He knew the truth, of course. All a trick, a vision created by his enemies. Doctor Hypnos, it had to be; he was the only one of Midnight’s associates capable of something like this. Very clever, he had to admit; all these years of foiling schemes and outwitting manoeuvres, now reduced to a battle of wills. It felt apt, somehow.

A click. He tensed at the sound, but it was only the door opening.

A slim man entered, dressed like a Doctor but too young to be one. He had a clipboard and a pen in his hands, spectacles balanced on the end of his nose.

“Welcome back, Mr Jones.”

Yes, he thought, that’s my name. Jack Jones. Jackdaw, they used to call me, back in the trenches, before I came home and became the Raven.

“I’m Doctor Adamson,” he said as he sat on the desk’s edge. “You’ll have questions, of course.”

“You won’t beat me.” The sound of his own voice was a shock, as frail as his appearance. What had they done to him?

Adamson nodded sagely. “This is common for someone who’s been under as long as yourself. You see, none of it was real.”

He leaned forward, clipboard extended towards Jones. All it held were two images, photographs of the same woman in her twenties and sixties. “Betsy,” Jones gasped.

“Your late wife.”

Jones swallowed, clamping his lips tight before emotion could betray him again.

Adamson took this silence as his cue to continue. “When she died, you came here. We plugged you in, but you’ve lasted much longer than we’d anticipated. Your money ran out before your life did and,” his face turned apologetic, “our accountants forced us to pull you out. A difficult transition, I appreciate, but...” he shrugged. “It’s all been a dream. An incredibly good, high-resolution one, but that’s what you wanted and what we at Morphean Dreamscapes are here to provide.”

“Where’s your master? Watching through that mirror?” Jones had seen enough interrogation rooms in his time.

“Let me show you.”

Jones could only sit there as Adamson walked him. “View,” he whispered, turning the wheelchair to face the glass.

The reflection dissolved into a cityscape that was all steel and angles. Gone was the dirt and grime of the concrete jungle he was used to, replaced with clean and ordered blocks. Cold, somehow. “This is home now, Mr Jones.”

Everything came back. The life, the love he had lost, the Girl he saved on a regular basis in fiction that he hadn’t been able to in real life. “I can’t. Not without her.” A tear moistened his cheek.

Adamson’s hand pressed his shoulder, warm and reassuring. “There’s another option.”


“My God.” Jones gasped.

“Yes. In a way, it is. Or will be.”

Adamson had pushed him through a warren of dark, humid corridors that ended in a room containing a vast tank. A monstrous leech floated within, its bulk writhing as they approached.

“It powers everything, feeding on dreams and fantasies.” Adamson extended his hand to one of several beds connected to the tank by a tangle of cables. “You may stay if you wish, but this time you will not wake up.”


The Raven looked into the eyes of his love. She smiled, winked, then pressed her foot down hard.

Midnight bellowed, firing the gun.

The Raven felt the impact, a flare of agony as hot lead smashed into his father’s pocket watch, shattering it into pieces.

“We will meet again, Raven!” Midnight fired again, into the window this time, shattering glass before jumping out to take the rope trailing from the airship.

The Raven could only watch, wincing at the pain in his chest. It became a smile as Betsy embraced him.

“Are you ok?”

He nodded. The Villain had escaped – again – but the Hero had got the Girl. That was all that mattered.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: "It's X meets Y."

Another week, another challenge, although this time the swearing is in the story rather than the title. Anyway, here's the link to Chuck Wendig's site so you can see what this one's all about:


Here's a little truth before the fiction. Is it stranger? I doubt that very much, but it is laden with uncanny coincidence...

I couldn't find my dice. I know, D&Ders, that's a capital crime, but I had no idea where they were. I was trawling through Twitter when I saw that authors Sam Sykes, Joe Abercrombie and Myke Cole were taking part in an author's D&D game. I asked Sam to roll me 2D20 and he graciously obliged, replying with a score of 19. Now, I hadn't been clear that I needed to know the two numbers rather than the result, nor was I sure if he'd misread my request and only rolled it once. I know, I'm odd. I was also reluctant to interrupt the D&D game so, as I sat getting my haircut, I pondered...

Back home, I began the noble Quest for the Dice, which only took a couple of minutes, if I'm honest. No trekking over mountainous piles of books or having to speak Dwarven to a cupboard door; they were in the wooden box where I keep my pens. I wasn't sure what to do next (roll twice again? or just once, and take the result off Sam's 19 to give me two numbers?) but as the dice dropped out of its container, the result was 17. That left me with 2 if I played Sam's 19, but I rolled again. The result? 2. Call Mulder and Scully.

So, without further preamble, allow me to present: Top Gun meets True Detective.

The years have taken their toll, but he’s hung on to the swagger. Even with his hands cuffed in front of him, he puffs his chest, still holds his arms wide to accommodate burly biceps, sweeps the room with the narrow-eyed gaze of a man who dared to stare into the sun.

There’s more beef on the face, a padding of jowl around cheeks and chin, and the hairline is further back than it used to be, but neither male nor female can deny the sheer presence of the man. He turns every head, not a few hearts are set aflutter, and some breaths are literally taken away.

The whisper whips around the bullpen. This is him, Kazansky, in the flesh. The Iceman.

Jordan and Wolfe walk him in, nonplussed. Doing their job, just like any other day. This time, though, they turn left instead of right, an empty office instead of the interrogation room.

Inside, the cuffs come off. Kazansky rubs his wrists, takes the single chair at one end of the desk. He knows the drill, he’s sat on the opposite side enough times before, and waits until Jordan and Wolfe have made themselves comfortable to voice the feelings about his current position.

“What the fuck?”

Jordan leans back, arms folded across his ex-quarterback chest. Wolfe pushes a manilla folder across the table.

Kazansky opens it, takes one look at the photograph inside. Closes it again, scowling.

“Can I smoke?” He asks, already knowing the answer.

Jordan shakes his head, points to a No Smoking sign.

Kazansy shrugs, gets out a packet and a Zippo, lights up regardless.

“There are no ashtrays,” Wolfe says.

Another shrug, an examination of the cigarette’s tip. “Make it quick, then.”

Wolfe looks at a Jordan, but he’s too busy glaring at Kazansky to notice. “When was the last time you saw Mitchell?”

Kazansky smirks around the cigarette. “What’s he done now?”

“Answer the question,” Jordan growls.

“How about I just walk out of here instead, put an end to this little show? You’ve got nothing to charge me with.”

Wolfe grins. “You’re no saint, I’m sure we could find something.”

Smoke streams out of Kazansky’s nostrils as he points the cigarette at Wolfe. “I remember you. Fresh out of the academy, green as Astroturf.” He smiles. “Taught you well, didn’t they?”


Kazansky leans back, hands flat on the table, cigarette sending out unreadable smoke signals. He takes a deep breath, flips open the folder, looks at the grinning face. Still the picture from twenty years ago; that’s how they always see Mitchell. Kazansky tries to match the expression, but it just makes his face look twisted.

“This is about Bradshaw?”

Kazansky gets no answer. It’s doubtful he expects one, for he doesn’t look at the two detectives, but nods his head like a wise man.

“I still remember the night we found him.” Kazansky taps his temple, ash drifting down from the cigarette onto a lapel. “It’s etched. My only unsolved.”


The engine sputtered to a halt as Detective Tom Kazansky pulled his battered sedan up to the scene. He sat there for a moment, looking like he was brooding, which was only half true. There’d been another argument with his wife, equally as stupid as the last, tempers fraying over the slightest thing; sooner the baby was born, the better. Kazansky wasn’t sure if the timing of the call was perfect or couldn’t have been worse. Whatever, it had got him out of the house, which was something.

He wanted a drink, but that would have to wait. Wouldn’t have minded watching a couple of dancers at the bar, but that wasn’t going to happen either. Instead, he stared at the single-storey dwelling in front of him, picket fenced by crime scene tape, white walls dappled red and blue by the lights on the patrol cars.

It didn’t take long for him to spot another vehicle nestled between the cruisers, a Kawasaki Ninja 900 as immaculate as the day it rolled off the production line.

“Shit.” Kazansky’s eyes narrowed in his rear-view. “Just be cool,” he told himself. “Iceman.”

He got out of the car, heading for the officer closest to the tape. Wolfe: a young man, all fresh-faced and bright-eyed, even at this time of the night. Kazansky wasn’t sure if he should envy him or be annoyed by him. He chose neither, flashing his badge before clipping it to his jacket pocket.

“Mitchell’s here?”

“Yes, sir. First on the scene. He, erm...” Wolfe shuffled nervously.

Kazansky cycled a finger in the air for the rookie to continue.

“He’s ordered that nobody else is to enter, sir.”

Kazansky looked over the uniform’s shoulder at the house, noticing the number for the first time. 1316. Hearing it on despatch, he hadn’t given it a thought, but now, seeing them  on the wall... “Of course he has. This is Bradshaw’s place.”

The rookie returned the revelation with a blank look.

There was no time to explain. “Don’t worry, kid. He’ll be pleased to see me.” Before Wolfe could reply, Kazansky had ducked under the tape and was setting off towards the open front door. The portal gaped at him like a black maw, the red light of a military-grade torch dancing around inside like the fires of Hell itself.

He didn’t even pause. “Mitchell, it’s Kazansky.”

“Fuck off.”

The voice came from further back, to the right. The kitchen, Kazansky guessed. He’d been here once before, a couple of years ago, a few months before Bradshaw had been shot. It was supposed to be a team-building barbecue, but it turned into a volleyball game in the large back garden, which degenerated into a drunken trade of insults that had the neighbours threatening to call the good and honest cops.

The kitchen door was held open by a wedge shaped like a goose and, as he stepped inside, Kazansky was momentarily dazzled by the torch’s light.

“I told you to fuck off,” Mitchell said, but his heart wasn’t in it. Not like all the other times he’d suggested Kazansky combine sex and travel.

Further in now, and Kazansky could see why. Mitchell was crouched in front of a body, one propped up in a seating position, back against the refrigerator. The limbs were splayed out, and a small pistol rested in the palm of his right hand.

Small, but big enough to do the job. There wasn’t enough of Bradshaw’s head left to identify him, but Kazansky recognised the tattoo on the forearm, the emblem of that military academy he’d attended before dropping out to become a cop. A good one, too. Before...

Mitchell. Seeing him made something snap, just like it used to. The prick was still the same – immaculate hair, perfect nose, those fucking teeth – and even as Kazansky strode towards him, fists clenched, he could hear the voice in his head telling him to calm down.

Fuck that. How could he be calm when Mitchell was regarding at his former best friend with a detached stare, that ever-present folder open on his knees, taking notes and making sketches of the blood-spatter patterns on the fridge.

Yet, the voice was loud enough so that when Kazansky struck Mitchell, it was with an open hand rather than a fist, pushing him away instead of knocking out a trio of those expensive teeth. “Son of a bitch!” Kazansky roared, accompanied by the flutter of paper and rattling of pencils.

Mitchell just lay there, prone like his ex-partner, looking up at Kazansky, all three of them painted red by the torchlight.

“Uh, sir? Is everything all right?” Wolfe, from the front doorway.

“Fuck off!” Kazansky and Mitchell both bellowed, suddenly united.

Kazansky extended a hand to Mitchell, the same one that had pushed him over. He took it, used it to haul himself upright so the two were face to face. Or would have been, if Mitchell hadn’t been those few inches shorter.

Yet, there was strength in the man, born of a defiance against everything and everyone. It was no secret that the Captain was a friend of Mitchell’s father and had pulled strings to get the son of his dead buddy onto the force, but Mitchell had always seemed to resent this, had railed against the system, his ends justifying the means like those maverick cops that were so popular on TV.

Ultimately, it was Bradshaw who’d suffered; taking the bullet meant for Mitchell, shattering his soul along with the vertebrae. He learned to walk again, but to a man who’d wanted to fly, it was like being grounded.

Everyone blamed Mitchell, especially himself; he’d shed those movie star looks for a couple of years to work undercover in Vice, walking the ragged edge or some such bullshit. Now he was back, picking up his pencils and papers, showing them to Kazansky.

“Wait a minute.” Kazansky squinted at the top sheet. It was the blood spatter, all right, but there was a definite shape to it. “Like wings,” he heard himself whisper.

“Yes.” Mitchell grinned like a loon. “I’ve seen this pattern before.” He flicked through the photographs in his folder, taken months and years apart, all showing roughly the same shape.


“No such thing, you always said.” Blue eyes sparkled. “Ritual killer. Has to be.”

Kazansky said nothing, staring at the dark pattern on the refrigerator. Eagle, hawk, something.

Bradshaw only had half a face, yet what remained seemed to be looking at him in expectation. “We’ll see justice is done here,” Kazansky promised.


“But your Dynamic Duo never did.” Jordan sits back, smug.  “Quit, didn’t you?”

Kazansky looks wearily at his burned-down cigarette. “I’ve heard this shit before, you know.”

Wolfe blinks as ash spills onto the table. “What shit?”

“I find clues now and again in my line of work, that same pattern repeated. I sometimes tread on the wrong toes, and in every state I’ve found there’s a pair of assholes just like you who’ll haul me in, wanting to know about Mitchell or that case.”

“You’re a private detective now, right? Trailing wives for jealous husbands.” Jordan grins. “How is your wife? Kid’s doing well in college, I hear. Affordable on the alimony? ”

Kazansky smiles back, but it’s tight. “Fuck you.”

Wolfe sits straight. “Do you think Mitchell killed Bradshaw?”

“No. He fucked him up is all. Bradshaw was never the same after he took that bullet. Neither of them were, but they were both damn good cops.”

Wolfe looks at Jordan now, who shrugs.

“On your way, Iceman.”


Long time since he was home. Too long.

Same goes for his friend, the derelict sat there on the park bench, casting crumbs out of a brown bag like Christ feeding the multitude. Only a few pigeons have taken up the offer, though, and Kazansky isn’t surprised; he can smell him from the next bench.

He sits. Elbows on knees, hands clasped together. Like he’s praying, but he’s looking down at the scuffs on his shoes rather than the man at his side.

“They know, don’t they?” The voice is hoarse, slurred. “Matter of time.”

Kazansky looks at him now. The face is hidden behind a thick beard, tangled like the long hippy hair and equally in need of a wash. He looks like a bad disguise, a costume partygoer who hasn’t changed his clothes in decades.

“I had to set him free, let him fly.”

“I understand.” He does. It’s taken him many, many years, but he does.

They call it his only unsolved case, but Kazansky knew Mitchell was guilty as soon as he walked into that kitchen. He knew, because he’d likely have done the same for his best friend.

“Then you won’t tell?”

“No. I promised, didn’t I?” He stands, sending the pigeons scattering as he walks away. “See you.”

“Goodbye, wingman,” Mitchell whispers, watching the birds soar into the sky.