Developments

I have been pretty tied up with the Spring anthology. It was a little short on pages – that wouldn’t stop publication but it would mean I couldn’t have the title on the spine. A small thing, I know, but this is the fourteenth and I do like consistency.

I was only around ten pages short. I thought about adding in some photos but meh, that’s obvious padding. In the end, Cade F.O.N Apollyon came to the rescue with an extra story and I found two of mine that had not appeared in previous anthologies. So it’s 140 pages.

All interiors are complete – print and eBook versions – so all that’s left is the cover. I had that all planned out too.

I have a candle in a ceramic skull, a gift from CStM (she knows what I like). The skull’s eyesockets are open and the candle is red. I think you can guess where this is going. Well, I’ve had the candle for a while and was waiting for the right time to light it – and the overall dark theme of this Spring anthology demanded it.

I had underestimated how big this candle really is. It’s going to take a few hours burning before the eyes leak. So that’s where we are – waiting for a candle to burn down to photographic levels.

This is a quick snap. It will of course be on a black backsheet but that’s flammable so I’ll have to watch it all the time. For now it’s safely progressing with nothing flammable around it. Once the eyes start to leak, I set up and start photographing. I hope to have the cover finished tomorrow and that’s really all I’m waiting for now. If I’d realised how long it would take I’d have lit it earlier!

Anyway, the book is complete, just waiting for a candle to burn and we’ll have a cover.

So, we are now to be terrified of the Indian variant of covid. Don’t be ridiculous. It’s running a corner shop or making T shirts somewhere. Seriously though, we are getting reports on absolute numbers, not ‘covid per million’ numbers. India has 1.4 billion people and thousands die every day of things like diarrhoea.

I’m not kidding. Giardia lamblia thrives in the warmer waters there and water purification isn’t a widespread thing. This thing turns your arse into Satan’s shitty power washer and you’ll find it hard to take in water faster than you’re pumping it out. And if your water supply is contaminated, taking in more just makes it worse. Really, for India, covid is having a very small extra effect on top of starvation and filthy water supplies and more.

The India strain is being hyped. It’s no more dangerous than any other and none of them have proved to be any more dangerous than the flu… which has vanished. This is now all about selling vaccines, which is what it has been about all along. Don’t imagine that the Pharmers care about you. They care about making money. Nothing else.

It has become increasingly difficult to find any reliable information on anything at all. There are people saying the mRNA vaccines will integrate into your DNA. This is not possible. It simply cannot happen. The DNA versions, well, maybe. I can’t find any data either way. The RNA ones, not a chance.

There are reports that the vaccinated are shedding spike protein. This is actually quite likely. When you exhale, your breath contains shed cells. If you have a virus, it contains virus particles. The spike protein is even smaller than the virus so if your body is making it then having it come out on your breath is almost guaranteed.

It’s not an intact virus. It can’t infect anyone but it seems (anecdotally) that it can have some effect on those around the vaccinated. At least for a while after vaccination. It’s being blamed for irregular periods in unvaccinated women and some effects in breast fed infants. My advice? Don’t risk it. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, wait until that’s over before considering the vaccine. The manufacturers have stated that they have not tested it on pregnant or breastfeeding women and don’t recommend they take it. Listen to them, not to the NHS who think they can stick this potion into anyone and it’ll be fine. The NHS is lost to the Land of Money and doesn’t care about anything else now. If it ever did.

Then we have the 5G thing. It’s still going. I don’t see how microwaves can affect an infection but I’m keeping an open mind for now. You never know. One thing I am sure of is that microwaves cannot initiate an infection. That requires an infectious agent and no EM radiation can conjure one out of the air. Whether it can trigger a dormant infection, well, I don’t know. There are other issues with short range powerful microwaves, but out here I won’t have to worry too much about those for a long time. We still have copper phone lines.

There is so much more conflicting information to deal with. Later, if I can make any sense of it.

For now, it’s not the vaccines that worry me so much. It’s the religious fervour surrounding them. I have never before been asked if I’ve taken any vaccine and have never asked anyone else. Now it’s like some kind of assimilation juice – if you haven’t had it you are not One Of Us. Well what about tuberculosis? Mumps? Polio? Any of the others? Nobody ever cared. Why now, for something no more dangerous than flu?

I know, if you had the vaccine, you’re happy with the vaccine passport. You think it will only apply to this one, right? You don’t think it will apply to flu or any of the far more dangerous diseases. Just covid. That’s the only one.

I need to publish this book fast. I have a story that tells you where it’s going.

I don’t think you’re going to like it.

The Title Poll

Well, I think editing for the Spring anthology is now done at long last. I’ll start shipping them out tomorrow. For the contracts I’ll need a title so while the authors are considering their edits (and maybe making changes) we have a few days to decide on the title.

I have been all around the block on poll software. The one on WordPress seems to only allow three options so we’d have had to do it by elimination rounds. I don’t like that, I’d rather we all voted at once so I don’t have to split the options.

There are options for polls online but they want more information/access than I am willing to give. So it’s a simple list, put a vote in the comments, just a number will do (I check spam daily because the Spaminator gets overzealous sometimes, so don’t worry if it doesn’t show at once).

The winning title suggestion gets a free copy when the book is published. Unless it’s me or Roobee, in which case the one that gets the most votes gets the free book. I will go with whatever title wins this poll.

I have had to leave out a couple of options. Springtime for Handcock and Germoline, from Delcatto, raised a smile but I might risk a lawsuit from Mel Brooks. If you haven’t seen ‘The Producers’, you really should. A couple of others, while viable suggestions, I could not even begin to imagine a cover for. And that would have to be fairly fast.

This is the most relaxed anthology of the year. It has to come out in spring but it’s not tied to Easter so doesn’t have a tight deadline – and spring is currently on its second attempt at acutally appearing. I did consider holding back a couple of weeks and calling it ‘The Clotted Bloods of May’ but that might be far too harshly accurate, given current events. So that won’t be in the list.

Right, without further diddly-doo, here are the options. I haven’t put names to them, just vote in comments with a number or a title (one has two options) and we will close this at midnight on 19th April (GMT, aka PBT, Proper British Time).

  • 1 Dark Spring
  • 2 The Cold Spring stories
  • 3 The Dark Rites of Spring
  • 4 The April Halloween
  • 5 The Lies of March
  • 6a Hopeless Springs Eternal
  • 6b Hopeless Springs Infernal
  • 7 Slinky and the Weak Spring
  • 8 The Common Cold Spring Anthology (Covid edition)
  • 9 Time for Dead
  • 10 Dante’s Spring
  • 11 The Ghosts of Spring
  • 12 Spring Daze: Stories of safe and effective insanity
  • 13 The Dark Ides of March
  • 14 The Awokening
  • 15 Clout is out
  • 16 Tulips and other variants
  • 17 Spring Tied

Okay, just comment with a number and I’ll add them up manually. This is the first crowdsourced title for an Underdog Anthology, but if the daft lockdowns continue it might not be the last. Ideas for covid-related titles are getting thin – we’ve had ‘Tales from Loch Doon’, ‘Mask-Querade’ and ‘Coronamas’ already.

The cover image will work with the title. The choice is yours.

Spring Anthology

Working on it. Delayed by birthdays (my son’s and mine), shovelling snow, keeping the heating system going, bringing an 18th century chimney back into use (with landlord’s help of course) and having my copy of OpenOffice now crashing every time I try to open a file. At least that’s free to reinstall. Most submissions come in Word but a few come in OpenOffice which is actually just as good. Almost, but not quite, entirely compatible.

It just doesn’t feel like Spring. It did for a few days, the daffodils even started coming up but they’re all flattened and frosted now. I don’t know how well they’ll survive. I’m just glad I didn’t start planting anything outside. Winter didn’t end, it just took a long weekend off.

Anyway, RooBeeDoo and I are working on edits. I hope to send them all out this weekend. Then contracts, payments, and finally publication.

I’m still stuck for a title. I’m thinking something spring-related because I’m running out of Coronaplague related ideas and this nonsense looks like it’s going on for a while yet. They can only sell vaccines under emergency authorisation. If the emergency ends, they can’t sell any more vaccines. So the emergency isn’t going to end.

Incidentally, emergency authorisation for experimental (yes, they are) vaccines only works if there is no effective treatment, hence the debunking of all effective treatments. Boris has said that we need to get a vaccine passport to prove we’re safe to be around in a crowd, yet on the same day he said two fully vaccinated people can’t meet indoors because the vaccines don’t guarantee protection. Apparently the ‘passport’ does. So why not skip the vaccines and just give us the passports?

Anyway. They aren’t giving up on this crap any time soon. So I need to get a title that maybe hints at the farce we’re living through but still leaves options open for at least the next three anthologies.

So far, options include ‘Dark Spring’, ‘The Cold Spring Stories’, ‘The Last Rites of Spring’, ‘The April Halloween’ (most of the stories are fairly dark this time, not too surprising under the circumstances) and any suggestions will be welcome.

I shouldn’t expect you to do it for free. Come up with a title Roobee and I hadn’t thought of and if we use it, you get a free print copy.

Okay. Back to work…

Piper in Hazmat (the whole thing)

I’m having a subdued Christmas. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that my father died suddenly on February 14th this year. Well, his brother, my uncle and godfather, died in the early hours of Christmas eve. Yes, they knew how to make an impactful exit. This wasn’t sudden, he had been declining due to cancer for most of the year. The really harsh part is that he’s in Wales, I’m in Scotland so can’t go to the funeral.

Even if I were to get past Wee Nippy’s border guards and into Wales by crossing Offa’s Dyke at night on foot, the Drakeonian restrictions in Wales mean I won’t be able to visit my mother or my auntie or indeed most of the rest of the family. Only 20 are allowed at funerals, and this uncle had five children, all grown up now with grown up children of their own. His immediate family might not all be able to go, and that’s before we get to his surviving brother and sisters. It must be absolute hell to have to make the choice.

Well, it’s happened. No going back now. I had sent a copy of Coronamas because he always enjoyed these anthologies. It arrived the day before he died. I don’t know if he had time to read any of it though.

So I’ll just post this here. It’s the story I put in Coronamas and if he didn’t get to read it, maybe some ethereal internet connection will let him see it now.

Piper in Hazmat

Dawn wiped away her tears before they could freeze. It had been three years and yet the pain burned as bright as ever. She stifled a sob and kept her head bowed. Tree respect was nearly over and she would return home alone, to spend this Earth Day’s Eve night in darkness.

This year, again, she considered ending it. It would be so easy. Refuse to turn off the house. Keep a tablet or phone open. Wait for the bells and let Santa take her as he had taken Willow, and six years before that, Martin. She would be with them in spirit, somewhere, if the old religions replaced by the Green God still had any power. At least the pain would stop.

That’s what the old religions promised. The Green God promised nothing but despair, the burning of this planet now deep in snow and ice. The trees were dormant, having shed their leaves for their long winter sleep and yet the news declared that the planet was warming by the hour.

Dawn gasped when the klaxon sounded. Relieved, she turned and headed for home. Maybe she could simply not bother with her preparations and let the cold take her this year, as it took so many others. Mostly the old, but then it did also take some of the young, even some of those younger than Dawn’s thirty years.

Lost in her depression, she didn’t notice June draw alongside her as she walked. Normally the families maintained social distance and respectful silence on Earth Day’s Eve. Everyone was too intent on getting home for one last hot meal before turning all the power off to be bothered with any idle chit-chat anyway. June’s whisper startled her.

“Dawn. We need to talk.”

Dawn shook her head and whispered back. “Do you want us both on the Naughty List? We have to maintain tree respect this day.” She kept her eyes firmly ahead.

June’s breathing was harsh. “They’ve made something worse than Green Santa. The Piper. They plan to take all the children.”

Dawn curled her lip. “They’ve taken my husband and my child. Why would this be any of my business?”

June stayed silent until they were nearly at Dawn’s house. Then she took a breath. “I’m sorry, Dawn. I know you’re going through a living hell but we need you.” She pressed something into Dawn’s hand. Something that ticked. “It’s not electronic so Santa won’t see it. It’s mechanical. Watch it after you turn off the house. When the thick long hand has moved halfway around the dial, and if you want to help us, open your front door and put a LEDlight outside.”

Dawn turned, but June was already receding into the growing darkness. She opened her door and dashed inside.

The door closed, her back pressed against it, Dawn stared at the small metal disc in her hand. Behind its flattened clear dome were three pointed sticks, radiating from the centre. A long one, a short one and a very thin one that rotated around the centre as she watched. There were numbers, one to twelve, around the outside of the dial.

It moves. Is it really not electronic? Is this a trap?

Dawn chuckled, a harsh and desolate sound. It really didn’t matter. She wanted an end to her personal hell anyway so if it was a trap she’d gladly walk into it. It took the decision to end it from her hands, it meant she didn’t have to choose.

In the kitchen, Dawn placed the disc thing on the table and switched on the kettle. She’d try, although she didn’t really want to, to fill enough hot water flasks to last the twenty-four hours of Earth Day. She set the soup on the hob, the last hot meal until sunset tomorrow, and remembered how she had taken the tepid leftovers when Willow was still here. Now the hot soup was all hers and it tasted of loss and despair.

Dawn filled two hot water bottles and three Thermos flasks with hot water before the brown-out started. She filled the fourth with half of the soup and sat to eat the rest at the table. Through the kitchen window, she saw the sun touch the horizon. She ate faster, soon it would be time to shut down the house and wrap up as well as she could for the long dark hours ahead.

Her gaze fell to the strange disc June had given her. It had protrusions either side, as if it was once fixed to something. As she ate, Dawn wondered where it had come from. It looked old, tarnished and scratched and yet whatever mechanism lay inside still worked. The thin stick in the dial moved in jerky steps, round and round. She was to wait until the long thick one moved halfway round the dial, after she turned off the house.

It’s a time measuring device of some kind. Dawn blinked a few times. A memory tried to resurface. Had her grandfather had one of these, or something like it, strapped to his wrist? The Great Cull had taken him while she was still a child, the viral plague that had wiped out many of the elderly. She sniffed and took another spoonful of soup. The four-digit clocks were so much easier to read, this little time measuring thing looked like hard work.

The soup finished, Dawn checked on the sun. Only a tiny arc of its disc now showed on the horizon. She sighed and rose. Time to turn off the house. Technically she had a few more minutes but what was the point? The electricity was now so low that the ceiling light seemed to suck light out of the room rather than illuminate it. She switched on a LEDlight and opened the panel for the power.

This was control. Martin had told her. They could turn off the power remotely through the smart meters but that wasn’t real control. Making everyone turn off their own power, that was real control. Dawn reached into the space behind the panel and pulled down the handle. The house fell silent. The pale bluish glow of the LEDlight was all that remained.

Dawn sat at the kitchen table and considered the tiny device June had given her. She was to wait until the ‘thick long hand’ had moved halfway around the dial then put a LEDlight outside her door. Well, assuming she gave enough of a shit to find out what this was all about.

What do I have to lose? Nothing.

The thin stick continued its rotations. The short fat one didn’t seem to have moved much. It pointed at just below the three. The one she was to watch pointed at the six. So she was to put out a LEDlight when it pointed at twelve. Dawn wondered how long that would take. The hell with it. I have to get some layers of clothing on. It’s already getting cold. She placed the little dial on the table and went off to the bedroom with the LEDlight.

Wrapped in multiple layers of clothing against the growing cold, with one hot water bottle in her bed and the other under her clothing, Dawn returned to the kitchen. She carried three extra LEDlights since her first one was already fading. There was not enough sunlight to charge them at this time of year. Should she really waste one by putting it outside her door?

The long fat stick pointed at eight. So she hadn’t missed whatever awaited her this night. Dawn tried to care, she tried very hard, but three years of being alone weighed heavy on her. If it was to end tonight, let it end.

Why twelve? There were twenty hours in a day, a hundred minutes in an hour and fifty seconds in a minute. Dawn had a vague recollection that it had been different and harder to understand when she was small but it was so easy to calculate now. Hardly any thought required. What was this little dial measuring? Transfixed, she watched the movements within the little dial, tracking the motion of the one that led to a decision. Would she agree to June’s request or ignore it?

Nine. Halfway to twelve. Dawn walked to the window and shivered at the moonlit whiteness outside. Every house, well, every box-shaped dwelling, all identical, all dark… it looked dead out there. She held her breath and listened but could hear no bells. Nobody around here was on the naughty list tonight, so far. Dawn glanced back at the table. So June had told her the truth. The tiny dial wasn’t electronic or she’d be hearing sleigh bells by now. The Green Santa wasted no time when dealing with the naughty ones.

Dawn hugged herself and returned to the table. The LEDlight was almost dead. She switched on another. These tiny solar-charged lights were the only electronics permissible on this night. Dawn picked up the little dial. Its ticking seemed louder now that all other sound was silenced.

Ten. Getting close to decision time. Was she going to put a light outside or just ignore June’s hinted rebellion and go to bed? The short stick had moved a little closer to four. That one must measure hours, June thought, although it seemed a little off. Still, it was hardly bedtime but what else was there to do now?

What was it June had said? The Piper will come for the children? Dawn closed her eyes. There was a tiny hint of childhood memory trying to get through, something about a piper who took children away. Vague, fleeting memories of a story one of her grandparents – she couldn’t remember which one – had read to her when she was small. Something about Hamlet… no, that was a white supremacy thing she had learned about in school. Piper of Hammering? Piper with a Pie? Dawn shook her head. It was too long ago, far too long. Even so, she was sure she remembered a story about a piper who took away children.

She opened her eyes and stared at the dial in her hand.

Eleven. Not much time left to decide. Should she base her future, or possible lack of it, on a vague memory of a children’s story? Dawn pursed her lips. They had corrupted Santa. Changed him from the old jolly fat smoking and drinking guy who gave away presents into the New Green Santa, who was lithe and fast and Pure, and who gave nothing but took away the Naughty Ones. It was not so much of a stretch to believe they had found another childhood icon to corrupt.

June was right about the little dial. It moved without electronics. Mechanical, she called it. Dawn turned it in her fingers and wondered what was inside, what powered it. It was certainly very old. Did the ancients have some knowledge that was now lost to the modern world? Or was it an elaborate trick? Dawn placed it on the table and watched as the thin stick made a complete revolution and the long fat one clicked one notch further. It can’t be electronic or Green Santa would be here now. June had told the truth, even if Dawn couldn’t work out why it was true.

So maybe June also told the truth about the Piper. The long fat stick was close to the twelve. Dawn took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

She had lost her husband and only child. Now this Piper thing was coming for other children. Should she care? Should she help? Or should she continue in her slide into despair and let the rest of the world suffer as she had?

Dawn pushed her seat away from the table and stood. “What the Hell do I have left to lose?” she said aloud. “I can wither away and die or go down in a blaze. Maybe I won’t be any use but I can face whatever god there might be and say that I tried.”

The hand was still one minute from twelve when she put the LEDlight outside her door.

Wrapped in as much as she could wear, with a hot water bottle among the clothes at her midriff, Dawn slumped over the kitchen table. Should she go to bed? Was the signal she had placed intended to get a response tonight or tomorrow? She exhaled. Her breath condensed in the air over the LEDlight on the table.

Damn, it’s cold tonight. What, if anything, is going to happen? Dawn picked up the little dial, now ice cold. It ticked away as if immune to the falling temperatures. The short fat stick had passed the twelve and the long fat one pointed at four. Dawn wished she could remember how to understand its measurement of time. She was sure her grandfather had taught her when she was a child, but the digital clocks were so much easier. She had forgotten this old and faded mechanism entirely until now.

She turned the little machine in her fingers. Its ticking brought comfort and terror. The regular tick-tick-tick was like a heartbeat but those beats ticked time away. Every tick, another moment lost to the past. How many are left?

Dawn shook her head. Don’t think that way. There might be millions more ticks to come. But… did she want them?

Tap-tap-tap.

Dawn straightened in her chair and stared at the little dial.

Tap-tap-tap.

It took her a moment to realise the sound came not from the dial but from her own door. Someone was knocking, very softly.

Dawn moved to the door and opened it a crack. Outside, the LEDlight gave a faint bluish grow, the dying embers of its limited charge. There was a figure, wrapped against the cold. Dawn squinted, unsure whether to speak.

“It’s me.” The voice identified the figure as June. “Pack a bag, light, only absolute essentials and absolutely no electronics. Not even a LEDlight. Bring any hot water you might have left. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“June? You want me to abandon my home?” Dawn recoiled at the thought. Outside, on Earth Day, in the depths of winter? Nobody survives out there.

“It’s no more a home than anyone else’s. We own nothing, Dawn. These are not homes, they are boxes to store us in until it’s time to work. They have taken everything from us. Now they will even take our children.” June’s head moved from side to side. “We have to get the hell out, now.” She took a step back. “Ten minutes.”

“How will I know?” Dawn asked. “The power is off, none of the clocks work.”

“The answer is in your hand.” June gestured at the little dial, still in Dawn’s grip. “What does the long wide hand point to?”

Dawn glanced down. “It is between four and five.”

“I will come back when it is between six and seven. Hurry.” June turned and disappeared into the night.

Dawn closed the door and stared at the little dial. It brought memories.

The grandfather she had never hugged. It was the time of the plague, but she had been too small to understand. Her grandfather died without ever feeling her touch, nor she his. They had talked across a room and later through plexiglass. He had showed her this little dial – no, not like this one. His was a little larger and held on a long chain. It had a lid that popped open. She remembered she always wanted to touch it, she had left tiny fingerprints on the plexiglass when reaching for it.

She remembered it resting in his large and calloused hand, his face smiling and tearful through wrinkled skin. He wanted to give it to her, she felt it inside, he wanted her to have his… watch. That was it. It was called a watch. And the chain. The silver chain he kept it on. Memories burst a dam in her mind.

It was her father who had one of these on his wrist. Before he was drafted into the antivirus wars. She was maybe seven or eight when that happened. Then they moved to this box she called ‘home’ and she met and married Martin. Then her mother died of the plague too. Her father, well, she never heard what became of him.

Ah, the plague. It was the reason nobody saw death any more. All the sick were isolated, to die alone. The young were insulated from the horrors of death until, like her daughter, they had no idea what it meant at all. If Willow had seen death, she might have been more careful. She might not have been taken by Santa that night.

It wasn’t about her grandfather’s watch. She understood now, after all this time. It wasn’t the watch. He had just wanted to hug her, even just make one tiny physical contact. Handing over the watch would have meant their hands touched and they never, not once, experienced even that. All because of someone he regularly called ‘a gecko-faced psychotic twat’, whatever that meant.

Dawn’s breath obscured the watch in her hands for a moment. She blinked away tears. The plague was still around even though nobody ever saw anyone die any more. Anyone sick was immediately quarantined and few of them came back. They had to take care.

The long fat hand touched six. Dawn had little time left, but what time did she need? She was already wearing most of her clothes anyway. She hurried to pack spare clothes into a bag, carefully wrapped the remaining flasks of hot water and placed them inside. She was just lacing up the top of the bag when she heard tapping on her door again.

Scarf around her mouth and nose, her coat wrapped tightly around herself, hood up, Dawn opened the door and nodded to the shadowy figure outside. She pulled on her gloves, picked up her bag and stepped out into the night, closing the door softly behind her.

A shiver ran through her body. Not the cold, it wasn’t much colder outside than inside any more. It was the realisation that she had closed the door to her home – her storage box – for the last time. Whatever happened now, her old life was over.

What the hell, it had all gone to shit anyway.

“Come on.” June started walking. “We can’t be outside for too long. Santa is out tonight and now there’s the Piper to worry about too.”

Dawn started to ask where they were going, but realised she didn’t actually care. They were going somewhere on a night when nobody should be going anywhere. Unauthorised exit from her own home. Associating with other people. It felt good. It felt more than good. It felt euphoric. Dawn grinned beneath her scarf. If Santa caught her tonight, this feeling, this fleeting delight, something she thought she would never again experience… it was worth it.

“Did you remember my watch?” June inclined her head.

“It’s in my pocket.” Dawn hoped June didn’t want it right now. It would mean unbuttoning her coat.

“Good. Those are very hard to come by nowadays. That one was my father’s.” June continued walking.

If only my grandfather could have given me his watch. I could have worked out how to use it by now. Dawn shook herself. This was not a good time to let misery intrude. This was a new life. She had already broken the law, what further excitement could the night bring?

They passed many identical tiny houses, all shrouded in darkness. Occasionally the remnants of a glowing LEDlight could be discerned through thin curtains but most of those would have long since run out of their feeble solar charge tonight.

“Here we are.” June stopped in front of a large building.

Dawn squinted, but the darkness around it was complete. It didn’t seem to be a house. She recognised it at last as the derelict barn on the edge of town. Nobody ever went there. It wasn’t safe. Dawn took a step back.

June seemed to sense her fear. “It’s okay. We’ve spent many years putting around rumours about this place. It’s perfectly safe really.” She tapped three times on the door.

There was a pause before the door opened, just a crack.

“It’s June and Dawn.” June pulled down the scarf covering her face and motioned to Dawn to do the same. Their breath plumed in the icy air.

The door opened and they walked into total darkness. Once the door closed, several LEDlights came on.

Dawn gasped. The barn had at least thirty people in it! An indoor gathering of this size had never been legal as far as she could remember. And there were children too. All silent, adults and children alike, all staring at her. Some she recognised, others she did not.

A woman approached her with a girl who looked to be about ten. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Jasmine. This is my daughter April. She was a friend of Willow’s.”

Tears rolled from Dawn’s eyes. April was the friend Willow had spoken of often. Her best friend. They were only allowed three friends in school. April and Willow had been besties.

April stepped forward and took Dawn’s hand. Another law broken. The touch of other people’s children was forbidden. Dawn curled her fingers around April’s and held tight. This is what it would have felt like to be holding Willow’s hand now.

“I’m—” Dawn choked on the words. “I’m afraid Willow isn’t coming back. Santa took her.”

“I know.” April’s lip trembled. “And now the Piper is coming to take us all.”

“Not all.” The voice came from a man who now stood within coughing distance of Dawn. Unmasked. Yet another law broken.

Dawn’s head reeled. What was this? How did she go from obedient worker to renegade in a matter of hours? She felt April’s fingers tighten and tightened her own in response.

The man put his hand on her shoulder. “I am Sanjay. Jasmine’s husband and April’s father.” He smiled down at the girl. “We had a better name for her, one more in keeping with our traditions, but that was no longer allowed. The Church of the Green God decided the list of names we could use. Still, she is our daughter and we love her.” He turned his smile on Dawn. “We have to run if we are to keep our children. We need you to come with us.”

“Run where? And why me? I’m no hero.” Dawn stared into his eyes, knowing she would agree to anything if she could hold a ten year old hand and close her eyes and pretend it was Willow.

“You know more than you have ever said.” June pushed her hood back. “There have been hints in conversations, times when you have stopped short in discussion. There is knowledge in you, and we don’t have much of that.” She laughed, a short harsh sound. “Those in charge have made sure of it. You know more than we do about how this world works. We need you.”

Dawn lowered her eyes. They met April’s, who stared up at her, filled with hope.

I know what Martin told me, and he told me to never tell anyone else. Did I leak it without realising? I can’t have or Santa would have taken me by now. Martin knew so much, he saw through the veil of lies. Is that why they took him?

“Perhaps it’s time the truth came out.” Dawn gasped at the words. Her thoughts had become sounds.

“Perhaps it’s too late.” Sanjay patted her shoulder. “Or perhaps just in time. Time will tell.”

Another man stepped forward. He nodded at Dawn. “I am Leif. Time is not on our side. There is a place we can go, unused now but we can make it liveable. We have to go tonight while most power is off. It will not be hard to track us if we have any electronics so we will take no LEDlights, we will walk by moonlight.”

April tugged Dawn’s hand. “They say that you have heard the bells. Is it true?”

Dawn shivered. “Yes. It’s true.”

A murmur ran around the room. Nobody who hears the bells should survive. Sanjay licked his lips, stood back and turned his gaze away.

June put her arm around Dawn’s waist and squeezed. “Help us, Dawn. We need you.”

Dawn looked from one to the other, at the room of hopeful eyes, and made the only decision she could make. There was no going back now.

“Yes,” she said. “But first I have to know where we are going.”

Leif pursed his lips. “There is an old windfarm—”

“No.” Dawn raised her hand. “They revive the windfarms when they can. We need a solar farm. Those are no use at this time of year so they are never checked and they will have more recent facilities.”

Leif and Sanjay looked at each other and nodded. “She was a good choice,” Sanjay said. Leif nodded.

“There’s another thing,” Dawn said. “All those sites, wind or solar, are bristling with cameras. There’s no way to get in or out undetected.”

Leif smiled and motioned a small woman forward. “This is Holly. She works in a monitoring station, watching the cameras. Holly?” Leif stood back to give her space.

Holly cleared her throat. “At least half of the cameras don’t work. More are so grainy they’re no real use. Nobody bothers fixing them because there’s no need. Everyone is so used to thinking they’re being watched all the time that they just act as if they’re always watched. So there’s no longer any need for constant surveillance. The presence of the cameras is enough. The fact that so many of them are out of order is kept very quiet.” She glanced around. “Nobody outside this room can ever know I’ve told you this. I’d certainly be sent to the Farm.”

“Of course.” Dawn looked around at the expectant faces. “Do you know which ones aren’t working?”

“Yes.” Sanjay pulled out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. “This is a map of the area showing where the dead cameras are. We can avoid the live ones on the way to the wind farm, but we’ll need another route if we’re going to the solar installation.”

Dawn looked over the map. “The easiest way is to head for the wind farm and turn off here.” She pointed at the map. “This is just a dirt track, my husband took me there once when he showed me round his job, maintaining the wind and solar installations.”

Holly examined the map. “No cameras for a couple of miles. We’d have to watch for drone patrols but they aren’t common outside the towns.”

Sanjay and Leif conferred briefly. Sanjay addressed the room in a hushed voice.

“Okay, get a few hours of sleep. We won’t be able to show any lights so we leave as soon as the sun starts to rise. The power won’t come back on until tomorrow night so everyone else will stay huddled up at home, and the lack of activity in our own houses won’t be unusual until nightfall. By then we should be a good distance away.”

Amid murmurs and whispers and the occasional sound of a hot water bottle being emptied and refilled, the people settled into a large huddle.

Dawn caught Sanjay’s arm as he turned to leave. “Where are we going? We can’t stay at the solar farm for long. What destination do you have in mind?”

Sanjay pursed his lips and stared at the ground for a moment. He took a breath. “We don’t know. Holly has told us that the cameras only go so far out. We can get to the wilderness where there are no cameras and try to eke out some kind of existence.” He forced a smile. “We haven’t had time to really think about it. It would be better to go in summer, sure, but this is the only time the power is off. It’s the only time we can go without our absence being noticed for several hours.” His smile slipped. “Also, if we wait, they’ll take our children. There’s been no time to really plan anything beyond getting out of here.”

Dawn considered this. It had been a rushed decision because of the Piper. “I understand,” she said. “We can make plans when we get to the solar farm. There’s a kind of museum there, or maybe just storage. Martin showed me round it. Old vehicles, the ones that used to run on fossil fuels. They even had some fuel stored there. There are electric cars too, they use them to get around the farm. We might as well add theft to our list of crimes.” She smiled.

Sanjay grinned widely. “Oh June was so right to bring you in. You’re going to be so valuable to us.”

“I hope so. We can steal some tools and medical supplies while we’re there. Might as well go all the way, eh?”

Sanjay slapped her arm. “Wonderful. Better get some sleep though, there’s only a few hours till sunrise. If you want to refill a hot water bottle, there’s a drain over there you can empty cold water into.”

It was indeed getting chilly, despite the body heat of all these people. Dawn unbuttoned her coat and took out the hot water bottle nestled inside. She reached for her bag and stopped, remembering something. Delving into her pocket she brought out the watch, still ticking the moments into the past.

“June,” she said, handing over the watch. “Thank you. We might not last long on this adventure but it’s so much better than the gloom I was facing.”

June chuckled. “You underestimate the determination of these people. We’ve been very careful in who we’ve chosen. We had to be so, so careful not to bring in anyone who might betray us and there are so very many of those.”

Dawn bit her lip. She had had to bite her lip many times in the past, when talking to neighbours. That certain look in the eye, the incline of the head, sent a message that told her they were waiting for a misstep, a word out of place, something they could report and improve their standing with the authorities. June was right, there were so very many of them. She looked around the room, darker now that most of the LEDlights had been extinguished. That’s why there are so few here. It can be hard to know who to trust.

She said goodnight to June and went to the drain Sanjay had pointed at. Here she emptied her hot water bottle and refilled it from one of the flasks in her bag. She toyed with the idea of discarding the empty flask but it might be useful again one day, and it didn’t weigh very much empty. She put it back in her bag.

Hot water bottle under her buttoned coat, she curled up at the edge of the group, near the wall. The wind cut through a gap in the boards, so she placed her bag against it and drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Dawn woke to a pale light that gave no heat. She was aware of low murmurings and soft movements around her. For a moment she wondered who was in her house, then recalled the events of the night before. She opened her eyes.

Leif knelt beside her, his finger over his lips. Then she heard the scream.

It came from outside. When Leif moved away, Dawn moved her bag away from the crack in the boards. Outside, on someone’s doorstep, two people in Hazmat suits were forcing a child into a smaller one. The child’s parents struggled against the police holding them.

“It’s for your safety.” The shouted words came to her across the cold morning air. “And your child’s. Just relax. Be calm. Panic makes you more susceptible to the virus. Your child will be safe with us.”

“My baby!” The cry cut Dawn to the heart.  She knew how that mother felt. Her darker side knew that that particular mother would have delighted in turning her in for wrongthink, but even so, the pain in that cry was so deep, so visceral, it blew away any other consideration.

“I didn’t think they would move so fast.” Sanjay’s whisper made Dawn jump. He ran his lips over his teeth. “Although it makes sense. Today, Earth Day, nobody can use their phone to warn others what’s coming.” He closed his eyes. “This is bad. They’ll find out we’re not at home in a matter of minutes. I had hoped we’d have hours of head start but we’re going to be running right from the beginning.”

Dawn blinked away her tears. “Get used to it,” she said. “We’re going to be running for the rest of our lives.” She glanced behind her at the children huddled with their parents. “Probably for generations.”

____

This follows from ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’. The next one, probably next Christmas, will connect to ’23-David and 81-Mohammed’ to complete that sequence.

Coronamas

It’s loaded. Two authors were still to respond to the final PDF but I checked over their stories and found nothing wrong. If there are changes required I can upload an updated version later. It’s now only 11 days to Christmas and this one has been hit with far too many delays already. The print book can take a couple of days to show up, although it’s usually faster. I hope it’s online in time for Christmas, it’ll fill someone’s stocking if they remember to take the feet out first.

Smashwords is of course instant – but it might not get premium status. There is quite a procedure for multi-author books and Smashwords hasn’t really been all that big an income for any of the single author books from their expanded distribution this year. So I won’t get too tense about it. It’s not as if these anthologies make any money anyway.

I was surprised at how fast the Kindle version went live. It was a couple of hours! It’s not normally that fast. The print book has to be manually checked at Amazon’s end so will take a bit longer. Hopefully not much longer.

Okay, this looks like a wrap for this anthology. The next one will come up around Easter time and I hope to be able to type without a splint on my left hand by then. It’s definitely improving but that could be because the splint doesn’t let it move.

I will need to think up another Moros story for the spring anthology. He’s in full view now. Masks do nothing useful, that’s been proved. The asymptomatic are not spreading the virus, that’s been proved. So you now have a virus so deadly you have to take a test to see if you have it, then take a vaccine that’s more dangerous than the virus and this deadly and all-permeating virus is killed by plain old soap.

And yet everyone is still terrified. The KGB were right. Scare people for a few months and they won’t accept proof that there is really nothing to be scared of. Moros must be laughing his arse off.

Mad Hancock was not crying on TV. He was laughing. Penis Morgan’s terror must have delighted him and his puppet masters. I’ve seen videos of ‘vaccinations’ that do not include a disinfecting swab before the needle goes in and even one injected through a sleeve. I mean, come on, William Shakespeare from Stratford was the first? Do they have to rub salt into your eyes before you see the piss-take happening?

I’ve had many, many vaccinations in my career in the microbiology of infectious diseases. I am not taking this one.

Whether you do is entirely your choice.

Just be sure to read the book before you die.

Progress

All author contracts are in, the PDF of the whole thing is assembled and sent to authors for final final checks. The Christmas book shouldn’t be long now. As long as I haven’t screwed up.

I have also obtained a proper wrist splint. This is far better than the elastic bandage because it allows no wrist movement at all. Typing with that hand is like pecking at the keyboard with error prone sticks but it’s still better than doing it all one handed. It means I can last longer between rests. Arnica cream also seems to help, it might be a pure placebo effect but it hurts less so I’ll take it.

Anyway, here’s the contents page for those wondering what’s in the book. It contains a high proportion of dark Christmas tales which seems appropriate for Anthology 13 and the ridiculous restrictions curently imposed on us due to Chinese play-acting and the Mad Hancock’s delight in power. There are some proper gentle ones in there too. It’s also 50/50 on male/female authors this time so nobody can complain about discrimination.

Foreword          H.K. Hillman

Stog Gayle Fidler

Death Tries Something Different Mark Ellott

Cancelling Nicholas .Mark Ellott

The Fly Margo Jackson

Merced Daniel Royer

When Those Gang Members Celebrated Christmas    Daniel Royer

Burning Injustice Emma Townsend

Adam and Eve’s Day Johnathan Martin

Christmas for Two? Marsha Webb

The Nest Marsha Webb

And I Weep Like a Child for the Past Stephen W. Duffy

Not All Ghosts .Stephen W. Duffy

Christmas Death Wish Roo B. Doo

Piper in Hazmat H.K. Hillman

Afterword Roo B. Doo

Two authors independently came up with talking animals. another two gave very, very different renditions of when Santa met Death and a further two provided different versions of rebellious Santa elves. It’s developed into a very interesting book indeed.

Santa is coming…

Book assembly is under way. Waiting for two author contracts but the rest are in, those who wanted cash payments are mostly paid (one wants part books and part cash, that’s a legitimate option, it’s in the contract) and the stories are formatted ready to assemble the book.

My knackered hand was worse today. I had to take the car for MOT on Monday. It’s an automatic gearbox so the left hand doesn’t have much to do between the start and end of the journey. However, the courtesy car was a manual box. All that gear changing, especially in that very narrow box, did a fair bit of damage. The good news is that my car passed easily, all it cost was the price of the test. I was surprised, it’s been lying idle most of the year and I had expected a few parts to have decayed.

The courtesy car was free, I just had to refill the tank, so I shouldn’t complain but… does it always have to be one of those that looks like the escape pod from a real car? It was so small and low down I was worried about my arse scraping on the road. Emblazoned with decals and adverts, it looked like the sort of car you’d expect 50 clowns to get out of. It really, really didn’t like the road up to the farm. I’m lucky I didn’t rip the bottom out of it.

I only used it to drive home and back to the garage some hours later. It was essential especially now that you aren’t allowed to wait in the garage, and there is no public transport out here. It wasn’t a bad car apart from the feature nagging me to change up a gear when I knew the tight curve we were on was about to go up a steep hill. If I change up here, car, you really won’t thank me.

Still, it’s all over now. and book assembly is under way, which involves mostly copy/paste and mouse work so it can be done one handed. I hope to have the proper splint to replace my strap-on tomorrow. That’s strap-on bandage, you filthy minded swines! It’s getting sweaty and in need of a wash. I should get another one.

I do need those last two contracts though. I can’t publish those stories without them.

It’s developing

My hand still hurts like hell. Apparently I’m supposed to not use it for 48 hours, like that’s even possible at the moment. Still, it is 2020 and it’s also Anthology 13 so I should have expected problems.

I went with ‘Coronamas’ with the tagline ‘This year you’re all on his naughty list’. The cover still has to get a bit more text and likely adjustments but here’s the basic image for the front. It’s covered in lovely red Christmassyness and features Santa. I still might give him glowing eyes.

Okay. Now I have a title I can start putting out contracts. One author left to respond to edits, hopefully won’t be long now but I know she’s very busy.

In other news, I have received my first letter from the NHS about getting me stabbed with flu vaccine. Since there is apparently almost zero flu this year, I will decline. I think it’s just come home to them that by marking up every death as a Covid death, nobody feels the need to get the flu vaccine so now they can’t sell that one. They’re going to force the Covid one, of course. I’ll refuse that too.

Anyway. This anthology is taking longer than I would like but it’s getting there. I’ll start on contracts tomorrow.

Never Mind the Baubles

… here come the Sick Pistols. (thanks to Roo B. Doo for that title).

Well it’s that time again, my hand is still strapped up but it’s beginning to accept short periods of two handed typing. It’s growing back slowly. I have of course imbibed large quantities of painkiller so there might be some digressions.

Fill the wards with those infected, falalalala, lalalala

Tis the season to get tested, falalalala lalalala

*ahem* There is a reason for the madness. I am struggling with a title for the Christmas anthology. I’m thinking a dark cover, the moon in the background with Corona spikes and a silhouette of Santa with glowing eyes. But what to call it? I have been brainstorming with Roo B Doo on this and we haven’t come up with one we both like yet.

The Darkest Christmas

Santa gets the Sack

The Christmas Downgrade

The Disease in Santa’s Sack

Viral Christmas

Coronamas

Track and Trace Santa

Season’s Vaccines

Any more input welcome. I need a title to put on the author contracts. All but two have responded to edits, pretty good since they only went out in the last two days. It’s nearly there now, but I can’t publish without those contracts agreeing to let me – and there needs to be a title on the contract. Nobody sensible would give me an open contract for the amounts I can afford to pay. And I won’t ask them to.

So I need a title soon, I have until the last author responds and on past experience, that’s not likely to be very long. It’s going to be a pretty grim Christmas for those of us who aren’t rich or pompous enough to ignore their own rules, and the title should reflect that. Many of the stories do.

In other news, my daughter’s boyfriend has borrowed one of my slingshots. He has a bet that he can knock over a can at 30 yards with a cactus fired from a slingshot. Well of course I loaned him one of the good ones. This is exactly the sort of thing everyone should be doing. I can’t use them anyway until my hand heals.

I think he’s a good fit for the family.

Grinch time

Busy busy busy…

I and RooBeeDoo are currently editing stories for the Christmas anthology. Has to be quick, it needs to be out later this week in time for the Christmas rush. That’s going to be worse than usual, all post and delivery drivers are overloaded this year.

Also, tonight is the last night of the author payments quarter for Leg Iron Books and there is always one who buys a book in the last five minutes before midnight. Always. So that has to be sorted too.

This anthology has ten authors, thirteen stories. At least it matches Underdog Anthology 13, so that’s not too bad. My story is, naturally, on the dark side… well on the moonlit overcast winter night dark side, if I’m honest… but I’m not alone.

So I will be silent here for a few days.

I did notice, however, that there seems to be a massive debunking of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid. You know, the one that is actually a traditional style vaccine. They are really pushing the autoimmune disease mRNA vaccine and have now admitted that it uses a virus vector for delivery. Well it had to, there’s really no other way to do it.

They claim the vector cannot replicate.

So how did they grow it?

If I absolutely have to have one I’m taking the Oxford one. I am not touching either of the mRNA ones.

I’d rather not have one at all but it’s increasingly looking like that might not be an option.