Out of book limbo

Yes, this place has been through another of its silent periods. I was preparing two books for publication at once. How? Well, both authors had supplied cover images and Cade F.O.N Apollyon stepped in as editor for Ruth’s book. That saved me a lot of time and work.

Now available are Mark Ellott’s ‘A Moment in Time’ and Ruth Bonner’s ‘Just Call Me Roob‘. If you have an Amazon allergy, the ebooks are also on Smashwords. Hopefully they’ll also soon spread to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and more. Most of the rest have, there just seems to be an issue with Underdog Anthologies at Smashwords that’s a pain in the arse – but they make so little I haven’t yet bothered to worry about it.

There are three more I’d like completed before Christmas, plus the Christmas anthology of course. Then I might do something I never imagined I’d do when this all started with the Underdog Anthology in December 2016. Heck, back then I thought I was optimistic to call it Volume 1, and the Christmas book will be number 13! Which would have been a bad numbering sequence, but for 2020 it’s probably quite appropriate.

In December, I might actually need to close to submissions for a few weeks.

Yes, in four years I’ve gone from wondering whether I could find enough authors to fill one slim volume of stories, to actually having to close submissions for a few weeks so I can catch up! I’ll close on December 1st so if you have that massive tome of a fantasy novel spanning ninety generations of elves all set to send, you can still send it. I won’t guarantee to do anything about it before Christmas though, three books and an anthology plus some progress on my own writing means I’ll probably manage to take a half-day off for Christmas day. Well nobody can visit, might as well do something useful with all this time.

I still have to do the three volume annual thing but since I cut all the anthology prices to the bone for the duration of this nonsense, there doesn’t seem to be any hurry. I couldn’t charge more than $1.99 for the eBook version at the moment anyway.

If only all this work made any money. If you’re looking for a surprise stocking filler for Christmas, do take a look at the Leg Iron Books selection. There’s something for everyone (except the Gary Glitters and convicted councillors) in there. The authors will appreciate every penny of royalties, they’ll appreciate it even more if the royalties are more than a pound. Seriously, there’s some talented writers on sale at bargain basement prices over there. I even have a range of my own books in there of varying thicknesses to suit almost any wonky table leg.

Anyway, I have not entirely withdrawn from the real world – well, no more than usual. Today we did manage to visit Son and the grandchildren. Granddaughter is nearly three, her mother worries that the lockdown means she’s not developing social skills. She’s my granddaughter. She has no need of social skills, she just needs blade and crossbow lessons. Grandson is eight weeks old and has already mastered the art of the disapproving scowl. They are both developing perfectly normally. If Billy Gates Gruff wants to mess with this DNA, good luck. You have no idea what you might produce.

This vaccine is really gaining some acolytes. They think it will fix everything. The fact is, this vaccine isn’t a vaccine. It’s going to insert mRNA into your cells to make them produce proteins that are foreign to the body. This is, by any measure, not a good idea. You can pretend that sex is a construct to your five-or-seven-chambered heart’s content but biochemistry – trust me on this – is fixed.

At this point the Vaccine Brigade will call me an anti-vaxxer. I am a retired microbiologist. I have been vaccinated with every legitimate vaccine going. Some that the general public never get offered because they aren’t working with the horrible things I’ve worked with. My children and grandchildren are vaccinated. The only vaccine I have ever refused is flu vaccine because it’s money-making crap. I will definitely refuse the Billy Gates Gruff’s not-a-vaccine.

Real vaccines work like this. You take dead cells or attenuated (they can’t infect) live cells or even just appropriate bits of protein and inject them. Your immune system finds them and says ‘What’s this? What’s all this infecting? We’ll have no trouble here’ followed by ‘This is a local body for local cells, there’s nothing here for you’ and proceeds to wipe them out with antibodies.

The antibody production then declines. This is normal. It does not mean you have lost immunity. It means the immune system doesn’t waste time, protein and energy producing antibodies against something it’s already defeated. It would be like an army going through a battlefield eternally re-shooting the enemy it’s killed. Waste of bullets.

Instead, the immune system cells are able to store the information to make particular antibodies against things they have seen before. They don’t need to make them all the time. When the same pathogen appears, the immune system doesn’t need to go through all the ‘What is this and how do we kill it?’ routine. It just goes ‘Oh yeah, that one. Load up Antibody 73 and get firing, lads’.

The Billy Gates Gruff ‘vaccine’ does not do this. Bear in mind that the immune system recognises antigens – bits of surface material, not whole cells – and destroys the cell carrying them. The entire cell.

So, the Billy Gates Gruff ‘vaccine’ makes your own cells produce surface proteins that your own immune system recognises as foreign. It does not simply block the protein. It kills the cell carrying it. Your own body cells.

This is not a vaccine. This is an autoimmune disease in a syringe. I don’t care if they never let me enter a pub or restaurant or travel on a plane again. Not that we will be able to afford planes once the budget airlines have been wiped out. I am not going to be injected with this monstrosity.

You want to believe it will save you from what has turned out to be a bad flu? Fine. You go ahead. I won’t gloat, I probably won’t be one of the six people allowed to attend your funeral anyway.

You want to call it tinfoil hattery, go ahead. Or get two degrees in an appropriate subject, live through an entire career dealing with infectious disease and retire with a shed filled with lab equipment, like I have, and then maybe you’ll give it some thought.

Or maybe not. Maybe you’re excited to be injected with an experimental not-a-vaccine that claims 90% effectiveness against your own immune system’s 99%. Maybe you really want the aches and headaches of approaching arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Maybe you hate yourself so much that the agonising death of your body, cell by cell, is a delight to be savoured.

You just know it’s going to be called ‘Long Covid’, to get more idiots to take the thing, don’t you?

Meanwhile there is nobody sensible in charge. Boris is the Henpecked Premier, doing whatever his squeeze tells him to even though he must know, deep down, it will utterly destroy the country he was elected to lead.

That other bastion of Western Civilisation, America, seems to have no idea what it’s doing any more. That last election was a farce that would have embarrassed even the EU presidential election. Still nobody knows who won and I think it should be down to a cage fight between Trump and Biden. Go on, America. Election by Thunderdome. Two old fogeys enter, one old fogey leaves.

Maybe we should choose leaders who have a future beyond a rich retirement in the Cayman islands.

It doesn’t matter now. The game is on, Panoptica is approaching reality at a horrifying speed and it’s too late to stop it. Like climate change. It’s happening, it can’t be stopped, it’s not going the way they think it’s going and it’s adapt or die.

Darwin was right about that. It’s not evolution unless we turn into White Walkers. It’s adaptation.

We’ve done it before.

The big question is… how many of us have the guts to do it again?

Piper in Hazmat: Part One

Busy here, now five full books going through the process and also the Christmas anthology. Still I managed to get started on a tale for Christmas myself. This one will form part of Panoptica and fits between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle‘ and ‘23-David and 81-Mohammed‘.

This isn’t the whole thing. Just the first half. It’ll probably get some editing too, once it’s complete. It’s being rushed out now because of something that’s happening in Liverpool.

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The story is set in the future of course – I had hoped in the far future, but it seems the future is coming faster than I anticipated. Well, here we go…

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 a year 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 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.

***

The rest of it will be in the Christmas anthology.

Panoptica is here

Track and trace apps (I don’t have one, I don’t go to anywhere that requires one), compulsory masks that make facial recognition cameras futile (you’ll soon be required to be RFID chipped and/or wear a barcode so they can see you), cash being gradually demonised and refused in many shops now… It’s here. If you have an Alexa or carry your phone everywhere or have one of those TVs with a camera in it, you’re in Panoptica.

Almost. There is still a little time to finish the story and try to get to a happy ending. I have agonised over this one for so many years now, even stopped for a time when the things I wrote appeared as news within days. Then, writing the book, I found that 10538 had to recount experiences in a way that basically told the first half of the story twice. Then it was derailed by my father’s death in February, followed by all the Covid nonsense since.

I think I have a way in which it can work. One of my favourite books as a teenager was Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’. It’s a collection of short stories that tell an overall story. Mr. B. didn’t originally set out to do that, he had written a series of stories based on Mars for a magazine and collected them later. This means that the first few stories didn’t fall into a pattern, but overall the book worked. I’ve always wanted to write something like that.

So I will. I’ll also include the stories that led up to the main story, and fill in a few blanks with new stories. I have a particularly horrible (and quite likely) one for Christmas. It fills the gap between ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’ and ’23-David and 81-Mohammed’. I don’t think I need to write the story before ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’, I think we can just watch that on the news.

Unlike ‘The Martian Chronicles’, this one will start out with the premise that it tells an overall story, but in a series of shorts rather than chapters. Some of them will work as standalone stories but I suspect a few will be the ‘backbone’ of the overall story and won’t work as singles.

It won’t be fast, unfortunately. I have three other authors’ books to deal with and the Christmas anthology is under way. But it will happen.

Hopefully, before it all comes true.

Entertainment time – Bagboy

Late, but then it’s Halloween and that’s a busy time 😉 I didn’t manage to get a new one written – I was invited to participate in a scientific review a short while back, and agreed before asking the deadline. It was yesterday. It’s done, skimming the very tartar off the teeth of the deadline. Just like the old days 🙂

Anyway, a story for Halloween. This one is from Mask-Querade.

Bagboy

“What’s in the bag, kid?”

The boy set down his heavy bag and stared into the eyes of the grinning man who towered over him. This man wasn’t on his list.

“The head of the last person who looked into the bag,” he said.

The man laughed. “Good one, kid.” He patted the boy’s head and walked on.

The boy picked up his bag and continued on his way. Day faded into night and still the boy walked.

As the darkness closed in, the Halloween revelries went into full swing. A man shambled past him, his grin lopsided. “Hey, kid, whass inna bag, eh?”

The boy looked into the man’s eyes. Another one who wasn’t on his list. “The head of the last person who looked into the bag.”

The man snorted. “Smartass kid. Fegoff.” He staggered away.

The boy hefted the bag onto his shoulder and headed for the place he needed to be.

Denny fiddled with his mask. It was a pain to wear it, but wear it he must, even alone in this alleyway. It had advantages in his line of work. He took out his knife, admired its stiletto gleam in the moonlight and quickly resheathed it. This was his earner, his path to riches. So far it had made him enough to be comfortable and, he had to admit, it had provided a lot of fun. One day he would strike the mother lode.

Or rather, one night. Denny smiled behind his mask. It wasn’t a great mask, it was a cheap surgical mask that Denny knew did nothing to protect him from anything. Except one thing. Identification. He chuckled at the thought that in less than a year, the police had moved from arresting someone in a mask to arresting anyone without one. Times change, and they change very fast these days.

He could have chosen one of the many colourful masks now on sale, he could have picked a mask from a film or TV character. He chose this one for a reason. Most people wore this type now, even though the younger ones had forgotten why. This was true anonymity, having the same face as everyone else. In his profession, that was an ace card.

Footsteps approached. Denny tensed and sank into the shadows, prepared to grasp the night’s earnings. He should have been working with Bob but Bob had not shown up for over a week and nobody knew where he was. So, for now, Denny worked alone.

A small figure, silhouetted in street lights, stood at the end of the alley. Denny watched through narrowed eyes. The figure had a large bag, there might be something of value in it. Would that little one risk the darkness of the alley or would they chicken out and take the long way around?

There was no motion for several minutes. Denny wasn’t even sure he was breathing, the anticipation was so great. The small figure sniffed the air and looked around. Maybe it was listening, gauging the alley as safe or risky.

It’s safe. Denny tried to push the thought into the small figure’s head. Oh, he had no belief in anything supernatural but hell, it couldn’t hurt to try.

The figure took a step forward. Its head moved from side to side. Denny kept his breathing shallow and silent. This could be a big one. The kid could be a money courier for a gang. They’d never know who took that bag of cash. Maybe it’s drugs. What the hell, I know enough junkies, I could sell them. Must be something valuable, nobody else would let a kid out with a bag that big this late.

The small figure let out a snort of breath and strode into the alley.

Denny tensed, his hand on his blade. This had to be quick. He watched the alley behind the kid in case he had a shadow, a guard or a watcher to make sure he delivered the goods. No sign of anyone. The kid was alone. Denny stayed perfectly still in the shadow of an alcove in the windowless wall.

The kid walked past him. Denny was sure the kid’s eyes flicked in his direction and he thought he saw a smile on the small face, but the kid didn’t break stride. It was a boy of about twelve, Denny guessed, and he can’t have seen anything or he’d be scared.

Ah, the old days, in the gang with Bob and Pete and Scabby Ted. We used to have so much fun with the little kids. Scabby Ted pissed off somewhere three years ago. Pete turned straight and scared, I wonder what he’s doing now?

Denny slid the long thin knife from its sheath, Just have to get rich all on my own, I suppose. He moved in silence, came up behind the boy. One hand over the mouth and a quick cut across the throat. The boy made no sound, he simply fell. Denny grabbed the bag, resheathed his knife – no time to clean it now – and ran along the alley.

At the street, he relaxed into a casual stroll, the bag over his shoulder. Just another man in a mask, carrying home a work bag. Just like everyone else. The mask hid his grin. This is just too damn easy.

Denny’s flat was small, but then there was only him and he didn’t need much space. A bigger place would just mean more cleaning. It was a decent flat, rented from the local council and, he always thought, it was pleasant enough.

He placed the bag on the kitchen table. It was really quite heavy and he wondered how that scrawny kid had managed to carry it so easily. His fingers itched to open it but… Patience. I have all night and I need a drink.

He poured a large vodka and added a splash of lemonade. His knife lay in the sink, it had moved so fast there was only a trace of blood on it from the kid’s throat. The leather sheath had gained an addition to its spreading collection of bloodstains but Denny saw that as a kind of scorecard. The staining darkened over time. Gave the sheath character.

He took a swig of vodka and stared at the bag. It was well used, worn and wrinkled. There was a splash of blood down one side. Denny smiled. Seems nobody had noticed on his way home but then it was Halloween, it was dark, and everyone was too busy having fun.

What could be in there? It felt too heavy for cash. Maybe too heavy for drugs. Stolen jewellery perhaps? Denny took another swig. Maybe the kid was homeless and it was all just worthless shit. He shook his head. That kid was clean and healthy, he hadn’t been sleeping rough. Finally setting down his glass, Denny reached for the bag’s drawstring and pulled the top open.

“I’m supposed to give you one chance.”

Denny started at the voice. He looked around but saw nobody.

“I don’t want to. Look in the bag.”

The boy stood opposite him, on the other side of the table, between Denny and the sink where his work knife lay.

“How the hell did you get in here?” How the hell are you alive? And why do you look familiar?

“It doesn’t matter. Soon it will be over, or maybe I should say it will begin.” The boy smiled. “Do you remember me?” He lifted his head. Scars criss-crossed his neck, one of them recently healed.

“It can’t be. That was seven years ago.” Denny ran his tongue over his dry lips. That kid died, and if he had lived he’d be an adult now.

“I won’t tell you my name. You and your friends never asked for it. After the things you did, I have no reason to give you the one last chance I’m supposed to but those are the rules. So, I’m supposed to tell you not to look in the bag.” The boy leaned forward. “I have to tell you what’s inside.”

Denny swallowed, the vodka buzz in his head making this whole thing feel unreal. “Well? What’s inside?”

The boy grinned. “Your darkest dream. Your wildest imaginings. A thing beyond mere money and human materialism. Eternity. A thing whose value can never be counted. Whether you look inside is up to you. I cannot force you either way. It is entirely your decision.” The boy sniffed. “If you don’t want to look then I take the bag and go. Then you’ll never know.”

Denny took a breath and regretted it. The alcohol surged in his veins. “If I open it, do I get to keep what’s inside?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.” The boy smiled at the floor. “If you look inside, the bag becomes yours. If not, I take it and leave.”

I should have added less vodka and more lemonade. The alcohol fuzzed Denny’s thoughts. He narrowed his eyes. “There’s a trick here, isn’t there?”

“Yes.” The boy answered at once. “I don’t want you to know in advance what’s in the bag. It is a thing of great value to me. So yes, I am trying to trick you.” The boy’s smile never wavered. “Even so, the choice is always yours. You can look in the bag or I take it away. Make your choice.”

It had been rather a large glass of vodka. Denny struggled to make sense of the conflicting thoughts in his head. The boy could not be here. He could not be who he claimed to be, that boy was dead. If he had somehow survived, he’d be close to twenty now. If it was him he had no reason to reward Denny for the horrors they had inflicted on him. If he was a ghost, how could the bag be real? It was real, solid and heavy. It contained something important and the boy didn’t want him to know what it was. That last thought beat out the others. The bag had something of value in it and Denny wanted it.

Denny reached for the bag. He pulled the top open wide and looked inside.

Bob stared up at him

Denny wanted to recoil, to close the bag, to forget the severed head he had seen, with its moving eyes and silent mouthings of horror but he could not look away. He had to watch as the head decayed at a frightening speed until it became a skull, then drop into an abyss of flame. It’s like the bag is a portal to Hell.

“It is.” The boy’s voice seemed far away. “You stay in the bag until I get the next one. Then your head goes to Hell.”

Denny wanted to answer but the cracking in his neck prevented it. Vertebrae separated, muscles tore, tendons turned to jelly. Then he was looking up, out of the bag, at a headless body that slid out of his line of sight. All he could see was his ceiling.

The boy’s face smiled down at him. “You won’t be in there too long. I have one more to find. Once that’s done, I get to rest.” He sniffed. “You see, I didn’t completely hate what you did, even though I was terrified and forced into it, so I was condemned to Hell anyway. I despised you and your friends for that more than anything. It turns out my hate was strong enough to do a deal. If I deliver your four souls before you have a chance to redeem yourselves – not that any of you are likely to try – then I get released.”

Denny moved his mouth but no sound came out.

“Oh forget it, you have no lungs and no larynx now. You’ll never speak again.” The boy gathered the drawstrings. “In Hell you will be a silent head and nothing more. Only the demons will hear the music of your screams.”

Denny moved his jaw. What about Pete? He was the one who went back to normal life. This kid can’t get him now.

“The last one is Edward Scabrous. The one you called Scabby Ted.” The kid’s face disappeared as he pulled on the drawstring. “Your friend Pete was the first I caught. He’d become a scoutmaster. He liked small boys.”

Darkness enveloped the interior of the bag. All that was left was the feeling of the bag being lifted and the boy’s last words.

“As did you.”

Small World – Entertainment Time

It’s been a long time since the last fiction posting. This one is from ‘Mask-Querade’, Underdog Anthology 12, which is currently loading on Amazon. The Kindle version is up but I’ll wait until the print version appears before adding a link. Update: It’s now available.

This is the ‘future’ story, the other is a plain old Halloween spooky story. I’ll consider putting that one up for Halloween unless I think up a new one. Note that this is not your future, probably not even your children’s. Your grandchildren, however…

Hey, it’s fiction. Not prediction. Enjoy.

Small World

One rose early, as every morning, and checked the food cupboard. It had the day’s food as always. She lifted the bags and took them to the kitchen where she placed the chilled food in the fridge and the rest in the cupboard. The toiletries she left on the table. They would be dispersed to the bathrooms later.
The others stirred. She heard them rising from their beds, heard them in their bathrooms and thought about Three. Three was the one she wanted as a mate but she knew Four liked him too. Two was, well, a bit weird. He spent too long thinking and thinking, as everyone knew, only led to problems.
She walked into the hallway towards the living room and this morning, as every morning, her gaze drifted to the dusty hazmat suits hanging beside The Door. The door to Outside. Where there was nothing but death. They had worn those suits many years before, as had their guides, before they had entered the safe place where they now lived. Just children at that time. The suits certainly wouldn’t fit them now.
The guides had told them they were all that was left. All of humanity in these last four. Outside was certain death, and they must stay safe in these few rooms to keep humanity alive. One shivered and pushed open the door to the living room.
To her surprise, Two was already there. Sat on the sofa, leaning forward, elbows on the coffee table, hands over his face. This was out of sequence. It was wrong. It was not how the day progressed. He should be still in his bathroom. One stood in shock, staring.
Finally, Two lowered his hands and smiled a crooked smile at her. “Did I surprise you, One? Don’t I always do that?” He burst into bitter-sounding laughter. “Oh I have so much more to surprise you with today.”
“Why are you up so early? You are out of sequence. Are you trying to ruin the day?” One’s lip trembled. This was outside her experience and she didn’t know what, if anything, she should do.
“I’m not up early. I’m up late. I couldn’t sleep.” Two rubbed at his face. “I’m greasy. I’ll need a shower soon.”
One’s legs trembled. Scared she might fall, she moved to sit opposite Two. “What have you done? You are far out of sequence. You risk killing us all with your non-compliance.”
“Nothing is going to kill us, and we are not the last humans.” Two let his head rest in his hands. “I’m not sure you are ready for this, heck I’m not sure I am.”
“Explain. Quickly.” One looked over her shoulder. Three and Four would be looking for breakfast soon. She needed to quell this lunacy before they were infected.
“I hacked into Parent’s core processors last night. I went past the firewall.”
“What!” One reacted as if he had hacked into the mind of God, and perhaps, in this world, he had.
“I read something. About monkeys.” Two blew a long breath. “Something disturbing. And a lot more.”
“You even being here is disturbing.” One clenched her fists and lifted them to her pinched face. “This is all wrong. This is not how the day goes.”
“That’s the thing. It’s exactly the same day, every day, You, Three and Four just accept it, every day and never question anything. I’m the one who asked the question.”
“What question?”
Two lifted his eyebrows. “Why are we here?”
One shook her head. “You know why. Outside is dead. We have to stay here until it’s safe to go out and repopulate the planet. It’s important. Otherwise humanity is finished.”
“Did it never occur to you to wonder,” Two spoke quietly, his eyes downcast, “that if everyone outside is dead, who is telling us the news? Or who taught our lessons as we grew up?” He looked up and sighed. “Who sends us food and supplies? Why does the electricity and water still work? How does any of this happen if there is nobody to make it happen?”
“Automated systems, silly.” Four entered the room, her long hair swaying around her waist. “Come on, Two, enough with the tinfoil hat stuff.”
Two shook his head. “Automated systems still need maintenance and power. And fresh food needs someone to grow it, pick it and deliver it. How is that happening if everyone is dead?”
Four’s smile faltered. “It… just is. Look, I don’t want to have to think about it. We’re safe in here and we could be happy too if you’d stop all this nonsense.”
One put her face in her hands, trying to stop the thoughts Two had started in her head.
“What’s for breakfast?” Three strode through the door, paused to take in the scene and narrowed his eyes. “Have you been scaring the girls with your mad ideas again, Two?”
“Didn’t we have names once? When we were small?” Two threw his arms in the air and stood. He strode to the television. “Now we just have numbers.” He toyed with the television controls. His voice shook. “I can’t remember my name. Can any of you?”
Their silence told him their answer.
One wiped her face and took a deep breath. “Breakfast. It’s already late and we can’t get more out of sequence. The day will be ruined.” She glared at Two. “If it isn’t already.”
“I’ll skip breakfast.” Two faced the silent television. It would come to life on its own, when it was the proper time.
“You can’t!” One shouted. “You’ve already broken sequence so badly. No more. You will have breakfast if I have to stuff it down your throat myself.”
“And I’ll hold you down while she does it.” There was real menace in Three’s voice.
“Okay, okay.” Two shook his head. “I’ll just have a piece of toast.”
“You will have the same as the rest of us.” One jutted her lower lip. “No more deviation. We’re getting back to normal.”
“Normal!” Two convulsed with laughter. “You all still think this is normal? A tiny home with no windows, food and utilities arrive by magic even after however long we’ve been in here, and we do nothing to earn any of it? This is normal?”
“It’s what we know. What we’ve always known.” Four lifted her head. “It keeps us safe, and you are meddling with that.”
“Enough. Breakfast time.” One stomped off to the kitchen. With glares at Two, Three and Four followed her.
Two closed his eyes. Monkeys, he thought. Will I ever get them to understand? He followed them to the kitchen.
They ate in silence. Two resisted the urge to tell them where eggs came from or to even mention the cycles of growth of cereals and the baking of bread. He had found all this when he had broken through the firewall. It’s all out there, on something called ‘internet’.
After breakfast, Three put the plates into the cleaning slot. They would return, spotless, in time for lunch. Two shook his head. They never questioned that either.
In keeping with their sequence, they returned to the living room. This was the time for idle chit chat before the television gave them the day’s news, then they would retire to their rooms, log into Parent and read the books or play the games it sent to their screens.
This would be Two’s only chance. As it turned out, One opened the conversation for him.
“You said you had damaged Parent. You’d better not have lost my high score. I was almost through the entire game.”
Three and Four gaped. “You did what?” Three looked ready to punch him.
“Relax, I didn’t damage anything. I just got through the firewall and into the rest of the world.” Two sighed. “And I found something we should all know.”
One pursed her lips. “You said something about monkeys.”
“Yes.” Two licked his lips. “It’s a kind of story, if you like. A story about a game.”
The others leaned forward. Two smiled. Stories and games were all they had ever known in this place, so his combination caught their interest at once.
“The game involves four monkeys,” he began. “These four monkeys are in a windowless enclosure, and in the middle is a tall pole with a banana on the top.” He bit his lip to stop himself from telling where bananas came from. It was far too soon and it would gain nothing but sneers.
“Okay,” he continued. “Monkeys like bananas so one of them tries to climb the pole to get the banana. As soon as he tries, all the monkeys get sprayed with ice cold water. Eventually another tries and they all get sprayed again. Soon they learn not to climb the pole, because that will get them an ice-cold shower.”
Four sniffed. “Doesn’t sound like much of a game.”
“Ah,” Two raised his finger. “That’s just the setup. Once they stop going for the banana, you take out one of the monkeys and put in a new one. This one doesn’t know about the ice showers so he goes straight for the pole with the banana. The other three beat the crap out of him because they know if he climbs the pole, they all get ice cold showers. This will only happen a few times before the new monkey learns to conform. At this point the new monkey knows the pole is dangerous but doesn’t know why.”
“No more spraying?” Three tilted his head.
“No need. You’ll soon see why.” Two winked. “So you take out another of the original monkeys and put in a new one. The new one goes straight for the banana at the top of the pole and the others beat the crap out of him. Including the one who doesn’t know why the pole is dangerous. Then you replace another and another until none of the monkeys in the experiment know why the pole is dangerous, just that, somehow, it is.”
One frowned. “But if they aren’t getting the ice bath any more, surely they can just get the banana?”
Two stretched his shoulders. He really needed some sleep and a shower but he knew One wouldn’t allow it at this time. “It’s learned behaviour. None of the original monkeys are in there. None of the current ones have experienced the ice-cold shower. Yet they believe the pole is dangerous to climb because they have been taught to believe. Do you see?”
“Very interesting, I’m sure, but still not much of a game.” Four scratched her head. “What’s the point?”
Two bit into his lower lip. It was time. “We’re the monkeys. We were all taken from our parents at three years old. We were already in a lockdown, we couldn’t see any other family so we were preconditioned to this. We are in an experiment.”
“Oh I might have known.” Three rolled his eyes. “It’s more tinfoil hat crap.”
Two bowed his head. “We’ve been conditioned for this. I’ve asked you if you remember the names we had before we were brought here. I doubt it because I don’t. Here’s more. I remember my parents screaming, me screaming, as they took me from the farm. I remember crying when they put that suit on me. I remember Mary –”
“Oh yes.” Four’s eyes lit up. “Mary was the one in the bubble suit who checked on us every day for a long time until she said she couldn’t come any more but it was okay because we could do it ourselves now.”
Silence fell. One and Three’s brows furrowed. Two smiled at Four. “So you remember something. There is hope.”
Three sighed and shook his head. “Okay, I’ll bite. If we’re in an experiment, what’s the point of it? What’s it supposed to prove?”
“The same as that monkey experiment.” Two stared directly into Three’s eyes. “You know there’s instant death outside, right?”
“Of course.” Three looked at Four and then One for support. “So?”
Two lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “What is it? What will kill us if we go outside?”
The silence hung heavy for a while. Four broke it. “It doesn’t make sense. None of us have been replaced, like in your monkey story. We’ve all been in here from the beginning.”
Two sniffed. “That part already happened to our parents. Our real mothers and fathers. They were so scared of something ‘outside’ that they couldn’t put up a fight when we were taken for our own safety. They were the ones getting the metaphorical cold showers. We are the monkeys who still fear the banana and have no idea why.”
One ran her hands over her face and through her hair. “You haven’t answered Three’s question. If we’re in an experiment, what’s the goal? What is it intended to prove?”
“That we, like the monkeys, can be conditioned. Controlled. We can be held in thrall by a fear even if we don’t know what we are scared of. You know the mantras. Comfortable compliant conformity. When there is nowhere to hide there will be nothing to fear. Stay safe. We’re being… prepared. Conditioned to some new life.” Two gave a lopsided smile. “I think the experiment has been, largely, a success.”
“One small detail.” One leaned back in her chair. “If someone is running all this, why haven’t they blocked you from accessing Parent? Why haven’t they taken you out of the experiment? If you are right then surely you’ve just wrecked the whole thing.”
Two shrugged. “I just got through last night although I’ve been trying for months. Maybe they haven’t noticed. Maybe they haven’t had time to do anything. Maybe they aren’t even watching because they never thought any of us would try. Or maybe I’m wrong about all of it.” He stood. “There’s only one way to find out for sure.”
The others followed him to The Door. Two regarded the hazmat suits and traced his finger in their dusty coating. No point even trying them, they were far too small now.
Two put his hand on the door handle. He hesitated, his eyes closed, and his head tilted back. Was it true, what he had seen? Was this a beginning or an end?
“Two. Don’t.” One put her hand on his arm. “Outside is death. You’re right, we don’t know why, but it’s better to stay in here. Stay safe. We know life in here. We have our daily sequence. Our comfortable compliant conformity. Come back to it. Come back to us.”
Two, eyes still shut, shook his head. “This is the test. Is the Door locked for our safety or did they rely on our fear to keep it closed?”
“Don’t test it.” Four’s voice trembled. “You might let it in.”
“She’s right.” Three sounded harsh. “Whatever risk you want to take, you have no right to make us take the same risk.”
Two opened his eyes and stared at The Door. “Fuck it,” he said, and pushed down on the handle. The door swung inwards with a screech.
Light streamed in. Two stepped through the door into light and warmth. He gasped in delight at the new air, the green around him, the blank wall of doors stretching into the distance.
“What’s out there?” Four shrank back from the opening.
“Are you okay?” One had one hand on the Door.
“It’s wonderful. So bright. So warm. Lots of green and lots of doors like ours.” Two spread his hands, “And people. With sticks,”
There was a bang. A red mist burst from the side of Two’s head and he dropped, lifeless, to the ground.
One closed the door and hung her head. “He was wrong. Death is out there, and there is no escape.” She clapped her hands together. “News time and then lunch.”
After lunch, the new Two was installed. After a few identically sequenced days, One, Three and Four had no idea he had not been there from the beginning.
And neither did he.

Time for a day off

The Halloween book is loaded up on Smashwords, Kindle and Amazon Print. Now we wait for the inevitable problems but tomorrow is a day off for me. I think I’ve earned it. Here’s the front cover.

It has two from me among the thirteen stories it holds. I’ll post one of them here as a taster when it finally gets through all the trivial complaints. Hey, in 2020, optimism is a dead thing.

So we face more silly lockdowns. They don’t work, masks don’t work, flu is currently killing ten times as many people as the ‘pandemic’ we are supposed to be scared of but then it’s all in the numbers.

So. If ‘cases’ are positive tests but deaths are low, then the virus is far less deadly than flu. If we accept that over 90% of ‘cases’ are false positives then the virus is more deadly than flu but its transmission rate is so pathetic as to render it irrelevant.

Which is it? can you really believe both at once?

A surprising number of people actually can hold this doublethink in their heads with no problem.

I can’t, but I am learning to imagine how it works.

Into the Abyss

Pretty busy here. Brakes are fixed, now one tyre has developed a slow leak. I think I might just keep pumping it up until 2020 is over. If I fix it, it’ll just set something else off. This one is easy. I even have a compressor.

Okay. Currently looking at a 12 story book for Halloween with some absolute beauties in there. The quality of writing from the authors just keeps getting better, there was hardly anything to edit this time. I suppose it’s the result of practice but whatever it is, it’s definitely working.

The deadline for closure is still 22 hours away and since all editing is up to date we can handle a slightly late one or two, as long as we know it’s coming. Contracts aren’t out because I’m still haggling over the title (it has to be on the contract) but that has to be decided by tomorrow night. This could be in print in a week. There are already two stories in for the Christmas anthology, even though it’s not yet officially open for submissions for a week or two yet.

I have one in there that stems from the logical result of eternal lockdowns, and wouldn’t you know it, the government have now enacted laws by edict that make it possible. Parliament is now just a shouting house, the government are taking no notice of them and not telling them in advance what they are up to. We don’t have a Parliament. We have a junta running the country.

So why are we paying the rest of them?

More local lockdowns are coming on the basis of less than ten positive tests. Hospitals are empty, you have to make an appointment to go to casualty and if they sold off the NHS now, hardly anyone would even notice it was gone. They’d only notice when the TikTok dancing nurses videos stopped. It’s been effectively closed for months for most people. Matt Handoncock is definitely in the ‘sell the NHS’ camp and the NHS are determined to help him do it.

The masks are not going away any time soon. I’ll have to get some even scarier ones. Criminals are loving it. Before all this, if you went into a shop masked you’d immediately raise suspicions. Now you get shouted at if you don’t. I await the first massive bank heist in which the CCTV can’t tell who is robbing it and who works there.

Masks don’t do a damn thing to protect anyone, but so many people have signed up to the Religion of the Mask now that they will not hear it. The masks are their saviours, they will not let them go. Ever. They genuinely don’t realise that there is no going back, there is no return to what we used to consider normal, and that they are the ones responsible for that.

We are staring into the abyss, and the edge we are standing on is crumbling.

Rebooting Panoptica

Currently I am battling Amazon. I loaded Wandra Nomad’s book yesterday and Amazon responded with ‘There is stuff in this book that’s already been published by someone else’.

The only issue Wandra and I can think of is that one of the stories in her book -Dust Mote Meanderings – was published in Tales from Loch Doon (UA11). All the rest is previously unpublished. If that’s all it is it can be resolved, hopefully, very quickly. I just have to wait for Amazon to respond.

I have another Mark Ellott short story collection and a book by Gastradamus in the queue now, and those might also throw up the same issue. Just have to deal with it when it happens. There is also another book on the way from Wandra Nomad. Well, it’s not as if I’m going anywhere for the foreseeable future…

The Halloween anthology (UA12) is also getting stories and so far Mark Ellott is the only male author in there. Him and three women authors. Come on guys, where are you? Six stories in and submissions are open until September 30th. Yeah, I know, I have to write one too. I have some ideas.

Panoptica, though. I started hard on this one last January, then it stalled when my father died and the world has gone to hell in a handbasket since then. It did give me time to think though.

I was concerned about 10538’s brain chip. It could block memories and insert false ones. It seemed maybe a bit too far fetched. Recharging all his chips was easy. Cybermen (Dr. Who) and the Borg (Star Trek) had that covered for me. They stood in alcoves to recharge – and interestingly, they were doing this before real life wireless charging had been invented. Now it has been, maybe they will be too.

Still, had I gone too far with the brain chip? Had I crossed from plausible into absurd? Here are some quotes from a real world article –

And the goals were striking: a mass-market brain implant that could be installed by a robot via same-day surgery.

The device looks like a very thick coin or miniature hockey puck, and it contains all the hardware needed to keep the implant functional. This includes a battery large enough for all-day operation and the hardware needed for wireless inductive charging.

– It’s absolutely necessary for a device that will be communicating via a low-bandwidth interface like Bluetooth.

The chip will also allow the electrodes to be used to stimulate neurons,

I needn’t have worried. The Brain Chip is real and ready to be tested on humans. Sure, it’s being developed with good intentions, but then so was nuclear power. Someone is going to hack this thing and once governments get hold of the controls, well… then everyone needs to worry because once it’s in, you can’t just dig it out. Not unless you want an inch-wide hole left in your skull.

Well that’s that problem sorted. The genderless society is well under way too and I now have a solution to how children have no idea how they were born and adults have no concept of death, other than through accidents. The real world is following the fiction very closely… unfortunately.

Within the writing lay the problem of 10538’s recovered memories. As he explained them to Doc, it meant repeating earlier chapters. That was starting to get tedious.

So I have to restart Panoptica. Not entirely from scratch but some rearranging is needed. I’ll use the lead in stories to start the book, showing how the world developed, and start the book proper when he gets on the train to Pensionville. All the backstory can then come out as his brain chip is sequentially shut down. I had already explained why it can’t be simply removed. That backstory will, of course, come out in reverse but that’s not an insurmountable problem.

I already knew where the story was going, the issue was in how to get there. Now I think I have a better idea of how it all pans out, thanks to Elon, the Billy Gates Gruff and the other maniacs making this all come true.

Let’s see if I can get to the end before they do.

Well that didn’t work

Early in the Big Covid Scare I dropped the prices of ebooks on Leg Iron Books to 99 cents. There was a small effect in the latter end of the first quarter (to the end of May). Subsequently I put all novels and single author ebooks back up to $2.99, still a good price. I can’t do much with the print books, almost all the money goes to Amazon anyway. That free shipping? It’s not free. The seller pays it. We get pennies per print book and putting up the price just means the cost of postage goes up in proportion. Sneaky…

So, this quarter (June to August) is a disaster. I’ve been plugging Leg Iron Books on Twitter, Parler and Gab (the latter two are mostly political so I don’t know how much use they’ll be for marketing, and the rampant ‘Da Joos Did It All’ on Gab has somewhat put me off going there).

There’s a Leg Iron Books page on Facebook that gets a few more likes every day but that doesn’t mean they’re buying anything. Linking to all the writers I can find on social media isn’t working. They want to sell books, not buy them. I have to find where the reading addicts hang out.

Goodreads does not have publisher accounts. You can get an author account on there if you want to jump through hoops. It’s a pain of a procedure and I’m not sure how much good it does. I have an author account and don’t think it’s sold a single book.

I thought lockdown would be ideal for selling books. Seems most people have taken it as their cue to actually exercise as an excuse to go outside, or to stay in and make banana bread. Okay, I know a lot of people are suffering financially but hell, I made those books so cheap! The anthologies are all still at 99 cents and even they are only trickling. It’ll be a long long time bnefore I see a return on those.

This quarter’s sales have been disastrous. The only book that sold was a print book that didn’t even have an eBook version! So, cutting prices didn’t really work. I won’t do that again. At least I learned another marketing thing that doesn’t work.

Sorry, authors, I have failed you this quarter. I’ll try something different in the next quarter.

What I really need is a scandal that gets the Daily Mail interested. That’s the most effective book selling device I’ve ever seen.