I have just heard from Amazon that print book base prices are to rise on June 20th. It was bound to happen, costs are going up everywhere, but hopefully it won’t be by much.

This should not affect eBooks at all. I hope.

The book prices for print books include the costs of materials (paper, ink etc), the cost of getting someone to print it and put it all together, and postage. Yeah, postage is only free to the buyer. It’s in the price of the book. Leg Iron Books makes pennies in royalties on each book sold, most of it goes to Amazon.

At the moment, with sales low, all the royalties go to the authors. I get the pennies from the anthologies and my own books, I don’t take a cut at all from other authors’ royalties. Everything is priced as low as possible while still leaving a little profit.

So… all the print books are priced very close to the minimum. This inflationary increase means that, to keep the authors actually getting something, I will have to increase the prices. I will do this once I know what the cost increases are going to be. Around June 20th, all the books on sale are going to have to increase in price to keep the author royalties the same.

I don’t want to do it. Amazon don’t want to do it. But inflation is running so high that neither of us have any choice. It is possible that the increases might send some books, especially the very tight margins on the anthologies, into zero royalties and that is not a good business model.

As I wrote above, this should not affect eBooks although those have a ‘delivery’ charge too. There has been no mention of an increase in that so far.

Fortunately, all our books are 6″ by 9″ format or smaller. Books over that size seem to be getting hit harder – we don’t have any of those here. So, it is likely that the price increases will be small but there will be increases.

This does not affect just Leg Iron Books. It’s going to apply across the board on independent small publishers and self-publishers. If you’ve been eyeing up a book on Amazon and thinking about buying it, make that decision before June 20th.

Of course, if you prefer eBooks, you probably have nothing to worry about. Yet.

Books update

Anthology 20 is delayed because I can’t contact one author for final comments and a bio page. He hasn’t been online in his usual haunts since April 13th and I know he’s been unwell for some time so I’m hoping it’s just an internet glitch on his end.

I can’t delay it any longer. It’s now May and I need this one done so I can get back to the other books in the queue. So, I’ll be going ahead with loading up, and I can load an updated version in the event he comes back with any changes. This does mean that the early versions won’t have those changes but it can’t be helped.

There have been so many delays this year. I’m going to have to crank up the caffeine to catch up!


It’s all loaded up but the print books are delayed by a new Amazon thing, whereby the books are not listed as ‘in stock’ for up to 5 days after they appear on the site.

They are print-on-demand. They are never ‘in stock’. I don’t know what game they are playing here but I have no choice but to go along with it.

Anyway, Amazon and Smashwords versions are up and running. It’s getting there.

I’m not dead yet

Just a quick note to prove I’m still alive. The kidney thing seems to have cleared up on its own. Blood and urine tests showed nothing, although they were nearly the same colour so the doctor knows I’m not making it up. I’ll get an appointment for an ultrasound scan to see what’s up at some point. By the time that happens I’ll probably have recovered completely. I’ll go anyway – hell, I paid into this system throughout my career and they rarely even saw me. Plus, I want to know if there’s anything else lurking that could cause problems.

In other news, my mother is visiting this week so I’m not getting much of anything done. There’s no public transport out here so I’m chaffeur until Tuesday. This has (further!) delayed several books in progress including Anthology 20 – although I have done the author contracts and payments for those who wanted cash, and made some progress assembling it and making a cover. The cover isn’t complete, here’s what it looks like so far…

Yes it’s dark, as are most of the stories in it. I have to admit I like it that way. I hoped to have the final-checks PDF out by now but I’m pretty knackered by the time I get to the computer and if I’m not concentrating while assembling, it all goes to hell very quickly indeed. Especially when inserting internal and external links in the eBook version!

I keep saying we’ll get back to normal service soon but I’m not going to say it this time because every time I do, something else happens.

So, I’m not ready for the Last Ride just yet. Still working, just at a very, very slow pace at the moment.

More official lunacy

Book stuff first. My mother is visiting in early April so I’m going to be occupied with getting book stuff sorted quickly. I have an alternative-history novel to get ready and the Spring anthology too. Expect to see contracts and payments going out long before the deadline for that (March 31st) so I can be ready to load it up in the first week of April. I’m not going to move the deadline forward, that would be unfair, but I won’t have as much leeway on that as I usually do.

Right. That’s done. On with the actual post.

The idiots in charge have decided to spend like drunken sailors again, this time on an ‘emergency alert system‘ that will set off every mobile phone with a ten minute siren and disable any other use of that phone until the user presses ‘ok’ or ‘I give up’ or ‘scare me harder daddy’ or whatever they choose to put on that button.

We’ve never needed this before. It’s the UK. The rainy island off the edge off Europe. We don’t really need to worry about forest wildfires because our forests rarely get dry enough to burn, and the Green Men have cut most of them down for windmills anyway. We sometimes get little earthquakes that would barely be noticed in most other countries. We have no volcanoes. Not even dormant ones. We do not have rampaging predators nor do we have stampedes of wildebeest. The worst we get in that respect is deer with no road sense.

Let’s face it. Bugger all happens here most of the time. There are occasional storms that cause damage but we don’t need the phone to tell us when that’s happening. In fact in the last big one all the phones were dead, landline and mobile, so an alert would be as useless as it was superfluous.

It is a ridiculously pointless idea unless… the government is planning something big to scare us with. It wouldn’t be the first time. The ‘test’ is on 23rd April and it looks like turning off ’emergency alerts’ on your phone won’t stop it. Well I’m pretty bad at remembering to charge mine…

They are advertising it, sure, but not everyone will get the message. When phones turn into air raid sirens there will be people who don’t know it’s coming. Some will have dodgy hearts or high blood pressure and some will be driving. There will be crashes and heart attacks and people trying to find out what’s happening using a phone that no longer works unless they tap the button they don’t know they need to tap. It is going to be a disaster.

But then, has any UK government since Cromwell done anything but cause disaster? And Cromwell turned out to be a dick too.

I’m not an anarchist, but I really am beginning to understand their point of view.

Entertainment – Santa Hard

Christmas is here, and here’s a jolly tale to brighten the day. It’s from the latest Christmas anthology, and it’s a little irreverant in places…

Santa Hard

The elf workshop buzzed with activity. Long gone were the lazy days of New Year and spring, where they might casually cobble together a zombie doll or a foam-firing machine gun for the modern children. Those idle, creative days were in the past and yet, also in the future. For now, it was all systems go. They had to fill Santa’s sacks for his trip around the world and that was only days away.

Tiddles, up until now engrossed in his construction of a rather gentle wooden train set, paused in his work as a realisation struck him. He left his bench and wandered over to George, while staring around at the frantic activity of the workshop. Something – or rather, someone – was missing.

“George. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure, Tiddles. I’ve just about finished this power tool set for a two-year-old.” George smiled up at Tiddles from his seat.

“Two…? Oh, never mind.” Tiddles had long since given up on worrying about modern children. Darwin’s theories could deal with their future. He took a breath. “Look, George, have you seen Santa recently? He usually wanders around to check on things at this time of year, but I haven’t seen him for at least a week.”

“Yeah, he’s in his rooms getting into the proper Christmas mood. Dodgy Pete gave him a load of Christmas DVDs and some bottles of whisky so he could get into character. At a reasonable price too.” George buzzed a brightly coloured power drill to test its workings. “I mean, he does get a bit bored the rest of the year. He needs to dispel the gloom before his one night of activity.”

Tiddles narrowed his eyes. “Dodgy Pete? Whisky? This does not sound like a good thing.” He grabbed George’s collar and hauled him out of his seat. “Come on. We’d better check on this.”


Tiddles rapped on Santa’s door and in the absence of a response, pushed it open.

A deep and resonant voice boomed at them from the dark room within. “Ho ho ho, motherfuckers. Now I have a machine gun.”

Tiddles and George hit the ground as the plasterwork above them exploded in a shower of dust. Tiddles hissed to George, “Where the hell did he get that?”

George blinked away plaster dust. “Dodgy Pete maybe. Or perhaps Prepper Brian. I don’t know.”

Tiddles raised his head a little. “Santa. Put the damn gun down. What the hell is it for anyway?”

The voice boomed back from the darkness. “Oogie Boogie’s kids aren’t going to get me this year. As for that Grinch, he’s toast. Green toast. Like that avocado crap the man-buns eat.”

Tiddles pressed his hand to his face. “George, this is just a wild guess, but I’m thinking you didn’t look at the films or the amount of whisky Dodgy Pete sold him. Do you think I might be right?”

“Pete told me they were all Christmas films. From the bargain bin. Cheap ones. I didn’t ask about the whisky.”

“Well so far we’ve had ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Grinch’ and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’. Still, first things first.” Tiddles took a deep breath. “We’ll have to get that gun away from him.”

George raised his eyebrows. “All great films, I loved them.”

Tiddles’ response was drowned out by another burst of bullets, showering them with splinters of door frame as well as more dust. The burst ended with a click.

“Damn, I’m out.” Santa fumbled for another magazine.

“Now, George. Get him.” Tiddles rushed forward and grabbed the gun, while George, being the bulkier of the two, barrelled into Santa and knocked the wind out of him. Tiddles took the gun and threw it towards the door.

Santa sat on the floor, holding his chest while he regained his breath. George and Tiddles stood facing him.

“You’d better not have a heart attack now, Santa.” Tiddles glowered at him. “We don’t have time to train another one.”

“Well—” Santa took a few deep breaths. “Well if you didn’t go around pretending to be Oogie’s boys and forcing me to defend myself, and then knocking the living shit out of me…”

“Erm… you were machine gunning us,” George pointed out.

“And we weren’t pretending to be anything,” Tiddles growled. “We just came to see why you hadn’t been inspecting the workshops this year.”

“Well, I’ve been getting into character.” Santa started to rise and stumbled back into a stack of empty bottles. He sat among them, sweeping them aside until he found a full one.

“Into character?” Tiddles gasped. “As what? The last days of Elvis? W.C. Fields? Father Jack? A meth addict in red? You’ve turned into a sweary violent pisshead. This is not what people expect to see, you know.”

Santa took a deep swig from his bottle. “Ish…(hic)…it’s the modern world, elfy thing whose name escapes me. I’ve been learning all about it from the documantrees.. doccydamntrees… documentaries Pete gave me. Ish not all swigness and lights out there any more. Halloween wants my job. And then the green thing. And that nasty bastard with the little moustache.” Santa’s brows furrowed. “Little moustaches used to be a mark of nastiness, I think.”

Tiddles covered his face with his hands. At this point, I wish Oogie Boogie was here. I’d help his boys take this madman away. “Look,” he sighed. “Those were fiction. Not documentaries. Just films. And ‘Die Hard’ isn’t a Christmas film anyway.”

“It’s set at Christmas.” George noted Tiddles’ glare. “Okay. Now is not the time for that argument.”

“What are you talking about, not real? I saw them on the screen. The pumpkin head guy, Oogie Boogie, the green misery, the exploding building. I saw them all. And I was in there too.” Santa paused and pursed his lips. “Although it was probably a body double because I don’t remember it.”

“The ‘Nightmare’ one isn’t even real people. It’s computer graphics. How did you think it was real?” Tiddles surveyed the empty bottles littering the floor. “Oh. Of course.”

“Then there’s Krampus and Jack Frost.” Santa shook his head. “Nasty buggers. I’m going to need to go armed this year.”

“No.” Tiddles stamped his foot, which caught one of the empty bottles and sent it clattering into the others. “You are not going into houses armed, and you have no need to fend off mythical creatures and movie characters. They aren’t real.”

“But…” George started to speak, but Tiddles’ glare stopped him.

“Well, we’d better get you sobered up, Santa.” Tiddles rolled another bottle with his foot. It clinked into a couple of others. “It could take a few days. And we’ll have to sit you in front of a few rather more wholesome videos while you readjust. I think we’d better let someone else answer your letters too, in case you get a bit sweary in your responses and… are you even listening?”

Santa responded with a snore that would have drowned out a passing freight train.

“He’s conked out.” George nudged the prone figure. “No response. Yep, he’s completely out of it.”

“Probably just as well.” Tiddles sniffed. “Better get the rest of the elves in here. We’ll need to get him into bed and get this place cleaned up. Make sure there’s not another drop of any kind of booze left here, get rid of those damn DVDs, load up the coffee machine with the nuclear stuff and check everywhere for any kind of weaponry. I’m betting that machine gun wasn’t his only one.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t choose the next Santa at random,” George said. “There’s some problem every year with this one.”

“Yeah, we’ll need to introduce some kind of vetting process. Although we’d need to be sure Dodgy Pete isn’t involved with it at all.”

Tiddles led George over the rubble that was once a doorway. He picked up the machine gun as he passed. “I’d still like to know where he got this though.”


“The Sound of Music?” George held up a DVD. He had to repeat himself, his first attempt was swamped by the sounds of bottles being cleared away, drilling to install a new doorframe and an especially resonant Santa snore.

“Nah. It has Nazis in it. He’ll still want a gun.” Tiddles took the DVD and dropped it in the bin.

George picked up another. “Home Alone?”

“Nope.” Tiddles took it and dropped in the bin too. “The fat idiot will think every child has set traps for him.”

“Ah, how about ‘Miracle on 34th Street’?”

“Now you’re talking, George. We can play that one while he’s still in a haze. Maybe get something into him subliminally.” Tiddles put the DVD to one side. “We should also load him up with Christmas songs while he’s still in that alcohol haze. Get him back to normal.” Tiddles paused. “Well, as normal as he ever gets.”

George picked a CD out of his box. ‘The Twenty Most Irritating Christmas Songs’. He handed it to Tiddles, who nodded his approval.

George sighed. “Do you think we’ll have at least one drama-free Christmas with this Santa?”

Tiddles placed the CD on top of the DVD. “Probably not. Still, we’ll soon have our one night off for the year, when the deranged old fool goes off to deliver presents. I hope the beer and games are all ready?”

“Of course. And the invites sent out.” George managed a smile. “It’ll be a great night.”

“It certainly will.” Tiddles put the CD into a portable player and gently placed a set of headphones over Santa’s ears. He pressed ‘start’ and stood back. “Well, if it doesn’t get him in the mood, at least we can think of it as a suitable punishment.”


It was a rather subdued Santa who sat in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, reins loose in his fingers, his mouth sulky, his bushy brows lowered over reddened eyes.

“Are you sure he’s sober?” George whispered to Tiddles. “He doesn’t look in a fit state to drive.”

“It’s okay, he’s sober, just massively hungover. Rudolph will be in charge of navigation tonight. Santa just needs to deliver the presents.” Tiddles grinned. “Besides, so many people still leave out sherry or brandy for him that he never comes back sober anyway. This time I think he’ll sleep until New Year.”

The launch bell tolled. The reindeer took a few steps forward and the sleigh rose into the air.

“Good luck, Santa,” George called.

The corner of Santa’s mouth twitched. “Humbug,” he said.

George’s eyes widened. Tiddles’ eyes narrowed.

“Did you hear that?” George nudged Tiddles.

“I did. I also saw that.” Tiddles scowled. “The crafty old sod is up to something.”

The reindeer glowed with Christmas magic. As the sleigh rose, a swirling portal appeared in the sky ahead of them. Once the sleigh passed through, time would become irrelevant to it and Santa could cover the whole planet before sunrise.

“Tiddles! George!”

Tiddles recognised the elf hailing them as Fluffy. Panting, he ran up to them.

“The party is getting started. Krampus and Jack Frost are here already, and Oogie’s on the way.”

“Great.” George rubbed his hands. “Let’s get inside.”

“Wait.” Tiddles watched the reindeer and sleigh approach the portal. “I just want to be sure. He’s supposed to laugh on the way through.”

The three of them stared upwards at the now brightly glowing sleigh and reindeer. It started to pass through the portal.

Santa’s voice boomed from the sky. “Yippee-ki-ay!” followed by a short burst of machine gun fire. The sleigh vanished into the portal.

Tiddles’ shoulders slumped. The three elves stood in silence for a moment.

“That’s not good, is it?” George said. “How did he get another gun?”

“Well…” Fluffy bit his lip. “He did put in a special request. For a toy one though. Dodgy Pete took the job.”

Tiddles nodded. “Then he used magic to make it real. He’s done something similar before.” He turned back to their home. “Well, bugger it. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s just have a good time and try to get drunker than him. Then brace ourselves for this year’s complaints.”

“We’d better double up on the complaints department this year,” George said as they made their way back.

The sounds of merriment reached them across the snow. Tiddles sighed. “We’re going to have to do that every year for this Santa, I think. Well, he’s mortal, we can be a lot more careful when we pick the next one.”

“Will we ever tell one of them about Krampus and the others?” Fluffy asked.

“Oh hell no.” Tiddles raised his voice as he opened the door, so he could be heard over the raucous party inside. “There are some things Santa should never know about.” He grabbed a beer. “And this party is just one of those things.”

Santa’s Grubby Sacks

We’ve just had the shortest day, the Winter Solstice, and I dealt with it as I normally do. I slept right through it. This gives me a very long and very dark night to type out tales of anguish and despair for the entertainment of all.

Still as we head into another year of real life misery and gloom (and from what I have learned, it does look like it’s going to get a lot worse), I can bask in the knowledge that I have wrapped every Christmas present, sent every card (except to that bugger who never includes his address and hasn’t for many years. You know who you are), and paid every bill. Yes, I enter the New Year completely clear of any debts. Not bad for a pensioner running a loss-making publishing house, and who hasn’t made enough to pay tax for many years now.

But then I don’t need very much. I have never salivated after fancy cars or massively expensive holidays and I definitely don’t want a private plane or a yacht. I build models of boats and planes but I don’t actually like being on real ones. Especially boats.

I do like being on trains but those have become difficult to afford these days, and anyway there’s never been a railway in this part of the country. It’s quite a way to the nearest station – hell, it’s quite a way to the nearest bus stop! There aren’t very many of those either.

There is the Keith and Dufftown Railway, a privately owned preserved line that has some of the very old DMUs running on it. They are working on getting some old steam engines going too. That’s a fair drive away from here but not too far and there are distilleries to visit at either end of the line too. It’s also very reasonably priced for the rattly trip which stops at a long forgotten station on the way, a place that seems to be the very definition of nowhere. It’s well worth a go if you ever get the chance.

Anyway, I wanted to put up a quick Santa story that includes his little Elven helpers, Tiddles and George. They also appear in the Christmas anthology, but in a different tale. I might put that up for Christmas. Not all of my stories end with the destruction of the entire human race, you know.

So here we go. Too short for a proper story and far too late to get in the anthology, but maybe it’ll tickle a chuckle muscle somewhere. Be kind, this is an absolute first draft.

The Coal Sleigh

Tiddles eyed the sack of coal in the corner of the room, then turned his attention back to the stack of letters. He read the next one, eyed the coal sack again, and his lower lip jutted.

“George, we have a problem.” He turned to the elf helping with the Santa letters and lowered his eyebrows.

George put down the letter he had been reading. “Shouldn’t that be Houston, we have a problem?”

Tiddles clenched his teeth. “No. Houston is on boiler stoking duty tonight. I was talking to you, although I often wonder why I bother.”

George shrugged. “It was kind of a joke but I guess it only works if you saw the film. Anyway, what’s the problem?”

“Apart from having to work with the thickest elf on the planet? Well, let’s see. I assume you’ve been reading the same Santa letters as me? Did you notice a pattern?”

“Sure.” George shuffled the stack of letters. “They’ve all been little shitheads this year and they all admit it.”

“Indeed.” Tiddles picked up a letter. “Like this one. ‘Dear Fat Bastard. I have been an intolerable little twat for the entire year and intend to keep doing that. I deserve coal in my stocking, nothing less, in fact I have been so unutterably twattish I probably deserve an entire sack of it. PS, if I kick a pensioner will you throw in some kindling?'” Tiddles dropped the letter on the table. “They all want coal. All of them. We have one sack of it for one lump in each naughty kid’s stockings. What the hell are we going to do?”

George’s brow furrowed. His face crunched into a reasonable imitation of badly treated leather. “Um…”

Tiddles drew a deep breath. “Well, okay, I have no answers either. Unless we annex China we can’t possibly give out that much coal. It just can’t be done.”

“Well…” George’s face creased in concentration again. “What if… nah, it’s probably silly.”

Tiddles shifted forward. “Probably, but we have nothing so let’s at least hear something.”

“Well…” George’s face reddened. “Well we have all those sacks of sprouts. If we fed them all to Santa he could deliver bags of gas instead of lumps of coal. It’ll burn just as well, even if it’s a bit stinky, and it probably won’t run out for ages.”

Tiddles regarded George with awe. “Brilliant. That’s bloody brilliant, George.” He grabbed his calculator and tapped in a sprout to gas conversion ratio. “It can work. As long as he farts it all out before he gets back here.”

Tiddles paused, deep in thought. “You know, George, now the NordStream gas pipes are buggered, we might have a new scam coming up.”

“Oh?” George inclined his head.

“Yeah.” Tiddles grinned. “What if we fed Santa sprouts and eggs all year and supplied the EU with gas from FartStreamOne?”

George grinned. “Who would dare blow that one up?”


Who indeed?

Entertainment – It Isn’t Turkey

The 19th anthology is complete and online in print and ebook formats. There are links on its own page if anyone is interested.

As the author contracts state, once the book is published all rights revert to the authors so they are now free to re-use their stories any way they want. I don’t have a contract because that would mean having a contract with myself and even Satan wouldn’t be daft enough to do that. Although… there is an idea in there… but I digress.

Anyway. I have two stories in this anthology. One is funny (well I thought so) and the other is most certainly not funny. I might put up the funny one for Christmas, but for now, here’s the one that’s not. If you’ve been enthusiastically stuffing down the insane modern trend for bugburgers and fake meat, I’d suggest you skip this one.

It Isn’t Turkey

The man stumbled through fields, his clouded eyes saw nothing, his wasted body responded only to sound and smells. In his mind, no thought moved, there was only a grim determination to find other people. There was no reasoning behind it. It was his sole motivation.

Sounds came to him, sounds of voices. Human voices. He shifted and stumbled in the direction of the sounds. They seemed far away but that was of no consequence. His sole purpose was to find them and that was what he was going to do. Nothing else mattered.


“We have a problem.” Jeff Simmons’ eye twitched. “We might have to scrap this batch.”

“Not a chance.” Bill Weir, his boss, looked him straight in the eyes. “It’s coming up to Christmas and we need all we can get out there. Sort something out.”

“Well, it’s pretty bad. A lot of them are infected with something and—”

“No matter.” Weir dismissed Simmons with a wave of his hand. “There’s nothing in there that could infect humans and anyway, the cooking process will kill anything that might be a risk.” He held up his hand to forestall Simmons’ next objection. “And, of course, every batch is tested for bacterial safety.”

“I don’t think it’s bacteria.” Simmons looked away. “It’s something nasty though. I wouldn’t fancy eating anything made from it.”

Weir laughed. “We don’t have to, fortunately. That stuff is for the plebs. We’ll be eating real food this Christmas. Get that batch processed early before it goes bad and get the next lot started early.”

“Okay, I suppose.” Simmons looked at the floor. “I just thought you should know, but you’re the boss so if you say it’s okay, I’ll pass that on to the staff.”

“It’ll be fine, Jeff.” Weir patted his shoulder. “You worry too much.”


The EcoDeath advert was everywhere this Christmas. “Don’t pollute when it’s your time to go. No crematorium fumes, no chemicals in the soil. Instead, choose EcoDeath and we’ll return your body to the ground the natural way. Instead of polluting the soil or air, you’ll become part of it once more. Back into the world that made you, nourishing the soil and helping to grow the crops that feed future generations. Your children and theirs will thank you for it.”

Tom Bowyer snorted. “Looks cheap. How do they make any money at this?”

His wife, Ellen, shrugged. “All they do is dig a hole and drop you in. How expensive could it be?”

“Oh no,” Tom pointed at the small print at the bottom of the ad. “It says here that they process the bodies so they can fertilise a larger area per body.”

“Chop them into bits, you mean.” Ellen laughed. “Come on, Tom. We’re a long way from needing their services yet. And they probably charge the farmers for the bits they chuck all over the fields too.”

“Well it’s not how I want to go.” Tom grumbled, but followed his wife into the shopping mall. He hated shopping, especially at Christmas. It was far too busy, and he knew he was only there to carry stuff.

One of the euthanasia posters caught his eye. Tom shuddered. That was the new medical ‘treatment’ for so many things now. Don’t waste away in agony, drooling and forgetting your family. Take the easy way out while your mind is still intact. Tom was having none of that nonsense either.

Ellen had stopped at a food store. “Here we are, Tom. Christmas dinner. I’ll pick the best cuts for us.”

“Mmm.” Tom let her deal with shopping while his mind wandered. Do they chop the euthanased into bits and throw them over the fields too? Probably. I guess that’s why nobody is allowed to visit parks and farms any more. You might find a bit of Grandad lying around out there.

He smiled to himself. Yes, that would make for a very interesting family day out.

Ellen nudged him and handed him a carrier bag. Tom weighed it in his hand. He was sure food shopping used to be heavier.

I just hope there are no bits of Grandad in here.


“Unfortunately, it’s not allowed.” Arbuthnot Blackthorn smiled at the gathered board members. “I quite agree, of course, it would be far simpler to bypass the middleman and provide the public with real meat, but I’m afraid cannibalism is still frowned upon in this country.” He rose from his seat and paced back and forth. “It was actually suggested way back when I founded EcoDeath but the legal hurdles were absolute barriers. And, if the public ever found out where that meat came from, there would be literal Hell to pay.”

He paused and pursed his lips for a moment. “That’s why our subsidiary, EcoFertile, sells fertiliser to farmers. We are simply never going to be allowed to sell human meat to humans.” He coughed. “Not directly anyway.”

Puzzled murmurs wafted around the board members. One of them looked not puzzled, but smug. Blackthorn nodded at her and indicated she should stand. She did, beaming a very wide smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Blackthorn moved to stand behind her. “May I present our latest venture, courtesy of this particular genius, Miss Nicola Demdike.” He stood away from the table. “Perhaps you’d like to explain what you’ve developed, Nicola?”

“I would indeed.” Nicola moved to the head of the table as Blackthorn resumed his seat, now turned to face her.

She started up the projector, and showed images of modern farms. “You see, modern farms have a requirement for a high protein feed to maximise production. As well as fertiliser for crops, they need a very high-quality feed for livestock. The human body is a prime source of highly digestible protein and so, for the last year, our new subsidiary, EcoFeed, has been running trials on several farms to see whether our product can provide better growth than their standard feeds.”

She showed a graph. “As you can see, our EcoFeed outperformed their standard feeds in terms of production on every farm that tried it. We now have orders stretching into the future.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “We might even need to boost the uptake of Euthanase, another subsidiary, if we are to have any chance of meeting demand.”

Ed Valance raised his hand. “It certainly looks very profitable. Do we have a risk of ethical issues though?”

Nicola nodded. “Good question. Our legal teams have been very thorough on this. It counts as another form of ‘fertiliser’ under current law, as long as the feed doesn’t get into mammals.”

“So it’s only going to the insect farms?” Ed asked.

“Yes, but those are a very big market.” Nicola switched off the projector. “We don’t need to risk ethics violations on the few animal farms that are left.”

“And we don’t want it in our own food, now do we?” Blackthorn grinned.

Those around the table chuckled and murmured assent. Ed had one more question.

“Do the insect farms know what the feed contains?”

Blackthorn responded. “The bosses do. There’s no need to worry the rest of the staff.”


The man sniffed the air. The stench of sweat told him he was near. The sounds were louder too. He stumbled on.


Simmons placed the report on Weir’s desk. “Protein levels are poor in the last few batches. Many of them seem to have been eaten out from the inside and yet they still move around.”

“What?” Weir sat up straight and grabbed the report. “We get paid on protein content. What’s happening?”

“It’s some kind of parasitic fungus.” Simmons indicated the report. “Eats them from the inside then takes over their nervous systems and makes them find others of their kind so it can spread. Nasty little bugger. Looks like it’s been around quite some time too, before it spread so far that we noticed it.” He sniffed. “I looked back over our records. Protein content has been dropping slowly for a year and with this last batch it just fell off a cliff.”

“This is going to cost us. How do we get rid of it?” Weir leafed through the report.

Simmons took a sharp intake of breath. “The only way is to kill the lot, disinfect every nook and cranny and start over. It’s a big job and it could break us.”

Weir slumped. “Oh crap. Our Christmas profits are going to be shit, even if we survive this.”

“Well, there’s one silver lining.” Simmons said. “At least this thing can’t infect humans. Our boffins have said that it would have to have prolonged contact with human DNA to have any chance at all of jumping the huge gap between insects and us.” He laughed. “It’s not like we feed them corpses.”

All the colour drained from Weir’s face.


“Look, Mummy. That man has a mushroom on his head.” Seven-year-old Johnny, sat on Santa’s lap, interrupted his litany of desired electronic gadgetry to point at the gaunt man stumbling into the mall.

“Don’t be silly. Oh!” His mother’s hand flew to her mouth. The man looked like a skeleton with thin skin draped over it and there was indeed a mushroom-like growth extending from a tear in the skin of his forehead.

The man stopped walking. The mall fell almost silent, every eye was on this dead-eyed stranger.


This was it. What was left of the man’s mind recognised its opportunity. It was finished.


The stranger with a mushroom on his head opened his mouth and then closed it. No breath could be heard. The mushroom on his head burst, releasing a dense cloud of spores. The stranger collapsed to the ground.

Many people screamed and ran, but many others rushed to see if they could help the stranger. They ignored the cloud of spores. The spores did not ignore them in return.


Tom chewed on his Christmas dinner and scowled. “Turkey shouldn’t be this crunchy.” He shot Ellen an accusing look. “Did you overcook it?”

“Of course not, silly.” Ellen smiled and crunched her own meal. “It’s the new thing. All the real turkeys were killed off in the bird flu epidemic, last year. This is artificial.”

“What, you mean it’s some synthetic crap?” Tom stared at the strange meat on his fork.

“Well, not synthetic, it’s still made of some kind of animal, I think.” Ellen considered her own meal. “It’s just… It isn’t turkey.”

She put her hand on her stomach. It felt strange, as if something was eating her from the inside.

Ellen shrugged it off. Just me getting used to some new food.


Merry Christmas folks and… bon appetit

Cover woes

The Christmas anthology is ready to roll – one author hasn’t replied to the final checks PDF but I’m going to have to assume that means it’s okay. I checked it over myself and it looks fine. Print and eBook interiors are all set, just need the cover… and that’s proving to be a bit of a pain this time.

The book is titled ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ so I thought of the straggly little fir tree at the bottom of the garden, among the devastation caused by last year’s big storm. It’s less than a foot high and looks really sad, so I put some lights and tinsel on it and took a photo.

The photo came out okay. The problem started when I tried adding text. It looks like this:

No matter which colour I use, the text disappears into the background in some places. I could put the text in boxes but it’s not an option I like. Looks like you just put stickers over the picture.

So I set CStM loose with the camera to see if she could get something useful from the Christmas tree.

Ummm… I think not.

That’s more like it. These pictures allow a fair bit of space for trimming so I can make the angel more centralised on the front.

Might be more suited to last year, but still okay.

The issue is mainly the text though. As I said, I can put the text in boxes – I’ve done it on back covers before – but I don’t really like that on a front cover. I might, however, be able to put some fancy frames around the text boxes.

There is another option. I could take a twig (no shortage of them around here), decorate it with tinsel and lights and photograph it against a plain white background. Too minimalist?

Opinions welcome – I really want this out of the way this weekend!

Lithium and books

Books first. The Christmas anthology is complete, just waiting for one author to come back with any last minute changes (to be fair, it’s less than 48 hours since I sent that PDF out) and then I’m back on the next novel in line. Underdog Anthology 19 is called ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ and I have two main options for the cover, which I will post here for a vote.

And now lithium. This is right at the top of the Periodic Table and it’s an incredibly reactive metal. Very very dangerous indeed in its pure form. It’s used in many kinds of batteries now, especially rechargeable ones, and those batteries are hard to get rid of safely when they die.

When I was in school, in the seventies, we had some wonderfully deranged chemistry teachers (there was a lunatic physics teacher too, who let us loose with all kinds of things young teenagers shouldn’t have been trusted with, but more on that another time). There was never a boring chemistry lesson.

One of these chemistry teachers showed us 12-year-olds how water is formed. He had a cone shaped thing on a stand, pumped in one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, lit the top and ran to the back of the class. There was a whine that declined in pitch until BLAM, the thing popped and fell over. It was great.

Another chemistry teacher explained the first column of the periodic table by taking tiny slices of potassium and sodium and dropping them into water. They burst into flame. You can’t extinguish these fires with water. Water just makes them burn faster.

That teacher explained, somewhat crestfallen, that he wasn’t allowed to show us the lithium reaction because lithium was far too dangerous to have in a classroom. It would burn on contact with air, and burn even more fiercely in contact with water. He did have lumps of pure phosphorus though. That was fun.

So, we learned that setting fire to hydrogen and oxygen produced water, a totally harmless substance that puts out fires – unless it is combined with the metals in the first column of the periodic table in which case it becomes something that can burn.

Consider: these chemistry teachers were quite happy to let us have access to things like pure ethanol and cyclohexamide and even to distil ethanol-dissolved compounds using a gas flame from a Bunsen burner. There was a really funny day when one kid didn’t have his ground glass joints sealed properly. Those teachers showed us how to produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen triiodide and other things that would get you on a terrorist watch list in these modern feeble days. In physics class, we etched circuit boards using ferric chloride. Unsupervised, often. They’d let us loose with stuff that could kill us all and they’d go for a cup of tea. Maybe they didn’t really like us.

But even these lunatics weren’t allowed to play with lithium. We could light magnesium ribbon and watch it burn. We could poke mercury around the bench tops with our fingers. We could watch sodium and potassium react violently with water, and phosphorus with air. We could pour cyclohexamide into a sink and set fire to it (well, the teachers weren’t around for that one, nor for the time we filled the Bunsen tubes with water) but we were not allowed to see a lithium reaction.

Might give you an idea just how bad a lithium reaction really is. It is, really, exceptionally bad. And it takes very little to start it.

The internet is full of videos of electric vehicles spontaneously combusting. Lithium is so reactive that you just need a pinhole in a battery to get it started and then there is absolutely no way to stop it. Pour water on it and it just reacts faster.

YouTube has videos of people puncturing lithium batteries and the resulting firestorms. I have a few dead lithium batteries here, mostly from dead tablets, but if I do decide to film their puncturing I’m not doing it with a hammer and spike. I’ll do it with a crossbow from a safe distance. I like my fingers and don’t intend to lose any for the sake of a few YouTube upvotes.

Most of those sleek, low slung modern sporty electric dodgems have the batteries in the floor. Drive one up the farm track here and your arse will be on fire before you get to the house. I have a high ground clearance car for a very good reason, the farm track will rip the bottom off most modern town cars.

I do not ever want to sit on top of a slab of lithium batteries. If it starts to burn it’ll be very fast. You’d need Bruce Lee reaction times to get out of there.

The only use I’d have for an electric car would be if its dead battery were removed. I’d put a diesel generator in the back and rig it directly to the electric motors. Diesel-electric motive power, like a lot of railway engines.

Oh and you know the thing about diesel engines? They’ll run on vegetable oils. That’s what they were originally designed to run on.

And that’s why they don’t want you to have them 😉

Entertainment – The Calling Pill

While our new Prime Monster is busy installing his cabinet of all the talentless (really not much different from any other in recent times), let’s have a story to take your mind off it all.

This one is in ‘The Hole in the Veil‘, and it’s a bit early for Halloween but there’s a lot going on here at the moment and I might not have time on actual Halloween. So, here’s an early spooky treat 🙂

The Calling Pill

Mortimer sat on the edge of his hospital bed. The new medication didn’t seem to do much, he’d had three doses and his chest still hurt like hell. Still, he supposed Dr. Blackthorn knew what he was doing.

A movement, quick and dark, seen from the corner of his eye, made him turn his head. There was nothing. There never is. I’m imagining things. Probably from being cooped up here.

Another movement. Mortimer ignored it. And another. He clenched his teeth, determined to ignore these silly hallucinations. Then the sounds started.

Whispered words. Faint laughter. They seemed to come from all around him. This is new. I haven’t hallucinated sounds before.

Most likely it was some passing nurses, out in the corridor, their conversation faintly echoed from the stark bare walls of the room. Mortimer raised his eyes to the ceiling as he stretched his neck.

Something dark and indistinct stared down at him. Mortimer blinked. It must be a shadow – but how does a shadow have eyes? The shadow moved across the ceiling, then more of the shapeless black things appeared. Deep black eyes stared at him from shifting, formless bodies.

The shadows opened mouths filled with needle sharp grey teeth. Mortimer clutched at his chest, his already damaged heart racing. The whispering started again, this time accompanied by an occasional cackle or a hiss.

Mortimer tried to cry out, but the pain in his chest made even breathing difficult. He had no voice beyond a weak croak. The shadows detached from the ceiling, sprouted ragged wings and flew at him.

Mortimer thrashed at the creatures, trying to get enough breath to shout for help. His chest constricted in agony, the pain shot along his flailing arms and into his head.

Around him, the shadows circled in the air, whispering and chuckling. They swooped at him, never quite making contact, but close enough that he could smell their sewer breath.

His pulse pounding in his forehead, Mortimer stood and tried to get to the door. If he could get into the corridor there might be someone who could help. The shadows flew faster and faster around him, confusing his already blurred vision.

He sank to his knees, tears streaming down his face. His arms continued flailing around but more slowly. They felt like they were filled with lead and pain. The whispering grew louder although he could make out no words. Shadows took turns to swoop at his face and hiss, their teeth snapping shut just short of biting into his skin.

All Mortimer wanted at that moment was an end to this torment, and his heart provided just that. Stretched beyond its breaking point, it gave up and stopped beating. Mortimer fell onto his face, eyes open and drying in the dehumidified hospital air. Just before his brain shut down, he watched the shadows scramble at his face, desperate to inhale his dying breath. The silent darkness forming in his vision felt like one last blessed relief.


Doctor Ignatius Blackthorn popped open his cigarette case, took one out, lit it and took a long slow draw. He blew blue smoke into the air and addressed his audience of four.

“Well, gentlemen,” he said, “I think that was a quite convincing demonstration, don’t you agree?”

Three of the men opposite nodded their agreement. The fourth looked quite pale. That fourth man, Edward Thackeray, rubbed his hand over his face before speaking.

“It seems a somewhat inhumane way of killing someone. Is it ethical?”

Blackthorn could have snorted in derision but he maintained his outward calm. “Killing people at random can hardly be described as ethical, now can it? And that’s what we are discussing here. Besides, hidden cameras in hospital room breaks the ethics code right from the start.”

Thackeray ducked his head. “Of course, but it doesn’t really have to be so brutal, does it?”

“Well,” Blackthorn rubbed his chin. “It does look pretty brutal, but when they are found we want it to look like a heart attack. The drugs weaken the heart first, then the, ah, hallucinations induce the attack. They are found dead but there are no marks on the body to suggest foul play.”

Another man, Jeff Simmonds, raised his hand. “What was he seeing? We saw him thrashing around before he died but we couldn’t see what he was fighting against.”

Blackthorn ran his tongue over his lips and took a quick puff of his cigarette. “Hallucinations, brought on by the medication I gave him. Nothing for anyone else to worry about.”

“Indeed.” Samuel Vandt held a sceptical look. “We are aware of your interests in things that might not be properly termed ‘modern science’, Dr. Blackthorn.” He held up his hand. “Notwithstanding that, my question concerns the medication. If it is given in a pill form does it not eventually – ah – drop out of the other end, so to speak?”

“No.” Blackthorn took one last drag and stubbed out his cigarette in what appeared to the others to be a fake skull cap. “The contents of the pill are absorbed into the bloodstream where they assemble into the device required to produce the effect we desire. The effect can then be triggered by merely pushing a button and since pretty much everywhere is connected to the Internet now, that button can be pressed on the other side of the world.” He grinned. “You can take out one person or thousands at one press. As long as they have taken the medication.”

“And if they haven’t?” Tyler Ross spoke up. “How do we get the masses to take this stuff, and what do we do about those who refuse? There are going to be some.”

“Oh I’m sure there’ll be many.” Blackthorn sat back in his well-padded chair. “It won’t matter. It’ll eventually be in their food and their water. They won’t even know they had it.”

“But not ours, I hope?” Samuel Vandt narrowed his eyes.

“Of course not.” Blackthorn grinned. “Even if it was, you’d still need to press the call button to trigger the… effect.”

“I think we’ve seen enough.” Simmonds rose and buttoned his jacket. “You will of course furnish us with the necessary codes to target this weapon, and the means to trigger it?”

Blackthorn’s grin widened. “As soon as the balance of the payment hits my bank account. You will find it a very easy weapon to operate, so you will be able to remove any, ah, obstacles to your plans without arousing any suspicion at all.” He raised one finger. “As long as your subjects are not in public, or on any kind of camera, when you press the button. You really don’t want film of how they die making its way onto the internet.”

“Hell no.” Thackeray shuddered. “I don’t even want to see it myself. Better to just imagine that pressing the button turns them off.”

“That’s best. We don’t want anyone getting suspicious.” Vandt reached out to shake Blackthorn’s hand. “You’ll have the money by close of business today. When can we expect our deliveries?”

“They’ll arrive by private courier within moments of payment. I won’t be leaving any paper or digital trail, you understand.” Blackthorn shook the man’s hand. “Also, as long as nothing goes wrong – and it won’t – this is the last time we’ll meet in person. Goodbye, gentlemen, and I wish you well in your endeavours to create your brave new world.”


Alone in his office, Blackthorn considered his cigarette case. It was maybe too soon for another dose of his special blend, but what the hell. He had cause to celebrate. He reached for the case.

A shadow covered his hand. Dark eyes, black in black, stared at him. Grey pointed teeth smiled.

Blackthorn sighed and withdrew his hand. “You are right, of course. Too much can be bad for me.”

The shadow chittered. Blackthorn smiled. “Oh, don’t worry, my little incorporeal friend. You and your family will soon feast and grow. They will call you to those they think oppose them, and you will taste the final air to leave their lungs. There will be so very many.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “So very many. Those men think they will own the world. They think I’ve just sold it to them but they simply cannot grasp that their money is of no relevance here. It’s just part of the game. As long as people think it’s all about the money, they’ll never think to look for any other motive.”

The shadow chittered again. Blackthorn opened his eyes and ran his hand over the black-smoke wisps of its being. He smiled as the shadow curled around his fingers.

“You will grow stronger and bigger, and one day you will rival Baal’s Harab-Serapel. You will be glorious and powerful and nothing will ever be able to stop you. Moloch is going to be delighted with our work.”

The shadow purred.

Blackthorn took a deep breath. “Those men think they will rule the world. When they have done their part, you and your brothers will feast on their last breaths too. And then, when the herd has been reduced to a manageable level and you are all at your peak, we will truly have a world ready for Moloch’s rule.”

He reached for his laptop. “Are you hungry, my pet? There is someone in a private room, in another hospital, who is ready for you.”

Blackthorn typed a code and then pressed a button under his desk.

Chittering its delight, the shadow vanished.


There might be another one for Halloween itself, but no promises…