Entertainment Time – Christmas Trees

Well, it’s officially Christmas Eve (in the UK) so here’s a story from ‘Slay Bells in the Snow‘. Uncharacteristically jolly for me, I think, but then we all need a break from bloody covid.

Enjoy!

Christmas Trees

“They want what?” Tiddles slammed his toy-hammer onto the table.

George winced. “It’s not my fault. Santa’s letters were clear this year. The children want more trees.”

“They are up to their bloody eyes in trees.” Tiddles picked up the wooden train he was working on and considered smashing it. “If they got off their damn video games and looked outside, there are trees as far as they can see.”

George shrugged. “Seems they don’t think there are enough.”

“Oh crap.” Tiddles dropped the train and buried his face in his hands. “What will they want next year? Gender reassignment surgery?”

George coughed. “Well…”

“Don’t you dare.” Tiddles dropped his hands and stared at the wall. “Just don’t bloody dare. Okay?”

“It’s not really an issue.” George squirmed. “Santa says we can’t grant medical procedures as wishes so we’re off the hook for that one. There’s still the trees though.” He coughed again. “They also want something called ‘renewable energy’. Apparently it involves windmills and sunshine. Doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Oh…” Tiddles stared at the hammer and wondered whether he should use it on George or himself. “That ‘renewable’ crap involves clearing forests to set up wind and solar farms. Trees or those things. They can’t have both unless we magic up an entirely separate planet.”

George blinked. “Is that possible?”

“Of course not. If it were, we’d have done it and moved there and left all this rubbish behind for the humans to sort out.” Tiddles stroked his hammer. If I hit my head in just the right place it will all be over. He placed the hammer on the table and took a breath. “Right. We’d better go and visit Tubby.”

***

“Ho ho ho.” Santa raised his glass as they entered. “Another sack of letters for you. See they get passed around the workshop. We only have three more weeks.”

“That’s kind of why we’re here.” Tiddles folded his arms. “It’s about trees.”

Santa shrugged and took a sip from his glass. “Christmas trees are traditional. It’s nice to see the kiddies appreciate that.”

“Um…” George half-raised his hand. “That’s not what they’ve been asking for. They want real trees.”

“Huh?” Santa’s brow furrowed until his eyebrows merged into one.

“Real trees.” Tiddles tilted his head. “You hadn’t realised, had you?”

Santa stared into his glass. “I only have time to skim-read the letters. You guys get to read them in detail. Still, what’s the problem? People have had plants as presents for centuries. Just put a small tree in a pot and they can plant it themselves.”

Tiddles closed his eyes. “We are at the North Pole. Trees, indeed any kind of plant, are a bit thin on the ground around here. Every scrap of wood we have has to be shipped in and we use some of it for toys and the rest goes into the furnace so we don’t all freeze to death. We have three weeks. That’s barely enough time to grow a bloody radish.”

Santa pursed his lips. “Well. Would they know the difference?”

There was a long silence. George and Tiddles looked at each other. George raised his eyebrow.

“You know,” George said, “most of them think vegetables magically appear on supermarket shelves. We could sell the radishes as tree starter kits.” He screwed up his face and forced his mind, as far as possible, into thinking mode. “I reckon we can get away with it.”

“What? No!” Tiddles stamped his foot. “I will not be involved in such an underhand scheme.”

Both Santa and George raised their eyebrows as far as they could and stared at him.

“Yes, well…” Tiddles shuffled his feet and stared at the ground. “This is different. We make the presents in good faith. It’s the Job, you know? We’re talking about substandard work here. Passing off radishes as trees is going much too far.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Even for me.”

“Okay.” Santa shook his head. “If it’s too dodgy even for you then it’s a non-starter. So what do we do? Any good alternatives?”

“For trees?” Tiddles laughed. “Maybe a log? Or how about a windmill? They seem keen on those as tree replacements in many parts of the world.”

George rummaged in the sack of letters. “Hey, this one wants a train set. That’s easy. Oh, here’s one who wants a particular doll. No problem – eww.” He dropped the letter. “She wants a zombie doll with a removable brain.”

“We can do that.” Tiddles waved his hand. “Sick Bob is good at the creepy stuff. The problem is those who want trees. We can’t produce them to order.”

“Hm.” George held up a letter. “This one wants a vaccine. Well, we can’t do medical stuff.”

“That reminds me.” Santa scratched his head. “All this current vaccine stuff. Do you think we should vaccinate the elves? Should I get it?”

“Hell no!” Tiddles took a step back. “They haven’t even finished human trials yet. Besides, you can clear yourself of disease using magic when you get back. You’ll have time before it shuts down for the year.” He narrowed his eyes. “As long as you remember this time.”

George patted Santa’s shoulder. “We’ll remind you. In case you get knob-rot again.”

Santa coughed and examined the buttons on his jacket. “Well anyway, I’ve been interested in this green stuff for some time. I don’t have much to do other than browse the news, while you lot are busy in your workshops. So I was thinking, maybe we should replace the furnace with heat pumps?”

George and Tiddles stared at each other for a few moments.

George wrinkled his nose. “What’s a heat pump?”

“It’s a brilliant idea.” Santa refilled his glass. “These machines take heat from outside and pump it inside. They can get it from the ground or the air.”

Tiddles smacked his lips. “I believe I have already mentioned, Santa, that we live at the North Pole. There is no heat outside. Not in the ground and not in the air. The only thing you’d pump in from out there is frostbite.”

“Well,” Santa took a swig of whisky, “The scientists are saying cold is good for you.”

“Sure.” Tiddles walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large one. He had a feeling it was going to be one of those days, and wondered if Santa had really cleared himself of madness-inducing syphilis last time. “It’s fine if you’re surrounded by twelve inches of insulating blubber. We elves are forest creatures. We don’t like the cold.”

“You don’t like the idea?” Santa swirled his glass, his face filled with disappointment.

“We are keeping the furnace.” Tiddles folded his arms. “Can we get back to the problem at hand now?”

George coughed and stared at the drinks cabinet. Tiddles poured him a small one and handed it over.

George took a sip. “How about Bonsai trees? They’re small and they’re real trees.”

“They take decades to grow. We can’t possibly do that in the time we have.” Tiddles shook his head. “Still, George, that’s probably the best thought you’ve had this century.”

George smiled a wide and smug smile.

“There is a way.” Santa rubbed his beard. “You know that whole ‘adopt a penguin’ crap? Or ‘adopt a monkey’ or whatever rubbish they come up with? How about ‘adopt a tree’?”

After a considerable pause and a hell of a lot of blinking, Tiddles and George said, in unison, “What?”

“It’s a great scam.” Santa rubbed his hands. “People pay to keep alive things that are perfectly capable of keeping themselves alive anyway.”

“Scam?” Tiddles perked up.

“Well not for us.” Santa glowered at Tiddles. “Certainly not for you.”

Tiddles scowled.

“Right.” Santa took a deep swig of whisky and strode the room. “We send those kids an adoption certificate. Tell them they have adopted a newly planted tree in a forest somewhere and because of their wish it will grow tall and strong. Doesn’t matter where, there will be trees growing everywhere anyway. Include a picture of a small tree and next year send a picture of a bigger tree. Until they get bored of the whole shebang and ask for a PlayStation.”

Tiddles smacked his hands together. “Brilliant. We charge them for trees that were growing anyway and they believe they are making those trees grow.”

Santa lowered his head. “Tiddles, drop the scam idea for just a moment. These are presents. We do not charge for them.”

“Of course, of course.” Tiddles held up his hands. “I got a bit carried away there for a moment.” He motioned to George to leave. “We’ll get right on it, Santa. Thanks for solving our problem.”

“Yeah, back to work.” Santa sipped his drink under lower bushy eyebrows than usual. “Remember, I’m always watching.”

“No problem, Santa.” Tiddles backed out of the room with George.

***

“So we’re doing it under Santa’s watchful eye?” George struggled to keep up with Tiddles’ pace on the way back to the workshops.

Tiddles laughed. “He’s plastered and rummaging in the silly corners of the internet for most of the year. We don’t have to worry about him watching us.”

“Yeah but…” George furrowed his brow. “I don’t see how we scam this.”

“That’s why I’m in charge.” Tiddles said. “We’ll make the tree-adopting certificates as instructed, but they will include some small print.”

He winked at George. “Very, very small print.”


Merry Christmas!

The Last Ride

Tonight I sent out PDF copies of the anthology to all authors, but my email is looking a bit dodgy. So if you didn’t get one, let me know.

Meanwhile, here’s a preview story to get you in the mood.

The Last Ride

Jenny Armitage settled herself in the vaccination chair. “Didn’t this used to be monthly? I remember the time when there was longer between shots”

The doctor consulted his notes. “It seems your father went off the rails and disappeared. I hope that’s not hereditary.”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Do we have to do the whole ‘sins of the fathers’ thing every time? My dad went crazy. When I was a toddler. Ran off to join some nomad antivax nutters, I was told. It doesn’t mean I’m going to. I just asked a simple question.”

The doctor placed his notes on the table. “Well, we have to be sure. It’s procedure.” He avoided eye contact. “Yes, the boosters used to be further apart but the Theta variant is picking up steam and we have to get vaccinated more often now.”

“Every two weeks though? It’s seriously cutting into my social life.” Jenny pulled the left sleeve of her T-shirt to her shoulder.

The doctor filled his syringe. “It seems it will be weekly soon. Otherwise the next variant could kill us all.”

Jenny looked away as the needle went in. “Last year it was monthly. The year before, three-monthly. Is it going to end up as daily?”

“Well.” The doctor pressed a swab to Jenny’s arm. “There is likely to be an implantable chip very soon. It can release a measured dose at timed intervals. They say you’d only need to reload the chip once a year.”

“Oh, that would be brilliant.” Jenny checked the sticking plaster over her latest jab and rolled down her sleeve to cover it. “Can they do it for all the other jabs too so I don’t have to get a perforated arm any more?”

The doctor chuckled. “The research plans to put everything on the new Medichip. All your vaccinations, all your medical records, and it will even automatically call the medics if it detects something wrong with you. You’ll never have to worry about getting sick again, the chip will call in before you even know you’re ill. It has GPS too, so the ambulance will know exactly where you are.”

“Wow.” Jenny blew a long breath. “I hope it will be ready before Earth Day. I’d love to spend that day, for once, without side effects.”

The doctor snorted. “Earth Day is in three weeks. I doubt they can finish it by then. Next year though, it should be all set to go.” He tilted his head towards the door. “As are you. Fifteen minutes in the waiting area and as long as you don’t show any bad reactions, you’re done.”

“The reaction shows up a couple of days later. I feel like hell for a day and then it’s done.” Jenny picked up her bag and headed for the door. “Gets me a day off college, every time.”

“Fifteen minutes in the waiting area anyway. Just to be sure.” The doctor waved her away.

“Okay.” Jenny closed the door and resigned herself to fifteen minutes of boredom. Unless one of the others keeled over. She’d seen quite a few by now. Sometimes they just passed out. Sometimes they lay there shaking like they were being electrocuted. Sometimes their faces looked like they were melting, just sagging all down one side. There was always a stack of stretchers against the wall, just in case.

She took a seat and noted the time on the clock. There had been a time, she was sure, when these strange reactions made the news. Still, when things get to be common, the news isn’t much interested any more. Neither was anyone else, really. The commonplace isn’t interesting. It’s the new and sensational that gets noticed.

Jenny, like all the others in the waiting area, sat in silence. Nobody made eye contact nor did they acknowledge the existence of the others. They had, like Jenny, been raised properly, taught never to invade the personal space of a stranger. It’s just rude.

Companions in an empty room. I taste their victory and sin.

A snippet of an old, old song came into Jenny’s head. It was something she had heard as a child, from her grandfather’s collection of what he called ‘music’. Music had fallen out of fashion after Grandad’s time and nobody bothered with it any more. Grandad died in a nursing home, before any of the family could be contacted. Her father had visited him the day before he died, and within a week Dad had disappeared too. There were a lot of shouty fights between him and her mother after Grandad died. She never knew what they were about.

She frowned, ducking her head to hide the emotion on her face in case somebody saw. It wasn’t nice to make other people worry about you. Music, she remembered, was nice. It had made her feel good, even when the song was slow and sad. Head down, she tried to remember more of the song.

To work it out I let them in. All the good guys and the bad guys that I’ve been.

There was so much more. Was it still there, buried in that childhood memory, or was it forgotten forever? Grandad’s music collection was sent to recycling when he died.

I wander through an angry crowd. Wonder what’s become of me.

The line was out of place. Jenny forced her face to relax, forced the frown away. Someone might think she had a bad reaction to the vaccine and she didn’t want the attention. She looked up at the clock. Seven more minutes. She glanced around the room.

Face to face I greet the cast. Set in silence we begin.

She stifled a cough. It felt as though something in her mind had brought the song back as a message. Like it was trying to tell her something. She needed to go back to her room, where she could concentrate. Maybe write down the bits of the song she remembered and see if she could put it back together.

Half asleep I hear a voice. Is it only in my mind?

Or is it someone calling me? Someone I failed and left behind.

That was how the song started. Grandad played that song often and sometimes there were tears in his eyes. Then they took him away to the nursing home and nobody in the house ever played music again.

Four minutes left. Jenny struggled to keep her face impassive. It felt like a dam bursting in her mind, so many thoughts, so many memories. All pushing through, all wanting to be first. She really needed to be home.

Her pulse pounded in her head. Was this a bad reaction to the vaccine? Was she about to be one of those who passed out, or who lay shaking on the ground? Is this what happened to them?

I want to take you all with me. We have to get away from here.

Her father’s voice, shouting. Her mother shouting back ‘No, you’re insane’. Her father at the bathroom sink, cutting his hand, taking out his ID chip. Jenny stared at her own left hand, where the chip rested silently until the scanners activated it. She had never questioned it. Somehow, she had blanked out so many memories, or thought she had. Seems she only put them away in a drawer somewhere, and now her brain was opening all the drawers and throwing the contents out into her consciousness.

Should she alert someone? Tell them she thought she was having a bad reaction? Hell no, she’d get sectioned at once. Is that why the bad reactions so often pass out – because they are too afraid to ask for help?

I defend my soul to those who would accuse me.

Another snippet of the song. Almost as if her mind was telling her ‘It’s okay, you’re not going mad’.

Jenny checked the clock. It seemed blurry through her eyes. She rubbed at them, her hand came away wet, but the clock looked a little clearer. One more minute. She considered just leaving now, but that might raise suspicions. One more minute. She could wait it out. She closed her eyes.

In her mind’s eye, her father’s bandaged hand lifted his small bag. His other hand stroked her face, tears in his eyes as he said goodbye. He so wanted to take her, and her mother and little brother, along with him but he could not. He could not stay either, not once he had heard his own father’s story.

Like a circus on parade. Seldom close enough to see.

A story she had heard, and pushed away at her mother’s insistence over the years. She had to believe he had cracked up, that he had joined an antivaxxer group living outside of civilisation, in the climate-change-charred wilderness. He had not. They were not anti-vaxxers. They were free people, thinking for themselves, living outside the tightly controlled world she inhabited. It was in her memory, in the arguments between Dad and Mum, in the words her brain had filed away as ‘wrong’.

His shouted words came back as clear as when he first uttered them. You get on the vaccine train and you can never get off. Booster after booster and it never ends. It’s like getting on a roller coaster that just goes around and around and goes faster and faster and never stops. The last ride you will ever take.

She checked the clock. Time’s up. Jenny stood, reached for her bag and concentrated on quelling the tremble in her hands. It might look like a vaccine reaction and she didn’t want to get taken for treatment. Very few came back from treatment.

Outside, Jenny took a moment to breathe the air and try to grasp what had just happened. It was a song. An old song, now lost to almost everyone, that had triggered her memories. It was a song that had set her on a new path, a path so very, very different from her life as she knew it. Was it sensible, or was it really only the ‘sins of the fathers’ manifesting in her? Had she inherited her father’s madness, or his sanity?

I share the famine and the feast.

The song would not go away. Should she see the doctors about how she felt? Should she discuss it with her mother? Hell no! She’d be sectioned at once. Her own mother had called the authorities when her father left. Jenny took a breath. It wasn’t malice. If her mother had not reported her father’s aberration, they would all now be under permanent observation as accomplices. Possibly even in jail. No, she could not really blame her mother – but she couldn’t trust her with these thoughts either.

Jenny knew she had to leave this city. Get out into the barren wilderness beyond. Like her father. Find the wandering people and try to join them. She stared at her left hand. Would she have the courage to cut the chip out, as her father had?

Well, she would soon find out. Her mind had decided that she would not turn up for her next injection in two weeks’ time. Earth Day was one week after that and missing a shot would put her on Green Santa’s naughty list. She would hear the bells.

Jenny gritted her teeth and whispered the mantra she had been taught. “Send not to ask for whom the bells jingle. They jingle for thee.”

If she missed the next shot, she would be classed as ‘anti-vaxxer’ and Green Santa would take her to some unknown oblivion. It was terrifying, but now she had seen how her world really was, now she had finally seen the circus parade close up, it was terrifying to stay within it too. Running into the wilderness was also terrifying. Basically, she had a choice of terrors. Which to choose?

Jenny headed to her room, only a short walk away from the campus medical centre. She had an enormous decision to make and only a short time in which to make it. If she chose to stay, she would just take the shot in two weeks’ time. If she chose to leave, she would have to do that very soon. As soon as she missed that next appointment she’d be on the naughty list and then she’d be watched closely.

“Well.” Jenny placed her hand on the door to her student accommodation block and watched the door swing open. “Seems I finally have to make an adult decision.” She stepped inside and watched the door swing closed. “I just wish I knew how.”

The song’s closing lines played in her mind.

All the devils that disturbed me and the angels that defeated them somehow.

Come together in me now.

———————————————-

(The song, if anyone is interested, is by Paul Williams and is one of the excellent pieces of music from a film called ‘The Phantom of the Paradise’, a film I heartily recommend.)

A Slow Recovery

Well, it has been an eventful time, but certainly not a productive one. I couldn’t even work on books or covers for most of it and I haven’t been able to work out author payments for this quarter yet.

The storm hit us on the evening of November 26th. The power went out but that’s not at all unusual during storms here. We lit the fireplace, lit candles and settled down to wait. It usually comes back on in a few hours.

Not this time. This time, it stayed off. The landline phone was dead, my mobile had no signal and CStM could only get a weak signal on her phone by standing at the door to the greenhouse. Seems it was time to party like it’s 1699.

Doing this, she was able to determine that the power outage affected most of Scotland north of Edinburgh. And that it was likely to last some time. We had just had a food delivery a couple of days earlier so the freezers were well stocked. As the ‘estimated repair time’ shifted back further and further, the freezers were getting up to the point where they would start to thaw.

At this point I was very glad I bought that generator. Considering how much was in those freezers I’d say it’s now paid for itself. It also allowed us to get the water pump going again.

Of course, there was no writing/editing/emailing during this time since computers don’t really work that well with no power, no matter how loudly you swear at them.

The power returned for a while on Sunday afternoon. It went out again on Tuesday for another 12-hour blackout, then came back again.

Still the landline was down so no mains internet. My phone still had no signal so I couldn’t use it as a hotspot. CStM’s phone was our only link to the outside world so it would have been unwise for me to use up her data by sending out a ton of emails containing book/cover attachments.

Here is the landline problem. This part of the garden looked like this in March 2020. The little yellow arrow points to the phone line which links the house (out of shot to the left) to a post that’s on the other side of the trees. The line goes through the trees.

On the morning of November 27th, it looked like this. The phone line is gone. So is the one linking to the next pole in line. I have no idea how far the line is down but this isn’t going to be a quick fix.

By December 3rd my phone was beginning to pick up a little bit of signal. Intermittent, but it was there. I tried setting it up as a hotspot but the connection was far too unstable to be any use. Anything from a brief and hopeful 4G to ‘no signal’. I have a feeling the local mast was down. Today it seems stable once more but I’ve taken the precaution of typing this offline so I can just do a quick copy/paste.

The weather continues to be appalling and I can quite understand why nobody would want to work at the top of a pole or with anything electrical in these conditions. At the time of posting this, it does not look like the landline will be back in action any time soon.

So I have only one option. I have taken out a further mobile contract with one of the few providers still covering this area and will be using that as a data link. It’s 4G, it’s fast, but I do have a monthly limit and I really have to prioritise the books right now.

So if I don’t immediately answer emails, please don’t get upset. I was behind with the books before all this happened and I’m way, way behind now. If I’m going to get Christmas day off, it’s all work for a while.

Sorry about the low quality photos. I can’t waste data on the good ones right now.

Ready for Halloween

I hope

The Halloween anthology, the fifteenth Underdog Anthlogy, is now live on Smashwords and going through the process on Amazon. Hopefully it won’t take long. Anthology 16 (Christmas themed) is open for submissions but due to the backlog of other work, editing won’t begin until November so there’s no need to rush.

It still astounds me that it’s got this far. I genuinely thought that putting ‘Volume One’ on the first Underdog Anthology was overly optimistic. And now we have number 15. There are already a couple of stories in for number 16. I’ve created a monster!

Well at least it’s a benign monster. You won’t die from reading its contents. Also, I am happy to report that every single Underdog Anthology has introduced at least one new author, and this one has continued that tradition.

Ah, the Kindle book already appeared while I was writing this post.

I have four stories in there. The first is available under the ‘look inside’ option, followed by a teaser for one of Daniel Royer’s tales, and it’s really worth your time and pennies to see where that one goes. Another of mine is a past entertainment blog post. One more is a reprint of a story from ten years ago, and the fourth is part of the Panoptica lead-in stories. Once I catch up with the backlog I’ll put those lead-ins together in one place.

Okay, the world is full of madness but I’m leaving that alone for tonight. This book was beset by delay after delay, it’s over now and I need a day off before starting the next one.

Fingers crossed that there won’t be any issues with the print copy!

Mad Hancock exits stage left.

Competition first. Winners are Kant Explain and Ripper – each got one answer right and they were the only ones to come up with more than one song, so I’m calling it a double win. Emails are on the way, check your spam folders if you don’t see it.

The ones I had placed were Boris the Spider by the Who, (disturbingly appropriate, really) and The Pick of Destiny by Tenacious D. Nobody got both, perhaps I should be a little less obscure next time.

So, farewell then, Mad Hancock,
You have lost your job
And your family
And nobody cares
– E.J. Thripp

He’s gone, and yet some are still sad to see him go. I expect a few mourned Mussolini’s passing too, but not me. I’m glad to see the back of the man who withheld information from the Prime Monster that might have prevented this extension of the silly lockdown. He has done so many terrible things, and he is brought down by a snog. It’s insane. It’s like Hitler being declared evil only after he has kicked a puppy. Everything was fine up to that point.

Anyway he’s gone. The end result works for me even if the means make no sense. Now we wait to see if his successor will earn the title of Stabby Jabby or Nemo Zebedee. Depends who accepts this poisoned chalice.

If they have any sense of self preservation at all, they will end this charade and blame it all on Mad Hancock. It really won’t affect him, he’s totally buggered anyway. He’s about to find out what happens to useful idiots when they are no longer useful. He’s not alone in that…and there will be more finding that out sooner than they’d like.

It does depend if they can read the mood of the country, something Charles I failed to do with terrible consequences and we are really not far from Charles III taking the throne. The jug-eared green maniac is certain to emulate the vicious taxation regime of his predecessor and very likely end up much the same way.

Well. The die is cast, the game continues.

Now we wait.

Developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Title Poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Anthology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. Back to work…

Coronamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether you do is entirely your choice.

Just be sure to read the book before you die.

Progress

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

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

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

Foreword          H.K. Hillman

Stog Gayle Fidler

Death Tries Something Different Mark Ellott

Cancelling Nicholas .Mark Ellott

The Fly Margo Jackson

Merced Daniel Royer

When Those Gang Members Celebrated Christmas    Daniel Royer

Burning Injustice Emma Townsend

Adam and Eve’s Day Johnathan Martin

Christmas for Two? Marsha Webb

The Nest Marsha Webb

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

Not All Ghosts .Stephen W. Duffy

Christmas Death Wish Roo B. Doo

Piper in Hazmat H.K. Hillman

Afterword Roo B. Doo

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