Monday, March 19, 2018

Space Monkeys.


As a young child growing up in England, I had very little access to US format comics. We had plenty of our own publications to go at of course, but the US magazine format publications were like another world. The artwork was far more advanced, and the stories, especially the pre-code horror mags such as 'Tales of Terror', were horrifying in a way that has affected me to the present day. I absolutely could not get enough of it.




My mother tried to take them from me. That didn't work. I invented new and unique hiding places for my insidious contraband and would adopt the classic method of reading by torchlight under the bedclothes. I really wish someone would just dig out all of the pre-code publications and re-release them.

All that being said, the thing that really made the US format comics stand out were the advertisements.

The ads were aimed at people of my age (despite the fact that the vast majority of pre-code consumers were undoubtedly adults), and they promised fantastic things:

'Be a super scary 7ft ghost!'

'Learn to throw your voice. Amaze your friends, Fun at parties!'

'X-Ray specs! See through clothing and walls!'

There was always a tiny order form at the bottom of the ad.

Wow! These were like superpowers. I soaked up all of the hook lines, my captivated prepubescent mind desperately trying to imagine where I could get some American cash, and how much the postage would be. Also... What the hell is a zip code?

But the ad that really got me, the one that blew my tiny mind and sent my imagination into orbit was this one...



The pictures said it all. I could have real, actual, tiny monkeys that swam joyously around in a special Sea Monkey tank. With a castle and a Sea Monkey King and Queen, and all the other Sea Monkey people wearing snorkels and goggles and waving at me as I stared, open mouthed, through the glass. You could even train them to do tricks! Awesome!

Of course it was all complete and utter crap. They were just brine shrimp. A barely visible crustacean, completely lacking in any form of entertainment value. I dare not attempt to estimate the number of profoundly disappointed youngsters who have been viciously duped by Mr. Harold Von Braunhut, the 'inventor' of this malicious con, but really, he should be ashamed of himself. It's the equivalent of handing a modern day teenager an iPhone box containing two soup cans connected with string.

Harold also invented the aforementioned X-Ray specs by the way, and it didn't matter whether you could see through people's clothes with them, because you couldn't see through the specs.

And people wonder why I've grown up to be so cynical.

Anyway, getting to the point, fast forward to December 2011 and according to the Mayan calendar, the world is supposed to end in about four weeks, so everyone is rushing around trying to figure out what to wear. Some people think that the dark planet Nibiru will arrive, full of ancient Mayan gods who will take us all as slaves to dig for gold. Others think that a new Messiah is coming to replace all the oil we've used so that we can carry on acting like assholes, while the really clever people are organising parties and selling beer and nibbles.

I had my own skewed ideas of course, and they prompted the writing of the tale that you can read below. This was, in retrospect, a brave fusion of philosophy, religion and sci-fi, garnished with a final horrific idea. Who knows, someone may stumble upon it one day and build a nonsensical belief system around it. Hell, if it can work for L. Ron. Hubbard it can work for me.

I've taken a very loose interpretation of the Sea Monkey, flipped the perspective and scaled it up. Here we go...

Space Monkeys.

The brothers Lucifer and Yahweh, both top of their class in biosynthesis and astrophysics respectively, were enjoying lunch in the school canteen and the conversation naturally turned to an old probability teaser:

If you put an infinite number of chimps together in a room with pencils and paper would they eventually, and by pure chance, produce the entire works of Shakespeare?

‘The problem is tractable,’ Lucifer stated, ‘by the proposition that if you leave an infinite amount of anything anywhere for an infinite length of time then everything that can possibly happen probably will, and thus under those conditions the answer is yes.’

Yahweh nodded his agreement, chewing his mouthful of egg sandwich with grim determination.

‘But,’ Lucifer continued, ‘proving the proposition by empirical means, there’s a real challenge.’

After a brief discussion, and bearing in mind that the school holidays began the following day, the boys decided to perform a grand experiment.

‘The rules are clear.’ Yahweh said to Lucifer later that evening in their room. ‘Once the experiment begins we cannot interfere. It must run its course and by the end of it we will either have the works of Shakespeare or all of the subjects will have died out.’

‘But this doesn’t allow for an infinite time span.’ Lucifer argued.

‘Agreed,’ Yahweh conceded, ‘ and yet we cannot permit any individual subject to live forever because this allows the accrual of significant experience, which in turn will skew the probability density, and if the probability field isn’t entirely plain the experiment is worthless.’

‘Then perhaps if one subject dies, we should simply replace it.’ Lucifer suggested.

‘That would surely count as interfering.’ Yahweh answered.

‘Then we should make them capable of replacing themselves.’ Lucifer proposed.

Yahweh considered this and saw that it was good.

Other trivialities were also cleared up before the experiment began, such as the matter of how to feed the chimps in a non-invasive manner. It was decided that the environment in which the chimps were placed should be designed in such a way that it catered for all of their needs in perpetuity. This was something of a challenge in itself and consumed several hours of the boys' time.

Eventually a system was agreed whereby a basic amino acid set would be entrained using self assembling molecules to form proteins which would then accrue into organisms that could convert broadcast energy form a distant source into simple sugars. The resulting organisms would then be devoured by other more complex forms and so on, providing and endless supply of self replicating biomass on which the chimps would feed, assuming that they had the wit to capture it. An unexpected bonus of this method was that all of the food remained fresh until the moment that it was eaten, thus keeping the smell to a minimum.

Once built, the chimp enclosure had to be tested.

‘Let there be light.’ Yahweh smiled and initiated several small nuclear fusion devices set at varying distances from the enclosure.

‘How very dramatic,’ Lucifer mused, ‘and pretty too!’

The boys went downstairs for a snack while the energy transients dispersed and the experiment achieved a steady state.

When they returned everything had settled down nicely. The enclosure was now lush and green and entirely pleasant.

‘How many should we create to begin with?’ Yahweh asked.

‘Two I think.’ Lucifer answered. ‘Just to see what happens.’

Yahweh agreed.

The two chimps self assembled by virtue of the helical bonding language protocols. They emerged from the generator whole and perfect.

The boys transferred them to their new home and watched avidly as their test subjects simply lounged around and did nothing in particular.

Lucifer was unimpressed, but Yahweh suggested that they should leave them alone to become acquainted with their surroundings. It had taken six days of work to get this far and they deserved a day off, so on the seventh day they rested.

It was on the evening of the seventh day while Yahweh was still asleep that Lucifer, on his way to the bathroom, decided to take a brief peek at the chimps.

To his great disappointment they were as they were when he’d left them. They were idle and lacking any kind of motivation. It was one thing to set up an experiment in infinite time but quite another to use it all up before even beginning.

He felt in this case that he would be justified in giving them a little push. Just to get things going. He was fully aware of the implications of so doing, having a complete understanding of chaos mathematics and its application in catastrophe theory. One can make a minor, almost imperceptible change to an event at its inception which in the fullness of time will change the fate of nations. But since this experiment had only one objective and since the nature of the chimp was relatively undefined in the project specification he felt that Yahweh would have no sound objection to him making a fine adjustment before it really got going.

Just a small tweak, Lucifer thought as he assembled a retro-virus with the specific task of inserting a few more directives into the chimp’s helical instruction set. Having finished his work, he introduced the retro-virus into the enclosure and went back to bed.

When the boys awoke, Yahweh was most displeased.

‘Look at them!’ He announced pointing to the chimps that now numbered in the thousands, ‘All their hair’s fallen out! And they’re making war with each other! We should check the figures,’ He added, ‘something has surely gone amiss.’

Lucifer said nothing. He didn’t want to upset his brother further by admitting the changes he had made.

‘We have to start again.’ Yahweh whined.

‘I would remind you of the first rule Yahweh.’ Lucifer stated. ‘We have started an ongoing process which is to decide its own outcome and the subjects are unaware of the purpose for their being. We cannot simply wipe away that which we do not like. This has to run its course.’

After some deliberation Yahweh nodded gravely.

The boys left the chimps to their own ways from then on, occasionally popping back to check up on them. Lucifer was entertained by their constant warring, bloodshed and fornication but Yahweh became concerned not only for their welfare but that the final outcome of their experiment may be delayed or even negated by the chimps many distractions.

As it happened it was their mother Ain-Soph who decided the matter.

Both boys upon looking into the enclosure one morning found that it had been washed clean. They appealed to their mother to leave their project alone and She agreed adding that the ugly little things were dirty and starting to smell and that She didn’t know what the boys saw in them.

Luckily one of the chimps had seen fit to design and build a huge boat and had gathered to itself enough food to survive the flood.

‘See how clever they are?’ Yahweh asked of his brother.

 ‘That would be my doing.’ Lucifer admitted in his pride. ‘I have made an adjustment in the early moments of our project. I have made them self aware.’

‘And self important.’ Yahweh scolded. ‘And this has caused their wars and their greed and their lust. Lucifer, you have interfered.’

‘But without their lust they would not multiply,’ Lucifer argued, ‘and without their greed they would have no wars and their wars have been their time of greatest invention. So you see Yahweh,’ He added, ‘I have brought our project to life. Without my intervention they would be nothing and go nowhere.’

‘But that was not the project specification.’ Yahweh reminded him.

‘We must agree to differ on that point my brother.’ Lucifer replied. ‘The school holidays will soon be over and I have other things to do.’

‘Your impatience has always been very apparent.’ Yahweh sighed.

‘So be it.’ Lucifer shrugged.

Some time later, when the chimps had recovered their population, their behaviour became worse than ever. Yahweh noticed this and was saddened. Lucifer merely smiled at his brother’s empathy for their lab rats.

The chimps made good progress in their way. They developed metallurgy which they used to fashion weapons. They cast gold into coins which they used to fuel their greed and their wars. They began to wonder in their limited way, how they had come to be there and why. They developed written communication to make account of their greedy gains and of those who owed them gold. They even began to create their own art as a means to imitate the work of their fictitious gods.

Yahweh grew to love their babbling politics and their faltering philosophies, but their wars and their greed and their cruelty made him sorrowful.

He looked around himself to ensure that Lucifer was not present and then, with great trepidation, he decided to intervene.

He fashioned for himself another chimp, a better chimp, a chimp that would carry the message from Yahweh that communion, and not war, was the way to happiness and fulfilment.

Having made this chimp, Yahweh introduced it to the enclosure. He watched carefully as the new improved chimp carried out its purpose. As it walked amongst the other chimps and told them how to be better.

He watched in dismay as the other chimps nailed it to a piece of wood and then carried on as usual.

Lucifer on his arrival immediately noticed this and laughed loudly.

‘See Yahweh!’ He sneered. ‘It is you that seeks to ruin our great work, not I!’

‘I seek only to save them from themselves.’ Yahweh pleaded.

‘They are nothing Yahweh.’ Lucifer answered. ‘They are less than nothing.’

Both boys continued to watch as after a hundred thousand years of relative time the chimps developed great nations, travelled freely, traded and otherwise explored their vast enclosure. They witnessed the rise and fall of great and fierce chimp kings and the destruction of civilisations. They watched the development of the written word into an art form and were entertained by the chimp’s efforts to describe and enact the concepts that fell limply from their dim and feeble minds.

Then one day Yahweh called frantically to his brother.

‘Lucifer! Lucifer!’ It’s happening at last!’

The boys looked on with bated breath as a single chimp sat alone in its room by candle light and with ink dipped quill in hand. It sighed deeply and began to scrawl upon the yellowed parchment page…

In the blink of an eye it seemed, the experiment was over and the hypothesis proven.

‘We should write this up as fully as possible.’ Lucifer suggested. ‘I have made copious notes. We shall include the output from this chimp for it is indeed the entire works of Shakespeare, word for word.’

But Yahweh appeared concerned.

‘But if I were to be objective about the results,’ he began, ‘I would surely leap upon the potential flaw in our method which is that our subjects have been changed by the experiment itself, and that they are in fact, no longer chimps.’

Lucifer thought deeply on this.

‘The premise merely stated that they should start as chimps it gave no stipulation that they remain that way.’ He concluded. ‘And besides, their biological deviation is less than two percent. They are close enough.’

‘And what shall we do with this?’ Yahweh asked, pointing to the enclosure. His glorious face grew dark with concern. ‘Now that our subjects are no longer required.’

Lucifer saw the sadness on his brother’s face and felt the same.

‘Would you agree that, since we have performed this feat together, half of the subjects should belong to me and the others to you?’ He asked.

Yahweh nodded his agreement.

‘Then,’ Lucifer proposed, ‘we shall go for a short stroll around their enclosure to see that all is well, by which time, if my calculations are correct their relative date should be the year two thousand and twelve, and if they have not destroyed themselves by war, eaten all the food or drowned in their own faeces their numbers should be in the region of six billion.’

Yahweh agreed with his brother’s initial estimates.

‘At which time,’ Lucifer continued, ‘you may keep yours to do with as you wish and I will have mine.’

‘I will take all the good ones and keep them as pets.’ Yahweh smiled.

‘As for myself brother,’ Lucifer sighed, ‘I will take mine away. I have analysed their protein structure and I believe that they will make a most nourishing soup.’

With that, both boys strolled off at just below the speed of light for a thorough inspection of their grand experiment.

‘You know Lucifer,’ Yahweh said, ‘I’ve heard it proposed that a tree, upon falling over in the middle of a large forest, would not make a sound if there were no-one there to hear it.’

‘Ah, but to prove it empirically.’ Lucifer smiled. ‘There is the challenge.’

***


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looking after Granddad.


My granddad, now long gone, was called Joe. When I was but a nipper of about six I was helping him clean out a cupboard when I spotted a small tin cracker box stuck away at the back. I dug the rusting container out from under several old magazines and presented it to him. He accepted it with an expression that puzzled me. I asked him what was wrong. His thick fingers worked their way under the rim of the lid and with much grunting and heaving he managed to open the box. Inside were coins from several foreign lands and perhaps six medals circa the second world war.
As a kid of six I was impressed by the fact that my Granddad had been a soldier and had been off to far flung corners of the world to fight our enemies. As a kid of six I was a complete and utter dumb ass who, knowing nothing of the real world, had formed the idea that all these medals were somehow cool. Joe had other ideas.
He picked a coin from the box, turning it over in his hand. It was a large bronze coin which was, I think, from Egypt.
'My mate (name withheld) gave me this.' he mumbled softly, 'He was dead in a ditch the day after. It's all I've got to remember him. It's all anybody's bloody got!'
He went through the rest of the contents, picking out each item and then almost throwing it back in. My young eyes flicked back and forth between the old tin and the old man. To me the two didn't seem to fit together, a box of military honours worthy of pride, and a derisive sneer on an old man's white whiskered face.
It turns out that Joe had 'seen a few things' to put it euphemistically and as far as he was concerned they were things that he'd much rather forget.
It's sadness upon sadness when we're forced to bury not just our friends but also our memory of them.
I am also ex military although thankfully I have been for the most part spared from 'seeing a few things'. I do however understand the need for remembrance. I see our elders solemnly marching shoulder to shoulder with medals abreast and I appreciate their sacrifice and inwardly I thank them for it, but is there a need for pride?
Isn't military pride just the shiny suit that sorrow wears when it steps out for the day?
There's a difference between war and violence. I have no problem with violence so long as it's personal. The urge to give battle to my enemies looms large within me. It's a part of every human being's deepest nature and I find that acceptable. We feel insulted, we feel anger, we retaliate.
War is different because there's no anger. It's a cold and considered act. A soldier is asked to kill a stranger and is dehumanised by it. If you're in a brawl in a pub and you knock the bastard out you don't then trot off and rape his family, whereas in war that kind of disgrace is all part of the show.
So am I anti war? Absolutely.
My granddad was damaged goods, and although he did the best he could to hide it, in a small tin box at the back of a cupboard, he wasn't the man that he would have been if the government of the day hadn't asked him to go out and gun people down.
I think that the lesson here, despite my tedious ramblings above, is to try to see our elders as little tin boxes. I'm not suggesting that we stuff them into cupboards. What I'm saying is that they understand the realities of life in a way that the young do not and so we have to open the box and share their experiences so that we don't keep repeating the same stupid mistakes.
At the end of WWII the Americans began filming inside German concentration camps. Why? Because as one general remarked, 'If we don't record this shit now, in fifty years time no-one will believe it ever happened.' Which tends to imply of course that it could all happen again, and just in case anyone thinks that I'm picking on the Germans, I'm not. You don't have to look very far to see countries, my own included, that have done a whole lot worse and on the same scale, and no amount of apology or excuses will ever justify their actions. We shouldn't ever be proud of our atrocities, but we should always remember them.

Looking after Granddad - overview.

Looking after Granddad is all about how our experiences change us and how those changes affect others. It is the only tale that I've written thus far that has a monster in it, although who or what the monster is, and what it represents, I will leave up to you. The story is at least two thirds flashback, which serves to explain why the main protagonist behaves the way he does.

Characters.

Leo McDonald -  A formerly good man, made bad by his experiences, who lives in a nursing home for the elderly. Leo is the living proof that we are all capable of despicable acts when the situation demands. The real problem arises when dementia sets in and Leo thinks that he's back there.

Billy Giles - A young man who is slowly paving his own personal road to hell with his good intentions. He's another good man made bad by his experiences, primarily at the hands of the aforementioned Leo McDonald.

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.


Looking after Granddad is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Swing.



I have always loved stage magicians. Granted, some of them are pretty crap, delivering age old tricks that have long ago lost their mystery and been relegated to the 'every fucker knows that one' shelf of the local joke shop. These 'illusionists' resort to bright colours and flamboyance to spin out their delivery, in the hope of bullshitting the audience into believing that they're watching something new. It's like seeing your granny with a makeover - I've got no time for them.
But occasionally someone stands out - delivering a stunningly simple but utterly baffling illusion that makes you believe for a fleeting moment that the only possible solution is magic. I love these guys.
I particularly like the close up stuff, where there's no room for error. I used to work in a factory where one of the supervisors was a former stage magician who specialised in close up card illusions. After twenty something years in the trade he lost his nerve and had to retire. They may look all cool and debonair up there but believe me they're sweating bullets all the way through. He'd been ten years off the stage but occasionally he'd pick the card deck up off the canteen table during lunch break and go to work on us. I'm no expert, but I never managed to figure any of it out. There were cards disappearing all over the place and he could shuffle the deck and deal out any poker hand that you asked for straight off the top. By the time we'd been delivered back into the real world my tea had gone cold - now, to coin a catch phrase - 'that's magic!'
So how the hell do they learn how to do these things? Well according to my aforementioned friend the key to it is simply practice. Day after day, hour after hour, heart breakingly tedious, to the point of obsession - practice.
Obsession is a juicy word in my phrase book. It makes me wonder - how far is someone actually prepared to go to get another round of applause?
It's pretty much common knowledge that the only reason the old stage magicians used white doves for their animal magic was because they were all identical - so you could crush one poor bird to death to squeeze it into a secret compartment and then pull another one from up your arse and the audience thought it was the same bird that had just 'disappeared'. I'm fairly sure that they don't do that kind of thing any more, but if they do I hope that if mister magic ever gets to heaven all those nice white doves are there waiting to do an Alfred Hitchcock on his sad ass.
Now let's imagine that this very same magician, to whom killing harmless creatures for our entertainment is merely a part of the job, decides to expand his trade a little. What else would he be prepared to dispatch if he thought he could get completely away with it?

The Swing overview.

The Swing is primarily built around a negotiation between the two main characters who are attempting to agree a price on a piece of magical memorabilia. The story line develops as each man tries to gain the upper hand, with each protagonist offering more information about why they want the object and how they came to be there. There is of course more going on than meets the eye, and each revelation and twist in the tale pushes the stakes higher and higher.

Characters.

Edgar Henry - a man on a mission. He's an obsessive collector of magical props who will stop at nothing to know their macabre secrets. He tries to be good, he really does, but certain traits run in Edgar's family. Traits that are best kept as secret as the props that he so avidly collects. 

Paul Jenkins - He has something that Edgar Henry wants and he's determined to get the best possible price for it. He's an okay sort of guy and he does have a wife and four kids to support but he asks for more then Edgar can possibly afford and he doesn't realise how far Edgar is willing to go to get what he wants.

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.


The Swing is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Monday, April 8, 2013

What the butler saw.


When I was a lad it was unusual to go anywhere. Most people lived and worked within a two mile radius, and even a trip to the nearest town was regarded as a subject worthy of conversation. Summer holidays rarely lasted more than a week and were usually spent at the nearest coastal town or fishing port, and even then it was only ever once a year.
If we were lucky we may get the odd organised day trip, which for the women and children meant sitting on a dim and dismal beach eating ice-cream or fish and chips while the khaki coloured ice cold waves of the North Sea washed the feeling from their toes, while for the men, it inevitably meant having somewhere new to get drunk.
When the day was done everyone would be packed, sweating and intoxicated, back onto a coach for the return trip, which is where the fun would finally begin. For there is nothing more entertaining than stuffing your face with candy floss while fights break out between large pissed up blokes in the narrow aisle of a coach as it ploughs along the central lane of a busy motorway at sixty miles an hour.
Fucking bliss!
There was perhaps one saving grace to the whole grubby affair. One shining light in the mire of debauchery that was the local working men's club day trip. And if there was, it was the penny arcade.
Flashing lights and ringing bells, rock 'n' roll music and money on display everywhere, ready and waiting to be won by the next lucky punter. It was another world. The land of promise. An alien landscape of copper coloured fountains and silvery waterfalls. Anything and everything there for the taking and all up for grabs for a penny a pitch.
While the kids stuffed the 'one armed bandits' with their parents hard earned cash in the hope of striking it big and investing in a lump of candy floss the size of a Magellanic cloud, the men would invariably find other ways to spend their penny. Hence we discover - the Mutoscope...

www.mechanicalmemoriesmuseum.co.uk
It was a simple enough device. You put a penny into the slot and turn a small handle (in the early models) while watching all your wildest fantasies being played out through a small shrouded screen. All the advertising around the device promised 'foreign' films, with suggestive titles such as 'what the butler saw', which implied limited censorship and thus lovely, yummy porn. Of course she's going to take off all of her clothes and cavort around naked for your personal viewing pleasure. There she goes now. First the dressing gown. Then the nightdress. Come on, come on (there's smoke coming off the rapidly rotating little handle). Now her stockings are coming off. You've got a headache because you're jamming your eager face up against the metal shroud. Okay, here we go. It's bra time. She reaches slowly up behind her. She's going to do it. She really is... Oops! Your penny ran out!
Your hands fly up and down your body searching your pockets desperately for another coin while your distorted face remains wedged into the shroud. You seek. You find. You insert the coin with sweaty fumbling fingers. The handle turns... and it's an entirely different movie. WTF!
Never mind. It's only a penny.
These machines were a ubiquitous part of any tourist town. Why? Because they made a great deal of money and no-one ever saw anything indecent.

In 'What the butler saw' I wanted to expand on the theme a little. What if for example, the punter got to see the entire film? What if that film contained material so profoundly offensive that the machine was taken and locked away somewhere deep and dark so that no-one could ever see it again? Then what if... Well, you get the idea.

What the butler saw - overview.

This is a narrative tale following the exploits of a museum curator called Harry who is drafted in to catalogue various unusual objects which have been unearthed after the discovery of a hidden room. Amongst the rediscovered treasures is a Mutoscope, and Harry, the thorough and diligent worker that he is, soon realises that if he's going to do the job properly he's going to have to know what the machine is showing. What he discovers leads him into the dark heart of one of the most infamous serial killers of all time.

Characters.

Harry. An all round good man. He's clever, hardworking and diligent, and it doesn't end there because there's a whole new side of him just waiting to be discovered. After all, it's not until we're pushed beyond our limits that we find out who we really are...

Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.

What the butler saw is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Home from home.



This is, in part at least, based on a true story. 'Absurd!' I hear you cry, but no, not at all. Pull up a sandbag and gather around...

When I was fourteen years old I had a school friend, who's real name shall remain a secret. Let's call him William.
William's parents had some spare money which they used to buy a holiday home on the Isles of Scilly, off the South West tip of England. They found a nice house for a fair price, although it did need a bit of tender loving care to bring it up to the standard to which they were accustomed.
Being practical people they were able to do a lot of the work themselves, and so, at the next available opportunity, they made a start.
Some of the floor boards in the old house were a little loose and so William's father decided to pull a few up to see if the substructure was sound. Underneath the dry and warped old planks they discovered, to their great delight, another floor, approximately six inches below the first.
This floor was different however... it was made of glass.
It should be understood that at the time this happened there was a bit of a rush on for character houses in which old and original features had been preserved alongside modern enhancements - a sort of steam punk retro-modernism, if such a thing exists, so it's no real surprise then that William's parents decided to rip up the entire wooden floor in favour of showing off the glass one.
But first it needed a bit of a polish...
William's mother set herself to the task with great vigour, scrubbing away decades worth of grime and dust and then polishing up the thick glass surface until it shone like new. Only she didn't get to the shiny part of the plan, because she suddenly began screaming hysterically.
Father and children ran to her rescue to see her ashen face staring downward. They all looked. They all saw. They all ran away.
Underneath the glass, and staring right back at them, were several of the house's previous occupants. All long dead and in various stages of decay, they had obviously loved the house so much that it was their idea of heaven and so they'd been buried there.
Apparently this is not an unusual practice in the Scilly Isles. There are several graveyards sporting glass topped graves so that visiting relatives can chat away to great grandad Albert while he gently moulders away to dust.
Now I'm not in the business of criticising the customs of another culture regardless of how close it is to my own (a matter of a perhaps two hundred miles from my town of birth geographically), but I think in this case a little forewarning by the realestate agent, who surely knew about the other occupants, wouldn't have gone amiss.
Shortly thereafter William's family put the house up for sale, and at something of a financial loss it seems.
This is a tasty story in itself but of course I couldn't let it rest there, so I've taken the idea and embellished it somewhat with a story entitled 'Home from Home'.

Home from home - outline.

This is a straight forward narrative following the story line development of a single character called Maria who inherits an old house. An old, creepy house that is, to everyone but her. She falls in love with its ramshackle appearance and its rampant, neglected gardens, much to the disappointment of her partner and children who want nothing to do with it. The house itself however, has an agenda of its own and is more than capable of deciding who lives there... and who dies there.

Characters.

Maria. A property developer with a driving ambition - to make lots of cold hard cash. She starts out as a bit of a bitch but softens as the tale progresses, by which time it's far too late. I tried to sympathise with her, I really did. It's just not something I'm good at. Still, all is not lost...


Rob. Maria's long suffering partner and father of her children. He spends most of his time being dragged along in her wake but in the end he finally puts his foot down, albeit in the wrong place.

The twins. Two lovely kids, even if they are a bit cheesy. Initially put off by the state of the place, the house wins them over in the end. Shame.

Greedyguts. The resident pet. A firm and faithful friend ...if he likes you that is.

Here's a link to the digital version from Smashwords.
 
Home from home is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.

For those who prefer a print version, Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Crones



The definition of a crone: 'a withered, witchlike old woman'.(Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary).

Penelope Darlin, the romantically challenged proprietor of the Lilac Grange nursing home, is regularly murdering her elderly residents in the name of profit. Next on her to do list is ninety one year old Catherine Scrivens, but Catherine is aware of Ms. Darlin's business model and determined not to go down without a fight she recruits two accomplices who are hell bent on getting to Penelope before Penelope gets to them.
Meanwhile Linda Hawthorne, a Grange staff member, inherits 'Mac Lir's gate', a strange and ancient artefact with the power to transport her to the Wildwood - a place of Celtic myth and legend. Intrigued by Mac Lir's gate Linda begins to experiment with its power and inadvertently releases the Black Dog, a vicious and predatory creature who wants the gate and who will do anything necessary to possess it.
When the paths of these characters clash the fates of two worlds are up for grabs.
In Crones there is romance, tragedy and comedy, ably assisted by Banshees, talking animals, Celtic spirits, murder in the tool shed and three delightful old ladies with a dark and bloody secret... and a zombie.


Crones is the third tale in the Luddensley Chronicles, a set of dark fiction stories that share a common geographical setting, that of Luddensley village and Neerthorpe town. Crones is slightly unusual in that all of the main characters are female, and  the most memorable of these (in my opinion), are also geriatrics.
It's not easy depicting elderly women as action heroes, after all most of the heroes we are accustomed to have all their own teeth, and hips that don't creak when they walk, but there's a lot to be said for grim determination and no-one gets to live to ninety one without having the will to do so. It is that will to live that is put to the test in this tale.
I like old folks - I really do. I remember once finding myself in the local community centre sharing a room with perhaps fifteen elderly residents who were gathered for a cheap lunch and a good old chin wag. It occurred to me that if I added all of their approximate ages together, (all were between sixty five and seventy), the result would amount to something in the region of a thousand years.
I'll say that again - A thousand years, of life experience in the same room. Different names, different places. Heartbreak, achievement, joy, loss, knowledge and skill. If they could be somehow combined into one person they could rule the world, and yet the only thing that the young folk were asking them was if their sandwiches were okay.
In Crones I wanted to give something back, to let the oldies have another crack of the whip. Those familiar with the 1985 movie 'Cocoon' will remember seeing formerly decrepit people suddenly invigorated after swimming in a pool with alien artifacts. The issue for me was that having regained the energy of youth they immediately went out and started making all the same mistakes that young folk make. Not a chance. They may possibly do the same things - but they'd do them a whole lot better!
Crones follows a different line because the idea that old people have to be given youth in order to be of value is itself a puerile perspective. In my world the elderly stay elderly and despite painfully arthritic joints, lack of teeth and poor bladder control, when it comes to the scrum they get up and fight just like they always have.

Main characters.

Penelope Darlin. One of the most self centred, neurotic and fundamentally nasty characters I've ever created. She's the owner of the Lilac Grange nursing home and she runs it like a holocaust campaign. As far as dear Penelope is concerned the residents are merely commodities and when they've lost their value they're shipped out... in boxes. Penelope is in a world entirely her own but in the end she's going to have to find room for someone else or die trying.

Linda Hawthorne. A grange staff member who's about to go to hell and back after inheriting an ornate box with magical properties. She's all alone, save for a few close friends, and fighting to save the world. The real pity is that the world doesn't even know that it's happening. Nevertheless our Linda just keeps on giving.

Catherine Scrivens. A ninety one year old lady who still has plenty of life in her and who is determined to keep it for as long as possible. Her late husband was a military man and she herself was something of an adventurer. She's a tough old bird who, as the tale progresses, will learn just how tough she really is.

Doris Walsh. Hard and strong, Doris has been a worker all of her life. She's stoic and pragmatic and she takes no shit. If something has to be done you can rely on her to be the first in line to do it.

Gloria Brooke. A lady with more secrets than the CIA, Gloria should never be underestimated. She appears somewhat dimwitted but then again you can never be sure with Gloria. Her morality is significantly more flexible than a rubber pole dancer and she's capable of anything, just ask her about the funnel and the jelly beans!

Cat. He's... well... a cat. But he's also a great deal more, and when he's on your team things become a whole lot easier to handle. On the other hand, maybe that's just the cat's perspective. Everyone else either sees him as a pain in the arse, or not at all. Not that he cares either way.

Crones is available worldwide in all digital formats and in print.

Enjoy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thaddeus.


Hector Crane is a funeral director with no-one to bury. Business is at a standstill, he's on the verge of bankruptcy and his delinquent apprentices are stealing both from him and his dear departed clients. Just when he thinks things can't get any worse he receives a letter from a man whom he thought long dead, who owns half of his business, and who will be knocking on his door very soon looking for answers.

Enter Thaddeus Moribund, arriving from God knows where, and who by Hector's reckoning should be at least ninety years old but appears half that. As the weeks progress, Hector can only watch powerless as Thaddeus overturns every aspect of his life in a bid to pull the business through. But there's more to Thaddeus than this, immeasurably more. Thaddeus' story unfolds in a series of revelations that span two millennia, beginning in Biblical Jerusalem and ending in modern day England.

Thaddeus Moribund is on a mission of his own that has nothing to do with Hector Crane but which will nonetheless challenge Hector's patience, his strength, his concept of good and evil and finally his sanity as the connection between them is ultimately revealed.

 ***

Originally titled : 'The return of Thaddeus Moribund' - Thaddeus  is effectively book one of the Luddensley chronicles although admittedly it didn't start out that way. The initial idea for the story was prompted by a simple question: why do people do the things they do?

I have a friend, she's young, attractive and intelligent, and yet she's chosen the role of mortician as her profession. Every day she goes to work and puts makeup on dead people, she washes their naked, limp, blue-white bodies, drains their cold black blood and replaces it with a cocktail of nasty chemicals, she takes frequently nauseating, possibly fly ridden, cadavers and puts a great deal of effort into making them look presentable for their final journey.

This begs a question though doesn't it? Why the hell does the average person want to do a job like that?

Of course it has to be done, I won't dispute that, but why does someone who has the choice want a job like this in preference to say, bar work for example? Wouldn't you suspect, upon meeting the aforementioned young lady in a night club, that she was perhaps a little askew?

I mean, if you ever meet a middle aged overweight, stubble chinned man standing behind a bush in the park, wearing a big overcoat in mid summer and squinting at you through thick, wire framed glasses, who drools as he tells you that he's always  wanted to work with children, you're not going to let your kids within twenty miles of the bloke are you? You may immediately begin to suspect that he has motives other than being America's next top nanny and you make a mental note of his facial features in case you're ever questioned by the police.

In Thaddeus  I decided to take all of the above implications and stereotypes and then turn them on their heads. Just as the reader is sure who the heroes and the villains are, the entire tale does an about face and everyone is suddenly cast into doubt.

I like my villains to be complex. I like them to be nasty of course, but the reasons for their behaviour must also be known which leads to some degree of empathy with the reader and thus the victory of the hero is inevitably tinged with remorse.

My style of writing usually involves several timelines and characters that intertwine and affect each other without neccessarily being aware of so doing, and Thaddeus  is no different in that the character of Thaddeus himself is on a mission that is tangential to that of Hector Crane but in the end changes Hector's life forever.

Thaddeus  is at once a very tragic tale and darkly comedic. It opens with one of my favourite lines:

'Death is as popular now as it's always been...'

I remember being very much into the work of Terry Pratchett (an author capable of tremendous dark insight) at the time of writing and I think that his talent for the double entendre influenced this sentence. That's not to imply that Thaddeus  is in any way Pratchettesque (new word alert), far from it, because it doesn't involve the parallel world fantasy that Mr. Pratchett is famous for. It does have a very strong supernatural backdrop to the main character however, a plot line which is uncovered quite late in the day but which serves to enlighten the reader about who Thaddeus actually is. I changed the title in favour of Thaddeus  prior to publication because I feared that the original title implied that the book was a sequel, and who would want to read a sequel if they hadn't read the one before it?

Thaddeus' characters are motivated to do the wrong (often quite despicable) things for the right reasons, and vice versa, which leaves the reader unsure how to feel about them. This is deliberate because I'm attempting to explore their motivations to add depth and interest to the story line.

Main characters.

Hector Crane. A funeral director with a family business that's fading fast. He can't figure out why, with people dying all over the place, he's not getting any trade. He receives a mysterious letter heralding the arrival of an even more mysterious visitor and from then on his life begins to spiral out of control.

Thaddeus Joshua Moribund. The mysterious visitor who can't possibly be as young as he appears. He seems determined to revive the ailing business but his ideas fly in the face of Hector's more conventional outlook creating instant distrust and no small degree of resentment on Hector's part. As the plot develops Hector feels increasingly helpless and frustrated, a situation of which Thaddeus seems entirely ignorant, but Thaddeus has been in this business for a very  long time and has no regard for Hector's petty whining.

Janice Feathers. The company accountant. She's a middle aged woman with a nineteen year old soul who is looking down on life from a very high shelf. Desperate for love she is comedically needy and everyone knows it, but there's something in store for this gold hearted lady - something big.

Philip 'Ginger' Wilson. One of the company apprentices. A not too bright but nonetheless extremely cunning young man who, in partnership with his cousin Gordon, is determined to steal everything that's not nailed down. Things get bad for him when Thaddeus arrives and Ginger decides that there just isn't room in the company for two villains and that Thaddeus must go. He then dreams up an elaborate plan aimed at Thaddeus' demise. In several ways he bites off considerably more than he can chew.

Gordon 'Gordy' Wilson. Ginger's even less intelligent cousin. The villainous side kick who is the Laurel to Ginger's Hardy. He's not really a villain as such, just deeply misled and fiercely loyal. He is left, toward the climax of the tale, at a fork in the road of his life, whereupon he chooses to shine - as the darkest of things often do.

The extras. A plethora of characters, many of which are dead, that suffer the fallout from the dark machinations that define the relationships between the above people.

As an early work Thaddeus  was a grand experiment. I like to think of myself as a fairly normal person and when I read I tend to pick a character to identify with. So what happens when, having picked such a character and become accustomed to sitting inside their skin and living their life, that person, who is by now as comfortable as old shoes or a warm bath, suddenly turns out to have bodies in the basement? This was the process that I aimed for when writing the story. So pick a character, any character, but don't get too comfortable, and just in case you select Thaddeus Moribund himself as your ride, there are some excellent recipes in the back of the book.



Virtually all of your favourite on-line ebook sellers will be able to provide Thaddeus in ebook, Apple, Sony, Nookbook and Kindle formats using the digital ISBN: 978-0-473183-02-8.

Alternatively it can be bought in print from any online bookstore or ordered by your local book seller using ISBN: 978-1-906755-18-8.

'Am I right in thinking that... you actually intend to eat him?'