Story: Cut Me Up

Posted: November 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

A dark and miserable dusk crept over the city’s suburbs like a shroud. The full flow of the evening rush-hour was easing off, rivers of light flooding from the city, reflecting on the wet tarmac. For cyclists and pedestrians outside of the car’s warm embrace, the dull roar was painful after a few minutes, echoing in the bones and chambers of the inner ear.

Black was soaking wet, despite the snug-fitting lycra. The stench of exhaust-fumes burned the inside of his nose. The sodium-orange glow shone on the grey clouds above, whenever he glanced upwards in search of respite from the hiss of passing cars. The bike wheels zipped through kerbside puddles, throwing up spray onto his exposed shins. His feet were soaked through. He was in a hurry to get home, whizzing along at twenty miles per hour, nearly as fast as the traffic, which was thankfully thinning out.

The cycle lane ended just ahead as the road narrowed. Black glanced backwards. There was a gap in the traffic, headlights a rainy blur some distance away, so he eased out into the road. He was making good time, and pushed hard on the pedals, slipping the gears downwards to gain speed.

A guttural roar echoed behind him. His heart sank. Boy racers. He snatched a rearwards glance and saw the dirty white car roaring towards him, ignoring the speed limit. He looked ahead. The road curved in the distance but did not widen as it weaved through the outer limits of suburbia. His only options were to pull over or to continue. The driver revved the engine behind him. Well, fuck them, thought Black. If they weren’t such twats, I would pull over.  He pedalled faster, slipping the gears upwards, and he reckoned he was doing thirty miles an hour or so, just within the speed limit.

The speed limit did not concern the car behind him. The horn beeped, lights flashed and he could nearly feel the bumper nudging the rear wheel of the bike as the car roared behind him. He looked backwards and glimpsed two scumbags in the car, shaven heads, tattoos and gold chains. Their mouths roared in feral outrage, eyes narrowed to slits.

Bollocks, thought Black, it just isn’t worth it. He pulled over to the side and the car roared past, forcing him onto the roadside. But he made sure he gave it the finger, middle digit upraised in the universal gesture of “Fuck You”.

Then the car’s brakelights flashed anger-red and it screamed to a halt. The doors opened and two men poured out on either side, ignorant of the pouring rain and

“Wot you saying, you facking cant,” roared the driver, his England football shirt darkening with raindrops. “You reckon you’re facking hard, you facking twat?” His finger jabbed like a knife and the other fist clenched.

“I’ll facking DOO YOO,” grunted the passenger, his eyes and mouth bulging in outrage like his stomach which strained against his poloshirt.

Both men walked towards Black.

Ohh fuck…. he thought. He reached down for the bicycle pump strapped to the frame, a short-handled stubby object.

The two men stopped short of Black, raindrops plinking on their shaved heads.

“Wot the fack you gonna do with that, mate?” laughed the driver.

“I’ll stick it up your FACKIN ARSE!” spat the passenger.

Black pumped it once and then bent the handle backwards at an angle. He pointed it at the passenger and it spat with a brief hiss.  The man’s left eye vanished in a burst of blood and he fell to his knees.

The driver froze, his mouth flapping like a fish. “Wot …. wot …”

“Wot wot indeed, you twat,” said Black, as he reached into his pouch. The combination spanner glinted in the headlight glare. One edge was sharpened and Black slid his fingers through the spanner-holes, turning the tool into a razor-sharp knuckleduster. “Two-two calibre rimfire, dickhead.”

Black wheeled towards the driver and slashed, slicing through forearms and throat. The man collapsed forward onto the roadside, blood pouring from his neck-wound in a crimson rush.  Traffic began to queue up behind them, and a puzzled driver rolled down his window.

“Teach you to cut me up,” he hissed at the dead men, and then he pedalled away, just a cyclist in black, as the police would later be told.

Cats … coming soon!

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Here’s a preview of Cats. This novel will be written in November as part of National Novel Writing Month in November. It is a tribute to James  Herbert’s early stories, especially The Rats, and intended for fun as an ebook release. There was a novel by Nick Sharman called The Cats, released in 1977, that wasn’t well-received by critics, who saw it as an attempt to cash in on Herbert’s genre of natural phenomenon horror.  The plot is quite simple … natural bacterium occurring in cats, which subverts human behaviour, is genetically modified with dire consequences. Toxoplasma gondii occurs in cats and has been linked with cat and human behaviour, including schizophrenia (about half of humans apparently carry the bacterium worldwide). They didn’t have genetic modification techniques back in the 70s otherwise it might have been seized upon by Herbert and those he inspired at the time.

James Herbert is a good and underrated writer, worth a read even if you don’t particularly like horror.

Thanks to Lesley Carus and David Cooper for the graphic.

Rock Opera TO2C!

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

My Rock Opera concept! A Tale of Two Cities, or TO2C The Rock Opera…. on ice!

Come on Lloyd Webber, phone me back…..

My novel ‘By The Sword’ has been accepted for publication! The publisher will be Wild Wolf Publishing, who specialise in dark and edgy fiction. I have already published ‘Storm Coming Down’ in their ‘Holiday of the Dead’ anthology. This is great news and really exciting but there is one lesson that comes out of the experience for writers: finishing the novel is when the hard work really begins. I suspect there is a second lesson: getting a publishing contract is when the really hard work really begins. The book must be marketed and promoted, brought out into the public domain so that people know about it and can decide whether to buy it or not (hopefully the former!)

Anyway, enough of the technicah stuff. Here is my attempt at the blurb:

A macabre discovery in a city cemetery…

A political scandal engulfing the city…

A samurai-obsessed swordsman on the rampage…

 The severed body parts point to one man: gangland killer ‘Banzai Billy’ Boyle.

 What lies at the root of his obsession with the bushido culture of Japan? How is he linked to sleazy politician  and prospective MP ‘Big Jim’ McConnarty? Are the walls of Barlinnie Prison secure enough to contain him? Can police crime analyst Grace Andrew track him down before she becomes the next victim?

 This conspiracy unravels in horrific detail as it twists and turns from the grimy backstreets of Glasgow to the cherry-blossom groves of Japan, where it reaches a terrifying and gut-wrenching conclusion.

Kill The Rich

Posted: September 15, 2011 in Stories

The mansion was unmistakable.  Floodlights poured up into the sky, splashing on the undersides of the clouds and dripping light back down to earth.  The unearthly glow sucked the last remnants of light from the surrounding darkness.  They had stumbled along the ditch, trying hard not look straight ahead at their destination, night-blind in the inky gloom. They had evaded checkpoints and patrols so far.  They did not fear sensors, because the seclusion of the mansion encouraged foraging wildlife leading to false alarms.  The party tonight would be packed with drunken revellers, plastered on £500 bottles of champagne, wandering through the ornamental grounds in search of sex, smoking or merely solitude.

The ornamental lake was the easiest point of entry.  The wall went all around, eight feet in height and capped with broken glass.  The bright lights did not extend this far on the wall’s inside as the pool of darkness created an illusion of vast size for the lake.  The broken glass was weathered and worn with wind and rain, and unlikely to be sharp enough to tear the ripstop nylon of the jumpsuits they wore.

First over the wall was Dave.  He was smallest and quickest.  He knelt for a few moments in the boggy grass, scanning the distant slopes with a practiced eye.  The bright light would make him invisible to silhouetted observers lingering outside the mansion, but it was patrolling guards he was more concerned about.  After a few minutes, he was content that there were no stationary observers between them and their target location.  All the guards were probably outside the perimeter, spread thinly around the main roads, and they had managed to bypass them using ditches and culverts. Dave whistled, a low sound, and slipped the rifle onto his back before sliding onto his stomach.  He heard Pete’s boots squelch softly into the earth behind him, as he crawled towards the light.  Leopard crawl, they had called it in the Army, but that had been a long time ago.

Pete crouched and watched as Dave crawled along the side of the lake.  The dark waters stretched nearly to the walls, but not quite, and flies buzzed in the nearby reed-bed.  He raised his rifle to his shoulder, scanning across the top of the metal sight, finger along the trigger-guard and thumb resting gently on the safety-catch.  They had cocked their weapons earlier, a brass-jacketed round in each chamber and twenty-nine nestling below in each spring-fed magazine.  Once Dave was close to the wall, Pete advanced in a crouch, cradling the rifle like the baby he had held in his arms so long ago.  It had been as cold as the gunmetal in his hand.  He heard the wet thump of Sarah as she hit the ground, the last in the trio of assassins.

Sarah watched Pete and Dave in the distance, their black forms making steady progress towards the bright lights. She didn’t have a rifle, but there was a pistol belted to her waist and a satchel-bag containing six grenades.  It had been a long journey, on the exhaust coughing bus from dismal city to desolate country town.  It was the first time she had left the city since the death of their baby, who hadn’t lived long enough to enjoy a name.  The hospital had been short-staffed, short of drugs, dirty and filthy, but it had fed the pockets of the shareholders and executives who claimed to have run the trust, and the banks that owned everything.  Pete hadn’t even been sure he could have fathered a child, after the cocktail of drugs they had forced into his arm in the desert war so long ago. After a year of trying, they had succeeded, just as the country slid into chaos and the billionaires had fled overseas and behind high walls.  Nine months of anticipation, a flash of elation and then heartbreaking emptiness. She didn’t even feel anguish any more, just hate.

Dave glanced over his shoulder and saw the two black forms behind him.  He smiled and gratitude swelled in his chest.  He was doubly grateful, as they had taken him in off the street despite the baby that had been due, and because he now had this opportunity to repay them.  Pete had recognized him one day, slumped in drunken oblivion and nearly hypothermic under sleet-soaked cardboard.  Hang on a minute, Sarah, that’s Dave, from the Army.  His strength had slowly returned, a mirror of the life growing Sarah’s swelling womb, and he had slept in the floored attic of their one-bedroom flat, the three of them against the world, making the most of the food parcels doled out by a disinterested government.  The couple had been far more help than the useless stress counsellor, who had gone simply through the motions to collect the government consultancy fee for the health trust and their bosses. And then there had been the unspeakable tragedy, the hollow emptiness that followed, and the rage that had slowly filled the void.  His thoughts snapped shut.  He was past the lake and at the slope, close to bursting the bubble of light around the mansion. He checked the pouch strapped to his side. It was jam-packed with a dozen rifle magazines, neck downwards, three hundred and sixty rounds of ammunition.  They were so tightly packed that they did not rattle and the only sound was the swishing of the powder-grains in the cartridge cases.  He crouched down and raised the rifle to his shoulder.

Pete watched as Dave halted.  He raised his own rifle and looked down the sight. He had always been a better shot than Dave, so his role was to fire single shots as his friend unleashed automatic mayhem.   He scanned the ground in the distance, nearly three hundred yards away.  Classical music drifted across the warm night air and black-suited men mingled on a parade-square terrace with brightly gowned women, some resembling elegant flowers and others looking like garish whores. Some of the faces in the bright goldfish-bowl were instantly recognisable from the newspaper: the former prime minister and his overdressed wife, bloated and rich on the proceeds of office, oil-smooth politicians gliding around the terrace leaving a sheen in their wake, banking magnates who had been disgraced by their greed and rehabilitated by the taxpayer, the media tycoons who ran a swathe of glossy and pornographic titles, the dour-faced captains of industry and the overtanned and whitetoothed celebrities. A younger crowd cavorted on the fringes of the group, guzzling champagne as young women spilled out of tight dresses. They gorged on caviar and cocktails, bloated on money soaked in the blood and sweat of others, feeding on the glow of fame and power radiated as brightly and noisily as the floodlights and music cutting through the night. The rifle sight rose and fell with his breathing, and he aimed at a bulky figure loitering at one end of the patio who looked suspiciously like a bodyguard. He would be the first to fall, followed by the two others lounging womanless in front of a French window with only their eyes moving.

Sarah slid past Pete’s poised figure, rummaging in her satchel for the first grenade. The smooth and cold eggshape contained dozens of steel fragments embedded in explosive and would kill up to twenty yards from the detonation point. She checked her watch, grenade clenched in her right hand.  Two minutes to midnight.  Two minutes to go. She ran through the procedure for throwing the grenade.  Pull pin using two hands, throw and take cover. Pull pin using two hands…

 The guests froze night erupted in noise and flame and the bodyguards jerked towards the noise. Then everyone relaxed. It was only fireworks. They burst into multicoloured shapes, roaring as they sprayed colour through the air, cracking, fizzing and popping. Only one dinner-suited man moved, and he turned towards a servant with a puzzled frown.  He had not ordered fireworks. Then, they froze again as the second wave of fireworks burst through the drifting smoke.

Pete’s rifle bucked and the first bodyguard fell. He aimed again, and again, and two more shapes fell, the arrow on his optical sight rising and falling each time.   The air-breaking cracks of his shots were lost in the roar of automatic gunfire from nearby.

Dave was not subtle.  He knelt and fired, three round bursts each time, metal scything though expensive fabric and perfumed flesh, ripping through alcohol-soaked organs and foie gras fed stomachs.  He was close enough to smell the warm blood as it sprayed from ragged wounds in the vortex-wake of tumbling bullets.  The survivors of the massacre fled screaming towards the double-doors, into the building in search of sanctuary, forming a bottleneck as figures fought to get through. He changed his first magazine just as Sarah ran past him.

Sarah held her grenade tightly, ring-pull around one finger and metal ball in the opposite hand.  It was warm from her flesh by now. She pulled her hands apart, and the pin popped free.  She threw the grenade over-arm, ducking as the lever pinged free.  It fell amongst the milling crowd, who didn’t even notice it until it exploded with a dull crump.  By that time, Sarah had the second grenade in her hand.

Pete scanned either side of the mansion.  Gravel crunched on the right as dark figures ran towards the slaughter, silhouettes clasping handguns.  Two of them fell in quick succession, bloodspray briefly haloing their heads.  Pete’s third shot missed.

Dave rammed the second magazine home just as the first clattered emptily as it hit the ground. He released the bolt and looked up and over his iron-sight, grinning at the carnage in front of him.  Two dozen bodies lay still or twitching, blood flowing across the flagstoned terrace, trickling onto the steps towards the grassy slope and the lake.  The night air stank of gunsmoke, bloodmeat, shit and terror.  About half of the crowd had forced their way inside, and many of these lay torn apart by shrapnel and shattered glass. Dave raised his rifle and began firing once again, longer bursts into the frantic cluster of fleeing figures.

Sarah threw the second grenade, this time managing to get it inside the house.  It burst loudly, the bang echoing in the drawing-room, followed by the tinkling of more broken glass.  She could imagine a chandelier shattering into deadly fragments and it made her smile.

Pete switched the fire selector lever to automatic.  There were more dark figures running around the side of the building, too many to pick off with single shots.  There was a burst of light and flame and something whizzed past his head.  They were now firing back.  Pete fired short bursts towards them and one figure fell, but more bullets zipped by his own head.  He squeezed the trigger and a long burst ripped into the night air. That was supposed to be the signal for retreat, but Dave appeared lost in his own world, muzzle-flashes illuminating a feral grin on his face.  Sarah threw a third grenade and retreated as gunfire reached towards them. She turned in puzzlement towards Pete, and he beckoned her, jerking his head to one side in a gesture to retreat.

Dave jerked as a pistol-bullet tore through his upper right arm and into his chest.  His vision darkened as blood threatened to burst his brain.  Bastard dumdum, he thought through the haze of pain. They had modified their ammunition to spread on impact and cause maximum damage. He collapsed onto his stomach and rolled back onto his side, fixing a fourth magazine and ignoring the agony flaring from his shredded flesh.  This time he fired on full automatic into the group of bodyguards and protection officers.  Some of them had submachine guns as well, and the rounds tore into his body as the rifle bolt clicked open on an empty chamber. Wish I had a fucking bayonet, he thought, as he fell forward and died.

There was a flash and a crump as Sarah threw her fourth grenade. Tears pricked her eyes as she watched Dave’s body jerk with the impact of the explosion, which also tore into their pursuers. He won’t feel anything anyway, she thought, as she turned and ran, darting past the kneeling Pete and scrambling up the wall, ditching her satchel on the way.

Pete fired single shots again, seeking to put down individuals. There was a siren-wail from nearby and it wouldn’t be long before helicopters were airborne, to carry away the injured but also to seek down their killers with infra-red and night-vision equipment.  They didn’t have long. The bolt jerked open on an empty chamber and he through down the rifle, scrambling up the wall and jumping over the other side after the waiting Sarah, who knelt by the fireworks she had set up earlier. She was so beautiful, he thought, her eyes burning with bloodlust and passion. He kissed her, tongue probing, tasting blood on her lips, his own arousal stirring as adrenaline surged through his body. They couldn’t linger.  Sorrow dampened his soul as he remembered how Dave had fallen, but somehow he thought that was exactly what he had wanted.

They jogged back the way they had came, ducking into slime-filled culverts and ditches. They had a small window of opportunity to get away, as the authorities regrouped at the mansion, secured the perimeter and dealt with the injured and dying. They wanted to live, but only to do this again, to kill the rich until they died in the attempt and to encourage others to follow their example.  The roar of helicopter rotors tore through the night sky above, and they froze for a moment, clinging to each other. But they had each other, and also Sarah’s pistol.

FREE STORY: Pyramid of the Cybermen

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Stories

Ancient Egypt, 1500BC

The night sky hangs like a velvet cloak over the darkened Nile valley.  All is silent, in the bazaars, in the temple and in the palace of the Pharaoh.  But, with a sudden flash, the inky blackness is rent asunder by bright light.  The star falls Earthwards in silence, casting long shadows as it descends.  The High Priest is wrenched from sleep by the ground-shattering impact and stands at the temple window as he watches the afterglow fade from the sky.  He closes his eyes in sorrow at the event, before turning to the hieroglyphs on the chamber wall.  For this was foretold by the ancients, the falling of a star in the Valley of the Kings.

Egypt, 1921

The ancient brickwork collapses as the men force their way through into the chamber, their lanterns and torches fluttering in the fetid darkness.  The small vault is lined with hieroglyphs and scattered with the relics of an ancient civilisation.  But the torchlight flickers on the most dominant objects, three sarcophagi stacked against the far wall.  The left and right coffins are of medium height, golden masked and bejewelled beneath the dust of ages.  Small silver scarab-beetles are strewn across the floor and these glint in the yellow light.

‘Amazing,’ breathes the archaeologist.  ‘Completely undisturbed.  The grave-robbers never penetrated this far.’  He shines the lantern on the centre coffin, which dominates the other two.  It is far larger, and mostly silver rather than gold, except for the mask, which shines untarnished.  The golden mask has only blank ovals for eyes and a slit for a mouth, in contrast to the elaborately carved features of the other two coffins.

One of the labourers hisses in shock and drops his torch casting a shadow over the room.  ‘Effendi,’ he cries, ‘it is cursed!’  The two labourers throw down their torches and flee in terror, leaving only the wan lamplight of the archaeologist’s lantern, which shines upon the centre coffin.  And, on the stone floor below, the silver scarabs stir as darkness descends upon the room.

London, 1976

‘What do you think?’  The young bearded man in the Deep Purple T-shirt hunched eagerly over the table.

‘I like it,’ said Philip, a relatively young man in his early thirties.  ‘What about you, Robert?’

The older man Robert nodded.  ‘It’s good.  It’s got everything.  Cybermen, ancientEgypt, horror. It’ll certainly get a few letters from the Viewers and Listeners’ Association, all signed by Mrs Whitehouse.’

Derek sat in silent anticipation.  The good news was usually followed by bad news.

Philip scratched his chin.  ‘Only problem is that it might be repetitious.  God knows we get enough stick for that at the moment.  We’ve done Egypt with the Pyramids of Mars last season, and the Cybermen in the first season’.  He turned to the dishevelled figure at the other end of the table.  ‘What do you think, Tom?’

Derek cringed inwardly as the Doctor leaned on the table, head in his hands.

‘I like it, in fact I like it a lot.’  The Doctor was bored of the stuffy room and the pubs would soon be open.  ‘It reminds me of Tomb of the Cybermen, and maybe we could pay tribute to that.  Would Pat Troughton be interested in a cameo?’

Derek sighed in relief and tried to focus on the ping-pong of the three way debate between the script editor, producer and the Doctor.

‘Probably not unless it was a Three Doctors type thing again,’ said Robert.  ‘But I like the idea of an ambitious Cyberman adventure, and to be honest we’ve done nothing really good with them since Invasion.’

‘Revenge of the Cybermen was a bit crap, to be honest,’ said the Doctor. ‘Running around those caves. We could definitely do better.  Maybe we could use some stuff from the British Museum?  Mummy cases, you know, that sort of thing?’  He lit up a cigarette.

‘Good idea,’ said Robert.  ‘It’ll save on production costs.  I know some people over there, from documentary work.  They’ll be happy with the publicity, particularly with all the cuts hanging over us all.  In fact we could even film some of it on location, in the storage vaults.  That would save on studio time, and I doubt they’d let us take anything offsite anyway.’

The Doctor slapped the table. ‘Wonderful,’ he boomed.  ‘Well done, young Derek.  Now who fancies a pint?’

Derek nearly slipped on the twisting stairway down into the basement of the British Museum.  He couldn’t understand how the crew had got the equipment down there, let alone the sarcophagi.  When he reached the whitewashed corridor at the bottom, he understood.  There was a service lift just opposite.  Doorways opened up into a number of vaulted chambers, and he followed the power cables to the third entrance on the left.  He nearly gasped as he looked inside.

The scenery people had worked wonders with his idea.  Sheets hung from the vaulted ceiling, painted to resemble stone blocks carved with hieroglyphs.  The centrepiece was a deathly triptych of three coffins, the middle one upright against the wall.  This was the largest, and clearly constructed of plywood, unlike the other two artefacts.  The blank cyber-face was styled in gold, cybernetic cables and piping outlined in silver and paste-stone gems.

‘Good, isn’t it.’  The man held a clipboard with storyboard sketches.  ‘I’m Justin, assistant director.’

Derek shook his hand and glanced around at the wider activity in the vaulted room.  Two cameras had been erected, and a boom mike hung over the set.  Arc-lights cast a hot glow on the set and some polystyrene blocks were stacked to one side, to be knocked out later by the archaeologists.  Painted plywood plinths held genuine Egyptian artefacts, canopic jars and busts of the jackal-god Anubis, Lord of the Dead.

‘Those two are Unknown Mummy from the 5th Century and the Priestess of Amon-Ra, 6th Century.  They’re not getting paid for this, or even credited.  So the production manager loves this.  We’ve reused some of the stuff from Pyramids of Mars and some art students painted the tarpaulins, just to get on the credits.  The union won’t like it, but we’re on location so they probably won’t know.  And these relics set the whole thing off wonderfully.’

What about the crew and cast?  What do they think?’

‘Bit of grumbling, as it’s too far from the canteen.  But the Doctor loves it.’  Justin smiled.  ‘He’s found a wine bar in Bloomsbury where he lunches with his cronies. He pops in now and again, usually pissed as a fart.’  The assistant producer laughed.  ‘In fact, he was in here yesterday, as we were setting up.  He was mobbed by children and must have signed a hundred autographs.  Then he threw up in the toilet.’

Derek realised something was missing.  ‘What about the Tardis?’

‘It really is smaller than it looks from the outside.  It’s assembled on location.’

A man rushed over, carrying a headset.  ‘Justin, we have a problem.’

‘What is it, Dave?’

‘No sound tapes.  They haven’t been delivered. I phoned the workshop from upstairs, and they don’t have a record of our order.  They’re all in use.’

‘What?  That’s just fucking ridiculous.’

‘They lost a batch on Jim’ll Fix It.’

‘Maybe they should write in and ask Jim to fix them some new fucking tapes!’  Justin threw the clipboard on the ground in frustration.

‘If you go across, you might be able to throw some weight around, or get Philip onto it.’  Dave shrugged.  ‘I’ve done all I can, and the guys are just sitting around upstairs.’

‘Okay.’  Justin sighed.  ‘Tell the guys to knock off for the day.  They won’t be paid, but get them a round in, when the pubs open.’  He handed over a crumpled note. ‘I’ll see if I can sort this shit out for tomorrow.’  He turned to Derek.  ‘Could you do me a favour, mate?’

‘What’s that?’

‘Hang around here for a bit.  Tell the rest of the crew and cast to pack it in for the day, when they show up.  We’ve got two Egyptians, an archaeologist, a Pharaoh and a High Priest.  That’s three actors plus the make-up girls.  Then ask the porter to lock up for the night.’


‘Cheers, I owe you one. You’re working for free, you see.’

Derek was left alone in the vaulted room, dimly lit from the light bulb dangling above.  The crew had switched off the arc-lights before leaving.  He picked up the storyboard, flicking through the sketched images and scenes.  Shortly afterwards, the make-up girls appeared, and he sent them homewards, unhappy and unpaid.  Then, the actors came and went, more sanguine as they were used to this sort of thing and were slightly tipsy anyway.  And, once again, Derek was left alone.

He walked around the vault, running his hands over the mummy-cases.  Their painted faces looked up at his own, dark eyes of the priestess still lustrous even after centuries and millennia, the unknown mummy’s features harder to discern.  The musk of mummification seeped through the coffins, an odour of mildewed linen, dust and spices.  And, in the centre, was the imposing sarcophagus of the Cyberman, gold mask over the plasterboard lid.  He pulled it ajar.  Inside, the silvery carapace gleamed in the dim light, as did the golden mask over the familiar head.

Derek froze as the light overhead flickered.  Something was coming down the stairs, thump after thump.  Then a shadow loomed in the doorway.

‘Good afternoon,’ boomed the Doctor.  He held up a bottle of wine, half-empty. ‘Or maybe it’s half-full,’ he roared.   ‘You’ve been examining my arch-enemy, I see?’

‘Just having a look,’ mumbled Derek.  ‘It’s quite a display.  That’s not actually a person in there, is it?’  He felt stupid asking the question, even as it had formed on his lips.

 ‘No,’ said the Doctor, in a serious tone.  ‘That’s a pain in the arse job, being a Cyberman.  The head is screwed on, and you can hardly see out of it, and you sweat like a pig.  They’ll have put a dummy in there, for the time being.’  He walked around the deserted equipment, fiddling with the cameras.  ‘Wonder how these work?’  After tweaking a few knobs, he gave up.

‘What do you think?’  The Doctor gestured with a sweeping arm.  ‘Wonderful, isn’t it?’

‘It’s great, they’ve really captured what I was thinking about,’ said Derek.  ‘I’m really pleased you like the script.’

‘I loved it!’ boomed the Doctor, as he plonked himself down on a faux-stone block.  ‘It’s what the children want, to be thrilled and scared.  They love a bit of horror, or at least I did when I was a lad.’  He swigged from the wine bottle.  ‘But some people are on their high horse.  Mary bloody Whitehouse, for a start.  Even Robert Holmes reckons that young ones shouldn’t watch it.  But he’s wrong, because I speak to kids all the bloody time!’

‘What – ‘  Derek couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

‘It won’t last forever.’  The Doctor sighed.  ‘I tell myself I might as well make the most of it.  Most of the time I think I am the fucking Doctor.’  He laughed.  ‘Except bloody jelly babies.  I can’t stand them.  I carry this scarf around all the time, just in case there are kids around.’

He flicked the end of the scarf at Derek.  The clothes weren’t too dissimilar from his on-screen wardrobe, shabby and subdued browns.  All he needed was the hat.

The Doctor took a swig of wine.  ‘They’re always trying to change the show, but they don’t understand the Doctor the way the kids do.  The number of times I’ve had to put my foot down, it’s unreal.’  He looked Derek straight in the eye with a piercing glare.  ‘I wrote Liz Sladen’s departure, do you know that?’  He shrugged.  ‘I suppose not, it hasn’t been aired yet, but that’s why Sarah Jane was written out of your script.’  After another mouthful of wine, he sighed.  ‘They’ll write me out as well, eventually, and it’ll be younger, fresher, hipper, more appealing.  Or so they’ll tell themselves.’

Derek looked at his watch.  ‘Err….I think they might be locking up soon.’  He grinned.  ‘Fancy a pint, though?  It’s great talking to you.’

‘Okay!’  The Doctor staggered up from his seat.  ‘Lead on, my faithful assistant.’  He lingered by the camera.  ‘In fact, let’s get a shot of you beside the Cyberman, just for posterity.  Now where can I put this?’  He waggled the half-empty wine bottle.  ‘Aha!’

The Doctor placed it on the mummy case, none too gently.

‘Should you be doing that?’  Derek was nervous.  ‘That’s an ancient artefact.’

‘As long as it isn’t cursed!’  The Doctor laughed, echoing throughout the chamber.  ‘The Grand Illustrious High Priestess of the Khazi! How about that for a fart-efact?’  He thumped the bottle down again, spilling a little wine.  It looked like blood in the dim light.

He shambled over to the camera.  ‘Lights….camera…’  After some fumbling and fiddling, it whirred into life.  ‘Come on, let’s get a shot of you beside the Cyberman.’  Something crunched under his foot.  ‘Oh fuck, I think I’ve killed a Cybermat scarab thing.  I wish it was that easy on the show.’

Derek posed uneasily beside the centre sarcophagus.  ‘Are you sure you should be doing that, with the camera?’

‘Shut up, I’m the fucking Doctor.’  He aimed the camera at Derek. ‘They can wipe the tape anyway and reuse it.  The bastards have  done that to most of Pat Troughton’s episodes.  Just open the mummy case, and put your arm around it.  For posterity.’

Derek opened the flimsy lid of the fake sarcophagus.  Cyber skin glinted from the gloom, and the overhead light made skull-like hollows of the blank eyes, above the expressionless slit-mouth.

‘Take that gold mask thing off the Cyberman.  Put it beside that other gold thing.’  The Doctor waved towards a plinth with a bust of a large-chinned face.  ‘That’s Osiris.  I remember him from the Pyramids of Mars, a very nice chap indeed.’

Derek did as he was told.

Then, the light bulb flickered and dimmed, and the Cyberman lurched into life.

‘What the fuck!’  Derek screamed as the Cyberman lurched towards him, gloved hands outstretched to seize his throat.  ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’

For once, the Doctor was silent.

Derek jerked backwards and the silver glove closed on his arm with a vicelike grip.  It wasn’t a joke.  Only the sweat on his forearm allowed him to wriggle greasily free.

Something  scuttled over his foot.  A Cyber Scarab.  Searing needles bit into his ankle, and he screamed.

That brought the Doctor to his senses.

‘A Cyberman,’ he boomed.  ‘Quick, catch this!’  He tossed  one end of the scarf towards Derek, who grabbed it.

Light shimmered on the Cyberman’s bulky form as it loomed towards the two men, hands poised to grasp and rend bone and flesh.   It stumbled forward as if uncertain of it’s new mobility, blank circular eyes and slit mouth emotionless in its sheet-metal faceplate.

‘Pull!’  The Doctor and Derek pulled the scarf tight, both men crouching on the ground .

‘Tally ho!’  The Doctor leapt towards the Cyberman, dodging a swinging fist, and Derek followed him.  Together, they wrapped the scarf around the silvery legs, three times in total.  It was too slow to catch them with its clumsy blows and collapsed forwards.  But the scarf was just wool, and would not last for long.

‘What do we do now?’  Derek was shaking in terror, as they retreated towards the doorway.

‘Get out of here!’  The Doctor darted out into the corridor and ran for the stairs.  He grasped the door handle and twisted it in vain.  ‘The bastards have locked up for the night!’

Derek wrenched the handle downwards as well, but the door was solidly locked.

‘Are there any other doors?’  Derek glanced nervously down the stairs.  ‘It’ll be free soon!’

‘They’ll all be locked, the lift as well.’  The Doctor rummaged in his coat pocket.  ‘But I’ve got an idea!’

‘What is it?’  Derek laughed shrilly.  ‘A sonic screwdriver?’

‘You need to get back in that room.  I’ll lure it along the corridor.  But be quick, or I’ll be dead.’


‘Get that statue of Osiris.  Gold will kill it.’

‘But that’s just made up, for fuck’s sake!’

‘And so is that metal bastard downstairs!’  The Doctor’s staring eyes locked with Derek’s own eyes.  ‘Just fucking do it!’

At the bottom of the stairs, a shadow fell across the corridor floor.  It was coming.

‘By the moons of Gallifrey, I wish I wasn’t so pissed,’ mumbled the Doctor as they crept down the stairs.  ‘You hide here, and I’ll distract it.’

Derek hid on the shadowed stairs, as the Doctor jumped out into the corridor.

‘Fancy a jelly baby, you bastard!’ he yelled, as he threw a handful of sweets at the Cyberman.  Then, he ran away down the corridor, pursued by the Cyberman.

Derek cowered against the whitewashed brickwork as the Cyberman lumbered past.  He dashed out just behind it, and sprinted for the chamber.  Dodging the scurrying Cyber Scarabs, he grabbed the bust of Osiris.  It was heavy, and the gold warmed quickly in his hand.  He rushed back into the corridor, nearly too late.

The Cyberman bore down upon the Doctor, at the other end of the corridor.  It grabbed his shoulders and squeezed.

‘I think I’m going to puke,’ gasped the Doctor.’  And he did, wine-tinged vomit spraying over the metallic faceplate.

The Cyberman released him, wiping the vomit from its face, and the Doctor scuttled between its legs.    ‘Quick,’ he yelled, ‘ram that statue into its chestplate!’

The blank metal face turned towards Derek as the Doctor ran past him.  Derek thrust the bust of Osiris forward, against the grille on the Cyberman’s chestplate, grimacing at the stench of vomit clinging to the metal faceplate. The hard metal tore into the soft gold, fragments falling into the holes of the grille.

The Cyberman grabbed Derek and threw him along the corridor.  He landed painfully beside the Doctor.

‘Quick,’ muttered the Doctor, ‘in here!’  He grabbed Derek and dragged him into the chamber where it had all began.  ‘Something’s wrong here,’ he murmured, ‘and I don’t know what it is.’

Outside, the Cyberman lumbered along the corridor, getting closer.

Derek whimpered in terror.  ‘What are we going to do?’

‘The mummy!  It’s the mummy!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘Its’ meant to be cursed, sank the fucking Titanic or something.  I remember now.  Right, give me a hand.’  He darted across to the mummy case and grabbed one end.  ‘Let’s get this onto the ground.’  Derek seized the other end, and they lifted it roughly from its plinth onto the ground.

The Doctor placed the heel of one boot onto the cracked face of the mummy-board. ‘Right, you desiccated fucker,’ he growled, ‘I don’t know what we’ve done, but we’re sorry.’  He raised his foot.  ‘But if you don’t call off that Cyber bastard, then I’m going to grind your bandaged bones into dust!  Starting with your skull.’

Above them, the light flickered.

Outside, the shadow loomed along the corridor.  Then, with a wheeze and a crash, the Cyberman collapsed to the ground.

‘Come on!’ yelled the Doctor.  ‘Let’s try the door again.’  As they ran out the chamber, the Doctor grabbed his scarf.  ‘Miracle of miracles, it’s in one piece!’

They climbed over the Cyberman and ran up the stairs.  Derek got to the handle first, jerking it downwards.  This time, the door opened, at the bottom of the South Stairs.  He crept up the stairs and looked round the corner

‘They haven’t locked up yet,’ whispered Derek.  ‘But it must be close to closing time, because there’s no-one around and it’s dark outside.’

‘Let’s get out of here!’  The Doctor pushed Derek forward.  Heads down, they walked briskly towards the front door, grateful that no one was around to observe them.

Once outside, they breathed in the cool night air, walking leisurely towardsGreat Russell Street, leaving the pillared plaza behind them.

‘I need a drink,’ muttered the Doctor.

They found a pub and the barman handed over two double Scotches.  Derek reached for one, and the Doctor grabbed it.  ‘They’re both for me.  You’ve got a pint coming.’  He emptied the first glass in one swallow, grimacing at the bite of the alcohol.

The barman handed a pint to Derek.

‘What do we do now?’

The Doctor bowed his head in thought.  ‘Nothing,’ he said.  ‘We saw nothing, you left early, and I was never there.  They’ll think some pissed-up students broke in and did it.  And they won’t be happy, with at least one damaged exhibit, so they’ll probably call the police.’

‘Shouldn’t we tell someone?’

‘Not on your flaming life!’ hissed the Doctor.  ‘They’d probably shut down the show!  Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. Ever!’  He downed the second Scotch and stood up, leaving Derek sitting at the bar alone with his pint.

And so the show went on.  But not for Derek.  He was given his marching orders the next day, the scapegoat for leaving the door open.  The Museum staff decided not to call in the police, much to the relief of the BBC, mainly because they assessed the damage to artefacts as thankfully minor.  As for the Doctor, he finally fell from a radio telescope tower on 21 March 1981, his downfall witnessed by some six million viewers who declined in numbers with his each successors, until the series was suspended in 1989.  The Doctor’s decline was mirrored by Derek’s ascent.  Minor scripting credits led to larger commissions, until he landed the job of his dreams:  script editor of the new Doctor Who series, which aired twenty-four years after the Doctors’ fall, after an interval of sixteen years.

And, during these years, the tapes from the infamous ‘cancelled Cybermen episode’ lay gathering dust in an archive, until someone found them.

East Sussex, 2011

 Tom was greatly amused by page five in the Evening Standard.  Some footage had been released on the internet, showing the apocryphal ‘cancelled Cybermen episode’, or at least something purporting to be that.  So that night he sat in his study, staring at the computer screen as the video played.

There was no sound.  Just grainy half-light footage of someone opening what appeared to be a mummy-case, and what definitely looked like a 1970s Cyberman stumbling out.  For much of the video, there was little action, from the point where the Cyberman fell to the floor and staggered upright, to the moment when a shadowy figure grabbed something and fled from the room.  Later on, it looked as if a mummy case was shifted to the ground by two people, with someone standing on it, until the people finally left.  One of them looked a bit like the Doctor but, unlike the distinctive Cyberman, only the shadow of his curly hair laying claim to this possible identity.

Opinion was divided.  Some reckoned it was genuine, some shouted ‘fake’.  A few people recalled some forgotten scandal at theBritishMuseum.

Tom laughed as he remembered the incident, all those years ago.  Then he flicked across to the BBC website.


The article had little detail beyond the name – Derek Adams – and the fact he had been ‘beaten to death’ by one or more assailants in hisLondon flat.  There was the inevitable police appealed for witnesses or information.

Downstairs, something rattled.

‘Is that you?’

There was no answer.  Maybe it was the wind.

Then the lights flickered.

FREE STORY: The Fleshless

Posted: September 7, 2011 in Stories

The Department of Forensic Archaeology can be found in an ornate Victorian brownstone building, overlooking the tenements, pubs and traffic of South Edinburgh. The space had been vacated by the pre-medicine courses relocating to the new infirmary to the south of the city, and then taken up enthusiastically by this new combination of forensic science, archaeology and anatomy departments.

Doctor Porter surveyed his class with little enthusiasm. A grey man approaching his sixties, he felt little in common with the handful of students who took his anthropological anatomy classes. Even in their fourth year of study, they still dressed outlandishly, and the handful of prep-dressed Home Counties types still intimidated him, decades after his own studies.

Today, there were four in the class. The remaining two students would probably furnish lacklustre excuses for their absence later in the week. One was a greasy-haired girl with a nose-ring, two were overgrown boys, feet tapping to their own inner rhythms, and the fourth was a quiet Asian girl from the Midlands. He had some hope for the Asian girl, who was quiet and diligent.

The laboratory was deathly-quiet, except for the drip-drip-drip of water somewhere. The tiled walls and concrete floor chilled the room beneath the vaulted ceiling, even more than the autumnal season which seeped in through the high single-glazed windows. The two enamel examination tables were worn smooth from centuries of use, less practical than the movable steel tables at the new medical faculty, but the Forensic Archaeology department did not attract anywhere near the same level of funding.

An assistant wheeled a metal box into the room and lifted it up onto a table. ‘The specimen’s here,’ he mumbled as he left. Porter glared at his retreating back. The specimen was supposed to be delivered before the class started.

Porter slipped on a pair of latex gloves and lifted the lid. He looked at the class. ‘Today, we will assemble a skeleton, from fragmented remains, and we will arrive at some conclusions about the life and death of the specimen.’ He knew he droned and hated himself for it. He lifted the pieces from the box and placed them on the enamel tabletop. ‘You need to assemble the bones on the other slab.’ Slab. He winced as the students grinned. It wasn’t meant to be funny.

Gradually the skeleton took shape. White teeth gleamed from a brown-stained skull above the pieces of the rib-cage and pelvis. Long bones lay beneath and at either side, the spinal column was laid out like a snake and the small fragments of metatarsals and metacarpals clustered around the ends of the arms and legs. After half an hour, all two hundred and six bones had been arranged.

Porter read from a notepad. ‘The specimen was unearthed in the Carpathian mountains, and the approximate era is Iron Age. We haven’t yet carbon-dated any samples but we can estimate the era from the style and technology of the artefacts. The specimen was probably a Dacian, part of the tribe who ranged over eastern Europe and the Balkans.  The skeleton was found in groups of arms, legs, torso and head, all in the remains of six separate pottery vessels, which explains why it is intact.’

The group looked over the brown-stained bones, dark against the enamel table.

‘Do you have any observations?’

The nose-ring girl spoke first. ‘It looks like an adult male, from the pelvis shape, and there is probably a protrusion on the back of the skull.’

‘A good starting point, Nicola,’ said Porter.

The girl glared at him. ‘My name’s Natalie.

‘The striations on the bones indicate periods of malnutrition.’ Porter remembered her name, it was Samira, easy to remember and she was always attentive. ‘There are scrapes and indentations on the bone that don’t look organic though,’ she said.

Porter was halfway pleased. They had sexed the skeleton and picked out the natural and unnatural markings, even if they hadn’t narrowed down categories of diseases from the natural bone markings.

‘Well done,’ he said, glaring for a moment at the two young men who had remained silent. ‘The gouges look like scrape marks, and it appears that the skeleton was ritually flayed or defleshed.’ He smiled thinly for a moment. ‘We can only hope it was done after death. The Dacians called themselves the wolves and fought the Romans tenaciously, with a vicious indigenous weapon called a falx, shaped like a sickle. This may have been used to deflesh this particular corpse.’

Porter flicked through his notes. ‘The curious aspect of this body is that it appears to have been reburied. The pottery fragments which held the bones together are in a far more recent Bulgarian style. Rehydroxylation tests will pinpoint the age more precisely, but that will take time.’

They stood in silence looking over the skeleton. It appeared more solid now, less disjointed, or perhaps they were just thinking of as a whole rather than an arrangement of parts.

Porter pointed at the ribcage. ‘Look at the…’ He didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. The skeleton’s clawlike hand grasped his wrist, the air shimmering around the articulated bones like a heat-haze. Two bony arms pulled Porter on top of the corpse in a macabre embrace, and long-dead teeth bit deeply into his scrawny throat. Steaming blood flowed forth, flooding the enamel slab and pouring down the rusted drain. Then the twitching corpse was tossed aside as the skeleton sat upright, blood soaking the bones which sucked up the dark red fluid like sponges.

The aborted analysis had been partly correct. The body had been flayed alive and then dismembered, buried in jars according to half-forgotten ritual. But the bones were ancient, older than Dacia, older than Rome, and the ritual had been conducted mere centuries ago by Bulgarian monks after the boyars had hunted down the shape-shifting creature which had plagued their people for so long. Skinned, broken, fragmented, starved of blood and flesh, the bones had slept for hundreds of years, until they were unearthed at a resort construction site in the mountains north of the Danube. And now the bones had been reassembled, and they thirsted for blood and flesh.

The four students stood in frozen horror as the creature clawed its way upright, blood dripping from the bones, livid pink tendrils of flesh circling the skeleton like new-grown shoots. The stench of blood and meat filled the laboratory. Bony legs clattered onto the tiles and the creature launched itself at the two young men, tearing into soft flesh with talons of ivory, blood gouting, steaming glossy meat dragged dripping from torn bellies. It was fast, very fast. Like a wolf.

The two girls ran, but Natalie tripped over her unlaced Doc Marten boots. She scrabbled onto her back, heels kicking on the tiled floor, smearing blood in two desperate furrows. The skeleton loomed over her, but it was no longer just bones. Moist pink flesh had spread, a half-healed wound, covering most of the shape-shifter’s body. Gums glistened wetly in the bony jaw and the beginning of a tongue flickered as the fanged maw descended on Natalie’s soft throat, the pungent stench of slaughter filling her nostrils before her life was torn from her in a crimson deluge.

The door rattled closed behind Samira. She gasped for air like a landed fish, heaving and retching, before she was able to scream. Security guards came running, the first of them vomiting all over the tiled floor as he saw the charnel-house inside. Four bodies lay sprawled across the laboratory, torn, gouged and shredded. But, other than the red skid-marks on the floor, there was very little blood. The corpses looked fishbelly-white as if they had been drained. The body of Doctor Porter had been stripped naked.

The attacker was gone, with Doctor Porter’s clothing and whatever shape it had decided to wear. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. But it would thirst again…and need to drink.


Posted: September 5, 2011 in Novels

“Contemplation on the nine stages of a decaying corpse”

Over two hundred years ago, in Shogunate Japan, a daimyo’s journey to Edo is halted by a slow-moving monk. With a flash of anger, a blade removes the man’s head. To the shock of the daimyo and his samurai, the monk picks up his head and walks onwards.

In modern Tokyo, Detective Hanaka Shimizu is called to a crime-scene in Ueno Park.  She finds that a corpse has been discovered, a woman, wrapped in a kimono with one breast exposed. The woman is unknown, possibly a prostitute, and languishes in the morgue while Shimizu makes inquiries.

Back in Edo, the daimyo is obsessed with the power of the resurrected  monk, and orders him to his mansion.  The monk Obuku explains the spiritual power of the Kusokan, contemplation of the stages of decay, illustrated with macabre detail in the Kusozu series of silk-paintings, printed by the talented and illegitimate son of mirror-maker Nakajima. The daimyo orders the killing and assembly of corpses, to match the nine silk-paintings.

And, in modern-day Tokyo, there is another killing, another corpse. This time, the body is bloated, on the cusp of putrefaction….

What dark secret will Shimizu discover, reaching back over two hundred and fifty years? Who is the figure in white following her? What will happen when the nine corpses are finally assembled? Can she discover the secret and stop it?

FREE STORY: The Pink Biscuit Curse

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Stories

She was a little woman, wizened, bent and hook-nosed. She scurried into the boardoom with a silver platter of biscuits, to join the tea and coffee on the gleaming table. She glanced around like a foraging shrew as she slid the platter onto the table, nudging a chair out of the way to reach the centre. She darted out of the boardroom and back to the small kitchen hidden behind wood panelling. The boardroom door slid closed, hissing on the plush carpetpile, clicking shut after a graceful pause.

A few minutes later, the door banged open. A procession of suited men filed in and took up their stations, sliding onto plush leather. They wore identical ties with the company’s logo, and the same cut of suit, charcoal-grey with white shirt. They all looked like rugby players, old and young, without the tolerated benefit of club ties. There was only one club now after all and they were all players.  One of the men frowned as he noticed a chair was out of place. It was lucky the Chairman hadn’t arrived early to see it. He would have gone mental!

They waited for the accustomed five minutes before the Chairman appeared. The door was held open for him by his assistant, a harassed-looking woman who placed a bundle of papers at the head of the table in front of him as he sat down. She walked out as quickly as dignity could carry her, aware of the dozen eyes on the back of her tight corporate skirt.

‘Good morning gentlemen.’ The Chairman was short, with thinning sandy hair. He alone wore a patterned tie of handpainted silk supplied by an artist the Company sponsored, which conveyed an interpretation of the corporate logo.

The executives mumbled and nodded in response, ensuring the ‘Sir’ was loud and clear. He had only started greeting them in this way since his knighthood, and the first time he had said ‘good morning who?’when the appropriate response had not been forthcoming.

‘Shall we have coffee?’ The Chairman smiled. The coffee was without peer. It was flown in from Kenya each week, ready-roasted and vacuum-sealed. The nearest executive poured for the Chairman, just the way he liked it, with a splash of milk and one sugar. He reached for the biscuits, to pass the platter up the table, and then froze in horror.

There were pink biscuits on the platter.

Pink biscuits. Offensive, pink-naked wafer-style biscuits, like something from a corner shop instead of the wholesome oatcakes and shortbreads made in the Borders and Highlands, or handpicked from the Ducal offerings of the Prince of Wales. They stood out among the beiges and browns, thrust out in neon defiance like proud little penises or rampant dildoes.

At the head of the table, the Chairman’s face was turning as pink as the offending biscuits. He slammed the cup down, splashing coffee over the rim, onto the gleaming tabletop. ‘For fuck’s sake,’ he yelled. ‘Pink biscuits!’ His fist thumped the table. ‘Pink bloody biscuits!’ Who the fuck put them out?’

The roar echoed through the boardoom door. The woman cringed in the kitchen, huddled over a glossy magazine. The biscuits had been her idea, to impress the Chairman. They looked so nice, so bright and colourful, and he was always so angry. Like a startled rabbit in a headlight beam, she froze, deep brown eyes staring at the door beneath her furrowed brow and  straggly grey mop of hair.

Another echo of anger spilled from the boardroom. ‘Who authorised these? She can fucking well pay for them herself! This could have been a bloody client meeting! Who eats pink wafers in a fucking client meeting? I don’t fucking care whether she realised or not.  You.  Get out there and drag her in!’

That was enough for her. She darted out of the kitchen and down the stairs, her wooden sandals echoing on the marble steps. Behind her, a suited executive stood at the top of the stairs, his mouth open in an oval of uncertainty.

‘Stop her!’ The Chairman’s voice echoed down the stairs, through the panelled halls and up to the high-vaulted ceiling. A uniformed security guard moved to the bottom of the stairs, his arms outstretched, and the fleeing woman ducked to the left. She clattered into a pedestal, and an object fell to the floor. The plastic Spitfire Mark 2a aircraft, lovingly glued and painted in 1:24 scale, crashed into the marble and smashed into dozens of fragments.

She stood in front of the guard, her hands held up to her mouth in terror, a small birdlike woman with stick-thin arms. The Chairman stomped down the stairs, followed by a timid mob of goggle-eyed executives, and his jaw dropped open as he saw the shattered plane.  He lurched towards the woman, face flaming with red fury. ‘You stupid fucking bitch!’

The woman retreated in terror and the security guard moved between them in an attempt to placate the chairman. ‘Sir….’

‘Get that cunt out of here! Gross misconduct! No payoff, not a penny, nothing.’ Spittle sprayed on the guard’s polyester uniform as the Chairman jabbed his finger at the cowering woman. ‘You stupid fucking bitch, get out of my sight!’ Flecks of saliva landed on the old lady as well.

But the drizzle of sputum had its own magic.

The woman’s hands fell limply from her face and she drew herself upright to her full modest height.  ‘You can curse me, but you will not spit on me!’ Her eyes blazed with fury. ‘Instead I curse you!’ She spat out the words in an Eastern European accent and prodded the Chairman in the chest. For once, he was silent.

‘I curse you, and your family and your children. I curse your  money, your houses, and your aeroplanes.’ She poked him a second time. ‘I curse your friends, your businesses, your WORLD!’

Then she turned and walked briskly out of the door.

‘Well, don’t just stand there!’ The chairman turned his ire on the security guard and the staff who had gathered around, jabbing his finger around. ‘Get someone to clean that mess up. And get a lawyer onto that bitch!’

The guard poked his head around the main door. He looked up and down the street, but couldn’t see her in either direction. She had vanished into thin air.

Sometimes he remembers the old woman. When the business collapsed around him, her face swam into his mind.  When he was stripped of his honours, her face mocked his shame. When his injunction failed, when his wife left him and took what remained of the fortune, her face was laughing at him. Sometimes he saw her image reflected on the TV screen as he watched the news, arrows flashing downwards in red, businesses failing across the world, queues outside banks, job centres and soup kitchens. He saw her face in the elegant glass pane of his front door as he locked it for the last time and handed the keys to the estate agent. And he remembers her now, catching glimpses of her in the grimy window of the council flat and in the swirling whisky in the half-pint tumbler which is never empty.


Posted: August 19, 2011 in Stories

Storran Castle was the ideal venue for a secluded gathering. Two miles down a winding tree-lined lane, its neo-Gothic towers nestled under forested hills and crags. Gravel crunched as cars parked one by one underneath blazing torches outside the main door. A white-gloved flunky nodded and guided each pair of guests indoors along a red carpet, through the archway which bore the new stonework of the family crest. Opulenta per itineris, or wealth through journeys. A toot-toot! echoed from somewhere deep in the forested glen. The private steam-train was being fired up.

Bald and fat, Sir Alan Storran awaited inside, resplendent in Highland dress. His beaming smile was mirrored in the shine of his scalp as he clasped hands and kissed cheeks. Servants circled with trays of canapés and drinks, as a string quartet sawed its way through a selection of light classics, bass and cello notes cutting deeply through the throng.

Snatches of conversation hung on the air.

‘I’m looking forward to the train-ride, Sir Alan…’

‘…Alan you old rogue, how much have you made this year…’

‘…how much did you pay for this place again…’

‘…it’s such a privilege to be here, I’m sure you know…’

‘…good God man, and how much of it did you keep from the taxman…’

‘…is the interdict keeping the right-to-roam scum off your land…’

Storran grinned, smiled and nodded as the answers played in his mind. Enjoy the train-ride, it’ll be better than cattle-class you’re used to. I’ve made fifty million this year. I paid two million for this pile, plus another quarter for the court case. Enjoy the privilege, and remember me after the election. I put most of last year’s income through my charitable trusts. Just let them bloody well try, I’ve got the Chief Constable’s home phone number.

Outside the brassy owl cried again, from its perch upon a distant boiler. Toot Toot! And there was a third toot!, as the uniformed engine-driver clutched at the whistle-chain, falling as a blackjack smacked into his skull. The unconscious man was stripped and gently carried into the woods, where he would be tied up in a sleeping-bag. He was just another minion, after all. Another man shrugged on the engine-driver uniform, before checking the gauges and levers. He looked at his watch. Five minutes to go….

The glasses were dumped in the kitchen for the attention of the minimum-wage staff. Some were half-full, others had lipstick smeared on the rims. Cigar and cigarette ends bobbed in amber and red liquid. The piles of uneaten food were thrown straight into the bin. The staff knew better than to take any. The last person who tried was unemployed and still in prison. Above stairs, the guests walked languidly down the steps towards the miniature railway platform and station, where more ushers awaited, dressed in the railway livery of the previous century. They bowed and curtsied as the rich and powerful lined up in expectation of the train journey around the glen and the small loch, as the summer sun sank in the Highland sky. Then, it would be dinner, fireworks and carriages for midnight, and Sir Alan Storran would be another year older.

The engine puffed merrily, approaching the platform with a wake of smoke. ‘Sally’ was a narrow-gauge locomotive, rescued from a Welsh slate mine and lovingly restored for Sir Alan Storran by a grateful Board of Directors. She was polished and painted green, about half the size of a standard gauge locomotive, and pulled a train of open-top carriages with plush leather upholstery. Each of the dozen carriage had two ice-buckets of champagne and eight crystal glasses, enough for the occupants. The engine-driver tapped the brim of his cap in a salute to Sir Alan as the train drew to a halt with a hiss of steam.  The waiting servants dashed forward and uncorked the champagne, making sure that not a drop was wasted, and they withdrew silently to one side, to let the passengers board the Birthday Train. They settled on the leather upholstery, murmuring with pleasure, and the locomotive drew away in another burst of steam and coal-smoke. Sir Alan stood beside the driver, wearing a top hat, looking back at his guests in childlike pleasure.

The little engine chuffed through fern-lined embankments, trees looming above the greenery. Toot toot, called the whistle. Champagne poured forth and glasses clinked, undisturbed by the gentle rhythm of the train. They circled the northern edge of the lochan, glinting in reflection of the pale summer sky, occasional ripples indicating the rising of salmon and trout from the well-stocked waters. Then the train drew to an abrupt halt, with a prolonged blast of the whistle and champagne spilling into laps.

Sir Alan cursed and peered through the steam-fog. A large object was blocking the line ahead, a fallen tree or a log. ‘I thought I told you twats to check the line first!’

That was when he felt something cold press against the back of his neck, and he saw the half-dozen masked figures creep down from the tree-line. They carried guns.

Someone screamed.

‘Shut the fuck up!’ called one of the masked men, who stepped forwards, brandishing what looked like an obsolete rifle. ‘Get out the fucking train, you fat bastard!’

The engine-driver had pulled on a balaclava, and shoved Sir Alan roughly to the ground beside the rails. It was only a short drop, but it drove the wind from the fat man, who lay there wheezing.

‘Listen up!’ The rifleman strode up and down the length of the train. ‘You’re all going on a short journey, but you will not be harmed in any way.’ He waved the rifle around. ‘Do not try and run. I will be standing at the back of the train. This is an M1 carbine.   It doesn’t make much noise, but it will hurt a lot.’ The look on his face indicated that any pain would prove fatal.

The engineer watched as two pistol-wielding men dragged Sir Alan Storran down the length of the train and then they vanished from site. Once the obstacle had been cleared from the line ahead, the engineer restarted the train, with the rifleman at the very back and three others in the coal-tender, pointing pistols in the direction of the terrified passengers. A couple of the women were crying, tears washing mascara down their made-up faces, beneath the fright-wigs frosted in place by hairspray. A man was crying as well. He looked familiar to the engineer, a banker or businessman. Soon, the train was up to speed again and they were puffing merrily on their way.

No-one was drinking champagne any more.

A thin man in a  tuxedo jumped from the train and ran for the surrounding woods. The rifle barked and he fell down. He didn’t get back up. The guests looked at each other, clutching hands, not daring to glance at the scenery flashing by in case they were perceived as potential escapers. The train curved round the tracks on the far side of the glen, and the engineer relaxed for a moment, looking at the towers and chimneys of the castle in the distance, enjoying the rhythm of the train and the cool breeze as he stuck his head out. They were at full steam, the train was just following the rails and they would be back at the station soon.

The platform was deserted as they rattled past, the servants back at the house, preparing a birthday feast that would not be eaten. The engineer had heard what they were cooking from their household spy. Hog-roasts, venison, platters of smoked salmon and scallops, truffles soaked in brandy, seared steaks, enough food to feed an army, and enough drink to float, or sink, a battleship.

They were past the platform when the engineer glimpsed the figure on the tracks. A fat man, tied across the rails, red-faced with a sprawling kilt, his screams muffled by the sporran rolled and stuffed into his mouth, and a top hat jammed firmly onto his head. A passenger saw the prone figure of Sir Alan and screamed. Then more screams split the night air, but it was too late by then, and the iron wheels cut Storran into three neat pieces in a great geyser of blood. Lower limbs fell to the left, head-and-shoulders to the right, and the severed arms and torso slumped beneath the railtracks. The top hat rolled some distance away. By the time the screams had stopped, the six men and engineer had dropped quietly from the train and had disappeared into the forest, leaving the train steaming happily around on another circuit of the railway, without even a toot-toot of farewell.

Written on the train, inspired by the 8% rail fare rises about to land on out heads, and the £88m trousered by Stagecoach shareholders. Sir Alan Storran is a fictional figure,  but we can imagine plenty like him…