In between editing Tom Blake's new psychological thriller, and keeping my daughter stress-free as she organises her wedding, I've been collating thirteen short stories for my new anthology. I thought it was time I put those stories I had lying around the place to good use. I also had fun creating two-sentence stories to go between the thirteen shorts. I dubbed them 'Penny Dreadfuls' - not because they're dreadful but because they will sit on their own page in the printed version of the book and when a book is printed, on short runs, each page costs a penny (or thereabouts).
The anthology is ready to go (almost) and will be released on Halloween, with the print copies available on my birthday in early December, if all goes to plan.
As an added treat for those readers who would care to help me out, in the e-book release, there will be four previews of books I'm working on. The four are all different in their subject matter and I'd like my readers to vote on which they would prefer to see published next.
To thank those taking part in the vote, I'll be giving away some of my books, ebook and printed copies - more later when I've worked out the details.
The Anthology looks like it has a title - A Baker's Dozen.
The order of appearance for the stories is as follows:
1 The Last Vampire
2 Dark Images
3 Terrible Threes
5 It Wasn't...
6 The Hunger
8 Eight Days
9 Love Me
11 Dream Time
12 Will I...
The four previews are from:
Diamonds and Deviants, Biker (WiP), Children of Sol and Daughters of Le Fay.
Diamonds and Deviants:
Visitors to the apartment would probably wonder at a few things. The fully automated security blinds on all the windows for one thing. Why would an apartment need such high security so high up above the city? Even the windows that didn't have a balcony had the shutters. Any visitor would possibly assume paranoia - and perhaps the more fanciful would imagine a fear of vampires. The lack of any foodstuffs, cooking implements etc may encourage another fleeting and more imaginative notion – of vampiric occupation.
The apartment was scrupulously tidy, almost as though the owner didn’t live there much. Again, once it has been thought of, vampire springs to mind as a likely reason.
The aforementioned visitor would be wrong in all of those assumptions. The owner of the apartment was not a vampire and was certainly not paranoid.
Apart from the fact that the apartment was very much lived in, used and loved, it also never received visitors. Not one. Never.
The mail was delivered to a secure box in the foyer and the apartment was cleaned thoroughly by a trusted and well vetted employee of the building’s maintenance firm. The cleaning service was expensive as cleaning goes but it was an opt-in or out service so no-one had cause for complaint.
As an additional service, all visitors were screened and checked. If the occupant had neglected to give the name of any visitor, then even if the visitor had been regularly allowed in for years previously, if there was no name on the list, then there was no admittance.
The Security Guy had slipped up only once and before his shift had ended, he was replaced.
“If the name’s not down, they’re not getting in” was the byword.
If there was paranoia to be assumed, then it was there, where the choice of the building had been made. Anyone living in the building wanted - and paid for - the ultimate in absolute security.
It took a while to get to know everyone in the building but the security firm prided itself on being the very best. No effort was too large or too little. Even the pampered pooches were recognised and referred to by name. But more than that, the Security Guy had to be intuitive too.
A hangover? Security Guy would speak quietly - if at all.
A funeral? Security Guy offered respectful condolence or dignified silence, a black armband and on the one occasion, a tissue and a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, was too much trouble for the Security Guys but the occupants also knew that they would never be allowed to debase, humiliate or take advantage of the Security Guys. They were expected to have more class than that. And yes, it always came as a complete shock when that point was rammed home.
It was the dawn of the eighties. Rock music was prevalent and going from strength to strength. Deep Purple was still being listened to, as was Free, Cream and a host of seventies groups. Status Quo, Queen, Whitesnake and The Who were making their own eighties revivals and newcomers Meatloaf, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and ZZ Top were either established or just about to be big on the UK rock scene.
Biker style was at its height in fashion, with jeans, boots and leather jackets being worn by bikers for their functionality and worn by fashion victims for the style of 'Rock Chic'.
Tight stretch jeans had just come to the attention of the slim young things which left little to the imagination where the shape of legs and buttocks were concerned, much to the delight of other slim young things and casual observers everywhere. Leather and denim was seen to clad a wide variety of different sized bodies and held an interest for most tastes.
Years before Grunge had even been thought of, 'Grebo' style was widespread. This encompassed the more functional aspects of leather and denim. Worn widely by Punks but mostly by bikers, leather jackets were scuffed and sometimes torn by minor slides down the road. Time-worn and filthy 'Originals' were worn by the more hard-core bikers whose ethos was that no cleaning products would ever touch their jeans or cut-off (a sleeveless denim, worn over the leather jacket). Stiffened and thickened by grime, oil and everyday filth, the denims were worn religiously for all of their bike riding. Whether the idea was that the filthy jeans would give a greater protection or not, they certainly gave a great deal of protection from more fastidious females and so were discarded when out on the pull.
The unisex appeal of the style sometimes gave rise for confusion, especially as the male bikers also wore their hair long, possibly as a snub to authority, a statement of personal freedom or just to emulate their rock star heroes. Some employers still insisted on well-groomed and short back-and-sides hair styles, but that regimen was falling by the wayside rapidly in the brand new decade.
Justin Hardy stood at the bar, his freshly poured pint in front of him. The barman returned with his change and turned away to serve others without time for a word of thanks in either direction.
Sighing, Justin stared into the froth on the top of the beer. He hadn't really wanted to go out at all but he was alone in a small village B&B in the middle of his sales trip and already fed up of the small room he had rented. He had asked the B&B landlady if there was anything to do of an evening and she returned his question with a glum look and the minimal phrase: "There's the Sitwell."
"Pub?" He had asked.
"Yes." And then she had turned away to continue cleaning her small house. Even though she was not much of a conversationalist, her cooking was splendid (better than his mum’s) and the cleanliness of her house was immaculate. Sparse in furniture and home comforts - not even a TV in his room - but the bare floorboards gleamed and the threadbare rug harboured not a single speck of dust. He had no wish to sit in her living room with her, watching the likes of Coronation Street or Emmerdale Farm however, hence the quest for other entertainment.
Children of Sol
The vampires went to their enforced rest for the daylight hours. Little did they imagine that when they awoke nothing would ever be the same again.
Decimation of the vampire covens was swift, brutal, bloodless, violent and unavoidable.
Ancient ones, revered and learned ones were destroyed. Weak, new vampires were blinked out in an instant and so were the strongest, most ruthless and indefatigable vampires that ever stalked the earth. They were gone in one daytime. The void left by the absence of their shared voices over the Bloodlink was deafening in its silence.
Some of those that were left gave themselves to the sun because of the unbearable silence but those that survived felt something more. Not only did a deep serenity that they had never realised could be theirs descend upon their minds, so did the weight of the responsibility that had passed to them.
In one day their whole history had been wiped out, their council, the rulers, the wise and knowledgeable – all gone. Until the survivors rediscovered the archives where the ancient tomes were stored, the records of vampire history were effectively vanished.
Those that were left would have to make their own way for a time. They could each hear the faint and forlorn voices over the Bloodlink but had no idea who the others were or where they were. They could be scattered across the globe for all they knew and it could take months, if not years to find every one of them.
As it turned out, they were not so very far flung.
Sol is his name. He is one god amongst many but he is one of the most beautiful and powerful. It is at his word that the sun – giver of life on the planet Earth – rises each morning. He is the one who has had most to do with humans and it is because of his interaction that they are named after his benevolence. Children of Sol have always been his main concern and the game that the gods play, sometimes at the expense of humans, is not such a game to Sol. He takes it seriously and does his very best to ensure that they survive everything that is thrown at them.
Sol first saw the human creatures on the first sunrise across the planet. The gods had gathered to watch his wondrous creation. He had promised a wonderful display and he did not like to disappoint. They stood at the top of the highest mountain on the planet and looked to the east. The sky turned from deepest black through deepest blue and on through an array of beautiful colours the like of which had not been seen.
“Sol, this is breathtaking!” Luna said as she grasped his hand.
He looked at her with an expression of tenderness and leaned forward to brush his lips against hers. Then he brushed a solitary tear from her eyelashes. He flipped his wrist to shake the droplet from his finger and where the droplet landed, a spring bubbled from the ground.
Daughters of Le Fay
The little kitchen girl was carrying a large metal pot in her arms, it was too heavy for her and she was struggling with the bulk of it. As she walked past the fireplace, as always wary in case she stumbled into the coals, she saw something in the steam of the huge cooking pot that was suspended above the fire, constantly on the boil. Fascinated, she put down the metal pot and leaned as close to the fire as she could without singeing either her tatty and ragged hem or her shins and feet.
Through the steam billowing about her face, she could see something and she concentrated. There was another girl in another place and Katherine thought that she looked familiar. Then, though she was level with Katherine, the girl looked down, as though into a pool, her hair falling forward and she stared right into Katherine’s eyes, Katherine saw her own mirror image looking back. She was holding her breath as their eyes met over the unfathomable distance. A shock of recognition that she had not expected jolted her out of her reverie and the image melted as her breath, expelled in a gasp, dissipated the vapours from the boiling water. She felt a moment of vertigo and swayed forward towards the heat of the bubbling pot. Her eyes closed without her realising as a wave of nausea took hold.
She was disoriented and stood upright but overbalanced and swayed on her feet, stepping backwards to compensate. She stepped on something softer than the floor.
“Watch what you are about, clumsy dolt!” The screech came from the cook, she was creeping up on Katherine to catch her day-dreaming but Katherine stepped onto her gout-swollen foot. The cook slapped Katherine but because they were so close together, it was more of a push and Katherine, already off-balance, fell forward. Her hands were outstretched in an instinct to save herself as she fell, but the fire was waiting.
There was a sharp and terrible sizzle, she smelled burning hair, skin and flesh and then heard a piercing scream that tore at her very soul. It was a second or so before she realised the screaming was her own.
She was still screaming as someone pulled her backwards, out of the flames. She felt cold water hit her as someone else threw the mop-bucket water onto her burning clothes and her arm was held tight and then forced down and she resisted but she felt soothing cool water as the pain in her hand was quenched.
“Stop that noise!” The cook yelled again, but it would not quieten the girl this time, she was too badly injured.
Then Katherine passed out.