One of the first books I remember reading was The Jungle Book. But my favourite story, which I read and read, over and again, was not about Mowgli but told of the ‘great war that Rikki-Tikki-Tavi fought single-handed, through the bathrooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment’ against Nag the cobra and Nagaina, his wife. Ever since then I’ve loved stories.
These are my published short stories, with details of where they first appeared in print, links to those publications where applicable and podcasts of the stories which have been recorded.
Tick, tick, tick. That was what woke him. The regular ticking of cooling, contracting plasteel. Tick, tick, tick.
He’d heard that sound before, growing up, the son of a tankman. He’d heard the sound during his training, when the squadron pulled up for the night, the tanks lined up ready for a pre-dawn start, their engines cooling, the cylinder blocks ticking out the day’s accumulated heat.
The world was water. There had been cases, during the war for Sagaraya, of pilots losing themselves in the endless heave and shift, and flying on, in a wave-induced trance, until their fuel tanks were exhausted and the plane slid down from the sky to be embraced by the ocean.
“The monsters in the stories: they’re real, aren’t they, Daddy?”
“Six months here, you forget about manners. You forget… everything.”
The Last Librarian: Or A Short Account of the End of the World is in Ex Libris: Tales of Librarians, Libraries & Lore, edited by Paula Guran.
“Which is more important, books or people?”
“The painted people!” The legate shook his head and spat into the fire before reaching for the cup and taking a swallow of the wine I’d brought with me. “I’ve spent too many years fighting them to spend my off-duty time talking about them.” He looked at the cup appreciatively. “Good Roman wine this. The stuff they make here is vinegar.”
Spellman Mathers’ Travelling Show
& Zoo of Ordinary Creatures was shut up for the night. Tasks
completed, Spellman kicked back a chair, lit a smoke and, hands behind
his head, stared up at the sky. He breathed out, wreathing the stars
with smoke, then, holding the cigarette between thumb and forefinger
while inspecting its glowing core, he said, “I was like you once, kid.”
In his hiding place, in the deep dark beneath the bales of animal feed, Sadhu, his skin as brown as a nut and his eyes black as the sky, all but cried out. Spellman couldn’t have seen him.
The stranger held up his hand. “Bring me the witchfinder and Jaume de Casellas, Don de Valladolid.”
“Wh-who shall I say sends for them?”
The man sitting in the judgement seat slowly lowered his cowl. The face was thin and ascetic, the hair tonsured, the eyes dark.
“Alonso de Salazar Frias, Inquisitor.”
Martin came in, limping a little, and stopped. He glanced at the table, saw Chrissy looking at him, and nodded.
“I told you this morning.”
“Yes, sorry, I forgot. Bad day.”
“It’s his birthday.”
“Of course. Which is it again?”
“Fifteen,” said Chrissy.
“Fifteen? Already? So long.”
“Yes, you’d never believe it, would you?”
Martin paused. “I would,” he said, quietly.
Selling Empire: An Episode in the History of the City of London is in the Fall 2015 issue of Circa magazine.
“Finest Gaulish pots, jugs, going cheap!”
The merchant, a Syrian, grabbed the shawl of the woman rushing past.
“Didn’t you hear? The best pots from Gaul and I’m giving them away!”
The woman stopped and turned eyes, empty white eyes, on the merchant.
“She is coming,” the woman whispered.
“Who’s coming?” asked the merchant.
It was 3.30 in the morning. Martin was on the edge of sleep, having settled Oliver for the third and, he hoped, final time that night, when the doorbell rang. He jerked awake.
Lars Caron had only taken over as mission commander because Pete Boardman had died. We were the most scanned, checked and examined group of human beings in history – after all, on the first mission to Mars, you don’t want someone falling ill or freaking out on the way – and Pete had checked out clearer than any of us. Then, seven days before departure, he went and died.
“How long has it been, William?”
“Can’t say I remember. Long enough for you to stop calling me Bill and start calling me William.”
“Never mind, Jack. What are you having?”
“No, let me…”
“Don’t be silly. I’m older, I get the first round in. Now, what are you drinking?”
“Yes?” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and peered blearily at the two uniformed men standing at the door.
“Transport Police. We’re here to interview your son.”
“Your son,” explained the more grizzled-looking of the pair. “We want to talk to him.”
Disconnecting is in Page & Spine magazine.
To: Lisa Baines
From: Jack Harmon
Sorry I’ve not been in contact for a while – you know how it is. Some news: I’m getting married! In fact, I’m already married. A couple of weeks ago – I’d have invited you, but it was really low key like Jackie wanted. Nothing like ours! Hope to see you when we get back from honeymoon.
PS Guess what? I’m going to be a dad!
Lisa stared at the screen. The words were clear but they made no sense. Around her, the other freelances were quietly working, editing features, hacking text down to fit the available space, writing captions.
She read the message again. And then a third time. Her hand pressed ‘reply’ without any conscious thought.
The Adventures of Captain Andrea Vasanius will appear in Stupefying Stories.
“So, you want me to take a package out
beyond the Rim, deliver it to a point at which, unless I am very much
mistaken, there is not even a minor asteroid, and then return to claim a
reward that would make King Minos blink. There, did I miss anything?”
Captain Andrea Vasanius turned to the figure standing on the bridge beside him.
The elf stared out into space. Vasanius, despite his frequent dealings with the Faerie since his departure from the Concordat Navy, still found it hard to tell if the elf was seeing the phenomenal world that he perceived – at the moment, a chaotic mess of ships, loading and unloading around the trade planetoid, Friedrich Hayek – or was looking into the boundary world between being and becoming, where monsters flickered into possibility and lines of fate ran like silver hawsers through the shadow banks of time. On the other hand, maybe it was just a case of trapped wind; you could never tell with the Fair Folk.
One day the Reluctant Eagle decided he
would like to see outside the nest. He knew his feathers were not quite
ready for flying but he thought that it would be alright just to look.
Foot by foot he struggled up the eyrie. By the time he got to the top his legs were aching.
Then he had his first look Out There.
It was just as well the eyrie was old and well built. It could take the impact of a nearly full grown eagle falling into it flat on his back.
The pigeon shook his head sadly. Poison was horrible.
The rat was rolling around on the ground by the drains, holding his sides, his face contorted with pain. The pigeon shook his head again. But there was nothing he could do to ease the rat’s pain. And was that some bird seed over there?
‘Hey, mate, you read this?’
The pigeon looked around. It was the rat. But the rat did not seem to be dying horribly. In fact, he looked rather healthy and surprisingly cheerful for an animal that had been rolling on the ground, holdings its sides a moment before.
Jayalath handed a grubby scrap of paper to the ticket inspector.
‘And for your friend?’ said the inspector, nodding towards the shape in the corner, almost completely hidden under a large black cloth.
‘She’s Muslim,’ said Jayalath.
‘I can see that,’ said the inspector, ‘but I still have to see her ticket.’
‘Ticket,’ hissed Jayalath, poking the large black tent with his elbow.
Out shot something that might have been an arm. The skin was dark, like Jayalath’s, but it only seemed to have two fingers with which to hold the even grubbier ticket. Jayalath grabbed it and shoved it towards the ticket inspector, blocking his view of the arm.
It was on Tuesday 23rd March that the animals began to speak. I remember it quite clearly. I was sitting at my desk, working on a paper – I was an academic theologian of some distinction, if I say so myself – when I noticed Blue, my cat, sitting on the floor looking up at me. Normally, eye contact and the formal feline greeting was succeeded by a rasping, “Meow,” that meant, depending on tone and inflection, “food” or “stroke me” or “I want to sit on your lap and settle into slumber.”
But on this occasion, after formally squinting his eyes, Blue said, “ You really are an insufferable bore,” and then stalked out of the room with his grey tail held high.
Good Neighbours is in Best New Writing 2014. Note: this story is definitely not suitable for children or younger teenagers. I would not recommend it for anyone under 18.
Standing on the doorstep, Gemma
squared her shoulders, licked her lips and glanced across the road to
Henry, her partner, who waved encouragingly. The smell of cinnamon and
cooked apples wafted up from the dish she was carrying.
Gemma took a deep breath, stepped forward, pressed the doorbell and fell back a step.
The door opened a crack.
“Hello,” said Gemma, “you don’t know me – we live down the street – but…”
The door closed.
“We’re coming to you – live – from Dr
Shane Singh’s latest timehop camp, outside Bangalore, and the count down
to the first jump back to the Jurassic.” Andy Loundras, broadcaster for
Channel 93 Australia, stopped.
“How was that, Bill?” he asked the cameraman.
Bill, never one for unnecessary words, did not remove his eye from the viewfinder, but gave a thumbs up gesture.
“You sure?” asked Andy. “The light here in India’s pretty harsh. You sure it doesn’t, you know, make me look kind of old.”
Ignatius Anthony stood in the wings waiting for his cue. He brushed a fly from John Gielgud’s nose. Polonius,
he thought. The fly, being no respecter of theatrical reputations,
settled on Judie Dench’s cheek and began to clean itself meticulously.
Dame Judie did not move. Gertrude, decided Ignatius. Good casting.
The Infinity Generator will appear in Midwest Literary Magazine.
“I must say, the prospect of total planetary destruction does serve to concentrate the mind.”
Dear Mr President/Prime Minister –
please delete as applicable (Timothy had seen this on a form once and
thought it looked very official),
I love animals, but we’ve only got cats and dogs round here, unless you count Megs and his gang. Please could you send me one of yours,
PS. I promise to vote for you when I grow up.
PPS. And say nice things about you to the papers.
Hef first turned up at one of our meetings looking, and smelling, the worse for wear.
“Wife problems,” he said. “Can I come in?”
I was secretary of the Hoddesdon Model Railway Club. I looked at the huge, squint-eyed bloke swaying at the door, his overalls stained with oil, the smell of alcohol layering over a sulphurous reek, and decided he’d fit right in.
“So you think the world’s become
prosaic and dull? There’s no mystery any more, no magic? You want
enchantment, adventure? You want…monsters?
“You dream of feeling the downrush of a dragon’s wings, of hearing a distant, metallic rhythm and slowly realising that it’s the sound of dwarves, marching, I know you do.”
When he first moved in next door, Mr
Perkins did not seem particularly demonic. He favoured woollen jumpers
with pictures of lost sheep, soft slippers and his lawnmower. However,
we learned the truth when he invited us round to tea.
The Sentience Register appeared in the web edition of Title Goes Here: in December 2011. Sadly, the magazine is no longer available online, so the story awaits an appearance in a future, planned, short story anthology.
“She sleeps with her rabbit?”
“Yeah. Maybe the bunny’s not so dumb after all.”
“I-I-I love you and I want to marry you and have your babies.”
Dog Soldiers will appear in The Midnight Diner 4.
This time Sergeant Mark Kennett knew he was going to die.
“Which is more important, books or people?”
“You are going to hell and there is nothing I can do to stop it.”
The anonymous cryptographer of the
Voynich Manuscript was a worthy opponent, possessing a mind subtle, and
cunning, and deep. It was an honour to match myself against him.
“Write this down. Take it with you to Possidius and see that it is added to my Confessions. I want to tell how I lost my son.”
He was going to bury his father.
“My name is Sir Matthew, son of Mummy, and I’m going to kill you.”
Honestly, I didn’t mean to take it all. I only intended to fold up a mountain range and some fields, and maybe a lake or two.
“So what do you think God really looks like?”
“In a couple of weeks we’ll be able to tell you whether ET exists and even give you his address.”
The Last Door in The Midnight Diner Volume 3. An actual real paper, sit down and read it in your lap magazine. This issue is available from Amazon and other retailers. ISBN-13: 978-0982783221.
Look, let’s be honest here. You go to a
model railway fair and you don’t see too many people who’ve drawn a
full hand in life’s beauty shuffle.
A cold wind blows, tearing the veils
of mist that hang above the lakes and ponds. In his field an old man
straightens as he hears, from the north, a wild cry, carried before the