Tuesday, 28 December 2010
On Christmas Eve, we were ready. Click had hacked into the NASA Santa-tracking satellite and discovered that it was reporting twenty minutes behind his actual location at any time. Cunning old devil had ensured nobody could catch him, but he had not reckoned on extraterrestrial intervention.
Caligula and I were on the roof with crossbows while Click waited downstairs with the fireplace net, the gin traps and the anaesthetic-laced sherry. We let Santa land his sleigh and disappear into the chimney before shooting his reindeer.
That's where things started to get a bit strange.
Caligula and I both hit our targets but all the reindeer did was turn their heads and stare at us. The one with the big red nose snorted and hundreds of heavily-armed elves poured out of the back of the sleigh. They had lights and tinsel and marshmallows and fluffy clouds and egg-nog and good cheer. They also had submachine guns and machetes.
Caligula curled into the foetal position, teeth bared and fingers extended. I can't blame him, he is only a child and cannot be expected to cope with marshmallows and good cheer at his age. I reloaded and fired but one bolt at a time wasn't enough. I could only kebab three at a time so I was soon overwhelmed and lost all the fingers of my right hand to a piece of exceptionally sharp tinsel.
Later I learned that Click had failed to net Santa, who had then cajoled Click with a merry 'Ho ho ho' and offered to share his mince pie and sherry. It was over a day later that I actually found this out because Click was sedated and in a drunken stupor when I found him. Santa, apparently, is impervious to alcohol and anaesthetic.
So he escaped with his bolt-proof reindeer and his army of chuckling green-clad miniature monsters. I lost the bet with Senga and had to pay her three gold coins. I did say I was good at haggling, didn't I? Senga was the only one to get a present from Santa. It was a gold coin. The sarcastic old swine, he must have known somehow.
The bullet-holes in the roof will need sorting out and I'll make Click deal with the residual marshmallows and tinsel. He can sweep them off the roof. They'll probably help to keep the Ferals at bay until the swamp swallows them. If it can.
So once more, I have failed to capture Santa. It wasn't all bad. Santa has to abide by rules like any other supernatural being. Caligula, Click and I had, in his book, been very naughty indeed so the coal we received will heat this place until the spring.
It's more than three gold coins' worth at current prices. I think I'm still ahead on the deal.
An army of elves and Kevlar reindeer. I hadn't considered he might cheat.
You can't even trust Santa these days. What is the world coming to?
Friday, 24 December 2010
There is a dead tree in my living room. Not only has it been mercilessly severed at the part that normally joins the ground, the corpse has been draped with shiny fronds, glass balls and little lights. I had to admit that when it came to hiding the evidence, someone had gone about it in entirely the wrong way.
Naturally, such wanton brutality coupled with obvious inexperience led me to suspect Caligula but then he generally eats whatever he kills. He has not been known to decorate corpses before. Click had an alibi, he was with me in the lab. That left only Senga.
Therefore Senga must have stalked and killed this tree all on her own, dragged it indoors and draped it with shiny things. I was impressed at her skill in selecting one of the less dangerous forms of plant life in the swamp, subduing it and manipulating the corpse. I gave it a poke to make sure it was dead, then went to find her. If she is going to kill things, she would be better to restrict her tendencies to things we can eat. It's all very well having a herbicidal maniac around the place but tree soup isn't particularly nutritious.
I thought it best not to open with an accusation, so I casually mentioned the dead tree in the living room and asked if she had noticed it.
"I put it there," she said. "Do you like it?"
I know that tone of voice. It's the one that leaves the last part of the sentence unspoken - 'because if you don't...'
"It's very nice," I said. "Did you kill it yourself?"
"Kill it? No, I bought it. It's plastic so it won't go rotten unlike those stockings you insist on hanging up. Shouldn't you take the feet out of them first?"
"You did what?" I could barely believe my ears. She bought a tree? We are surrounded by free trees and she spent money on one? The woman had evidently lost her mind, or had been beguiled by the shiny things in Old Morag McStench's Shiny Things Shop.
Ah, now that was a likely explanation. The tree was covered in the sort of shiny and pointless things old Morag sells to the gullible, and to those she can snare with her enchantments.
Senga sniffed. "I spent a few coins, that's all. You have plenty. You won't even miss them."
"The reason I have plenty of them is that I don't spend them. Those coins are Father's and when he finds a few missing he's going to be angry enough to invite that banshee over again. Last time he did that I went a week without sleep and ended up stitching my own ears closed until it left."
"Oh don't be silly." Senga pulled an enormous dead bird from the cupboard and slapped it on the table. "Your father has been dead for years. He can't take it with him."
"No, he can't, that's why he's staying here with it." I examined the bird. "What's that for?"
"No, we are having reindeer." I checked the time. "I hope. I'd better get Caligula and Click ready. It's time to lie in wait on the roof."
Senga laughed. "You won't catch him. You never do. I bet you five gold coins we'll be having turkey tomorrow."
"Four," I said. Oh, I'm certain we can get him this time but haggling just comes naturally.
"Done," she said with that infuriating little smile of hers.
I would have argued further but time had run out. I still had to open the gin traps and set the trip wires and get Click and Caligula onto the roof with crossbows (atomic blasters were disallowed because I am not interested in eating reindeer mince) and hide our footsteps in the snow before Santa arrived.
A dead plastic tree in my living room, a team effort for Santa capture and the risk of losing four gold coins.
Maybe I'm getting old, but Christmas doesn't seem the same any more.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Remember to look over the rest of the fiction, poetry and art. The art is best viewed just before bedtime to provide inspiration for dreams.
I need darker dreams. Lately they have been plagued with puppies and bunnies and sunshine. I wake up completely devoid of cold sweat and haven't had a good scream for ages. It's just wrong.
Perhaps I should see a psychiatrist. Then again, maybe not. Cousin Phalanges once went to a psychiatrist and has never been seen since. I hear they shrink people.
I wonder how it's done?
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Caligula thinks Click is great but that's down to the atomic blaster episode which will not be repeated.
I have only a couple of weeks to get Click to understand the ongoing Santa battle. I hope he's a quick learner.
Friday, 10 December 2010
"I heard shots," he said.
"He missed me. Not by much, but he had an unfair advantage. My assistant gave him an atomic blaster to play with." I finished adding the jagged surface to match the rest of the wall and wiped my trowel clean.
"Atomic blaster?" Death's skull tilted. "Assistant?"
"It's a long story." I led the way into the kitchen and put the kettle on. "I found a new assistant in the swamp. Well, really, the Ferals found him and chased him here. He's clever, but not too communicative and has no understanding of infant-rearing. Caligula is only just over a year old. Far too young to be playing with advanced weaponry. He should be practicing his crossbow and working his way up gradually."
"Quite so." Death leaned his scythe against the wall and settled into a chair. "Where did you get hold of an atomic blaster?"
"Click made it. He's good with his hands. I have confiscated it and given Click a sound beating."
Death took a small computer from his robes and tapped the screen.
"You use computers?" I put a jar of kitten blood on the table. It's good to have something cute to brighten the place up, and I find a dash in my tea staves off the cold weather.
"I didn't like it at first, but it beats carrying around those books. Six billion names occupies an awful lot of paper. This thing is so light I hardly know it's there." He shook his head. "That's odd."
"What?" I filled the teapot and brought it to the table.
"He's not in here. No record of anyone called Click and no record of anyone else living here. Just you, your wife, your son and your father."
"I don't think my father counts as 'living' here."
Death clacked his teeth. "Until he's collected, he's registered as living here. I know it makes no sense but I don't make the rules. Any sign of your father lately, I wonder?" He might have smiled. It's hard to tell.
"He hasn't manifested for some time." I poured tea. Milk, sugar, rat poison, kitten blood and stirring fingers were all present and correct. "You can't just write him off, then?"
"No. There's only one way to get your name out of this--this--" he waved the little computer "--this thing here, and that's by scythe. The odd thing is, your new assistant isn't in here at all. I think I'd better take a look at him, if that's all right with you."
"No problem." I went to the door of the kitchen and made a series of clicking noises.
"What have you employed, Dume? Some kind of dolphin?"
"No. Well, he's the right colour, but he doesn't have any fins. All he can do is click, and it's all he responds to. I have no idea what I'm saying to him but I generally click and point and he gets the idea." I returned to the table and poured another cup of tea for Click. "I had wondered if he might be one of those illegal immigrants I keep hearing about. Perhaps that's why he's not on your list?"
"Makes no difference where anyone moves to. My list updates itself. There's no escape. No, if he's not in there, he never was and that could have all sorts of awkward consequences. If there's one who hasn't been registered, then how many more might there be? I have to get him on the list before anyone in the office finds out or I'll be in trouble with the boss." He shook the computer. "This would never have happened with my old books."
"What does that thing run on? Solar power?" I sipped at my tea and wondered if I could persuade him to let me look at that little machine. An accidental delete could work wonders.
"Solar? Hardly. I don't go out in the sun, Dume. I don't tan, you know, and it makes me brittle. No, this runs on soul power. It's very economical and environmentally friendly and it finds a use for some of the more, ah, useless souls. The lawyers and the politically correct did get all vocal about it, so I told them the louder the spirit, the more juice for the computer. They haven't said a word since."
Click appeared in the doorway and did his inquisitive click sound. I waved him in and pointed to the empty chair with the cup of tea in front of it. He skirted the table, watching Death all the way, took a seat and extended his proboscis from his tiny mouth into the tea.
Death faced me. "I think I know why he's not in my list, Dume. What you have here is an alien."
"Legal or illegal?"
"Well... " Death sat back and regarded Click. "Neither, really. I don't mean 'alien' as in 'foreign', although I suppose he's as foreign as it's possible to get. No, this thing is from another planet. Not human. Out of my jurisdiction. Not my responsibility." He sighed and reached for his tea. "That's a relief. I thought my records were messed up. Have you any idea how long it would take to audit them all?"
"Quite some time, I'd say. What do I do with him now? I can't have officials appearing at my door every five minutes. My freezer space is limited and I really don't need any more black suits or sunglasses."
Death added a splash of kitten blood to his cup. "I'm glad I'm not Cat Death. He has to pick up every one of his souls nine times. Dog Death's job is much easier. All he has to do is whistle and shout 'Here boy' and they come running. Then again, his rubber bone doesn't look as good as my scythe. There's also his nasty habit of drooling whenever he sees me, which is disquieting. Sorry, what were you saying?"
"What do I do with Click? Can he be taught to communicate or should I let the Ferals have him?"
"Best not let the Ferals have him. If he dies here, his people's Death will muscle in on my territory again. It's happened before and every time, I have to argue territorial matters with him. Damn, that Death is tedious and pompous. No, better you keep him until his people come for him. He won't be noticed here. The village has odder looking characters and much more repellent ones too."
"Yes, but he can't speak Village. They can be a bit wary of strangers. Truth be told, they're a bit wary even of me."
Death sipped at his tea and shuddered at the kitten blood hit. "I can fix that." He put down his cup and stood. Click's eyes widened, no mean feat with eyes like his, and he clung to his chair as Death approached. Death placed one bony hand on Click's head, there was a blue flash and Click slumped onto the table. Death resumed his seat.
"I'm not surprised the villagers are wary of you, Dume," he said. "You do experiment on them and eat a few, after all."
"Only once in a while." I tried to assume the Professor's haughty look and failed. "Usually there are enough visitors to keep the freezers filled and they are healthier than the villagers anyway."
Death raised his hands. "I'm not judging you. I appreciate the business."
Click groaned. This took me by surprise because normally even his expressions of pain come out as clicks. He sat up, blinked, moved his mouth and looked confused.
"He can't click any more." Death leaned on the table and faced Click. "It's one or the other, I'm afraid."
"Click...hear...you." Click jumped at the sound of his voice. So did I. It sounded like a rusty flute. "Click speak Earth."
Death turned to me. "It's a bit pidgin now but he'll improve with practice. You know the best part?"
I shook my head.
"When he dies, his people's Death won't be able to communicate with him." Death took out his computer again and checked it, then roared with laughter. "He's on my list. He's mine now." Death ran one phalange over his teeth and stroked it in the air. "Yes! One up on Grey Death! The miserable git." He stood, picked up his scythe and pointed the tip at Click. "You are a honorary human, Click. When the time comes I have a place for you. You won't ever be used as soul power because while you're around, that snooty swine will have to concede that I win. I have one of his and with the human half-assed attempts at space travel, it'll be a long time before he gets a chance at one of mine."
Click and I looked at each other and simultaneously said "Um..."
Death coughed and shook his robes into place. "Sorry. Got a bit overexcited there. Anyway, best dash. Souls to collect, you know." He strode to the wall and vanished through it.
There followed a long silence, eventually broken by Click.
"What just happen?"
"I'm not entirely sure. Now that you can understand me though, understand this. Caligula is dangerous. He can't help it, it's genetic. Never give him weapons. Okay?"
"Caligula your child. He not hurt you."
I produced the deepest sigh of my sighing career to date. "You have much to learn about Dume life, my friend."
At least now, thanks to the rivalry between our respective Deaths, he is capable of learning.
Monday, 29 November 2010
Besides, it's extremely cold out there now. Much earlier in the year than usual, so much earlier that I wondered if my calendar might be broken. It's not, it really is cold early. This will make the Ferals especially hungry, so I doubt I'd even find a scrap of spacesuit anywhere near that crash. Instead I resumed my backlog of procrastination. I had four hours of blank-screen-staring to get through tonight. It's tiring work, but someone has to do it. That new book won't not-write itself.
I had taken a break to stare at the wall for a while, when there came a tapping at the door. Well, I thought, I am busy. Senga can answer it for once. The tapping became a knocking which built in intensity until it sounded as if a horde of woodpeckers had decided my door was the most fashionable place to peck wood for miles around. Then it stopped. I relaxed and aimed my eyes at the wall once more. It's less tiring than the screen.
Then the screaming started. It was Senga, using that scream she normally reserves for the times when she opens Caligula's room and finds he's escaped again. It's the scream that means I have to attend and deal with the problem. The odd thing was, it wasn't coming from the direction of Caligula's room and as soon as I entered the hallway, I could hear the little lad howling to himself, so he was still in his room.
The screaming was at the front door, where a little grey man-shaped thing cowered on the step while Feral shadows flitted among the snow-covered trees outside. Unfortunately I have not had time to go out and sharpen the icicles this year so there was little point in slamming the door. Instead I hauled the little man inside and closed the door gently. No point dislodging unsharpened icicles. That would be a waste.
"Is something the matter?" I said. Senga carried on screaming. I have positioned buckets around the house to deal with this, so I picked one up and put it over her head until the screaming stopped. While waiting, I addressed our diminutive visitor.
"Sorry about this. She can't stop until she can no longer see the problem. I'm afraid she seems to consider you a problem although I can't see why." I couldn't, really. He was no more than three feet tall, extraordinarily thin and wearing a one-piece suit. Okay, he did have a head shaped like an upside-down teardrop with a mouth at the pointy end that would have trouble with anything wider than a pencil, jet-black eyes that filled most of the upper part of his face and no visible ears. So yes, he was ugly, but there are worse in the village. Senga has cousins that would make this little grey man look like a movie star.
I thought, maybe that was it. Maybe he was one of Senga's long-lost relatives she had thought dead. Everyone around here has long-lost relatives, and most have recently-lost ones too. The swamp accounts for most of those that don't make it this far. Well, if he's family, I can't put him in the laboratory, nor can I add him to the menu. Not that it would be worthwhile. There wasn't enough on him for more than a starter.
The little man blinked. Sideways. Which was unusual. Even the most deformed of the villagers have eyelids that go up and down. I haven't even seen a Feral blink sideways. Well, that alone made him an interesting diversion so I decided to let him stay. For a while.
Once Senga had calmed down I lifted the bucket and enquired again what the problem was. She pointed at the little man.
"It came out of the swamp. It's a goblin or something. Get rid of it." She looked quite scared, which confused me. The swamp has much scarier things in it than this little imp. Hell, the local pub has scarier things in it. Yet this small grey man struck terror into her in a way no Feral has yet managed.
"Actually," I said, "I was thinking of keeping it. I wondered if it was a relative of yours?"
"A relative?" Her voice was only just within the upper limit of my hearing range. "You think I have relatives that look like - like that?"
"Well, your cousin Bernie..." In hindsight, I should really have said 'no' at that point. It turned out okay because she decided to visit her mother with little Caligula again. This left me with the little grey visitor and plenty of time to work out what he was. He wasn't any kind of goblin, at least not of any goblin species I've encountered and there was nothing about him in any of the Dume records of swamp things. Something new, evidently, but where could he have come from?
He doesn't speak Village so he's not one of theirs. He doesn't speak Feral either, but since they were hunting him it was already clear he wasn't one of theirs. Nor does he speak Dume. In fact, all he does is make clicking sounds. In the absence of any meaningful communication, I have named him Click. Not the word, the sound. It's the only thing he responds to.
He's smart enough. He has already fixed the long-broken nuclear generator in the basement so the place has heating again, he repaired my X-ray machine and he's now working on Grandfather Dume's black hole generator that never worked properly. It only ever produced lumps of gold and there are dungeons stacked with the wretched stuff as a result.
I think I'll keep Click as an assistant. He doesn't look like he eats much and the castle has enough spare rooms that Senga need not even notice him.
The only trouble is the clicking sounds. I'll have to teach him to speak, even if it requires surgery.
Then he can tell me his origins. That will mean a new entry in the Dume book of the swamp. There hasn't been a new one for many years.
I just hope he's not one of those illegal immigrants.
Saturday, 27 November 2010
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Terry Grimwood's 'The Places Between' for the Horror Zine.
It's not often I pick up a book and read it right to the end in one sitting, but this one just wouldn't let go. This book is for those who like their monsters imaginative and numerous, each with their own character and their own goals.Definitely worth a read.
Saturday, 20 November 2010
First of all, I tried summoning him with magic. That didn't work. The following year I set traps but he's surprisingly nimble and he escaped. Not unscathed, but he did escape.
Then I turned to technology but he was ahead of me there also.
Last year I was distracted by Caligula who was only three months old and hadn't yet learned to howl only at the full moon. He howled every time his grandmother looked at him, but then that's excusable. The resemblance is really quite remarkable, right down to the placement of the craters. He understands the difference now but if she turns up unexpectedly he can still lapse into unseasonal howls. I can't punish him because looking at her makes me want to howl too. I hope Senga doesn't grow to resemble her mother.
This year, I have a new tactic. Caligula and I will hide on the roof, let him get inside and then shoot his reindeer. Then we can ransack his sleigh at our leisure and track him through the house. There'll be no escape this time, other than on foot through the swamp. The Slimy Swamp Thing will probably be dormant at that time of year but the Ferals don't hibernate. They'll be hungry and possibly drunk.
Even if he makes it to the village, if he turns up there without presents they'll lynch him.
Reindeer steaks for Christmas dinner too. It's perfect.
Well, better go and re-string the crossbows. Christmas preparations can take a lot of time.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Sometimes ideas come from strange places. I have no clue what possessed me to think of putting Foras's face on a magnetic card, but I suggested it to the artist who made the cover and she came up with something very special. That's not the original graphic. It's a photo of the finished product, and not a great photo. The original looks much better.
I'll distribute these now, and let people wonder what it's about until early next year. Then I'll start sending out the bookmarks and cards.
The image on the magnet fits exactly over the image on the bookmark. Exactly. So there can be no doubt of the connection between the two.
Now all I have to do is distribute these little magnets far and wide. If anyone would like a handful, let me know on docdume (at) googlemail (dot) com.
They are free, naturally.
I have a book here to review. I've read it, in fact I read it in one sitting, it's that good. The full review will be submitted to The Horror Zine as soon as I have all the words in the right order. Until then, I can't say any more other than to point to a sample of the author's work.
Meanwhile, the Horror Zine volume 2 has been reviewed again. In this one, by a remarkable coincidence, I am mentioned by name as is the author whose book I am reviewing.
To add to the coincidences, that author dedicated his current book to his wife, whose name just happens to be Jessica. Fortunately his main character is not named Senga or I'd be wondering how strange this day was going to get.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
I'm told it can be like throwing a party when nobody comes. Well that's no problem. I have often thrown parties when nobody comes. I have often sat in silent Dume parties and stared at the pile of invitations Senga spent so long writing and wondered if perhaps I should have posted them. An open fire hides a multitude of forgotten postings, and the cost of stamps would have made the party an economic disaster anyway.
The April deadline is now absolute. Jessica's Trap opens on April 30th, 1647 and the book release is scheduled for April 7th, 2011. That's the electronic version. The paper version takes a couple more weeks but it has to be available by Beltane Eve and I can't mess that up because I have spent money on advertising that depends on it.
Maybe I'll get my ex-assistant, Stumpy, to stand in for the book signings. He likes people and he doesn't seem to scare them away quite so comprehensively as do I.
This marketing thing is new to me, but it does look like fun. Especially when someone who knows about graphics is doing the images. All I need now is worldwide dispersal and that's where Stumpy comes in.He'll talk to anyone.
Monday, 1 November 2010
On the same day, the bookmarks and cards for promoting Jessica's Trap arrived. They look very nice indeed. I'll trickle a few out over the coming months but not too many, too soon. I had an Idea which a very talented artist is dealing with now, and which means I don't want to show my full hand too soon. Although if I ever lose concentration while feeding Caligula, I won't have a full hand to show.
Or even a hand at all.
Senga and I gave the little lad a pet piglet. It's time he learned some responsibility and I have told him he can't torture it. Nor can he let his toys torment it. He has formed an attachment to Scabby Ted, my old bear, and that thing can't be trusted.
Underbed Monster gave him a dust bunny, Closet Monster gave him a beetle and Fang gave him blood poisoning. I'm not sure what Banquo gave him but I suspect it's a personality disorder. Well, it saves him the bother of developing his own.
Caligula is under strict instruction to ensure his pet pig stays healthy and is regularly fed and well looked after. To achieve this, I bribed him with the promise that if he is good, he'll get a shiny bacon slicer for Christmas and he'll be allowed to help his mother with Christmas dinner.
He has named his pig 'Dad'. Isn't that cute?
Thursday, 28 October 2010
The Professor called in at 3 am this morning, while I was spending money. Neither of these things is normal.
I had been ordering some cards and bookmarks advertising Jessica's Trap. The more you buy, the lower the individual cost, so my wallet was in turmoil and my credit card in pain. I plan to trickle them out at first then drop a load of them everywhere just before the book escapes - I mean, is published. I should have put a disclaimer concerning bad dreams and brain damage in the front of it, although it's funnier to put it at the end.
So there I was, consoling my credit card, when the doorbell pealed. I considered turning on the outside light and letting the Ferals deal with this visitor but I had been spending already, and lights cost money. It wouldn't have worked anyway. The Ferals are scared of the Professor, as are the ghosts. I'm not quite sure why, although he does have a sort of seething fury that's permanently just below the surface (and sometimes above it).
I opened the door. "Yes?"
"Whisky, yes." He barged in and headed straight for the living room. Honestly, he is more difficult to deal with than either Death or Red Stan at times. No wonder the supernatural is terrified of him. I expect Death will have to work up the courage to visit him when the time comes. Rather than starting with an imperious 'It is Time', I envisage Death opening with ''Er... excuse me, are you busy?'.
He will be. He always is.
He was halfway through a bottle of the Ardbeg before I could get a word out of him. When I did, it made little sense.
"Damn ghost won't speak to me!"
I thought about asking where I could get such a ghost since the ones here normally won't shut up. The only time I get peace is when the Professor visits or Death does a house-clearance.
"So," I said, "which ghost is this?"
"He won't tell me. He can speak, he can appear, he has been in the place for ages but he will not stand still for a photograph and he won't answer me. Tonight he didn't show up at all. How am I supposed to investigate the supernatural when it keeps running away?"
For a moment, I considered pointing out the obvious. All those things normally considered scary run away when the Professor is around. He has never even been troubled by the Rarely-Glimpsed Slimy Swamp Thing, and that has taken on whole parades of villagers and won. However, the Professor doesn't know about the ghosts here, nor about the, shall we say, unusual fauna of the swamp and it's best it stays that way. I don't want him filling my castle with cameras and all his other gadgets. He might even try to move in.
Instead I merely inquired as to the location of the recalcitrant spectre.
"In my laboratory. In my own laboratory. I don't have to go out in the cold, I don't have to transport anything anywhere. No need to worry about batteries. Everything can run on the mains. It should have been the easiest investigation ever." He scowled so hard I swear the painting of my grandfather winced.
"It must be frustrating," I ventured.
"Frustrating isn't the word for it." He took a gulp of whisky.
"Isn't it?" I was pretty sure it was the word for it, but then he was the one who had the experience. He didn't look to be in the mood for a debate on vocabulary so I left him to brood while I put my credit card on life-support and double-checked the padlock on my wallet. He eventually fell asleep in the chair, as he normally does when he's overdone both the rage and the whisky. I draped a blanket over him and left him there.
He must have woken and gone home before dawn, because some of the ghosts had started moaning again just before the sun came up.
It must be tough being a ghost. Death is after them, Red Stan is always looking for recruits, and then there's the Professor.I hope, when my time comes, Death finds me first.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
Caligula's birthday is my first priority. I could get him another puppy, but it took ages to clean up after the last one. There were bits everywhere. Maybe something reptilian? He might manage to bond with a lizard. A fishing game? No, he'd find other uses for the hooks. A Junior Rogue Scientist kit might be good although he's maybe a little young yet for dabbling with the forces of nature. Well, he has to learn sometime and he'll have been here a whole year. I don't know. I've racked my brains on their shiny new display rack but that hasn't helped. I don't know why people suggest it. They do look nice though, ranked in order of size.
I'm going to have to think hard on this and avoid distractions. Oh, look, The Horror Zine has a new issue online.
There was something important I had to do. I'm sure it'll come back to me. After I've read a few stories.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
The cover art is complete. I can't put up the blurb until it's been sliced into individual letters and rearranged by an editor into an order that makes sense. That could take a while. The book will appear as both print and pixels in April next year, which is almost exactly 364 years since the date on the opening page - April 30th, 1647. Numerologists will have fun with that.
I have never seen an artist work so fast, and produce something exactly right with the first draft. If only I could do that with words. I hope she also does the artwork for Samuel's Girl and future books - assuming the same publisher accepts them, of course.
The cover shows Foras, chief of the demon group in the book. It's lucky the artist didn't choose Demdike for the cover. Nobody would dare pick the book up.
No, the picture isn't based on me, although the ghastly green pallor does make me wonder if we are related...
Saturday, 16 October 2010
If I hadn't messed up that Christmas invocation he wouldn't be able to come and go so freely. Well, it can't be helped. I nodded to the flameproof chair I bought to save on furniture costs and asked him what was on his mind.
"Your fireplace." He ran his fingers over his horns. "I don't want to blunt these. I've just had them sharpened."
"Perhaps a different means of entry would be appropriate? I have a front door."
Stan's lip curled. "It's cold and wet out there. Not my cup of tea, you know. Speaking of cups of tea..." He raised his eyebrows.
I rose from my seat. "Well, okay. I can't entertain you for long, you know. I have this contract to deal with."
Senga was once again occupied with stitching her wounds after playing with Caligula. I've told her not to do that. It's never wise for a Dumelet to become too attached to his parents, it could make him grow up strange. Anyway, I brought the kettle from the kitchen along with the tea, milk, sugar, rat poison, blood, powdered goat horn and stirring bones. Then I went back for the cups while Red Stan held the kettle until it boiled. One good thing about his visits, he does save me money on the heating.
With a cup of that traditional British brew each, we settled into our chairs.
"So," I said, "what brings you out on such a cold and wet evening?"
"Contract." Red Stan took a heavy wad of paper from the air and dropped it on the table.
I patted at the smouldering bits until they went out. He really needs to reconsider his methods because paper is a poor choice of medium for a creature who's permanently aflame.
"What's this for?" I squinted at the runes on the paper.
"Contract. I heard you were ready to sign one." Red Stan took a swig of tea. I'm never sure if he drinks it or just inhales the vapour because it boils as soon as he picks up the cup.
"Yes, but not that one." I showed him the contract for Jessica's Trap. "This is the contract I'm signing."
"You call that a contract?" Red Stan laughed. "It's so- so small. Barely three pages long. Now this - " he indicated the pile of paper he'd brought, "This is a proper contract. Written by a whole team of lawyers. I have access to quite a lot of lawyers, you know."
"Pretty much all of them, I'm sure." I eyed the contract he had placed on the table. "So, what's in yours?"
"Whatever you want. Fame, fortune, a place at a top school for your child, women, booze, long life, anything." He leaned forward. "I can even arrange to get your books published."
"Well. Sounds very nice." I sipped at my tea. "Fame, I don't want. It means being recognised on the street and I have enough problems with that in the village as it is. Fortune, I have, courtesy of the hoarding nature of the Dume family. There is no point in giving more money to me because I won't spend it anyway. Caligula has already been thrown out of nursery for eating the class hamster so I'll be teaching him at home, and I have one woman already. Why would I want another one? Just having one around is proving to be hard work and terribly expensive."
"The booze is no problem, the pub has plenty of that and I don't drink much of it anyway. Long life, well, the only way to guarantee long life for Senga and myself would be to kill Caligula and I'm not going to agree to that. So I'm afraid your contract offers nothing I want."
Red Stan's flames receded. "It's not possible. There must be something you want, surely?"
I sat in silence for a while and realised I really hadn't thought about it. I have Dume Towers, I have my laboratory, I have dungeons, chains, skeletons, evil possessed toys, an invisibility suit (which I still haven't found), one of those tables that rises up to the ceiling in thunderstorms, everything. I even have a wife and child. Not the prettiest, granted, but certainly the most deranged. What else could I want? Indeed, what else would I have time to deal with?
"No," I said. "Nothing."
Steam rose from Red Stan's eyes. "It can't be. Everyone wants something. Nobody ever turned this contract down before. Well, apart from one fellow about two thousand years ago, but then I found out his Dad owned everything anyway." He wiped his eyes. "Sorry, I'm not supposed to get emotional. It doesn't give a very professional impression."
"Don't worry about it. Nobody will know." Not until Death's next visit, anyway.
"There is one thing you missed. Getting your books published. I can arrange that, you know." His fire returned.
He looked so much more cheerful it seemed a shame to spoil it for him, but I held up the small contract and explained what it was for.
"So you see, I have already managed that part on my own."
A scowl spread over his face. "What kind of world is it when people start doing things for themselves? If this keeps up I'll be out of a job." He lifted his contract and glared at it while it dissolved into smoke.
"I'm certain it's not widespread. The village is full of people who can't be bothered running their own lives. There'll be plenty of call for your services for some time yet, I'm sure." I would have patted his shoulder reassuringly but I didn't have my asbestos gloves handy. Instead I moved to refill his cup.
"No more for me. Have to be going." His flames turned an angry purple for a moment. "I have contracts to sign and others to call in. I can't waste time here." He headed for the fireplace.
"Watch out for the - " I winced at the crack of horn on granite. Then he was gone in a cloud of expletives, some of which would have embarrassed a Feral.
I returned to my contract - the real world one. It's with Damnation Press. Hmm.
I'd better check this very carefully indeed. Red Stan can be a tricky one.
Then the Editing begins. I have no idea how deep the cuts will be nor how many stitches will be required to seal the holes. The book must be ready by April because that's when the publishers plan to unleash, er, I mean release it. By then they might well have seen the second one and if I can get time in between bandaging Senga and fending off Caligula I'll rewrite the third and start the fourth.
There is also the matter of cover art, and I have gently informed Senga that her stick-figures and crayon attempts simply won't do. Caligula shows more promise. His installation of 'nailed rat' on the wall of his room shows creativity, imagination and wanton cruelty. However, he is far too young and dangerous to be let loose upon the publishing world. Perhaps when he's older. No, this is best left to professionals, I think.
It's going to be a busy weekend, so I expect visitors will arrive to get in the way. Death, Red Stan and the Professor have not been around for some time.
I hope they don't all turn up at once.
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Long evenings spent in sullen silence are fun, but you can't really enjoy them if there's someone else there. There's always that possibility that they'll try to start a conversation just as you reach the Nirvana of gloomy contemplation, and just before you get a decent hold of that story idea lurking there.
So I have peace for a short while. It's a nervous sort of peace. I'm still waiting for that contract to arrive for Jessica's Trap. It might be worth letting the postman know that Caligula is away. There might be something of a backlog of mail waiting.
I have a film-maker lined up to make one of those 'book preview' short films but he needs the cover art but that won't even start to happen until I send back the form dealing with it but that form requires a 'date of signing and returning contract' section. It all hinges on the arrival of the contract. The moment that arrives, things start to move.
The publishing business isn't fast. I already knew that but hadn't experienced it before. I'm going to have to get used to a different pace of life. Still if there are long gaps between contacts, I can work on that third book.
In fact I'd better get some writing done while Caligula is away. He's good at disturbing me although to be fair, as he's growing he is at least learning only to howl at full moons. This makes the peak noise predictable, at least. Which reminds me - it's his birthday at the end of the month. I'll have to think of something he hasn't dissected yet.
Once the book is complete I'll have to go searching for reviewers. The Horror Zine has already promised one and if I can get anything like the ones here, here and here I'll be delighted. Well, I'm already happy about those reviews because I'm in that book. It's a pity all this didn't happen while Alienskin was active. Oh well, too much good luck in one go can be dangerous.
Speaking of good luck, I have a few days of peace to relax with nothing to disturb the distant groans of the Rarely-Glimpsed Slimy Swamp Thing, the faint rattle of ghostly chains and the far-off shrieks of the Ferals. It's like the old days.
I'd like to encourage Senga to take Caligula to his grandparents more often, but I suspect they won't be too keen to make it a regular thing.
They used to have a dog, you see.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
So it was that I wandered into the Throat and Razor for a lunchtime pint of Jock McSquirty's Bowel Purger. As usual, the buzz of conversation I thought I heard from outside proved to be an illusion because as soon as I entered, I found the place to be silent. Must be a trick of the wind in the eaves. The pub was occupied only by those who stare morosely into glasses that are half empty.
I was surprised to see Tumbleguts McJoystick serving at the bar. It seems his video game business is not doing well because of a recession somewhere, so he's supplementing his income with odd jobs. I confess I have not bought a game from him since Deathmatch Golf in which I'm still working on my handicap. He told me of a new game he has in stock, Street Snitch, which could be interesting. It's based on real life, well, on life outside the swamp which is increasingly unreal. I'll call in and buy a copy when he's not working elsewhere.
On my return, it seemed that Senga had won the Lunch War and was deservedly ecstatic. So I decided to withhold my own news for the moment and save it for a time when she can properly appreciate it.
It is, after all my first ever acceptance of an entire novel by a publisher. It's not easy, this writing game. This acceptance took three attempts. Nevertheless, 'Jessica's Trap' now has all sorts of forms associated with it, which I will deal with over the weekend.
Perhaps the next one will be quicker.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
I'll put this into the sidebar and make it a link. Its creator works like a demon and might well be one, so it's best not to annoy her.
I have to wonder if there is a plan in there somewhere. A diabolical plan.The best kind.
Saturday, 21 August 2010
The first part of Jeani Rector's novel, We all Fall Down, is here, and you can get the whole thing here (for the UK, here). I have to visit Amazon soon anyway because I loaned my copy of Twice the Terror to Hamish McBookworm, he's passed it to someone else and now it's going around the village at a rate that suggests I'll never get it back. If I do, it will probably be all creased and I like my books pristine.
The news section is big this month, and starts with a short story competition that pays out prizes but is free to enter - my favourite arrangement for such things. Best get the thinking cap on. Mine really works because it's made of dried and cured cerebral cortex and has batteries. It even has a light bulb on top for those 'Aha!' moments. Not one of those eco-bulbs that take hours to warm up, but a proper filament bulb that comes on at once. I don't have all day.
At the bottom of this month's news is the little book of old stories I put on Lulu. That's free too, if you like downloads, and cheap if you prefer print. It's not there to make me rich. It's there to keep all those old stories I sold to magazines and Ezines that have since folded their final pages closed. Since first rights have gone for all but two of the stories in there, they won't sell again.
I'm not sure whether I'm a turncoat for abandoning the still-cooling corpse of Alienskin so quickly, or a parasite for latching on to the Horror Zine.
Oh well. Both are noble professions, embraced by many a Dume down the ages. Either will do.
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Those are all excuses. The real reason for sporadic submission is procrastination. I'm never sure the stories are just right yet and I want to check them over. And over, and over. Once in a while I get up the nerve to send some sample chapters.
This time I sent Jessica's Trap to a publisher, and today I responded to a request for the full story. It's the first time I've had a request for the full manuscript although to be fair, the number of submissions I've sent so far is still in single figures.
So, fingers crossed, and by that I mean I have opened every jar of fingers in the laboratory and stitched them into pairs. I might not pass stage two this time but I have at least reached it, and that is a milestone in itself.
If they like Jessica's Trap and want to see more, Samuel's Girl is ready to go too.
If they don't, I am encouraged anyway.
Sunday, 8 August 2010
I let her in, closed and locked the door. Sometimes they try to make a break for it and their screams set the Ferals off. I have researched the matter and it is true that they have hundreds of laws saying I have to let them in. They don't have a single one that says I have to let them out.
"Why have you locked the door?" She folded her arms and looked prim and proper at me.
"Ferals," I said. "They steal food, you know."
"Hmph" she said, although I am not sure that the noise she made could be considered conversation. "Where is your wife?"
"Recovering. She fed Caligula earler and it takes quite a toll on her." I guided the bun-haired harpy along the corridor.
"Breast feeding, is she?"
I laughed aloud. "Of course not. She's not stupid." The idea of putting anything made of meat into Caligula's mouth and expecting to get it back had me chuckling all the way to his room.
She tried the door. "It's locked. That is child abuse. If there is anything wrong with this child, I will report it and you'll lose him forever." The look of malicious glee on her face endeared her to me briefly, but I'm already married and I'm not going to do that again. It's just too much of a chore.
"Wrong with him? Well, be my guest." I checked through the peephole before opening the door. Caligula is pretty fast these days. He was in the corner of the room, playing with a mouse. They taste better when they are properly scared.
I opened the door, let her in and shut it quickly. There was a brief interlude of 'Hello little boy, I'm here to help you', then a short period of screaming.
When Caligula is full, he'll fall asleep. Then I'll clean his room and put the rest in the fridge.
With any luck, someone will come looking for her soon.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Apparently Lulu did something wrong and have apologised. I had noticed nothing amiss, but it seems their system didn't properly catalogue the short story book, Fears of the Old and the New. It was, I thought, very good of them to deal with this and very good indeed of them to give the book a 15% discount until the 15th of August. I am impressed by their professionality in this matter.
It will help with the practice promotion exercise. The business side of writing is extraordinarily difficult to master and makes me all the more appreciative of the work Jeani Rector puts in to promote The Horror Zine and its books. It was always obviously hard work, but the true scale of it is astounding. I can also, now, better understand why the Alien Queen Mother had had enough after eight years of it.
Well, since Lulu have provided me with this opportunity, I will have to make the best of it. The discount applies only to the print version, not the Ebook which is already cheap, nor, unsurprisingly, to the free download version.
Until August 15th, then, the book is 15% discounted. There have been a few sales but no reviews as yet. You can, of course, review and rate it based on the free download if you prefer not to spend money. Reader response is far more important to me than profit at this stage - I need to know whether I'm getting this whole thing right or wrong.
The book link is here, and should you choose to buy the print version before August 15th, you can use the following discount information, provided by Lulu. After the 15th it won't work any more but the download will still be free.
Use coupon code BEACHREAD305 at checkout and receive 15% off Fears of the old and the new.. Maximum savings with this promotion is $10. You can only use the code once per account, and you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer ends on August 15, 2010 at 11:59 PM so try not to procrastinate! While very unlikely we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so.
It would be around this time, too, that I would be considering an Alienskin article. It's become a habit and my typing fingers are getting twitchy.
Maybe I should write one anyway and put it here, in memory of the passing of Alienskin and also to keep myself in practice.This is not a good time to get lazy.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
A very strange man appeared at my door today. He said he was from the Water Board. I have read about this waterboard. it sounds very unpleasant indeed and not a hobby I plan to take up at all.
His proposal involved piping water into the castle, and me paying him to do it.
I was, naturally, perplexed by this. Why would anyone want their home full of water? Furthermore, why would anyone want to pay for it? It would make quite a mess, I think. It's possible he had confused me with a trout, although his experience of fish must have been limited because none of my oddities include fins.
His smile was too wide and too white to be trusted. 'Everyone needs water,' he said.
'Well, yes,' I said, 'but I live in a swamp. In Scotland. Water is not hard to come by. It drops out of the sky most days.'
'Ah,' he said, 'but we sell treated water. It's very nice. You should try it.'
The village homeopath, Avogadro McNothing, sells treated water. It tastes the same as the stuff that drops out of the sky. This is not surprising because that's where he gets his water too. I pointed this out and the Waterboard man laughed. A rattle followed by a wheeze. It sounded like Caligula shaking a puppy to death.
I wondered, aloud, why anyone would pay for water.
'We control all British water.' he said.
'Really? Could you perhaps arrange to drop rather less of it around here? I have water tanks on the roof but they've been full for a long time and I have enough to be going on with, thank you.'
'Oh, we don't control the rain. It only belongs to us when it hits the ground.'
Fortunately, having tanks on the roof means the rain doesn't hit the ground. I suppose that means it's still mine. The stuff that comes through the roof, however...
'You'd better come inside.' I said. 'There's some water that belongs to you on the floors of several downstairs rooms. It would be nice if you'd take it away.'
He looked confused. That white smile blurred with the shaking of his head. I led him inside and showed him the leak in Caligula's room without, naturally, going in myself.
The leak is still here, the water is still here, and so is he.In spirit, at least. I hope Death calls again soon. It's time for a cleanup. This one is really far too noisy.
Thursday, 15 July 2010
Monday, 5 July 2010
The publisher I sent the book to hasn't responded yet. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. I can't interfere in the process for some time yet because you have to allow a publisher three months at least. It's not a speedy business, this writing.
While waiting, I have perused my collection of old short stories, those that have been published and are now offline. It's not really worth trying to sell them again - short stories earn little or nothing first time out, and it's much harder to sell second rights on them. Not really worth the effort.
So what to do with them? I thought I might put up a collection on Lulu. It'll cost me nothing and even if it doesn't sell, it's a handy backup for all those stories. Rather than have them only as bits on a disk, they could be tied together in one small book.
This naturally excludes any that are in real print. There's no point competing with myself by reprinting stories I've already had printed elsewhere.
I don't expect the anthology to be a blockbuster, I don't expect it to start the cash rolling. I don't even expect it to sell. It's just a useful way to store those old stories so I don't lose them.
For the real-publisher work, I'll need to learn a little about marketing. There will be mistakes at first. Well, let's be honest. There will be spectacular blunders at first. I'd rather not apply those blunders to any book that manages to get real-published.
So I'll use that anthology to practice on.
When I have at least some idea of what I'm doing, then a collection of the horror articles for AlienSkin could be the next Lulu project.It's either that, or let them rot on a hard drive forever.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
This morning, the postman delivered a packet. He used a long cleft stick to push it through the letterbox. This new postman is smarter than the last one, who can count the fingers he has left on the, ah, fingers of one hand.
Caligula was enraged at this development and it took all my dexterity and pain resistance to extract the packet from his grip. Fortunately the contents were undamaged - because it's a copy of the book I've been trying to get hold of.
Finally I have a copy of the Horror Zine's 'Twice the Terror' in all its 370 pages of paperback loveliness. It wasn't cheap because Amazon UK don't sell it at a discount, but it's very heavy, filled with dark and morbid things and well worth the money. I have managed to avoid bleeding on it and will leave it alone while I stitch the wounds and try to calm Caligula's blood-frenzy with some frozen entrails and a trail of eyes back to his room.
Obviously I can't review this book objectively because I'm in there, so here's someone who has.
I don't make any money if you buy the book but if enough of you do, it might reach the ears of a publisher who has a few sample chapters to look at.I wonder if I can get into the next one?
Friday, 18 June 2010
One such is the picture she took of me in my lab, discussing quantum biology with one of those visitors from the council who arrive sometimes. They have about four hundred laws that say you cannot deny them entry. They don't have a single law that says you have to let them leave afterwards. I checked.
Something of an oversight, you might think, but then they do seem to have an inexhaustible supply of these people so I suppose they never miss the ones who visit here.
I have made the picture into the header but I have not yet checked with the Alien Queen Mother whether this is okay.
If it's not, I risk obliteration.
But what's life without a little risk?
Edited to add: I am saved. The Alien Queen Mother is not enraged and it's okay to use the graphic as long as I credit the source. Which I have done at the bottom of the page.
If the source isn't happy with that, I will remove the graphic on request.
No, it makes no sense to me either.
It's on the way. Soon I will have it in my greasy fingers.
Is it a good book, you may ask? Of course it's a good book.
I'm in it.
It was my fault. I mentioned that Alienskin had died and he was overcome with excitement. An entire magazine staff to reap, he thought, and was most disappointed when I explained that it was the magazine itself, not the staff, that had died. Just as well, since I was one of them.
To take his mind off his empty soul bag, I showed him the very last issue. He seemed to be enjoying it until he came to Sergeant Shelsky's article, at which point he became somewhat agitated.
"Green clouds of stinking fumes, indeed!" Death rattled his ribs in rage. "Not a proper scythe? I'll have you know this is finest Toledo steel fitted to the best mahogany handle on the planet." He shook his scythe at the screen.
For a moment, the cost of a replacement passed through my mind but thankfully, he refrained from piercing the Internet. I did wonder what might happen if Death's scythe went through the screen. Would it pop simultaneously out of every active screen and reap millions at once? I thought it best not to ask. He doesn't need ideas like that in his head.
"Spreading plague? Spreading plague? Not my job." Death scratched the back of his eye-socket with his fingerbones. "You know what this means, don't you?"
I sniffed. "A bad day for the Sergeant?"
"No. Well, not yet. No, it means that disgusting little wretch Pestilence has been dressing up as me and showing himself to people. He knows we're not supposed to do that. I'll bet he's been trying to get me into trouble. Oh, he's going to get the sharp end of a scythe right up his tailpipe when I next see him." Death shot me a sidelong look. "Of course, I'll disinfect it thoroughly afterwards. Don't want to give anyone blood poisoning, you know."
"I hardly think that will be a great concern to your customers," I said.
Death tilted his head back. "I am a professional, Dume. Not some hack-em and bag-em amateur from the fiery place. I take great pride in a clean job."
"Of course. I suppose the same can't be said of Pestilence then?"
"He takes pride in being as vile and filthy as inhumanly possible. I'm really not looking forward to the Apocalypse, you know. I'll have to hang around with that filthy little vermin and with the fat drooling slob Famine as well. At least I can get along with War. We're in the same line of work although he does get carried away at times."
I refilled Death's tea. "I always thought you'd look rather grand on that pale horse."
"Horses!" Death sipped his tea, which evaporated as soon as it passed his teeth. "Can't stand them. I've tried suggesting we move with the times and get a nice Bentley or Rolls-Royce hearse, but no. It's in the Book and it has to be just as it says in the Book. Can't it be translated as 'horsepower', I asked, but no. Horse it has to be. Well, it's not for some time yet. Maybe I can persuade someone in the office to think again."
I hoped to glean more information from him but he had returned his interest to Alienskin and was reading Lady Blade's article on fantasy worlds. I assume he was reading and not just looking at the picture but he took rather a long time over the first few paragraphs.
He read my own offering, then took his time going through all the stories. By the time he had finished, Caligula had woken up and was demanding to be fed.
"I'll have to see to him," I said. "It's my turn. Senga is still in plaster after the last feeding time."
"Yes, yes, well I'd better be going. I have people to meet for the first and last time." Death stood and leaned his scythe on his shoulder. "Interesting magazine. Pity it's the last one." He moved towards the wall.
My curiosity demanded one last question. "So, it wasn't true about the vile-smelling green vapours then?" I was sure it wouldn't be. Death is fastidious about his personal hygiene and gets through a lot of bone-polish.
Death paused, took a wire brush from the folds of his robe and cleared his throat.
"It's not true now. That little problem cleared up centuries ago. I no longer eat curry."
With that, he faded into the wall. Seconds later, the wall shook. I thought it might be Death returning but it was only Caligula howling for his dinner.
Oh well, the mundane parts of parenthood have to be attended to. I think there's a spare leg in the fridge. That should keep him quiet for an hour or two.
Then maybe I can read that last issue myself.
Anyway, this isn't about that. Rather than leave this place fallow I thought I'd use it as a mirror site for the existing blog. Eventually this will be all that is left but that's a couple of years away yet. The Alien Queen Mother might even change her mind before the site expires and breathe the Ooze back into it. You never know.
In the meantime, if you stumble across this site, there's a bigger one behind it.
Saturday, 22 May 2010
For the moment, Dume Towers is to be found where it has always been found.
In the swamp.