Lost in Life

Once I strode along the road
Tall and proud and in control
Life as it is sold to be.

Then I fell.

Lost in curling chaos
Crying in confusion
Making senseless, unfinished…

Driven by dark winds to dark places
Ripped by strong tides
Not me, not I
A stranger in my own flesh

Lost.

Broken.

I landed hard, torn in tears,
Wrapped in shreds of self
Tattered banners of lost pride
Here there is no sanctuary
No place of peace
Fear stalks darkly
Sorrow talks starkly
Each time I try to stand
The earth shakes beneath me.

Above, the road of the world
Stately, unheeding, strolls on…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Sky Painting

Breakfast was a happy meal in the tiny apartment. Although the three of them could barely fit around the table they always managed to eat and laugh together. First up from the wreckage was twelve-year-old Tanith, who stuck a pink tongue out at her father.
​“You are outnumbered Dad, so just give up.”
​Tom waved a lazy arm. “School, child. At least you are outnumbered there.”
​Tanith grabbed her school bag.
​“I need a coat, Mum?”
​“Not today. But tomorrow you will want your high boots…”
​The door banged behind their beloved child and both parents watched indulgently as her coltishly long-legged figure leapt gracefully onto the private walkway that would take her to school.
​“Do we do wrong not the have a sibling for her?” Anna wondered softly.
​Thomas smiled his kind and reassuring smile.
​“She is happy, well adjusted, and loved. So no.”
​Anna briefly touched his face then got up and stretched until her bones cracked. ​“It’s going to be a long day. Overtime. I’m called to the centre of the Dome to do a sunset. Spectacular of course. One of the wives is having a barbecue (whatever that might be) and a beautiful sunset is essential to the endeavour.”
​“You be careful then. I know what the rich are like..”
​“Oh. I’m not pretty enough or young enough. And they badly want this sunset.”
She picked up her work bag and sauntered off.
He watched her with a little worry at the back of his eyes before clearing up the slip of a kitchen and setting out to his own place of work.
Much later in the day, Anna’s identification was being carefully checked before she was permitted to leave the central walkway. She was escorted to the weather station by a couple of respectful security operatives who were darkly suited, but with suspiciously bulging armpits.
​“What is it precisely that you do madonna?” ​The question was phrased politely, but Anna was in no doubt that her reply was essential to her wellbeing.
​“I’m a sky painter sir. The astral plain above our heads is merely the underside of the Dome. We control the weather, and we control how the ‘sky’ looks. Normal skies are computer programs. And I write the algorithms. For special occasions I can create a skyscape live.”
They still looked a bit pensive.
​“Can you show us?”
​She nodded. “See that perfectly plain blue sky over the purple-leaf trees.”
Anna tuned her light brushes to the frequency for just that square of sky and began the exquisite dance that is sky painting. What she did not see was how her work lit her small, plain face and how the beauty of her movement was enough to steal the breath. By the time she had finished, the men were enchanted – both by the artist and by the tiny skyscape she had created just for them. The larger of them bowed his head.
​“I think I am your slave forever madonna.”
​Anna blushed. “I thank you sir. It is enough that my work is enjoyed.”
The guards allowed her access to the slave computers, and took their station either side of the doors. At the appointed time, Anna began her dance, painting the sky over one very wealthy woman’s garden with a golden glow and a falling orb of flaming red. She had just about brought the ‘sun’ below the horizon, when she was jolted from her dance by flashing lights and screaming klaxons. The two guards barrelled into the room.
“What is it, madonna?”
“Cyber attack. Something is attacking the weather computers.”
“What can we do?”
“You can let me into the room where the master computer lives.”
The two men exchanged a look and the older nodded an infinitesimal nod. Each man pressed his palm to a plate high above the doors, then inserted a slim metal rod he wore on a chain around his neck into the slots barely visible beneath the palm plates. The doors shushed open and Anna dashed in. She put her own palm on a plate beside the darkened touch screen. It lit and she input her personal codes.
“Hurry up computer,” she muttered.
Then, in front of the astonished eyes of an increasing number of panicked security operatives, the most secret of human/computer interactions, the interface, begun. Anna began to glow with an unearthly bluish glimmer, and every nerve pathway and synapse in her body was outlined with crackling light.
“What occurs?”
The voice that spoke from the doorway was well-bred and accustomed to being obeyed.
“We don’t know monsignor, the alarms started to scream and we deemed it prudent to allow the sky painter who was working here access to the weather computer.”
The tall aristocrat came forward and peered shortsightedly into the computer room. He nodded briskly. “You did right. The computer was under cyber attack. Somebody had to go in. The operative is interfaced. All we can now do is hope for her safety and guard her physical body.”
“Is she in danger?” One of the original pair of security operatives spoke with great daring.
“Very probably. But we can do nothing except keep guard.”

From ‘The Sky Painter’ one of the incredible short stories in pulling the rug iii by Jane Jago

Granny Knows Best – Remotes

Everything today has a remote and I for one am delighted by that. From the comfort of my arm chair I can control the world, and that’s without having to put up with what I call a sycophantic smartarse – and my technologically enthused great-niece refers to as ‘Alexa’.

But remotes are a bloody pain at times because…

They. All. Look. The. Same.

How often have I reached for the device to control the TV and found I was changing the temperature in the room instead?

I suggest standardised colour coding to avoid all possible confusion.

Black and white for the telly (obviously), red for the thermostat (self-explanatory), blue for the radio (get it?) and so on.

In the meantime, until the designers catch up to the needs of their customers, stick something on it yourself so you don’t wind up answering a call on your land-line by talking into your Amazon Fire Stick…

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Fourth

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

The train huffed and puffed across the quiet countryside and Piglock sat huddled in one corner of the carriage. He was obviously deep in thought, and Bearson managed to ignore his rumbling stomach while hoping Homes would remember Mrs Miggs’ pies before they went cold. Fortunately for Bearson’s  temper, Homes lifted his face from contemplation and thrust a trotter into the bag and passed out an oozing pie.

Bearson sunk in his teeth into the pastry and groaned silently as the gravy ran down his chins. By the time he had finished his pie, Homes was halfway through his. The great detective belched discreetly and threw the second half of his pie to Bearson. 

The rattle and groan of the express train lulled Bearson to sleep, while Piglock Homes pondered the problem they were speeding towards.

The great train groaned and shrieked its way into the station concourse at Brizzle. Homes leaned out of the window and studied the press of humanity on the platform.

“I say, old chap,” he ejaculated. “If it isn’t our old friend Yore.”

The inspector was pushing his way through the crowd towards the train, but the guard was already slamming the doors closed.

Homes poked the top half of his body out of the window.

“Guard,” he shouted. “Hold the train. There’s a guinea in it for you if my friend there catches the train.”

The guard slowed his progress along the train while Yore increased his efforts to reach the express before it slid out of the station. Homes threw the carriage door open and, as Bearson dragged the inspector aboard, flicked a coin into the guard’s horny palm.

Yore just about collapsed onto the faded plush of the seat. He was obviously exhausted, his limbs were shaking and his face was grey and drawn. Although, to be brutally honest, Yore’s face was always grey. He appeared to be struggling for breath and Bearson hurried to feel his pulse.

Homes looked concerned, but Bearson smiled. 

“He’s fine. Just over exerted.”

Bearson reached into his pocket and brought out his hip flask. He put it to Yore’s lips. The inspector drank deeply.

“Ye gods Bearson, what is that?”

“It’s creme de menthe and Irn Bru.”

“It’s vile. But I’ll have another belt if it’s all the same to you.” He drunk again. “I’ve been waiting for you. Homes. But I’m afraid we’re too late…”

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week

Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Superlatives

Tally Ho Yoiks!

It’s holidaymaker hunting season, and one disposes oneself decoratively in one’s hammock whilst idly listening as Mater offers increasingly incomprehensible directions to passing motorists. She seems to revel in giving minor misdirections which she knows will have them fully engaged on the ring road for at least a couple of hours before they find their turn off.

Though, truthfully, any time after 11am and the woman is apt to be languishing under the influence of a summer cocktail of Brandy, Pernod, Fernet Branca, and Cab Sov. So it might well be the misdirections are far from intentional. One has not asked. She is utterly incorrigible and it’s too warm to squabble with her – so one merely giggles and fans one’s heated cheeks with an exquisitely painted pleat of Chinese paper.

However. To one’s muttons.

It is one. Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV. Author of the acclaimed and lauded ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. Raconteur. Lover. Adventurer. Bon viveur. And beloved tutor to a whole generation of putative writers hoping to touch the coattails of one’s literary skill and share a glimmer of one’s outrageous genius. The first, one strives to impart in a manner that even the dullest brain may access. The latter is unique to oneself and is what sets apart the truly great from the merely aspiring.

So listen up mes estudas. Today we have a Very important lesson.

How to Write Right – Lesson 3. It’s Very Upsetting – or The Write Way to Write Bigger

Today we assault the word ‘very’. We make of that little quatrain of letters public enemy number one. We hurl it screaming from the rooftops never to be seen again. Or to paraphrase my particular friend Stavros:  ‘Don’t say ‘very’ Moony my love-button. It’s boring and undescriptive. Just don’t fu****g say it.’

‘Very’ is like the colour grey. It is flat and flaccid, sucking the vibrancy from whatever luxurious descriptor you use it to modify. It pales your prose and dampens down your descriptions. It takes the very depth from dialogue and can make of your writing a desert.

I hear, with the acute sensitivity of my mind’s ear, as you – my poor pupil – cry and scream and declaim it to be ‘vewy diffy’. With what can it be replaced? What other word so succinctly sums up the notion of ‘very’? Do not struggle and rant against the way of the world, dear disciple. Acknowledge the truth. Accept the challenge. Of course it is ‘diffy’. Which is why I am here to offer you a modest list of synonymous sayings to help you on your way.

Very hot: Volcanoesque
Very angry: Viragoesque
Very beautiful: Venusesque
Very fat: Junoesque
Very stupid: Moronesque
Very ugly: Gargoylesque
Very sexy: Marilynesque
Very fast: Ferrariesque
Very graceful: Ballerinaesque
Very humble: IVyesque
Very talented: Moonyesque

And if you, my little cupcakes, have yet to fathom your way through the maze of very hunting, then one despairs.

Think carefully, and for homework write your own list. If you are proud of your novice endeavours, then make good use of them in your writing and banish the vile word to the ‘very’ pits of hell.

One has a date so. Au revoir and ecrit bon

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 1011

Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…

The call came a day later when she was drifting in and out of tormented dreams again. Early, too early. A spark of hope died as she saw who it was.
“Joah, darling,” Heila crooned, “I just heard the dreadful news. It’s simply awful, darling. I wanted to ask if you would join me for breakfast? Hmm? You shouldn’t be alone at this time.”
Joah blinked and wondered if she’d heard right.
“Uh, Heila, it is” she checked the time again “about three hours before you get up. What are you—?”
The other woman made an impatient tutting sound. “Breakfast, darling. My place. Half an hour?”
Then she broke the call. Joah rolled onto her back, her mind racing.

Breakfast for Heila, it turned out, was an odd greenish-purple coloured drink. Joah eyed hers dubiously as it was set on the table by a silent robot. It smelt faintly floral, with undertones of compost.
“It’s all horribly healthy, darling,” Heila assured her, “but don’t ask what’s in it. That’s a Camarthy family secret. I positively thrive on this stuff.”
Joah risked a sip and was relieved to find it tasted more of the floral spectrum than the alternative her nose had suggested. She swallowed a polite amount, then returned the drink to the table.
“So, what do you know about—?”
Heila cut across her before she could finish. “You simply must try my new spa-bath. It’s so relaxing, you won’t believe it.” She was getting up as she spoke, her smile intense, and she grasped Joah’s hand and pulled her up with a surprising strength. “I won’t take no for an answer, darling. This is simply exhilarating and quite the best way to brace for the day.”

Joah was already relaxing in soothing bubbles when a mostly naked Heila slipped into the room and slid, mermaid-like, into the tub. If Joah had not been so worried about Zarshay, she would have had more time to appreciate that.
“You were right,” she told Heila, “this is very relax— ”
“Never mind that,” the other woman almost snapped at her. “Please tell me you do know you have been monitored since the whole ‘curse’ thing took off, and that someone bugged your apartment yesterday — and may have managed to get something in your clothing.”
Joah thought of the nice police officer and grimaced.
“I thought it might come to that before we were through. But how did you know?”
“How do you think? Zarshay told me, of course.”
Joah sat suddenly upright in the bath.
“Where is she? Is she all right? Why didn’t she tell me she was going to do something?”
“For goodness sake, sit down. I do not want an eyeful of Zarshay’s privilege, thank you very much.” Joah sank back and Heila waved a hand in mock relief as she went on talking. “I don’t know where she is, she said something about taking the opportunity to go visit her family. I am very sure she is all right and will be home sometime today or tomorrow. And she didn’t tell you because we all know you can’t act to save your life. And she didn’t tell Dog because he would have told you the moment you asked him.”
“What?”
The intense relief was shifting into anger. Heila gripped her wrist, hard.
“Now stop that. You were the one who told us all to remember this was not a game. We needed this to clinch our case.” She made an impatient huffing noise. “Besides, Zarshay insisted you be told first thing this morning. Can you imagine how horrible it has been for me to have to be up so early? I told her it would be so much better for you not to know and do a public appeal for her safe return. Tears and baggy eyes, and back shots of Zarshay looking cute and vulnerable.” She sighed and released Joah’s wrist to clasp her hands together under her chin and sigh wistfully. “It would have been such a perfect romantic scene.”

Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original. Next week – Episode 1100

Weekend Wind Down – Bad Side of Town

In a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire never left, Dai and Julia solve murder mysteries, whilst still having to manage family, friendship and domestic crises…

The Dog and Onion, was situated at the heart of what counted for the bad side of town in Viriconium. Here small retailers selling dubious items were squashed between nightclubs, gambling rooms and scantily disguised brothels. Above, between and around these were some of the cheapest rooms and apartments to let in the city.
Like most of the business and homes on its street, the taberna was a narrow fronted building which went back a long way. The street itself was also narrow with barely room for two vehicles to pass. Alleyways and car park entrances cut between the buildings, under the tunnel of their first floor rooms.
Most of the buildings were old and ill-maintained. If it had been in Eboracum, Dai reflected, they would have called it something interesting and turned it into a tourist spot, refurbishing the buildings, replacing the sex shops with gift shops, the brothels with fashionable boutiques,  and the nightclubs with eateries of various descriptions catering to broad tastes. If it had been in Londinium they would have gated the road at either end and thrown away the key. But here in Viriconium it provided habitation, employment, and what passed for entertainment, to the lowest strata of society. And any of the rest of society who liked to indulge themselves in such a way.
The last time Dai had been here it had been in broad daylight and then the area had looked grimy, run down and insalubrious. But night time was its element. There wasn’t enough street lighting to illuminate more than patches, but the various establishments made up for it with illuminated signs promising any variety of vice. There were shifting, multi-coloured lights emanating from the same open doors as the zing-tinkle of slot machines, and bursts of loud music as the bouncers opened and closed the doors to the nightclubs. The deep background thump-thump of loud bass beats, accompanied them, like an external heartbeat. The smell was a mix of overcooked streetfood, spilt alcohol, cheap perfume and fresh vomit.
Bryn seemed completely at home and even exchanged reserved nods with a couple of the local denizens. But that was to be expected. It was his job to know this place and fit in. For a moment, watching the older man stride confidently on, turning sideways to avoid a gaggle of half-drunk whores and their present companions, Dai felt a stab of envy. This had been him a year ago, prowling the streets of Londinium with the same superb assurance. But here in Viriconium his role was no longer that of street Vigiles and there were times he missed it badly.
Which was the real reason why, when Bryn suggested he come along, Dai hadn’t protested.
The taberna was busy, but not overwhelmingly so. The two of them managed to spot an empty table which they were heading towards when a large man wearing smartish tunic and trews and an ugly scowl intercepted them, grabbing Bryn by the arm.
“Not a good idea for you to be in here. We don’t cater for your kind.”
“My ‘kind’ being?” Bryn asked politely.
The large man nodded at Dai.
“Well, his kind to be precise. You would do better taking him along the road to the Aureum Pomum. They got things a bit more classy there. We don’t cater that way.”
Then Dai realised and felt an irrational sense of anger. Before he became a Citizen he was forever judged on his lack of status and now he was being judged on an excess of it. Bryn must have felt his mood shift because he smiled broadly at the large man blocking their way, then spoke in a pleasant and friendly tone.
“I suggest you let go of my arm and take your assumptions and stick them in your twll tin. Because you’ve read this so wrong it’s like you’ve mixed up the business news with the sports pages.”
The big man moved, but in the wrong way, and a moment later he was on the ground gasping with Bryn standing over him still wearing a friendly smile. Dai stepped forward and trapped his wrist with one foot, quite casually, as the downed man tried to reach for some weapon or other.
Around them people had pulled back chairs and stools, some edging away and some moving in. The atmosphere was as raw as blood on knife blade and Dai spared a moment to feel grateful they had a wall to their backs. Beneath his jacket he had a nerve whip, the non-lethal Citizen-only weapon, but he was reluctant to draw it here. Instead he shifted his stance to something more defensive.
Bryn was talking to the prone man.
“You must be new in here, fresh from the sticks?”
The man made a muffled grunt and tried to get up. Bryn might have been minded to allow him to, but before that could become clear, the gathering group around them parted and a woman who had to be in her late fifties or early sixties, with a plump figure and hard eyes, flanked by men with hard bodies and even harder eyes, kicked at the prone man quite viciously.
Any possible lingering idea that this was a sweet, rosy-cheeked middle-aged landlady vanished as she opened her mouth and demolished the unfortunate on the floor with a tirade of vicious profanity. When she had finished he seemed to have withered to half his original size and he scurried off, doubled over, vanishing through a door marked for staff use only.
The woman looked around at the audience they had gathered and made a circling gesture with one finger. “Show’s over. You can all get back to your drinks.”
The clientele of the place dispersed to the tables and conversation picked up almost immediately, with only the odd glance cast in the direction of Dai and Bryn to indicate the topic might not yet have moved on.
“So why is it every time you come in here you make trouble SI Cartivel?” The hard tone had gone to be replaced by a warm, friendly one with a hint of flirtation. That last became more obvious as the woman shifted her gaze to take in Dai – slowly, from head to toe. She was so clearly mentally undressing him that for a moment he almost felt naked.
“I wasn’t the one making trouble, Aoife,” Bryn protested. We just came by for a drink and a chat and your man decided to put himself in my face.”
“You’ll be ruining my trade bringing a Citizen in here. But don’t I remember him? Good looking bachgen like that is hard to forget. Isn’t he one of your Vigiles?”
“Something like that,” Bryn agreed easily. “Now about that drink and that chat.”

From Dying on the Mosaics by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago The seventh Dai and Julia Mystery, set in a Britain where the Roman Empire never left.

Granny Knows Best – Weird Cutlery

Open your cutlery drawer and stare inside. Is there any weird stuff? Obviously I’m not interested in why you keep your vibrator in there.

No what I’m on about is ‘specialised’ cutlery. 

Do you have? 

Soup spoons

Tiny weeny mustard spoons

Steak knives

Fish knives and forks

Pastry forks

Chopsticks

Coffee spoons 

If you can answer yes to any of the above I have one question. Why?

I have managed to eat food for the better part of ninety years without resorting to weirdness. Why the fuck can’t you? All you need is a knife, fork, and spoon. And don’t get me started on sporks! 

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

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