Coffee Break Read – Mass Hysteria?

When people started seeing ghosts, everyone of a rational mind imagined it to be some sign of a new form of mass hysteria. Especially as there was no way to record the sightings. They seemed immune to any electronic method of photography. My social media feed was full of images of empty spaces and video clips of people running screaming from empty air. 

I saw my first ghost when I was eating my lunch sitting on a bench in the park outside my shop. It took me a few moments to realise it was a ghost. The outline looked like a normal person, but when you actually looked at it, the whole seemed translucent – as if there was some kind of projection. Apart from the eyes. They glowed with an eldritch red that made me almost choke on my avocado and three-bean sandwich.

I got back to my shop shaking, physically.

Now I understood why people were so afraid of these ghosts.

But how to prove they existed?

My shop sold old things. Things that were not really old enough to be antiques and were not really rare enough to be collectable. I called it the retro-shop. One thing I had a number of was old-style photographic cameras – including a couple of working polaroid’s that took instant pictures.

For the next week I went to lunch with one in my bag. But there was no ghost. I can’t say I’m sorry as it was not good for the digestion.

It was on the Friday when I was walking to the station having locked up the shop, that I heard a scream. Running I saw a teenager clutching a knife and stabbing at the ghost. The blade passing through. The lad dropped the knife and ran. 

My polaroid captured the moment – and the ghost. 

It went viral.

E.M. Swift-Hook

EM-Drabbles – Eighteen

Maisie panicked when Sheena collapsed.

For a moment she’d no idea how to get out to get help. Then Maisie remembered the dog door and pushed herself through it, her skin scraping painfully as she did so.

Then what?

The main road ran past the drive and she ran up it as fast as she could. But how to stop a car?

Only one way.

The man who got out sounded disbelieving. “There’s a pig in the road. Just lying there.”

But he followed her and called an ambulance in time to save her owner Sheena from a heart attack.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Mags

County Durham, England – 1642

“That was well enough done, my lord, aside that you allowed Mags his head. That one is a troublemaker. Too sure of himself and too popular with the men. He needs taking down a peg or two.” 
Nick instantly fell back through time to the days when Hoyle had been given the charge of educating the Tempest boys in the use of sword and firearms. But Nick was no longer twelve years old and he was no longer willing to allow himself to be dominated by Hoyle.
“Thank you, Sergeant, your views are – appreciated,” he said, cooly.
He might as well have not spoken. Hoyle merely nodded then carried on talking in the same overly familiar manner.
“I’ll be happy to see to it myself. Of course, you know why they call him Mags?”
Nick felt a stab of irritation. His eyes passed over Hoyle and he snapped:
“No, Sergeant. I will ask him myself.”
Hoyle turned, following Nick’s gaze. The man they called Mags was sauntering towards them in an unhurried way, a heavy wool cape flung back over one shoulder to show the well-worn leather buff he wore beneath. The faded sash tied around it held a pistol and a long-bladed sword banged against his legs slightly as he walked. Like the others in the troop he was wearing newly issued boots, rolled down from their protective length into bucket-tops so he could walk more easily when dismounted. Under a drooping brimmed hat, his light brown hair, flecked through with a peppering of grey, was long, tangled and greasy and his weather-beaten face was half-hidden by a crudely trimmed beard. 
As he reached them, Mags swept off his hat, revealing an ugly patch of scarred flesh on his scalp where the hair could no longer grow. He replaced his hat with a muttered apology and looked up at Nick waiting for permission to speak.
“So what is it you wish to tell me?”
“I know the lad – we fought together. I reckon if you want him found that badly, give me enough coin and I’ll find him for you.”
Nick bridled at the demand.
“You are well paid already and the prize money should you find him is more than enough.”
The older man sucked on his lips and shook his head. “You get me wrong, sir. I’m not asking more for myself, but if you want the people I could ask to give up what they know, they’ll need recompense.” He paused and spat in the grass then wiped his mouth with a grubby shirt sleeve. “You see, this isn’t like hunting a regular criminal. Half the county is terrified of him and the other half would as like as not burn in fire rather than give him up. Your hirelings’ll find no word – save misdirection, I promise you.”
It was likely true enough, Lord seemed to cast an enchantment over those he encountered. Nick’s father had said it was the power of the Devil himself. Still, true or not, the man standing in front of him now gave no appearance to inspire confidence.
“They call you ‘Mags’,” he said eventually.
“They do. It’s short for Magdeburg.”
Magdeburg?” Nick could not keep the surprise from his voice. Magdeburg, the city of Protestant martyrs, put to sword and fire by a Catholic army over ten years past. He recalled the outrage of his family when the news reached England’s shores. Even today the horror of it remained fresh. Protestant troops would offer their enemies ‘Magdeburg quarter’ – the chance to surrender and die.
“Yes, sir. I was at Magdeburg with Tilly and his butchers. I watched the Elbe run red with blood.”
“You fought for – ?”
“I were with the cavalry. We rode under the command of Graf von Pappenheim.  I could tell you the tale of the battle, it makes fine telling but not what you want to hear right now, I’ll warrant.”
“Before God,  you are telling me you fought for the Catholics?”  Nick was horrified.
“Right back then I’d have fought for Satan himself if he’d paid for my sword. Not that we got paid, mostly we just took what we could.” Mags hawked and spat again. “I met him there – the lad you’re looking for.”
“Philip Lord? He was fighting with the Emperor’s forces?”
“No. Funny thing that, he weren’t fighting at all, just wanting to get into Magdeburg, I ne’er did find out why.”
“You disliked him then?”
The older man shook his head and gave an impatient shrug. “I liked him well enough. Even if he were too pretty and too clever for his own good and still is I hear.”
“You like him but you’ll hunt him down?”
Mags looked nonplussed.
“It’s not as if he’s kin. You’re paying my wage and I’ve a good pair of new boots from you as well. I’ll hunt you down the Archangel Gabriel if you pay me.”

From ‘The Cat’s Head’ by E.M. Swift-Hook – a work in progress…

Author Feature:  Evalycer’s War by Margena Holmes

From Evalycer’s War by Margena Holmes. As Evalycer Nicholls gets more involved with a group trying to revolt against a corrupt government on the planet Startia, she struggles between wanting change and doing the right thing. 

“Who is this?” Ian asked.
“This is my trainee, Evalycer Nicholls,” Jax explained. “It’s her first day out in the field.”
“Well, Evalycer,” Ian said, facing the man again. “What do you think we should do with him?”
Evalycer didn’t want to get the man in trouble for thinking about committing a crime, but she needed to be trusted by the government. They were going to jail him no matter what she said, which only slightly abated her misgivings. She stated the facts.
“He was about to commit a crime,” she said, her voice steady. “I read his mind and he was going to give it to his wife without her knowledge. That is illegal.”
Ian smiled and turned to Jax.
“I like her!” Ian enthused, slapping the table. “Make sure she does more field work with you to get trained up. The last trainee we had was too wishy-washy.”
Ian turned back to the man.
“We’re going to have to hold you overnight for this.”
The man lowered his head and swore. Evalycer felt bad for the man, and this made her resolve to make the changes needed to get Atouu out of office. Thinking about committing a crime wasn’t the same as going through with it, but for now, she had to play by the rules.
“Jax, take him down to the holding area and process him. Take Evalycer with you. It’ll be a good learning experience for her.”
Ian stood up, shook Jax’s hand, and turned to Evalycer.
“Keep up the good work,” he said as he shook her hand.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
Ian left the room with the evidence as Jax put the binders back on the man and he and Evalycer took him down two floors in the elevator to the holding area. She watched as Jax filled out the forms on his tablet. It took about fifteen minutes to get everything taken care of, then she followed Jax as he took the man to his holding cell.
“We’ll let you contact your wife in about an hour,” Jax told him as he hit the button to shut the cell door. The man sat down on the cot in the cell. Head in his hands, he looked defeated and scared.
Evalycer took a long look at the man before following Jax back upstairs to the offices. This was Atouu’s government—arresting people before they committed a crime, or for even thinking about committing a crime. It made Evalycer nauseous.
“Good work, by the way,” Jax said, turning toward her as they ascended the stairs. “Ian hardly likes anyone. He hates when people don’t know their own mind. You answered him confidently and truthfully. You may have a new friend here.”
Wonderful, she thought sarcastically.
Evalycer wasn’t sure how she felt about the praise. She wanted to do well and be trusted, but she hated, absolutely hated what she had to do to get it. She was going to have to stop caring about her feelings and anyone else’s to get this job done.

A Bite Of… Margena Holmes

Would you rather be a hero or a villain? 

I think somewhere in between, like a gray/dark Jedi. Sometimes being good is overrated, but you don’t want to be totally bad, either. Just hints of darkness, which I think we all have in us.

What time of day do you write best?

I write best in the mornings and early afternoons. By about 3 or 4PM I’m done for the day unless I’ve gotten into the zone and the scenes are just flowing out. Then I’ll only stop once it’s time to make dinner for the family. I can’t write in the evenings anymore (I used to be able to stay up until 1 AM writing, but I’m old now. Ha ha!), I just get too fidgety. 

Have you ever written somebody you dislike into a book, just so you could make them suffer? 

I haven’t yet, but I have plans to write in the crazy Korean lady who owns the liquor store I used to work at.  Her catch-phrase (since women couldn’t bring their purses into the store because of theft) was “One bad person makes everybody suffer.” Well, she will suffer in the story, for sure. *wink*

Margena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, space opera, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book.

She has written for Examiner.com and Yahoo Contributor Network, where she earned a Top 500 award for her story on the Black Forest fires in Colorado. Margena loves all the Harry Potter books and movies, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Orville, The Crown, and the Los Angeles Kings. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her own Website.

EM-Drabbles – Seventeen

It was the divorce of the decade. Two A-listers, whose marriage had been ecstatically happy, were on the rocks. Mainstream and social media were in feeding frenzy. Fans scanned the words in his books and her songs, finding subtle knives aimed at each other.

They met for the last time before the divorce became final on a publicised mediation weekend in a secret location.

“I’m going to miss you,” she said, as she lay in his arms.

“Me too. Just think of the sales so far and how much free advertising we’ll have when we get back together next year.”

E.M. Swift-Hook

Sunday Serial – Maybe V

Maybe by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook . Sometimes we walk the edges of realty…

CHAPTER TWO: ANNIS

Annis looked narrowly at the guest who stood in her home, obviously ill at ease, and equally obviously totally bemused by finding herself an oasis of calm and cleanliness in the middle of a desert of dirt and destruction. This reaction to home would have been funny if it wasn’t sort of insulting. Why wouldn’t her place be clean and tidy? If you live with cats for company you tend not to like mess, she thought irritably. Then she laughed at herself. Why should she care what some human female thought of her. 
The woman opened her mouth to say who knew what, but Annis silenced her with a fierce look. She idly wondered how this Jessica came to be here, and why she had lied with the first words she spoke. The female knew precisely what would have happened to her at the hands of the drunken louts by the gate. She knew, and the waves of fear that rolled off her at that knowledge were what had prompted Annis to come to her aid. 
So. She’s here and you brought her here, Annis thought. Now you better talk to her.
Before she had chance to grope for the words to interact with her human visitor, two heavy thumps announced the arrival of a visitation of a feline nature. Unthinking, Annis opened the door and a matched pair of black panthers slid in.
Jessica gave a half scream.
“Not fear,” Annis managed before the cats bowled her over and started licking her with their rough, red tongues. How long that would have gone on for is open to conjecture, but the happy time was interrupted by more arrivals. Two more big cats, this pair of indeterminate breed, oozed into the room. One sat on its haunches, while the other stared inimically at Jessica. Annis wasn’t prepared to tolerate that. She growled a warning and the cat flattened its ears. 
“Cats not hurt.”
She thought perhaps she should say more, but her ears caught a faint sound at the same time as her nose was assailed by the smell of rotting flesh.
“It hunts…”
“What hunts?” Jessica’s whisper sounded only just on the right side of panic.
“Blood eater.”
Jessica opened her mouth to speak or scream, but Annis knew she could not be allowed to draw attention to herself.
“Silent.”
Greatly daring, and ignoring feline etiquette altogether, Annis leant forwards and put two fingers across the other female’s mouth.
“Must silent.”
She saw the panic being battled by something deep within the woman. Jessica’s eyes shadowed momentarily, then cleared as she found the strength needed to control her fear and swallow the questions that must be crowding her throat.
“Cats hide you,” Annis said, pushing the older woman onto the sleeping platform and arranging a black cat either side of her. Jessica looked at her in confusion, the fear was still in her eyes still and Annis smiled reassuringly.  Being unable to summon sufficient human words to explain her actions, she pinched her own nose with a finger and thumb.
“No smell. Old One comes. Blood Eater. Must not smell.”
Jessica’s face cleared and she managed a nod. Annis found herself feeling the beginnings of respect for the courage being shown by somebody who obviously knew nothing of the kind of life forms that inhabit the places humanity has abandoned. The silence came then, a cold silence, like the chilling silence that came after snow had fallen deeply. As if the world held its breath, not daring to breathe.
Then into the silence came the small sounds creeping, and slithering as every small creature fled out of the path of the Old One. Then it came. Something with multi-clawed feet and the heavy, scraping, scaly belly of the Blood Eater. Then it stopped. Silence. Cold and claustrophobic. In her mind Annis pictured the huge, ugly head she had senen before, lifting, nostrils opening and tongue sliding out to taste the air for blood.
She glanced at the bed, where the two big cats had pressed in against Jessica, their eyes, jewel bright. Jessica’s were closed and her face was white. Annis wondered if it was enough or if the living flesh of the human woman would call to the Blood Drinker despite the felines absorbing the perfume of her blood.

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Part 6 of Maybe will be here next week…

Lost

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

One of the poems you will find in In Verse, a new collection of poems by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook.

Weekend Wind Down – Blending In

From Iconoclast: Not To Be by E.M. Swift-Hook, the eighth Fortune’s Fools book and the second in Iconoclast, the final trilogy.

A slight buzz told her someone was at the door of her apartment and she pulled up a screen to see who was there. It was one of her neighbours, Nilis par-Yorken. Not much older than her own body made her appear, mid-twenties perhaps, scruffy cut hair which seemed to be the fashion and a face that looked like it would smile a lot.
She had run a check on him the second time he tried to get her to stop and chat. A local. Newly qualified as a pilot and working relief for the planetary run freight company, ATG, which was the only organisation running regular shipping to Arca. Another attraction of the place for Avilon was that in order to protect its own merchant fleet, none of the big corporations were allowed on Arca and any freetraders had to purchase a license to operate there.
So she knew Nilis would have been trained locally, but the fact he’d been offworld left him open to having been recruited by the CSF or the Legacy. She let out a breath in a sigh. That was the kind of paranoia that could cripple her if she let it run unchecked. 
It was late and she could use that as an excuse for not responding, if he bumped into her again and asked why, but through some sense of wanting to dismiss a phantom, she opened the door and moved to grab another drink from the synth. 
“What are you drinking?” she asked as her visitor walked in. He stopped a couple of paces from the door, his way barred by the couch.
“Uhh… Mys jist jooze, plars. Narms Nylees.”
Avilon grimaced internally and began to filter out his accent. It was one of the worst aspects of living on Arca, the isolationism had led to the development of a very heavy dialect.
“Maris,” she told him, turning back to persuade the synth to produce something that approximated fruit juice. “Maris par-Kenten.”
“Really?” he seemed surprised. “You sound like you’re from Central.”
She picked up the freshly created chilled drink and handed it to him, aware his eyes were not restricting themselves to her face. She returned the compliment. He had a good body. One he clearly looked after.
“No. But I spent the last five years there studying.”
“Studying what?”
“My master’s thesis was in Co-Regional Internexus Sub-Quantum Linkcast Technology.”
Nilis blinked.
“Uhh…?”
Avilon shook her head and chuckled.
“Mostly about how to optimise links from here to the main Coalition hubs.”
He smiled, slowly. “So, what do you do for a day job?” Avilon sipped her own drink and said nothing until Nilis looked uncomfortable. “Uhh yes, that’s a bit rude of me.”
“Not really, I just wanted to know why you were calling at my door this time of night before we got into the pleasantries too much.”
He hesitated so long she thought he’d not reply. Then he gave an embarrassed smile.
“Well, since you turned up here last cycle, I’ve been meaning to come round and ask if you needed anything, like a good neighbour should. I seen you in and out a lot so thought this time of day would work best.”
It was hard not to laugh. She put her drink down, feeling even older than her fifty-two years.
“You wanted to ask me out? Or were you just after a quick fuck?”
The sudden flood of colour into his face was comical.
“Uhh – I… Well, I mean-”
She put up both her hands in a gesture of contrition.
“Sorry. Central teaches you to cut to the chase in such things. I’m going to have to retune my sensibilities now I’m home.”
To his credit he didn’t retreat.
“I’m up for either. But I came round to ask if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow. I got a few friends coming round, you might like to meet. Get to know some people.”
“That must be cosy,” she observed, gesturing with one hand to indicate the size of the room.
“Uhh, we won’t stay in, just meet up there and head out. Say yes? They’re all good people, most from this block. You’ll like them.”
She hesitated a moment then nodded. Better to accept one or two occasional invitations out with one young adult social group than wind up fending them all off with excuses. That would only make her stand out. This way she might be able to be accepted on the fringes of a group without needing to commit.
“Why not? I’m not busy far as I know.”
Nilis made a fist and hammered the air with it. 
“Yes! Kiss that! So can I ask where you work now?” 
Avilon had to laugh.
“Sure – it’s no secret. I’m doing some private consultancy work for the government.” No secret. Just a straight up lie, but one he’d find it very hard to check out. “What about you?”
“I work for the ATG – that’s the -”
“Arca Trading Group – what you do with them?”
She was regretting her earlier flippancy now, Nilis seemed to have taken it as an open invitation to hang around, he was lounging back in the seat as if taking root there.
“I’m flying shunts to some of the nearby Coalition places. Uhh, I mean, freighter runs. Works out well. I get a few days on then a few off.”
Avilon faked the start of a yawn and brought her hand up to her mouth. Then moved it away with a slight smile. “Sorry. Not you. Just been a long day.”
Nilis didn’t seem to take the hint.
“I can tell. So how did you get to Central? I mean I know a few who tried, but only one who succeeded and he got accepted on a virtual course. I mean just getting the visas and at that…”
“I got a scholarship to Central Main,” she told him, suddenly wondering if he was indeed the random neighbour being sociable or if her initial paranoia was merited.
“You did? Well kiss that! Impressive. Not just a gorgeous body, but an incredible mind.” Nilis smiled.
Avilon grimaced and turned it into another yawn
“Yeah. Well if you don’t mind, it is kind of late and I do have work tomorrow even if you’re on a break.”
She stood as she spoke and saw the reluctance in Nilis’ expression and posture, but under her insistent gaze he sighed, drained his drink and put the cup down before standing as well. 
“Of course. I shouldn’t keep you up. But don’t forget – we have a date tomorrow evening.”
Avilon managed a smile and opened the door. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I could do with making a few more friends.”
After he had gone she disposed of the cups and headed for bed, shaking her head at her previous doubts. Nilis par-Yorken’s motives were very easy to read.

E.M. Swift-Hook

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