Coffee Break Read – The Photographer

The most photographed woman of her generation looked at him politely, and offered a practised smile. It was frustrating, but he chose not to show that, instead he searched for another way to to shake her out of her self-possession.

“Does it not worry you?” he asked in his deep, hypnotic voice. “Are you never a little afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“That the old superstition is true, and every time you are photographed you lose a little of your soul.”

She regarded him limpidly.

“Perhaps. Perhaps I have been photographed so often that I am just a graceful shell.”

He looked into the serene depths of her remarkable amber eyes and allowed his frustration to boil over.

“Well maybe I should photograph you like that,” he snapped with sudden viciousness. “As an empty vessel remarkable only for the elegance of its window dressing.”

She made no reply, so he stared again into the depths of his imaging device – looking for something to distinguish his pictures from the thousands of others that flooded the Internet and colonised every glossy magazine on the planet. As he concentrated it seemed to him that those famous eyes grew even wider, and clearer, and that they slowly filled the viewfinder as bit by bit they dragged his soul into the abyss that lurked in their depths.

He screamed just once, and the woman smiled the secret smile he had been looking for…
© Jane Jago

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Twenty-Nine

She awoke in a strange body. Hurting and being carried by a being that smelled unpleasantly of mammal flesh and its own exertions.

“Do you reckon her a virgin?”

“I dunno. But her won’t be.”

The coarse sounds were what she was beginning to be aware of as laughter. 

Not too much later she was dropped onto something yielding.

“Now us waits for her to wake up.”

She opened her eyes. Two hairy creatures looked down at her. One held her throat and the other lifted her single garment. It was to be their last action under earth’s pitiless sun…

© jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – The Unwelcome Stranger

“I’m sure you weren’t expecting me.”
The stranger stood in the shadows just outside my door, his face partly hid by the hood of his cloak. His hand gripped around a traveller’s staff, the sort that could be used both for walking and a sturdy defence. I’d have taken him for some vagrant were it not for the large ruby ring that I could see on that hand.
“I can’t say as how I was expecting anyone,” I told him, wondering if I’d be wiser just to shut the door in his face. When you live alone and your nearest neighbour is the other side of the fell, welcoming a stranger into your home after dark is not so wise.
“Can I come in? I just need shelter for the night.”
Now, you can call me a superstitious old woman but I know as well as the next that most all the magical beings you can name from brownies to vampires need to be invited into your home before they can touch you.
“If you need a place to sleep there is the barn.” I nodded to that old ramshackle building my grandfather raised. It’s outlived its name and its purpose long since, but the roof keeps the wind and rain out – mostly.
“Thank you,” he said and dipped his head in a sort of bow, like I was a noble lady or something.
I still don’t know why I did it, but later that evening I took a bowl of my stew and a lump of seed bread out to the barn. I saw a sort of red glow coming through the cracks in the walls and very nearly dropped the tray in fright. Instead, I crept close and peeked through one of them cracks and as I’m standing here today, I swear I saw a red dragon three times the size of any man curled with its nose on its tail and staring right back at me with ruby eyes.
I don’t mind admitting I ran back to the house and bolted the door. Not that would have kept out a dragon, but what else was I to do?
I went back in the morning at first light. The barn was empty. First I thought I’d imagined it all, but where that dragon had been curled I found this very gold piece…

E.M. Swit-Hook

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Twenty-Eight

Today the dancer’s knees hurt, but she held her pose with the seeming effortlessness that cost so much. 

Her mind slipped away, back to the young musician she had so loved. Father had forbidden the match, only to suicide himself six months later leaving her to be sold with his other goods to meet the demands of his creditors. 

A servant approached. 

“One would have speech with you. It is permitted.”

She entered the pavilion, where a man she thought lost to her forever stood alone. He held out his arms.

“My heart. Will you marry me? The Emperor permits.”

© jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – The Vault

The new President tried to hide the slight shiver of apprehension, waiting as the huge vault was unsealed. There was no breeze this far underground and the whir of the system that ensured pollutant filtered air was the only sound apart from the slight squeak of shoes on the flooring.

The efficient aide tried to offer a reassuring smile as the huge door swung open.

“If you would step this way, please.”

Inside the vault, the air seemed less than fresh with a slight metallic tang to it. The walls were lined with sealed storage units, each with a display, declaring the careful environmental conditions being maintained within and all silently monitored by the AI which controlled the entire facility.

In here their shoes no longer squeaked as the special tiles underfoot absorbed all the sound. But this was not their destination and the President was led through the outer vault to the entrance that it protected.

The aide nodded towards the device set on the wall beside the door.

“I’m sorry, but you will have to confirm your identity. Facial recognition agrees it’s you but the system needs iris-scan and handprint confirmation before it will unlock.”

The president felt one eye developing its usual irritating tic, unavoidable under pressure and hoped that would not affect the iris scan.

There was a slight click somewhere and the aide was smiling again.

“It seems it really is you.”

Not much of a joke but it helped ratchet the tension down a little as the final door opened and they could enter. Except they couldn’t.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to do this bit alone,” the aide explained. “No one else is allowed to see. I’ll just pull this sliding screen across the door you can open it again soon as you are done.”

Alone in the vault, the President walked to the plinth on which sat a box file. Even that required a thumbprint to yield its secrets. Within was a lengthy document. Page after page of detail, the war and the politics that had caused it; invasion and resistance; treason and assassination. The unvarnished reality that had shocked the world and lay behind the events millions had seen on their TV screens.

With a feeling close to awe the President turned to the final page and read the words.

So this was how it must end.

This was what was going to happen in the last episode of ‘Game of Thrones’.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Twenty-Seven

Mollie sat in the back of the estate agent’s all-wheel and carefully avoided looking at the driver, who seemed to her to have entirely too many teeth.

Once they branched off the main road and were bowling down a country lane, she relaxed somewhat.

They soon came to the first whitewashed cottages and Mollie began to notice odd little signs on the lampposts. They were white, and round, and each depicted a black-clad figure on a broomstick.

“What are those signs?”

The agent smiled, and a cloud blocked the sun. “Why, my dear, it’s a neighbourhood witch area.”

©️jj 2019

Author Feature – The Monster Under the Bed by Chrys Cymri

The Monster Under the Bed is a coming of age fantasy by Chrys Cymri.

There’s something wrong with him, as Michael’s mother has told him many times. What she doesn’t know is that he can use magic, and sometimes it escapes his control. All he wanted was for her to be happy, for his father to notice him. And they, and he, are suffering because he couldn’t manage his power.
Now a Soulsearcher called Jonathon has entered their lives, an adult who can still use magic. Because of Jonathon, Michael has flown on dragons, challenged unicorns, and met gryphons. But can Jonathon be trusted to teach him how to control his power? And can the Soulsearcher do so before Michael loses his battle with the monster under his bed?

Rachel turned his head and gave him a wink. “Well done, my boy. We can go back now to the cave. Or…”
“Or what?”
The dragon hummed a moment. “Hold on tight.”
Michael checked the leg straps, and slipped his hands under the front grip. Rachel released flame, a steam of reds and greens and golds splitting the air. Then he dived. The wind ripped past Michael’s face. He felt himself rise from the saddle, the straps gripping his legs and hands. His t-shirt pulled out of his jeans, his jacket rode up his chest. 
Rachel straightened his flight. Michael threw himself forward, leaning close against the saddle, his hands pressing into his chest. His eyes were tearing with the force of the wind, the ground below little more than a green and white blur. He suddenly felt the dragon’s love of flight, the huge body supported by the even larger sky. Freedom. A dragon was free in the sky.
Rachel pulled up gently, hovering in place, wings beating softly, while Michael straightened jacket and loosened leg straps. “Enjoy that, Mike?”
“Yes. Very much.” Michael took a deep breath, and added, “Thank you.”
“Ready to go back now?”
Back. Back home. Michael looked down at his wind-chapped hands. “No.”
The dragon turned his head to look at him. “Don’t you want to tell Jonathon about your flight?”
Michael wondered how he could explain, settled for a second, “No.”
“Hrumph.” Rachel shrugged, dropping slightly as the motion disturbed the beat of his wings. “Is there somewhere else I can take you?”
“No,” Michael said sadly. “There isn’t.”
The dragon snorted. “I can’t stay out here forever, boy.”
“I know.” Michael touched one of the scales gingerly, careful not to cut himself on the edges of the ruby. “Why–when I saw you in my dream, I thought you didn’t like me. Why?”
Rachel continued to hover. Suddenly serious, he said, “Because I know your power. Jonathon thinks you would never attack him. But you and I know differently. Don’t we?”
Michael swallowed. His father, screaming. His mother, her mouth open, eyes glazed, as he panicked and power swirled around her too. “Then you know.”
“I don’t know exactly what you’ve done,” the dragon corrected. “I know darkness. I can sense it. Jonathon ignores darkness, because he has no fear of it.”
“Why not?”
“That is for him to tell you. Even as it is for you to tell him what you have done.” In a gentler tone, Rachel added, “Jonathon has looked into many a dark place for others. That’s his job. Yours would not frighten him.”

The Monster Under the Bed is available now!

A Bite of... Chrys Cymri
Q1: You can have four guests at a dinner party. Name the four people living, dead, or fictional you would most like to entertain. 

The four I would love to entertain are the Doctor, the Master, Sherlock Holmes, and Moriarty. But which versions?
My choices would be the Twelfth Doctor (as portrayed by Peter Capaldi), Missy (Michelle Gomez), Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty as from the TV series ‘Elementary’ (Jonny Lee Miller and Natalie Dormer). We could have a wonderful discussion about heroes and villains, and whether, as Oscar Wilde once said, ‘You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.’ I’d also enjoy listening to a female version of the Master discuss with a female version of Moriarty whether being a wicked woman is different to being a wicked man. Not that either would see herself as being wicked, of course, nor that the Doctor or Sherlock are actually good! 

Q2: Have you ever written somebody you love into a book?

A number of the characters in ‘The Monster Under the Bed’ are based on beings I have loved. Jonathon is a tribute to the teachers of various schools I attended as a child, as they offered me the praise and encouragement which was sadly lacking at home. The stuffed animals which come to life and try to protect Michael are based on ones which guarded me as I grew up, including the zebra whose stripes run horizontally instead of vertically. My teddy bear still lives with me, much repaired and still very much loved. 

Q3: How much of you in is your hero?

Michael is not quite like a brother, but he’s as close to me as a cousin. I too grew up burdened with messages which made me doubt my self worth. Some of what happens to him, for example the fight at school, is based on personal experience. Like him, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet other people who gave me the insight and courage to integrate my childhood experiences and taught me to value myself. I would like to hope that reading the book might help others find some of that insight and courage for themselves. 

Priest by day, writer at odd times of the day and night, Chrys Cymri lives with a small green parrot called Tilly because the upkeep for a dragon is beyond her current budget. Plus she’s responsible for making good any flame damage to church property.  She loves ‘Doctor Who’, landscape photography, single malt whisky, and her job, in no particular order. When she’s not looking after a small parish church in the Midlands (England) she like to go on far flung adventures to places like Peru, New Zealand, the Arctic, and North Korea.

You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads and her own Author Website.

 

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – Two Hundred and Twenty-Six

Right on cue Nipper dropped it. In front of the store detective. As the bottle smashed at his feet we ran, dodging and kicking display stands over in our wake. Our escape route remained undiscovered, and we all got into the duct before the heavy feet charged around the corner, waving their night sticks and yelling threats. We waited for them to pass before scuttling away to our nest. Nipper looked at me with big worried eyes.

“Why isn’t it working?”

“Yours was just the dummy bottle. Karim planted the real stuff. Now all we have to do is wait.”

©️jj 2019

Sunday Serial LXXV

Anna wasn’t destined to find out how far maternal protectiveness would drive her oldest friend, because the sound of running feet and a voice crying “Mama” interrupted her uncomfortable train of thought.
“Yuri. My son…” Valentina called.
The door was thrown open with such force that it all but bounced off the wall. The man that rushed into the room at the head of a group of heavies wearing combats and toting an industrial quantity of weaponry was slightly built and obviously labouring under the kind of worry that ages even the hardest.
He was across the room in two strides and on his knees in front of his mother. He laid his head in her lap and she smoothed his disordered hair. For a long moment nobody moved or spoke, then Yuri looked up at his mother and asked a gentle question. She replied, indicating the injured man on the ground and Yuri snarled. He snapped out a series of orders and three of the heavies picked Alexei up. They were careless of his shattered arms and Anna winced mentally.
Yuri stood up and bowed to Patsy, on whom it was obviously beginning to dawn that she had just shot a man. Anna went to her side and gently removed the pistol from her now gather shaky grasp.
“I don’t think you need this any more.”
“I hope not.” Patsy laughed a bit shakily. “Ever since Jim had me taught how to use a pistol I sort of wanted to shoot somebody, but now the adrenaline has subsided I feel a bit sick.”
Yuri smiled at her. “That is a normal reaction. If it made you happy that would be worrying.” His English was almost as good as his mother’s although a little more accented. “But I am grateful that you found enough anger in you to pull the trigger. If you had not, I believe we would have been too late.”
“Indeed,” Valentina spoke softly. “Without Mrs Cracksman, I would be dead now.”
“I think we would all have been dead,” Anna realised Pats was in no state to say any more. “But what brought you here in such haste?”
Yuri raked his hands through his hair. “A call from a priest. A video. The deposition of a dying woman.”
“Explain, please, my son.”
“Our priest contacted me with some information about the brother I had worshipped. What he told me and showed me turned my thinking on its head. Not only was Boris a paedophilic monster, or also became evident that certain people had been lying about his activities to protect themselves. When I discovered who killed him and why it was as if the scales fell from my eyes. And then I found out that Alexei was part of the filthy conspiracy. And I came here as fast as I could. But I wasn’t fast enough. Had it not been for…” Then it seemed he could speak no more.
Pasty stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Can I assume you no longer want a war with my family?”
Yuri Stephanovitz took her heavily ringed hand in both of his.
“You can. Before you saved my beloved mother I knew I had been wrong. But now. Now it is I who owe you a life.”
Patsy made a very rude noise and favoured the embarrassed oligarch with a grin.
“As long as we are no longer at war, you owe me nothing. Except maybe a Range Rover to replace the one that got trashed out there…”
The Russian looked into Patsy’s astonishing eyes and managed half a smile.
“Your husband,” he said slowly, “is a very lucky man.”
Anna’s phone chose that moment to render Bat Out of Hell slightly off key. Feeling a little de trop, she pulled it out of her pocket and, seeing it was Sam on the line, moved slightly away from the group in the window to answer.
“Are you okay there, love?” Sam sounded strained and not at all his usual self.
“I’m fine. But what has happened?”
“Long story. Though I will say it’s been a peculiar sort of a day…”
She was tempted to demand details, but something in the weariness of his voice made her hold back.
“As long as you are all okay.”
“We are. Just don’t ever play poker with the Cracksman twins, they have about fleeced Geordie Jackson for everything he owns.”
“They cheat… and Geordie? But I guess he’s part of the long story.”
“He so is. Most of it really. Turned up here with the cavalry. Loaded for war. I was beginning to feel like I was living in the Alamo. Then pfft. Everybody relaxes. I now feel like a balloon that has even hanging around too long. Sort of half-inflated and deeply unattractive.”
Almost in spite of herself Anna began to relax. “Beautiful though that image is, you didn’t call just to put it in my head did you?”
“No. I called because Jim said somebody needed to tell you and Patsy that the heat is off. I won the toss.”
“Yeah it is. We got that. And will you tell Jim that our tame oligarch is about halfway in love with his wife.”
“I will. He will be enchanted. When will you be home?”
“As soon as we can. We’re a bit stuffed for transport, because the Range Rover got trashed.”
“Oh. We do have a lot to talk about. Miss you.”
“Me too.”

Jane Jago

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