Maybe – Out Today!

Sometimes we walk the very edges of reality…

“Well, you know what they say, don’t you pet? What don’t kill you, will make you stronger.”
Jessica felt her teeth dig into her tongue with the effort of not snapping back. It was one of those glib sayings people trotted out every time they realised there was harm done they couldn’t heal. She wanted to snarl that what didn’t kill you could just as easily leave you broken and bloody, weakened and vulnerable and much less strong than you were before. It could also leave you changed as well as damaged, struggling to know who this stranger was that you had become—the one who jumped at shadows and whose heart started racing when a car engine started up.
It was not a good look for a woman who had once been decorated for valour.
She forced a smile and did not cringe at the hand pat that went with the words of wisdom, delivered from the place of someone whose worst nightmares were about being caught on Scarborough seafront without her make-up on.
“Your aunt means well, Jess.”
The voice came from the door of the lounge, which was being pushed open. There was a smell of fresh coffee as Uncle David carried in a tray with a samovar and tiny cups.
“Oh don’t be so daft, Dave. She knows I mean well, don’t you pet?”
Jessica nodded and managed a half-smile, then busied herself moving the newspaper, and a couple of magazines about horoscopes and tarot cards, from the table in front of the paisley-patterned settee. Her uncle set the tray down with care then served the coffee as he always did—strong, black and sweet.
His eyes were not patronising when he looked at her. But then he had fought at Goose Green and brought home his own ghosts to roost in the rafters of the perfect life his wife devised for them both. No children of their own, but then they had Jess.
“So are you off to Whitby again to see that young man?” Aunt Susan peered over both the top of her cup and her bifocals.
For a moment, just hearing someone naming the place sent a shiver through Jessica’s spine, and her imagination bridged the miles to place her on top of the cliffs, screaming gulls wheeling overhead, the wind that never slept and Roald, the image of a modern-day Viking, hair blowing over his face, shoulders half-hunched in a fleece, face animated, telling her the history of the ruined abbey as if he had been there at the time.
“It was all started by a woman—Hild. She was an amazing woman and not one you would want to cross. A princess of sorts. And for all she was an abbess eventually, she didn’t decide to become a nun until she was in her thirties and she’d done one heck of a lot of living by then.’ He paused and made a really broad gesture with one arm as if including the ruins and all the headland where they stood. “She loved this place. Would stand up on the cliffs, by the beacon that was here then and look out over the sea, and upbraid her hair so the wind could play with it. And, you know, when she established that first abbey it was nothing like you would think of a monastery today. It was more like a community—both men and women.”
It was easy to picture Hilda in her Saxon dress, facing out over the waves. Jessica thought of that actress she’d seen playing Rowena in ‘Ivanhoe’.
“No,” Roald sounded almost angry, “Hild was of Anglic blood—not Saxon. The ones Pope Gregory famously spoke about when he saw some being sold as slaves: ‘Non Angli, sed angeli‘.
Jessica looked at him, her mouth very slightly agape. He did that a lot. It was very unsettling.
“Non angerlee—what?”
Roald grinned and gave an exaggerated mock wince, as if her pronunciation caused him pain.
Non Angli, sed angeli—’These are not Angles, they are angels.’ “
She had still been on crutches then and he had helped her back to the car park soon after then they had found a small pub in Robin Hood Bay, where they could look out of the window over the tumble of cottages and tourist shops. Picture postcard stuff, except the sky had been an obstinate slate-grey all afternoon.
“So what has this to do with anything?” she asked at last, when the small talk dried up over their beer.
“Your dream,” he said, “the one you keep having about a glowing necklace of strange pearls.”
Jess nodded, she had told him of it when he asked her if she ever remembered her dreams.
“I’m not sure they were pearls, just the kind of odd light they gave off made them seem like it. They were pearls shaped in ridged spirals.”
In the dream she had seen something glowing under her uniform blouse, shining and everyone staring until she had run away and been standing on a cliff edge, then ripping open her blouse to see the strange necklace lying there on her naked breasts. The image came into her mind clear as a photograph and she heard Roald draw a small, sharp breath, which brought her back to the pub.
“Uh, yeah,” he said, his expression slipping into an odd smile, “that’s the one.”
For some reason, she felt uncomfortable and looked out of the window to escape the moment.
“It’s only been since the—the accident,” I’ve never had that kind of dream before.”
Standing naked on the cliff-edge, her hair so long it ran the full length of her back and blew out around her, sparking with energy, and feeling so whole, so complete—so powerful.
“I know.”
The way he said it, made her blush. She started pulling herself to her feet, leaning on the crutches.
“I need to get back—I promised I’d take my aunt to the talk on astrology. She loves all that kind of stuff.’
Roald rose too.
“And you don’t?”
“I never used to,” she admitted, as he helped her ease back into her coat.
“And now?”
She tried to shrug, but it was not so easy with the crutches.
“Maybe, believing in fate helps make this all seem less meaningless. Maybe it helps make sense of the senseless. Even if all I’m doing is seeing patterns in the stars by joining the dots with random lines.”

Click here to snag your copy and keep reading Maybe a novella of supernatural horror by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook which is available now.

The Working Title Blog is 5 Today!

Five years ago two slightly deranged women with a mutual love of books – both reading them and writing them – got together to create a blog that offered a daily short read. Maybe something thoughtful, something funny or something action-filled. We aimed to promote the work of others too and entertain any who had a moment to drop by and read.

For five years we have provided two pieces on the blog every day – one very short maybe a limerick or a drabble and the other a longer read – an extract or flash fiction or humorous piece. We were young, enthusiastic and full of grand dreams!

Two out of three of those remain (you can decide which two for yourself), and we’re hoping the blog will still be here in five years’ time so we can celebrate a 10th birthday. But we’ve decided to scale back to just one piece a day ongoing so we can put more time and attention into our writing projects. These pieces will include the same sort of things as before and maybe some different stuff – non-fiction, opinions and comments. We are very open to suggestions if anyone has something they would like to see here. Also, we plan to feature work from other authors so if you have something you’d like to contribute please feel to send it our way.

Every birthday so far we have had a competition. This year we’re doing something a bit different. We’re asking you to tell us in the comments here (or you can email or send carrier pigeons) what post or series of posts on the blog you have most enjoyed over the years. Your prize will be that we will revisit that and repost it, especially for you!

Oh – and what is a birthday without gifts?

You can pick up The First Dai and Julia Omnibus free for five days as a thank you from us to you for following the blog. And we have published our supernatural horror Maybe which is available on preorder right now for release tomorrow.

Thanks for your attention for the last five years and here’s to the next!

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Drabbling – Liberty

The picnic basket and cooler were on board, Pa looked around.

“Everybody ready?”

The boys yelled but Ma groaned.

“What’s up hun?”

“I reckon this baby is comin’ right now.”

Pa floored it and the truck bounced along the rutted track, finally drawing up outside Grandma’s house. By now, Ma was white and sweating. Grandma come out and smiled.

“You leave Franny here and take the boys to the picnic.”

It was evening when they got back to Grandma’s. Ma sat in bed with a pink-wrapped bundle in her arms.

“Boys,” she said, “come and meet your sister Liberty.”

©️Jane Jago

Big Orange and the Mambo Woman – Two

It didn’t take long for things to get arranged to Benita’s satisfaction.
With a portal to who knew where open and a ring of chanting acolytes around it, Benita signalled to Maria and grasped Magnus by his thin hand. Maria pulled the mask over her face and dropped gently into the tank. It creeped her out bit when the giant cephalopod crept out of his bed and wrapped his tentacles gently around her body. She had seldom been so thankful for a wetsuit in her life, but she steeled herself to pat the creature on one of his sinewy ‘arms’. He made a small mewing noise and Maria felt pity for him.
“It’s okay, boy. Tia Benita is here. She gonna send dat bad magic right back where it belong.”
She made the thought as strong and positive as she could, and the creature relaxed a little.
The first awareness of anything happening came with a strange vibration in the water, it was disturbingly just off-kilter enough that the human mind couldn’t catch the rhythm. It made Maria feel nauseated and Big Orange cringed as he curled himself tighter around her. Maria found herself stroking him as if he was a crying child.
“You hushabye now. Tia Benita not gonna let no bad happen to you.”
The vibration stopped, and even through the water Maria could hear the mambo singing in her strong contralto voice. As she sang, bits and pieces of something floated to the top of the pool, where the bravest of the maintenance guys appeared to be collecting them in a piece of fine white cloth. The water around Maria and Big Orange started to heat up, but Tia Benita was having none of that and she spoke a word of so much power that the panes of glass in the roof high above the octopus tank rang like bells.
Maria was beginning to think this was going to be a straightforward clearance job when the sand in the bottom of the tank started to move. It circled on itself like a maelstrom of yellow particles, and then it became a pillar of spiralling sand. When it reached the surface of the water a creature shouldered itself out of the whirlpool to stand on the surface of the water.
“Hey, mambo woman,” it called derisively, “you think you big enough to content with PaPa himself.”
“You ain’t no PaPa. Fact you ain’t even a pup. You gonna go back aisy or do I gonna hafta send you.”
The creature on the water swelled indignantly. Once again, Maria felt heat, but it was quickly quenched. And then a very strange thing happened. Big orange grasped her in his tentacles and rose to the surface right beside the hulking figure that must have been the soul of the muppet that the strange crew threw into the water. The dark thing looked at the huge octopus out of deep-set red eyes.
“This ain’t your fight sea monster.”
Big Orange swelled his chest and began to sing, with Tia Benita and her acolytes joining in immediately. As the song swelled Magnus stepped forward.
“By the spirit of my Viking ancestors I bid you return from whence you came. Lest all of Valhal come forth and punish thee for thy transgression.”
The creature made as if to sneer, but even as it curled its lip the skinny director swelled to an immensity to match the dark soul. The northman’s shoulders were like those of an ox and his huge hands swung a war axe as if it was no more than a blade of grass. His piercing blue gaze bored into the red depths of the eyes of his adversary and he laughed a deep and booming laugh.
“Leave now, little draugr (demon). Leave and fight another day or meet dauða bræðrumaður (death bringer) here and now.”
The dark thing licked it’s lips with a thick, red tongue. “I will leave. But I was summoned and I am owed a life.”
Tia Benita laughed, although it was the sort of a sound that bodes ill for somebody. She crooked a finger and almost at once the air thickened while the sound of cursing bounced off the water like waves of foul-smelling bodily fluid.
The dark thing rolled back its lips in an approximation of a smile, before eying Maria in a fashion she found disturbing. She wasn’t Benita’s niece for nothing, though. She raised her hands and concentrated briefly. The muppet that appeared in her hands was a tiny, perfect version of the dark creature. The summoning snarled at Maria and the muppet grew hot in her fingers.
“Stop that,” she said firmly, and showed it the hat pin she held in her other hand. The muppet cooled. “Behave yourself and you shall take this with you. Anger me and I will keep my hand about your heart forever.”
Magnus laughed deep in his chest. “We may want to talk when all this is over.”
“We may,” Maria replied primly.
Whatever they may have been going to say next was interrupted by the arrival of a woman Maria recognised as being the one who dropped the simulacrum into the water. Big Orange made a sound that would have been a snarl in a creature that possessed that sort of a throat. The woman saw who had summoned her and made to move on Tia Benita with her hands clawed. She didn’t get to within twenty feet, however, because the dark entity reached across and grasped her by the throat.
“How dare you touch me Giglamel. I made you,” she hissed, “and I can unmake you just as easy”.
“I think not. I think you stole me. Dragged me screaming from the place where I belong. Enslaved me. Held my soul in a pot.” The creature shook her like she was a rag. “Now you owe me.”
It bent and rolled back its lips before biting the fat woman’s neck. Maria could see its throat work as it swallowed the blood that would bind the woman to its will. After a moment it lifted its head and let the woman go. She ran, but she would now go only where the creature allowed her to.
It laughed harshly, showing bloodstained teeth, before bowing and holding a hand out to Maria. She shook her head.
“Oh no, my friend. Not until you are actually leaving.”
It made a grab. But Maria was watching for the move and stepped back. The dark entity snarled and snaked its hand towards her unprotected throat. But she stabbed its groping hand with the hatpin. It screamed, high and thin, and brought its injured hand to its mouth, before beginning to spin widdershins. Faster and faster and faster it spun and when it slowly descended into the vortex Maria threw the muppet in after it.
For a few seconds disembodied and guttural laughter filled the air then it was gone, and the atmosphere felt fresh and clean again.
Big Orange uncurled himself from around Maria’s body and slowly descended to the bottom of his pool. Tia Benita smiled at her niece.
“Well done chile. You go get outta that suit while I seals up the portal.”

Jane Jago

There will be more from Big Orange and the Mambo Woman next Sunday…

Weekend Wind Down – Dangerous Forest

At the edge of the carefully cultivated parkland which surrounded the summer palace of the rulers of Harkera, just outside the white-walled city of Cressida, lay a huge expanse of woodland in which nature was given great freedom of expression in return for allowing the monarchs of Harkera and their chosen guests, the privilege of hunting there. Not that the privilege was granted freely – it had to be earned. It was a playground for those whose reactions were fast and whose sinews were strong – those who wished to be tested against the wild.
Karlynne knew that it was not a proper wild forest because there were men who took care of it – vergers and warders, gamekeepers and huntsmen, employed to make sure that the main paths were always kept clear and that there were always plenty of wild game to be hunted by the monarch’s noble visitors. But it was almost a proper forest, such as the ones she had read about in her books where winged ponies and talking animals lived. She had been told never to go there because it was home to dangerous animals, tizarts, therloons and seminarls and dangerous men – land-pirates Turla called them – men who would come to steal the animals and who would be just as happy to steal young girls who were foolish enough to wander into the hunting park alone.
But today the forest did not look at all menacing or dangerous and it would not be the first time Karlynne had ridden there alone with no one any the wiser. It beckoned to her, mysterious and inviting beneath the early summer sky and Turla was sitting in her room resting her aching bones having told Karlynne she should do as she pleased for the afternoon.
With a brief and ephemeral flash of guilt, she reminded herself that was not strictly true. Turla had told her to take one of the grooms if she went riding, but when she had got to the stables to find her favourite pony, Mischief, all the grooms had been busy. Being far too considerate to interrupt their work for her own pleasure, she had sent one of the boys for Mischief’s tack and had saddled him herself, riding out unnoticed.
It was a glorious feeling to canter across the park alone, she who was never allowed anywhere unescorted, and the simple joy of freedom made her laugh aloud. In truth, she had not really intended to go into the forest at all that day, but once she had reached the edge of the open parkland, the fringe of trees with its inviting paths had beckoned her in. Now, she rode beneath the canopy of leaves, thrilling at her own daring and filled with a delicious excitement. Her books and Turla’s tales from nursery days onwards, had always been full of enchanted forests, with magicians, talking animals and handsome young men who always turned out to be the long-lost son of some noble who invariably needed rescue from a dire enchantment, by the hands of a beautiful princess. After which they would fall in love and live happily ever after.
Karlynne decided that she was the perfect heroine for such a romance. Turla had often told her that she looked just like her mother, who everyone said was beautiful, so she must be beautiful too and at nearly twelve years old she was certainly young. Every credential met, she was bound to find adventure, romance and true love sooner or later – and where better to look than in the forest? Not that she expected talking animals and magicians here, of course, they were only in stories – but you never knew and the forest certainly seemed a place for adventure.
She had been riding for quite a while when she found the path had narrowed on either side so the trees and bushes seemed to press in on her and in places Mischief had to push past springy undergrowth and waving tendrils of grasping plant life. Karlynne realised it was getting towards the time she would normally share a small afternoon treat with Turla and began to wish she had thought to bring some food with her: adventuring seemed to make one feel hungry.
She was just wondering whether she ought not to turn back and see if Old Peddy in the kitchens had baked a seed cake for her today, when a bird flew up from immediately under Mischief’s front legs. The pony shied back, its stubby ears flattening and Karlynne, using all the horsemanship she had learned, took several moments to get him back under control with a firm hand and a soothing voice.
It was then she heard the noise – a sound in the bushes to one side, as if something were pushing through the undergrowth towards her – something big and heavy. For a moment she sat frozen in the saddle, scarcely daring to breathe, her mind full of every tale she had ever heard about ferocious monsters which lived in wild forests. In her mind, it transformed in rapid succession from a fire-breathing dragon, to a towering giant, to a hideous five-headed serpent. The silence that followed the sounds seemed to last forever and Karlynne heard the pounding of her own heart which seemed, suddenly so loud that she was convinced it must echo through the trees.
She was just beginning to reassure herself that whatever was there must have gone, when something erupted from the bushes close behind Mischief – something huge and dark, with long fangs that glittered yellow against its open black mouth.
Screaming with terror, she raked her heels into Mischief’s glossy flank, but there was no need. The pony had already sprung forward like an arrow released from a bow and was thundering down the path with the monster slavering at his heels. Karlynne clung on to the saddle, flattening her body along the pony’s broad neck to avoid the low branches that threatened to sweep her from his back. She did not dare to look back to see the reality of the dark horror she had so briefly glimpsed, but she could hear its rasping breath and the soft thump of its paws upon the hard earth track.
Mischief plunged over a stream and as he landed, Karlynne nearly fell, another scream forming in her throat, but she choked on it and all that emerged was a sob of pure terror. She closed her eyes and prayed to the gods with all her heart, willing the pony to run faster.

From Times of Change, book two of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

My Lady

The call of the wind on the darkest night
The whisper of summer breeze
The sound of a skein of geese in flight
The movement of leaves on a tree
The dance of a barefoot child at play
The tears of the sorrowful and strong
The piper greeting the close of day
Are all notes in my lady’s song
Where hands on strings make music bright
Where nightingales serenade the light
Where unseen orchestras play
Where dancing demons skitter by
Where eagles dip their wings and fly
Where the goddess has feet of clay
The whisper of breath across my cheek
The touch of a sound like a bell
Is my lady strong or is she weak
Is this heaven or is it hell
I no longer know and I no longer care
As the song in the winter wind ruffles my hair
And I follow my lady so bright and so fair
And the sound of her singing strips my soul bare
The call of the wind on the darkest night
The whisper of breeze in July
Her song is why I stand and fight
The reason I live or I die

© Jane Jago 

Granny Knows Best – Going On Vacation

So. Who the feck invented holidays or vacations as the French and our colonial cousins call them?

And to what purpose?

I mean. Pack a suitcase with your most impractical clothing, load up your kindle with romantic novels (pauses to evacuate the bit of sick in the back of throat), leave your best mate in kennels, sit in a tin can in the sky, then spend two weeks beside a pool crammed alongside half a thousand red, sweaty people.

Why?

Can somebody just tell me why?

  • My house is nice, so why would I want to leave it?
  • Gyp is excellent company, so why would I want to leave him?
  • I can cook. I have a dishwasher and a hoover and a washing machine. Sometimes I even use them.
  • I hate hot sun. I hate sangria. I hate swimming pools. And I’m not too fond of the human race.

So please why?

Maybe I can just about get it if you are a working person.  Some time away from the grindstone I can understand. Though you could have that in the comfort of your own home, you know. Also, the allure of having somebody do your chores for two weeks must be enormous. But with what you spend on a holiday you could probably afford to have somebody come and do your chores every week. (Just saying.) 

What I can find no justification for whatsoever is the likes of my neighbour – who we will call Mabel to protect the innocent – who regularly packs her roll-along and gets on a coach with fifty or so other crumblies and heads off to the delights of Skegness, or Blackpool, or Weymouth, or… 

What the heck is that all about? Hours and hours in a tin box that smells of breath mints, mothballs and haemorrhoid cream – with the added delight of a courier in an ill-fitting blazer (with mismatched dentures and a very sketchy idea of the holiday itinerary and any places of interest en route). Hotel rooms with brushed nylon sheets. All-you-can eat lunchtime buffets. Cream teas with stale scones. Three-course ‘evening meals’ with canned soup and arctic roll. Not in this life.

Two years ago a well-meaning (but stupid) granddaughter-in-law bought yours truly a ticket for a coach trip up the Rhine valley. I have since forgiven her. Just. And, as it was Mabel’s eightieth, the ticket didn’t go to waste.

In essence then. Holidays are the province of the bored, the feckless, and those whose lives don’t suit them.

 My advice? Forget the costas. Spend your money on booze, fags and good food – and sort your frigging life out.

I’m now off to the wine bar where it’s grab a granny night…

Bottoms up!

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