September Rain

September came with sticky fingers
Damply clad the browning trees
Blew on our necks, where dampness lingers
While wet grasses whipped our knees
And, wearing coats ‘gainst sulky rain
We struggled through the thickening air
As water muddied dusty drains
And droplets gathered in our hair
The dogs, who run through heat and sun
Draggled panting far behind
Or came to say ‘this isn’t fun’
To rather hope we’d change our minds
But where the river sings we stood
Listening, as they drank their fill
Finding the water clean and good
Before we climbed the final hill
We panting stood, as all around
September shouted ‘summer’s gone’
In words that needed not a sound
She plainly sang us winter’s song

©️jj 2021

Weekend Wind Down – Mole

The Mole groaned and farted and belched noxious fumes as its diamond edged teeth ground their way slowly through the sandy subsoil. As it dug, a series of precisely placed nozzles sprayed a sticky mixture of polymers and ground rock onto the walls of the freshly-made tunnel stabilising it an inch at a time. As the monster inched its way forward, a rattling, clanging conveyer belt shot surplus material into a closely following fleet of lorries.
Up high, in what would have been the head if the Mole was a living animal, a strangely-conformed man plied the controls with the virtuosity of a maestro. He was thick necked and heavy chested, with almost unnaturally long, muscular arms. His legs, on the other hand, were thin and twisted and would certainly not support his weight should he need to walk anywhere. But he never walked. He never left the Mole. He was Driver, symbiotically linked to the great metal digging machine and as incapable of living outside the confines of the behemoth as it was incapable of functioning without him.
They were the most successful of the dozen experiments in symbiosis that had been carried out a decade previously, and were the only partnership left in existence. If that partnership caused ethical worries in some quarters, those voices were soon hushed by those who appreciated the profitability of the gigantic earth mover.
As the present digging conditions were easy, Driver and Mole were entertaining themselves by playing chess. This would very probably have been frowned on by their masters, but neither man nor machine ever saw fit to mention it. Nor did they mention their musical evenings, or the books they read together. Some things, they reasoned, were just nobody’s business but their own.
For most of the morning, progress continued to be excellent and the giant machine chewed its way through the earth at a comfortable five miles an hour whilst beating its operator at chess for the nth time in their partnership. Right about lunchtime, things changed. Driver was shovelling a doorstep of bread and cheese between his busy teeth when the note from the engines changed and the Mole slowed.
The driver picked up his communicator.
“Rock,” he grunted “speed cut by four fifths.”
He cut off the protesting squawk from five miles above his head and carried on with his sandwich. When he had finished his lunch, he toggled his communicator.
“It’s rock. Hard rock. Ain’t a thing anybody can do. Just send the water bowsers we need to cool the cutters.”
“There’s no rock down there.”
The driver sighed and switched on the powerful lights that formed the Mole’s ‘eyes’.
“Video on,” he said grumpily.
The watchers in the office on the surface were treated to a view of the Mole’s teeth biting into a solid rock face.
“Okay. Water bowsers ordered.”
Some five hours later, as Driver was considering his options for supper, the engine note changed again. He toggled his communicator.
“We’re through. Speed increase to two miles per hour. Putting Mole on auto. Signing out for night.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, shutting communications down and swinging to the floor. As his stomach started to rumble, he heard a knock on the Mole’s metallic outer skin far below him. He opened the door and stuck his head out. Down at ground level he could see a foreshortened figure standing on the bottom step of the ladder that led to his cabin. He whistled. The figure looked up, and he recognised the homely features of his own brother.
“Chu want bro?”
“Nuffink. I got a pot of Mam’s rabbit stew for ya. Chuck down the rope.”
Driver grinned toothily and dropped a thick rope with a hook on the end. His brother ducked and then attached a large bucket to the hook before stepping back. Driver flicked a switch and a small motor purred into life, gently hauling in the rope and its savoury burden up the fifty feet to the cab door. When the bucket reached his feet he lifted it in gently. Ma’s rabbit stew wasn’t to be treated with contempt. His brother gave him a thumbs-up and stepped away from the rumbling, grumbling monster.
Driver went arm-over-arm into his cramped living quarters and tenderly removed the lid from the big enamel pail. It contained several carefully packed items. First there was a brown crock of butter and a loaf of soft, fresh bread. Then he lifted out a heroically sized hunk of fruit cake and a pot of clotted cream. The bottom of the bucket yielded a lidded dish of thick, savoury stew and a letter in his mother’s careful printing.
He inhaled a lungful of savoury steam and reached for a spoon. After about half the bowl, he leaned back in his chair and gave a replete sigh.
“Ma,” he said reverently “I love you”.
A deeply feminine, and richly amused, contralto voice, which seemed to emanate from the very air around him, chuckled appreciatively before speaking.
“What’s it worth not to tell Ma you only love her when your belly is full?”
“She knows already, Mole. You can’t never pull the wool over Ma’s eyes.”
The laughter in the ether went on for quite some time, and it cheered Driver as he went about clearing up after himself and storing the bounty from the bucket.
“And now,” he said contentedly “we got a letter from Ma to read. Will I read aloud or will you read over my shoulder?”
Driver could all but hear Mole thinking.
“Read aloud please.”
And that was how they spent the evening, a misshapen man and an artificial intelligence enjoying each other’s company as they read the homely tidings from the woman they both called Ma.

©️Jane Jago

To read the rest of this story, and more tales of hope and despair, you can pick up your copy of Pulling the Rug II. Or you can listen to the whole of this story on Tall Tale TV.

The Best of The Thinking Quill – XIII

Is it that time again? <<sighs and assumes a pedagogical expression>>.

It is one,  Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV, freshly returned from the inspirational home of Calliope and Clio, Melpomene and Erato, where one walked in the very footsteps of those fair daughters of the gods. One is, of course, already well known to you as the author of the superlative science fantasy classic “Fatswhistle and Buchtooth” which has received plaudits from many unexpected quarters and dismissals from the usual suspects.
Being still in the post-prandial glow from many wonderful Greek meals and replete with sun, sex and ouzo, one is not, if truth be told, even remotely in the mood for imparting knowledge to the willfully ill-educated. Therefore it behaves one’s estudas to sit quietly and absorb today’s pearls of wisdom without any of the primitive rowdyism, behind-hand giggling or ink pellet flicking which seems to have become a feature of our weekly learning curves.
And do not play with that thing in my presence.  Naughty step at once.
<<places malacca cane prominently on desk>>
Now, to today’s lesson.

How to Write Right – The Write Adjective

I am, quite simply, unable to believe my ears. How many of you do not know what an adjective is? A show of hands please. And those of you who do know have no excuse whatever for looking smug. At least half of you had only the vaguest knowledge of what a noun was a few weeks ago…
So to explain. An adjective describes what a noun is like.
Now nobody knows what a noun is!
A Noun Is The Word For A Thing. Thus. Dog. Book. Bedroom. Boyfriend.
Not walk, read, retire or spank.
So. In the following sentence, the noun is ‘sky’ and the adjective is ‘blue’.

Today the sky is blue.

This is a perfectly acceptable sentence but how plain and unadorned. What is there for the reader to clasp to their intellectual bosom and feed the inner hunger of their imagination?
Try again.

Today the sky is aquamarine.

See how already the word-painting is beginning to add subtle touches to the inner vision it conjures? But, if one, sole, more decorative adjective can lift the sentence a little, imagine how much more can be achieved with a second? or a third?

Today the broad, pearlescent sky is purest aquamarine.

Ah! You see? So much better that is. So when you need to describe a noun, reach for your thesaurus and lavishly adorn it with such glorious gems of the English language. 
Here are some common adjectives alongside their more expressive brethren:

Blue – aquamarine, azure, cerulean, navy, sapphire, oceanic.
Green – viridescent, grasslike, emerald, glaucus, verdurous.
Soft – silken, squashy, downy, velvety, fluffywuffy.
Hard – adamantine, stern, stiff, rigid, flinty, phallic. 
Nice – kindly, delightful,  gratifying, satisfying, friendypoose.
Nasty – beastly, foul, ghastly, mephitic, studentesque.
Old – tattered, bewrinkled, archaic, hoary, senescent, Mumsical.
Young – smooth, vigorous, fresh, spry, virile, Greek-godly.
Tasty  – delicious, mouthwatering, ambrosial, luscious, seductive, Stavrosian.
Tasteless – bland, untoothsome, pallid, frigid, the Tabloid press.

Now you must surely begin to understand the complexity of the adjective and why each must be delicately nurtured and placed with as much exquisite care as a jeweller setting gems in a tiara.
For today’s homework, I would like to see a list of ten common adjectives with more descriptive alternatives.
Class dismissed, please leave quietly. Your beloved tutor suffers the pangs of an ouzo-fuelled migraine.

A bientot.
And NEVER mix ouzo with Babycham…

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.

Daily Drabble – Rain

The thing about rain is nobody can see you cry. Alice trudged along the cinder path with her shoes full of water and her heart in pieces. He was dead. This time. They had showed her his broken body, then given her his wallet and his phone.

By the time she got home she had cried herself dry. The watchers saw her put her key in the lock and the defeated set of her thin shoulders. 

It was a good job they couldn’t see the figure that awaited her in the dingy room.

“You didn’t really think I was dead…”

©️Jane Jago  

Coffee Break Read – Enough With The Romance

‘All those years ago, when you hurried to my rescue. Did you know that you wanted me before you had me?’
‘No. And yes. I knew there was something. But you were fourteen. And then I saw the fierce joy in your eyes as you stood in that pool of blood, and I could no more keep my hands off you than I could fly. What about you?’
Oh I knew. From the moment I saw you I wanted those hands on me.’
‘Only the hands?’
‘As you just reminded me, I was only fourteen years old. The hands were as far as my imagination went.’
He raised himself up on his arms and looked lovingly down at her. She lifted a hand and ran it up and down the sparse blonde down on his chest. ‘You still do it for me all the time, and any time. I hear other women complaining that they don’t fancy their men any more, and it makes me feel so smug.’
‘Me too’ he laughed ‘and lucky.’
She smiled happily, then shoved him off her and sat up.
‘Enough with the romance. Or we’ll wind up arguing, to take the taste of sweetness out of our mouths.’
‘Probably. But it don’t hurt to remind ourselves now and again how lucky we are.’
She grinned. ‘Did you trash my robe again?’
‘Maybe. I’ll get you another.’ He jumped up and rooted in a wooden chest, throwing a furred velvet robe across the room to her.
‘While you are over there can you give cookie a call. I could eat.’
‘When could you ever not?’ But he ambled over to a doorway at one corner of the tent and held a brief conversation with someone on the other side.
He came back to where Ida was shrugging herself into her robe and hauled her to her feet. Then he looked a bit concerned.
‘Do I have to stop dragging you around now?’
‘Baby on board.’
‘Oh. No. Just carry on as normal, Nana says. She says we’ll know when it’s time to slow down. Maybe when I can’t see my feet any more. Until then…’
‘Good. I suddenly had a vision of months with no sex.’
‘Yeah. I had that nightmare too, but having much sex is part of carrying on as normal.’
He laughed and hugged her.

From Billion Dollar Mountain by Jane Jago

Daily Drabble – Messenger

His angelic glory lit the small room as he spoke.
“Be not afraid. You have been chosen to bear a divine child,” Gabriel hoped he didn’t sound too weary.
“Afraid? You’re kidding, right?” She stood arms akimbo by the laundry bucket. “No. I’m not having anyone’s baby. Go away!”
Gabriel left. Her words, “Creepy weirdo!” following him out. The fourth sulky teen he’d asked and so far no joy. Literally.
“Be not afraid, Hannah…”
“Go away!”
“Be not afraid, Rachael…”
“Stuff off!”
Gabriel checked the list. The next one was engaged already. This was so not going to go well…

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Alleyway Ambush

Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook is a whodunit set in a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire still rules. You can listen to this on YouTube.

Interview over, Julia felt the need of a fortifying drink. Being unfamiliar with the city, she let Dai lead the way towards the taberna where his team awaited him. Julia followed, carefully not speaking to allow this proud and prickly man time to absorb what the Tribune had to say.
They were walking along a little-used alleyway between two warehouses when they were attacked. A dozen or so burly toughs surrounded them, coming from both ends of the alley simultaneously. Julia touched the emergency alert tab she wore on her wristphone before putting her fingers in her mouth and whistling shrilly.
“I’d be surprised,” she remarked, noticing Dai touching his own wrist device, “if Edbert is actually out of earshot, even if I did dismiss him, but in the meantime.…”
She positioned herself so that she was behind Dai, facing the opposite way. Knowing him to be weaponless she pulled the nerve whip from the back of her belt and pressed it into his right hand. He grunted as his foot took the first thug between his meaty thighs. The man went down whimpering. Secure in the knowledge that Dai had her back, Julia turned her attention to her end of the alley. A huge tattooed figure was running towards her yelling obscenities, and with his hands clawed. She unholstered her personal weapon and shot him through the thigh. He fell to the floor, and she shot a second man as he vaulted his groaning colleague. While the other four were thinking about their options Edbert and the hounds arrived in the company of two angry Praetorians. Satisfied the threat from her end of the alley had been dealt with, Julia turned her attention to Dai’s side. She was pleased, if unsurprised, to find he had managed to incapacitate four of his assailants. Two were running away. Julia shot both in the legs.
“Sorry if that offends, Dai…”
“It doesn’t. I’m a great believer in making examples.” He looked at the nerve whip in his hand. “And this is impressive; we Vigiles don’t get issued them. Or any personal weapons.” Julia looked at his face, expecting to see bitterness and condemnation. To her surprise, he just favoured her with a lopsided smile, and said: “Not your fault. And you did share.”
Came a small commotion at the entrance to the alleyway and a group of Vigiles sauntered in, looking smug.
“What’s afoot here?” the biggest one demanded in haughty tones.
Dai handed Julia her nerve whip.
“Excuse me, domina,” he said, his tone scrupulously polite. “I have merda to shovel.”
He strode over to the group of Vigiles and without any warning ploughed a big fist into the belly of the leader. As the man folded, retching and coughing, Dai turned a furious face to the other five.
“Since when,” he demanded savagely, “did the Vigiles of this city take money to turn a blind eye when law-abiding members of the populace are attacked?”
“And since when did ‘the populace’ think they can get away with attacking servants of Rome?” the biggest of the Vigiles blustered taking a threatening step towards Dai.
Unfortunately for him, the tall Celt was not in a good mood and the man took a well-aimed boot to his solar plexus that had him rolling on the filthy cobbles alongside his confederate.
“Anybody else?” Dai’s voice was dangerously quiet. For an instant nobody moved, then there came a high-pitched whistle from the street. Dai whistled back. His men came thundering in, screaming to a halt as they took in the scene. Bryn was the first to find his tongue.
“What happened, Bard? Scorpius’ thumbs started twitching so we come looking for you. Then your panic alarm sounded…”
“Somebody thought it would be fun to ambush me and the Inquisitor.”
“Inquisitor?” a voice from the back of the group sounded truly confused. Dai gave what Julia was coming to see as his characteristic grin.
“Bryn has had the pleasure already, but the rest of you, allow me to introduce Inquisitor Domina Julia Lucia Maxilla. And before you lot make your minds up there are a couple of things you should know. First, she swears worse than any of you. Second, she loaned me her nerve whip until the cavalry turned up. Plus. See them dogs and the big guy with the muscles. They belong to her. So drop the hostile and take these gentlemen to the Praetorian Barracks where they can be asked some pertinent questions.”
“What, Vigiles and all?”
“Oh yes. I very much want to know who paid them to turn a blind eye. Oh, and Bryn, you lot are moving in with the Praetorians until further notice. All leave is cancelled and you had better call your spouses or the local lupanar and tell them you are not coming home for a few days.”
The middle-aged Vigiles looked at his superior officer with wise eyes.
“That dangerous, is it?”
“Could be. So if anybody wants out I’ll sign you off, on sick-leave.”
Nobody did, and Dai’s men hustled their prisoners into a hovercart and made for the barracks with one Praetorian along to vouch for them.

“I don’t want that drink now.” Even to her own ears, Julia’s voice was as cold as an Appennine snowstorm. “Instead, I’d like a word with the curator of the Augusta Arena. I want to know who paid him to look the other way.”
Dai grinned.
“Not him, her, one Annia Belonia Flavia.”
Their one remaining Praetorian spat on the ground, and Julia lifted a questioning eyebrow.
Futatrix,” the man grunted. “One of the lady Lydia’s patrician friends. Too good to talk to the likes of the Tribune.”
“Let’s go ruin her day then, shall we?”
“What a perfectly splendid notion.”

Dying to be Roman by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Daily Drabble – Highwayman

The highwayman rode a bay horse with three white socks. When he held up Sir Peregrine’s curricle on a lonely road across the common swords were drawn.  They fought, and the dandy died at the roadside. His killer stole a kiss from Lady Peregrine and rode away.

The lady never remarried. Retiring from London society she chose to live at the least of her late husband’s properties – an isolated manor in the Kentish Weald. 

It was a quiet life, and if a bay mare with three white socks was stabled at the manor almost every night who was to know…

©️Jane Jago

Coffee Break Read – Frustration

Avilon curbed his frustration and was about to try again, when the heavy awning at the end of the wagon was thrown back and a man stepped in dressed in the same peculiar style Avilon had seen the youngster he had attacked wearing, even down to the pistol and whip. However this man’s clothing was if anything more garish, and far from being shaven, his hair hung in a thick red braid reaching just below his shoulders. He was not as young as the boy Avilon had encountered before, probably a decade or so older. Hard bodied and hard faced, with no sign of any humour or humanity.
As soon as he came in the old woman began wailing and grovelling at his feet, but he ignored her completely and moved to stand at the end of Avilon’s crude bed. His face seemed completely inexpressive and he jabbered something in the outlandish language. Avilon shifted position slightly to raise his head.
“I can’t understand what you are saying,” he said carefully, keeping his tone even and his own expression friendly. “Do you speak Standard?”
The man frowned and spoke again with slow deliberation, as if he were addressing a child or an imbecile. Avilon shrugged and smiled.
“Sorry, but even if you spell it out letter by letter I still won’t understand. I need someone who can speak Coalition Standard, it is the only language I know.”
The man turned and snapped something at the old woman, who promptly scraped and grovelled her way out of the wagon, then he crouched down beside the pallet bed and probed the wound on Avilon’s head with ungentle fingers. That hurt, but Avilon remained unmoving, his face schooled to unthreatening neutrality. He wanted to convince these people that he was not in need of any more of their drug.
Then the man pulled back the blanket and examined the various scars that marred his naked torso and limbs, prodding at them. Avilon flinched and resisted the impulse to object to this humiliating treatment. There was nothing personal in it. It was as though the other man was testing the quality of a piece of technology – or a piece of meat. Since it was presumably a part of some primitive health check, which if he passed, might well see an end to the drug regime, and possibly release from restraint, Avilon endured it without protest.

From The Fated Sky part one of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

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