Author Feature: Sparkly Badgers’ Christmas Anthology: In Aid of Avon Riding Centre for the Disabled

The Sparkly Badgers’ Christmas Anthology is a wonderful selection of festive tales to cheer your Yule and benefit a very worthy charity for the disabled as well!

From ‘A Badger Christmas Carol’ by C.H. Clepitt and Claire Buss

It was said that it was the death of his wife that made Michael McAllister hate the badgers. Her passing, complications from emphysema, cast a bleak cloud over Greenwood Farm. She was the one who used to care for the animals, not just the farm animals, but the wildlife and in particular the family of badgers who lived in the thicket at the bottom of their fields. Michael resented the fact that the disease ridden badgers were still alive when his beloved wife was dead. And without her kindness to temper his mean streak, Michael gained a reputation in the village as a miserable skinflint who would do anything for a quick payout. These days the people, and the wildlife, stay well away from Greenwood Farm, which was fine with Michael. They were not welcome anyway.
It was bitterly cold Christmas Eve morning, made colder by McAllister’s refusal to warm the farm house for the estate meeting. Electricity wasn’t cheap, and he could wear more clothes if he needed to. Roberts, the gamekeeper, pulled his sheepskin jacket up around his ears and blew on his hands, waiting to be given the list of tasks to complete today.
“I saw fox prints last night, Roberts,” McAllister snapped without so much as a good morning. “A whole family of the blighters. If I lose any more chickens, you’ll be out on your ear!”
“Sir.” Roberts was noncommittal but made a mental note to leave some food out for the vixen. She’d recently had cubs and these were lean times. He’d also check the chicken wire on the coops. It wouldn’t do to lose any of the hens.
“I want the rat traps re-filled and the rabbit snares doubled. And stop putting out seeds for the blasted pheasants. They’ll get too fat to fly and there’ll be nothing to shoot next Spring.” McAllister glared at Roberts. “What? Why are you looking at me in that pathetic way?”
“Sorry, Sir, it’s just… It’s Christmas Eve,” Roberts began
“And?”
“Tis the season?” Roberts replied weakly. If Catherine had still been alive, the farm house would’ve been full of light and laughter as they planned what treats they would leave for the animals on Christmas Eve. She had been delighted when he reported the appearance of a badger sett. She would’ve loved seeing the cubs being born.
“Poppycock!” McAllister banged his hand on the table top. “I suppose you’ll be wanting time off tomorrow.”
“If at all convenient, Sir,” Roberts shifted awkwardly on the spot.
“It’s not convenient! It’s not at all convenient!” McAllister’s voice became high pitched with incredulity.  “But I suppose you must or you’ll have all the social media morons after me.  Trial by website, load of nonsense…” He turned his glare onto Roberts. “But you will finish these jobs before leaving today.” And he flung a barely legible list onto the table.
Roberts’ heart sank as he saw at the top of the list the words ‘lay badger traps’.

A Festive Bite of… Claire Buss

Q1:What are the essential ingredients for a festive story in your opinion?
Me personally I like snow on Christmas Eve, a bit of Santa magic, mince pies and tinsel, fairy lights and presents, love and warmth and forgiveness and of course, a Christmas miracle.

Q2:What do you most want to find under your Christmas tree this year?
I want a piano but considering I live in a teeny tiny flat I don’t think I’m going to get one this year. I hope for books, I always hope for books but don’t always get them. Anything else is icing.

Q3:Christmas pudding or Christmas cake and why?
Both I’m afraid. Christmas pudding has to be lit with brandy after Christmas dinner and eaten boiling hot with cream and then, and this is the important part, the rest must be put in the fridge to go solid and then eaten on Boxing Day and thereafter with natural yoghurt. Christmas cake is started in November on stir-up Sunday and then fed until marzipan and icing time. I then cut it into pieces, half goes to hubby’s work, rest gets frozen in bits and I end up eating Christmas cake until at least Easter but I don’t mind. It has to have nuts and cherries in it and I stick my marzipan on with marmalade because I don’t care for apricots. And it has to be royal icing and not fondant.

The perfect gift this festive season, The Sparkly Badgers’ Christmas Anthology is sold in aid of The Avon Riding Centre.

 

EM-Drabbles – Four

The face smiled, belying the words it spoke.

“We have decided it’s not in our commercial interests to allow you to continue to use those chips in your tech.”

Targena drew a sharp breath.

“Is there nothing we…?”

“The decision’s been taken at the highest level and is final. All future shipments are cancelled.”

A moment later the smiling face vanished from the screen.

Targena sighed then picked up her phone and spoke into it.

“You have your funds, professor.”

It took less than a year to develop a superior chip and wipe the smile off that face for good.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Sunday Serial – Dying to be Roman XXIII

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. If you missed previous episodes you can start reading from the beginning.

VI

There were two other men in the hot bath, lazily reclined and talking in low voices. They were both, Dai could not fail to notice, wearing heavy Patrician rings so even when naked they were still marked out as superior beings, paunches and all.
“It is incredible who they allow in here nowadays,” one said, his eyes flicking contemptuously over Dai. “Shouldn’t be allowed.”
“I didn’t think natives were allowed in these baths – never seen one before, anyway,” his companion agreed. “I’ll have a word with the curator, we can get it removed.”
Dai was grateful the heat had already made his skin very flushed or hIS reactIon to their words might have been visible, as it was he decided it was not worth creating an issue that might fall back on Julia to deal with as she was the one who had signed him in as her guest. That was the only way any non-Roman would be allowed in a public premises deemed ‘sub aquila’ – where you had to walk under the eagle on the portico to get inside, and it meant she was personally responsible for his behaviour. So, instead, he curtailed his bathing and pulled himself out of the pool on the far side to from where the Romans lounged.
He had to walk past them to leave the pool room and as he did so, one made a crude gesture with one finger, his patrician’s ring glinting gold. Dai froze mid stride and turned back, fists balling as he did so.
“At least,” he said tightly, “I have a real dick and not just a picture of one on a ring.”
The water beside him erupted and he decided not to wait whilst the two heaved themselves from the water like bull seals onto a rock. Forgoing Roman tradition, Dai bypassed the cold bath and dressed quickly, vaguely aware of one of the two praetorians explaining to his irate fellow bathers that if anyone was going to be ejected from the baths it would be them and not the esteemed guest of their Tribune’s foster-sister.
He was still red-faced and not feeling happy when he stepped out of the lift an
d into the rooftop restaurant where he was meeting Julia. It was the sort of place that on his own meagre salary he would have struggled to pay for a starter. There were waving fronds of palm trees and wall sized tanks of tropical fish, a central water feature and tables both sheltered in the gigantic greenhouse or available on an open terrace overlooking the Tamesis.
Dai found mention of Julia’s name had him led by a silent servitor to one of the more secluded tables, made almost completely private by the positioning of various flowering shrubs. He ordered a jug of the house Falernian and hoped it would appeal to Julia’s palate. The menu made him feel a strong nostalgia for his usual favourite eating- out option. But he somehow doubted they would run to a garum and chip butty in this establishment.
He read through the ‘Prandium’ menu and wondered if he should settle for dove, or thrush, or splash out on a peacock salad. He usually preferred to avoid larger fowl when eating anything Roman as you never knew what it might be stuffed with, but this promised ‘Wafer thin curls of delicate roast peacock flesh, braised with honey and served on a bed of rocket and watercress.’
It seemed the best of an unattractive range of options. He wondered if Julia would want something more traditional and pondered the idea of watching her crunching baby mouse bones. It occurred to him, then, with a slight shock of surprise, that he could forgive her even that. He glanced at his wristphone and realised more time had passed than he had thought since they had parted; and she should be joining him any moment. The thought tripped up his heartbeat and he poured a glass of the Falernian, sipping at it to try and distract himself.
He was reaching to fill up the glass for a second time, then stopped and checked the time again. Unless she had decided to go for a full- on makeover, surely she should have been finished by now? Then he remembered something so stunningly simple his blood ran cold.
Marcella Tullia Junius was a woman.
He left the restaurant at a run, almost throwing the distraught servitor demanding payment out of his path. Using his wristphone he first contacted Edbert, who barely let him finish before swearing loudly and breaking off the call. Guessing that meant the burly Saxon had not seen her either, he quickly informed the praetorians so they could hopefully prevent Edbert bursting into a room full of naked Roman matrons. The screams told him he was too late.
They were all too late.
Julia had vanished.

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

The Deep

Words by Jane Jago, the picture that inspired this dark piece is by the incredibly multi-talented Ian Bristow.

The Pain,
Lightless, black as night
It Burns,
Salt water scores your skin
Red Eyes,
Have pity not, nor sight
They Stare,
Yet understand your sin
Your Prayer,
For sight of that far home
Too Far,
Too lost beneath the deep 
Your Wish,
To be no more alone
His Answer,
The last and final sleep

©️JJ 2019

The Third Dai and Julia Omnibus is out Today!

‘Dying to be Born’ is one of the exclusive bonus short stories The Third Dai and Julia Omnibus by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook which is out now!

The Insulae Nero was in the poorer end of Viriconium. One of a number of squat blocks with an external staircase leading to each floor’s front balcony. In some attempt to create an impression of a pleasant environment, the blocks were set out in quadrangles around what might have once been central gardens, but which now had the odd broken piece of playground equipment and banks of overgrown weeds with litter blowing through like tumbleweed.
Had this been in Londinium, Dai would have regarded it as decent enough non-Citizen accommodation. Indeed both himself and Bryn had lived in insulae not so very different from these in their time there. But here in Viriconium, it was anything but. They had parked up on the edge of the estate under a security camera and walked through attracting attention from local dogs and children. The adults saw them and seemed to either melt away or lurk threateningly as if daring them to approach. At one point a bottle smashed close behind them, but they just kept walking.
“Hello, SI Cartivel.” The speaker detached himself from the insula wall he’d been supporting and stepped into their path. Beneath a mop of dark brown curly hair, he was thin faced, with one ear and one nostril pierced. His tunic and trews seemed too stylish for the locale. Dai moved his hand to push back his jacket intending to both grip and reveal the nerve whip at his belt. But beside him he felt rather than saw Bryn sink into the casual stance that offered no aggression but left him ready to respond to any attack. Unlike Dai’s approach, Bryn’s was de-escalatory. Taking his lead from the man who knew this area best, Dai let his hand drop back.
“Hello Cas. Not your usual playground. You been barred from the Dog and Onion again?” Bryn sounded almost as if he cared.
The man called Cas, hawked and spat as if the name tasted bad. “You know I don’t run with the Broanan’s SI Cartivel, they are not nice people. And I’m here visiting my *llys-tad.”
“Which one would that be? You had a few growing up, so I’ve heard.”
Cas pulled his face into an expression of sorrowful hurt.
“What are you implying about my mother, SI Cartivel? She was a good woman. The best. Gave me a good upbringing.”
“I heard she was a generous soul,” Bryn agreed mildly. “Just a shame she weren’t so successful at teaching you the difference between right and wrong.”
“You insult me,” Cas sounded pained. “I’m a good man. I look after my own. There’s never been any crime laid at my door.”
“Well that is because you just feed on the profits of other people’s crime, isn’t it. Cas? You point them where to go and when. They do the deed and you sell it on. Worse thing is it’s the local kids you get to do it. They don’t even understand the consequences. You know we’ll get you for it one day.”
“Is that a threat, SI Cartivel? My lawyer told me you aren’t supposed to threaten me. I could report you for it. Get you suspended.”
“No, it’s not a threat,” Bryn told him, his tone still mild and amicable. “In your case, Cas, it’s a promise.”
He walked on and Dai stayed put, fixing the curly haired man with a cold glare until he turned away and loped off towards one of the insulae.
“Nice place,” Dai said when he’d caught up with Bryn. “Not sure I’d want to come visiting alone after dark.”
“Cas Ofydd is a cunnus. But a clever one. If he’d put that intelligence into something honest he’d have made good. Instead, he uses it to recruit kids to commit crimes he sets up for them. But there is never anything to link him to it all except their word if we catch them. I’ve seen the court send two teens to the arena in the last year thanks to that bastard, though that was as much the Magistratus’ fault in pressing the letter of the law on them when he could have chosen not to.”
“The Magistratus feels he has no choice.” Dai wondered why he was defending his superior. Perhaps because he had faced some really difficult judgements himself and knew how hard it was to draw the line in the right place. He got no reply and was left with the impression he had somehow failed a test.
“The people here are used to seeing authority coming in hard with nerve whips and menaces,” Bryn explained as he led the way up the stairs of one of the blocks. He gestured along the first balcony. “Most of the front doors have been forced so often they don’t lock properly anymore, so it’s not too hard if someone wants to walk in and take stuff.”
“Forced by…?”
Bryn shrugged and jogged up the next flight of steps.
“Most often Aiofe’s lot or one of her competitors collecting on illegal loans, though it is as likely to be the angry drunken ex-spouse or the drug-warped teenager who forgot their key. And our boys and girls, of course, though we only do it when they refuse to open up.”
He turned onto the next landing and made his way along the exposed balcony. Faces stared at them from the windows beside the doors – those that weren’t boarded over.
“This,” Bryn said stopping outside a door that had several cracks in it and a hole where the lock should be, “is Villa Gillie. A commodious residence with views over the local park…” he paused to gesture dramatically to the small square of mud and weeds with a couple of vandalised benches, “and built-in air seasonal air-conditioning.” Bryn put his hand above the absent lock, hooked his fingers through it and held it, braced against the frame. Then he knocked hard on the door a couple of times.
There was no reply so after a few moments, he knocked again a bit harder. The window beside the door was still in existence and a face appeared there briefly. Bryn let go of the door and it swung slightly open as he did so.

*llys-tad – step-father

You can pick up your copy of The Third Dai and Julia Omnibus as an ebook or in paperback right now!

Creepy

I like it when the nights grow long
When darkness cloaks the place 
When folk like I can creep and hide
And none can see our face
I like it when the grasses crack
With frosty scratching sound
And those who walk home late at night 
Are always looking round
I like to frighten and appall
To make the breath hitch deeply
But what I like the most of all
Is to wear a smile that’s creepy

©jj 2019

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV reviews ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

This, for some obscure reason beyond one’s not inconsiderable intellect, is one of Mummy’s all-time favourites. She starts reading it on the first of December each year, carefully husbanding it so that she reads the last few pages on Christmas Eve – inevitably drunk and crying snottily. I have been a party to this inexplicable ritual for most of my life, and, until I reached adulthood, Mumsie was in the habit of sitting on the side of my bed and reading this to me in instalments. In retrospect, this may perhaps have coloured my perception of Mr Dickens’ slight little thing. However, we shall persevere – because discipline is good for the soul.

My Review of A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas classic.

Let us examine why.

In one’s estimation, this book taps into all the overused and overexposed ideas of Christmas sensibility. A major character called Scrooge. A major character notable for his meanness and lack of empathy…. Tell me how that is not jumping on the bandwagon of that name denoting meanness and lack of empathy. Yuletide ghosts. The deserving poor. A crippled child that is so sickeningly cute one almost wishes it would meet with an accident. The lack of originality in this thing almost beggars belief. And the story. The story is the apotheosis of predictability, it is the absolute nemesis of creative thought. Does it not glorify the mundane and deify that which is unbeautiful? Is it not the histoire of a plain old man with little to recommend him beyond his wealth? And by the end of this horrible little book is he not giving his wealth away? One. Does. Not. Comprehend.

In synopsis: An unpleasant old man meets some ghosts and becomes somewhat less unpleasant as a consequence. A story peopled with every overused Christmas stereotype the author could find.

Conclusion: Not for one of one’s exquisite sensibilities. However one must acknowledge its appeal to the undereducated, the maudlinly sentimental, the intoxicated, and those with an oleaginous attachment to an unrealistic ideal of Christmas.

Star rating: No stars for originality. No stars for narrative arc. No stars for one’s own literary tastes. However one must award this author many shiny bright celestial beings for his ability to grasp the populace by its collective scrotum and insert his scribbling into the conscious of a whole nation. One must bow one’s head in the face of such financial acumen.

Read it and weep tears of frustration.

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.

EM-Drabbles – Three

Rex had been through several homes so he had no great expectations when he was chosen at the pound that this one would be any different. The woman who had stared at him in his run with an intense piercing look had not seemed that pleased to take him. She wore hard heels that tapped along the floor and didn’t say anything as she put him into the car and drove home.

The man who sat alone in the garden looked very sad until he saw Rex. Then he smiled.

“Charlie? My Charlie!”

Rex decided he liked his new name.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Coffee Break Read – Gloriana

“It is entirely in your own hands archbishop,” the slender red-haired woman in the huge gilded chair spoke coldly and deliberately, “but you and your confederates have ensured that the majority of the populace believes in one virgin birth so I fail to see your problem.”
The ancient, and cadaverously thin, prelate stared at her for a long moment while the muscles in his jaw worked. He obviously wanted to say something but in the end he lacked the courage and subsided into fulminating silence.
“And you Master Cecil. Do you have nothing to say?”
The richly clad figure of Her Majesty’s spymaster in chief bowed floridly.
“This, your Majesty, is either a master stroke or the biggest mistake a reigning monarch ever made. With the greatest respect, we will not know which it is for many months yet.”
“Agreed, there is an element of risk but I would know whether you are with us in our great endeavour.”
Cecil dropped his world-weary pose and bowed his head.
“To death and beyond, Majesty. To death and beyond.”
“You can serve us best by remaining alive,” the Queen spoke with some asperity although her narrow dark eyes warmed a little as they rested on Cecil’s beaky face.
The third man came forward and bent the knee before his sovereign.
“Parliament will uphold whatever your majesty chooses to do.”
“My lord Essex was ever the gentleman,” the Queen laughed although it was a mirthless sound. “The lords temporal range themselves alongside us, as does Master Cecil’s organisation, which just leaves the lords spiritual to declare.”
Essex looked at the cleric with something akin to loathing.
“You are either with us, my lord archbishop, or you are against us. We have no time for you to mull over your decision.”
The stubborn old man in the cope and mitre stared at his queen.
“Do you even begin to know what you are asking?”
She regarded him for a long moment.
“We are perfectly well aware. But what would you have us do? Marry England to some foreign prince? Elevate one of our noble families above the others?”
The archbishop looked at her marble pale features with dawning respect.
“No, Majesty, I would have you do neither of those.”
“Then give me an alternative.”
The old man bowed his head.
“There is none. I stand corrected. The church ranges itself beside you.”
“Good.You may all leave us now.”
The three men bowed themselves out of the room and as soon as they had closed the door behind them the figure in the huge chair allowed her shoulders to sag just a little. A large sandy-haired man, dressed plainly in leather and homespun, stepped out from behind the rich hangings and came to kneel at her feet. She smiled down at him.
“It appears,” she said carefully, “that our plan has the support it needs. Now it is for you to do your part.”
He lifted one small foot in his large, calloused hand and brought it to his lips.

In due time Gloriana, the virgin queen, gave birth to a strapping red-haired son. She called him Henry after her great father, and he ruled wisely and well as did his own son and the son of his son, and the son of the son of his son….

© jane jago

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