Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Eight

The pursuit had been going on for hours now, and Sharky was about beat. His body felt leaden and with every beat of his tail he knew himself to be getting weaker and weaker.
Something inside him refused to just give in, though, so he turned to face the behemoth. He kept his eyes open and his gaze stony as the monster came ever closer.
He might not be much of a shark but he determined to die with at least the semblance of bravery.
The monster stopped within a millimetre of his face.
“Tag,” it said, “you’re it now.”

©jane jago

Grandmother’s Hints for a Successful Life – Resolutions

New Year, new you!

I have very little doubt that at some time in the waning hours of the last decade ninety per cent of you will have been tempted into making at least one resolution for the improvement of yourselves or the planet you are lucky enough to inhabit.

There will have been earnest declarations of an absolute determination to live a greener more environmentally aware life, drunken avowals to the cause of losing weight, giving up smoking, and getting fit, and, we mustn’t forget those for whom 2020 was to be the year of the birth of the seminal twenty-first century novel.

But two weeks in how have you fared? 

All you little extinction rebels. Did you remember your designer shopping bags when you went to Waitrose? Have you traded in the Range Rover for a Leaf? And did you really manage to talk yourself out of booking that holiday to the Maldives? 

I thought not.

And who has stopped smoking? Lost an ounce? Actually used that gym membership? 

I see one hand raised in a sea of shame.

What about all the wannabe Shakespeares out there. You bought the laptop and Stephen King On Writing. Spent a lot.

Written a lot? No. But I bet you’ve played every game you own and watched a lot of catch-up TV.

Now you have soberly faced up to the undeniable fact that you are the same you as you were before January arrived it’s time to listen to granny.

Don’t be making promises you can’t keep. Better to say to quietly yourself that you’ll try to do a few things a bit different than trumpet your intentions where you will be exposed to cruel ridicule for not lasting beyond January 3rd.

Granny’s first rule for surviving the year. Keep your head down, your mouth shut, your legs crossed and your phone in your pocket. 

And this time next year I hope you will have remembered that New Year’s Eve is really not the time to make any decision except maybe to just have another drink…

 

Coffee Break Read – The Black Angel

I’ve been cleaning hotels since I was fifteen years old – and now I’m forty and as plain as a pikestaff I’m still at it. I’m a good cleaner, though, so I’ve moved up the scale from backstreet boarding houses and these days I wear a nifty little uniform and clear up after the guests in the five-star Venezia Palace that looms over the resort like a fancy wedding cake. 
That Friday evening I had been called to the penthouse level to deal with a ‘little mishap’ in one of the bathrooms. I had just finished, when a wispy little lady drifted into the room. She blushed as if embarrassed to see me, so I bobbed a half curtesy and she smiled vaguely.
“Umm, miss. While you are here there’s a bit of a spillage out on the balcony.”
“Yes ma’am.”
I picked up my emergency kit and followed, admiring her silk lounging pyjamas but feeling a bit sorry for her obvious shyness and awkwardness.
“The maid was still here, Arlo, so I asked her to come and mop up here.”
‘Arlo’ was a handsome devil, but with one of them closed faces that makes me think that the wearer harbours bad secrets. He briefly lifted his head and his eyes slid across me without even really registering me as a human being. But I was so used to that sort of reaction that I wasn’t  even insulted any more. I just got on with my cleaning. 
I was almost finished when I heard a strange noise. It was like wings. Only not bird wings. It sounded leathery and slapping. I looked up to see another man standing on the breast-high balustrade. He was pale-skinned and bare-chested and he had black leather wings. They were folded now, but I knew the snapping sound had been those wings flying him in. 
Unlike Arlo, this man’s cold black eyes didn’t discount my humanity. Instead I could feel his gaze burning against the pulse point in my throat. It felt hungry and made me want to shiver. I made to turn and walk away, but it was as if my feel were nailed to the ground. 
Arlo looked up. “Leave the maid, Luce, she’s only here to clear up after Clumsy Clara here, who can’t hold her drink.”
‘Luce’ jumped lightly down onto the floor and was at the woman’s side in two strides. He pulled aside the woman’s silken collar exposing twin puncture marks in the papery whiteness of her skin. He showed his teeth.
“Arlo. Were you not told?”
“Since when have the likes of us done anything we were told?”
Moving too fast for the eye to register Luce was beside Arlo and he one hand around the other man’s throat. 
Clara made a small sound in the back of her throat before slipping to the ground in a dead faint. As she hit the ground the compulsion to remain in place left me and I went to her side.
As I knelt down, her eyes fluttered open.
“Get away,” she whispered. “While they are occupied with each other. Run away.”
I eased an arm under her shoulders and helped her to sit up. As I did so a she gave a harsh little cry, and I realised Arlo was moving. He walked like a clockwork soldier, or one of the automatons that go in and out of the clock in the hotel ballroom, and when he got to the balustrade he climbed over. For a second, he seemed to stand on thin air before plunging downwards. 
We were eighty-nine floors up and my stomach revolted at the idea of his body being splattered across the pristine stones of the foyer below us.
Only he wasn’t. A moment later he reappeared grinning savagely. His wings were feathered, but as black as Luce’s leather. 
The two men grappled with each other, standing on insubstantial air as they fought. The woman on the floor hid her face in my shoulder for a moment before struggling to her feet.
“Can I help you ma’am?” I asked quietly.
“I should refuse you. But I cannot.”
She took my hand and I walked beside her to where the two winged ones fought.
“Blood for blood,” she said and the men looked hungrily at me.
Then Clara let go of my hand and I fell. 
My last living thought was that the cleaning crew would never get my blood out of the marble floor below.

©️jj 2019

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Seven

She trod up the aisle, to where the chosen husband awaited her.

He was blocky and brilliantined, with a whitish, bristling moustache, above pursed pink lips.

As she promised to obey, he smiled coldly, although walking down the aisle he patted her hand.

“As long as you obey orders,” he whispered, “you have nothing to fear.”

The wedding breakfast was interminable, but night still came too soon. The groom entered the bedchamber.

“Obedience,” he snapped, shutting the door behind him with a click.

Morning found a figure huddled in the corner of the bedroom. 

He never challenged his wife again….

©jane jago

Coffee Break Read – It Ain’t Always the Injuns

 When the Apaches overran the wagon train Agnes was afraid almost beyond speech.  She didn’t see what happened to her parents, but a man with face-paint and blood all over him grabbed her and dragged her across the withers of his running pony.
The next thing she really knew was when she awoke to the smell of woodsmoke. She was lying on a bed of furs and a woman wearing leather and beads was saying something she couldn’t understand, holding out a cup of something that smelled of herbs. Her head hurt and she drank the herbs before drifting back to sleep.
Coming around again she became aware of the sound of fighting. She heard screaming and shouting and the call of a bugle. The cavalry had arrived. She thought herself safe, though little could have been further from the truth.
Agnes didn’t know how long it was before the soldiers found her. When they did she could feel the heat of their eyes. Then a coarse voice spoke.
“Form an orderly line, boys. We may as well make use of her before we take her back to daddy. He won’t never know it warn’t the injuns…”
She couldn’t even protest, because her mouth was filled with rank tasting rags. She supposed this was what Papa had warned her about when he spoke of the lusts of men, and fat tears of both pain and shame dripped onto the earth floor.
No one would ever believe her.

©jj 2019

Coffee Break Read – Convict Conscript

He stood in a formal parade-ground stance, as ordered by the scowling Legionary Sergeant who had escorted him in and now lurked by the door. Vane had made a conscious choice not to relax him from the rigid posture. He never did with the conscripts.
Vane glanced back at the remote screen he had called up, its contents invisible to anyone else. “Amnesia,” he read the word aloud and looked back at the soldier. “Total amnesia?”
“Total retrograde amnesia, sir,”
The Sergeant, a big, broad-shouldered man called Hynas, stood almost a head taller than his charge who was not much more than average height, and the ever-present scowl changed to a sneer at the words. Vane ignored him.
“And do you know why?”
“Due to an unknown trauma immediately prior to my arrest, sir.”
“Prior to, not during?” The way most of his men were brought in to begin their military career in his Legion it would not have surprised him in the slightest to find the injury had been inflicted at that point.
“Yes, sir.”
“I see.” Vane wondered if he truly did, the implications here were so disturbing. “You have no knowledge or memory of anything before your arrest?”
“None, sir.”
“And that means you have no direct knowledge or experience of what life is like outside the Legion?”
“No, sir. I do not.”
“Then how can you know you want to leave us, soldier?”
He noticed a slight hesitation then.
“I have no direct personal knowledge, sir, but I have researched a great deal about it.”
Which, he supposed, explained the hesitation. But the idea of researching the complexities of everyday life with zero experience of it, stretched his credulity. Vane tried to keep that disbelief from his voice. “Researched it?”
“Yes, sir. I have talked to other people in my unit and accessed information through the Lattice.”
Everyday life as filtered through the minds of violent criminals and a military tactical data provider. The Commodore shook his head.

From Haruspex: Trust A Few‘ by E.M. Swift-Hook

Author Feature: Lost in the Game by Christopher Keene

Lost in the Game (Dream State Saga Book 4) by Christopher Keene is the latest in his LitRPG series and is out now.

Here lies Susan Dharma
2043-2060

“Well, Sue, I finally came to see you. And this time I’m not an utter mess.”
Although I had been at the funeral, the drugs they had given me at the Wona asylum had numbed me to the grief and left me a bumbling, wheelchair-bound fool. This was the first time I had visited the grave while fully lucid, and the guilt that it had taken me this long to give her a proper farewell dug at my heart. I tried to come up with something to say, but it was hard knowing she wouldn’t be able to hear me.
My mother had driven me to the graveyard today. It was a warm day, and she had offered to come with me to the grave for moral support and physical support if I needed it. She had never really stopped worrying about me after my month-long paralysis, no matter how many times I showed her I was fine to walk on my own now, so I requested she wait in the car. I was now glad I had because I was doing this all wrong. My lips weren’t trembling, my forehead wasn’t creased, and tears weren’t spilling down my cheeks like they were supposed to. The grief was coming out in another way. Anger tightened the cords in my neck until I felt like my skull was going to pop off.
“You were just a pawn!” I spat in my sudden fury. “Just another piece that Malcolm could shift so he could have his revenge. Now I’m the leader of Catastrophe and trying to prevent that. And here I was, just a few weeks ago, trying to avenge you by taking them out! The irony makes me want to puke!”
I was panting now, trying to keep it contained, hoping that no one else could hear me. The graveyard had been empty when I had arrived, but no doubt there was some old widow here now, updating her deceased husband on the latest gossip, and here I was having a tantrum like a child.
It didn’t matter. I needed to get this out.
“Now it turns out he’s achieved immortality. No one knows how, and on the very game you were trying to get pulled! You call that fair?” I exhaled heavily and forced a smile. “But that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months, working with Windsor and trying to figure out how he did it. And once I find out, I’m going to destroy whatever’s left of him.”
The sun went behind a cloud, leaving me in shadow.
“I’m also helping this girl, Chloe. Her brother went missing a few years back, and we’ve been trying to track him through the game, but we haven’t had much luck. After what I did to find you in there, I can understand how she feels. I don’t think she’s deluding herself like I was, though. We met him, heard his voice, and . . .”
How would Sue have felt if she knew that Chloe and I were in a relationship less than a year after she had passed on? Knowing Sue, the fact that I worked as a gamer for Wona would have been enough to make her upset. But I had been playing for her . . .at first, anyway. After Samuel—or Sirswift, as he had been known in-game—was given twenty years in prison for assisting in her murder, it no longer felt like I was playing it for her sake.
“Murders, betrayals, kidnappings, and a ghost in the game. That’s what my life’s been like since you died. After everything that’s changed, it kind of feels like I died myself in that crash, but then if I had I would be with you and, well . . .”
I shook my head and turned to leave.

You can keep reading Lost in the Game (Dream State Saga Book 4) if you snag your copy now! Or start the series with First in the Game.

amazon.com/author/eawicklund Christopher Keene.

Q1: What drew you to write science fiction rather than any other genre? 

The speculative nature of worlds, technologies and futures based in science allowed me to explore fantastic yet grounded ways to put characters into interesting situations and conflicts. I like fantasy as well, though I feel science fiction sometimes creates more tangible and relatable worlds through a general since of technological progression, or at least the illusion of one.

Q2: If you could bring one thing from your book into the real world what would it be?

The Dream Engine, a device that can read and simulate your thoughts as visual actions in an operating system connected to the internet, allowing people to use it to record dreams and play games while wearing it. It’s similar to VR game, only it avoids the pitfalls of physical movement as you don’t have to worry about walking into walls or hitting a bookshelves when you’re in a dream.

Q3: What is your inspirational beverage of choice when writing?

I generally get most of my inspiration before I start writing, which can be almost anything from a conversation I’ve had with friends to other media to, rather ironically given the title of the series, dreams. Beverage, though? Probably chocolate milk, as I get a lot of ideas when going for long walks to the shop to get a carton between writing sessions.

Growing up in the small town of Timaru, New Zealand, Christopher Keene broke the family trend of becoming an accountant by becoming a writer instead. While studying for his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Canterbury, he took the school’s creative writing course in the hopes of someday seeing his own book on the shelf in his favorite bookstores. He is now the published author of the Dream State Saga, as well as his new epic fantasy audiobook, Gods of the MountainYou can find him on Facebook, Twitter or his own website.

 

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