Coffee Break Read – Night Fight

County Durham, England – 1642

He struggled to his feet and lunged at the shutters, scrabbling to open them, almost ripping one from its hinges in panic, before he realised he had not unbolted them. With fingers that seemed too clumsy to belong to him, Gideon grabbed the bolt and jerked it down. It jammed and he had to waste precious time working it free, cursing the rust and dirt that flaked away with each movement. Then the shutters were open and the cold October night beckoned, offering its welcome promise of escape and anonymity. He had no idea where he would go, but he knew he had to escape that place of sudden death before it engulfed him too.
The window was small but big enough for him to push through head first, arms outstretched in front. He rolled forward, tucking his head down as the walls finally released him. The roll was not exactly a tidy manoeuvre and he fetched up against a tree with more force than he would have chosen. He was getting to his feet when the sound of a horse snorting nearby alerted him to the fact that he was not alone. Gideon pressed himself into a crouch against the tree and held his breath. To run at random in the dark would, like as not, mean a broken ankle or worse – and would give away his presence to the rider. His best chance lay in keeping still and hoping he would be invisible in the shadows.
The horse came closer to the tree and then a familiar, lightly melodic, voice called to him from the dark, “Come Lennox – my Giddy One, before the hungry ghosts of the past creep from their very graves to devour us both.” Philip Lord. The man who was responsible for the chaos Gideon had just escaped from.
Heart pounding, Gideon swore inwardly and stayed still. The voice spoke again, close by and sounding amused.
“You are no squirrel to be able to hide in a tree. Although I did think you might make a fine eel the way you came through that window.”
The mocking tone was one injury too far. Something in Gideon snapped and he launched himself towards the taunting voice, wanting only to silence it. His fists met flesh and then they were wrestling on the ground. He had only boyhood scraps to call on for experience, that and the overwhelming desire to throttle the life out of the man who was the cause of his fear, anger and humiliation. But for some reason he could not seem to get a grip on his foe, every time he held a wrist or tried to pound a fist into flesh, the grip was broken on the instant or the flesh was gone. Slowly he became aware that the other man was shaking.
Good if he were afraid! Gideon had swallowed enough fear that evening to last him a lifetime and he had no problem sharing that now. He seized one wrist then the other and realised that he was winning, he had the bastard where he wanted him. It was in that moment that he heard the choked burst of sound and realised that his opponent was shaking not with fear, but with laughter.
Then, in a single movement, the world turned upside down and Gideon found himself flat on his face, arms pinned at his sides by immovable knees and his legs trapped by the weight of his opponent.
“A pox on you, whoreson!” he said, with a snarl.
“Oh God who looks over innocents and fools, why have you delivered this one to me? And what be it anyway? Innocent – or fool?”
“At least I’m not a thief or a murderer!”
“Well, there is that to be thankful for!” Lord said the words with a near-reverent sincerity. “But the time for tantrums is passed. I may not be a physician, but you should be believing me that your presence here when the ‘rescue party’ you did not invite along arrives shortly is inadvisable for your future well-being. Now, I can either tie you like a Michaelmas Hog and then you ride broadside, or you can start to behave like a rational adult in a dangerous situation and ride the regular way. Your choice.”
In response, Gideon struggled, fiercely. “You just killed a man!”
“Two men,” the voice corrected, “and I ordered the death of a third. And I will admit I did contemplate making you the fourth I would be responsible for, by the simple expedient of riding off and leaving you here. But you are young, Giddy One and most probably innocent, so that would surely be a crime in the eyes of the Lord.”
The last words were accompanied by a blow to his head which was not hard enough to knock him out, but was enough to daze him. He was unable to resist more than in token as his wrists and ankles were competently bound and a piece of muslin cloth that tasted as though it had recently been wrapped around mouldy cheese, was pushed into his mouth.

From ‘The Cat’s Head’ by E.M. Swift-Hook

The Rabid Readers Review ‘Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady’ by Jim Webster

The Rabid Readers Review Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady by Jim Webster

Where to start with this review? First of all a health warning. Do not read this book when drinking coffee/beer/WHY.  Neither is it a great notion to read somewhere sudden bursts of laughter could be seen as inappropriate.

I must confess upfront to being a fan of Jim Webster’s writing as he has a talent for making the most wildly inconsequential of observations seem matter of fact and perfectly believable. Any of the tales he weaves around the imaginary but utterly believable city of a port Nain are going to be chuckle worthy at the very least.

Therefore I approached the chronicles of Maljie’s varied and exotic life with great expectation.

I wasn’t disappointed.

In fact, there were places where I actually howled with laughter.

Our heroine veers from situation to situation – rarely finishing without a profit. And some of her jobs are so silly and improbable.  But you still keep reading and chuckling.

The ease with which Jim, in the guise of Tallis Steelyard (poet, visionary and unreliable witness) pilots this rickety craft through the shoals of Maljie’s life is exemplary. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Read for yourself. But don’t forget the health warning.

Five big shiny stars.

Jane Jago

 

The Female of the Species…

Maljie is a pretty amazing woman, especially when you consider she has to deal with living in Port Naain, which is a medieval fantasy city. However, she is not one to let such things as expected gender roles hold her back – indeed no, those are merely there to be exploited!

We see Maljie and learn of her adventures through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard, a jobbing poet and himself an acute and wickedly perceptive inhabitant of Port Naain.

These stories are not so much a collection of anecdotes as a tour de force of hilarious and unlikely situations brought together in a single volume and showing the unstoppable rise and rise of the irrepressible Marjie.

If you want some feel-good reading to brighten your day, Jim Webster is your man and Maljie is, most certainly the right woman for the job!

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Twenty-Seven

It was only a child’s musical box, but Emma felt as if her heart had been ripped out when he crushed it under his heel. 

She was too proud to let him see her cry, simply turning back to the potatoes she was peeling. He came up behind her and she tensed for a blow, but none came.

“If you didn’t talk back I wouldn’t have to punish you.”

He went and sat in his fireside chair as if nothing had happened.

Three days later he drove his tractor into the slurry pit. Heart attack, they said.

Emma smiled secretly.

©️jj 2020

Sunday Serial – Maybe XI

Maybe by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook . Sometimes we walk the edges of realty…

Annis got up and went to the small drawer where she kept her few personal possessions. She took out an obviously old newspaper and handed it to Jess.
“You read.”
Jess took the paper in careful hands and read the story of that catastrophic night. She handed it back to Annis, who gave her another yellowed sheet. This was dated some six months later and concerned a memorial service for the dead. The report contained three photographs: the funfair at the height of its popularity; the burnt out wreck; and the cleared site after the wreckage had been demolished.
“So the fairground isn’t really here. But what about the thugs at the gate?”
“Were here before bulldozers came.”
“Okay. So I’m sitting in a cabin that doesn’t exist, in a fairground that doesn’t exist, being pursued by a vampire that I don’t believe in. Am I talking to a girl child that doesn’t exist?“
She watched Annis closely as she asked the question and saw something that could have been sadness briefly touch her face, then fade back into uncertainty. The girl gave a small shrug.
“I don’t know.”
“Fair enough.”
Jess reached over and squeezed Annis’ hand.
“Friends?”
“I never have a friend.”
“Well you do now.”
“May change your mind before this is over. The thing I think you must do is hard. Needs brave.”
“Then you probably have the wrong woman.Maybe I used to be brave. But now – well, now I’m just broken.”
Annis snorted. “Stop silliness. If you had no brave you would be curled in corner crying. Or under vampire’s will.”
Jess shrugged and Annis went so far as to give her a sharp little shake.
“Stop stupidness. You don’t have to even try. But if you can’t you are stuck here. With blonde bloodsucker for company. And you see, he not so pretty when he here.”
Jessica managed to smile at that.
“No he’s not. But you are here, aren’t you?”
“Me and cats. But I not make good company.”
There was a longish silence while the sounds from the fairground outside grew more and more hectic and less and less controlled. In the end Jessica lifted a shoulder resignedly.
“So what must I do?”
Annis stared into her face for a long moment, trying to weigh the chances that telling the truth would send her guest screaming into the night. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie. Not here. Not now. And not to the woman who had called her friend. She squared her slight shoulders and spoke with care.
“Underground there is a place. Belong to the oldest of the Old Ones. There is black basalt throne, and beside throne is Stone of Remembrance. Stone is green jade, striped red with the blood of sacrifice. If you would be free you must sit on the basalt throne, and give blood to the Stone. Must cut your own wrist with the Stone Knife. Blood given willingly will break circle….”
“And then what happens?”
“I know not.”
“But we have to try. Don’t we?”
Annis nodded and said no more, being unwilling to push, and having nothing to say that wouldn’t sound as if she was pushing. Jessica sighed.
“Will I even get to this throne?”
“Yes. Is not problem. I can get you there.”
“I was afraid that might be the case. But once I’m on the throne?”
“I can help no more.”
“I was afraid that might be the case too. Is there any way I can see what I’m getting myself into?”
“I have pictures. I draw.”
Annis fetched a thick sketch pad from her drawer and handed it shyly to Jess. The older woman opened it and her mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. There were sketches of the cats, the fairground, and a whole group of pictures of a swarthy teenage boy whose arms were covered in tattoos. She opened her mouth to ask about him then saw the stark misery in Annis’ dark swirling eyes. 
“Mine. I still hear him whistling.”
Jess put the book down and cradled the teenager in her arms.
“I’m so sorry.”
Annis sniffed unromantically.
“Not you fault. Next pages is what you need.”

Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook

Part 12 of Maybe will be here next week…

Deterrent

If it were so easy then we’d never have the pain of trying
Those who win in life in any art speak of creative striving
When success is so much less of talent more of chance
They miss the four-leafed clovers they trampled in their dance.

One woman works for twenty years as hard as any could
To bring herself prosperity and sure, she does make good.
Another works another twenty more and twice as hard
But never gets to own her home or have her own back yard.

The lie is oft-repeated those who succeed deserve the best
They worked the most, did longer hours, drove themselves hardest.
But for every millionaire proclaiming hard-earned, self-made wealth
A million others, toil much harder, even breaking their health.

You can work a dozen jobs a day and still not have enough
To pave your path with luxury and avoid the rough
It’s not just hard work and talent paves the road to high success
It’s also what you know and who you know – and luck sees to the rest.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – Shame Cullen

They lifted him off the streets in broad daylight, scooped him out from under the noses of his watchers. It gave him some grim satisfaction, as he found himself pinned with a hand rammed up his back and past his shoulder blade by one man and his hooded face buried in another man’s groin, to think of the heavyweight bollocking they would get for losing him. He could have fought harder, much harder, but he got curious why Shame Cullen of all people wanted to talk. So he let them take him in.
Although the best known of the crime bosses on Thuringen for the last quarter of a century or more, no one knew what Shame Cullen looked like, or if he was even a ‘he’ – or a single person, come to that. One theory held he might be a shadowy council of local politicians. Another, that the original Cullen died long since, his name being kept alive by his successors. It made no real odds, though. All those who ever had dealings with Shame Cullen knew that Cullen was a strong backer, a good paymaster, but not someone to ever, ever cross.
The last time Jaz met Shame Cullen, she had been the owner of one of the more classy cabarets. The time before that, a corrupt lawyer in a high-rise office at the heart of the ‘City. This time he looked to be a well-dressed businessman, deep into middle age, large in all dimensions and wearing a patronising smile.
“You’re going soft on us Jaz,” the man called Shame Cullen said, in a mild tone. “Or is it old age getting to you already? A few years ago no one could have lifted you that easy; I’d have counted on losing at least one of my people just to get the chance to have a quiet chat with you like this.”
Without doubt, this Cullen occupied one of the most luxurious houses Jaz ever got to see inside. Even this room, furnished in some extreme, minimalist style, looked designed to the highest standards of quality and taste, down to the polished stone floor – or a good synthetic equivalent. Cullen’s plush chair sat beside what looked like an antique table, great works of art eased on and off the walls as the ambience sequenced them and the music was subtle, tasteful and unobtrusive. Through the wall-sized security screened window, Jaz could see a wide view of tranquil grounds with stunning biodiversity and even fountains.
It looked elegant, sophisticated and fashionable. But Jaz would have appreciated it so much more reclining in a chair like Shame Cullen, instead of having to stand. And if he did not have his elbows and wrists crudely restrained behind his back by over tight magnocuffs, restricting the blood supply in his hands enough to cause him pain. He tried to ease his arms in an obvious gesture.
“Seems you don’t think me that soft, Shame.”
Cullen grinned at him. All teeth, like a shark. “Course not, son. I think you have your reasons for being co-operative – which just makes me wonder about you more than I was before.”
“I don’t mind talking to you. But you could just have sent an invite.”
“And have you bringing your rent boys and tarts along to the party?” Cullen tutted and shook his head. “No chance. I don’t like that kind of garbage littering my garden.”
“If they don’t know by now, they will figure it out soon enough and then you’ll find them putting footprints through your flowerbeds and pissing in your water features anyway.”
Cullen made an odd grunting bark which seemed to be what passed in him for laughter.
“I heard you always were good for a joke, Jaz.”
They were not alone in the room, two of Cullen’s people were supporting the wall either side of the door out, looking very bored – and another sat, feet up, in a chair by the huge crystal-plex window, seeming to be engrossed in a sports VRcast up on a remote screen. Less obvious – and more dangerous – was the stick thin woman who sat at the back of the room, she appeared to be lost in her own screens, but Jaz could see she was missing nothing. He watched her because he knew she was very good. She led the group sent to lift him.
“I like to spread a little happiness around,” he said.
Cullen nodded and reached for some snacks from the tray on the antique table beside him. The table was beautiful, all carved into leaf and flower shapes, and it looked like real wood.
“So now, son, why don’t you tell your Uncle Shame about your little problem?” Jaz saw no reason not to.
“You know as much as me. They picked me up soon as I got back here and have been with me ever since.”
“They don’t seem to take very good care of you.”
He must have heard about the hospital.
“I don’t think they care what happens to me.”
“Then why do they bother themselves with you at all?”
Jaz would have shrugged, but to do so would have meant taking the risk of dislocating both his shoulders simultaneously.
“You can make the guess for me.”
Shame sat back, his look assessing. “You wouldn’t be holding out on me now, would you Jaz?”
He saw the woman give the slightest nod and the two wall props by the door eased themselves vertical, one flexing a deltoid as if making some kind of threat. The sports fan swung his feet to the floor and wiped the screen from view. Jaz became aware of the movement, part of his perception tracked it with the habit of years and his heartbeat kicked up with adrenaline, but his main attention stayed focused on Cullen.
“I can’t see any reason you might think that,” he said.
“You’ve been gone a long time Jaz, and word is you’ve come back – changed. You’ve turned down sensible offers of making good money and taken to whoring yourself cheap to outsiders. Then you get a bad dose of the parasites – and I hear even your woman wants nothing more to do with you.” Cullen eased himself back a little in the comfortable chair and rested his hands along the arms. “You can see all put together, it makes you look bad, son.”

From Trust A Few, the first book in Fortune’s Fools Haruspex Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook.

Granny’s Life Hacks – All Fools Day

Or April Fools to you semi-literate little webbies. It’s just around the corner and you need to listen up!

That day of all days when making bloody silly jokes is all right.

Only it isn’t. It isn’t funny to send your sister a photoshopped image of her boyfriend in bed with a blonde. It isn’t funny to put an announcement of your mother’s death in the local paper. It isn’t funny to  befriend somebody online only to make them the but of your annual ‘humour’ fest.

Just stop it.

It’s not funny. You’re not funny. Leave humour to those who don’t equate being funny with making people cry. Stop being an asshat for ten minutes and consider how you would enjoy being the but of one of your own ‘jokes’.

For those of you who find themselves on the receiving end of one of these gems of sparkling ‘wit’ I have the following advice.

If the perpetrator is an online acquaintance, by all means retweet or reblog the offensive item adding one or more of the following hashtags

#sentbytheguywiththegherkindick

#sentbyadiscardedlover

#sentbythebitchwhohasnofriends

#thanksasshole

I think you get the idea.

However, should the ‘joker’ be known to you outside cyberspace, vengeance is perfectly acceptable. Consider one of the following .

Itching powder in the underwear.

Chilli in the wine

Pepper in the chocolates

And the classic. A kipper wired to the exhaust pipe of their car

Soooooo. To recap. Don’t do personal April Fools jokes. They are seldom kindly and never funny. 

But.

If you do. Expect vengeance…

Have fun until the next thing pisses me off.

Granny

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