Author Feature: ‘Inescapable Fete’ by Rob Edwards.

'Inescapable Fete' by Rob Edwards is one of the stories in Gods of Clay  a new anthology crafted by the knights of the Sci Fi Roundtable. It features twelve brilliant stories that answer the question what if it were the gods are just more advanced beings? Would they be as fallible as the rest of us?

Helen wasn’t sure why they needed a raffle and a tombola, but Tinsley seemed set on the idea, redundant though at least one of them was. It provided another excellent opportunity to tune the proceedings out. She let her pen roam across her notepad, as she studied the newcomer.
Paul was working his way around the table, taking a moment to talk in hushed tones with each member in turn. His expression was… intense and earnest, he spoke with his hands in motion. He was looking for something, some answer, but he wasn’t getting it. His shoulders drew in, his brow furrowed, and each conversation was shorter than the last.
“Find any seat Paul, please,” Tinsley said. “We need to focus on the task at hand, we can’t afford any slip-ups.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Paul and slid into the chair next to Helen.
“Quite all right, quite all right. In fact, perhaps you can offer some useful insights on the conundrum at hand? Should the raffle be before the tombola? Or, and I do not wish to prejudice your opinion, but I would rather broadly hint that the raffle should be after?”
“Er, after, sure.”
Helen’s pen tore through the top three pages in her notebook. She ripped them all out, crushing them into a ball and hurled them at the ground.
“Insightful, Paul, thank you. Show of hands? Thank you all, excellent, motion passed.
“Next, we should turn our attention to the question of which colour we should use for the raffle tickets…”
Paul leaned close in towards Helen and whispered, “I notice you don’t vote.”
Helen unclenched her jaw. “I try not to engage, unless I absolutely have to. They get on fine without me, and if all twelve of us vote, there’s a chance for a tie.”
His eyebrows rose. “You’re different from the others.”
“Thanks for noticing. You seem an odd fit too. That’s a compliment.”
“Thank you. You’re Helen, right?”
“That’s right.”
“Helen May?”
“I don’t… yes, yes, that’s right. May.”
Paul squared his shoulders, leaned in very close and whispered “Lieutenant Helen May? Navigator First Class?”
Helen’s chair screeched across the floor as she pushed herself away.
Tinsley paused mid-exposition. “Problem, Ms May?”
“No, no. No problem.”
“Well and good then, commit thy works unto the topic at hand, perhaps?”
Helen nodded and shuffled her chair back in place.
“You remember,” Paul whispered. “You remember something.”
“Shut up Paul, I’m trying to concentrate.”
“But you’re not, are you?” He was practically bouncing. “In fact, that’s exactly what you’re trying not to do!”
Tinsley cleared his throat loudly. “Ah, Verger, excellent. Might you have a word with the kitchen, please? I would suggest a five-minute break for the necessities, the natives are getting a little restless. Ha ha.”

A Bite of... Rob Edwards
Q1: What time of day do you write best?

I am an excellent procrastinator, I usually write best in the twelve hours before a deadline. To be (marginally) less flip about the answer, I have two writing modes. When the inspiration is in, I can write anytime, anywhere: balancing a notebook on my knee as I commute to work, or long Sunday afternoons where the words just flow. But 98% of my writing is done in the other mode, where I bash my head against the desk at 1am, occasionally type the word “the” before deleting it and writing “a” instead.

Q2: Have you ever invented a language?

Veedlep’rit. (That means ‘no’. Or does it?). 

In my teenage writer years, I did create phrases in my own take on elvish, but not with any sense of coherent vocab or syntax, and lo, these many years later, I couldn’t tell you one word of it. These days I have enough problems with Finnish, the language that surrounds me, I don’t need to add to that linguistic bafflement, thank you. I suppose my own attempts at Finnish are so far removed from the actual language, it could almost count as inventing my own.

Fun fact, Tolkien based his elvish languages on Finnish. Se on totta, mutta auttaako se minua? Veedlep’rit. 

Q3: Are you ticklish? If so where?

I am extremely ticklish, but weirdly only in Geneva.

Q4: How much of your writing is autobiographical?

Not much directly, but I like to add a little flavour from my life. But no, I don’t generally include events or people from my life in my stories, though I might steal a name or turn of phrase from time to time. You could probably play hunt the Finland references in my more recent stories, and the unfinished novel in my drawer is basically a treatise on why commuting on the London underground was so miserable. My story in Gods of Clay is called Inescapable Fete and was inspired by sitting in one too many endless meetings.

Rob Edwards is a British-born writer and podcaster living in Finland. He moved to Finland because of elves, but his greatest geek pride is the entry about him on Wookieepedia. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings of short stories, generally his own, but occasionally guest authors’ too. He works closely with Inklings Press and you can find many of his stories in their anthologies, as well as stories from his podcast in his own short collection StorycastRob: Mic Drop. You can follow him on Twitter.



Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Seventy

His computer went down, and the fat man exploded into his secretary’s skinny workspace. She actually thought he might slap her, and his bloodshot eyes gleamed with malice as he hurled abuse. She looked at the big hands that clenched and unclenched on her desk and felt the dawning of hate…

Some hours later, when the technician arrived to fix the computer, he found his client staring into the blackness of an inactive monitor and fixated on something only he could see.

He dialled a number.

“Got another.”

The fat man slid to the floor and lay staring at nothing.

©️jj 2018

Sunday Serial LXIX

In the stated twenty minutes the room over the garage contained everybody except the two kick boxers and the dogs who had been firmly excluded. Patsy made her offspring sit on the floor while she, Jim and Anna found some folding chairs. Sam and Rod came in quietly. They stood in the doorway talking for a moment. Sam was a big man, and muscular, but he looked small beside Rod. Anna felt a clutch of fear in her stomach and pushed it firmly away.
“I didn’t know Sam had a tattoo,” Patsy murmured.
“No. My secret until now. And I’d forgotten that Rod had so many.”
“Me too. Though it reminds me why he bought into that tattoo parlour.”
Then she fell abruptly silent as Sam and Rod walked onto the practice mat. Each man wore drawstring trousers and had his hands and feet bandaged. They carried head guards.
“Ten minute warm up?” Sam said.
Rod nodded and they put their head guards on the floor. The warm up began with both men stretching and running on the spot. Gesturing Sam back to the corner of the mat. Rod started a complex series of leaps and flicks which culminated in a set of side kicks whose speed was bewildering.
“Now,” Sam murmured, “you see why I wouldn’t care to get in a proper bout with this bugger.”
Rod bowed and moved to his own corner leaving the mat to Sam whose own set of moves climaxed in a two-footed kick, which he landed neatly.
“And that,” Rod grinned, “would have disembowelled me if it connected. Hats on?”
They put their head guards on and moved together. Sam said something Anna found incomprehensible and they began. Back and forth across the mat they went. Kicks and punches seemed to come from every possible direction, but all were pulled before they hit flesh.
“How do they do that?” Anna whispered.
“They’re calling the plays” Jim explained. “They are taking it in turn to call a kick or a punch, then throw it. It’s remarkable. Sam is outweighed and out-reached, but he is keeping up with Rod. I really wouldn’t like to get in a fight with him. He is in excellent nick.”
“He is,” Anna purred. She watched for a bit longer then said. “Will you just look at them. It’s like a ballet. Tattoos and all. I find myself surprised by how elegant Rod is. He looks so much less bulky without a shirt. He’s a big guy, but muscular and not fleshy. For the first time in my life I can see why women rave about him.”
Patsy sniggered.
“Yeah. And your Sam don’t exactly hurt the eyes. That dragon is hawt!”
“But you won’t let me have a tattoo,” Jim protested.
“True. I don’t usually like them. I’m just making a single exception.”
Jim cuffed her lovingly.
“So long as you only look.”
She rubbed her cheek against his arm.
Then she patted him and motioned towards the five boys who sat on the floor absolutely silent and watching the two kick boxers with absolute concentration. Even the twins had dropped their usual world-weary pose and were watching in open-mouthed fascination. He grinned and winked at her before turning his own attention back to the men on the practice mat.

And then it was over. Both men bowed, then they bumped fists.
“I need a shower,” Rod grunted.
“Me too.”
They left the room together.
“Will you look at them,” Matt’s voice was barely above a whisper. “They’ve been boxing for half an hour and they ain’t even out of breath.”
“No,” Cy agreed. “They ain’t. I reckon Anna’s doctor is fucking fit.”
Then he flinched, as his mother clipped him smartly around the ear.
“Language my son.” She turned and grinned at Anna. “You not going to scrub Sam’s back?”
“I’m gone…”
She left the room at a gallop.
“What got up her tail?” the twins asked in puzzled unison.
Six-year-old Charlie looked at them pityingly.
“You two are so thick sometimes. She’s going to have sex.”
Jim stared at him.
“Charlie my son, you may be clever but sometimes you ain’t very bright. That remark could just have got you in deep shit.”
“Why Dad? It’s true. Ain’t it?”
“Is. But that’s not the point. Look at your Mum’s face…”
Charlie looked and winced.
“Now look at the twins…”
This time Charlie crept under his father’s arm.
“Oops,” he said. “I should have done thinking before I did talking. Sorry Mum. Was that rude about Anna? I didn’t mean it to be. Sorry Gruesomes. I forgot that you offered to belt me the next time I called you thick.”
Patsy spoke up.
“It’s okay, little man. I know you didn’t mean any harm.” Then she turned her eyes to the twins. “Nobody is belting anybody. Are they?”
“No. I guess not,” Matt said and ruffled his brother’s hair. “Just be careful. You are too clever for your own good sometimes. You gotta learn to sit on that clever tongue of yours before it gets you into real bother.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Bill went to his father’s side and looked up at him. “Can you and Mum talk to him please? He needs to understand that he has to think before he speaks. He could get himself into big trouble if he don’t. It’s a worry.”
Jim put his arm around William.
“I’ll see to it, Bill.”
His son relaxed against him.
“Thanks Dad.”
Patsy reached over and caressed his cheek.
“Good lad, Billy. Me and Dad will see to Charlie. Now. There are some other folks we need to talk to. Twins. You got anything to say to us?”
“Umm. Yeah. We do. About Sam you mean?” Matt spoke slowly and thoughtfully.
“Yes. About Sam,” Patsy said gently.
Cy took over.
“We thought he was a middle-class softie. But he ain’t is he? He’s tough. And he fixed Rod’s finger. And he looked after Bill. And…”
“And what?” Jim asked.
“Not theirs to say,” Jamie explained. “Uncle Rod is going to tell.”
“Okay. We can wait. However. We do want to know whether the Gruesome Twosome has reached a decision about how they are going to behave.”
Matt spoke.
“Yeah. We’re going to behave nice. For many reasons. Not least we think it might be a spectacularly bad idea to piss him off.”
“Might indeed,” his twin agreed. “Difficult, we think, but painful if achieved.”
Patsy laughed.
“Fair enough. Let’s go see if we can find cake shall we?”

Jane Jago

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Nine

There was nobody at the door, just a basket on the snowy step. Marnie looked inside, then called the sheriff’s office.

It took him best part of an hour to get to her through the snow, by which time she had found one of the bottles she used to feed orphaned lambs.

Sheriff Johnson looked at the tiny baby and his face crinkled for a moment. 

“You gonna keep it?”

“It’s a him. And unless you can find his mother.”

Silas was fifteen when she returned for him.

He stood beside Marnie.

“Go away,” he said. “This is my ma.”

©️jj 2019

Anti-Social Media

I’m so over you now, you must see,
Our accounts are no longer Linked in.
I’ve deleted your emails to me
And your selfies are all in the bin.
Don’t think you can stalk me with tweets
I unfollowed and blocked you on Twitter
Unfriended on Facebook too, sweets,
So I can’t see you whine as you witter.
I un-programmed my regrams. One tap
Sent Snapchat into the blue,
So when you try to ask me ‘Whatsapp?’
You’ll know I’ve no Pinterest in you!

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – No One Is Ever Too Old For Stories

Taken from Times of Change the second book in Fortune's Fools and volume two of Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook.

He was waiting in the courtyard for his pony to be brought to him when an excited shriek of glee made him turn. A small human cannonball with vivid golden-red hair threw itself at him and wound thin arms around his neck.
“Tell me a story, tell me a story!” The Most Honoured Princess, the Lady Karlynne Roussal looked up into his face and repeated her demand more insistently. Durban was very aware of the nurse, Turla, looking disapproving a few paces away and in deference to her expression he disentangled himself gently and held the heiress of Harkera at arm’s length returning her smile.
“I will, with the greatest pleasure, Most Honoured Lady, but alas right now I am engaged on your Lady mother’s most urgent business.” Karlynne looked so crestfallen he had to soften the blow. “I will be back soon and then I will tell you a story – I promise.” The child brightened, her face like the sky when the clouds have passed.
“I want a story about a young princess who is rescued from an evil demon by a handsome Vavasor,” she told him firmly. Durban felt a strange sensation of fatality and it took more conscious effort than usual to maintain his warm smile as he looked down into the eager face.
“Ah – well in many stories it is an evil Vavasor who kidnaps the young princess, but the princess is so brave she wins free and lives happily ever after.”
Karlynne seemed to consider the idea seriously for a moment then shook her head vigorously.
“No. I want the Vavasor to be handsome and good and brave,” she insisted. “And he must really kiss the princess – really-truly, not just pretend.”
“You are too old to listen to such stories, Highness.” The old nurse had closed the distance between them and she sounded cross. She never approved of Durban’s effect on Karlynne, feeling it over-excited the child and he knew she had protested so to Jaelya. “And decent folk have more important things to do than storytelling anyways.” This last was accompanied by a strong glare at Durban, who merely shifted his smile to embrace Turla as well.
“No one is ever too old for stories,” he corrected gently. “Storytelling is one of the most revered and respected professions amongst the Northern peoples.”
“Filling a young girl’s head with daft tales?” Turla sounded contemptuous. “You just don’t know where that will lead.” It was as close to an accusation as Durban had ever heard.
“You’re not too busy are you?” Karlynne asked oblivious to the hostile adult undercurrents around her. There was a note of genuine appeal in her tone which tugged at his heart. For a moment he saw the world through her young eyes, where the adults she cared most about were always putting her off with the excuse of eternal important events that needed dealing with – things that were obviously so much more important than Karlynne in their lives.
“Of course I am not,” he told her warmly and saw the delight glow in her eyes. “If your Lady mother agrees, then I shall most certainly tell you a story when I have been to Cressida. But right now, I can see you are about to go riding with your friends.”
On the other side of the courtyard a group of ponies was being led out and three girls, all slightly older than Karlynne, were waiting with an escort. As Durban looked across he saw another figure join them from the palace, a young nobleman whom he recognised. The young man exchanged a familial hug and a few words with one of the girls, who pointed across to Karlynne. The new arrival followed her pointing finger and his expression changed instantly to one of rising anger.
“You do promise?” Karlynne tugged on Durban’s arm. He bathed her in his sunniest, most carefree smile and made a slicing action with one finger over his own throat in the childhood gesture and oath of unbreakable commitment.
“I will, I vow, or may I die,” he promised. This seemed to satisfy Karlynne who embraced him tightly, pressing her cheek against his chest before she allowed the glowering Turla to lead her away to join the group of girls on the far side of the courtyard.
Durban’s pony stood waiting and he took the reins from the groom with a brief word of thanks, flipping a coin to the lad, who caught it grinning. He mounted and was turning to leave the courtyard only to find his way barred by the young nobleman, who was now mounted on a superb pony. His face was dark with anger. Durban smiled at him winningly.
“Honoured One, how may I be of service to the Vavasor Ramyth?”
“Stay away from her, Chola,” the younger man snapped. “I don’t know what you are doing here, like some kind of vulture picking over the bones of Harkeran gossip to sell to the highest bidder, or are you spying for Vyazin perhaps?”
Durban took a moment to realise his rhetoric was not, in fact, rhetorical.
“I am here on business for the Regent,” he replied evenly, there was no point denying that. It would be the gossip of the servant quarters anyway by now.
“Spilling your poison in her ears,” Ramyth snarled, driving his mount closer in towards Durban’s making its ears pull back and its eyes narrow. Durban’s pony, placid and mature, ignored the hostility as did her rider.
“I am the Regent’s most loyal servant in all things, Honoured One,” Durban responded smoothly and with total honesty.
“Loyal servant?” Ramyth rasped, his boyish face now puce with emotion. He spat at Durban, the saliva hitting him full in the face. Durban did not flinch. “If the Princess commands your presence you will make your excuses, do you understand? If I find you have been near her, I will cut your vicious tongue from your mouth and have you flogged for the common rumourmonger you are.”
Durban heard him out without response. Ramyth was a Vavasor and himself a commoner – had he been acknowledged as a Harkeran citizen, that would have given him protection under the law. But the ruling Dewan had yet to be persuaded to extend full legal protection to those who were not Harkeran. So, in theory, the Vavasor could carry out his threat there and then in the courtyard of the palace and be fully within his rights to do so. In practice, Ramyth was probably too wise to take such action against one he knew was considered to be of value by the Regent, but his fury was still intense.
“Your will, Honoured One,” Durban said at last. “We are both the Regent’s to command.”
For a moment he thought he had pushed too far as the Vavasor’s hand went to his sword. But then the young nobleman seemed to come to himself and pulled his pony’s head round, too roughly for the highly bred beast, making it buck briefly and squeal in protest.
Durban remained unmoving until Ramyth had ridden out in the wake of the group of young girls and their escort, then he wiped his face. It seemed the Vavasor was making it a personal chore to ensure the Princess had no further unfortunate encounters whilst out riding.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Sixty-Eight

Kevin woke from a nice nap to the awareness of danger. It should have been midday, but the sky was purple dark. At first he thought The Wild Hunt rode the winds. Then he wondered if those other horsemen bestrode the sky on their pale steeds.

However it turned out that the disturbance was much closer to home – where the very earth buckled and heaved beneath one of the oldest stones in the graveyard.

Kevin dragged his heavy granite body over and lay across the upheaval.

‘Dig your way through a kobbold,” he thought grimly, then went back to sleep.

©️jj 2019

The Cop’s ‘Copter

‘Copter, ‘copter, at low height,
O’er the village every night,
What strange brand of villainy
Brings you out at three thirty?

‘Copter, ‘copter overhead
Whilst I’m sleeping in my bed
Well, I was until you came
Now I can’t get to sleep again!

‘Copter, ‘copter now you’re gone
Just before the break of dawn
An hour left to close my eyes
Before the alarm tells me to rise!

E.M. Swift-Hook

The Working Title Blog would like to apologise to the shade of William Blake.

‘Gods of Clay’ Anthology Out Today!

The SciFi Roundtable's new anthology Gods of Clay is out today.

Kalends October MDCCLXXVII Anno Diocletiani

In the space before the small temple – so small it had been considered a mere shrine just a few years before – the crowds had gathered as usual for the chance to be chosen. They sat in their wheelchairs, or stood, faces drawn with pain and fatigue. All had given up just about everything,  to make the journey here on the off chance that they might be deemed worthy to be healed by the grace of the Divine Diocletian.
It was not easy to get through the new barriers that surrounded the site. Security guards patrolled the perimeter and manned the gates. Dai Llewellyn and Bryn Cartivel had left their vehicle in the small car park behind one of the new cuponae that had sprung up to provide accommodation for those waiting their chance to visit the temple and approached the gates on foot, beside the queue that wound back to the road. Dai felt it would give them a chance to get a better idea of the atmosphere of the place. Which was also why he had not bothered to tell anyone at the temple that he was coming to visit.
“You do have to wonder why this place is so popular,” Bryn observed, scratching at his greying hair as they walked past the queue. “Over on Ynys Mon there is a state of the art medical research facility in the Asclepieion there, always seems to be offering people the chance to sign up for clinical trials. Can’t see as how this is going to be better than that. And there they pay you to take part and you get full on comfort and care – here you have to pay just for the chance to be summoned and get to stay in a miserable pilgrims’ dormitory.”
“I read the brochure too, it makes it very clear no money is charged for the healing. But those who want may offer small donations,” Dai observed.
“Ah, right. That would be why the cuponae here do such a roaring trade and the temple just built a whole new wing for the Pontifex of the place. Small donations.”
The two guards at the gate wore the haloed head of the Divine Diocletian on tabards over their paramilitary outfits. They were also armed with nerve whips which meant they would be Roman Citizens.
“Oy! You can’t just push in where you want,” one of the two called out as Dai and Bryn reached the gate.
“We have business here, we’re not here to participate in the rites,” Dai explained politely.
“Can’t you read, spado? Sign back there says ‘Closed during divine service’.”
“Yes. So I saw. But my business means I would need to observe the proceedings. Respectfully of course.”
The gate guard gave a short laugh.
“Listen, you stupid British irrumator, only those invited to attend are allowed in. now, whatever your ‘business’ might be, I suggest you take it elsewhere before I call the local vigiles and have you arrested for creating a disturbance.”
Beside Dai, Bryn gave a forced cough and cleared his throat.
“Senior Investigator Cartivel here, can I help you?” He held up his ID and pressed it against the fence so the gate guards could see it clearly. “And this is Submagistratus Llewellyn, who is my boss.”
Dai mirrored Bryn’s gesture and produced his own identification, holding it up so that the ring of Citizenship on his index finger was obvious too.
“If it’s no trouble, perhaps you could let us in now?” he said mildly. “We are here on a murder investigation.”

The body had been found washed up on a beach near Segontium and would normally have attracted little, if any, attention as no one had been reported missing. But this corpse had been found to have a ring of Citizenship still attached to a finger, but lodged in the corpse’s throat. To Dai’s impotent fury, Rome reserved the full benefits and privileges of justice for her own children – and it seemed this might be one such case.
Despite the body being partially decomposed, dental records had enabled them to trace its identity. Zirri Yedder had been a freelance journalist with a history of producing cutting investigative pieces that highlighted local issues – local to Mauretania Tingitana that is, the province, where he had lived in the capital, Tingist. Although the pathologist report that Dai read was not entirely sure of the cause of death, it was also very clear that the body had been tortured beforehand.
But the finger was not the finger of Zirri Yedder and he had never been a Roman Citizen. He had, however, been registered at a cupona in the village of Caerhun and the landlady there said he had been there awaiting an invitation to the temple. She had last seen him as he set off to answer his eventual summons and no one had seen him alive since then.
Which was why Dai and Bryn now stood on the edge of the crowd watching as the service began. A security guard hovered nervously near by, trying not to make it too obvious that he was watching them as they observed proceedings.
“Who’d have thought a man who died nearly two thousand years ago having self-labelled as a deity, would still be honoured as a worker of miracles in the modern age?” Bryn’s voice was pitched so it was lost in the chanting from the crowd. Even so Dai looked at him sharply.
“You should be careful saying those kinds of things, SI Cartvel. Especially here.”
Bryn lifted his wrist and tapped the screen on his wristphone.
“Not me, Bard, I’m just reading what our friend Yedder put up on his social media. It was meant as a teaser for his next piece.”
“And I missed that, how?”
“You are a busy man, Submagistratus and these little details…”
“I checked his social media feed, right back for the last three years.”
“Ah, that would explain it then.” Bryn was looking almost smug. “It only posted today – less than an hour ago in fact. It must have been one he scheduled before he died.”
“Spado!” Dai said, but without real rancour. “Was there more?”
The other man shook his head. “No. That was it. Just says: ‘My current investigation is going to make a lot of people sit up and think’, then what I told you. Seems to be his style. Putting up a teaser a couple of days before the main article comes out. This time though, I think he hit the wrong kind of deadline first.”

From Dying to be Cured a Dai and Julia Mystery by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook one of the stories in the SciFi Roundtable’s new anthology Gods of Clay which is out today.

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