Author Feature: Termination: The Boy Who Died, by Richard T. Burke

Termination: The Boy Who Died, by Richard T. Burke is the second book in the Decimation series, and takes place a few years in the future.
The first book (Decimation: The Girl Who Survived) is set in a world where a pandemic emerged in 2016, infecting every living person. The virus lies dormant until a woman gives birth. Then she dies. For sixteen years, there has been no vaccine, no cure, until teenage wheelchair athlete, Antimone Lessing, becomes the first woman in a generation to survive childbirth.
In Termination, scientists have developed a treatment for the disease, but now the virus has mutated and is attacking children. The story follows Antimone, her partner, Jason, and their four-year-old son. Her survival is a closely guarded secret, but when the details of her past become exposed, ruthless forces prepare an audacious plan to kidnap Antimone and her young family.

Thursday 12th June 2036
Infant Creche, Bani Waled, Republic of North Africa

The woman glanced at her watch. In half-an-hour, it would be time for the midday sleep. She was supposed to stay awake to supervise the children, but she would often try to grab a few minutes of rest herself. The combination of the energy-sapping heat and the steady, rhythmic whump of the ceiling fan were already making her feel sleepy. Nobody will notice. She closed her eyes and leant back in the wooden chair.
A tap on the knee jerked her out of her drowsiness. The boy with the snotty nose stood in front of her. He held one hand to his face. The other tugged at the black material of her robes. She swatted away his grubby fingers. He dropped the raised arm, revealing a trickle of blood originating from his left nostril and mingling with the trail of mucus.
Why can’t he just leave me alone? With a groan, she reached once again for the box of tissues and tugged one free. When she returned her attention to the child, the red trail had developed into a stream. A reedy wail escaped from his lips. His open mouth revealed a rose-coloured stain on his tiny, white teeth. He balled his hands into fists and rubbed at his eyes.
The woman dragged him nearer and dabbed at the blood now gushing from his nose. Within seconds, crimson fluid saturated the tissue. She tossed it on the floor and grabbed another handful from the box.
The boy lowered his hands and grasped at his throat. His brown irises now sat amidst a labyrinth of burst veins where moments before there had been only white sclera. The boy’s chest heaved as he tried to suck air into his oxygen-starved lungs. A wracking cough culminated in a spray of blood and mucus into the woman’s face.
She wiped the glutinous mass away with her sleeve and levered herself upright. By the time she reached her feet, the child was convulsing on the floor. She lowered herself to one knee beside him, grunting with the effort. The boy writhed on the ground, his frantic movements creating red streaks across the discoloured white tiles.
What should she do? They hadn’t trained her for anything like this. She placed a hand on his chest to still the jerking spasms that rippled through his body. With a final twitch, the child lay still. Is he dead? That isn’t possible.
The sound of crying drew her attention away from the prostrate child. She raised her eyes to see three other children, each writhing in a pool of blood. The rest of the group backed up against the crude, childish paintings distributed along the roughly finished walls. As she watched, two more burst into a fit of coughing, hacking up gobbets of bloody phlegm.
The woman staggered to her feet, raising an arm to cover her face with her sleeve. Everywhere she looked, children were bleeding from their mouths, noses and ears. She took a step forwards as one of the closest victims stopped moving. Is this some sort of chemical attack? She turned in a full circle. Every single child in the room now either lay still or twitching in their bodily fluids. The mingled smells of blood and faeces assaulted her nostrils.
She stumbled to the mirror above the sink and studied her reflection: no nosebleed. The whites of the terrified eyes staring back at her remained clear. No blood emerged from her mouth or ears. Why am I the only one not to be affected?
When she turned around, every single child sprawled motionless on the floor. Those that faced her stared back with open, unseeing eyes.
The woman lumbered across the room as fast as her bulk would allow. When she reached the door, she fumbled with the lock and stumbled outside into the stifling midday heat.
“They’re dead,” she screamed. “The children are all dead.”

A Bite of… Richard Burke

Do you see writing as an escape from the sorrows of existence, an exercise in futility, or an excuse to tell lies and get paid for it? Or is there another option…

If writing was my sole source of income, I’d be a pauper, so it’s definitely not for the money. I don’t need to escape from the sorrows of my existence, and I don’t believe writing is a futile activity; which means there must be something else.
I write because I enjoy creating things. My aim is to create a book I would love to read. If other people enjoy my work, then all the better. And if they pay me too, happy days!

Have you ever written somebody you know into a book? A lover? A friend? An enemy?

I think every writer borrows traits from people they know, but I’ve never intentionally based a character entirely on an acquaintance. That said, I imagine it would be quite satisfying to recreate somebody I disliked in a book, then torture them horribly—the author’s equivalent to voodoo.

If you could meet one person (alive or dead) who would you choose? And what would you talk about? And what do you bring as a gift?

I’d choose Graham Norton or any other high-profile chat show host. I’d talk about my latest, multi-million selling blockbuster book. And what to bring as a gift? That’s obvious—a signed copy of course.

Richard came to writing relatively late in life. After a career spent in engineering, he finished his first book, The Rage, in 2015. Since then, he has published three others: Decimation, The Colour of the Soul and Assassin’s Web. After receiving encouraging reviews for Decimation, he decided to turn the story into a series in the form of Termination and Annihilation. All his books are essentially thrillers, but the Decimation series also contain a hint of Sci-Fi.
His short stories have been published by Bloodhound Books and Corona Books A new short story is due to be published later this year, but he is not allowed to name the publisher yet.
Richard lives with his wife, daughter and two dogs (both of whom he inherited) in North-East Hampshire. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and on his own Blog.

An everyday story of concrete folk: Six

Big Bigger and the teenagers packed themselves into Big’s big car and were just pulling away from the front door when Mother came out of the house.
Big leaned out of his window.
“I didn’t think you wanted anything to do with camping.”
“I don’t, but I dare not let you lot go shopping without me.”
And off they went.
Numpty Nome stared around with wide, worried eyes.
“Why’d they wait for her?”
Hamish looked up from the haggis he was knitting. “I guess it’s because he didnae want tae waken up and find his ba’s in the kitchen blender.”

©️jj 2021

Sunday Serial: Wrathburnt Sands 6

Because life can be interesting when you are a character in a video game…

Having made the fruit tea in a small pot on her own hearth, Milla poured it into a pottery bottle and put a stopper in the top. Then armed with cookies and tea she headed back to do battle negotiating with the drakkonettes to enter the pyramid.
They had been right about Visitors.
Pew was hiding behind a clump of palm trees, peering nervously around the trunks at the drakkonettes. He spun round staff held high as she approached then relaxed again, looking very relieved.
“I thought they must have kil… um kidnapped you. I was close to reporting the quest as bugged.”
Milla resisted the urge to point out it was not she who had been killed. “If you wait here I’ll talk to the guards and then we can go in.”
“But…”
Milla fixed him with the most menacing glare she could muster. The same glare One Eye always managed when she tried to slip an extra fish to Ruffkin without him noticing. Only as she had two eyes she was pretty sure her glare would be twice as menacing.
Pew’s crest flattened and he swallowed hard. “Yes. Fine. I’ll wait here then.”
The drakkonettes were delighted with what she gave them.
“That’s so kind of you, dear,” the maternal one said and puffed a small smokey breath. “So much nicer than the ten raw terraraptor eggs we used to get in the Gorge, don’t you think Gordon?”
The other drakkonette had taken the stopper from the pottery bottle and inhaled the steam with his eyes closed. “Much. And why did we have to have a jar of water from Rancid Pond?”
“It was horrible, wasn’t it?”
“Picnic, Abigail?”
The two leaned their polearms against the gate posts and wandered off claw in claw.
Pleased with a job well done, Milla hurried back to where she had left Pew and was disturbed to find him talking to a very odd looking ryeshor. The stranger had a purple flush to his skin with orange tinted scales and a crest that seemed much too spikey and much too green. He was wearing a sparkling chainmail tunic, belted with a rune-woven sash, a gleaming peacock and phoenix feathered cloak, and sandals that seemed to have black wings sprouting from the ankles.
“It has to be a shareable quest. Stop messing me around you ratstab!”
“I’d share if I could, but there’s no way to do it.”
The stranger saw Milla approaching before Pew and started shouting at her as she walked towards them.
“Hail Milla! Hello Milla! Greeting Lady Milla!” He stamped his foot. “Why won’t you answer me? Fraggin en-pee-cee.”
She stopped, wrinkling her snout. She was not sure what she was being called but she was pretty sure it was some kind of insult.
“Who is this?” she asked Pew, but even before he answered she knew what he would say.
“It’s String. He made a ryeshor alt and spent a load of gold on the auction market to twink it. I can’t believe he did that.”
The String ryeshor convulsed in a peculiar way and then hawked and spat.
“Well look at that? Even the lizards can do it.” He wiped his mouth with the back of one hand and leered at Milla. “So, sexy lizard lady, you gonna share your sweet, sweet quest with me?”
Milla took a step back. The thought of having anything to do with this rude and ugly man made her feel ill.
“If you want to help me find Ruffkin you need to be able to do something useful.” She gestured to the other ryeshor. “At least he can do something useful, can’t you Pew?”
There was no answer.
“Pew?”
He continued staring into the distance as if she wasn’t there – or he wasn’t.
“He’s ninjad,” String said then hawked and spat twice in quick succession.He grinned as if immensely pleased with himself.
“Ninjad?” Milla found her snout wrinkling in confusion.
“Back now.” Pew stretched and grinned at her. “Had to take a fast afk for a bio before we go into the dungeon. We’d better get moving or the mobs on the gate might reset.”

We will return to Wrathburnt Sands by E.M. Swift-Hook next Sunday.

Wrathburnt Sands was first published in Rise and Rescue: A GameLit Anthology.

A Meadow in June

June comes in beauty, decked out with flowers
Bluebells and harebells, buttercups and celandine
Bringing us days with long daylight hours
And lily-of-the-valley and sweet columbine

Every hedgerow and meadow is blooming
Poppies and daisies, cornflower and chamomile
Gardeners’ know midsummer is looming
Forget-me-nots, campion and hoary cinqfoil

Summer is comming with all nature’s glory
Comfrey and clover, valerian and marigold
Wildflowers blooming tell their own story
Agrimony, saxifrage, and dandelions bold.

So out in the fields and gardens we ramble
Pansy and tansy, willowherb and cow parsley
Braving the sun and the rain and the brambles
For foxgloves and meadowsweet and bird’s foot trefoil.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – The Puritan’s Wife, Part Two.

They did not meet again until it was time to sup, when they sat at a small table set in the parlour where the curtains were closed against the evening chill and a small fire of aromatic pine cones scented the air.
Once William had taken the edge off his hunger he smiled at Mary.
“It seems,” he said kindly, “that you are to be complimented on your stewardship of this household.”
Mary felt a blush heating her cheeks. “I did what I could within the constraints of…” then she could not continue speaking.
“Within the constraints of your father and brother wasting every penny the estate could be squeezed to provide?”
Mary hung her head. “Yes,” she whispered miserably.
“You have no need to reproach yourself, my wife. You have worked miracles. And you have had none to assist you. Save the servants, each of whom would, I think, lay down his or her life in your service.”
Mary felt her sense of humour returning and dared a small sally. “I think they mostly like me because I am unlikely to be groping anybody on the stairs.”
William narrowed his eyes and for a second she feared she had gone too far, but his brow cleared and he grinned. “It is,” he said genially, “a great relief to find a female who chooses sense above sensibility, and realism above fairy stories. And talking of fairy stories, what shall we do about your cousin?”
“That, sir, is a moot question. I know what would be best, but I do not know if it is possible.”
“Tell me what it is and we shall see.”
“Catherine has a brother, Charles, who is, I believe, in the Low Countries with… Umm with…”
“With the King, do you mean?”
Mary nodded, round eyed with amazement.
“You did not expect me to call him thus, did you?”
“No. I did not. I had heard…”
“It is confession time. I am not such a good Parliamentarian as to have a grudge against the rightful King of England. I believe in the values of the Protestant Church, I am a nephew to Thomas Fairfax, and I was a school friend of Richard Cromwell. I fought for the cause because of my family and my friend, but I would not have voted to execute the previous King and neither do I feel any animosity towards his son.”
Mary digested this information then smiled, disclosing, if she could but have seen it, a furtive dimple at the corner of her mouth.
“Perhaps I should make my own confession. My father and brother may have been Catholic, although I would doubt that either had any religious beliefs, but my mother and I always held by heretical tenets. And you should also know that the manor came from my mother’s family so it is not properly Ashleigh land at all.”
He looked solemn. “Truthfully, then, the land was not your father’s to lose, nor your brother’s to play ducks and drakes with.”
“Oh, I think it was. Mother gave it into my father’s hands on the day she was foolish enough to wed him. I have made a much better bargain of a husband, and if I have any claim to the land I choose to give that to him as a wedding gift.”
William sat silent for a very long time. Long enough so that Mary was beginning to think she had made a dreadful mistake and wondering what she might do to mend things. But then his gaze switched back from wherever he had been and he reached for her hand where it lay on the table.
“Thank you wife,” he lifted her small work roughened hand to his lips. “I swear that you shall not live to regret your trust in me.”
It was some six weeks later and a full moon lit the gardens with its eerie silver radiance. Mary stood in the shelter of William’s arms and fretted a little.
“Are you sure they will come?”
William just laughed indulgently. “Listen.”
The sound of muffled hoofbeats announced the imminent arrival of nocturnal visitors and Mary turned her face to where the manor gardens met the dyke-crossed fens. There were six horses and a riderless pony coming at a careful pace through the treacherous peat bogs. A figure materialised at the iron gate and ushered the riders in. Their guide and two others waited just inside the gate, leaving three riders to drop their reins and dismount on the sloping lawn. Mary recognised her cousin Charles as he strode over to where she stood. He was very obviously one of the King’s men, from his plumed hat to his gleaming top boots, although Mary could not help noticing how shabby and threadbare he was. He grinned unrepentantly, removed his extravagantly feathered hat, and bowed floridly.
“Mary it is good to see you well.” He turned his attention to William. “William Fairfax, as I live and breathe. I never thought to see you again. Not after Naseby.”
The two men grasped arms like the staunchest of friends, and Mary was left wondering how many more secrets her husband harboured.
Charles looked about him. “I see my sister is not here to greet me. Where is the jade? Still abed?”
“She changed her mind this afternoon,” Mary said dully, “says she isn’t going with you.”
“Oh but she is. I have too much affection for you, and too much respect for your husband to leave that black-hearted trollop here spreading her poison. I take it she has already started.”
“Oh indeed. I was barely in the door.”
Charles laughed although it wasn’t an entirely pleasant sound. “Where is she?”
“The yellow bedchamber. But I think she has locked the door.”
Charles indicated the surly looking giant at his shoulder. “I have a key.”
The two men walked purposefully into the house while their companion smiled at Mary. “Anthony Babbage at your service ma’am. Betrothed, so they remind me, to a certain Catherine Ashleigh. Big belly and all.” He dropped the fashionable drawl and gave Mary a shrewd look. “Do we have any idea at all who is responsible?”
“Honestly. No. She claims a rape, which may or may not be true.”
He lifted a shoulder in what seemed to Mary to be a strangely feminine gesture. “Whatever the truth, it solves a looming problem. And my servant Gregory will know how to keep her in order.”
Mary had been hearing a series of muffled crashes and one single scream of rage before footfalls could be heard descending the stairs. Charles carried an unwieldy bundle of clothing and the big man had Catherine over his shoulder. She was quiet and still and Mary felt worried until Charles reassured her.
“She’s just unconscious. We couldn’t ride across the fens in the dead of night with a screaming virago in our midst.”
He slapped palms with William who passed him a small leather pouch.
“Thank you. I am doubly in your debt now.”
The oddly assorted quartet went back to where their horses waited and Charles tied the ungainly bundle of clothing to the pony’s saddle while the silent Gregory mounted his huge horse, holding Catherine against his chest. Charles and Anthony lifted their hands, then the small cavalcade faded into the mist that was coming down to envelop the fens. Mary shivered and William drew her to him for comfort – and somewhat else.

Ten years later and a fine June morning. The family Fairfax sat at breakfast with the early sun catching the auburn lights in the hair that William had passed to all five of his sons. The man himself sat reading a letter from London and his sandy brows drew together in a frown. Recognising the signs of an impending explosion, Mary sent the children off with their nursemaid. She shut the door firmly behind them and held out her hand for the letter. Almost against his will, William handed it over grimacing as he did so. Mary read, stumbling through the legal language and the overly ornate script.
“Well we are not having that are we. Our marriage annulled, our children bastardised and me given to some ‘cousin’ of whom I have never heard. I think not.”
Looking into her husband’s eyes she saw something unclench in him and passed a hand over her own eyes before stamping one small foot.
“William Fairfax, you didn’t think for one minute that I would even consider this revolting scheme, did you?”
“No. Not really. But I gave you no option but to marry me.”
“And so? That was a decade ago. You are my husband, and the father of my children, and my life, and my love.”
William’s chair hit the floor as he leapt to his feet. He dragged Mary into a mad embrace and swung her around and around until she was completely dizzy. When he set her on her feet she had to clutch hold of his shirt front to stop herself from falling.
“What?” She said a bit crossly.
He took her smooth peachy face in his big hands and held it for a long moment before claiming her lips in a tender kiss.
“Oh Mary,” he said in a voice so deep and tender that it all but stole her breath, “do you know how long I have waited to hear you say those words?”
“What words?”
“That you love me.”
“Oh. Those words. I thought you knew. I thought you must know, but I always thought you didn’t love me…”
This time his kiss burned with quite the fire of the sunset over the fens and his hug all but crushed the breath from her body.
“Of course I love you, Mary mine, I think I fell the moment you turned your trusting little face up to mine as we walked home from our wedding.”
It was Mary’s turn to say something but she couldn’t speak, so she pulled his head down to where she could cover his face with tiny, biting kisses.
He groaned. “Do you have any pressing business, my wife?”
She laughed up into his eyes. “None more pressing that the love I have for you, my husband. Shall we see if we can make the daughter your heart desires?”

The Puritan’s Wife is one of the stories in in pulling the rug iii by Jane Jago.

Guilty Pleasures?

What the heck is a guilty pleasure?
Ditto a guilt-free treat?
If you enjoy it why not treasure
Every breath and beat?
Don’t let some skinny lifestyle guru
Or a plastic trout pout face
Convince you that contrition’s due
Or rob you of joy and grace
Eat the doughnut, drink the beer
Do the happy stuff
It isn’t long that we are here
Don’t make the journey tough
Pleasure isn’t puritanical
Skinny ain’t the holy grail
Let’s celebrate those who are less tyrannical
Go out grinning and wagging our tails
In the end I’m here to say
Celebrate living. Every day

©️jj 2021

Granny’s opinions – not up for discussion: Invented Languages

Invented Languages

Before anyone gets all hypercritical on me, yes, all language is invented.

But.

We have quite a few world languages already. Roughly 6,500 according to Mister Google. So why do people keep on trying to add more?

This is certainly not a new phenomenon, my researches have found Lingua Ignota which was first seen in twelfth-century documents.

Then we can gloss over a few centuries to the genesis of Esperanto – which was going to resolve all the world’s communication problems.
Did that happen?
Nope.
All it did was add another nail to the coffin of linguistic simplicity.

To explain my irritation further; a number of invented languages are referred to by the intelligentsia as being a posteriori – that is to say that they came about backwards. I groped around with this concept for a while before deciding that it means a book/film/television series has, as part of its storytelling, a race or species that probably speaks a language of its own. Which is fair enough.
Until. Some person with too much time on their hands invents a language for the aliens/ape men/insects/unicorns.
That’s where it just gets weird.
Can we stop it.
Please.

This is one of those areas in life where being able to do a thing doesn’t make doing the thing sensible.

Remember the term a posteriori is taken from logic and refers to reasoning that determines cause by its effects. Which can lead to some interesting conclusions. As an example, the fact that sunrise often follows the crowing of cockerels could be extrapolated to mean that cock crow causes the sun to rise. Equally, then the ‘fact’ that Johnny Alien probably doesn’t actually speak American English could be extrapolated to mean that somebody needs to study Johnny Alien’s native tongue – except, of course, that Johnny Alien is fictional…

I rest my case and I am now going out into the rainy garden to smoke 20 Gauloises and drink a litre of Pernod – so that one could reason in an a posteriori manner that I only wrote this because I was wet, drunk, and smoke dried.

It doesn’t matter what you think – this is Granny’s opinion and it’s not up for discussion!

An everyday story of concrete folk: Five

The gnomes were enjoying the sound of Mother Bigger kicking off. Brave ones crept close, although there was no need – she could have been heard on Mars.
“I never said I would go camping.”
“You did, Mum.”
“Well I’ve changed my mind then.”
“Okay. Stay home. Me and the kids are going to Cornwall next month. The pitch is booked, and I’m going to look at caravans today.”
“Caravans?”
“Yup. Unless you lot want to sleep on the ground.”
Somebody mumbled something about a yurt.
This time it was a flying frying pan, but at least the window was open.

©️jj 2021

Coffee Break Read – The High Vampire

The naked woman knelt before the huge male vampire with her hands held carefully behind her back. She looked hungrily at his alabaster flesh before raising her eyes to his face. He ignored her, making her await his pleasure. She moaned softly and he backhanded her with casual cruelty, before turning his white eyes towards a corner of the dusty room, where a pile of flesh and hair attested to the fight the woman’s hounds had put up before they were ripped to pieces. Draped across the dead hounds was the body of a Helper, his flesh grey and lifeless and his wings all but torn from his body. The Demon Hunter thought him dead too.
The vampire wasn’t so sure, but he was sure he could allow himself a moment of indulgence before seeing to details like the death of a mere Helper. He looked down into the woman’s face and nodded. She leaned forward and took him in her mouth.
I crouched on a beam in the bat-smelling roof and worried. I knew my Mate wasn’t dead, and I also knew he would die very soon without help. But I had to wait. If I got this wrong, the rogue vampire would kill both of us.
Below me, the albino bloodsucker threw back his head as he enjoyed the sensation of the woman’s mouth around him. I grasped the only chance I was likely to get and my dart took him in the throat. He gave a great cry before stiffening to immobility. The woman stopped what she was doing, and looked up in alarm, but she was befuddled by sex, pale and naked, and without the weapons she had stripped off to service her cold-blooded lover she stood no chance as I jumped from the cross-tree to the ground, spinning silken threads around them as I dropped.
‘Be still’ I hissed ‘if you move the bonds will tighten.’
She must have moved an experimental muscle because she gave cry of pain before fixing me with an inimical glare.
‘Whoever you are. You will suffer for killing a High Vampire.’
‘He isn’t dead. More’s the pity…’
It was essential that the woman was quieted before she had time to recall her wits, so I rapped her on the side of the head with my fist, just hard enough to knock her out.
That bought us a little time before she came round, recognised her predicament, and called for her Master. You may be very sure I had no intention of us being around when He arrived, whoever He was.

From Aaspa’s Eyes by Jane Jago

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