Saturday 31 October 2015

Phantom (short fiction)

"Is it haunted?" 

Jenny couldn't have explained why the question rose in her mind, but the look on the estate agent's face made it worthwhile: his eyes widened as he tried to work out from her tone, from her expression what answer she wanted. Credit to him, he didn't stutter as he replied: "Well, these old houses all have their stories...". She stifled an inner giggle at finally having broken his smarmy exterior, whilst keeping her face as blank as possible. 


Old houses! It wasn't that old, late Victorian, red brick, and last decorated in the 70's. An inheritance from Nick's great aunt was supplemented by help from Jenny's grandparents and brought the house well within their budget. Despite needing some work, it suited their hopes for a family home: no forward chain meant they were settling in just a couple of months later. "Just don't tell Nai Nai and Ye Ye about the ghost", she joked.


Nick was grinning when Jenny returned from work. Leaving dirty handprints on her shoulders, he guided her into the lounge to show her the fireplace he'd discovered behind a sheet of hardboard under layers of paint and paper. 

"Got a guy coming to look tomorrow, but I reckon it's all in working order. Imagine it: fire crackling, us in comfy armchairs with a cat on your lap and our kids on the rug." 

His bright blue eyes infected her with his energy, and Jen found herself helping him clean the large hearth long after she'd intended to cook their dinner. She wasn't sure why they bothered - with 'a guy' coming to investigate the next day, the place would likely get filthy again, but there was something satisfying about communing with their new find this way.


They lit their first fire the evening Humphrey came. They'd known they needed a pet for any house to be a home, and adult black cats find it much harder to find new owners. His yellow-rimmed amber eyes made him stand out, but it was the quiet way he'd greeted them as if he already knew them that decided them. He'd gone to sleep in the carry case when they brought him home, and had had a good sniff of the lounge where they'd be keeping him for the first few days before curling up beside Jen on their new sofa, purring softly. The fire crackled; Nick sat opposite his wife, sketching her as she read her book. Both felt utterly content, fully relaxed for the first time in the six weeks since they'd moved. There were still boxes to unpack and a new kitchen badly needed, but this room in this moment was complete and beautiful. 


The jungle of a garden fell to Nick's sweat, revealiing an apple tree and a rotten swing. Humphrey circled it warily until Nick carefully repaired the swing, imagining his children playing on it. The black cat jumped on it, maiowed for attention then settled to sun himself.


The second room tackled had been the dingy converted attic bedroom that Nick wanted for an office. The builders had found an old shoe in the rafters as they installed the new window he needed for optimum light, which had appealed to the romanticist in both the couple. Nick was working there, Humphrey settled at his feet, when Jen returned early from her job. She seemed pale even by her standards and felt sick, so Nick tucked her into bed and returned to designing their new kitchen, so engrossed in his plans he missed her concerned look. They'd both put her late period down to the stress of moving, but she wasn't so sure, and all Nick's talk of children... 

He hugged her with delight once she'd confirmed her suspicions. The house should be ok by the time the baby arrived. They were a little behind target, but they'd half expected that, and this motivation would help.


Another shoe showed up in the kitchen. Another when they replaced the windows by the front door. A single shoe each time, now amounting to one adult, two child.


Nick's first clue anything was wrong was the flicker of the sonographer's eyes at their first scan. The woman - blonde fringe falling into her eyes so that she kept having to shake it back, a little detail that kept coming back to him - carefully laid down the wand. "I'm so sorry," west country widening of the vowels, "there's no baby."

Jen burst into tears.


"They must have been wrong." Hand on stomach, holding the dog-eared image. "I can see the shape of the baby, here. And..." Jen faltered. It was 4 weeks since that first scan, a bit over 4 months since they moved in, and Jen's body had continued to develop as though pregnant: her breasts and stomach were swollen, she'd continued to miss periods, and now, "I can feel it. The foetus. I can feel it moving." Nick wrapped his arms around her, desperate to distract her. 

Within a week, the movements were strong enough to have convinced her there was a baby. She refused to return to the doctors, confused as to why they would be lying to her. Nick watched warily, running a hand through his lengthening hair, relieved that she seemed at peace again but unable to relax himself for fear of her mental state. Humphrey stayed by her side when she was home or in the garden - their strange cat never travelled further afield than that. He seemed to avoid Nick, even though Nick spent more time at home.


The renovations had fallen further behind as they'd tried to deal with the shock of the false pregnancy - the pseudocyesis - but they were still trying. Another adult's shoe showed up when they broke down the cupboard under the stairs. As Nick brought it out, Jen gasped and grabbed his hand as she had before when she'd felt her not-there foetus move. This time, he felt the movement also and dropped the shoe. Humphrey, purring, rubbed his cheek against it, then against Nick's ankle. Jen's dark eyes lit with victory.

Over the next few weeks, he felt the child move more and more often until he, too couldn't doubt its reality.


Jen curled up on the sofa chewing the end of her long, black plait, laptop on the adjacent table. Nick's acceptance of the pregnancy seemed to give her an extra energy, and she was finally researching the origin of their strange shoe collection.

"I think we're pretty lucky. Other people find mummified cats." She absently scratched Humphrey's ears as he jumped over to headbutt her bump. "It's a form of 'apotropaic magic'. Wards off witches." She paused. Humphrey's purring increased as he rubbed himself closer against her bump. "Or... or as a fertility charm."

The hairs on Nick's neck rose as she spoke, as he watched Humphrey stop rubbing himself against her and move to the hearthstone. If Jen was right, the baby she may or may not be carrying would have been conceived the day he'd ripped the hardboard off the sealed chimney, and now their little black cat sat before it, staring at him with large eyes the colour of fire. A wave of nausea passed over him, with a feeling as though he'd just understood something he couldn't see. Or seen something he couldn't understand.

When Jen left for work in the morning, he found Humphrey back by the hearthstone, mewling and pawing at it. Dazed, he found a crowbar and carefully prized it up. Beneath, he found the mummified remains of a soot black cat and a premature infant. Humphrey purred and entwined himself around Nick's ankles as he lifted the two tiny bodies out with shaking hands. He carried them to the garden, followed Humphrey to the apple tree, and reinterred them among its roots. He looked at the shoes, suddenly sickened by their presence, and buried them too. That done, he stripped down and scrubbed himself using cold water from the small bathroom sink, still under Humphrey's gaze, until finally he retched into the sink and sunk into dry sobs. Now Humphrey came to offer comfort, rubbed against him, mewed gently. Nick came round, stroked the cat and met his clear, green gaze.


Jen gave birth at home, Nick and Humphrey in attendance. The baby boy was declared healthy by the paramedics who arrived in time to help her through the final stages. They took her to hospital, and none of the midwives nor doctors could explain how their equipment had so utterly failed and could only apologise over and over again for the distress they'd caused.

Sunday 25 October 2015

I suck at consistency...

By which I mean, sorry I've been so intermittant in updates of late. Real life has been busy and stressful and my energy is being drained enough I haven't been able to work on things here as much as I'd have liked. The way things are, it's likely I won't be back in the swing of things before New Year, but I'd be really grateful if you'd hang around and bear with my periodic silences in the meantime - I really appreciate that you take the time to read here. All of you. Thank you.

In other news, I have a half-formed ghost story in my mind, whose plot took another twist today and I think is rather good - if I can present it as well as it deserves. With Hallowe'en coming, I'm also motivated to finally write the essay I want to on how Hollywood zombies are actually vampires. I might get a draft done for the end of the month, or I might leave it so I can properly research it and give you the ghost story then. Hallowe'en/bonfire night - that time when the veil between worlds is thinnest - is one of my favourite times of the year, so I would like to mark it appropriately here.

I've been thinking a bit about what I'm going to use for easy posts once I've finished my Musical A-Z (two posts remaining, because X, Y and Z will be combined into one). Was talking with a friend recently about my great aunt and how much she's inspired me, and I think I'd like to talk about that, about my heroes. I hope it'll be of interest to other people!
My great aunt and my granny :)

Finally, the Blood Bowl World Cup is on its way, and I am taking Halflings. This takes a lot of the competitive pressure off - it'd be nice to win a game, but I have no expectations that I will and any victory (even if it's simply managing to score in a game) will feel huge. I'm really looking forward to it! A long weekend in Italy surrounded by geeks sounds ideal, especially as I'll be able to practice my French and hopefully pick up little bits of other languages.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Musical A-Z - U/V


With both England and Wales out of the World Cup, this seemed a topical song... It wasn't this version, but this song was the one my dad used to sing me to sleep when I was little, so it'll always be special to me, no matter what Australia might do to my rugby teams.


Iconic song of the 90's.

Vampires Rock

Cheating: not a band, but a covers set strung together with a tenuous plot about a vampire night club ("Live and Let Die"). Silly - the actors spend a lot of time corpsing on stage (pun not intended...), and the audience heckles and it's fun. Seen it a few times now: this year, the plot's moved on. Baron von Rockula was killed by Van Halensing as the club burnt down at the end of the original, and it's 100 years later and they're hiding in a ghost train. Full of plot holes, but entertaining, and one of the dancers did a routine on silks that really excited me!

Vanessa Mae

Vanessa Mae is a huge part of why I love strings so much, and this was the piece that brought her into the mainstream. She's incredible.

Velvet Underground

As a teen, I got quite into Eminem to my Dad's consternation. I'm not quite sure why, but he thought if I listened to this I might get over it... It's long, but the story is entertaining.


Spring was always my favourite growing up, but I think I prefer winter now. Both the season and the piece.


For geek value, I was tempted by USS Make Shit Up, but really I wanted to use God Knows because it was the first of his songs I knew. I couldn't find an official version of God Knows; this was the first that came up on the Youtube search, and I'm feeling lazy ;-)  

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Amaze-Zings!

It's been a while since I talked Blood Bowl here. Last year, I mentioned my halfling league team, the Shinkickers. Unfortunately (due to people having babies and getting new jobs and moving away), our local league has fallen away (although there are rumours of some newbies being trained up ready to be unleashed upon us...) so I've not played any league-style games since. Which is a shame, because league play is different to tournament play and a different type of fun.

The other team I've played in league and hope to bring forth is my Amazon team, the Amaze-Zings. I can't find their roster just at the moment, but I can tell you a bit about the team.

Husbit, who oversees the league, encourages us to choose a suitable sponser for our teams, giving us the incentive of an extra 10k after a game if we mention the sponser in our write-up (I particularly recommend Rumble's, if you follow this link to our forum). So...

Dwarves and elves even love it sober, the happy world of Haribogre!

Haribogre are proud to announce their latest celebrity face: Bertha Bigfist. To celebrate the acclaimed Blood Bowl player's taste for the most popular sweets in the Empire, Haribogre have put together a team of staff members. Many put their names down to try out, but only female members of staff actually showed up (ignore the rumours of men being found tied up in states of undress in various supply cupboards) and so, Haribogre are the pleased to announce their sponsorship of the new amazon team, the Amaze-Zings!  

From that background, I gave myself the restriction that if I could afford to induce Bertha for a match, I had to. She's a great star player: strength 5, movement 6, agility 2, armour 9. Yes, she suffers the ogre bone head flaw, but in addition to the usual ogre skills (thick skull, mighty blow and throw team-mate - no help here) she has dodge and break tackle, which means she can terrorise the pitch... when she doesn't forget what she's doing... But I found when I took her, even though she generally stood there doing nothing, things went better for my team. Maybe her presence intimidated my opponents, or maybe it gave my players encouragement to impress their heroine! Either way, I had enoough fun with her that she's made a regular appearance when I take ogres to tournaments (and is a large part of why I've been considering ogres for the World Cup).

For models, I've been using Impact's Timberline Elves - the same models I use for my wood elves - because there are enough female characters to make a team, and their posing is overall pretty good. Well, I like them anyway.

Strictly Come Wardancing. Sorry about the poor quality
Cat is sitting on me so I can't take a photo of the 'Zings
For names, I sought inspiration from friends, family, cartoons and Joss Whedon TV shows, pairing up with Roller Derby-style nicknames. Erinaceous, Tempestuous Tarn, Ana Star, Stormin' Sarah, Wily Kit, Whomping Willow (a double geek trip there!), Iced Gem, Rockin' Rose, - I can't remember the rest, although I remember some of the other people I named them after.

Erinaceus is a blitzer, named after my little sister. She's one of the fastest, strongest and fittest people I know (I'd say the fastest, strongest and fittest, but I know her husband too...) so it seemed right when the player scored both a strength and movement increase, making her a pretty terrifying player in her own right. The name comes from my sister being called Erin, and her always being the one to spot the Erinaceus europaeuses (europaei?) that would scuttle past the kitchen window during late night storms when we were little. 

They were a great fun team to play and had some really nice skill-ups, so I hope the roster isn't lost for good, and hope the rumours of a forthcoming re-league'ing are true.

Thursday 1 October 2015

The Bouncing Bunny! (Short Fiction)

Really, this story was written by my littlest nephew when he was playing on the trampoline. I've just tidied it up and storied it up a wee bit.

No nephews, bunnies or cutlery were hurt in the making of this story.

One day, the good little bunny was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing, boing, boing, boing. He bounced higher and higher and tried to catch the sun, but it stayed out of reached. Then the good little bunny got bored of bouncing, so went to visit his auntie.

Now, the good little bunny knew he wasn't supposed to bounce with anything sharp because he might hurt himself, but when he got to his auntie's she wasn't there, but there was a big shiny spoon on the table and he was bored of being a good little bunny so he grabbed it up and bounced away with it. Just then, his auntie got home and found the spoon missing and saw his footprints bouncing away, boing, boing, but she wasn't very worried because the spoon wasn't sharp and he wouldn't hurt himself.

The next day, the not-so-good little bunny was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing, boing, boing, boing. He bounced around and around in circles and tried to catch his tail, but it always managed to stay behind him.Then the not-so-good little bunny got bored of bouncing and went to visit his auntie, but she was out. There was a shiny fork on the table. Hmmm, thought the not-so-good little bunny, that fork would look very nice with my new spoon. So he picked it up and bounced away with it. Just then, his auntie got home and found the fork missing and saw his footprints bouncing away, boing, boing, but she wasn't very worried because it wasn't very sharp and he probably wouldn't hurt himself.

The next day, the naughty little bunny was bouncing and bouncing and bouncing, boing, boing, boing. He bounced backwards and forwards and up and down and bounced in his sleep until he got bored of bouncing and went to visit his auntie, but she was out. This time, there was a shiny knife on the table. Hmmm, thought the naughty little bunny, that would go very well with my new spoon and my new fork. But it's very sharp and I shouldn't bounce with sharp things. Then the naughty little bunny smiled a naughty little smile and took the knife and bounced away anyway. 

Just then, his auntie came home and found the knife missing and saw his footprints bouncing away, boing, boing, boing. She was very worried because the knife was very sharp and he probably would hurt himself, so she raced after him, fast as a hare, but she was too late because the naughty little bunny and bounced right onto the sharp and shiny knife and was now a dead little bunny. His auntie was very sad and carried him home, and started baking a cake to cheer herself up.

Behind her, the naughty little dead bunny's nose started to twitch as he smelt the baking cake. Then his ear started to twitch, and his little paws. Then his auntie heard a "boing, boing, boing" as the little bunny bounced up to her to help make the cake.

Zombie bunnies like cake.