Saturday, 8 December 2012

Don't Make Me Shoot You, Santa! Free Sample.

Don't Make Me Shoot You, Santa by Stephen Walker
Here it is, my determined effort to do a Slade-like cash-in of Christmas and achieve festive earnings forever. Don't Make Me Shoot You, Santa tells the story of what happens when the nation's official occult investigator Liz Sanford comes up against her least likely foe yet. Can she get to the bottom of a mystery that should never be? And can she save Christmas for us all?

Don't Make Me Shoot You, Santa can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.



DON'T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU, SANTA!
By Stephen Walker
(5,250 words)

My name's Liz Sanford and, when I was six years old, my mother inflicted me on Father Christmas.
He was in a stripey tent on Barker's Pool, just down from the war memorial and she'd carried me into it upside down, so all the demons that possessed me would be made to fall out of me.
I should point out, right here and now, that neither I nor my mother thought I was actually possessed. I was just playing at being possessed, like some kids play at being James Bond.
As for Father Christmas, once I'd been dumped on his lap and he'd got me the right way up, he asked me, 'Well well well, little girl, and what's your name?'
I said, 'You're supposed to be Santa Claus. Don't you know?'
He said, 'I'm not Santa Claus. I'm Father Christmas.'
I said, 'It's the same thing.'
'It certainly isn't, you know. Santa Claus is a cynically commercialised misrepresentation of a dead man, whereas Father Christmas is the living embodiment of the Festive Season; as Father Time is that of the passage of the ages and Mother Earth is that of this very world upon which we currently sit.'
'So how come you don't know my name, then?'
My mum told him, 'Her name's Liz, Daddy Christmas. Whatever you do, don't call her Betty.'
'Well then, Elizabeth,' said the bloke who'd already blown the gig by admitting he wasn't Santa. 'What are you hoping to receive for Christmas?'
'I want the understanding and respect of my fellow children.'
'My,' he said, 'that's certainly an unusual way for a six year old to talk.'
I said, 'I'm an unusual child. Highly intelligent, I have an interest in demonology and the dark forces that surround us.'
'I see. Well, I don't think I have anything like that in my sack but I suspect I may have just the thing for you.' He reached into his sack, rummaged around in it for a bit and then produced something.
It was a snow globe.
He handed it to me and said, 'One day, Elizabeth Sanford, you shall have all the love and respect you deserve but you must first promise me one thing.'
'Which is what?
'To never, ever, throw away this snow globe.'
*
Now, according to my flatmate and sidekick – Alison Parker – the preceding anecdote is complete and total bullcrap, as no six year old talks like that and I'm clearly just filling the gaps in my memories of a half-forgotten event, with words that I'd use as a grown-up.
Whatever. To this day, I still have that snow globe. It lives on my bedroom windowsill. Sometimes, when I'm depressed, I pick it up and shake it.
But it doesn't matter how hard I shake it, somehow all the snow still always ends up falling back to earth.
I know that feeling. I'm this nation's official occult investigator and sometimes it feels like all I ever do is fall back to Earth.
The week before Christmas proved to be no exception.
As I walked into the office, first thing in the morning, I was hit by a beard.
Fortunately, there was no one attached to it. It was a white thing and, after hitting me, it fell to the floor and lay there like a dead ferret.
It had been thrown at me by my boss Lou Ferman, who was sat behind his desk, with Alison sat to one side of it. Months of experience told me this was bound to signal another plunge into madness.
'Aren't you going to pick it up?' said Lou.
I said, 'No.'
He said, 'Why not?'
'Because you threw it at me. Leaving aside the fact that such an act's disrespectful, anything you throw at me's guaranteed to lead to nothing but embarrassment and humiliation.'
'Liz Sanford, what's your big problem in life?'
'You are.'
'No. You are. Not one person who meets you ever likes you. Well, Betty-'
'Don't call me Betty.'
'-that's about to change. Because I - Lou Ferman - who you've always claimed is useless, have arranged a deal.'
'What deal?'
'With Meesleys.'
'What? The department store?'
'As you may know, this time every year they have a Santa's Grotto where children can be fobbed off with toys so crap the store couldn't flog them off the Christmas before. Well, this year, in a sensational deal, they're not going to have a Santa's Grotto. What they're going to have is Sanford's Grotto. Kids don't want to sit on that fat old bloke's knee. Who wants to sit on an old bloke's knee? He probably smells of wee, booze and impending death. Instead, they get to sit on the knee of the hottest occult investigator in the land, who asks them what they want for Christmas and then gives them an occult-related present.'
'Are you serious?'
'Too right I am. Kids love horror. That's why they love Halloween. And you shall be their link to that night.'
'Then shouldn't this have been arranged for Halloween?'
'That's the thing. The store wants to get rid of all the unsold toys left over from October 31st, so they have to wait till Halloween's over, which means they have to do it at Christmas. So, stroke of genius on my behalf or what?'
'I'm not wearing a beard.'
'Then don't wear a beard.'
'I'm not wearing a bright red suit.'
'Then don't wear a bright red suit.'
'I'm not going Yo-ho-ho.'
'I think you'll find that's Long John Silver,' said Alison.
'And this'll make me popular?' I asked Lou.
'Not half it will. No longer will you be that woman who only shows up to shoot at people and throw her weight around. You'll be that nice woman who gives toys to children.'
'Are you in on this?' I asked Alison.
'It could change forever the way everyone thinks of you,' she said.
'Of course,' said Lou, 'we’ll have to have a guard with you at all times in case you turn out to be a pervert.'


You can download the rest of Don't Make Me Shoot You, Santa from:

Monday, 15 October 2012

Who the Hell is Dominic Pine? Sample.

Who the Hell is Dominic Pine, Stephen Walker, Liz Sanford, Occult Investigation, eBook,Amazon, Kindle,Stephen Sloan
In Liz Sanford's latest adventure, a bad day somehow gets worse when the nation's official occult investigator is called in to protect an idol of millions.

Can she find out just who has it in for him?

Can she hold onto her job?

And can she crowbar even a smidgen of respect from a world that seems determined to show her none?

Who The Hell Is Dominic Pine? can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.



WHO THE HELL IS DOMINIC PINE?
By Stephen Walker
(7,000 words)

My name is Liz Sanford - and my boss is a complete and total moron.
I can say that without fear of contradiction because, seven o'clock Sunday morning, he's just barged into my bedroom, rifle in hand and declared, 'Liz Sanford, you have to save Dominic Pine!'
Leaving aside the fact I don't have a clue who Dominic Pine is, I don't have a clue what my boss is doing in my bedroom.
'I'm in here demanding you save Dominic Pine!' he retorts.
'And who the hell is Dominic Pine?' I'm sat up in bed, glowering at him, my fists' knuckles embedding themselves into the mattress.
My boss is Lou Ferman and how he got that job is something I'll never know.
Then again, how I got my job is something I'll never know. A woman of my qualifications, I should be lecturing in some university somewhere. Instead I'm the government's official occult investigator and getting dumped on by life, from every conceivable angle.
'I don't know who Dominic Pine is,' says Lou, 'but The Minister insists and that's good enough for me.'
'And would you like to explain how you got into my flat?' I ask him.
'I have a key.'
'Since when?'
'Since MI5 made me one. The Minister reckons there might come a time when you turn evil and I might have to burst into your bedroom and shoot you in the back.'
That's it! I fling aside the duvet. I climb out of the bed. I stride across to him. I grab the rifle from him...
...and I hit him over the head with it.
*
Once Lou's recovered consciousness, and finally stopped complaining about how's he supposed to know if I've turned evil when I'm horrible at the best of times, he gives me an address. It's the address where I'll find whoever Dominic Pine is.
Normally, this is where I'd round up my flatmate Alison for added sarcasm but she's on holiday in Sunderland, visiting her parents, which means I'm going to have to do this one alone.
This is good news, as it means I won't have to spend all my time worrying about keeping her alive. As well as being my flatmate, Alison Parker is my sidekick and she likes to flounce around in black. Sometimes she flounces around in black and purple. Sometimes she flounces around in black and red. Sometimes she flounces around in black and white. Whatever she wears, it mostly involves flouncing.
Well, in her absence, it looks like there'll be no flouncing going on during this case
According to the sheet of paper Lou gave me, this Dominic Pine person's to be found in a mansion on the fringes of Surrey – though, given the size of the mansion, it'd be truer to say that Surrey's on the fringes of it.
At the gates, I press the intercom. I tell them what I'm here for and, with a clunk and a hiss, I'm allowed in.
Two minutes later, I'm in the office of a woman called Livia Dalrymple.
One minute later, I'm sat facing her across her desk.
Thirty seconds later, she's saying, 'Isn't he magnificent?'
Arms folded, I frown across at the object of her admiration. He's stood facing the wall, a pasty youth who looks like he'd blow over in a strong breeze.
'Who is he?' I ask.
'Who is he?' she says. 'My dear young lady, that is Dominic Pine.'
'And who the hell is Dominic Pine?'
Her eyes narrow at me. 'How old are you?'
'Twenty six.'
'Well,' she says, 'if you had any contact at all with youth culture, you'd know that Dominic Pine is quite the hottest singing sensation on the planet right now. There's not a young lady in this land who wouldn't kill her own mother to be the first Mrs Pine.'
Still frowning at him, I say, 'Is there something up with him?'
'Up with him?' says Dalrymple. 'Why on Earth should there be something up with him?'
'Well, the fact he's been stood facing the wall since I got here and only seems to have two phrases in his vocabulary.'
'Oh, don't worry about that. All superstars have their quirks. I can assure you though that he's as sharp as razor blades. Isn't that right, Dominic?'
'I'm not gay,' he tells the wall.
'That's the spirit,' says Dalrymple.
'I love my fans,' he tells the wall.
'That's the spirit,' says Dalrymple.
Now that he's used up his allotment of two stock phrases - for the third time since we got here - I return my attention to Dalrymple. I tell her, 'As we've established your client's intellectual range, how about you tell us what I'm actually here for?'
'This, Miss Sanford, is what you're here for.' Dalrymple tugs open a desk drawer, yanks an object from it and plants it, with a smack, on the desk, in front of me. 'This, Miss Sanford, is the root of our problem.'
I pick it up. I look at it, back and front. I look at it one way up. I look at it the other way up. Whichever way up I look at it, the result's the same. It's a long thin strip of paper covered in odd markings. 'What is it?' I ask.
'Miss Sanford, do not play games with me. We both know full well what it signifies. That strip of paper was posted to my client. And I demand you do something about it.'
'Like what?'
'Catch the perpetrator.'
'You do know I'm an occult investigator?'
'Which is why I summoned you.' She rises to her feet, turns her back on me, heads for the far window, plants her knuckles on the windowsill and gazes out at the building's surrounds. 'My dear young woman, don't think you can pull the wool over Livia Dalrymple's eyes just because she's no more than a visitor to the strange and murky world you inhabit. Runes! That is what this is about. For I, like many people, have seen the motion picture the world knows as Night of the Demon.'
'Actually,' I point out, 'the world knows it as Curse of the Demon. It's only us in the UK who know it as Night of the Demon.'
'Regardless,' says Dalrymple. 'I know, from having seen said motion picture, that to receive such a slip of paper, with such symbols on it, is to be faced with death at the hands of a foul fiend from hell. That slip of paper, Miss Sanford, was sent to my client by one who wishes him nothing but ill. And unless you track down the sender... ...we both know Dominic here will be dead within days.'
'Mrs-'
'Miss.'
'-Dalrymple, these markings don't look like any runes I've ever seen.'
'In that case, you've not seen enough runes. I say they're runes - and more importantly The Minister says they are.'
'The Minister?'
'He and I happen to be very good friends and I can tell you right now that he agrees and that Dominic here is far too important to the balance of payments to be allowed to die. Therefore, Miss Sanford, no matter the risk to your own personal safety, you will do everything you can to keep him safe.'
*
I wish I could claim right now to be on close personal terms with, 'The Minister,' bearing in mind he's the one with ultimate responsibility for the department I work for. That way, I could walk into his office and punch his stupid face in.
Unfortunately, I don't have the slightest clue who he is.
I've asked Lou. I've said, 'Is he the Home Secretary? Is he the Minister for Defence? Is he the Minister for Agriculture?' but, according to Lou, I don't have the right level of clearance to find out. Up until the conversation with Dalrymple, I'd always suspected he doesn't even exist and Lou's just made him up to avoid taking responsibility for all the stupid orders he gives me.
As for our endangered pop star, that's all I need, to be lumbered with some wimp with no social skills.
My meeting with Dalrymple over, I'm stood outside the gates to her mansion, Dominic Pine in tow. Because he can't go anywhere without being mobbed, he's in disguise. Because I can't go anywhere without being abused, I'm in disguise. Right now, he's telling the front gates, 'I'm not gay,' which I'm sure comes as a huge relief to them.
*
Now we're back at my flat.
Ever since we've got here, Pine's been stood in the far corner, telling the wall, 'I love my fans.'
I've offered him a sandwich.
'I'm not gay.'
I've offered him a drink.
'I love my fans.'
The sooner I get this sorted out and get rid of him the better.
That's why I'm knelt on the floor, ploughing through my extensive collection of occult books, the ones Alison always reckons I should bin because they take up too much room.
And wouldn't you know it? I can't find anything in any of them that even vaguely resembles the symbols on the strip.
I try the Internet.
And I get no more luck from that.
George Bickersley's my man.
No he's not, because it turns out even a visit to Yorkshire's foremost expert on occult symbolology, can't help me.
*
So now we're in the British Library, in London and I'm at a table, scouring Rownstone's phone-book thick Forgotten Occult Symbols. If this doesn't contain what I'm after, nothing will.
Dominic Pine's two metres away, stood treating a bright white pillar to his two stock phrases.
That's when another voice enters the fray.
It says, 'My dear Miss Sanford! What a coincidence my bumping into you here.' But then, for no good reason at all, it adds, 'Or is it?'
I don't look up from my book. I don't have to. I'd recognise those conceitedly jaunty tones anywhere. It's Astbury Charlemagne.
Astbury Charlemagne is a complete and total idiot who claims to be my arch-enemy, despite never providing any reason for me to think he is. According to him, that's because he's too clever for me to see through his web of intrigue. Personally, I think it's because he's an idiot.
'What are you doing here?' I say.
'Well now, that depends on what one chooses to believe. Either I popped in to this library, hoping to access a copy of Rownstone's Forgotten Symbols – only to be informed, “A young lady's already reading it,” - or I knew in advance that you'd be here and I decided to pop in on you.'
'And how could you possibly know I'd be here?'
'Miss Sanford, both of us travel in arcane circles. You'd be surprised what a man in my position could know.'
'You don't know anything.'
'Hrumph.'
'OK,' I look up from my book, lean back in my seat, fold my arms and look at him. 'If you know so much, why don't you tell me what I'm here for?'
He pulls out a chair, sits across the table from me and places his Homburg between us. 'Miss Sanford, a man in my position must never reveal to his arch-enemy what he does and does not know.'
'You are not my arch-enemy.'
'Keep telling yourself that and, who knows, one day you might actually come to believe it. But let me guess. That figure over there, so thoughtfully keeping inanimate objects updated as to his status, is a crudely disguised singing sensation mankind knows as Dominic Pine. You too are disguised - badly. Therefore you are together. A woman such as yourself would never willingly mingle with a man like Dominic Pine – you being over the age of thirteen and notoriously intolerant – therefore you must be acting as his bodyguard. As you're an occult investigator, he must be facing a deadly paranormal peril.'
'OK,' I tell him. 'You think you've got it all sussed? Then try telling me what this might mean.' I plant Livia Dalrymple's mystery strip of paper on the table, between us.
He reaches out, picks up the strip, takes one look at it, chuckles and lightly tosses it back onto the table. 'Seriously, Miss Sanford, do you not have a real test for me?'
'That is a real test.'
'For a child perhaps but not for Astbury Charlemagne.'
'In that case, perhaps you'd like to tell me their significance?'
'Their significance, my dear, is a place called Roswell.'
*
I narrow my gaze at him. I say, 'Roswell?'
Charlemagne gets himself comfortable in his chair then explains. 'As I'm sure you're aware, in 1947, something crashed to Earth in New Mexico. The US military initially claimed it to be a downed flying saucer. They later claimed it to be no more than a military balloon.
'But they weren't the only ones making claims. For a man named Jesse Marcel Jr claimed to have seen wreckage from the spaceship. As part of his testimony, he drew pictures of the strange alien markings he saw on that wreckage.
'Now, I assume your strip of paper was sent to Mr Pine and you're trying to ascertain its meaning. Well, the markings on that strip exactly match those drawn by Jesse Marcel Jr. Conclusion; the strip was sent to your Mr Pine by a fan, due to the singer's publicly stated interest in the Roswell Incident. As a specialist on the occult, you completely failed to recognise a reference to the not always related field of UFOlogy.'
'And you know he has an interest in Roswell how?'

'In this life, Miss Sanford, it's not what one knows that matters, it's who one knows and, just as I make it my habit to always bed the most beautiful woman in the room, I make it my habit to attend every opening and awards ceremony this land has to offer. Hence, I have previously met your Mr Pine and thus know, from his manageress, of his deep and stated interest in the matter of UFO lore.'

You can download the rest of Who the Hell is Dominic Pine from:
Amazon.Com, Amazon UK, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain and Amazon Italy.

And you can download the rest of Adventures By Moonlight from:
Amazon.ComAmazon UKSmashwords.

Front cover by the mighty Stephen Sloan, whose own site can be found at this address:
http://www.uponanimation.com/Bio.html

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Weakest Link - sample.

The Weakest Link, Stephen Walker
Whether it be Dr Who, Conan the Barbarian, Sherlock Holmes or one of a zillion other adventurers, we all love a good battler against the forces of evil.

And so it was that a few years back I decided to create my own derring-doer in the form of  Dr Liz Sanford and her not-always-trusty sidekick Alison Parker. By doing so it meant I could - should I choose - write a whole series of books based on their adventures and have fun, while I was at it, with the horror genre.

Well, The Weakest Link isn't really horror. It's one of the duo's lighter outings but it does give Liz a chance to take on yet another threat to society, and to be reminded - as though she needed it - that danger may emerge from the most unlikely of sources.

The Weakest Link can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.


THE WEAKEST LINK
By Stephen Walker
(6,300 words)

When Liz Sanford turned up for work, Monday morning, the first thing that struck her was a tape measure.

It had been thrown across the room by her boss Lou and had hit her slap bang in the middle of the forehead.

This was not good news.

The last time he’d thrown a tape measure at her it had been because he’d wanted her to measure herself up for a coffin. According to him, he’d have done it himself but didn’t want to go to jail for sexual harassment.

There weren’t many jobs where your boss would expect you to measure yourself up for your own coffin - but then most jobs weren’t being the nation’s official occult investigator. According to Lou, everyone who had the job either ended up going mad or dying, so it was best to get the caskets in before the price of wood went up.

And what if she was one of the ones who went mad?

Well, then she’d have to be shot, which meant she’d still need the coffin.

The Department of Occult Investigation operated from an upstairs back-office in the middle of Sheffield. It would have been a comfort to believe that was because the venture needed a central location to give its primary agent quick access to the whole of the country but she suspected it had more to do with the government wanting to keep costs down. Liz Sanford had been working there for eighteen months, and not one day had gone by when she didn’t wonder why. Picking up the tape measure, the twenty-six year old told Lou, “In case you’ve forgotten, you plonker, I’ve already got a coffin. You bought it for me six months ago and it’s currently stood in my bedroom, propped against the wall, lid open, just waiting for me.”

“Forget coffins,” he said, “I’ve got something much better for you to buy.”

“Which is what?”

“A dress.”

“And what do I need a dress for?”

“Because you, Betty, are going to an awards ceremony.”


*

Liz and Lou were in a well-known department store in the middle of town. Lou had dragged her there to get the dress he reckoned she needed.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “I’ve won an award?”

He plucked a dress from a rack and studied it. He held it against her to see how it might look on her. “Betty, Betty Betty.”

“Don’t call me Betty.”

“Even your own mother wouldn’t give you an award,” he said, “So, what’re the chances anyone else would?”

“So if I’m not getting an award, why am I going to an awards ceremony?”

“Because, I’m going to win an award.”

“You?” she said.

“It’s exciting times for me, Betty. Awards ceremony tonight, having a meeting with The Minister tomorrow…”

“How the hell could you win an award? All you do is sit around all day, reading comics and going on about Jason and the Argonauts.”

He plucked another dress from the rack. “Professor Horton,” he said. “You heard of him?”

“No.”

“Me neither. It seems he was some nuclear scientist or something. It also seems he was due to win the lifetime achievement award for being Sheffield’s most iconic living man. Only trouble is, now he can't.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s not living. He popped his clogs yesterday afternoon. So that‘s the organisers in trouble. Fortunately they had a brainwave; ‘If we can‘t give it to him, we’ll give it to the man who keeps the streets of this country safe from the forces of darkness.’”

“And who’s that?”

“Me.”

“Excuse me but how’s that you? You’re just a pen-pusher. You spend all your time in an office. It’s me and Alison who go out there and put our lives in danger.”

“That’s what I told ’em. I said, ‘Don’t give it to me. Give it to my plucky underling Betty. If she dies delivering her acceptance speech jokes, it doesn’t matter because she has her own coffin.’ They said, ‘Lou, we’d love to but we can’t. No one likes her.’”

She likes me.” Liz pointed across at Alison.

The twenty-one year old Alison Parker was Liz’s flatmate and sidekick. She was on the far side of the shop, looking at a dress she’d just pulled from a rack. She was looking at it like it was diseased. Alison’s Gothic tastes meant they were going to have to go to a “special” shop if they were ever going to get anything she liked.

“She doesn’t like you,” said Lou.

“Says who?” asked Liz.

She does.”

“When?”

“Behind your back.”

“You don’t have the slightest clue how to be uplift staff morale, do you?”

“The iconic rarely do, Betty. The iconic rarely do.”


*

So that was it. Liz and Alison got their new outfits for the do - paid for by the Department, and, later that night, headed over to the ceremony, which was being held in the Rolsten Hall on Caudle Row.

Liz would have said all the city’s great and good were there but, as far as she was concerned, it was just the predictable collection of dodgy businessmen, self-regarding politicians and publicity seekers. Lou reckoned she was only saying that because she had a problem with establishment figures and with anything that resembled grown-ups business.

They were sat at a circular table near the rear of the hall. Alison was dressed like Winona Ryder in the wedding scene in Beetlejuice. According to her, “You have to make an effort.” Alison had spent all the time they’d been there so far, trying to see if she could spot any, “stars.” So far she hadn’t spotted one.

Liz was sat there trying to pretend her shoes didn’t hurt.

Up on the stage, someone she’d never heard of was delivering the dullest speech in history. Already the three of them had been there for two hours, and all they’d seen were a string of dull people delivering dull speeches while giving dull awards to people who then delivered even more dull speeches. Were they ever going to get round to giving Lou his stupid prize so they could all go home?

Clearly she wasn’t alone in this thought because a voice to her right declared, “Pitiful isn’t it?”

She looked up.

A middle-aged man in a white dinner jacket was stood over their table. She didn’t like to sit in judgement but he looked like his biggest ambition in life was to be the next Bond villain.

Bond-Villain-Guy said, “The assemblage of mediocrities such ceremonies attract.” Then he remembered his manners. “Oh I’m sorry, I’ve not introduced myself. May I take the liberty of joining you?”

She gave a shrug and he pulled out a chair and sat facing her across the table. “Quite a tedious ceremony, don’t you think? Full of the self-serving and the corrupt. How I loathe such mutual back-slapping. But, still, the secret of success in my line of work is networking, and so I make it my business to attend all such soirees wherever in this land they may be taking place.”

“And who are you?” She said.

“Forgive me, my dear.” He pulled out a card and handed it to her. Among a zillion and one other things it claimed him to be, it said he was the nation’s leading restaurant critic, which was news to her as she’d never heard of him. Then again, she’d never heard of any restaurant critics, so that probably didn’t prove anything. He took her hand and kissed the back of it. “I am Astbury Charlemagne. You may have heard of me.”

“No.”

“Good. For that is as it should be. You see, my dear, as well as being this nation’s leading food expert and occultist, I am nothing less than your deadliest arch-enemy.”

You can download the rest of The Weakest Link from:
Amazon.ComAmazon UKSmashwords.

Cover credits:
Stilettos-Heels by Xingbo (Public Domain), from Wikimedia Commons
Rosarino2 by MCarranza (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Overall cover design, copyright Stephen Walker, 2012 and available under Creative Commons License [CC-BY-SA-3.0].

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Carrying. Sample.

Stephen Walker, Carrying, short story, moon, relentless heliotrope, dark, fantasy, amazon, kindle, downloadCarrying is a story I can only regard as being cursed. To a large degree, it's the reason I decided to go into self-publishing. Although I found various outlets willing to inflict it on the world, they always managed to fold before the thing saw light of day. Thus it was that I got tired of sending things off to other people and decided to do things myself from that point on. I can only hope that publishing it on Kindle doesn't mark the death of Amazon, as it has so many others.

It's a darkish, modern Urban Fantasy about a character called The Relentless Heliotrope. Where and when I came up with her, I'm not sure but I'm fairly certain the name came first and the character second. Because I'm not too bright, I only later realised that the tale's male lead has the same first name as the protagonist in my first novel Danny Yates Must Die. Carrying's a noticeably darker tale than that though, although not without some humour. But ultimately it's about the nature of responsibilities, and the consequences of not fulfilling them.

Carrying can be found on my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.



CARRYING
By Stephen Walker 
(5,300 words)


Ninety eight steps behind her, ninety eight to go. The Relentless Heliotrope climbed the stairwell of a tower block on the outskirts of town; a drab 1960s' thing that smelled of kick-backs, abandonment and people who'd always left just before you’d arrived.

It was night - the best of her two worlds. And for that she’d dressed appropriately; all in black, except for the Davey Crockett hat she straightened while rounding the next turn.

She’d reached the final flight of steps that led to her destination; the thirteenth floor of a tower that had only twelve. Like people, all buildings had hidden storeys - if you only knew where to look. Mostly they were between the first and second floors, or the third and fourth, but it didn't matter where they were, Heliotrope knew how to find them all.

Reaching the stair top brought her to the fire-door. She yanked it open and stepped through.

Letting the door hiss-to behind her, she took in her new surroundings; a square, concrete landing with a door at each corner, a lift to the left, and '12a' painted in large, white figures on the wall to her right.

She watched the four blank doors before her - each too brightly painted for a floor that was meant to be a secret, and she made her choice.

The door far right.

There, she checked the door's number against the address she'd been given and, because the addresses matched, she pressed the doorbell. She kept her finger on it for long enough to guarantee she was being a nuisance, then released it and took a step back. She looked herself up and down and straightened her dress with a tug.

But there was a problem.

No matter how long she waited, she got no answer.

She pressed the bell again, released it and took a step back.

She waited.

She started to whistle.

She waited.

She checked her watch and she waited.

And still no one came.

So, patience gone, the Relentless Heliotrope gripped the handle and entered the flat that wasn't there.

*

She was in a hallway you'd expect to find in any flat in any block in any town; a narrow thing leading to what she took to be a living room. Of the five doors that lined the corridor, only the living room's stood closed.

No.

It wasn't closed. Not fully. It was ajar, just enough to be tempting but not to reveal what lay beyond. It hinted at danger and destiny - and that told her it was the one she wanted.

Gently, she back-heeled the front door shut behind her then silently headed for the room.

On her way, she glanced through each door she passed; a closet to her right, a bedroom to her left and a bathroom to her right.

But now she was here; the living room. Its door stood before her, blank in its whiteness.

She gently pushed it. It creaked open.

...And she'd found a mystery.

*

The Relentless Heliotrope did a long, slow turn as she crossed the room, taking it in in all its gloom. Dust tickled her nostrils and the place smelled like ancient parchment. Wherever she looked hung cobwebs, enough to suggest the place had been undisturbed for decades.

In the corner a TV blurted out light and inanities. She ignored it and, headed instead for the mantelpiece, where a clock stood shrouded in cobwebs. She took it from the mantelpiece, wiped the webs from its face and studied it. It was broken. She gave it a shake and, when that didn't work, a slap.

It burst into life, its second hand starting with a jolt and then progressing normally.

Now that time had been restored, she wiped the clock free of all remaining dust and returned it to the mantelpiece.

At the windows, she pulled back the curtains to let the moonlight in.

She switched off the TV. Its picture faded to a small, white dot before vanishing.

But these were all minor mysteries. Now for the biggest of the lot.

She turned her gaze toward him; the man sat at the table, covered in cobwebs and looking like he'd been stuffed.

*

Hands on knees, Heliotrope leaned over him, watching him from a distance of six inches.

How old was he?

Twenty two.

That was a guess.

It had to be, bearing in mind she was watching him through God-alone-knew-how-many years' worth of cobwebs.

And was he alive?

If he was he hid it well.

But there was something about him that didn't chime. The suit he wore was pure 1930s but, if he'd died back then, why no signs of decomposition?

And what was he doing in a 1960s' tower block, in the 21st Century?

She checked his pulse.

He didn't have one.

She set about pulling cobwebs away from his face.

She looked into eyes that gazed straight ahead, like those of a dead bird.

She waved a hand before them.

No response.

He was dead all right.

So she did the obvious.

She slapped his face.

And that got a response.


You can download the rest of Carrying at:
Amazon.com.  Amazon UK.  Amazon Germany.  Amazon France.  Amazon Italy.  Amazon Spain.

And you can download the rest of Carrying and Adventures By Moonlight from:

Carrying cover image credits:
Self-Portrait by Moonlight by Alessandro Zangrilli (self-made for wiki) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
&
Moon at its Fullest a Few Minutes Before the Lunar Eclipse of 20 Feb 2008 by Thom Rains [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Stone - Sample

Stephen Walker, Adventures By Moonlight
I've always wanted to do a story that involved Gorgons in the modern world and, at last, I got round to doing it - although itended up nothing like I'd always expected such a tale to be.

Stone can be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.

STONE
By Stephen Walker
(8,250 words)

Alicia Harker pressed a doorbell as though she were trying to drive her finger through it. She was in an insistent mood. But, then, she was an insistent woman.

After several more seconds of pressing, she withdrew her finger and did a three hundred and sixty degree turn, taking in her surroundings.

She was in the front garden of a house.

It was an ordinary house.

It was an ordinary garden.

It was an ordinary street.

At the end of that street, an ordinary sun was setting behind an ordinary set of rooftops.

The only thing extraordinary round here right now was her, and the fact that the front gate was on the ground, having fallen off - as luck would have it - just as she'd been approaching, meaning she'd been saved the effort of opening it.

Call her presumptuous but, somehow, she'd expected that the man, woman or thing she was here to see would live somewhere a bit grander, quirkier or stylisher. It seemed some people just didn't have “it” - whatever “it” was.

Behind her the front door swung open.

She quickly turned to face it.

The door had been answered by a man in his mid-twenties.

Well, when she said, “man,” he wasn't her idea of a man but he was definitely male.

He said, “Can I help you?”

“Too right you can,” she said. “For a start, you can tell me what've you done with all the luck I've been bringing you.”

*

“I'm sorry but you're who?”

“I'm Alicia Harker. Twelfth Daughter of Destiny. I bring luck into the lives of the undeserving.” Having invited herself in, she was in his kitchen, checking out the contents of his cupboards and drawers. Apparently, his name was Kenny.

Still rummaging, she said, “Long ago, when the universe was young and you were just a twinkle in your creator's eye, Alicia Harker, the Twelfth Daughter of Destiny, took the mettle of a dead god and forged it into a bronze hand. That hand would bestow good fortune on anyone who owned it. Did she keep it for herself? No. She was generous. She discarded it by a roadside where it might be found then passed from person to person, bringing good fortune to all who found it. Now - one silent dusk, every hundred years - she sets out to locate it, and see what its latest beneficiary's done with a luck so randomly granted. Well, pumpkin, tonight's that night and I'm that woman.”

“You're one of those nut-jobs, aren't you?”

She retrieved a spanner from a bag beneath his sink. “This spanner. Hit me with it.”

“I'm not hitting a woman with a spanner.”

“Sexist.”

“It’d kill you.”

“No, Kenneth. It wouldn’t. Know what I'm made of? Destiny. One hundred percent. And, no matter how hard you try, you can't brain Destiny.”

“I'm still not hitting you.”

She tossed a coin at him. “Toss it.”

It hit him, bounced off him and lay there on the floor. He showed no inclination to pick it up.

She said, “How can I prove I'm in charge of luck round here if you don't let me demonstrate my ability to always call the toss of a coin right?”

“You can't. Because you're not. And even if you were this, 'Daughter of Destiny,' what're you here for?”

“I've already said. A hand. You found it. I made it. It brings you luck.”

“Except I've not had any.”

“Of course you have. You just haven't appreciated it. But it's been there, Ken; a narrow escape here, bumping into an old flame there, all sorts of things you didn't notice at the time that’ll be flooding back now it's been pointed out to you.”

“I've not had any luck.”

“Don't be obtuse. You have to have had luck because-”

“I've not had any because I don't have the hand.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Then who does?”

*

Alicia watched in moonlight as the man called Kenny rattled the padlocked gates of a mansion. Somewhere in the distance, an owl screeched. It was clearly a fan of clich├ęs.

Kenny said, “Through these gates is the home of Gideon Storm, the biggest crook that ever lived.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Me neither - till three months ago when he walked into the chocolate shop I work in. He said he'd heard I'd had a spot of good fortune. I said I hadn't. He said I had. I said I hadn't. He said I'd found a hand. I said yes. He pulled out a pack of cards. He pulled out £50, in £10 notes. He said if I beat him in a single game of chance, he'd give me the money. If he beat me, I had to give him the hand.”

“You turned him down of course.”

“What? Fifty quid for that lump of junk. Of course I didn't.”

Fifty pounds? Kenny, the thing’s priceless.”

“Do you know how I got your precious hand?”

“Warm my cockles.”

“It fell on my head. I had a bruise the size of a golf ball, and double vision that lasted a week. When they let me out of hospital, you know what I did? I put it on eBay, for fifteen pounds. Could I get rid of it? No. So forgive me for not knowing it was meant to be lucky!”

She rolled her eyes.

“Well perhaps if someone'd put a label on it,” he said, “telling people it's meant to be lucky. As for Gideon Storm's wager, what I didn't know back then was he only ever plays with marked cards. When I found out, I came here and confronted him about it. He was putting the hand in its case.”

“What case?”

“Downstairs he's got like a private museum, of oddities; a mermaid's tail here, the log of the Marie Celeste there, all sorts of rubbish. Seems he uses it to impress people, let 'em know how big and clever he is. When I confronted him about my fifty quid, he just burst out laughing, told me to prove I'd ever met him and ordered me to leave.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I left. What else could I do?”

“Well, duh, a thing like that hand, you could've fought him for it.”

“You want to fight him for it? Fine. It's in there, behind padlocked gates, security fencing, guard dogs and burglar alarms.”

“If that's all that's in our way,” she said, “how about we go in?”

You can download the rest of Stone and Adventures By Moonlight from: