Monday, 31 October 2016

Pagan is as Pagan does

This years Halloween (Samhain) story is a little bit different from usual. It's not spooky, it's not horrific, and no-one dies... So I'm sorry to those of you who like that sort of thing.


“Happy Halloween, Leanne!” Chloe’s sing-song voice cut through the otherwise quiet office like a chainsaw in a china shop.

I looked up at her, taking in the orange wig, stuck-on nose and the black, pointed thing on her head, which was more Harry Potter Sorting Hat than it was Samantha from Bewitched. “What the Hells are you supposed to be?”

“I’m a witch! Mr Wells said that it was OK for me to dress up to raise money for the local children’s hospice.” She rattled a pound-shop plastic cauldron at me.

“You know Chloe, you’re really not.” In all my years working in the offices of Lovecraft and Wells Engineering Ltd. (Est: 1890) I’ve never really figured out what it is that Chloe does. I mean, she’s the office organizer, the fundraiser, and there’s that whole rumour that Old Mr. Wells still has an A3 copy of the picture she took sitting on the photocopier with her pants in her hand a couple of Yuletide Parties ago. But as to her actual job – I had no idea.

“Well?” She shook the cauldron again, from the jingling I heard, there sounded to be at least a few pounds in there already as well as some paper. “Dig deep, Leanne – It’s for a good cause!”

I fished in my pocket where I normally keep the change for the coffee machine. All I had in there was a five pence piece, which seemed a little stingy even by my standards, some unidentifiable fluff, and a chunk of rose quartz that had fell off the hilt of my athame during a particularly boisterous cleansing ritual. “I’ll just need to get my purse.” I let out a quick plea to the Father God, asking that there was a fiver in there – because I’ll be damned if I was going to give her a tenner, orphans or not – Threefold return my left teat.

“When you’re ready Leanne, your lot are supposed to love this time of year.”

I heard a gasp from Mrs Geddes in the corner. And there was the unmistakable sound of an idiot, who’d just realized what she’d said, clamping her mouth shut.

“My lot?” I dropped my purse back into my coat pocket and slowly turned around to see her trying desperately to become invisible, “and, exactly which ‘lot’ would that be?”

Her flusterment was approaching critical mass, “I… Erm... You know… I mean… Devil Worshippers!” She pointed at the pentagram around my neck.

Mrs Geddes excused herself and left the room, presumably to hide in the disabled toilet until things had all blown over, like she normally did.

“You’re going to need to try again Chloe, I’ve got no problem getting HR involved.”

“HR? Erm… You’re a… I think that…” A look of panic grew in her eyes, “I want to use the right word, I… don’t want to…”

“Give it your best try.”

“You’re a witch!” she cried, and her entire body sagged as if she was trying to hide behind her desk.

“Close. In fact, I am a card-carrying member of the Wiccan faith.” I looked at her confused expression, “And before you ask, no, we don’t carry actual cards.” Well, we do, but she didn’t need to know that, it’d just confuse her even more, It helped separate us from the Hedge-Witches.

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

“Wiccans and Satanists? No, not really.”

“I just assumed…”

“A lot of people do… Look, would you ask Mr Balil over there why he worships an Elephant?”

She seemed to be on firmer ground here, “No, of course not, because he’s a Sikh, not a Hindu.”

“Good, and what about Sven in the workshop, would you ask him about what he has to do on a day-to-day basis to appease the God Mars?”

“Well, obviously not, because Mars is a Roman God, and Sven follows the Norse gods.”

“Precisely! Which technically makes him a Pagan you know?”

“I didn’t know that, no.” She looked genuinely proud of herself as she was answering these questions, and I had the desperate urge to wave a biscuit under her nose to see if she’d sit up on her hind legs. “I have a GCSE in Religious Education.”

“And yet you don’t know the difference between Wiccans, Pagans and Satanists?”

“They weren’t covered in the syllabus.”

I shook my head, “They never are. As a matter of interest, which religion are you Chloe?”

“I’m a Christian.” She replied, her chest swelling with pride.

“Which type?” I asked, more for devilment than anything else, “Protestant, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Adventist, Seventh day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Millerist, Quaker, Unitarian, Apostolic, Christian Scientist or Nontrinitarian?”

She looked at me as if I’d just asked her to lick the tyres of my pushbike clean, “I’m C of E.”

“Do you attend every Sunday?”

“Not every Sunday, no.” she mumbled, “Mostly at Christmas and Easter.”

“Very Christian that… Not that I’m one to judge you understand. Each to their own.”

By this time, she was looking guiltily at the floor, “Can I ask you a question?” she whispered, looking at Mr Balil. I nodded and she came over and breathed it in my ear so as not to be overheard.

It was all I could do to not burst out laughing as I answered, “Yes, we sometimes do, but we call it ‘being skyclad’ and we only tend to do it in the warmer weather – Of course, I’ll let you know when the next one is.”

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

That's my airship, Patricia!

As some of you know, instead of buying cards and presents for my friends and family members birthdays, I often write them a story. If they've had characters based on them in one of my books, then they get an in-character story.

It's my Daughter's birthday today...


“And?” said Dorleith, raising her eyebrows.
“What do you mean ‘and’? You said you’d take me to the shooting range.” Mal’Ak-hai looked down dejectedly into his soup.
“I think you’ll find that Mother said I’d take you to the shooting range, I just nodded so she’d stop going on about it. You do know it’s my birthday don’t you Squirt?”
“Of course, we’re getting you a…” he dropped his spoon and put his suddenly empty hand over his mouth. “Nearly…” he mumbled.
She laughed, her brother was pretty easy to trick, and she’d proudly done it thousands of times before, despite the fact that he was only twelve years old. She sometimes even felt that perhaps she should lay off him a little – But that feeling never lasted long. “OK, I tell you what – I’m going to grab a couple of birthday presents from me to myself, then we’ll go to the shooting range and I’ll show you how to shoot properly, so you’re not shown up when you have to do it in front of the Guard.” Her brother rolled his eyes and ate the last few spoonfuls of his thin, grey soup. 

He followed her around the backstreets of Enys Skaw station, she seemed to duck into every shop that sold clothes with buckles, or brasswork or brown leather. Then they walked across the wide expanse of the main market place, all around them were offworld traders, selling everything you could possibly think of. In fact, some of the more esoteric Kalibri and Torkan shop owners were selling things that neither of them could identify at all. 

Mal’Ak-hai wandered over to the closest Torkan. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to a large glass bottle, full of a pearlescent amber liquid.
The Torkan picked up the bottle with the cluster of tentacles that made up its right hand. And turned it around slowly to face its hood. There was a sound like a sigh, before its facial tentacles started to vibrate and its translator box took over. The words were almost metallic sounding, with a slight background buzz. “It is an unguent that is used to supplement the stamina of the engorged trunquor during the long mating season.”
“What’s a trunquor?” Mal asked.
The Torkan raised itself up and seemed to look down at the boy from under its darkened hood, “You do not have one.” It put the bottle back down carefully. “Now go away, you are scaring off my real customers.”

Dorleith laughed and grabbed Mal by the ear, “C’mon Squirt, it’s shooty-mcbang-bang time.” She made her thumb and forefinger into a gun and pointed them at Mal’s face. “Pew-pew!” then she blew the imaginary smoke from her finger end and holstered her hand at her hip. “Have you brought your gun?”
He looked up at her, “I think I left it in the skimmer.” He took the Intercomm out of his jacket, “I’ll ask Mother’s pilot to…”
Dorleith slapped the box out of his hand, “You’ll do nothing of the sort.  It’s time you learned that actions have consequences.  When you’re in command of your own troupe of dancing tin soldiers, you can order them around however you please.  But until then, you can live with it.  We can hire guns there I would have thought.”
It took them fifteen minutes to get from the edge of the market to the street where the shooting range was. As they turned the corner, Dorleith could see that there was a large grey Pradilan standing outside. It seemed to get a lot bigger as they got closer to it. By the time they were stood next to it, it was over seven feet tall and smelled like the wrong end of an ox.

The huge grey reptile turned its head to look down at them, “What doin’?” it asked.
Dorleith turned to Mal, “I’ll handle this,” she whispered, and turned back to face the uncontrollably dripping jaws that looked like they could easily swallow you whole, “We’ve come to use your facility.” She pointed behind it at the door to the range. The scaled behemoth turned to look where she was pointing and appeared shocked, as if seeing the range for the first time.
“Got guns?”
“Yes we… Well I have, he’s forgotten his. We’d like to hire…”
“Can’t shoot gun you don’t got.”
“As I said, I was hoping that we could…”
“That stupid, Moose not stupid.”
“No Mr… Moose was it? I’m absolutely sure you’re not, but…”
A human voice shouted from the open door of the firing range in heavily accented Basic, “For Phobus’ sake Moose, let the nice people in before they get bored and fly home.”
The Pradilan moved out of their way and they entered the range. The last they heard from the reptilian doorman was a muttered, “Nice people don’t fly, nice people don’t got wings, Moose not stupid.”
The reception area was small, but clean. Behind an armourplas screen sat a wiry gentleman wearing a broad-brimmed hat, “Good afternoon, I’m sorry about Moose, it’s an idiot - but it keeps the riff-raff out. Can I help you at all?”
Dorleith took a step forward. “Yes, thanks, we’d like some range time; and my brother has forgotten his gun.”
The owner nodded, “Not a problem, we’re very quiet, so I can offer you a selection. If you’d like to go through?"

A sliding door opened in the opposite wall and buzzing lights came on to illuminate the shooting range itself as they stepped through. All but one of the range benches in front of them were empty. One contained a selection of handguns, and it was this one that they walked over to.
“How did he get them here so fast?”
Dorleith pointed upwards without looking. Mounted to the ceiling above each bay was a multi-armed construct that could deliver guns and ammunition from the storage area above. “I think it was magic.” She said, shaking her head. “Want to start with a needler?” She picked up a small pistol and handed it to Mal.
He took the weapon off her and hefted it, before taking aim at the cutout of a Spider at the other end of the range.
“Take it gently, don’t forget to breathe. That little gun shouldn’t kick back too much, but keep an eye on it tracking upwards.”
Mal turned to look at her, and fired down the range. Emptying the thirty round magazine of the weapon without ever losing eye contact with her. 
“Well, that was a waste of ammunition.” Dorleith sneered as the target sped towards them. “Three holes, three hits. Better than I thought you’d do.”
“Negative.” The construct above them uncurled and its sensor pod examined the target. “Three holes, thirty hits. 100% accuracy. Hits confirmed. Kill confirmed. Total destruction confirmed.”
“How did you…? It doesn’t matter, want to try a compression pistol next?”
“If you think I need to, Captain Sembhee says I’m a natural.” Mal put down the needler and was about to pick up the heavier pistol when his Intercomm started to buzz insistently. “Hello?”

The tinny voice from the speaker was their Mother’s, “I’m all done, so stop whatever you’re doing and meet me at the skimmer in five minutes.” She cut the connection without giving them any time to argue.
Luckily, the shooting range was close to the landing pads, so they made it back with seconds to spare. The Baroness was sat in front, next to the pilot and they took the comfortable rear seats. The twin engines spun up, and within seconds they were in the air on the way back to the Roost.

The Baroness looked at Dorleith over her shoulder, “Your birthday present is in the locker between you, I hope you like it, you can add it to your collection perhaps.”
She opened the locker that was built into the back of the centre seat and took out a large box that was wrapped with a ribbon.
“Open it!” urged Mal'Ak-hai. Almost bouncing in his seat with excitement, “It was very expensive.”
Dorleith frowned at him, but untied the ribbon and opened the box. Inside was a miniature airship, almost nine inches long, crafted from copper and bronze. She touched the graphene airbag and it gave slightly with her touch.
“The bags have got real Heptium in, when you turn it on it floats about two inches in the air.” Mal explained. “It’s the Bolivar.”
She looked down at the delicate model, “I know it’s the Bolivar, I’m not stupid.” The Bolivar was her father’s ship, lost with all hands two years before during the Spider attack at Tromega.
“I thought it might help.” Said her Mother, quietly.

Dorleith ran her finger down the model of the Bolivar’s length, and started to cry.


Of yes, for those of you having trouble visualising exactly what a Torkan looks like... Here's a production sketch that might help you out.