A Beautiful Hat At A Reasonable Price -A MASQUE Short Story

In celebration of MASQUE’s fast-approaching 1st birthday, I present to you A BEAUTIFUL HAT AT A REASONABLE PRICE, a MASQUE short story! Full of froth, feathers, and even a bit of intrigue…

A Beautiful Hat At A Reasonable Price

A beautiful hat at a reasonable price is always an essential item. It is, of course, doubly so if one has set out with the purpose of buying a hat, but lack of necessity should never be allowed to impinge upon one’s millinery purchases.

That morning, I did set out to buy a hat. I had a very specific hat in mind: a delightful, frothy confection of blue silk and netting that I’d seen on the previous day’s outing. I had been driving with Alexander at the time, or I would have stopped and bought it then and there. Alexander is a dear, but he’s no fonder of kicking his heels in a milliner’s front parlour than any other man and I only believe in annoying him when it’s absolutely necessary. If it had been a frock in that particular Lacunan silk, now–

However, I digress. It was a pleasant morning for a walk: rain had fallen the previous night, clearing away the heavy heat that too often clings to Glausian streets, and there was a promising clarity to the morning sky. Vadim scurried along behind me, vainly trying to keep up, and more than once did I consciously slow my step before I threw a smiling look at her over my shoulder.

“Do you need to catch your breath, child?”

“No!” said Vadim, with something of a gasp. “Only now you’re not pregnant you’re awfully hard to keep up with again!”

“It did slow me down a trifle, didn’t it?”

“No so much as all that, lady. Do you really think it’s a good idea to leave the baby with Keenan?”

“Alexander put a warding on them both,” I said. Truth be told, I was a little worried. I had learned very quickly that I worried whether or not there was cause, however, and it didn’t seem practical to let such a pernicious feeling overrule my life. Besides, Keenan was far more qualified to deal with baby Raoul’s spurts of magic than I was.

“I’m sure they won’t be able to set fire to the drapes this time.”

“Ye-ees,” said Vadim doubtfully. “Are we going straight back after we buy your hat, lady?”

“Good heavens, yes. If it’s not the drapes it’ll be something else. Vadim, am I mistaken, or is that nasty little shop still selling the same appalling hats it was selling when I was first confined?”

Vadim threw a look at the offending shop front. “Looks like it,” she said. “Prob’ly couldn’t give ‘em away.”

The hats were exceedingly ugly. It wasn’t simply their ugliness that had caught my eye, however. There were too many of them in the window. A well set-out millinery shop will present some four or five hats of their best workmanship: this one had at least ten, in a hodgepodge of mismatching satin, fur, and…velvet. Black velvet.

Oh, how interesting!

Vadim said: “Did you forget something, lady? Mistress Conningway’s is further up the strand.”

“No,” I said thoughtfully. “I believe I’ll shop here today, Vadim.”

“But they’re all ugly, lady!” protested Vadim, who was gazing at the shop window with fascinated eyes.

“Dreadful!” I agreed, setting my foot upon the first step. “And that is exactly what interests me.”

We were in Circe Strand, you see. One well-cobbled, gently curving arc of high fashion and expensively delightful tea shops. I was quite well aware of what the license for one of the diminutive tea shops was worth—well, what should the very pregnant wife of the Watch House Commander do but arrange his paperwork?—and beside the cost of even the smallest of the holdings was the cost of the starting materials for merchandise. A badly fronted store should not have survived the length of my pregnancy. And yet, here it was still.

It could be that it was simply a rich woman’s plaything, a present from an indulgent and doting husband.

I didn’t believe it for a moment.

Our entrance prompted a dull clattering of dust-laden bell-clapper in the stale air. This should have precipitated the prompt arrival of a smart little shopgirl: instead, it produced a thin, angular woman with wary eyes and a frown of surprise between her brows.

Beautiful hat 3

Photo via RiverJunction

“Yes?” she said shortly. She had clever hands, but they were somewhat lined and workworn. Not a rich lady, then, and almost certainly a real milliner. Which left the question of why her hats were so dreadful, and how she managed to stay in business with such items.

“You have such unusual hats!” I said, with perfect truth. “I would like to order one made.”

She hesitated, clearly torn, and then said reluctantly: “Of course, my lady. Summer or autumn?”

“Summer, I rather think,” I said. I caught a flicker of movement in the glass doors of the bead cabinet behind her. They were slightly ajar and showed a sliver of the shop’s back room, where a giant of a man was sitting uneasily on a chair that was by far too small for him. The movement I had seen was his sleeve sweeping a box of ribbons to the floor. He didn’t try to pick it up, which I thought sensible of him: there were three or four other things he would have knocked to the ground in his attempt to pick up the ribbons. He was no milliner. Soldier, perhaps. Craftsman, certainly not.

“Something light and bright, with less brim than usual. Perhaps a side-tilt. Can you manage a side-tilt, miss–?”

“Judith,” she said. “Just Judith, lady. And I can do a rare passable side-tilt. Would you be liking blue or green?”

“Blue, I rather think,” I said, repressing a sigh at the thought of the lovely hat that I would once again fail to purchase. I sat myself down on the dusty leather couch and said brightly: “Show me your trimmings!”

That night after dinner I said to Alexander: “If I were to ask—if, mind!—what Black Velvet is interesting itself in at the moment, what would you tell me?”

Alexander, who had been lounging back in a distressingly informal way with baby Raoul loosely clasped in one arm, seemed to sit up just a little straighter. “Asking for yourself or the king, Isabella?”

“A purely personal matter,” I told him, my eyes laughing at him. Alexander doesn’t like my working for the king as something approaching a spy. He doesn’t stop me, but he worries.

“I’ve the feeling that I’ve been rather oblivious, and I don’t like the feeling.”

“You’ve been busy,” he said, sitting back again. He didn’t say it reprovingly, or even look down at Raoul, which sent the smile on my lips to my eyes as well.

“Oh, I’m not repining,” I said. “If it’s a choice between Raoul and the king, the king can shift very well for himself. But I can’t help feeling that I should have noticed something that I didn’t notice. Black Velvet, Alexander?”

Alexander paused for long enough to make me very sure that there was indeed news and that he was unsure of how much to tell me. At last he said: “Officially, it’s business as usual. Unofficially, Civet seems to be trying to help Lacuna with its succession issues. Last time I spoke with Melchior I got the impression that the crown and Black Velvet were allied in the matter.”

“Then the king has been withholding information from me,” I said, frowning. “I wonder why? If Annabel and Melchior are involved then doubtless we in Glause are also involved.”

“I think he was being…kind,” said Alexander, and this time he did look down at Raoul.

My eyes opened a little wider. “Do you really think so? How very avuncular of him! I must remember to thank him!”

Alexander laughed outright. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring royal disapproval down on the house of Pecus, Isabella. There’s nothing he’d hate more!”

“It’s really very tempting,” I said, leaving my empty dishes and crossing to Alexander’s side of the table. I took Raoul from him, using the moment to say: “Now, Alexander, you didn’t forget that we’re to have Lieutenant Trophimus and the officers of his unit to dine tomorrow?”

Alexander’s arm snaked around my waist and pulled me onto his lap, baby Raoul and all.

“Forget?” he said deliberately. “No, I don’t think I forgot.”

However,” I added firmly, kissing his nose, and then—under compulsion—his lips; “I find that I’ve forgotten to mention the dinner to Trophy and the others. Would you be so kind as to bring them home with you tomorrow?”

“Oh, is that all?”

“The tiniest favour!” I said coaxingly. “Oh, and one more thing, Alexander, if you please. I shall be out for a fitting tomorrow: 203 Circe Strand. Perhaps you could call for me there on your way home?”

 

***

 

The window had changed by the time I got back to the hat shop the next day. I eyed it thoughtfully, taking in the new hat that had pride of place in the shop window. Where the window had before been teeming with hats, now it had only one: a distressingly heavy summer hat in black velvet, with a buckle-brooch pinning the intricate folds of the hatband in place. It was made from Lacunan royal beech, which made my eyebrows rise. So Black Velvet had the Lacunan heir already, did they?

I swept into the store with Vadim in my wake, and said brightly: “Such a

Beautiful hat 2

Photo via RiverJunction

lovely change for your window-front! Do you vary it often?”

“Changes after every week’s end that there’s new merchandise,” Judith said shortly. I fancied she looked slightly annoyed: she hadn’t counted on clientele, that much was obvious. I wondered where her hulking partner was. It would be rather inconvenient if he decided Vadim and I were more trouble than we were worth and decided to dispatch us rather than serve us. How fortunate that I had arranged for Alexander to meet us here!

“What a shame, though!” I said. “I was rather hoping to get another look at those hats.”

Judith stared at me narrowly for a suspicious moment, but eventually said: “They’re all gone now, lady. Maybe next time. Would you like to try on your hat? It’s ready for you.”

“Certainly. Vadim, do go to the door, won’t you? My husband is to call for me shortly,” I added, with a friendly smile. “He doesn’t like to wait in shops.”

“Men,” muttered Judith. “Such children when it comes to waiting.”

“I couldn’t agree more. My goodness, you’ve done lovely work! Did you weave the band yourself?”

The clattering of the disused bell fell loudly into her silence, and I looked up from the hatband to find that Vadim was holding the door for Alexander. Behind him came Lieutenant Trophimus and his four fellow officers, crowding the shop with their broad shoulders and bright buckles.

Judith’s face had gone paper-white.

She squeaked: “The Beast-Lord!” and plunged desperately for the front door, darting between the officers with her skirts flying. They watched her go with matching baffled expressions, and as one, turned their eyes upon me.

Alexander opened his mouth to speak, but as he did so there was the sound of a table overturning in the back room, a thump of wood against wood and the shower of beads hitting the floorboards. Then the giant of a man I had seen yesterday took to his heels through the back way as if he fled from death itself.

Alexander, his expression put-upon, gave me a Look.

“Well now!” I said, in a pleased voice. “I thought that might prompt a reaction! You’d probably better chase them, Alexander. If I’m not mistaken, they’re passing information on the position of that item we were discussing last night.”

“Get the woman,” Alexander said shortly to Lord Trophimus, and made for the back door at a run.

“How exciting!” I sighed to Vadim, when they were gone. “If I weren’t such a lady, I’d be very much tempted to join the chase.”

“Not in those shoes, you wouldn’t,” she said, grinning.

“Well, perhaps not. No, don’t touch the hat, if you please. I think Alexander might like to see it.”

Vadim looked doubtful but did as she was told, turning her attention instead to the dusty window.

“Looks like they’ve caught the old woman,” she said. “Tough old tarter, she is: she’s given one of them a bloody nose!”

I chuckled beneath my breath. Unfortunate man! His brother officers would never let him forget it.

“Lady, they’re putting her in your coach!”

“It’s the best place for her, I should think,” I said. “Alexander has spells on it, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck in it without being able to get out! Sometimes it was even accidental.”

Vadim giggled. “Will you ride home with them, then?”

“Certainly not!” I said. “If you’ll remember, Vadim, we set out to buy a hat. It would be most remiss in us to return home without one for a second day!”

“Yes, lady,” said Vadim, grinning, and moved to open the shop door for the officers.

They crowded in the small receiving room, looking suitably abashed.

“Sorry we let her get out, lady,” said Lieutenant Trophimus. “We didn’t know she was a spy.”

“That’s quite all right,” I said. “I wasn’t quite sure for a moment or two, either. She looks so prim and proper.”

“Tell you something,” said the officer with the bloody nose, in a thick voice: “She ain’t!”

I looked at him with laughing eyes. “I can see that!”

Trophimus, looking around the millinery shop in wonder, said: “What made you sniff this one out, lady?”

“A simple case of fashion,” interrupted Alexander from behind us. He was shoving his captured quarry ahead of him through the back door of the shop. He was considerably rumpled, as was his quarry, but there was a cheerful look to his eyes that suggested he had acquitted himself well. He grinned at me as he said: “Wooden brooches aren’t being worn with velvet this year.”

“Oh,” said Trophimus, taking custody of the small giant with the help of two of the other officers. “That makes it much clearer, sir.”

“It’s nothing like so complicated,” I said reprovingly. “My dear Alexander, Glause is preparing for its hottest summer in ten years. Velvet for a summer hat!”

“Black Velvet,” he nodded, a laugh glowing in his eyes. Certainly he’d also seen the wooden brooch: and as certainly, he knew what it meant. “I don’t like to ask redundant questions, Isabella, but are you sure that this particular display hasn’t been seen yet?”

“Almost completely,” I said. “The displays change at week’s end, according to Judith: when there’s new information, of course. This one is new since yesterday.”

“Very good. I’ll need to take a likeness of it. Then–”

“–you can play with it,” I nodded. “The king will be delighted! He does love spreading confusion. Besides, you might be able to find their contact if you’re clever enough about how you set out the window.”

“What information was already passed?”

“I’m almost certain their contact knows that Black Velvet—and by inference, Civet—is helping Lacuna, but the brooch was missing from the original window. If I read the hats aright, these two were trying to pass several possible locations for the ah, brooch. They didn’t seem to know which one. I counted six or so hats that could have signified various locations around the Triumvirate—skerry-fleece buttons on a kennel-wall brim with poppies around them, a purple dyed gnau leather chip hat—that sort of thing. As far as I know, those buttons are only made in Civet, and correct me if I’m wrong, Alexander, but I seem to recall that in the town of Kennel there is a rather well known chemist who produces most of Civet’s Syrup of Poppies. As for the purple dyed gnau leather, well–!”

Alexander’s brows rose but he didn’t remark.

“Yes, I thought that might mean something to you,” I said in satisfaction. “I’ll report to the king, of course. I rather think he’ll ask me to find our leak. I suppose you’ll go after the contact?”

Alexander grinned suddenly. “Oh, with your permission, of course!”

“There’s no need to be facetious, Alexander,” I said loftily; but I smiled up at him as I tiptoed to kiss him. “Do you need me for anything else? No? Then I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you to your investigations. There is a hat I simply must purchase!”

Like this short story? Get MASQUE here!MASQUE - 2000

 

Gratitude And The Self-Publisher

It’s a funny thing, this self-publishing business. You start out with reasonably realistic expectations–‘I’ll probably only sell a book per month at first’, and ‘It’ll take a long time to build that email list’–and you put your head down and work at the thing.

You sell your book-per-month, and you feel grateful. You’re excited that there’s someone out there every month who wants to read your book. Then it’s four books a month. After that, it’s four books per week. At first you feel delighted: your sales are growing! But the next month, when it’s still only the four books per week, a subtle sense of disappointment begins to creep in. You begin to forget that once you were happy with a book per month.

Soon you’re averaging a sale per day. Giddy excitement! Life has never seemed so good! You may not be one of the best sellers out there–or even one of the best Indie sellers–but you’re not doing too bad for yourself. And your sales are still growing, albiet slowly. Maybe you have a promotion or two. Suddenly there are spikes of twenty to one hundred sales over a day or two, and it feels great! Then you get back to the humdrum sale-per-day after the promotion ends, and suddenly it feels a bit flat…

What’s the problem here? There is no problem. Your sales are fine. Your career is fine. It’s still growing, and it’s still miles ahead of the reasonable expectations you had when you started this thing. And yet, that subtle sense of disappointment still tends to creep in when you’re not watching out for it. You have to remind yourself that a sale-and-a-bit per day is miles ahead of where you reasonably expected to be a few months ago. There are still many miles to go and many readers to reach before you find your audience.

What does this have to do with you, you may be asking? (Apart from my use of the 2nd person for the blog post, that is). To you I reply: Precisely nothing. It’s more of a reminder to myself. But for all the other indie authors out there who sometimes feel glum and disappointed at the amount of books they’re selling (or not selling, as the case may be), try looking back to your beginning as an author.  I bet you’re doing better now than you were then. And you’ve probably done the same thing I have: you’ve become so used to a higher rate of sales that you’ve ceased to be grateful for what you’ve got. Take a moment to remember what it was like when you were starting out. It helps to put things in perspective.

And maybe don’t check your sales every day. That’ll help, too.

I Found A Thing On The Interwebz #1

Cool stuff I randomly found on the internet: Bookcase Edition! I found this lot on IncredibleThings.com

I’m sure you’ve got room in your life for bookshelves like this:

Platzhalter Expanding Bookshelf

If your bookshelf always seems to be bursting at the seams, maybe you should just let it. You’re obviously not going to stop collecting more books than you have space for, so why not store them on something that adapts to your needs. Although after a certain point you may realize it would have been more prudent to just by a second regular shelf instead. Source

Or this:

Tangram Bookshelf

Creative use of shapes, endless possibilities.
If you liked playing with Tangram blocks as a kid, but can’t quite bring yourself to break out the blocks as an adult, this book case will alleviate the urge. Get the shapes you need and create unique artwork that expresses your style. Source

Or even this:

Rolling Shelf

Take advantage of more shelf space by making it bend to your will. Create interesting arrangements with varying heights and options with the Rolling Shelf. The flexible ends made from strips of wood are held together by fabric that allow them to be rolled up to make room. Source

And my personal favourite:

DIY Inverted Bookshelf

Follow these simple instructions and create your own upside down book shelf that freaks out your roommate. It’s a quick enough project that you can do it before he gets up for work. Unlike the time you stapled his coat to the ceiling, this won’t damage any property. In fact, the bookshelf is completely functional. Source

This has been partially reblogged from IncredibleThings.com, and the other VERY COOL bookshelves can be found here.

Dead Man Walking (Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge)

He wasn’t any deader than usual.

I mean, sure, he was dead. His head was barely attached by a few wet strings of whatevertheheck, and floating in a pool of blood so warm that it must have been pumping through his veins just moments earlier. No, Roman was about as dead as you can get. It’s just that after a bloke’s come back from the dead half a dozen times, you start getting a bit cynical.

I kicked him a few times to make sure anyway, which turned out to be a bad idea because his head fell off all the way.

“Mongrel!” I said gloomily, more as a general swear than at him in particular. Roman doesn’t like me really swearing. “Blood on me jacket again!”

I crouched by the pool of blood and pushed his head back toward his neck. Nothing happened, but I kept it there anyway, ignoring the darker, slicker patches that showed on my leather cuffs. Roman’s not a vampire or anything like that. He just dies a lot. And it turns out that in a world where someone’s always trying to kill someone else, that can be a pretty lucrative talent.

Fingers clawed at my arm.

“Water!” rasped Roman, sucking in a gurgling breath.

“Oh, shut up,” I grumbled.

He sat up easily, dripping gore, and ran a bloody hand over his neck. “You’re no fun anymore, ya know that?”

“It wasn’t even frightening the first time.”

“You keep tellin’ yourself that, kid. You get the money?”

“What am I, an idiot?”

Roman flicked me a Look. “You weren’t supposed to break cover this early. I was supposed to take a ride to the city morgue. You should know by now that some of ‘em come back to check.”

“If I sneak into the morgue any more times this year, I might as well install a revolving door. Besides, what were they gonna check? They cut your head off.”

“I remember. Not my favourite way to die, I have to say.”

“Keeping score, are you?”

“Well, at least we got to live the high life for a while,” said Roman, shrugging. “And the Client paid well, so we should be comfortable for a while.”

“Where are we going this time?”

“Heard a rumour of some kids like me, up in Melbourne. They call ‘emselves Gamers. Maybe we’ll go there for a while.”

“More like you? Together? How’d they find each other, the White Pages?”

“Internet, kid. What are you, ninety? And you found me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not special,” I argued. I just like hanging out in morgues. “It was an accident. I dunno, Roman: a bunch of ‘em together, dying and coming back to life? We really wanna be in on that?”

“Bigot,” said Roman, grinning. “Hey, the Client’s little friends left a machete behind.”

“I’ve already bagsed it,” I told him. “You got the crossbow last time.”

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” said Roman. He was closer, of course.

I darted in front of him to get it first, and a sharp noise cracked through the air. Something punched my chest, hot and cold and powerful, and spun me away from Roman.

“Ow!” I staggered, shocked at the suddenness of it all. “Mongrel! What was that?”

My knees gave out, sprawling me in Roman’s blood. Only it couldn’t be his, because his was over there…

“Oh heck,” I said, and my voice sounded thick, as thick as my blood. “I’m gonna die.”

I saw a confusingly sideways montage of Roman dashing at the shadows on the other side of the street, a shard of light glinting in his hand. Gunshot split the air once again, then four times in quick, frantic succession. I heard a heavy, wet, smacking sound, and the client’s head somersaulted through the air, rolling out of sight down the bitumen.

“Baby, you still with me?”

There was Roman again. I must have lost a piece of time, or consciousness, because he was holding me now, gripping me too tightly with arms that were wiry and uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to being this close to him.

I snuffled a sick laugh into his shoulder. “Guess we asked for too much this time, eh?”

“His mistake,” said Roman, eyes like flint. “Police’ll get a body this time after all.”

“Two,” I said, snuffling again. “Reckon I should have picked you up from the morgue after all. Heck, Roman, it hurts!”

There was the stubbly warmth of his cheek against my forehead. “I know.”

“Money’s in the station lockers,” I said to the growing void. “Number seven this time.”

“Don’t be like that, baby,” said Roman. “We’ll get it together.”

“You suck at lying,” I said.

My heart ceased to beat, the silence of it ringing loud and sudden in my ears. Light and consciousness slipped away.

Darkness.

Darkness.

I woke, gasping and flailing, to a feeling of claustrophobia and the smell of plastic. My hands slapped against thick plastic above and around me, and I felt the sharp teeth of a metal zipper on my fingertips.

A body bag. I was in a body bag.

But that was Roman’s trick! I had been dead. So very, very dead.

Breathing too quickly, I struggled with the zip, tugging at it with my fingernails until I’d made an opening big enough for my hand to slip through. I unzipped myself and emerged into bleach-scented chill like a butterfly from its chrysalis.

“Well,” I panted, into the cold silence of the morgue. “This is a twist.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

I hope you enjoyed my offering for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. I saw the prompt and had an idea and opening sentence almost at once. The only problem is, I think there’s more story… Aaaaand now I wanna write it as a tv series. As if I haven’t got enough to do.

You can check out the challenge and all the stories in the comments section here!

Breaking The Rules

I’d like to start out this blog post by saying that I break the rules. A lot. (Not laws and work rules and such- I’m almost offensively straight-laced when it comes to following those. I am not a rebel.)

Nope, I’m talking about writing rules. The ones that say things like ‘Cut ALL adverbs and adjectives’ and ‘Never start a sentence with a preposition’ and ‘Never use any dialogue tags’. Stuff like ‘Always sit down and outline your book before you write the first word’ and ‘Never use semicolons’. No run-on sentences! Not to mention all the various grammar rules and regulations. Let’s face it, when it comes to writing, there are a lot of rules.

For the record, I use quite a reasonable amount of adverbs and adjectives, and although I don’t tag every bit of dialogue I write, I do tag some. There are some rules of grammar that I break for effect or in line with a particular character’s voice. I quite often, for stylistic purposes, start a sentence with a preposition. I may, in fact, have broken most of the rules of writing. There’s a time and a place for everything.

HOWEVER.

There is a huge, monumental, gaping great difference between breaking the rules for stylistic/characteristic/etc purposes, and breaking them because you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. A huge amount of my favourite authors break the rules constantly, in one way or another (reading Terry Pratchett last night just reinforced this) and I don’t think there are many people who would be daft enough to tell Terry Pratchett, Patricia Wrede, Steven Brust, etc, to pull their socks up and get their grammar right. This is because they know the rules. They simply choose to break them every now and then. But they do know them.

I’ve read a heck of a lot of bad books. Books with bad spelling, the wrong homonyms, atrocious grammar: errors that stick with you whether or not the actual stuff of the book is good. I’ve also heard a lot of authors, when their errors are pointed out, say something along the lines of: “Oh, I didn’t realise that. But it’s okay, insert famous author here does it all the time.”

It’s not okay. Breaking the rules is okay, but there needs to be a reason. And you need to know that reason. You need to know the rules before you break them. It makes all the difference between good and bad writing. You might get it right by accident, breaking the rules, but you’re far more likely to get it horribly wrong and find your book being mocked for the rest of its (probably short) life.

So pull your socks up. Learn the rules.

Then go ahead and feel free to break ’em.

Busy, Busy, Busy

It’s been a busy week. And now that I’ve written the word ‘busy’ five times, it’s looking really weird to me. Maybe I need a nap.

But I digress.

It’s been a busy week. My proofs for Wolfskin came in (finally!) but since they’re late arriving I have only a week and a half to check and correct. So there’s that. Then there’s the last 5000-odd words of Spindle that need to be done by next week if I want to keep on target with that particular deadline. And then there’s Memento Mori (the second volume in the Time-Traveller’s Best Friend series). I’ve only just begun it, and though I know roughly what the story arc for the collection will be, and have a few titles and ideas for a few of the stories, I still need to write the thing. By August at the latest.

With all these deadlines, you’d think I’d be madly at work on one or all of them. No such thing. I also got a new idea for a Short Thing for Weekly Fiction’s Open Call For Submissions. Naturally, I started work on that, with a little bit of editing and proof-reading around the edges. Fortunately, Wolfskin is proving much less complicated than Masque was. I seem to have caught most of the errors and inconsistencies and missed words before this point (does that mean I’ve advanced a level? New Power! Error-Free Gained!) and it’s really mostly a matter of a tiny change here and there.

Added to all the above is a busier-than-usual week at work, coupled with an annoying surge of my favourite companion, Meniere’s Disease.

I may just quietly go mad for a while. Don’t mind me. It’s a self-chosen madness after all.

What about you guys? Who else has a murder of deadlines? (Well, what is the group word for many deadlines, anyway?) And are you actually working on them?

Leprechauns!

This week I’m Playing Nice With Others. Absolute Write’s blogging section has a blog hop every month, and this month I decided to join up. Hi out there, Absolute Writers! The prompt was St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland, or anything Irish. So of course I made you all a flash piece of fiction about sadistic leprechauns. Because I can.

Do enjoy.

 

* * *

There’s an old song that goes: “There are fairies in the bottom of my garden”. You know the one.

I don’t have a problem with fairies. They’re stupid, ineffectual little glitter-puffs, but they don’t give a gardener much trouble so long as the occasional plate of Dollar-5s is left out for them to eat. No, my garden is chock-a-block with leprechauns.

Shut up. It’s not sweet. It’s not cool. And if there’s a pot of gold down there those little suckers sure as heck aren’t letting anyone get at it.

They’ve killed one gardener already: hung his corpse on a couple of crossed sticks as a gruesome kind of scarecrow. Mum can’t see either the leprechauns or the dead gardener: she thinks he’s run off to Fiji or something. I see him every time I go out into the garden, though.

I tried to get rid of them once when I was ten. They were eating all my best carrots and eviscerating the sweetpeas I was training, and maybe we could have negotiated that. Only then they went and killed my dog. Cut out his heart and tore mouthfuls from it as I watched, yelping with laughter as I cried.

I laid rat-baits for them the next day. I reckon I must have caught a couple of them on the hop, because when I went out into the garden later on they tied me to the beanpoles and cut off two of my fingers. One for each dead leprechaun.

Mum thought I’d cut off my own fingers by accident: she couldn’t see the leprechauns then, either. That’s when I knew I was on my own.

***

“Don’t you know that today’s March 17? It’s a day for the wearin’ of the green!”

That’s a song, too.

It’s taken me a while to work it all out. A lot of time sneaking around the bottom of the garden and peeping out from behind the curtains in the upstairs bedroom before I find out where their burrow is. And it takes a lot of time to gather all the petrol I need.

Leprechauns like to drink, you see. And March 17 is their big one. They drink and wail and cause as much bloody mahem as possible. I think even Mum gets close to seeing them then. By the time midnight comes they’re back in their burrow, sleeping it off.

So in the wee hours of the morning on March 18, I sneak into the garden with my jerry-cans, one by one until they’re all lined up in a smelly row. It takes a long time pouring and a lot of petrol before I can’t pour any more into the hole. They’re probably already dead, drowned; but I can’t take that chance. The matches are in my back pocket.

***

The newspapers will probably talk about it for weeks. The morning the Schulmann garden blew up in a spray of concrete chunks and turf that sent the clothesline hurtling into next-door’s swimming pool. The roar that shook the neighbourhood and left a crater the size of a small car.

I lost my eyebrows, but it’s worth it. When I scrabble around in the debris the next day, I find a few blackened skulls and my fingerbones. There’s no sign of the gardener. I don’t know where he went.

Now there’s a tiny skull on a stick at the garden gate. Mum can’t see it, so why not? I hung my fingerbones with it as well, as a warning.

So far I haven’t had any more trouble, but if I do, I’ll know how to deal with it.

* * *

Check out the other blog posts in the blog hop:

J Elyzabeth’s Blog Post

BB Burke’s Blog Post

Joanne Zebedee’s Blog Post

A Simple Syrup’s Blog Post

Layla Lawler’s Blog Post

Sudo One’s Blog Post

Improv-o-matic’s Blog Post

Ahelia’s Blog Post

Leigh Anderson’s Blog Post

(NOTE: The last three are yet to be updated with links to the actual post, as they are after me in the blog chain. Do bear with me.)