Issue Five/Six

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:Vital Stats:


Issue Five/Six - Published Spring 2005
A4, 128 pages, b/w

Fiction from:
Simon Kewin, Leila Eadie, John Llewellyn Probert,
Michael D. Winkle, John B. Rosenman, Sarah Dobbs,
Justin Thorne, Gary Couzens, Mark Anthony Brennan,
Davin Ireland, Steve Dean, Alasdair Stuart,
Jason J. Stevenson, Steve Lockley, Paul Bates,
Kay Green, Arthur Lyte, Jetse de Vries,
John Graham, Ken Goldman, Matthew S. Rotundo,
Jennifer Pelland, Paul McAvoy, Ian Hunter,
Gary McMahon, Eugie Foster.

Faction from:
Tony Richards, Pam Creais, John Shire

And more Danger! Mages in Training from Gregory Cartwright.

:Guitar Heroes:
:Simon Kewin:

I am the sun, around me spinning stars
I stand here at the centre of the universe


Right here, right now, the words just fit. They click into place as if I’d written them three years ago for this very moment. For an instant, I seem to be inside my own voice, feeling its vibrancy streaming out over the crowds, carried away on the effortless, amplified squall of guitars and drums. I sing the words with a new gusto. OK, a bit of a swagger, a slight smile on my face. Right now, that’s it, the words are how I feel.
Don't you love the way song lyrics can do that, take on new meanings at different times, or new meanings for different listeners, or suddenly come to you to sum up a situation? When I wrote them they were something to do with a sunny day in the park as I recall. I glance across at Sarah, lost in her guitar. She’d agree with me, I’m sure.
But I just write the words, sell them back to people who already happen to own them, merely by arranging them into a new order. Who am I to say what they should mean to all of them? To the people behind the upturned faces out there in the crowd singing along, shouting out song-title requests, screaming sarcastic abuse, just smiling and listening? Often I don’t even know what they mean to me.

I can see for miles, stars are in my eyes
From all around I hear the sound
A billion whispered words


I love this place too. If I could, and there weren’t the other matters to attend to, I could do this for ever, spend my time writing songs and playing them here with the band, Sarah on guitar and Green on drums and me playing guitar, singing, rapping, ranting and torturing computers. A place full of history. Not the dusty, irrelevant history of text books and battles, but real history, the history that matters to people. This is history caked onto the walls as decades of cigarette smoke; scuffed onto the worn boards of the stage I’m standing on; autographed onto all the band publicity photos stuck up behind the bar, stained onto the floor in beer and blood. This is home, sweet home. The Edgeton Independent Chapel.
They’ve all played here, all of our heroes. It is strange, there are places where the thought of us, of we three, having heroes of our own, would be unthinkable, heresy even.

I stand for a moment to watch Sarah as she plays a burst of dazzling guitar noise, an improvised bridge between verse and chorus. I lean back against the speaker-stack at the side of the stage. Emblazoned across the side of each of the booming black cabinets are the words Screaming Machinery, crudely stencilled in scuffed, white paint above the gothic, Geiger curves of the SM logo. And I think to myself about just how fucking brilliant we are.
At that moment, I am as much a part of the audience as everyone down the front. She doesn't say much, doesn't seem much out of the ordinary this short, Scots woman, but boy, as she might say, can she play guitar.

The roar from the speakers is deafening, overwhelming, so loud you seem to stop hearing it after a while. She grapples with the sound as if she is battling with a demon, as if she holds a writhing snake in her hands rather than a battered, black electric guitar. The sound breathes, phasing from unsettling, abrasive discord, to satisfying, glorious concord, and then back. Her eyes are shut. Green smiles up at me, his warm, enthusiastic, ironic smile behind a blur of arms and drumsticks. He knows it too, knows how good she is. For a moment, she is the centre of the universe.
I scan the crowd. I am reminded of the carvings I saw at some temple once, where long-forgotten craftsmen had laboured to carve thousands and thousands of stone human heads around the walls - each head, each face, carefully, lovingly given individuality, life, a distinct attitude and emotional state. Out there now I see ecstasy, jubilation, anger, boredom, anticipation, laughter, fear, calm …

But then I see him, standing at the back against the bar and I forget about all such things. I can't see his face against the glare of the stage-lights but I know it is him - it isn't just the long, bulky overcoat or the outline of his wide-brimmed hat, it's something in his stance, his presence. He doesn't dance, doesn't even sway, he just stands there looking directly at us, at me.
Down at the front of the stage, two or three members of the crowd - young men full of bravado and alcohol, torn tee-shirts bearing our own images I'm pleased to see, have decided it is time to start crowd-surfing - they hope - or at any rate, stage-diving. I watch as they writhe and clamber out of the melee around them, levering themselves up onto the stage towards us, eyes wild but mouths grinning. The Chapel's stage security team, Big Bad Bob and The Ice Giant, wander out onto the stage to make sure they aren't intent on causing us physical harm and to try and dissuade them from hurling themselves head-first into the crowd. I almost smile to myself. At the back of the crowd stands someone who represent real trouble, very serious danger, someone to really worry about, but Big Bad Bob and The Ice Giant don't know that of course - they are much more concerned by a couple of pissed lads trying to show-off.

Ten songs, three encores and we're off, riding the buzz and happy with how it's gone. Even the new songs have received an enthusiastic response. The Ice Giant guards the entrance to the underworld labyrinth of backstage corridors. With a satisfied nod of his beard, he stands aside to let us pass. We make our way down through narrow, painted-brick corridors behind and beneath the stage to get to our dressing-room, functional pipes and cables strung out along the ceiling so that Green has to duck every few paces. The sound system from above makes everything boom and vibrate, the very walls seeming to sweat in the stuffy heat.
The room is small, scruffy, hot. Green perches on top of the pile of beer-cans that have been left there. Sarah looks around for the case for the guitar that she still holds. She says nothing.
I say, ‘We all saw him, yeah? At the back, near the bar? The old fucking Wicca Man himself?’
Green grins, nods, as if I have told a good joke - a familiar, favourite joke. Sarah looks up, apparently through the wall next to the door and says only, quietly, to herself, Panic on the streets. She crosses the room to the stack of cans, pulls one off from a pack of six, opens it with a deft flick and fizz of beer, drains it in one easy pull, then looks at me and says, louder this time, ‘Take me to the bridge.’  . . .

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:Extraordinarily Dark Gentlemen:
:Tony Richards:

Let’s call our dark fantasy writer Fred.
So, Fred the Fantasy Writer is being interviewed, and he gets asked the inevitable question: ‘Which writers have influenced you the most?’
If he’s younger then he’ll answer Stephen King, Clive Barker and the like. If he’s a little older then Ray Bradbury will always get a mention, along with Robert Bloch and – if Fred has any real taste at all – Fritz Leiber. In other words, we see our genre as having its original roots in the pulps of the Thirties, and then flourishing in the big commercial novels of the Seventies.

But then Fred goes along to see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s nothing much at all. A popcorn movie. A pleasantly mindless way of killing a couple of hours. But the script, from the original graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, includes one interesting premise, practically a literary conceit. All its characters have been drawn out of novels from a much earlier age. There is Alan Quartermain from Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, Captain Nemo from Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Mina Harker from Dracula, Wells’ Invisible Man, Stephenson’s Jekyll-Hyde, and Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Conan-Doyle’s Moriarty – rather unoriginally – also shows up, and there are strong references to Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera and Poe’s Murders on the Rue Morgue.

And Fred staggers out of the theatre thinking: ‘My God, I’ve read all of those books – in fact, I read most of them when I was still a kid!’
At which point Fred starts to wonder what his real influences are.
Can it possibly be that the dark fantasy genre actually grew, not out of the pulps at all, but out of the Victorian age? The straight-laced, stuffy Victorian age with its Empire and its stern, prudish morality?
But stop and think about it for a moment. We’re going – not commercially but certainly creatively – through a high point at the moment, with new independent outlets appearing all over the place and wild talents like Graham Joyce and Chris Fowler and dozens like them firing off in directions previously unimaginable. What has brought this on? Writers, just like any other people, are influenced by what’s happening in the world around them. And the two salient facts about the world at the moment are that – one – it’s changing at a startling pace, and – two – it’s getting dangerous. Our fiction reflects this. And the same was true in Victorian times.

We’re still going through the electronic revolution at the moment, and quite possibly always will be. But our Victorian forebears were enduring one even more startling simply because it had no precedent. The Industrial Revolution changed at least the Western World forever in a scant few decades. Turned us from an agricultural to an urban society. Altered irretrievably the way we lived and worked and even thought. And the British Victorians were at the forefront of all that, the Western Europeans coming close behind. How could writers not respond?

As for dangerous? Well, you have to fight pretty hard to keep hold of an Empire. And, though there’d always been bandits, the urbanisation of England brought its society face-to-face with a new breed, the street criminal. Gentlemen, extraordinary or otherwise, went about armed at night in London, for very good reason. Beneath the prissy surface, there was darkness aplenty for authors to feed on. This too was the era, after all, of the Ripper, slain prostitutes, and unimaginable poverty. Charles Dickens – author of the world’s most famous ghost story – understood this all too well.

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:Humpback IV:
:Mark Anthony Brennan:

Kill all lawyers.
Great! First Shakespeare, and now the orcas. Why was it that those of his profession were always the most despised creatures in the land? Or in the ocean?
Broughton shook his head. This was no time to entertain such thoughts - he had to concentrate on getting off the base alive. But then again, how could he not think of that? It was Nashtu who had issued that death edict, and it was her forces that currently had Humpback IV under attack. And the base had no defenses.

Broughton was being jostled down the corridor that led to the boats. Pandemonium reigned. The other human base personnel were as confused as he was. None of them knew exactly what to do in an emergency such as this. And the uniformed security dogs were useless. They were running between their legs barking out orders. But in their frenzied state the dogs weren't speaking intelligibly. In fact, they were literally barking. Only a fucking dog could understand them.
The base was suddenly struck by another explosion, sending Broughton sprawling sideways in the narrow corridor. His forehead struck the metal bulkhead as he stumbled against the wall. A hand came up under his elbow, propping him up and propelling him forward.
‘Better keep moving, Miles.’ It was Woo from finance. ‘Your head OK?’
‘Yeah,’ said Broughton, touching his head gingerly, ‘just bruised I guess.’
Woo let his hand drop, but Broughton still kept pace with him. The crowd continued to surge forward even though the corridor was becoming increasingly congested. Most of them were techs of some kind or another, but many others, like Broughton and Woo, were administrative types dressed in business attire. None of them looked prepared for a long ocean voyage to the mainland.
‘What's the status?’ asked Broughton, craning his neck to try and see over the crowd. There was an exit door just ahead - they'd be out on deck in a minute.
‘Not sure,’ said Woo. ‘The orcas seemed to have destroyed most of the main base. The attack has slowed down though, and there's not much damage to the Human Sector yet.’
Broughton fought down the urge to correct Woo. It was, of course, properly referred to as the Land-Based Entities Unit, or LBEU. It was politically incorrect to refer to it as the Human Sector, given that it also housed cognitively enhanced non-humans, such as apes. And the stupid dogs, of course.
‘How many casualties do you think?’
Woo shrugged. ‘For humpbacks it's gotta be heavy. They've been really hard hit down there. But humans? I've no idea.’
Just as they burst through the exit door an electronic klaxon rang out in the corridor behind them.
‘You spoke too soon about damage to the LBEU,’ said Broughton, squinting as the sunlight hit his face. ‘That's a breach in the hull somewhere.’
Woo grimaced but didn't answer. Broughton took in a lungful of fresh, salty air and glanced up. The sun was high and bright in an impossibly blue sky. Up there it was peaceful and calm - a sharp contrast to the turmoil and carnage below.
Just centimeters below his feet water lapped at the metal grid that formed the deck surrounding the LBEU buildings. The escape vessels, looking like giant, green beetles, were moored about 50 meters away across the metal deck.

To Broughton's right several other rectangular towers, similar the one from which he'd just emerged, jutted up through the metal grid. These were just the above-surface stories of the LBEU buildings, the bulk of the structures extending deep down below the waves.
Broughton peered over his left shoulder as he followed the throng heading for the boats. The water boiled and frothed angrily. Steam and smoke rose up from the surface, billowing high into the sky. There was debris floating everywhere. And there were bodies.
That's what had the humans in the crowd moaning and the apes screeching - it was the bodies. Hundreds upon hundreds of dead humpbacks. Most just floated serenely like overturned boats - lifeless, but unblemished. But others were splashed with blood, the flesh mangled, torn.
Boom!

A deep explosion rocked the metal deck crazily, sending the screaming personnel stumbling and falling. A split second later the explosion erupted from the surface with a tremendous hiss, sending spray, along with debris and chunks of humpback flesh, high into the air.
Broughton and Woo were thrown against each other but they managed to keep their feet. They were soaked as the spray from the explosion rained down on them.
Broughton's heart sank as he was hit with the sudden chill. Momentarily his urge to flee was drowned out by his sorrow and dismay. Was this what it had all come to? After all those decades spent ensuring equality for all sentient races, after all the work and effort that had gone into helping non-human cultures build up their civilizations, was this death and destruction the inevitable result?

Woo grabbed his shoulder, pulling him towards the boats. But Broughton couldn't tear his eyes away from the battle scene. Down there below the surface was the main part of Humpback IV - the underwater haven designed primarily by the humpbacks themselves. The base certainly had its functional side, with structures and devices designed to assist the whales in tool-building, learning and communication. But above all it was a place of strange beauty. Humpbacks were by nature artistic and poetic and their ‘city’ reflected that with its maze of fluted towers and oddly curved buildings and sculptures. To humans it was a confusing jumble, but compelling at the same time.
And now it all lied in ruins at the bottom of the Pacific.

Broughton squinted. Through the haze of steam and smoke he could make out movement in the distance. A horde of black shapes were breaking the surface, dorsal fins erect. It was the killer whale infantry, moving in now that the armored first wave had done its damage.
Equality for all sentient species - that was a principle Broughton had believed in all his life. In accordance with Global Common Law, all sentient species were legally deemed to be ‘persons’ and therefore had equal rights to humans. It was a natural consequence of that legal principle that humankind would be required, by way of numerous judgements handed down by the Supreme World Court, to make restitution to the species they'd deprived of civilization-building niches. So now all the sentient species had access to technology - just like humans. But who would have anticipated that a species such as the orcas would have taken the opportunity to wage war? Just like humans.
Broughton was now being pushed forward by dozens of personnel behind him , all desperate to reach the escape vessels. Looking ahead Broughton noticed that some of the boats were already departing. There were still about ten of them left. But what was the capacity of each vessel? Twenty? Thirty? And how many LBEU personnel were there? Five hundred? More? Panic rose in his chest as he realized that there may not be enough boats to get them all off.
‘Shit!’ yelled someone in the crowd. ‘Look.’
In the water to their left, just a few meters from the edge of the metal deck, several black shapes were surfacing. Half a dozen or more. At first Broughton thought they were killer whales. But they were too big. No, they were mini-subs. Hatches popped open and humans in wet-suits poured out, jumping into the water and heading for the deck.

There were renewed screams of terror as the crowd dispersed, scattering in all directions. Realizing he had no hope of reaching a boat in time, Broughton turned and headed back to the building in search of cover. The humans in wet-suits were now on the deck running towards the fleeing crowd. But they were too small to be humans. They had to be chimps. Chimps armed with stunners . . .

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:Fear of Fitness:
:John L. Probert:

‘You weren’t my first choice, Mr Henderson.’
Massene Henderson, investigator of the paranormal, leaned forward in his chair.
‘Contacting a person such as myself is seldom the first course of action in such cases, Miss Jephcott.’
The twenty-something brunette shrugged her slim shoulders.
‘It’s just that I don’t know what else to do. I’m the senior manager so referring the matter higher up would mean calling head office. I’ve only been in the job for a short while and I don’t want them to think I’ve gone nuts, which is the same reason I haven’t called the police.’
‘Because the gymnasium you run is haunted?’
She gave him a hard stare across the huge leather-topped desk.
‘I didn’t say that’
‘But you implied it.’

Samantha Jephcott looked out of the window of Henderson’s study. The Welsh hills were shrouded in mist and the constant drizzle of rain added to the overall sense of gloom. Even the roaring log fire in the room did little to dispel what was a frankly miserable March day. The pangs of nicotine craving had been getting worse all morning as well, but she was determined not to give in, even though she knew she had an unopened pack of cigarettes in her bag for ‘emergencies’. She had given up smoking after being appointed manager of the South Bristol branch of ‘Fit for Anything’ with the intention of providing a good role model for her junior staff. The only effect it had so far had, however, was to make her confrontational at the slightest provocation.
‘All I said was that over the last few months there have been some weird things going on, and they’re starting to drive away the members, as well as putting the heebie-jeebies up the staff.’

Certainly that was true. Adam Coulson, 23, blonde, blue-eyed and ostensibly butch (although his boyfriend Curt knew better), wouldn’t go near the showers now after claiming that one of the puddles had turned into a face and winked at him. Helen Monaghan, their work experience student, said that she had heard whispering near one of the cross-training machines, and several of the customers had complained that the controls of the treadmills sometimes seemed to have a life of their own. Events had come to a head last Friday night when almost every machine in the place had started working of its own accord. Thankfully it was close to the end of the day and the disruption had only been brief. She had done her best to reassure the few patrons present that the disturbance was in fact a routine automatic testing of equipment prior to the weekend. Straight after the last customer had left she had rung Henderson’s number. It had been given to her by an eccentric friend who had read about his exploits in a recent edition of ‘Psychic News’. Neither a subscriber nor a believer herself, Sam was, however, sufficiently desperate to consider hiring his services. Which was how she had come to find herself spending the following Sunday morning in a big country house perched on a mountainside in North Wales. Henderson’s note had explained that his home was virtually inaccessible by road, and potential clients were requested to follow his enclosed instructions. She was sure that the journey on the little mountain railway would have been more pleasant if the weather hadn’t been so bloody terrible. Anyway here she was, sitting in the study of this smartly dressed man in his middle thirties (smart, that is, except for his hair, whose grey-tinged brown locks threatened to leap from his head in their unruliness) who claimed to specialise in the investigation of bizarre occurrences.

‘Well?’ she took a pen from her pocket and held it between the index and middle fingers of her right hand. She resisted the urge to suck on it. ‘Can you help me?’
Henderson sat back and made a pyramid out of his opposed fingertips.
‘To be honest I can’t say for certain. Not until I have had the opportunity to inspect the building, talk to some of the people who have been affected, and possibly even experience some of the phenomena you have described. If I then feel I can help I shall provide you with an estimate for my services.’
‘Fine,’ she said, ‘When could you come down?’
Henderson got up from behind the desk and walked round to one of the bookcases behind her. He reached up to the top shelf and took down an immense tome which he placed on the desk. Reaching into the space it had recently occupied he produced a small blue diary.
‘I knew I’d left it up there somewhere,’ he smiled, flicking trough the pages. ‘Shall we say the day after tomorrow?’

Samantha picked him up from Bristol Temple Meads railway station the following Tuesday morning and at his request drove him straight to her place of work.
The ‘Fit for Anything’ gymnasium and sauna made up part of one of the new industrial complexes south of the city, its two-storey building nestling inconspicuously between a computer superstore and a DIY centre. Samantha parked her car and Henderson followed her inside through the sliding glass doors, carrying with him a small suitcase. As they went behind the reception desk he was surprised to see how busy the place was for a weekday morning.
The staff had already assembled in the office. Introductions were quickly made and then Henderson perched on a table at the front of the room to address them. The group listened quietly and attentively, the only other sound apart from his voice was the bubbling from the filter coffee machine in the far right hand corner.

‘Miss Jephcott has asked me to try and find out what has been causing the disturbances which some of you have noticed over the last month or so. I have promised to do what I can but before I take a look around I would like you all to be completely honest and tell me if you’ve experienced anything similar to what Adam and Helen have described.’
A dark short-haired muscular-looking girl by the name of Diane Marston put up her hand.
‘I’ve heard noises,’ she said.
‘Really? What sort of noises?’
‘Sort of grunting and groaning. Always seems to happen when Curt comes round to see Adam and they disappear into the changing rooms.’
They all laughed-a little too hard. Henderson smiled and tried to put them at ease.
‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘But any genuinely weird occurrences? Something you just can’t explain?’
Junior manager Tony Reynolds put up his hand.
‘Sometimes there’s a terrible smell.’
‘That’s you, Tony,’ said Diane. More laughter.
‘No, I’m serious,’ he said, looking at Henderson. ‘I’ve only noticed it occasionally but when I have it’s been almost overpowering, and it only seems to occur near the weighing machines.’
‘Anything else?’ Henderson was scribbling in a small black notebook.
Diane’s hand was up again.
‘Yes?’
‘Well there’s the coffee,’ she said, indicating with a jerk of her head the little coffee pot in the corner.
‘What about it? Strange taste? Strange smell?’
‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘It just keeps bubbling even though it’s not plugged in and none have us have put anything in it for weeks.’
Henderson regarded the machine. It seemed innocuous enough. A jug of seemingly fresh coffee sat on the hotplate, steam hissing occasionally from the filter chamber. He stood up, lifted the little suitcase onto the table, and took out a silver rod about two feet long.
‘Do I have everyone’s assurance that the machine has not been touched over the last twenty four hours?’
There was frantic nodding amongst the assembled group. The rod was telescopic and when he had extended its length to six feet he waved it before them.
‘This device is made of silver. If it comes into contact with anything possessed of an unnatural entity then it will cause that entity considerable discomfort and in some cases may result in it being expelled from the object.’
‘What does that mean?’ asked Adam
‘It means,’ said Henderson, approaching the coffee machine, ‘that I would like you all to leave the room. Unless of course you feel you are of a sufficiently strong constitution, in which case you are welcome to hide behind the table.’ . . .

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:The Mermaid's Tears:
:Steve Lockley:

Claire had seen the box before; only once but it had left her with such a strong impression that she would never forget it. In an instant she had taken in every sway of its grain, and the details of the small brass clasp held tight by the tiny padlock. She remembered it mainly because the last time she had touched it her father had hit her; slapping her so hard on the face that finger marks could still be seen hours later. It was the only time that he had laid a finger on her in her twenty years.
That had been five years ago, but now he was urging her to open it as he lowered it gently onto the small table and placed the tiny key on its polished surface. She looked up at him, questioning, but he turned away.

Leah just sat her wheelchair, never blinking while Claire stroked the wood and felt its warmth. Leah did what she always did, nothing, just watched in silence, unable to walk and unable to speak. Claire had never understood why her father had taken her in and devoted the last years of his life to a stranger who had come to rely on him totally. Tonight Leah looked old and frail, as though the bones beneath the skin were dry twigs ready to snap under the slightest pressure.
‘Open it, for God's sake,’ her father pleaded, his voice cracking as if he was desperately holding his emotions in check.
Claire slid the key into the tiny lock and heard the slightest of clicks as the mechanism released and fell open. A grain of white dust fell from behind the clasp and Claire found herself distracted. She touched it with the tip of her finger and raised it to her lips, half guessing what it was. Not dust but salt.
The lid lifted with little resistance and inside she found it almost full to the brim with salt, but as she brushed a little of it to one side she saw that it covered something else. Something made of golden scales sparkling even in the artificial light while outside storm clouds threatened rain.. Her father turned back to face her, tears welling up in his eyes and she gently closed the lid. Leah, who had been straining to see slumped back into her chair with little more life than a rag doll.

‘We have to take her back,’ her father said with no emotion in his voice.
‘I don't understand,’ said Claire her eyes still fixed on the box and the secret that had been revealed to her. ‘I thought you wanted me here because you were ill, not to play some kind of game with me. What do you mean we have to take her back?’
Her father sagged into the armchair beside Leah and gently took her hand, but it was as if the life had slipped out of him. ‘I've not been fair to you Claire, nor to Leah. This could be the last chance I get to put things right. At least as right as they can be made after the way I have acted.’
Claire took her gaze from the box and looked at her father, then Leah and back to her father again. She was about to launch into a tirade of questions that would release the built up anger and frustration at the way he had been shut out of her father's life, blurting out all the things that she had wanted to say but never had the courage to do. But the words would not come, still desperate after all this time not to upset him.
‘Leah does not belong here,’ he said. ‘And it's time she went home.’
Hooray! Claire thought. At last he was seeing sense. It was not that she had anything against Leah, nothing at all. She didn’t even resent the fact that she had taken her mother's place. What she did find hard to accept was the fact that her father had given up the last years of his life to look after someone he hardly knew and that the strain was starting to tell on him.
‘You don't understand Claire,’ her father said. ‘We have to take her home so that she can sing again.’

Claire tried to choke back a laugh that died in her throat but she could see the anger rising in her father's eyes. He rose from his chair and walked back towards her. For a moment it was as if he was able to ignore that pain that she knew must have been raging through his body, the result of the cancer that had spread through his bones.

I'm sorry dad, she wanted to say. I'll do whatever you want, but the words failed to make themselves heard. Instead she sat dumb struck as he lifted the box and allowed its contents to spill out over the table.
‘Do you understand now?’ he said. ‘Or do I still have to spell it out for you?’
Still the words failed to come. All she could do was to look from her father, to Leah then back to the giant fish tail which unfurled itself slowly from its casing of salt, cracking and straining with each movement.
‘It's time to take Leah home again,’ he said. ‘Time to take her back to the sea.’

Then she knew. In an instant she realised what he was trying to say to her and while it would have been easy to dismiss, the tail which was still unfurling slowly was proof enough.
‘Why now Dad?’ she asked. ‘Why do you have to do it now?’
‘Because,’ he started then stopped as he looked her in the eyes. ‘Because I'm dying.’
‘Of course you're dying, I know that. I've known for ages.’ She watched the look of surprise develop on his face. ‘But that's only half of the answer isn't it? If you had loved Leah, really loved her, you would have taken her back a long time ago.’
‘Don't you see? It's because I love her that I've kept her here.’
‘Listen to yourself Dad,’ she said, feeling the rage starting to rise inside herself. ‘You kept her. Leah had no choice. You fell in love with what she is, or what she was, and you've never been able to let go of that. Now you've decided to let her go because you have no further use for her. Don't you see what you've done? Can't you see the misery you've caused her?’
She looked across at Leah and saw the glisten of tears starting to fall.

‘Where do you want me to take you Leah?’ Claire asked. Leah gave no more of an answer than she had ever done, but Claire understood that all she had heard was the truth.
‘Rhossili,’ her father said. ‘Do you remember the cottage we stayed at not long after your mother died? That's where I found her.’
Claire nodded. She remembered vividly the first holiday she had taken alone with her father; the bleakness of Worm's Head, the rocky stretch of land which jutted out to sea. Her father had taken her fishing there at night, the darkness penetrated only by the hand held oil lamps of other anglers perched precariously along the cliff face. When he finally caught a fish she was almost sick as he had held it aloft while the defenceless creature flapped aimlessly in the air.
‘Found her? Don't you mean that's where you caught her? Leah's not one of the damned fish you used to have stuffed and mounted in glass cases.’ She looked around and realised for the first time that they were no longer on the walls, and could not remember when she had last seen them there.
‘She has a life of her own. She shouldn't be trapped here for your amusement!’
‘Is that what you really think? You must understand that I have loved this woman since the moment I first saw her.’
Claire watched her father as he moved to Leah's side. Tenderly he brushed her hair aside, stoked her cheek then laid his hand on her shoulder. In turn, Leah raised her own frail hand and placed it on his.
‘Don't you think that if I didn't love her as much as I do that I would have taken her back long ago?’
‘So why do you need me?’
‘I can't do it on my own. I can't carry her down to the beach, not now.’
‘Then how did you do it before?’ she asked.
‘We managed. We managed because we both wanted to. Besides, Leah's legs were stronger then, now they have just wasted away.’
Claire turned her back on them both and looked out of the window. It was raining now and she watched the steady trickle running down the pane and thought of that quiet beach.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘But we have to go now.’
‘What's the hurry?’
‘Don't stop me now. If you want me to help I will, but don't ask me to think about it.’
‘I thought maybe in a day or two, when we've had our chance to say goodbye to each other...’
‘No. Now. Today. The beach will be empty in this weather, but if we leave it any longer it could be packed.’
She looked at him as in silence he looked into Leah's eye's then back again.
‘Okay,’ he said.

There were only half a dozen cars in the wind swept car park when they arrived. Half of them had steamed up windows from occupants who just sat staring out at the headland. The rain lashed down heavier than ever as if to herald their arrival, and Claire was certain that the owner's of the other cars must have taken shelter in the National Trust shop that seemed to be the only building showing any signs of life.
Ignoring the rain, Claire and her father made slow and uncertain progress from the car to the steps down to the beach, supporting Leah between them. From there, their descent became precarious as they tackled the steep steps one at a time while her father tried to maintain his balance with the aid of the single metal rail. Below them the beach was deserted. Only the remains of a long wrecked ship whose wooden hull protruded rib-like from the sand . . .

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:Fear and Wonder:
:An Interview of Stuart Young:
:Pam Creais:
 

Stuart Young has had over fifty stories published in various books and magazines. His collection of short horror stories, Spare Parts, is available from Rainfall Books at www.81x.com/rainfall A fantasy collection, Shards of Dreams, came out from Double Dragon Publishing in 2004 and his latest masterpiece, The Mask Behind the Face is out from Pendragon Press. He also wrote a monthly comics column, Words and Pictures, at www.thealienonline.net

Pam Creais: Which writers did you enjoy most as a youngster?

Stuart Young: My favourites were Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Biggles by Captain W.E. Johns. Dr Who novelizations (especially the Terrance Dicks ones; he also wrote several SF, horror, and detective novels that I loved). The Willard Price Adventure series. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. John Harris’s Martin Falconer series. And The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
And then there were the comics like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, X-Men, and Justice League International.

PC: When did you first start writing yourself?

SY: I can’t remember exactly. There were writing assignments in school that never felt like assignments because they were just fun to do. I remember doing an illustrated Mr Men story when I was about six. And a few years later one of my friends was a huge Dr Who fan, he had all the novelizations and he got me into reading them. He used to try writing his own ones and I followed suit. So I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But in terms of actually submitting stuff that would’ve been, I don’t know, 1995, or something like that.

PC: How did you become aware of the small press and what was your first accepted story?

SY: I read somewhere that the small press was the place to try out your work before moving onto the big leagues. Of course then I had the problem that most small press magazines were horror and I knew pretty much zero about the genre so I had to slog my way through a bunch of novels and short stories that I absolutely hated before I found anything which fired that little spark of recognition, ‘Hey, this is the kind if stuff I want to do!’ Then I went through a period where I just collected rejection slips for about nine months. I was thinking, ‘Women have given birth quicker than this!’ Eventually I wrote ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ in a single afternoon and sold it to Nasty Piece of Work on my first submission.

PC: Do you think the small press is beneficial to aspiring writers?

SY: It can be. If it works well you get Honourable Mentions and agents see your work and approach you about writing novels and you use it as a springboard to professional work. But if it doesn’t work well then no one actually reads your stories. At all. In that case it becomes a vicious circle;
the publisher needs the readers so they can afford to make the magazine more visible to the readers, but the readers don’t buy the magazine because they’ve never heard of it, so the publisher sells less copies and has less money to spend on promoting it.
Of course the small press can be a valuable way to hone your talents as a writer before tackling the bigger publishers. Although even then there are problems. Some authors write very specific types of fiction which only appeal to the real aficionados of that particular genre. So all the die-hard fans of, I don’t know, supernatural mysteries solved by Bavarian cheese-makers, buy the writer’s stuff and tell them they’re a genius but when they step outside that circle into the wider realms of publishing no one wants to read their work.
But obviously not everyone can expect to get Stephen King type sales. So even if you don’t hit the big time the progression through the different levels of the small press (magazines, paperbacks, hardbacks) means that you’re reaching the widest audience that’s possible for you.
Wow, that almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it? . . .

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:She Who Controls The Wind:
:Ken Goldman:

Tristen led the young man to the mountaintop. That morning he had made the dark-haired beauty his wife, and she understood she must bring him to this exact spot before she could give herself to him. ‘Thomas, this is where my mother used to take me when I was a little girl.’

‘It’s very beautiful,’ he answered, shielding his eyes from the sun as he took in the panorama. ‘You can see the entire valley from this peak. I’ve always lived right there . . . do you see that tiny spot of green to the west? Amazing that I never knew of this place.’
‘This is a very secret spot,’ Tristen confided. ‘Never have I brought another man here.’ She leaned closer. ‘May I tell you a story?’
Thomas smiled. ‘I doubt I could stop you.’ He kissed her forehead and sat alongside her.
‘Every day when my mother brought me here at sunrise she sat me upon this same rock where we now sit. It was always very dark, and Mother would turn to me and say, ‘Tristen, just wait for a moment and I will share with you the most wonderful secret in the world.’’

Tristen jumped to her feet and stepped to the edge. For one terrible moment Thomas considered reaching for her to make certain his new bride did not fall to her death. But Tristen gave no indication she felt uncomfortable where she stood.

‘Then my mother raised her hands to the sky - like this! - her silken garments blowing in every direction in the morning breeze. ‘Wait! Wait!’ she would explain, ‘I have to concentrate very hard to do this right . . .’
‘'Novus Ordo Aurora Aurea . . . Novus Ordo Aurora Aurea . . .'‘
‘Suddenly she would shout, ‘Abide by the law of Thelema . . . Abide now!’ and like magic the red sun appeared in the horizon at that exact instant. Within moments the sky become a breathtaking spectrum of colors no artist could hope to capture. It seemed that each day was different and more beautiful than the one before. And I would always clap my hands at Mother’s wonderful handiwork, and she would bow to me graciously, a deep and full bow from the waist, like this . . .’

Tristen turned toward the young man and bowed to him as a prima ballerina might. During that moment Thomas beheld the young girl who must have stood in complete astonishment of her mother’s awesome powers during the many warm mornings of her childhood. He stepped forward and took her into his arms.

‘Tristen, I have never loved you more than I do this very moment,’ he told her. They shared a deep and long kiss. Only after their embrace ended did Thomas remember where they stood. Moving away from the precipice, each laughed.

Tristen turned suddenly serious.
‘Do you understand why I wanted to tell you this story on our wedding day?’ she asked.
Thomas smiled. ‘Of course. Your mother must have been a wonderful woman to make you believe so strongly in her.’
Tristen’s eyes caught her young bridegroom’s. They appeared troubled.
‘No, Thomas. That isn’t what I have been trying to tell you at all.’

She stepped back to the edge of the rock and waved her hands angrily at a sky that appeared as blue as a robin’s egg.
‘Have to concentrate . . . have to concentrate . . .’ the young man heard her mutter, but he could not make out any of the other words she said. In the next moment the sky turned to ink and the two stood in complete darkness.

The woman approached him again, although now Thomas could see only a murky shadow of her while a sudden wind tore through her hair. She held her husband’s face in her hands until his cheeks pinched, and the young bridegroom almost cried out in pain. Before he could do so, Tristen placed a finger to his lips.

‘The point of my story, Thomas, is quite simple, now that we are wed. . .’
She leaned closer and locked her eyes with his.
‘Don’t fuck with me.’

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:Reviews:

Reviewed by Steven Pirie
Appeared on Whispers of Wickedness here

‘It’s alive! And it’s a monster!’ So says the Editorial.

I worried for Here and Now.  Blog and website rarely updated, desperate pleas by contributors and readers alike in forums as to ‘when…’ going unanswered, I really thought Here and Now was to join the ranks of Been and Gone.

And then here it is; alive, and a monster indeed, for it has to be said at £3.50 for 128 pages, 27 stories, two articles, one interview, and six cartoons, Here and Now provides wonderful value for money.  Of course, this is a double issue, so that’s not to say subsequent issues will be quite so generous.  It’s a nice touch, though, that the editor states that whilst it is a double issue to try and ‘catch up with the hideous backlog’, it counts as a single issue for those with subscriptions.  More magazine for your money, indeed.

Outside, its sized A4, perfect bound, with a glossy black-and-white cover. Inside, overall the layout is good.  The chosen font is easy on the eye and it doesn’t feel unduly cluttered.  It is let down a little in that the paragraph spacing is at times erratic, and that in some stories italics are realised while in others they remain as underlined text.  Also, there are places where the line-wrap carries a line over only to terminate it half way through what should be the next line.  It’s a shame, really, because attention to little details like this can mark a publication as professionally mastered.  Whether these glitches are due to the editor’s self confessed computer problems, the delays and the subsequent hurry to catch up, or are due to the printer’s errors I don’t know.  It’s not a major concern, but it will draw pedants like me out from a story.

Given that there are 27 stories, I won’t go into great detail about all of them here. I’d sense your eyes glazing over were I to do so.  Instead, I’ll make some general comments on some of them, while still hopefully giving you a taster of what to expect.

The standard of the fiction in this issue varies from excellent to somewhat ordinary.  Hardly surprising, I suppose, that when presented with 27 stories not all of them are going to resonate with the reader.  Several stories I found vague in their openings – a personal dislike of mine – and with such a full issue I felt it hard to resist the urge to skip those tales that didn’t grab me from the start. In a bumper harvest it’s easier to be less fussy when separating wheat from chaff.  But it’s an eclectic mix, and there’s certainly enough good stuff in Here and Now that I’ve no problem in recommending its purchase.

Take Burning Bush, by Jennifer Pelland, for example. Here’s a story that clearly doesn’t wallow in its own seriousness.  Nor is it likely to win favour with the General Synod. But any story that has the Pope on his knees listening to a whispering vagina whose pubic hair is awash with a miraculous blue flame is all right by me.  It’s daft, but it’s delicious, and it’s got some great one-liners.  Whether there’s a deliberate message in there about the hypocrisy of the church, or whether God is indeed a woman, I don’t know.  I was simply lost in the ludicrous nature of the tale.

In Guitar Heroes, by Simon Kewin, there’s a three piece rock band whose members save the world in their spare time.  It took me a while to get a feel for where this story was going, but once it took off I loved it.  It has a wonderful camp feel to it that made me think of the band The Darkness. I see them leaping from the stage, all hair extensions and spandex suits, off to do battle with demons.  Like Burning Bush, I get the feeling this is another tale that doesn’t necessarily take itself too seriously, although it is well written with nice imagery in places.

The Green Man by Paul McAvoy is a horror story that, in one place at least, managed to give me a shiver – something that’s so hard to do, especially these days where horror and reality often don’t seem that far removed from each other.  It was the bit where the hero first meets the monster down the dark alley, and the fact that the monster is small and fast and snarls and spits a lot plays very well with most folks’ fears.

And there are plenty of other highlights: The Mermaid’s Tears, by Steve Lockley, has a delicious twist to its ending; Blooming Britain, by Leila Eadie, is a tale of village rivalry gone mad; Rainmaker on the Run by Jetse de Vries is an interesting story well worth the read.  Better and Better, by John B. Rosenman, sees people who have sex with Merianne Roberts inherit savant-like abilities in a strange recompense because Merianne is ‘no good at it’.  Form a queue, chaps.  Roll your eyes, D.

Charlie the Quantum Computer by Sarah Dobbs is a futuristic tale in which the authoritarian state has so much control it now decides who will love whom.  It’s a nicely written tale, if a little bleak in that at the end the state is still deciding such things.  Rebellious romantic that I am, I wanted the protagonists to marry and be damned, not acquiesce and marry anyway.  But it’s a nice read, just the same.

A quick word or two about Gregory Cartwright’s Danger: Mages in Training cartoons… great fun, I think, and more of them wouldn’t go amiss! I think they’d make a good comic strip slotted in amongst the stories.

Overall, there’s much more I’d deem good than bad in Here and Now. Most, if not all, of the featured authors have publishing credits elsewhere. There’s something to be said for fresh and new talent, but there’s also the thought that if a magazine is attracting seasoned writers then it can’t be doing much wrong.  If your thoughts are of beaches and summer holiday reading, then why not think about purchasing Here and Now?  It’s a good read, and you’re getting two issues for the price of one. What more can you want?

 

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