London Rain

LondonRain

(Su-May [CC / Flickr])

Jim was lost.

That’s a problem with London suburbs: there’s so much of them that no matter how well you think you know your way around, it only takes one wrong turn and you stumble into one of the gaps in your knowledge.

Jim stared around him, looking for something familiar and wondering how he got here. He backtracked, hoping it would take him back to the familiar street he’d been on a few minutes ago.

Five minutes later, he was still lost. He must have turned right when he thought he’d turned left. Or left when he thought he’d turned right.

It had to happen on the day he’d forgotten to charge his phone, and when he’d finally persuaded Millie from the office to meet him for a drink. He quelled a vision of her sitting in the pub they’d agreed, checking her watch every half minute until she left in disgust.

He walked straight ahead. If he kept going in a straight line, he’d come to something he recognised soon enough.

At least it wasn’t raining.

He regretted the thought immediately, because it started to rain. He quickened his pace as the first drops darkened his jacket. Millie wouldn’t be impressed if he turned up looking half-drowned as well as late.

The first drops turned into a deluge, closing his view of the street ahead to the next couple of hundred metres. He pulled his jacket up around his head and ran, splashing through puddles forming beneath his feet. Rain ran into his eyes, blurring the view of even the small bubble of London the rain allowed him to see.

A red circle with a blue bar swam into view in front of him.

An Undergound station.

Sanctuary.

There were three tube stations within a couple of minutes’ walk from where Millie would be waiting, and all he needed to get there was a wave of his oyster card. Better than a magic carpet.

The ticket hall was deserted. The tiles gleamed as if no one had walked on them since their last polish. The wet footprints he left on them made him feel he was trespassing, but the gates swung open readily enough.

The escalators shone like the tiles and they weren’t moving, so he walked down. He stepped off into a corridor that branched right and left to the platforms. It was the same layout he’d seen in more stations than he could count, but there had always been a schematic on the wall he was now facing, which would tell him which line he was on and where the trains went from either side. Instead, he faced pristine cream tiles with no sign of having had a hole drilled into them to support the sign.

Perhaps he’d blundered into a brand new station that wasn’t yet in use.

Before the thought took hold, a rumble of sliding doors made him look to his right. A train stood at the platform, which was strange as he hadn’t heard it come in while he’d been descending to the platform level.

Without knowing which line he was on, a train was better than an empty platform. If it was going the wrong way, he could change at the next station.

He boarded a carriage in which someone was sitting in every seat but no one was standing between them. He looked around to see that all the men were wearing dinner jackets and all the women were wearing ballgowns. He must have jumped into the middle of an outing to the opera or a wedding party. Or something.

Every head turned toward him.

He was suddenly very aware of the rain dripping from his jacket and the mud splashed up his trousers.

Every mouth split into a grin.

Jim tried to smile back. If they were going to laugh at him, he could be a sport about it.

As one, every passenger leapt to their feet.

Jim was looking in the opposite direction to the first handclap so he didn’t know who started it, but then every passenger was beating their hands together, filling the carriage with a thunder of applause so loud it almost drowned the sound of the rumble of sliding doors behind him.

He whirled around and dashed for them, but they closed before he could leave.

He wondered if Millie would still be waiting for him, but she’d probably given up and gone home already.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 14: The Dark

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13


Coldwater CottageThe flashlight went out.

That was odd; he’d charged the battery and the bulb was fairly new. There was no need to panic, there was a light on his buoyancy jacket. Not as powerful as the flashlight, but it would give him enough light to get out of here. There was no need to panic. The fingers of his left hand closed, and Ian knew he had dropped the box. His right hand found the large switch on the spare light, which had been thoughtfully designed so Ian could find it in the dark while wearing gloves. He felt the switch click. Nothing. He jerked the switch back and forth but the light was dead. He felt the check of the regulator as his breathing threatened to accelerate out of control.

Calm down, he told himself. Think. There should be a faint light from the window, but Ian’s eyes were still too used to the flashlight to make it out. Not that he could get through the window with the tank on his back. That left the door he had so carefully closed, which was behind him and to his right. Or was it to his left? If he could find the wall behind him, he could grope for the handle. He flicked a fin. His co-ordination betrayed him and his shoulder bumped the wall — or was it the floor or ceiling? — against his shoulder. He was disorientated, and now he’d have to search the whole room. He angled the backlit face of his dive computer toward his air gauge. It gave him just enough light to see the needle. Seventy bars wasn’t much to get out of this room, get out of the house and ascend twenty meters slowly enough to avoid the bends, but it was possible if he kept his breathing under control and didn’t panic.

The dive computer went out.

“Can’t you take a hint?”

Ian froze and pressed his hand to the ache in his head. The voice had sounded as though it came from inside his skull, as if he’d spoken himself.

Next week: The Past


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

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Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

Tell it to the Birds

TellItToTheBirds

(DJ Cockburn [CC / Flickr])

Do you think a man who talks to a bird is bonkers?

You cock your head on one side, so I know you’re listening. But what are you thinking?

Don’t answer that.

Not that you can, being a robin. That’s rather the point. Last time I needed to tell a secret, I told a magpie. Not that I was looking for a magpie in particular; he just happened to be there.

I’d been carrying the secret for so long that I felt I’d burst if I didn’t tell someone, but you can’t tell someone a secret, can you? That’s the point of the secret. When that magpie landed on the tree I was sitting under, it looked like the perfect solution. If I told him the secret, I’d let it out and keep it at the same time.

How was I supposed to know magpies can talk?

Next thing I know, he was flapping around the park, squawking, “Ray loves Carla, Ray loves Carla.” Some of the local kids thought it was hilarious. They took to chanting “Ray loves Carla” in magpie voices all the way to school. Yesterday, I saw it graffitied on a bus stop.

So that’s not the secret I need to tell you. It’s no secret anymore, thanks to that snitching magpie.

You see, my feathered friend, it didn’t end there. It was embarrassing enough when Carla heard about it, but then that husband of hers managed to find out. Stan, his name is. Big bloke. Not too bright.

He cornered me on this very bench and demanded to know why that magpie was going around telling everyone I’m in love with his missus. Most mortifying conversation I’ve ever had. It’s not as if I was going to run off with her, was it? I hadn’t even told her. It was my secret until that magpie told everyone about it.

You understand that, don’t you Cock Robin? I’m not some homebreaker. I’m just a man who fell for the wrong woman. Not that Birdbrain Stan could grasp that.

No, don’t go, I apologise. Calling Stan a birdbrain would insult the dullest bird, let alone your fine self. My deepest apologies. Please stay…thank you, you’re very gracious.

Stan had got it into his thick head that a talking bird must be some sort of divine warning. He said he might not have thought much of it if he’d heard it in the pub, but when he heard it from a bird…let’s just say it was all I could do to talk him out of punching me. He’s a nasty sort. Nowhere near good enough for Carla. Not that anyone is, least of all me.

Stan said his piece and lumbered off, dragging his knuckles on the ground. He thought he’d made his point, but then he doesn’t know me very well. I might not be able to persuade Carla she’s wasting herself on a Neanderthal, but I know Stan’s weakness and all I needed to take my revenge was a basket full of Tesco chicken.

You may have seen Stan wandering around looking like he’s lost his shadow and shouting, ‘Fluffy!’ Serves him right for giving her such a stupid name. His cat is perfectly comfortable, sleeping off all that chicken on my sofa…

Whither flutter thee, Sir Redbreast? Did I say something you didn’t like the sound of?

Posted in Uncategorized

Caresaway Discount on Kindle

CaresawayThe Kindle edition of Caresaway is down to 99c this week, or whatever Amazon decides that is in your local currency. If you’d like to read a novelette about what happens when a psychopath reaches a position of great power, it’s the read for you. I promise you that it’s fiction – at least, as far as I know.

Grab it here!

If you like it, or even if you don’t, I’ll always appreciate a review on its Amazon page, on Goodreads and / or anywhere else you’d like to post it.

Many thanks to Melanie Nelson at Annorlunda Books for publishing it and pushing it out there.

Preview

Author notes

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Posted in Publishing news

Coldwater Cottage – 13: The Box

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Coldwater CottageThe tools of Dad’s obsession were strewn across the floor. A compass, a gas stove, a few shotgun cartridges. All that was left of a lifelong quest to become a man he could never have been. The beam caught the etched sides of a silver box that did not belong in Dad’s macho dream. Ian flinched when he saw he hadn’t been mistaken. It was a jewellery box. He shoved the handle of the flashlight into his buoyancy jacket and picked it up. He turned it around, and the glare of the flashlight faded from a glass cover over a miniature photograph. He hadn’t seen that face since he was six years old, but his mother’s smile stabbed through him like a knife. His eyes stung as he searched for a memory of her smiling like that. It didn’t come. Her smiles had been rare and fearful, smuggled beneath the radar of Dad’s disapproval of everything from coddled children, to living in Didcot and working in a department store.

Dad must have brought the box with him after she died in the car crash. All that time he’d forbidden him and Jack to mention her, and Ian had thought Dad had erased every trace of her from his life. He had thought Mum’s death had been a dream come true for Dad, as he’d been able to buy Coldwater Cottage cheaply and play at self-sufficiency between trips to buy booze. Yet what was this box if not proof that he’d never escaped from the memory of her? Proof that he had loved her even if he’d never known how to show it? Ian’s eyes stung, and not from sea salt. Dad, you bastard!

The catch on the box was tiny and it took Ian several attempts to get it open. There wasn’t much inside. A pair of pearl ear-rings, a gold necklace, and pinned to the velvet under the lid, a silver brooch in the shape of a Celtic cross.

Next week: The Dark


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

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Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

Loose Tie

LooseTie

(Craig Allen [CC / Flickr])

I remember his loose tie.

His words washed over me, around me, through me while I focused on that tie. The knot had slipped down, revealing the top button of his shirt.

I couldn’t listen to what he was saying. It was as though someone had slapped a filter over my ears that only allowed a few words through. Words like prognosis, advanced and untreatable.

In all the years I’d known him, I’d never seen his tie loose. His shirt was ironed as immaculately as ever. His dark blue blazer fit his back, which was as straight as it ever had been.

I think the word ineluctable slipped into my ears. I don’t know what that means. Perhaps it was something else. Inelegant perhaps. Not incurable. It couldn’t be that.

That exposed top button would mean nothing to someone who didn’t know him. Some men’s ties sink gradually through the day. It’s part of who they are. Not him. In his case, showing a top button amounted to indecent exposure. I half expected a community support officer to march in and order him to cover it up.

Another word that sounded like weeks. I think he’d mentioned a few of them, no more.

Or maybe I misheard.

I didn’t matter. His top button said it all.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 12: The Crab

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


Coldwater CottageHe heard a click as something chitinous hit his mask. Pointed legs scratched his cheeks where the hood didn’t cover them. He recognised the swimming crab as much by its aggression as by its shape, but it was the first one that had attached itself to his face. They went for the flashlight. Every time.

He fumbled for the crab’s body and tried to feel the shape of it through his gloves. He tugged and the legs left his cheeks. His regulator shifted in his mouth as he pulled. He pushed it back into place with his left hand. The crab must have got hold of the air hose between his tank and regulator. He clenched his teeth and pulled hard. The crab didn’t move.

He felt laughter simmering inside him, ready to boil up and overwhelm him. It was absurd to have a crab stuck to his face. It wasn’t strong enough to cut through the hose, but he couldn’t search the room while he was wrestling it.

Ian settled on his knees and took the regulator out of his mouth. The crab gripped the air hose with both pincers. Ian twisted the regulator around and pressed the purge button. A deluge of air bubbles sent the crab flying off the hose, all ten limbs flapping wildly. Ian replaced his regulator as the crab recovered and lunged back at his face. He caught it and flung it outside the room, then braced a hand against the wall and pulled the door closed. Ian passed a hand over his still throbbing head. What was making the wildlife so aggressive? First the wrasse and now the crab.

He was shut in Dad’s room. Sharper, colder feet than the crab’s scuttled up his spine at the thought.

He was procrastinating again. Ninety bars, twenty-four minutes. A pair of combat trousers floated in front of him, as though on an invisible hanger. He panned the light around the thick walls that were pierced only by a small window, designed to allow in a little light without making a larger gap than necessary in the insulation of the walls. Columns of bubbles glinted silver as the air he’d exhaled in the living room below filtered through the floor. Ian looked up to see the bubble of air he’d already exhaled spreading across the ceiling like a glass tomb for the mattress and a few cans that still held a little air.

Next week: The Box


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

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Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

The Forever Lock

TheForeverLock

(Karl Baron [CC / Flickr])

Charles closed the padlock on the railing.

“Definitive proof that love is forever,” he said.

“I like that.” Hannah took his hand. “Tell me how it proves that.”

“Well, it’s a lock with our names on it.”

“Then you should have put a heart on it as well,” said Hannah.

“A heart? Well… it doesn’t need a heart. It’s got our names, and now it’s locked to a bridge, which symbolises joining. It joins two banks of a river, like the joining between us.”

Hannah crouched. “This one’s got a heart.”

She fingered her way through the padlocks on the railings. “And this one. And, look, this one’s got an arrow through the heart. It’s so cute.”

“They did it wrong,” said Charles. “Simple is good. All it needs is a lock and our names.”

“You should write a poem about it,” said Hannah. “About us.”

Charles frowned. “A poem. Right. Not sure poetry’s really my thing.”

“But you have to,” said Hannah. “Love is all about poetry.”

“It is? I’m not sure…well, first we need to throw the key into the river. That way, our lock will be forever locked to the bridge, and we’ll be symbolically joined.”

“Forever!” Hannah frowned. “But what if there’s another key? I don’t like the idea that someone else could unlock us. And what if someone picks the lock? We could break up because of a hairpin.”

“You can’t pick this lock with a hairpin,” said Charles. “It’s got five pin-tumblers. You need a proper picklock, and who’s going to bother with that just to get a lock off a bridge?”

“So we will be together then.”

“Yeah. Symbolically.”

“And you will write a poem.”

“Uh…I’m not…well, what we’re doing is a poem, isn’t it,” said Charles. “A practical poem. Five pin-tumblers is like five verses to a poem.”

“Oh, I like that,” said Hannah.

“Yes, I thought you would.”

“But you still have to write the poem. It’s important.”

Charles’s frown returned. “How important?”

“Very,” said Hannah. “Now let’s get off this bridge. It’s starting to rain.”

She tugged his hand.

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Charles.

He put the key in his hand, took her hand and held the key over the railing. They let go and watched the key fall away.

“Isn’t that better than a poem?” asked Charles.

“No,” said Hannah. “I’m happy we did it, but it won’t be finished without a poem.”

Charles said nothing as they walked toward the north bank, hand in hand.

“What’s that man doing?” asked Hannah.

Charles wiped the raindrops off his glasses. He put them back to see a man wearing a high-vis jacket, carrying a pair of bolt-cutters. The man snapped a padlock off the railings and tossed it into a cart that looked like a cross between a dustbin and a wheelbarrow.

“What are you doing?” asked Hannah.

“What’s it look like?” The man’s voice sounded strained as drove the jaws of the bolt cutters through another padlock.

“You can’t do that! These locks are love, and love is forever,” said Hannah. “Charles, say something!”

“I…uh…” said Charles.

The lock fell on to the pavement. The man tossed it into his cart and straightened up.

“Nothing’s forever, love. Now I’ve got a job to do. Haven’t you got your own business to mind?”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Coldwater Cottage – 11: The Bedroom

Previous instalments: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Coldwater CottageThere had been two camp beds and nothing else in there when he left. Now there was just a single bare frame on Jack’s side of the room and a space where his bed had been. Dad probably threw it out in fury when he found him gone. He remembered a night when he did have to sleep on his belly. Jack had burned the dinner, and Ian had deflected Dad’s anger by saying he had broken a fishing rod. Jack had crawled into his bed and they kept each other awake while Dad drank in the living room, waiting for the bang of his bedroom door and the snores that would announce that he’d passed out, so Ian could slip down to the garage and actually break a fishing rod. Nine-year-old Jack ran her fingers over the welts on his back, and Ian felt the warmth of her tears on his shoulder. “I’ll always protect you from him,” he had said. At thirteen, he’d believed he meant it. Now he felt the void that eleven years of broken promise had opened in him.

A hundred bars. Twenty-two minutes. Ian was procrastinating, putting off entering Dad’s bedroom. A new thought crossed his mind. Could Dad still be in there? The cliff had collapsed at night, so he had probably been in bed. He could well be behind that door, under a herd of crabs jostling each other for the last morsels of flesh. Ian had been so convinced he wouldn’t find the house that he had not even thought about finding Dad’s body. It was about the only thing he hadn’t got round to being afraid of since he got down here.

If Dad’s body was in there, it couldn’t be helped. He had to search that room. And whatever happened, he wasn’t going to panic. He turned the handle and opened the door.

Ian had a brief impression of a camp bed frame on its side, clothes floating in the flashlight beam and the mattress trapped against the ceiling by its own buoyancy. A silhouette of flailing limbs and armoured claws lunged at his face.

Next week: The Crab


The full story is available from the Amazon Kindle store, and is part of the Steel in the Morning collection which is available in Kindle or paperback format.

Coldwater Cottage was originally published in Lamplight 1:2 and subsequently in the Lamplight Volume 1 annual.

Author notes

Goodreads

Cover by Manda Benson

Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online

Steel in the Morning

Newgate Jig

The Endocrine Tyranny

Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo

Foreclosure

Cassandra’s Cargo

Mars One

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Posted in Coldwater Cottage, Uncategorized

Foot in Mouth Disease

FootInMouthDisease

(Craig Sunter [CC / Flickr])

Let me introduce you to Ivy. She’s one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Never says no to anything.

Oh yes, she could speak for herself but, not to put too fine a point on it, it may be better all round if she doesn’t. I want you to like her and – don’t get me wrong here, she’s really a lovely person – but that will be more likely if I do the talking.

Terrible case of foot-in-mouth disease, haven’t you, Ivy?

Only the other day, I took her to a wedding and she’d told them how only an uneducated buffoon would want Britain to remain in the European Union. She has a way with words, does Ivy. Brains as well as kindness. Unfortunately, it didn’t go down too well in a wedding between a Polish groom and a Scottish bride.

We left before the best man’s speech.

We’re working on it, aren’t we, Ivy? Stay off politics, we decided after that.

And she’s been keeping to it. We went to the pub yesterday, and Ivy didn’t mention politics for the whole two hours. She did spend ten minutes telling someone how believing in God was a form of schizophrenia before she noticed his dog collar.

Understanding fellows, vicars.

Tell you what, why don’t I get you a drink, and a lemonade for Ivy. Yes, she does drink wine. Quite the connoisseur, in fact. But those cases I mentioned…that was before she started on the booze.

I think I’ll get a stiff drink myself. I think I’m going to need it.

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