Wednesday 31 October 2012

in the Times, and Other Spooky Stories

The extremely exciting news, for me anyway, is that I was published in the Times. The newspaper. Me. My story. In a national newspaper.

So, OK, I was a runner-up, and it was only a 50 word story, but there were over 1500 entries so I still think that's pretty impressive. You can see my entry, the winning entry and the runners-up here.

It wasn't the story I intended to write, I was going to go for scary, but it came out sad. I had such a good feeling about it though, I knew it was something a bit different and I'm so happy the judges obviously thought so too. It's been crunched a little to fit their formatting requirements, so here it is, as I originally wrote and submitted it:
-- --

Simon wrote on the misted window pane with his finger.

I miss you

Four weeks since Michelle had died. Four weeks since her last message.

A tear slid down his cheek as he watched the words fade. He huffed on the window to bring them back.

I miss you too

-- --
And since I said 'other spooky stories'...

For Halloween, my 101 Fiction today is a ghost story: Lily. "They say the pier is haunted..."

Here's a few more 101 word, dark and creepy horror stories from the 101F archives:
Disease, by C.B. Blanchard. "Hear her cough, a deep-down, unhealthy hacking."
Fullback, by Stephen Hewitt. "Alamo Jones tipped the gritty, grey dust over the gunnels."
Presence, by Erin Cole. "Malevolence looms."
Tattered, by John Xero. "He stands in my backyard, watching."
Reconciliation, by Lily Childs. "Years of scurrying around filthy alleys..."

Enjoy! Here's hoping your Halloween's a haunted and harrowing one... in a good way, of course... ;)

Mwa ha ha ha haaa...

Thursday 4 October 2012

Guest Fiction: Compensatory Behaviour

Most of my regular readers will already know Emma Newman. She's a great writer, she's recently been signed to Angry Robot (how exciting is that!?), and she's an extremely lovely person. So it's a real pleasure that I'm hosting a story of hers. It's the first of a two parter, so you'll have to track down the second part next week (and, believe me, you're going to want to...), or I'll add a link at the bottom, when I know where it is! ^_^

Over to Emma:

This is the thirty-first tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. This story is part of the build-up to the release of the first Split Worlds novel "Between Two Thorns" in March 2013. Every week a new story is released. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here where you can also sign up to receive each story free in your inbox every week (starting at the very first one).

Compensatory Behaviour

Derek had considered murder, sabotage and theft but none of them could be committed without someone finding out. He watched the CSI programmes; he knew what they could piece together from a bit of belly button fluff and CCTV. Going to Bernard's house was the most sensible option. He just wished he'd come to that conclusion earlier.

He opened the garden gate and winced at the hinge's squeal. It set off the dog which lived next door and its barks woke the baby across the street. Lights flicked on and windows shut as the need for fresh air in the summer night was superseded by the need for quiet.

Derek tapped on the door using the duck-shaped door knocker. His wife had brought it back for them from Cornwall years before. They'd argued in the gift shop, Derek knowing that Bernard would hate it. "But Maureen loves ducks!" Sue insisted.

She won the argument and Maureen did love it. "Don't ever tell anyone you like an animal," Bernard said to him over a pint. "The buggers won't stop buying them for you. The Mrs had ten bloody ducks last Christmas. We're running out of places to put them."

The light in the hallway was switched on and revealed the stylised duck in the small stained glass panel set into the front door. Poor Bernard.


Bernard was in his dressing gown and it made him feel guilty. "You were in bed. Sorry."

"It's nearly midnight. What's wrong? Come in, come in."

"I didn't know what else to do," Derek shuffled in and Bernard closed the front door as quietly as possible.

"Who is it?" Maureen called down.

"Only Derek," Bernard replied.

"Is everything all right?"

"Yes, yes, go back to sleep, love." Bernard looked at him. "Come through to the kitchen, I'll put the kettle on."

Derek scratched his stubble as he followed Bernard. Now he was there, talking to someone else, he realised he must look a mess. He hadn't changed his clothes for three days and he still wasn't sure he'd made the right choice. And leaving the house for this long surely wasn't-

"Tea?" Bernard looked at him more critically under the fluorescent kitchen light. "Or whisky?"

"Whisky," Derek nodded.

Bernard went to a cabinet in the living room, poured two generous measures and came back to sit at the kitchen table. He pushed one of the glasses across to Derek who sat heavily, all too aware of the ache in his right forefinger.

"Is it Sue?"

Derek shook his head. It had all started with her but she wasn't the reason he was there. He took a long gulp of the whisky and then a deep breath. "It's the show. The flower competition."

"What about it?"

"I need to win." Derek took another gulp and stared at the duck on a nearby tea-towel, unable to look his friend in the eye. "I'll give you a thousand pounds if you choose my roses."

"Blood and sand!" Bernard straightened. "Are you trying to bribe me?"

"Of course I bloody am! You're one of the judges aren't you? And you're my friend aren't you?"

"Well, yes, but that doesn't mean I'll accept a bribe."

Derek felt a sharp stab of pain in his chest. This was what he'd feared the most. "I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

"It's just a flower show for goodness sake, what on Earth are you so worked up about?"

Derek banged a fist on the table. "It's not just a bloody flower show!"

The next door neighbour's dog started barking again. Bernard stared at him until he looked back down at the whisky. "Derek, I know things have been hard lately. I couldn't believe it when I saw your name on the entrants list… is this… I think this is something you've thrown yourself into as a way to cope. Like me and my shed. I go down there, potter about when the Mrs is driving me up the wall, it's my space, my thing. And there are no bloody ducks. It's natural. But it's gone too far if this is what-"

"Are you going to help me or not?" Derek cut in. He didn't want amateur counselling, he wanted a guarantee he would win!

Bernard's lips became a thin line and he shook his head. Derek stood and swayed a little. He hadn't eaten all day and the whisky was doing its job well. "I'll be going then, and I'll remember this the next time you're in trouble."

"What kind of trouble could winning first prize in a flower show possibly get you out of? Is this some silly bet with someone at work?"

"No," Derek headed for the door. "I can't talk about it."

"I want to help," Bernard said as he followed him. "But I'm not going to compromise my principles."

"It's only a bloody flower show, you said it yourself!" Derek opened the front door and left without looking back. He had to get back to the garden and make sure no-one interfered with the flowers.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Bernard said. "Hopefully you'll come to your senses after the contest."

"Will you keep the bloody noise down!" A neighbour shouted from a bedroom window as Derek hurried away. He should have spent the evening finding out where the other entrants lived so he could kill their roses instead of depending on a man who didn't even have the guts to stand up to his wife.

Now all he could do was go back to his garden and his shotgun and wait until dawn.

to be continued...
Part two is now up here.

Thanks for hosting, John!

No problem, Em!

Friday 14 September 2012

A Confusion of Books

Books, it seems, are like taxis.

Or do I mean buses? You know, you wait for ages for the right one, and then three turn up at once. Buses, probably. You know where it's going, for the most part, but you don't know whether it's going to be a pleasant journey or not, whether the passengers are going to irritate you or amuse you, or how fast the author will be getting you from stop to stop...

I lost control of that simile a little...

I have a rather large pile of books to read. Make that piles. I think, maybe, approaching a hundred that I want to - and fully intend to - read. They're not in any kind of order, it pretty much depends on my mood when I finish whatever it is I'm currently reading.

But sometimes, something comes along that jumps straight out and makes me desperately want to read it, asap. It jumps straight to the front of the non-queue.

Most of the books I've read recently I've liked, but not loved (check out my goodreads feed). I know I'm a harsher critic than I used to be (yet fair, I think), but there are still books that really grab me, books that blow me away. And one of those books was Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief. I loved it, I think it may be my favourite book. Really, it had that big an impact on me. It was a joy to read as an SF fan, as a writer, and as a reader.

You can see where this is going. The Fractal Prince is the sequel to the Quantum Thief. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the finished book the other day. Yep, straight to the front of the queue it goes. That's what I'm reading as soon as I finish Man in the High Castle (which is really rather good).

What I was planning on doing was re-reading a bunch of old favourites (including the Quantum Thief), and seeing if they were still able to grab me like they did the first time round, to see if the harsher critic I've become still loves them. Books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Lord of Light.

I wanted to re-read the Quantum Thief before I read the second, but, I just can't wait. I have it and I've got to read it. And then I can re-read those favourites and blog about them, as I planned, right..? But... then I heard about a new Warren Ellis book, and I managed to get a reading copy. Warren Ellis is one of my favourite comic writers (next to Grant Morrison, don't ask me to choose). He wrote some of my favourite comics of all time... Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority, to name but a few. And he wrote a fantastic, very dark, very quirky little novel called Crooked Little Vein.

I am so looking forward to reading Gun Machine. But... oh... Fractal Prince comes first.

Ah, I said three turn up at once, didn't I?

Now imagine if one of your all-time favourite authors picked up one of the most interesting, charismatic and mischievous characters from a classic novel and ran with him... Think, Terry Pratchett writing Dicken's Artful Dodger, for example...

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Planning Ahead: an Introduction

I said I was going to post about different aspects of This is the New Plan or, more specifically, aspects of the process which resulted in the book.

One thing that I decided was important was that all of the additional material - the cover, the blurb, the introduction - should be treated as importantly as the fiction itself. Those are the bits that people see first, so I didn't want to come up with them at the last minute. Surely they should be written and revised and re-written as much as the stories themselves.

Handily the introduction also talks about why the book is called what it's called, what the title actually means to me. It doesn't mention that it actually started as a working title, which I intended to replace, but it just fitted what I was trying to do so well that I kept it.

So here's the introduction, which talks about the book, but also a little about me and a little about flash fiction. =)


Why is this the new plan?

Well, you have to have a plan.

The title stems from many things. On a personal level, my original plan for this anthology didn’t feel right for me. I had intended to use stories from a certain time period, give them a polish and present them. But I felt that some were a little weak, and did I want to include stories in my first anthology that I felt were weak?

Absolutely not. What kind of a first impression is that to make?

So I needed a new plan. And this is it.

I spread my net over a wider time period and I decided I would select thirty three stories. Thirty three stories I was happy with, thirty three stories I felt were strong and that I could be confident in presenting to the world.

And if you’re wondering why it should be thirty three... I like the feel of certain numbers, thirty three, a hundred and one, a year and a day; I like their shape, the way they feel in my brain. A flimsy reason, maybe, but I will be thirty three when this anthology goes on sale so it holds extra meaning for me.

I started writing as a teenager and I have always believed I would be published, without giving much thought exactly to the how. The world of publishing is changing. Electronic books are flourishing. Traditional publishing is mutating and physical books are waning, though, I truly hope, not failing.

The landscape stories inhabit is shifting. The old plans are no longer reliable.

They say that every tale has already been told, and yet a new story will still manage to surprise us, charm us, scare us. The trick is to find new ways, new wheres, new whens, to tell the old stories.

So the title is also a reflection of the stories themselves. My stories have an undeniable basis in traditional genre fiction, but I believe they do something different too. And flash fiction lets me throw new ideas around, it lets me experiment and play with genres, characters and preconceptions. Flash fiction is ideal for the easily distracted, attention hopping, ‘what’s next?’ iGeneration mentality.

The trick with flash is to let people fill in the gaps. To provide them with enough pieces that they can imagine the whole picture, and make those pieces shiny enough that they enjoy imagining the worlds and lives that spill out on either side.

People absorb so much fiction these days that their heads are full of templates and archetypes that just need fleshing out and twisting in some small way to create something new. I just need to point them in the right direction. Take the old and give it a new twist.

And I’m having fun! After all, if I don’t enjoy my writing why should anyone else? I try and capture that sense of discovery, wonder and surprise that I love in what I read, and I try to give that back. I hope I’ve succeeded.

So... flash fiction, genre mash-ups, excitement.

This is the New Plan.


And you can read a review of This is the New Plan over on post-apocalypse blog In Case of Survival. =)

Friday 20 July 2012

Flash Fiction: Shark Knight Rises

Apologies for the slightly rushed nature of today's flash, it's been a slightly mad couple of weeks. I had the first line for a week, but the rest only came in the past couple of days so I hope you'll excuse it for being a little rough around the edges... =)

Shark Knight Rises

The squidmen had Shadow City clutched tight in tentacles of terror. A yellowing crescent moon hung overhead like a scythe waiting to fall and the stars seemed muted, as if even they had turned their faces away from that damned place.

Josie peered into the darkness between dumpsters and heaped rubbish. She didn’t think anyone had followed her, but this was too good a find to risk being wrong. When she was satisfied that she was alone, she pulled back the loose sheet of corrugated metal and squeezed through into the warehouse.

It was her tenth birthday. Maybe. She thought it must be about now. The weather was right. Her older sister used to keep track of the days but the squids had taken Amy two years ago and Josie had been too busy staying alive to worry about such things.

She had discovered the warehouse a week ago, just intending to spend the night in the alleyway, hidden amongst the other detritus. Then she found the way in. The first night she had just slept behind the stacks of crates. The second night she had explored a little. Through a grubby upstairs window she had seen guard anemone shuffling about the yard in front of the building, but the main doors were as locked to them as they would be to intruders. She looked inside the boxes.

They were full of food. Tinned fish with little keys stuck to the side.

She had gorged herself, unable to stop. It tasted so good, better than anything she had experienced before. It was more than her stomach could take. She had barely made it back out into the alley in time to vomit in the bins.

The nights after that she had paced herself. She didn’t need to be greedy, just a tin or two should do, combined with the scraps she scavenged in the daytime. It would keep her a little stronger, strong enough to survive, she hoped. Besides, if she took too much, someone might notice.

She opened a new tin, the salty, iron-rich smell of the fish wafting into her face, when something clack-clacked behind her. She froze, rigid with fear. She knew that horrible noise, a squidman’s disapproving tut.

“Rell, rell, rell. Seems I’ve caught me a rittle rat.”

Josie shook, suddenly feeling clammy all over. Every street urchin became conditioned to fear that clipped sound of English through a hard beak. The sound of Squinglish.

“Turn around, rittle rat.”

She turned, slowly. Her knees wobbled and she felt dizzy, she felt nauseous and was glad she hadn’t already eaten some of the fish.

She had never seen one up so close, with its glistening white head tapering upwards to a conical point; its massive staring eyes; the twitching beard of tentacles rearing up aggressively to expose its hard beak. The body was more-or-less human, although it had the same rubbery white skin all over and in place of arms two powerful manipulator tentacles. It slapped at Josie with one of those, lacerating her cheek with hidden hook claws and knocking her to the floor. She cried out at the sudden hot pain.

“Move, rittle rat,” it gestured towards the front of the warehouse.

Josie’s breathing came in rapid, uneven huffs and her head span but she dared not disobey. She had heard the stories of angry squids tearing men apart. She struggled to her feet and staggered between crates, heedless of the splinters catching between her fingers as she pushed herself onwards, ever aware of the squidthing behind her. She could hear the impatient fluttering of its tentacles.

Then it went silent, and that was somehow worse.

She struggled into the open loading area and fell to her knees as two more squidmen turned to look at her. She couldn’t go any further.

“Rhere did you come from, pest?”

Josie wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, waiting for the squid behind her to make his claim.

“Rell? Rhat rere you doing?”

The two squid moved towards her. Their facial tentacles grew agitated and their beaks began to clack. She didn’t understand why the other squid hadn’t come out from behind her.

Then something landed with a heavy, wet thump on the concrete between her and the new squids. It quivered with the impact but moved no more. She found it hard to tell the squids apart, but to her reeling mind this looked like the one that had caught her. Red and black fluid leaked from the corpse and began to spread across the floor.

The two squids looked at their dead companion, then at her. Their beaks opened and a piercing, hissing screech issued forth. She was sure they were about to attack her when something rushed past and straight at them.

She could see grey hide, wicked teeth and rolling, wild eyes as something brutal laid into them. They tried to defend themselves, tried to fight back but it was futile and as one of them ran away the newcomer tore the other apart. He held the squidman in place with thick, finned arms and bit and bit and bit. Chunks of quivering flesh and blood and ink splattered the floor.

And when he was done he turned to Josie, who backed up on her hands and feet till she was pressed hard against a crate and had nowhere left to go. He gnashed his stained teeth and red foam frothed from his gills. He blinked and shook and slowly he seemed to calm.

“I will not harm you girl. Do not cower from me. Too long has this city cowered.”

“Wh-who are you?”

“Just a shark looking to bring Shadow City back into the light.”

There was a crash as the last squid pulled the door open and fled into the night.

“Aren’t you going to st-stop him?”

“No. He will be my messenger.”

She pointed at the dead squids. “And them?”

“They are the message.”

In other news...
Check out my first ever author interview over at In Case of Survival! ^_^

And, previous Shark Knight stories:
Sharks of Old London by John Xero
Shark Knight by John Xero
S.H.A.R.K. Knight by Jack K. Holt

Monday 9 July 2012

Xeroversary 2: the Afterparty

Two years.

I guess this is where most people say 'it seems like only yesterday...' To be honest, it feels longer than two years. I find that writing and producing a new story almost every week really slows time down, and not because I'm not having fun... I'm having so much fun... but because each new story breaks up the year, it marks each and every week as different, rather than just life ongoing.

The second Xeroversary is over, existing only for forever in that time travel wonder that is the internet. Go on, drift back a few days and join the party...

Marble, by Peter Newman. You think gods are born ancient? Pete shows us a petulant godchild and hints of a chilling fantasy world.

Sleeping for True Love, by Aidan Fritz. A science fiction techno thriller collides head on with an interstellar love story, with a cameo from Betelguesian gangsters.

Awakening, by Helen A. Howell. Dark misdeeds stir a fog-wreathed Stonehenge. Blood magic, malevolence and a crafty raven called Croaker.

Classified, by Jack Holt. Jack tapped his special clearances for an extraordinary (though censored) transcript detailing a suspenseful, unauthorised raid on a top secret research facility, and its shocking climax.

No Laughing Matter, by Steve Green. Steve delves into the darker side of his sense of humour with this tale of retribution gone awry.

Archived, by Larry Kollar. No matter how advanced tech gets, humans will still be human, with all their flaws and all their compassion. Two slices of sci fi wrapped in one.

The Song of Restoration, by Lily Childs. A dark myth, somehow both new and ancient; debauched, and yet wise; lyrical in places but brutal when needed. Master-crafted flash fiction.

In a Purple Sky, by R.S. Bohn. A boy, a gryphon and a fantastical tale of trepidation and wonder. The perfect ending to the Xeroversary.

Thanks to all my guests for their excellent flash fiction, for making it a most excellent party. And thanks to everyone who stopped by to read and comment.

It's been a significant year in many ways, seeing a redesign and repurposing of the Xeroverse and 101 Fiction. 101 Fiction is now open for submissions to anyone; contributor 101s have been posted every Friday since June 1st, with my own 101s still going up every Wednesday, and June was a great month for the site.

I've also just published my first collection of short and flash fiction, This is the New Plan. Currently available on Kindle (UK link). It's something I've worked very hard on and I'm really proud of the end result. I'll be talking about various different aspects in some upcoming blog posts.

Looking ahead, other than my weekly 101s, there will be less flash from me. I want to concentrate on longer projects. Short stories and, hopefully, some things that might one day come to resemble novels. Hopefully you'll forgive the reduction in flash, plenty of you have expressed a desire for me to write something novel-length. Let's see if I'm up to the job... ^_^

Sunday 8 July 2012

In a Purple Sky

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^


In a Purple Sky

by R.S. Bohn

Stars shone in a purple sky. To the west, night still reigned blue-black over the streak of pines. To the east, a growing gold-white. That was where the bus would come. Jake turned over stones with the toe of his sneaker and counted, again, the days until school was out: forty-seven. Behind him, the old farmhouse sagged in the shadow of the enormous oak beside it.

A bird tittered from the field across the street. I-do-believe-you. I-do-believe-you. He shifted the weight of his backpack and saw, across the deep, dew-flecked grass, a thing that made his breath catch.

He thought it was a cougar at first. Mrs. Brunnell swore that she'd seen one in her backyard, but Jake was quite sure no one had mentioned gold and white wings or a curving beak.

It was a gryphon. Standing at the edge of the field, looking up at the same flickering stars that Jake had been watching.

After a moment, the gryphon pawed the ground, shook its feathered head, and began a massive charge across the field. Its wings opened, it lifted its head, and with a lurch, it launched itself into the air.

It fell to the ground with a mighty thump that Jake felt in his Keds.

The bus turned down the road in a haze of dust, roaring towards him, and when Jake looked back, the gryphon was gone.
___ ___

By three o'clock, Jake had convinced himself that he had only seen a cougar. Stepping off the bus, his gaze swept the field, but there was no trace of a cat, little or big or mythical.

After dinner, he swayed in slow circles on the old tire swing, feet dragging through the dirt. Mosquitoes bit him, and still he stayed out, waiting for the inevitable call to come in.

When he went to bed, the cougar was not even that – it had been a dream, like summer camp. He pulled the covers over his shoulders and, sighing, drifted into sleep.

It was a low roar, as if he'd heard it underwater. Some time later, it came again. He jolted awake, eyes open wide in the dark, breath stopped. After a few minutes, he relaxed. It had been nothing.

The silhouette of the huge oak waved outside his room. Its branches shook, jaws snapping silently at the moon passing behind it.

The roar came again.

He got out of bed, padding softly down the hall past his mother's room. He tried to remember where the floorboards squeaked, tried not to make any noise. When he got to the front door, he turned the lock with exquisite slowness and stepped out onto the porch.

Moonlight shone down on the back of the pacing gryphon, the creature's wings shaking as it crossed the field. Jake crept through the yard in bare feet, wobbly with excitement, wanting to run across the street. Wanting to run back into the house.

The gryphon snarled and whipped around, hurtling across the night-damp grass. Jake gripped a fence post, stifling a shout to urge the creature on.

It shoved itself into the air with a powerful snap of its wings.

And tumbled to the ground in a heap.

It lay for a while in the grass, still and silent. Finally, it heaved itself up again, raising its head to the sky. The roar rumbled through him; Jake yelped and caught himself.

The beast twisted and looked at him.

When he had had all he could take of the gryphon's gaze—perhaps a minute, or five seconds—he galloped back to the house.

His mother, miraculously, slept on. He got back into bed, and with trembling hands, pulled the blankets up. All through the rest of that night, he listened. But he heard nothing more.

The next day was Saturday, and when he went outside to play, he discovered the tire swing on the ground, rope in a coil beside it. In the dirt around the oak tree were the prints of a lion. Carefully, he scuffed them all out with his sneakers.
___ ___

Bedtime was a lesson in casualness; he kissed his mother goodnight and got into bed, feigning sleepiness. His grandfather had come over to repair the tire swing; the new rope creaked on the branch. Every creak could've been a creature climbing the tree to his window.

Hours after the television was off and his mother had gone to bed, he slipped out and went to wait for the gryphon.

A shadow broke away from the others at the edge of the woods. The gryphon stalked onto the field. The moon was full, and it sat on golden haunches and stared up at it for a while. And then it stared at Jake.

It was large, so much larger than he thought. Jake came closer, and closer, until he could've reached out and touched the feathered head.

A yellow eye regarded him, and after a moment, it returned its attention to the moon.

It flinched when he touched its shoulder. His fingers passed over stiff white feathers onto thick fur. A wing shivered, and he laid his palm on it.

"Why can't you fly?" he whispered to it.

The gryphon turned and, laying its massive head against his, whispered back.

Jake closed his eyes, heart plummeting, falling away. The moon was at his feet and overhead, in a stone chamber that smelled of night and incense. Black water passed around him, and when he looked, the head of an eagle stared back at him.

The chamber turned to sand. He felt the sun and tasted young lamb in his mouth. A smoke-eyed princess stroked his cheek.

A thousand dark forests, a hundred seas.

The stars called him.

When Jake opened his eyes, the gryphon stood there. Ancient and glorious and tired, so very tired.

It left him to walk to the edge of the field.

When the gryphon began its charge, he ran alongside, until the huge beast outpaced him, opened its wings one last time—

And beat into the air, stroke by powerful stroke.

And didn't fall. Instead, it lifted itself above the trees, into the cool night air. Towards an unnamed constellation. Until it was a dark speck, and then nothing, and then only stars glittered in the purple sky.
___ ___

In the mirror, he stared at freckles stretched over his nose. Touched the bony precipice, the slight roman curve that had been straight yesterday.

He wasn't surprised, then, to find that the itch that drove him crazy under his t-shirt was his shoulder blades, and that upon each scrawny bone was a nub, small and hard.

Outside the tiny bathroom window, the oak tree murmured in the breeze, and the tire swing swung in the shade, moving in circles over well-worn dirt.


R.S. lives in the land of dinosaurs and giant Martian robots. Please visit her at Do Not Feed The Velociraptors.

Xero says: R.S. has such a casual way with myth, fantasy and science fiction that her work often seems like a smooth blend of all three, woven from threads of wonder and subtlety. It is always a great pleasure to read her writing.

Saturday 7 July 2012

The Song of Restoration

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^


The Song of Restoration

by Lily Childs

Lestros calls me sordid, and I have no intention of disappointing him. A snip here, a snatch – albeit a well-worked flaccid one – there, and I can provide everything he needs. It’s not all for him though, which saddens me for a second or two every day. He has business to attend to, clients to please – as do I, but mine are more discerning, more appreciative of the finer things in life – and death.

I arrange my layers for his pleasure; cotton upon skin upon hair upon thin, light silk that stinks of overworked Eastern worms. He stares at me and I smile, knowing he’ll never be mine – not really.

“Shall I send them in?” he asks afterwards. I nod, a twitch at my scarlet-painted mouth.

In the intervening moments I gather the hoard to my bosom. We suckle one another to give strength, the outcome inevitable. Lola La Larla cries every time and I can’t help but wet my face with her. She has never known otherwise, but she knows what is right, and this is so wrong. I wish I could offer her a way out but we are chosen from birth for this vocation. Our bodies make it so; give us no choice – unless we prefer to be stoned to death.

When did the times become so dark; our future so stark? What stopped our kind from being the blessed, revered ones of the tribe we once were? It isn’t the first time I’ve questioned this life of whoredom. I observe the girls and wonder if I have been speaking out loud.

“They hurt me,” Beguilah Santa whispers to us all. It is a simple statement but suddenly, it is enough. I stand and sigh, leap up high. Not accustomed to any demonstration of care from me the girls gaze lazily upwards to where I have landed atop a crumbling plinth. Their eyes belie the lack of expectation but when I raise my voice, whip a key from between my legs and hold it aloft - everything changes.

“No more!”

They sob as I cry the message again and again.

In the bruised shadows of the temple I see Lestros’s outline – he has heard everything. His head bows before the lithe body retreats and I wonder if he will follow through. We have half an hourglass left before they arrive. Only time will tell.

I run with the key. Her glorious temple is long gone, and I am blind to my destination. But I must find her.

I must speak with The Goddess.
___ ___

I never knew. One expects the Great Ones to rule, not serve. Yet here she is – a slave to men.

“It is written,” she says inside my head. “The Gods do not hold a quill or scrape on stone. We speak – and it is done. At least... it was – before man wrote down his rules to seal history with his own magic.”

Her feet have brought me here. I stare into the vortex; an unreachable chasm hidden behind a cascading veil of melted snow. It pulses with a green radiance, changing shape with the constant torrent until – as the moon rises behind me – the roar of water slows and it is as though I stare into the obsidian reflection of a stolen Phoenician mirror. I see her for the first time and gulp the shock into my gut. She looks like me; like Beguilah and Lola. She looks like all of us.

I gaze down at myself, long wide limbs and multiple egg-shaped breasts in symmetrical rows; all the better for feeding with. My belly hangs over my thighs – a burgeoning pillow of flesh – glistening with our tears.

I am she and she is me, the echo of one another, of us all. We are one. Her Artemisian tribe.

I silently thank Lestros for secretly teaching me – a woman – how to scribe, for I have a story that must be retold. In writing.

By the time my thoughts reach out to the Lady, she is gone. The gaping cave is empty, its entrance sealed. Even as I seek out parchment and pen, my head fills with her words – her truths. I cannot write fast enough.
___ ___

They gasp at the sight of me; I am exquisite – I know it. Butterfly wing-thin skirts, tattered and drifting in the breeze all around my corpse, my soul still alive enough to observe from above. The gossamer speaks with symbols and glyphs, woven between the careful inked incantations. Beneath my hanging body the freaks – for that is what the tribesmen call us when they are not ravaging our flesh – gather in unison. One by one, their voices join the song, spreading sinister harmony until every mouth twitches with hurt, every eye overflows.

Below us - men, normal women and children assemble. The awe on every face tells a tale – a revelation as the singing enters their hearts. What they hear is a rewriting of all they have ever known, and it is a different song for each one of them.

Mothers stand tall – they remember. Husbands...fathers, sons – they bow their heads, some in shame, others in reverence.

Lorla and Beguilah move behind me to raise my dead arms, and the written-dress falls away like sloughed skin into the crowd. Every skin touched by the sacred parchment burns bright with enlightenment – as do my naked remains.

The people fall silent as I bloat with the physical aftermath of death, and Artemis’s shifting penetration. The hemp rope from which I swing gives way instead of tightening around my throat, and I float... legs apart in eternal childbirth, swollen nubs of nourishment seeping, dripping onto crops, crones and some-time Christians to be shared, equally – by all.
___ ___

I wait behind the wall of water, in Artemis’s nest – bequeathed to me as guardian. The tribes will not come tomorrow, or next year, nor perhaps for many hundreds of years but when they do – and they will, for nothing remains unturned – I may no longer be able to speak their language. It will matter not.

I shall sing the Song of Restoration.

I shall know which dress to wear.


Lily is the author of the Magenta Shaman urban fantasy series and horror short story collection Cabaret of Dread. She blogs at The Feardom, is Horror Editor at award-winning e-zine Thrillers Killers ‘n’ Chillers and is a Spinetingler Award nominee (2011). Her dark fiction, twisted crime short stories and poetry appear in a number of anthologies and in various ezines.

Follow her on Twitter: @LilyChilds and Facebook: LilyChildsFeardom

Xero says: I owe a lot to Lily. Through her Friday Prediction, an informal flash competition, I honed my drabble-craft and met a great crowd of fellow writers. She is a mistress of modern horror, but more than that, her writing has depth and artistry, each sentence often a gem in itself.

Friday 6 July 2012


Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^



by Larry Kollar

I was laying on the beach when I got the news. It was a perfect day, as always: sun shining, temperature and wind just right, the hypnotic sound of endless surf. No better way to keep your mind off things.

Until the call came through. The screen unfurled in mid-air, a little off to the side so it wouldn’t block the sun. I was sure what it was about, and the expression on Doc Narayan’s face told me I was right. “I died, huh?”

He grimaced. But before he could answer, the screen split and Henry Portillo popped up.

“Six minutes ago, at 2:17 p.m., your body ceased vital functions,” said Narayan. “Your mind continues to function in virtual, obviously. Whether you’ve died is a matter of debate in some circles.”

“But not legally, just yet,” I said, nodding at Portillo. “What’s up, Henry? Kids already fighting over the will?”

Henry, our family attorney, snorted. “Just a couple things to tell you, Jay.” His smile fell off. “Kathy—”

“Terminated the marriage,” I said. “I know what she’s been up to.”


“I didn’t snoop, really. I was scanning for my cousin’s contact info, and ran across an unfamiliar number with a bunch of texts attached. I got curious, and kinda wish I hadn’t.”

“I’m really sorry, Jay. She only told me about it yesterday. You gonna be okay?”

“You can’t get too worked up about things here.” In virch, you don’t feel emotions like you do in realspace. Being told you’re dead, and finding out your wife is cheating before you’re even buried, is like hearing about it happening to a stranger. Besides, marriage is for the living. I was bummed, but that’s about all. “You said a couple things. What else?”

“Any changes to your burial wishes?” Doc Narayan sat up, paying attention.

“Nope. Just cremate me. I don’t guess any of my organs are worth harvesting. Doc?”

Narayan shook his head. “In that case, I’ll sign off. I’ll make time for you if you want any details.” He disappeared.

Henry looked awful. “Jay, I am so sorry.”

“I knew it was coming,” I reassured him. “If I thought I’d had a chance, I’d have waited it out in the archives.”

“Yeah. That’s the other thing. Are you going to stay in virch?”

“No,” I said. “Archives. I’m not interested in attending my funeral. Nor am I interested in knowing if Kathy marries her guy on the side, or anything else she has to say. Anyone else who wants to talk to me, I’m available.”

“A little harsh, but understandable.”

“I’m glad I hung on long enough to see my kids graduate in realspace. I’m always ready to talk to one or both of them.”

“Instructions have been entered,” said Henry, switching to legal mode. He rattled off the conditions. “You want a proviso about being contacted if they can get you back into realspace?”

“A robo? Sure.”

“Noted. Well, this is it, I guess. I wish things had worked out better for you.”

“Stay sharp, Henry. May you have long life and an early retirement.”
___  ___

Waking up from archives isn’t much different than from deep sleep. It takes a while before you’re really awake. I found myself in the easy chair I’d woken up in before, sitting in what looked like a well-furnished den. Across from me was a desk with a big screen perched on it. I stretched, more out of habit than necessity, and sat at the desk.

The screen told me: I’d been dead 92 years; the message from Kathy I’d never opened was still there; I’d been woken up for my kids’ weddings and their kids’ graduations, a total of seven times. I was awake now because J.F. Johns, a great-great-great granddaughter aged 11, wanted to talk to me.

I opened the connection. J.F. looked thin, thinner than healthy, and wore some kind of bonnet. Maybe it was just fashions changing. “Hey there,” I said.

“Hi. Can I ask you some stuff?”

“Sure. You need a little help with a history paper or something?”

Her lips quivered, but she forced a smile. “No. I— how old were you?”

“When I died? Forty-eight. Liver cancer.” And I realized why she was calling.

“Why did you decide to be archived?”

“Virch is… well, you’ll probably have to ask your parents, but I can show you around. It can be a fun place—you can have anything you want by thinking it—but by yourself? Not so much.”

“Virch. Is that what you called it?”

“Yeah. What’s it called now?”

“Uploadtopia. Yeah, my parents said I can come visit. I might have to stay. I…”

“I think I can guess. Well, come on over when you’re ready. We’ll go to the beach.”

“That sounds like fun.”

Maybe my archive days are over.


Larry Kollar lives in north Georgia, surrounded by kudzu, trees, and in-laws. His day job involves writing user manuals, some of which may have been fiction, but not by intent. He has had short fictional works published in the Hogglepot Journal and the Were-Traveler. His first novel, White Pickups, is scheduled to be published in July. For more of his strange fiction, and even stranger reality, visit

Xero says: Larry writes science fiction and fantasy laced with ideas and light humour. There's a humanity that shines through his work and really brings his characters to life.

Thursday 5 July 2012

No Laughing Matter

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^


No Laughing Matter

by Steve Green

Well, I tell you, I've dished out a few punishment beatings before but never in my life have I ever come across anyone as tough as Big Bernie.

Bernie was one of those guys just born to be a goon. He was massive, strong, totally loyal to his boss. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the box, in fact his thought processes and emotions were nearer to those of a child than an adult.

Jimmy had winched him up on the block and tackle while I held the gun on him. Bernie, naked, hanging by his wrists, started looking a little nervous as I put down the gun and picked up the baseball bat.

Jimmy walked past me and leant against the wall behind me, just a spectator now.

If I had wanted information from Bernie I would have been wasting my time, he would die before ratting on his boss. No, this was a pleasure trip for me, last week Bernie had kicked the living crap out of one of my guys, he would be out of commission for weeks, and now it was payback time.

I swung the bat straight into his shin bone, the resultant thud, and the shockwave along my arms gave me a warm glow of satisfaction.

Bernie burst into fits of hysterical giggling.

“Okay, let's see how funny you find this.”

I swung the bat again, harder. This time I heard the bone crack. The bat sank a good two inches into his leg, making sickening squelching sounds as I yanked it back out again.

Instead of screams, and pleas for mercy I was rewarded by further giggling, which increased in volume and intensity until it turned into outright laughter.

Now usually I keep my calm throughout these kind of situations, stay detached, it adds a little more menace to the punishment, but Bernie's laughter was getting to me, it was as though HE were the one punishing ME!

I put real anger behind the next swing, I think at least three of his ribs must have collapsed under the blow.

One of the bones must have gone through a lung. Blood sprayed from his mouth as he threw his head back and guffawed at the top of his voice.

“Right, that's it, you big stupid dummy.”

I set about him with a vengeance, raining blows hard and fast all over his body, all control gone now. I beat him harder and faster, a blur of mindless violence.

The sound of pulping muscle, cracking and splintering bone, dull thuds and liquid suction echoed off the walls, and rising above it all, sometimes drowning it out completely, Bernie's loud, uncontrollable, and almost continuous laughter.

I let the bat fall to the floor, I was drenched in sweat, exhausted, I just didn't have the strength to hit him any more. He had beaten me.

I picked up the gun and pointed it at his face. His grinning, laughing face.

His head and arms were the only parts of him left that you could call human. The rest of him was just a battered, smashed mess hanging above a large pool of blood, guts and bits of skin.

“I'm sorry Bernie, it should never have gone as far as this, I have to finish you off, there is no way that you can be fixed up again.”

Bernie just carried on laughing, and for the first time I noticed that he was looking over my shoulder, and when I think back, that is where he had been looking most of the time I had been hitting him.

I spun round to look at Jimmy, whose face seemed to be struggling to maintain a serious expression.

I turned back to face what was left of Bernie, who immediately started laughing again.

“Okay Bernie, you know I have to do this, but before I pull the trigger, just what the hell do you find so amusing?”

Bernie looked down at me with a twisted face as he fought to control the mirth running amok inside him.

“You know I don't like to rat on people, but it's all Jimmy's fault. He keeps pulling funny faces at you behind your back.”


Steve Green: An unpredictable muse inside an overactive imagination.
Check out his work on The Twisted Quill.

Xero says: I once called Steve an 'ideas machine' and I stand by that. I never know what I'm going to get, going over to the Quill, but I know I'm going to like it. From simple yet well-crafted concept explorations to deeper narratives, and all usually underslung by his slightly off-kilter humour (as you may have noticed above... ^_~ ).

Wednesday 4 July 2012


Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^

by Jack Holt

Office of ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬


▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬


TRANSCRIPT: Special Activities Division (SAD) Command Post Traffic – July 1st, 2012.

The following is a transcript of the command post radio traffic on July 1st, 2012, during an unsanctioned mission on U.S. soil. The document is classified above Top Secret. The name of the agent has been removed. The identity of the second man is still unknown. The transcript was intercepted and prepared by the United States National Security Agency.

Due to the nature of radio communications portions of the audio are unable to be accurately transcribed. The portions will be noted. The transcription is an accurate representation of events in accordance with federal regulation.

Time code referenced is from beginning of audio clip.

Sunday, July 1st, 2012, 00:17am EST:


SPECIAL AGENT ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬: You there, ▬▬?

UNIDENTIFIED: I'm here, ▬▬.

SA: ▬▬, ▬▬. Really?

U: Just in case. (pause) You never know.

SA: Whatever you say. You're the brains. (loud thump) Anyway, I'm in.

U: Good. Now, you should be in a long corridor.

SA: Let me just.. (clicking sound) Right. Sure long corridor, one room to my left, one on my right.

U: We don't need those. Keep going forward. (sound of keyboard typing) About 300 yards.

SA: 300 yards. Got it.

U: The rooms to either side were labs mainly, according to the blueprints here.

SA: Shouldn't we..?

U: Believe me, I want to. I can only imagine what lies on the other side of those doors.

SA: But..

U: But you haven't got a lot of time. And the target is priority.

SA: Sure.

(loud crackle)

U: Everything OK?

SA: What?

U: That sound.

SA: No sound this end, ▬▬.

U: Interference of some kind perhaps. I'll run a quick diagnostic. (pause) Keep going.

SA: This flashlight is useless. Still hard to see. (pause) It's so dark.

U: I told you, I can't-

SA: I know, I know. You can't remote start the generators as it would draw too much attention. I get it.

U: Remember, we have no ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ whatsoever.

SA: I get it.

U: If ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬. So be careful. Tread soft.

SA: ▬▬▬▬▬▬.

U: ▬▬▬▬▬▬ and ▬▬▬.

SA: Roger that.

U: GPS tells me you've almost reached 300 yards.

SA: 296, 297, 298..

U: Take the next left, then through the first door on your right.

SA: Left, then right. Got it.

(loud crackle)

U: There it is again.

SA: The noise?

U: Yes. Diagnostic showing a clear signal. You're not hearing it?

SA: All quiet here. ▬▬▬▬▬▬ maybe. You're getting spooked at your old age.

U: Just keep your eyes peeled. (pause) Remember where you are.

SA: Sure thing, Mum. (laugh)

U: Brilliant.

(creaking sound)

SA: OK. I'm at the stairs.

U: Go down.. (sound of keyboard typing) four levels.

SA: Four levels. Got it.

(heavy breathing)

U: You OK?

SA: Yeah (interference) It's hot down here.

U: Stay focused.

SA: (loud metal clang) Always. (pause) Level four.

U: Now, you should be in another corridor.

SA: I am.

U: Rooms on either side stretching down around.. (sound of keyboard typing) I make it 208 metres.

SA: Let me guess.

U: You want the room at the end.

SA: Course I do.

U: Can you (interference)

SA: Repeat.

U: Can you (interference)

SA: I'm not hearing you, ▬▬▬. Proceeding down corridor.

U: Damn static on the line again.

(loud bang)

U: What was that?

SA: Shhhh.

U: ▬▬▬?

SA: Something just moved down here.

U: Don't be paranoid. This place has been closed for years.

SA: Trust me, ▬▬▬. Something moved.

(shuffling sound)

U: ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬.

SA: (heavy breathing) ▬▬▬.

U: Situation report.

SA: It's too dark, I can't see. (pause) Damn flashlight is (interference)

U: Report.

SA: I'm here. Room 815, right?

U: 815, confirm.

(creaking sound)

SA: What the (interference)

U: ▬▬▬?

(scuffling sound)

U: ▬▬▬, what the hell's going on?

(loud scuffling sound)

(loud metal clang)

SA: Holy fuck. (heavy breathing) There's something in here with me.

U: Listen-

SA: Where the fuck have you sent me?

U: Just relax, remember your (interference)

SA: ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬.

U: Just fucking concentrate. Remember ▬▬▬▬▬▬, they won't ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬.

SA: Fuck all that. This thing, it ain't-

(unidentified groan)

SA: Wait, there's something-

(scuffling sound)

U: ▬▬▬?

SA: It's a ▬▬▬.

U: Shit. ▬▬▬, get outta there.

SA: Just wait a second.

U: ▬▬▬! Trust me, get (interference)

SA: Hey there ▬▬▬▬▬▬. What on earth are you-

(unidentified groan)

(scuffling sound)

SA: What the-



U: Get outta there!



U: ▬▬▬, report.

(heavy breathing)

U: ▬▬▬, report.

(heavy breathing)

At this point it is noted that the voice on Special Agent ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ comm has drastically changed. This office's analysts best describe it as that of a male child.

SA: Hello?

U: Who is this?

SA: Thank you for waking me.

U: I repeat, who is this?

SA: My name is Xero, what's yours?

U: Where is Agent ▬▬▬?

SA: I know not of Agent ▬▬▬. Who is this?


U: This is ▬▬▬ of the ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬ ▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬.

SA: Hello there, ▬▬▬ of the ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▬▬▬ ▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬.

U: What have you done with Agent ▬▬▬?

SA: I know nothing of this. (pause) Good bye ▬▬▬. Thank you for waking me.

U: Wait-


(line dead)


Sunday, July 1st, 2012, 01:01am EST

Special Agent ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ is still missing. The unidentified man is still wanted in connection to Special Agent ▬▬▬ ▬▬▬▬▬▬ disappearance.

The child known as Xero is still at large.


Jack writes short fiction from his zombie-proof bunker deep in the Somerset countryside. He loves John Xero. Also, shark movies.

Xero says: Jack is a good guy who likes bad movies... (and Jurassic Park). He's not afraid to experiment with his writing and comes up with some truly intriguing ideas. Also, co-conspirator on Shark Knight.
(look out for Shark Knight Rises, coming soon.)

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Awakening

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^


The Awakening

by Helen A. Howell

Fog draped around Stonehenge. Smoky tendrils reached up towards the pale moon in the midnight sky. She was grateful that it covered their presence like a blanket carelessly thrown to the ground. The Raven perched on her bony shoulder, and pecked relentlessly at the ebony strands of hair that fell about her face.

“Patience my pretty, it’s nearly time.”

The bird replied with a screeching caw.

“Shush Croaker, you’ll wake the dead.” Maroosa cackled at her own joke. She placed the casket containing Nadgar’s remains on the ground. “Time to rise and rule your world again. Croaker, go fetch me a living creature. We only have a limited time in which this will work. Be quick.”

The bird took off from her shoulder and soared upwards, an inky shadow drifting across a backdrop of black velvet. Maroosa busied herself gathering small rocks. When she had enough she placed them around, a circle within a circle. She pulled a small leather pouch from her robe and tried to unwrap the binding. Her gnarled fingers struggled to free the contents.

“Blast these hands.” She tore at the leather strings with her teeth; they cut deep into her bottom lip. “See what I suffer to bring you home my lord.”

Blood trickled down her chin as she spat the words out and gripped the ties once more. The knot gave; she unclenched her jaw and unravelled the knot with her shrivelled fingers. She tipped the mixture of herbs into the centre of the circle and cast her eyes skywards. The beat of her bird’s wings resounded above her head, and she narrowed her eyes as she watched it come in to land at her feet. Clasped between its beak was a field mouse, its cries falling on deaf ears.

Maroosa looked at Croaker and chuckled. “Clever bird,” she muttered.

She pulled two flints from the deep pocket concealed within her skirt, dropped to her knees and struck them together. After three attempts she got a spark that set the herbs ablaze. She rose to her feet and fetched the casket.

“Not long now Croaker.”

The bird stared directly at her, and its eyes glistened in the moonlight. The mouse continued to struggle in its beak. She lifted the lid, took a handful of the ashes and watched as they slipped through her fingers. For a moment she seemed lost, almost as if in a trance, then she turned and emptied them onto the flames. “Fire took you and so it shall return you. I exchange this life for yours.”

She grasped the mouse from the birds beak and tossed it into the flames. Raising her arms towards the moon she began to chant the words of the resurrection spell. The herbs burnt brightly, flames leapt and danced, becoming more frenzied in their appearance as her chants became more urgent.

Maroosa lowered her arms, her eyes remained fixed upon the flames that were now weaving in and out of each other and growing taller every second.

“It’s working Croaker, it’s working.” The bird replied with a ‘Craaack’ and flew back onto her shoulder.

“Soon he will be here.” She patted the soft feathers of her companion.

The flames twisted and twirled, Maroosa watched as the fiery figure of the Master took shape before her eyes. He stood ten feet tall in the centre of her circle with his back to her.

“Lord you have returned,” she dropped to her knees. The bird took flight. “I’ve waited so long for this moment. Come let me assist you out of the flames.” She got to her feet and reached out to him.

“You called me?” The deep voice resounded through the air.

“I have returned you so you can rule our world again.” Her hand remained outstretched towards him, and her heart thumped within her sunken chest.

“How much do you love me?” His words echoed around her.

“With my life my Lord. I have never stopped loving you.” She stared at his back, willing him to face her.

He turned; the strong features she remembered were still carved upon his face. He reached out from the flames and seized her hand.

“With your life.That’s fortunate,” he said, and pulled her into the fire as he stepped out.

Her screams cut through the air, high pitched and tortured as she remained trapped within the circle, the flames licking her flesh and burning it to a crisp.

Nadgar whistled and Croaker appeared from the shadows of the great stones that formed Stonehenge and settled on his shoulder.

“How I’ve missed you Croaker. You did well today. She was foolish think a mouse would be enough of an exchange.” He stroked the bird’s ink black feathers. “Come my pretty, we have a coven to rule.”


Helen is a fiction writer who writes in several genres which include fantasy, noir, horror and humour. She has written several short stories, flash fictions, poems and completed her first novel, a children’s fantasy fiction.  Her work has appeared in e-zines as well as in print. She is a member of Friday Flash Dot Org and is a regular participant in writing Friday Flash.

You can find her blog at and find her on Twitter @Helenscribbles

Xero says: Helen, as she says, dabbles in many genres and forms... on her blog you can find tiny fic, drabbles, flash and serial fiction, often (as you may have guessed from this flash) with a dark edge to it. She always has a friendly word to say, too. =)

Monday 2 July 2012

Sleeping for True Love

Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^


Sleeping for True Love

by Aidan Fritz

Salem sat across the desk from a smiley-face avatar protecting the anonymity of his colleague. The disguise wasn't necessary since Salem used a fake pre-recorded conversation and hid the true communication channel using stenography. Sure, it resulted in a brown tinge around the edges, and artifacts in the room, but security mattered more than the allure of virtuality.

"Got good news and bad," the smiley face said. "Good: Alhambra rests like sleeping beauty. Bad: the boss thinks we're cutting you slack."

"You must keep her for four hundred years." Three hundred and ninety seven to be exact. "I can't get there any faster."

"Time's not the problem. It's cash. We can unfreeze her and consider none of this happened. Of course, the money you've already paid, that's nonrefundable." The black dots of the yellow smiley-face appeared to narrow. "Or, you pay another three million credits."

Salem froze the feed. He pulled up his and Alhambra's bank records. His hands itched. Damn Betelgeuse crime lords. They'd done their research, the sum was within several thousand of their combined accounts. He swallowed, not liking his choice. Love won out.

"All right."

A proximity sensor tolled.

Salem yanked the emergency circuit on the virtual conference and blinked away the last of the virtual images. He moved to the sink in case someone had monitored the prerecorded conversation that he'd used to hide his channel. He washed his hands, noticing the travel-chip on the counter beside him. He slipped the chip under the food manufacturer.

The front door swished open. The energy panel dissipated, allowing a whiff of ammonia to invade Salem's living quarters. Government scrubbers weren't worth the fees they paid in taxes. The terraformers had never fully expunged the remnants of the planet's original atmosphere.

A man in a crumpled suit strode into the room as if he owned Salem's house. Behind him stood a Unipol officer, his uniform crisp, his cheeks pimpled. The officer was probably fresh out of cadet school. The other one would be a detective. Salem received a data squirt confirming his suspicions and announcing the detective's entrance warrant.

Salem triggered privacy alerts to the local Open Rights Group chapter. Notifications squirted rapid fire. But, it didn't work. ORGs lawyers ran into overlapping jurisdictions and layers upon layers of authorization within the warrants. The government had to be sure about this sting if they went to this much trouble. Salem figured he needed to relax, to avoid obvious displays of guilt.

Besides, how could love be wrong.

"Salem Hashi-Gucci?" Cops were creatures of habit. After ten millennium spent querying for a perp's name, they still asked on entry. The government databases would have already confirmed Salem's identity.

The fewer words Salem said, the more likely he'd remain free. At least long enough to board his rocket. "Purpose?"

"Just questions. A young woman, about your age, disappeared in the Betelgeuse colony. Virtual session records indicate you had contact with her frequently."

"That is a relief. I thought she was ignoring me." Salem picked a vase up off the counter needing something to keep his fingers busy to keep him from thinking about the lie.

"Do you know where she's gone?"

"How would I know? Her world's lifetimes away from here."

The Unipol officer's augmented glasses glittered with a red laser backscatter, while he scanned the windows, looking for impressions in the flexible membrane that might reveal Salem's previous conversations. Fortunately, Salem had used backscatter casters to disguise his conversations and render the membrane impossible to interpret.

"We think you're responsible," the detective said.

"Impossible. I live here. She lives in Betelgeuse. Four hundred years separate us. Did she disappear centuries ago?"

"Masterminds are accountable for the actions of their underlings."

The vase in Salem's hands fell through his grip and shattered on the floor. "I... I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think he does." The Unipol officer slid aside the food manufacturer to grab the travel-chip and turned around. "Spaceport entrance privileges, and access to rocket X3752, leaving tomorrow afternoon, with a flight plan for Betelgeuse."

"He'll never live that long," said the detective.

"I've done nothing wrong. Citizens can travel between the stars."

"You're not headed to a new colony," said the officer. "You're headed to a crime scene."

"But she's not dead," Salem protested.

"See," said the officer.

The detective nodded and waited for his partner to cuff Salem's wrists. "Sorry. We've got probable cause and the judge okayed your arrest. Your rights will be squirted into your data stream."

The detective sighed. "I'd stay quiet if I was you. You're right. Nothing against the law to migrate by colony ship. But, X3752 is filled with frost gear and corporations don't like you unnaturally lengthening your life. Consuming nothing. Worse, you didn't just risk your life, you risked hers as well. I hope you're happy."


Aidan Fritz lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay Area and works part of the time in Sweden. His writing captures the magic of varied perspectives through which different cultures view the world. When not writing, he can be found baking artisan breads, practicing his Swedish, playing the hammered dulcimer, or occasionally on stage as a Scottish Highland dancer. An avid sand-dune climber, he has the metabolism of a hummingbird. His first short story appears in the Gears & Levers anthology.

Xero says: Aidan combines a wild imagination with elements gleaned from events and advancing technology in our world, weaving them into colourful fantasy and science fiction. I can always be assured of something interesting and thought-provoking whenever I read his work.

Sunday 1 July 2012


Welcome to the Xeroversary! We're celebrating two years of the Xeroverse with guest fiction from some of my favourite flash fiction writers. Thanks for dropping by, come in, enjoy the fiction, say hello. =)

...and don't miss the afterparty! ^_^



by Peter Newman

“Your Highness, there is a gift for you.”

He immediately sat up, the fatigue of his morning session forgotten. He watched eagerly as his slave-mother entered the chamber, one hand conspicuous behind her back. As she walked the hundred humble steps to reach his presence, the great door, Heavens Portal, ghosted shut.

“What is it?”

She smiled and bowed, placing the black box on the viewing table. “A gift from Lord Mercy, your Highness.”

He wrinkled his nose, trying to put a face to one of his noble horde, but his thoughts were sluggish still.

“He sent this back from the ether only this morning with the good news.”

“It’s a bit small,” he said, floating closer to the box.

Her smile wavered as he came into view. “Indeed your Highness, but it is also vast. Would you like me to open it for you?”

He inclined his head a fraction and she took the precious glass orb from the box, placing it carefully on the viewing table, her fingernail resting on the top. It was flawless, the outer shell coloured a delicate blue that allowed glimpses of the miniature continents within. The artisans had even duplicated the mountain ranges, rivers and a few of the largest man made settlements.

“It’s a ball,” he said, unimpressed.

“Forgive me Highness, but it is a perfect replica of the planet Mirov, the latest addition to your realm.” She saw no interest in his face, and quickly added: “It is more of a tribute to the true gift – to remind you of the great wealth you own.” She revolved the tiny world, allowing its details to be viewed. He came closer, attracted by the light playing across its surface and she trembled a little. Gods! Had he really come from her womb just 8 years ago?

“It’s pretty.”

“Yes, Highness, does it please you?”

He nodded again drifting so close that he was almost touching the boundary. To her surprise he extended a tiny hand towards it. She was trapped; if she removed her finger the orb would fall from the table and if she did not then there was a danger that she could come into contact with his presence. She held herself perfectly still. The tips of his fingers penetrated the barrier and immediately the room cooled, the long diamond pyramids that dangled from her hair frosted and her blood began to retreat into the core of her body.

He touched the orb and, with an innocent laugh, spun it between the table and her finger, the land and oceans blurring into coloured lines. With a touch, he stopped it, his finger in the centre of a green expanse. “What’s this called?”

She peered over to see the spot he had picked, the feeling going from her nose and cheeks. “That is the Untamed Ocean, Highness.”

“I want it tamed!”

“It is just a name, Highness, and all the oceans of Mirov are already yours.”

“Why is it called untamed if it’s tamed already?”

She swallowed. “I do not know, Highness.”

“It will be called the ‘the Tamed Ocean’ from now on.”

“Your will be done,” she intoned.

He spun the little world again, slower this time, and watched carefully as the tiny features danced into view. “What’s this?”

“Those are the northern plains of Mirov, it is said that the rare Siren’s Flower grows there, and that they sing at night to attract prey.”

He brightened. “I want one.”

“Your will be done.”

Satisfied, he whirled the marble again, but this time he cried out as he stopped it, flying back into the dark recesses of the chamber. She swayed as his voice rang through the room, the echo growing louder, feeding on itself and buffeting her as she tried to collect her thoughts. What could have gone wrong? Then she felt the wrongness, realising with horror that he must have touched her in his panic. Bile swam restlessly within her as she looked at her hand, now whitish blue, her index finger totally frozen, a forked crack visible just above the nail.

“I hate it!” He had glided back to the Boundary, his baleful gaze upon her.

She knew she should respond but all of her words fled from his anger.

“What is that called?” he spat, pointing at the globe once more.

She looked, and saw for the first time how his finger had gone through the glass surface, leaving a jagged hole in its wake. She could see the Mirov's capital city beneath, the silver spires daubed in red where they had pricked him, and a sharp pain grew in her chest.

“What is THAT?” he screeched, the sound of his voice shaking through her teeth.

“Morivan, Highness.”

“It hurt me, tell Lord Mercy to destroy it.”

She reached desperately for something to say. “But, Highness, many thousands of your new subjects live there.”

“I hate them, I hate them all. Destroy them.” He noticed her hesitation. “Do it or I’ll hate you forever.”

“Your will be done.”

“Good, now get out!”

She bowed low and began the backwards steps to the portal entrance, thoughts racing through her mind. Her once-child was turning faster than his brother had and, despite the seed in her belly, she doubted the Order would give her a third chance.

Peter Newman: I write, I run, I work, I sometimes remember to smile.

Stories & blog here:
Banter here: @runpetewrite

Xero says: Pete has a great imagination and a natural flair for description. His recent serial the Vagrant was a fantastic blend of fantasy, dystopia and Lone Wolf and Son (check it out, while you still can). He's also a thoroughly lovely bloke. =)

Saturday 30 June 2012

It's here!

Just a mini update to say...

The anthology is out! ^_^

This is the New Plan is my first collection. The stories were selected from over a year's writing, all re-edited and polished to a standard that I am very proud of, a standard equal to anything you might find on the shelves at your local bookshop, I believe.

I plan on writing a few blog posts going into a little more detail... the story order, the cover, the introduction, and why it's only available (for now, at least) on Kindle, among other things. But this is just to say, "Yay! It's here!"

The blurb (or product description, as Amazon calls it):

This is the New Plan. Thirty three genre-blending works of fiction. Thirty one flash fictions book-ended by two short stories.

This is the way the world dies. The way it is born. The way it lives and breathes. Our world, other worlds. The past, the present, the never, the future.

Discover endings and beginnings; hope and damnation; angels and demons; stolen futures... Gods, cowboys, zombies, witches, sci-fi samurai, psychopaths, little red men from Mars, and more...

Let me take you on a journey, let me show you wonders.


Friday 29 June 2012

Flash Fiction: Ghost, Abandoned

Mercy presses her back to the solid oak of the balcony, the dust has settled and she can hear nothing moving in the church below. She squints in the sunlight slanting alternately bright then stained through the broken glass window in front of her, and waits. Her breathing slows.

There is a crunching, drawn-out squeak as someone pushes the heavy front door open, sweeping rubble and fallen masonry aside. It is a testament to the workmanship of ages past that the church is still standing after the pitched battle that just passed within its walls.

Mercy whispers to her pistol with her mind. Scorpion is an ancient weapon, from late in the first technological age. He has been with Mercy for years; she has kept him occupied and well-maintained and the Lords have never recalled him.

He whispers back to her. Two ogres have entered the church. He warns her that he has only two bullets left.

Her left hand disappears into thin air as she reaches between Realms for a weapon. She is hoping for something heavy... high calibre, high rate of fire, something in black. She gets nothing. She tries again. Not a new clip for Scorpion, not even a dagger, nothing comes to hand.

The Lords of the Armoury have withdrawn their patronage.

She looks down at Scorpion. He is more than a weapon to her, he is her partner. He was granted to her as she haunted the frontlines for an ascendant Britannia, but then came the Regiphage, the King Plague, to decimate their ranks, and soon after that, the Saxonite Betrayal. He is an Artefact; the technologies beneath his matt, black casing cannot be replicated by today’s engineering.

Scorpion weighs heavily in her hand. The Lords are neutral only in as much as they arm anyone who might one day win. Something must have happened, some other unforeseen blow that has made the Armoury utterly lose faith in Britannia.

She whispers inquisitively to Scorpion.

The Lords have requested his return. And he has refused their request. He adds that one of the ogres is at the foot of the stairs to the balcony. The other is moving to the back of the church, below them, to check the vestry.

Did no one tell them about haunted houses? You never split up.

There is no cover up here, just the wooden steps downwards and at the other end, a spiralling stone staircase leading up inside the bell tower. She holsters Scorpion and creeps softly across the floor, relieved as none of the floorboards creak. She hides against the wall and listens as his heavy steps cautiously approach.

He glances her way but she slides between realms and ghosts behind him. He is twice her height and much wider, and most of that bulk is muscle and steel-laced bone. They are vat grown things, ogres, warrior thugs. Not many people have taken one on at close range and survived, the modified build and bone left few weak spots, even without taking their armour and uncanny speed into account.

Mercy snatches a machete from his waist, phasing it through its sheath, and she jumps. She ghosts the blade again as she rises, shoving it through his head and letting it rematerialise inside his brain. Armour and a thickened skull are not so much of a problem when you can move things between Realms.

His swinging arm barely misses her and takes a chunk of stonework out of the wall. She rolls out of the way, back onto the balcony. The primary brain is down, but the secondary at the base of the ogre’s spine still drives him after her.

She dives, grabbing his trouser legs and ghosting. He falls through the floor with her but she is clear first and she leaves him stuck, the wooden floor piercing his stomach. She hangs from his twitching legs for a second, then drops safely to the ground.

The other ogre swivels to face her, pistol in hand. His revolver is almost artillery, probably too heavy for her to even lift, certainly too wild for her to ever fire; the recoil would break her wrists. There is a deep boom as he fires.

She shifts.

Stone disintegrates as the thick bullet punches straight through the ancient wall behind her.

He fires again and she flits between Realms, closing the distance, haunting right up to him.

Scorpion yells danger as the ogre drops the revolver and draws a knife. It is a phase blade, existing through several realms. She will not be able to shift herself out of its way.

She back flips, dodging as the ogre lunges for her. He grins, he knows where she is and she can’t ghost. He has taken her two main advantages away.

Scorpion whispers to her that this entire section of floor, the raised dais where an altar, lectern and priest might once have stood, is made of a single massive block of stone.

Mercy drops and puts a hand to the floor. It’s a lot of mass, but nothing she can’t handle.

The ogre looks surprised as his feet fall through and then angry as she brings the stone back, holding him in place by the ankles. She sees him contemplate throwing the knife, but that would remove his only defence against her.

This would be a lot easier if she could be sure of refreshing Scorpion’s ammo, but she must conserve. She backs towards the door, never turning away from the ogre’s malevolent stare or his wicked knife, relying on Scorpion to let her know if any new threats approach.

She walks out into a war torn city; its cracked towers are empty, its hollow streets are quiet. The gusting wind whips brick and concrete dust into brief spectres. She needs to get back to Britannia. She needs to get home.

And thus ends the second year of the Xeroverse.
Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. ^_^

Two years! Let's celebrate. =)
Starting this Sunday (July 1st) will be the second Xeroversary - a week a guest flash fiction from some of my favourite flash writers.

Check out last year's afterparty for a taste, and do pop by next week, it's an open party! ^_^

Friday 22 June 2012

Flash Fiction: The General

A stern voice was trying to make itself heard in the back of Tony’s mind. It began as observations and not-so-gentle urgings. Tony was familiar with the General’s intrusions.

All six waiters have earpieces.

Tony had to admit, they did all have earpieces. But was that so unusual? Weren’t waiters meant to be coordinated?

They don’t move like waiters. They move like soldiers.

Tony knew this one. His therapist had covered this one. Pure paranoia.

There, did you see that? A gun, holstered where the bulge won’t show.

That did look like a gun. No. No, a mobile phone, a radio, maybe.

Tony was there on the strictest condition that he behaved. The doctor had promised Tony’s sister and her new husband that he could behave himself, that he wouldn’t have another episode.

Tony had thought the General might consider the therapist an enemy, trying to purge his influence from Tony’s mind. But the General said that Doctor Sharman was merely misguided, and doing her job, or trying to, given that she lacked all the relevant information.

His sister was preparing to cut the cake. Tony positioned himself between the table and the trolley holding the plates, between the nearest waiter and the couple. His sister shot him a slightly troubled look, but he was behaving himself. He smiled back, reassuringly.

The General had suggested he stand there, and when the General was insistent he was hard to resist. Besides, it did no harm to give the general a little leeway. That was the route to normalcy, apparently; indulge the General on the little things and it would be easier to stand up to him on other things. Exercise judgement, and restraint.

Tony smashed a handy bottle of champagne over the nearby waiter’s head. A wave of pale yellow and seaweed-green shards burst across the waiter’s face. The sun picked out tiny glistening stars in the spray of expensive wine as the waiter slewed sideways into the trolley, heaving it over in a roaring avalanche of shattered crockery.

The waiter had been reaching for something beneath the trolley. The General had reacted. His reactions were considerably faster than Tony’s.

The General was there to protect Tony, since he had failed to protect Tony’s father and mother. Tony had barely survived that day himself; he had been jammed beneath the master bed, biting his tiny fist to keep from crying out. The bullets had made more noise punching into walls and furniture and flesh than they had leaving silenced muzzles.

His last memory of his father was a body being dragged across the floor, and a smear of dark blood that had been impossible to avoid as he staggered from the room hours later. The General had turned up in six year old Tony’s head a week after that.

Tony pushed his sister to the ground, snatching the knife from her hand as he did so. The General was fully in control now. He flung the knife. It flew the length of the room and buried itself up to the handle in the chest of another waiter.

He ducked to snatch up a couple of larger shards of plate from the ground, then dashed towards two waiters as they both reached into their jackets.

Reaching for their radios, Tony thought.

The General was silent. Tony leapt onto a table, landing on one foot and propelling himself at the waiters. As he slammed the white porcelain into their faces, Tony noticed his hands were bleeding. He landed on his feet.

The two waiters toppled backwards, writhing and screaming, clutching at their faces.

He barely paused before picking up a chair and throwing it across the room between cowering, wide-eyed guests. It hit another waiter, knocking him off balance. People scattered.

The waiter was getting back up, but not quickly enough. Tony led with a powerful kick he didn’t even know he had in him, crunching the man’s nose with the heel of his shoe and snapping the man’s head back fiercely. The waiter’s eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped to the floor, insensible.

Six of them, the General said, five down.

A gunshot rang out and pain flared as a sudden impact punched Tony in the right shoulder. The last of the waiters had a pistol levelled at him.

Now the other guests really started to panic, yelling and running for the exits.

Tony dived beneath a table as another shot sounded and a water jug behind him exploded. He crawled forward between the table legs, ignoring the pain, and scrambled beneath the next table. When he reached the other side he grabbed at the ankles in front of him, yanking hard and pulling the last waiter to the ground.

He jumped on top of the man, knocking the gun from his hand. Then he punched the waiter hard in the face, twice, and knelt on his arms, pinning him to the ground.

Tony gripped the man’s face hard and began squeezing.

“Why now?” The General demanded though Tony.

“Your father...” the man choked, “the project didn’t die with your father.”

Tony kept squeezing, “Explain yourself.”

“You... and your sister... modified. Not... his children, but... his prototypes.”

The man’s eyelids fluttered and his body went slack as he lost consciousness.

“What?” Tony said, suddenly in control of himself.

No one was supposed to know.

“To know what?” He started to shake.

I may not have told you everything. You are your father’s children, but you have been... altered. You are more than human, and some people aren’t ready for that.