Posts Tagged ‘free’

A little festive story I wrote for my two daughters. Enjoy!

It was the night before Christmas and all through the castle people were getting ready for the big day. Outside, snow was falling. The castle courtyard was full of wagons piled high with food for the coming feast. Oxen stood impatiently scratching the cobblestones with their hooves. They breathed out great clouds of steam into the freezing cold air.
Inside the castle, Princess Erin and Princess Carys were playing hide and seek. Both girls were dressed in their special Christmas nightgowns.
‘My turn to hide,’ Carys said.
Erin turned to face the wall and began to count.
‘One, two, three…’
Carys ran off down the corridor. The castle was full of passageways and rooms to hide in. Flickering torches lit her way as she padded down the corridors. Her bare feet made soft slapping sounds on the stone floor. Carys was thinking hard. The problem was that her sister knew all the best hiding places and could usually find her without too much trouble. Just once Carys wanted to beat Erin. She could still hear her counting from behind her.
‘Sixty seven, sixty eight, sixty nine…’
She ducked into an open doorway. The room was filled with large colourful tapestries that hung from ceiling to floor. Carys looked at them for a moment. She couldn’t remember being in this room before. She pulled one of the tapestries away from the wall and slipped behind it. The bare brickwork was cold on her back and she wriggled her shoulders trying to get comfortable. As she wriggled she pressed against one brick that was a little different to the others. She heard a clanking sound and the scrape of stone on stone as a secret door opened behind her. She fell backwards into darkness. Moments later the secret doorway closed again, sealing her behind the wall.
It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Once she realised what had happened, Carys was not afraid. The castle was ancient and riddled with tunnels and secret places put there when the castle was built way back in her great, great, great Grandfather’s time. She guessed that she had found a new passageway and smiled. If she could keep it a secret from Erin she was sure to win at hide and seek more often. She felt around for the switch to open the door again. Her small fingers traced the patterns of the brickwork. The stone was smooth beneath her fingertips. She pushed and prodded but couldn’t locate the switch. She heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room and froze.
‘Carys? Are you in here?’
Carys was torn. If she said nothing, Erin would go looking somewhere else and she would win the game. On the other hand, if she couldn’t find the switch she could be stuck behind the walls for a long time, maybe even forever!
‘Erin!’ she shouted.
‘Carys? Where are you?’
‘Over here. I found a secret passage.’
Erin walked over to the wall. She pulled the tapestry away and started pressing bricks. After a few tries she found the right one.
‘There you are. I can’t believe you found a hidden passageway all by yourself. We have to see where it goes.’ She stepped forward into the doorway.
‘No, Erin, wait…’
The door trundled closed again. Now there were two princesses behind the wall.
‘Oh no,’ Carys said.
Erin looked at her. ‘What’s the panic? All we need to do is find the switch that opens the door again.’
‘That’s what I was trying to tell you – I can’t find it!’
‘Oh,’ said Erin. She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
‘What are we going to do?’ Carys asked.
‘Well, the passage must lead somewhere – there’s bound to be another door along the way. We’ll just follow it and see where we end up.’ She took Carys’ hand.
‘Come on,’ she said.

An hour later the two princesses were hopelessly lost. The darkness made it almost impossible to figure out which direction they were going in and more than once Erin was convinced that they were going around in circles.
‘I don’t like this,’ Carys said. ‘What if we can’t ever get out?’
‘Don’t be silly Carys. Of course we’ll get out.’
However, after another hour, even Erin was starting to worry that her sister was right. She started to think about what might happen if they stayed stuck behind the walls forever. She imagined people years from now getting into the passages and finding their dust covered bones. She shivered and tried to push the picture out of her head. She felt her way around another corner and stopped.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘There’s a light on the floor ahead.’
‘Where do you think it’s coming from?’
‘I don’t know – let’s find out.’
The light was above Erin’s head. She tried to jump up and couldn’t quite reach.
‘Lift me up,’ Carys said.
Erin put out her hands for Carys to step on.
‘What can you see?’ she asked.
‘I think we’re behind one of the paintings in the great hall. I’m looking out through its eyes.’
‘Is there anyone there?’
‘I can’t see anyone – they must have all gone to bed. We have been gone a long time after all.’ She climbed back down.
‘Do you think anyone is looking for us?’
Erin shrugged.
‘Maybe, but everyone has been so busy running around getting ready for Christmas they might not even have noticed.’
‘If Mum and Dad were here they would have noticed,’ Carys said. ‘I miss them so much.’
‘I know,’ Erin said, patting Carys on the shoulder. ‘They will be back from our Uncle’s tomorrow and we’ll have figured out a way to get out of here by then.’
‘Do you promise?’
‘I promise.’ She pulled Carys close for a hug and stroked her hair until at last she fell asleep. Erin sat in the dark and listened to the soft sound of her sister’s snoring. She was starting to doze herself when she heard a new sound coming from through the wall.
‘Wake up,’ she whispered to Carys.
‘What is it?’
‘I don’t know – you need to get up and have a look.’ She held out her hands. Carys stepped up and let Erin lift her to the eye holes.
‘There’s something sticking out of the fireplace,’ Carys said. ‘I think it’s a boot.’
‘A boot?’ Erin said. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The kind you put on your feet silly.’ She peered again through the holes. ‘There’s another one. I think someone is climbing down the Chimney!’
Carys put her eyes against the back of the painting again. The boots were shiny and black and trimmed with white fur. Silver buckles glinted in the torchlight. Above the tops of the boots she could see deep red trousers starting to come out. To her amazement the legs seemed to bend and stretch at an impossible angle as a figure emerged from the fireplace.
‘It’s Father Christmas!’ Carys said, almost falling from Erin’s shoulders in her excitement.
The red robed figure froze.
‘Who said that?’ He looked around the room to see where the voice was coming from.
‘It’s Princess Erin and Princess Carys. We were playing hide and seek and got lost in a secret passage and now we can’t get out,’ Erin said.
Father Christmas chuckled to himself. ‘Deary me,’ he said. ‘Two little Princesses in a pretty pickle and no mistake.’ He put down his heavy sack by the side of the fire and walked over to the painting. Carys saw a tiny glimpse of all the toys hidden inside the sack before he pulled it closed.
‘Hmm,’ said Father Christmas stroking his thick white beard. He began rummaging in the pockets of his robe. ‘Now where did I put that thing?’ he said. ‘Ah, here it is,’ he said pulling out a black gloved hand.
‘What is it?’ Erin asked. It was very frustrating not being able to see.
‘It’s a key,’ Carys said. ‘But Father Christmas, there isn’t a door here. We looked and looked and couldn’t see one.’
Father Christmas smiled at the little Princess peeking at him.
‘This isn’t just any old key, young lady. This is a very special key. It was given to me by a Wizard a long time ago. I normally use it to get into places with no chimney.’
He waved the key at the painting.
Both girls felt a very curious sensation. To Carys it looked as if the painting had grown thinner, almost thin enough to see through. And then suddenly both girls were standing in the room blinking in the light.
‘Well now, there we are and don’t you look a sight? We had best get you both cleaned up before your mother sees you.’ He began searching his pockets again until he pulled out a large handkerchief. He dabbed at both the girls’ faces, wiping away the worst of the dirt. ‘There now, that’s a lot better. You look like little ladies again instead of two dirty chimney sweeps. Now we have a problem – I am seriously behind schedule in delivering my gifts after rescuing you. I’m going to need some help to get done and back to the North Pole before sunrise.’
‘We can help you, can’t we Carys?’ said Erin. Carys nodded.
‘That’s a wonderful idea.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘Let’s get to work right away. I will give you both some presents to deliver around the castle and that should get me back on track.’ He went over to his sack and began pulling out boxes and parcels. Before long, both girls were laden with gifts.
‘You will need to be quiet and quick,’ he said. ‘Here, you should take this as well.’ He pulled a small envelope from his pocket.
‘What’s that? Carys said.
‘It’s in case of emergencies.’ He opened up the envelope and showed the girls what was inside. ‘If anyone should see you, blow the magic dust in this envelope into their face. It will make them forget that they ever saw you.’ He handed the envelope to Erin. ‘Now off you go. I will meet you here again when you are done.’ He raised his hand, ‘Oh, and girls, one more thing before you go.’
‘What’s that?’ Erin said.
Father Christmas smiled. ‘No more secret passages – I don’t want to have to rescue you again.’
‘We promise,’ both girls said.

The two Princesses scampered out of the Great Hall with their armloads of presents. They ran all through the castle leaving gifts wherever they stopped. They left a toy drum and a puzzle for the Cook’s two little boys, gloves and scarves for the serving girls, toy soldiers for the Royal Falconer’s son and two dolls with pretty dresses for the Blacksmith’s daughter. By the time they returned to the great hall both girls felt like they had covered every inch of the castle.
‘Ah, there you are,’ Father Christmas said. ‘You’ve been a fine pair of helpers – I’d say you were right at the very top of my nice list for all the work you’ve done tonight. In fact, I think you both deserve an extra special treat.’
Erin and Carys looked at each other in amazement.
‘Take my hand,’ Father Christmas said. ‘I want to show you something.’
The princesses touched his hand. Moments later they were standing on the roof of the great hall beside a large wooden sleigh with eight graceful looking Reindeer attached.
‘Can we touch them?’ Erin asked.
‘You can do better than that,’ Father Christmas said. ‘They’re going to need a lot of energy to get me back to the North Pole so perhaps you and your sister can help me feed them.’ He reached inside the sleigh and brought out two sacks. ‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘Carrots and oats – just the thing to get them flying full speed ahead.’
Erin and Carys rushed over to take the food and started to hand it out to the hungry reindeer.
‘All done,’ Carys said as she handed Father Christmas her empty sack.
‘Well done,’ he said. ‘I’ll be home in no time at all now.’
‘You’re welcome,’ Erin said. ‘Do you have to go now?’
Father Christmas nodded. ‘Yes, but first I must make sure that two very sleepy princesses are tucked up safely in bed before I go.’
He stretched out his hands once more. The two princesses touched his gloves and found themselves transported to their bed chamber. Erin and Carys climbed into their bunk beds and pulled the covers up to their chins. Father Christmas turned and waved to them both.
‘Merry Christmas girls,’ he said.
And with that, he disappeared. Erin could feel her bed starting to get cosy and her eyelids started to droop. Just before she fell asleep she thought that she could hear the sound of sleigh bells jingling off in the distance.

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Once upon a time there was no Bill. In his place was Billy, a young lad who sometimes entertained the fantasy of being a writer one day.

In 1989, young Billy was sitting one of those English exams where they give you a booklet full of prompts and tell you to write something about one of them. He spied a newspaper headline which proclaimed, “Man to be freeze-dried” and the wheels in his mind started turning helped along by his regular intake of sci-fi stories from the local library.

Billy’s teacher read the story and insisted he put it into the school magazine. This was very nice of her and Billy was very chuffed as it was the first story he ever had published. Sadly, Billy’s copy of the story was lost in the great clear-out under the bed of ’95 and the story was thought to be lost forever.

Untill now…

Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook and old school chum told me he had visited the old school recently as it is scheduled to be demolished soon. On his visit he found an old pile of school magazines which had been collected together for vistors to browse. Knowing that I still entertain notions of being a writer he sent me a picture of the long lost story and suggested I ask the school if I could get a copy.

I took his advice yesteday an envelope arrived containing the words written by little Billy when he was only 14 and a nice letter from the Deputy Head Teacher.

So here it is: The Man To Be Freeze Dried. Presented in all it’s badly punctuated glory. Some readers out there may think that not much has changed …apart from being a bit clearer where commas, colons and semi-colons go now!

Now, if only I could get someone to track down my long lost Christmas massacre story…

cover concept version 2

After a bit of faffing around converting it to a Kindle Friendly format I am pleased to announce that this year’s Christmas story is here for you all to enjoy.

The plan has been to write a Christmas themed short story every year to give away to friends and family. Last year I put out Reindeer Dust which was my first foray into the world of electronic publishing. As usual I’ve opted for a non-traditional Christmas story – this time we have Elves and Zombies running amuck at the North Pole with typically gruesome consequences. Don’t worry though, it’s all a bit tongue in cheek – think more Shaun of the Dead than Walking Dead.

As usua, in keeping in the spirit of the season, I am giving it away for free. The story went live in the Kindle Store today but from tomorrow you will be able to download it for zilch. The promotion will last until Saturday the 22nd as I can only give it awy for a maximum of five days. If you don’t have a Kindle (and who knows, maybe Santa is bringing you one) you can always download the free Kindle Viewer app from Amazon which will allow you to still read it on your computer, ipad etc.

To keep you going until then I have also made all of my other e-books free from today until Friday.

Get them here:

Christmas Night of the Living Dead (UK)

Christmas Night of the Living Dead (USA)

Reindeer Dust (UK)

Reindeer Dust (USA)

When the Revolution Comes (UK)

When the Revolution Comes (USA)

Himself by the Seaside (UK)

Himself by the Seaside (USA)

If you like what you read, please, please, please leave a review telling people what you thought.

Updated: after contacting the University I have been given permission to include the picture prompt that I used to come up with my competition entry. Many thanks to Scott Byrne from the Special Collections Centre for allowing me to use the image.

from Robert Ker Porter's Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

from Robert Ker Porter’s Travelling sketched in Russia and Sweden during 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, published in 1813. Copyright, University of Aberdeen.

Earlier this month I spotted a sign advertising a flash fiction competition organised by Aberdeen University. The entries had to be based on one of four pictures taken from the University’s Special Collections Centre’s rare books and archives. Figuring there was nothing to lose I went home,  found the pictures (I chose number 2) and had bashed out a 500 word effort in a couple of days. I was quite pleased with it as I normally hate “writing to order” as so many competitions seem to insist upon these days. I also rather enjoyed the period feel of the story that developed which was a bit of departure from my usual style.

The winners were announced today and sadly I did not feature in the top slot or even get a special commendation. However, the story is published along with many others on the University’s website. There you will find the overall winner and links to all the other stories and, most important of all, the pictures which started it all.

I’ve included the story below for you.

The Pit

‘This way Sir,’ Drummond said as Porteous stepped out of the basket.

Porteous followed the younger man through the tunnel. The stifling heat of the jungle lay over a hundred feet above and the walls sweated and ran with constant moisture. A cool draft teased his exposed skin. There were no mosquitoes this far down either which he supposed was a blessing. He detested the bitter taste of the quinine pills the Professor insisted the men take daily.

‘How is the dig progressing?’

‘We seem to be back on schedule now.’ The locals Drummond had hired had strong backs and toiled night and day for their few pennies.

‘Just as well – London is becoming impatient. Several telegrams have arrived insisting that we make haste.’

‘Yes Sir I realise that but…’ Drummond hesitated.

‘Well? What is it? Out with it man.’

‘With all due respect Sir, I don’t think they appreciate our difficulties. The locals say this place is haunted.  It took a lot of persuading to get them to overcome their reluctance to dig here.’

‘Stuff and nonsense lad,’ Porteous snorted. ‘Let me tell you, I have travelled far and wide and I’ve yet to encounter anything that can’t be seen off with a taste of cold steel.’

‘If you say so Sir.’

The tunnel broadened out into a wider cavern. Porteous could hear the scrape of shovels from up ahead.

‘Are you sure the map is correct?’

‘Positive Sir. It took us a while to translate all the information on it but this is the place all right.’

The map had passed through several sets of hands before coming into the possession of Porteous’ employer. It purported to show an ancient burial site hidden deep in the jungle where untold riches were said to lie.  Porteous had been hired to lead the expedition – a task which he had gladly accepted. Civilian life was far too mundane for his tastes although the heat made his old wounds throb.

There was a sudden clamour of voices raised in agitation. One of the workers, his face streaked with dirt ran up to the two men jabbering excitedly.

‘He says they’ve found something,’ Drummond translated once he got the man to calm down.

The diggers stood at the edge of the shallow pit as if unsure what to do next, a few shifted from foot to foot nervously. A stone casket lay at the bottom of the hole. Porteous could see the intricate carvings decorating its surface even through the dirt.

‘Out of my way,’ Porteous said, shoving them aside. He grabbed a pick from one of the men and jumped into the hole. He grunted as he hefted it over his head and brought it down to strike the stone.

A flash of light burst from the shattered casket, consuming all of the men. It burst through the tunnels and shot up to the surface. When it subsided the excavation had been erased and only the sounds of the living jungle remained.

Flashmaster!

Bit of a plug today. Brendan Gisby, publisher of the McStorytellers site has accepted three of my short flash pieces to showcase. McStorytellers is the place to find quality examples of short fiction from writers with a Scottish connection and well worth a visit if you enjoy dipping your toes outside the bestseller lists and celebrity autobiographies. Click on the link above to go to the site.

Enjoy!