Sunday, 31 March 2013

Secret door challenge

This week’s challenge from ChuckWendig is the Secret door challenge.
I saw this on tumblr and it is so neat. Google maps without the boring bits. Click on it and go somewhere. First time I got the centre of the coliseum in Rome, and then a bar in Ireland. I even got underwater on the Great Barrier Reef. My friend got the South Pole.
So I click it for today’s challenge and get a birch plantation in France. Hmmm. Wander around a little and start writing.
995 words.
I have no title, I am hopeless at making up titles. [Image from googlemaps.] I forgot to take a screen shot of the place I landed... silly me.

She closed her eyes; too terrified to look. The thought of seeing images flash by her made her nauseous.
When she opened them, she was standing in a forest of tall slender trees with grey bark. Birches? The air was foggy and it looked cool, almost cold. The leafless trees formed perfect straight lines. A plantation not a forest.
She turned and looked around. A road. She walked. The survival suit was troublesome but it allowed her to breathe and she didn’t get cold. It had a disguise capability. She could copy and mimic the persona of someone she met. Problem was she hadn’t met anyone, yet. It also had a translator and a communicator, but other than that, she was on her own. Her first assignment.
Ah, a sealed road with signs of life; a refuse bin and a streetlight. It was then she found the warning sign. Le-conseil-general de tarn-Garonne. French, the translator said.
She found a tiny, narrow bridge but couldn’t work out how to make the suit cross it and resigned herself to more walking. Perhaps the suit was trying to tell her not to go that way? She walked, dodging the water-filled potholes in the hedge-lined road. The crops became more agricultural. Hops, the suit said, for beer. She saw a traffic sign that had arrows mostly pointed to the left so she went that way. She wondered how much time they had allocated her and if getting lost was a complete defense.
An epic fail, more like, if she couldn’t work out how to navigate.
Perhaps she was supposed to learn the suit capabilities while she was wandering about? Could she jump? Leap? She jumped in place and got the sickening sensation of landing too slowly. Well, that worked, but she wasn’t sure that she liked it.
She passed a couple of larger houses with locked security gates. If it was the correct address, she would know. Another sign. Saint-Nicolas-de-la-Grave in the French Pyrenees, population 2166.
Nervously, she checked the details for the hundredth time. This was the place.
Now all she needed to do was find her target, Joel Alsace.
Why didn’t they just send her straight here? Save her walking? Surely they could just transport her right into the room with him?
She shouldn’t think about it. He wasn’t a person, he was just a target. She idly wondered what he had done to deserve this. Not that it mattered to her. She wasn’t the judge or jury; just the executioner.
A ping. A reminder that her time was running out. She still hadn’t seen another person to mimic. Maybe she could copy a background? No. That would never work. Someone would be sure to notice if the wallpaper attacked them. The suit ought to have fall back standard people.
“Load standard female image,” she told the suit as she stared at her gloved hand. It became bare, with pale flesh and long, slim fingers. Phew. So that worked.
The sun was rising and noises from the nearby farms told her better than a ping, that she was running out of time. The whole village was caught on the edge of waking.

She stood in front of the old house. The shutters had faded; white paint peeling to expose the wood. They were all closed. A glance confirmed open shutters on other houses. This guy was careful. Did he know she was coming? He should, if he had done something wrong. There was no escape from them.
She walked around the corner and found the entrance. Her hand pushed against the door and it opened. Did the suit pick the lock? Or did he open it for her?
She trod silently through the house.
He was waiting for her in the main room. It was dark with all the shutters still closed but she saw him easily with her suit-enhanced vision. He stood; straight and tall with his hand resting on the back of a plain wooden chair.
“So it’s today?” he asked.
She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. She should have just eliminated him immediately, but she didn’t do that, either.
And she didn’t know why.
He moved suddenly; flipped the chair up in one hand and pushed it against her until she hit the wall behind her. Held at chair’s length she panicked and forgot that she had weapons. Her arms were pinioned under the chair rungs.
He leant his weight against the chair and reached up and flicked her visor open.
She almost panicked; thinking she wouldn’t be able to breathe, but her lungs took a great gulp of the house air. It tasted of old books and dried leaves with a hint of wood smoke from the open fire.
“Christ! You’re so young!” he said.
“How did you know what to do?” she asked before the obvious thought hit her. “You used to do this!” she accused.
“Yes.” He waved at her. “Standard female.”
“You knew I was coming.”
“Not you, particularly, but someone. They always choose just before dawn.”
He hadn’t failed at this, like her. “You were good at it.”
He nodded. He looked amused.
“I’m an epic fail,” she said.
“I was very good.”
“So why do they want you dead?”
“They don’t say.”
“No. Too good?”
She still hadn’t killed him and more importantly, he hadn’t killed her. The only weapon he had was a chair.
“You can’t go back,” he said.
“They know where I am.”
“Guess we’re moving then.”
He studied her. “You aren’t going to kill me.”
He dropped the chair and held out his hand. “Joel.”
She took it. “Marianne.”
“Suit off,” he ordered. “I’ll destroy it.”
He passed her a blanket.
She huddled in an armchair and watched it burn. She hoped he was good; both their lives depended on it, now. But she was determined to learn more.
And to live.
© AM Gray 2013

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?

Lola half challenged me to write the story using the remaining five words...  and you know I love a challenge. 
The title is from one of my favourite Billy Bragg songs “New England” - ‘I saw two shooting stars last night/ I wished on them, but they were only satellites/ is it wrong to wish on space hardware?... I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.
984 words
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
The risk to human life or property was very small, the TV said as twenty-six pieces of satellite broke into space junk and entered the atmosphere. They had debris trackers but couldn’t warn people until twenty-five minutes before it hit. So much for advanced technology. They could put it up there but couldn’t get it back down.
It was a freak accident. Everyone said that. As if by saying how rare it was would make his daughter less dead?
He was an undertaker. He dealt with death every day but even his brilliant skills of facial reconstruction were defeated. A useless lump of space flotsam that had fallen inexorably to earth after its batteries had gone flat and it had served the fleetingly short term of its unnatural life.
Space junk.
At least rubbish at sea washed gently ashore, it didn’t fall on ten year old girls waiting at the bus stop.
Was it flotsam or jetsam? He could never remember the difference. And he was annoyed that he was even thinking about it. It was just junk.
She was what was important.
He wouldn’t allow interviews no matter how long they hung outside his home shoving cameras and microphones in his face. Someone had given them a shot of her in her school uniform but they stopped showing it after a while; it was just too tragic to see her bright smile and her pig tails held high and tight with the dolphin clips.
He insisted on preparing her body himself. He was determined that not a single part of the foreign object would go to her grave with her, even if he had to chisel the molten metal from her bones. He was hammering away when he heard the news bulletin on the TV. He had put on her favourite soap opera for her, the one set at the beach resort in Australia but they interrupted with a breaking news report.
The news anchor breathlessly relayed that there had been another victim of the satellite crash, a dolphin at the water park. It had survived. This allowed them to be happy about the news. Some good news at last. They had the human interest angle now.
He stared at the screen.
A dolphin?
How odd. She had been reading a book on dolphins and had been listening to them ‘talk’ on her iPod. That was why she hadn’t noticed the meteor shower. She was obsessed with them.
He wrote the trainer’s name on the back of an envelope.
His wife had died years ago and he stood alone at the funeral. For some reason he kept the chisel and the envelope in his pocket. He kept touching them gently during the service.
Afterwards he found it hard to continue his work. Touching other bodies felt wrong. Disloyal. He shut the funeral home, packed a small bag and took a train to the coast.
They had been to the waterpark before, of course they had. Every single school holiday if he could take the time. He wished they had come more often, but death didn’t wait. He knew that. He had always felt honoured to help others into the next world, now he wasn’t so sure that it existed; not if freak accidents happened to innocent girls.
He asked at the office if he could speak to the trainer. They explained that she was very busy today. He explained who he was.
“Oh,” said the lady at the counter. “I’ll call her for you.”
He waited nervously, clutching the envelope and wondering what he was doing there.
She looked tired; more tired than she had on the news. “He’s not well,” she said.
She took him to the pool.
He knew what a healthy dolphin looked like and this one swam listlessly.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
“Cha-cha.” She shrugged. “It’s not very dignified, but they have a naming competition and the park owners chose that.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s ten. That’s quite old for a captive dolphin. They live much longer in the wild.”
“Ten.” It was just too coincidental. “My daughter was ten.”
“I noticed that.”
“That seems… significant.”
He came back the next day. He brought her lunch. He didn’t think she was looking after herself. They talked. She was the first person he had talked to about himself in years. They felt joined by the tragedy.
He couldn’t remember who suggested it, that Cha-cha would probably be happier in the wild.
They exchanged a weighted look.
It took a couple of days to organise. He rented a horse trailer. She had keys to the enclosure. “It’ll cost me my job,” she said.
He just nodded.
The dolphins trusted her and they seemed to know what they were doing. They were silent. The chisel propped the gate open. The dolphin had lost weight but still weighed 150 kilograms. He threw himself onto a rubber sheet when she asked him to. They dragged him onto a flat trolley and then rolled it up ramps into the trailer. Buckets of water poured over him kept his skin wet.
They reversed the procedure at the beach. A couple of surfers helped. It had taken much longer than they planned and the sun was rising by the time they got Cha-cha into the water. He ate some fish out of their hands and then he swam away. He wasn’t listless now.
It made the news.
They stood in the press conference and held hands and just said that it seemed like the right thing to do.
The park didn’t press charges, the public loved them. Cha-cha probably would have died. They kept in touch with the surfers. They said they saw him occasionally.
They sold the funeral home and moved to another coastal town. If anyone ever asked how they met, they just smiled and said it was in very unusual circumstances.
© AM Gray 2013

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The library

This week’s challenge from Chuck Wendig. TEN WORDS WILL GIVE YOU FIVE
I’m going to a random word generator. *does that*
There. It has chosen ten random words.
Those ten words are: 
“You will choose five of those words. (My choices are italicised.)
You will include those five aspects — not just as words but as actual components of the story — in your 1000-word flash fiction this week. 
Pick words. Write story. Go.”
My effort is 761 words
For James Herbert who died on March 20th 2013.
The library.
She loved the public library. She remembered the supreme joy she felt when she got her very own library card. She had read the entire children’s section twice. She came there to study after school every single day. She didn’t really have room at home. She remembered how grown up she felt when she worked out how to use the self-service machine so that that the librarian couldn’t see she was borrowing adult books. She still came there every week as an adult. The library had changed a little. Now there were computers to use, movies to borrow and audio books to listen to. But it was still her adventure playground, her safe place in bad times and her very favourite place to be.
So why wouldn’t it let her leave?
Today, she had zapped her books at the bar code reader, popped them in her book bag and walked purposefully towards the only exit, when BAM! She was back in among the shelves. She tried it a second time with the same result. She was on replay.
She tried again. This time she ended up in Biographies.
There was only one exit because it had a magnetic gate to make sure that no one stole any books. A loud alarm sounded if someone tried it.
She attempted to sneak up on the exit but that didn’t work either. Large print section. Ugh. She wouldn’t need to be in this section for a long time yet. It was being rude, now.
She glanced out the window. There was clearly a nasty storm approaching and she had hoped to be home before it hit. The clouds looked green. She had wasted fifteen minutes trying to leave and she was likely to miss her bus. It was an odd thought. She had never wanted  to leave the library before.
She watched others to see if they had the same experience and they were allowed to leave unimpeded. She tried again. Gardening section. She stared at a book spine labelled ‘the joy of cacti. Yeah, right. It was painful.
If she didn’t look directly at the exit, she could see a kind of grey shadow over it. She worked hard at not-looking and she saw out of the corner of her eye, that there was a cube blocking the exit. It was grey and transparent and it only worked on her. It was ethereal; not really there.
She stood in front of the not there ethereal cube and told it severely, “I need to leave. I have washing on the line and I will miss my bus.”
No response, other than some very weird looks from the other library patrons.
She stepped forward; sure that having asked permission, she’d be okay.
Non-fiction, etiquette guide.
Right. She got it. She hadn’t really asked, she had just said  she wanted to leave.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “That was rude.”
This time she stood meekly in front of it, bowed her head and said, “If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to leave.”
Non-fiction; weather forecasting.
“Oh, I see. It’s the storm.”
“Why?” she asked, just as she stepped into it again.
Fiction. Horror.
“Ooh. Okay. I think I understand. There will be a death… maybe mine?”
She approached the cube a final time. “I think I understand. You let me know when it’s safe to leave.”
This time she turned her back and walked away. From the corner of her eyes the grey cube seemed to get a pinkish tinge as if it was pleased with itself.
She settled down in a comfortable armchair and started to read one of the books she had borrowed.
She was immersed in a world of dragons and swords and had lost track of the time when the librarian rushed over to her. “Oh, thank goodness, you are still here. I thought you were on that bus.”
“What happened?” she asked, although she suspected that she already knew.
“A huge tree… it fell on the bus… it’s awful… everyone is dead. The radio said it looks like a scene from a James Herbert novel.”
“How lucky that you stayed.”
“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?”
“I just finished my shift if you’d like a lift home?”
She glanced from the kindly librarian’s face to the windows. It was still raining. “Yes, please.”
“I’ll be five minutes. Meet you at the exit.”
She stood, packed away her book and walked to the exit.
“Thank you. I love you, too,” she told the library. “And I will see you tomorrow.”
© AM Gray 2013

Saturday, 23 March 2013

One million hits

I have been spending the last day or so hitting the refresh button on my browser and watching with joy as ‘Best Friends share Everything’ moved towards a huge milestone.
One million hits on

I seriously cannot get my head around it.
You can read it on Or at JBNP and see the banners, but you need to be a member.
Or the banners are loaded in my photobucket account.
They passed three quarters of a million in mid-October and have kept ticking over steadily since then. I don’t know what magic formula I managed to hit but most of the reviews say something like: they liked it more than they thought they would, or that they have never read threesomes, or they don’t usually read wolf stories, or they don’t usually like Bella or Quil and that this story changed their mind … it’s quite amusing.
And I have no idea what I did to get that result. But I am pleased and proud that I made people change their minds; that I wrote characters that they care about and I’m overjoyed that they love my story enough to tell me.
It has won awards for the most erotic story, the best love scene, best slash (male/male sex) and for comedy as well. My personal favourite award title is the JBNP one for ‘the Wolfish Grin Award - SLASH/BDSM - Kinkiest fuckery of all wolf types 2012.’ That made my real life friends laugh a lot.
It started off as a sexy one-shot idea and they just wouldn’t let me go. So, then it turned into a much more complex story. Being a polyamorous story there are issues with social acceptance and reactions from friends and family, as well as problems with past lovers and how their relationship affects others in their lives and, of course, the supernatural. Sex usually has consequences in my stories; I suppose that’s one of my themes.
I have a list of people to thank: every single reader (whether they reviewed or not), my betas feebes86 and ruadhsidhe, JBNP for all their support and Goldengirl who made me some awesome banners. Feebes told me ages ago that this story would be the biggest thing I had ever written.
GG loved it so much she set herself the impossible task of making a banner for each chapter. That was before it hit 89 chapters. She made me the story banner above and it is completely perfect. I love the skin contrast, the guy hands, and the fact that the girl has long hair, and one guy is bigger than the other.
It’s them. It’s Embry, Bella and Quil and it is perfect.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Handbags and voodoo

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig was the website It randomly generates a crime fighting duo with some interesting features. I refreshed a couple of times, laughing hysterically as I did so, until I got this one:
He's a suicidal voodoo cop with a winning smile and a way with the ladies. She's a warm-hearted insomniac socialite married to the Mob. They fight crime!
I choose names from hitting the random article button on the Wikipedia site until I get something that will fit.
Harry Wild Jones and Angela Gravano
Limit of 1,000 words. My word count is 959.
Handbags and voodoo
A well-manicured hand grabbed his arm. “Detective Jones? I saw you at that charity event last month,” she hissed at him.
“What? So?”
“That woman wasn’t interested in you at all. And then you blew some powder from your hand into her face.”
He just stared at the woman accusing him.
“After that, she was all over you like a rash. Did you drug her?”
He grabbed her arm and dragged her away from the others at the crime scene. “It’s not what you think.”
“Really? I may not work and I may just run parties all the time but that doesn’t make me stupid.”
He looked at her carefully; he had assumed she was just a socialite wife. The immaculate hair, expensive wardrobe and make-up marked her as one. He suspected her handbag cost more than his yearly salary.
“I asked her about you at the next function and she didn’t recognise your name.” She poked him in the chest. “You’re a cop! You can’t drug women like that. It’s against the law!”
He tried to change the subject. “What are you doing at a crime scene at…” He checked his watch. “…three am?”
She looked caught out. “I couldn’t sleep.”
She hadn’t slept at all if the hair and make-up was a guide. He noted the wedding ring. “Huh. Husband doesn’t miss you?”
“He has his own bedroom. He works odd hours and why am I telling you this?”
He grinned at her; leaning in towards her slightly. “I’m charming.”
“Crime scene?” he asked again.
“I listen to the police radio.”
“Oh, it’s all online now. You can even get an app for your phone.”
“What does your husband think of this?”
“He doesn’t mind.” She shrugged. “It helps with his business.”
“Which is?”
“You don’t want to know.”
He frowned. He needed to do some research on this woman. But right now, he thought he’d have some fun. “So who’s the main suspect, Sherlock?”
Her face softened as she glanced back to the room where the woman’s body was lying. “You all think it’s the husband, but I think it’s her brother.”
“He’s got priors,” she said, looking oddly pleased with herself for knowing the lingo.
He didn’t know the victim had a brother, so he kept quiet.
She kept talking. “She was having an affair, but her husband doesn’t care. He’s one of those anything for her guys.”
“It’s not the lover?”
She launched into an intricate explanation of who said what to whom at which party and then so and so told her…
When she had finished - he could tell because she stopped talking and looked at him expectantly. “Money?” he checked.
“Yes. She said no more loans to the deadbeat brother.”
“Do you know the brother’s address?”
“Yes. Can we go there now? Where’s your partner?”
“Don’t have one.”
“Why not? I thought it was policy.”
“Mine keep getting shot.”
“Is that your fault?”
He blinked. “Ah… maybe. I can be a little… reckless.”
“Humph. Suicidal, more likely.”
She annoyed him with the humphs. “Do you want to go see the brother or not?”
“Yes, please.”
“Wait in the hall. I won’t leave without you.”
“You can’t. I have the address.”
She was smart. He watched her walk away, which might have been a bad idea. The Chanel suit fitted her in all the right places and her heels clicked on the floor enticingly.
“Why is she here?” the uniformed cop asked.
“She had information.”
“Angela Gravano knows her?” his head inclined towards the body. “Is this a mob hit?”
Oh shit. Now he remembered where he had seen her. She was the wife of Tony ‘Chains’ Gravano, a capo in the mob. She was right; he didn’t want to know anything about her husband’s business. “There’s a lead I want to check out. A brother. Owed her some money.”
“Money.” The cop sighed. “Always money or drugs.”
“Or love.”
She was standing by his car.
“How did you know this was my car?”
She just pointed at the gris gris hanging from his rear-view mirror.
He opened the door for her. She gave him the address.
“The powder?” she asked, as they drove.
“Voodoo is used to serve others.”
“She needed you to sleep with her?”
He glanced at her. “Yeah, she did. She felt unloved and rejected and alone. It was just pouring off her. And I told her my name was Harry Wild, so she wouldn’t have recognised Jones.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Middle name,” he explained.
She was silent for a minute. “She seems happier lately,” she conceded.
“She’ll move on, now.”
“Her lover died of cancer last year.”
“Now that I did not know. You surprise me, Detective Jones.”
“Call me Harry.”
She nodded. “Angela.”
“So, you don’t sleep?” he asked her.
“So, you do voodoo?” she replied.
They grinned at each other.
Her brother made it easy; he ran when Harry held up his badge.
Angela clocked him with her handbag as he exited the back door.
“I told you to stay in the car and don’t humph at me,” Harry said, as he cuffed him.
Angela just looked superior.
He called it in. She sulked when he wouldn’t let her do it.
He asked her to wait outside the station. He was back within fifteen minutes.
“Paperwork?” she asked.
“It can wait. Let me buy you a coffee.”
“To celebrate?”
“Something like that.”
They toasted their success with espressos and exchanged numbers.
“I’m free after midnight,” she suggested.
“I do all my best work after midnight.”
She laughed. “So, let’s fight crime.”
“Don’t tell the department,” he said.
“Don’t tell my husband,” she replied.
They shook on it.
© AM Gray 2013

Monday, 11 March 2013

The disappointing crystal

Another week another challenge from Chuck Wendig. This week he chose a random sentence generator. Given some of them are pretty … well, random, he allowed you a few re-clicks until you got a sentence you liked.
I got the following:
The creative gate pokes the spoilt wreck.
An outcome clicks outside the amended premise.
The beard downs a lavatory.
The beard seemed eerily appropriate for Chuck, given that he sports a large reddish beard, but then I got:
The disappointing crystal approaches an empties concert.
Oh, now… that’ll work!
Less than 1,000 words - mine is 778.
The disappointing crystal.
Empties were, by their very nature, empty. But they were not void. They took their emotions and feelings from an annual concert. Like a lunar calendar that concert set the tone for the entire city for the whole of the coming year.
It was a pretty important event.
Past years had been affected by the dizzying wonder of empties filled with motivation and ambition. The year of happiness was one that everyone remembered fondly.
The empties were odd, jellyfish-like creatures that floated benignly through the city, spreading their inescapable emotion to all.
No one knew where they came from or how they even existed. There seemed to be a static number of them. They neither lived nor died but merely existed. They did not communicate other than by radiating the current yearly sentiment. They could not be avoided; they invaded your home, influenced your dreams and changed your life. The year of anger had decimated the population. The assault and murder rate had skyrocketed and it had taken the city years to rebuild and recover.
Visitors to the city were astonished to see them floating around. The locals had become so used to them that they no longer really took any notice of them. They just were.
The crystals on the other hand were secretive and rarely seen. They lived in a gigantic underground cavern. Each year one was chosen in a secret ritual that no one had ever witnessed. Each year that single crystal made the solitary walk to the concert.
Crystals were of the earth and empties of the sky. It was just the way things were.
It was thought that they had a symbiotic relationship; each could not exist without the other.
The city residents were not allowed to attend the concert. They lined the route from the cavern to the concert hall to get a glimpse of the shining crystal that would determine the fate of them all.
The empties seemed to know when it was concert day. They slowly bobbed and eddied towards the concert hall. By late afternoon, the hall was full of them. They waited for the crystal to enter. A crystal never left again after the ceremony. It was as if the empties completely consumed it.
The first people lining the route caught sight of this year’s crystal as it left the cavern. It was clear and transparent. The young, eager people always stood too close to the start. Older, wiser heads knew the colour of the crystal changed as it approached the concert hall. It was exciting to see it first, but more useful to see it later. Not that knowing what was coming helped you to prepare for it. It couldn't be avoided. The choice was made the second the crystal started that walk.
Small children moved, running from their earlier position to a later one to witness the colour change.
The crystal walked carefully, as if it could shatter if it set its foot down too hard. It looked humanoid with two arms and two legs. The hands were held carefully together in front of the body, not swung where they might brush against something and be damaged. The head with its glass face was covered in flat planes that resembled features. It looked down at the ground as it stepped delicately.
The crowd watched with bated breath for the first glimpse of colour. It looked slightly greenish. Some murmured hopefully. A year of growth would be a good thing.
But then a low moan came from one very old woman. Others asked what was wrong. She pointed her hand at the crystal as the hopeful green became tinged with an ugly brown shade. “Not again,” the old woman said.
The word scattered through the crowd like a rush of wind.
The crystal looked it now, as if it knew what it brought to the city.
One impetuous man lifted a rock and hefted it in his hand as it to throw it, before others wrestled him to the ground. It was wrong to harm the crystals. No one knew what happened in a year with no crystal. A cloud of empties filled with nothing might do untold damage.
Frustration and regret already tainted the crowd.
They watched as the crystal made the steps along the final part of the journey.
At the doorway it stopped.
It turned its face towards the crowd; seemingly remorseful before it turned and stepped inside the concert hall.
The crowd was silent for a minute. Then slowly, they started to peel away and make their way home.
It was going to be a very bad year.
© AM Gray 2013

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The German accountant

I couldn't help myself and rolled the dice (pressed the random buttons) again for Chuck Wendig’s last fic challenge
This time I got:
genre - 9 hardboiled
setting - 10 a popular nightclub on Friday night
conflict - 1 revenge
aspect to include - 3 a bad dream
theme - 2 love will save the day
Again, I had to look up hardboiled. Oh, right… Maltese Falcon.
Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre sharing the setting with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective's cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective's self-talk describing to the reader (or - in the film - to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. The genre's typical protagonist was a detective having to witness on a daily basis the violence of the organized crime flourishing during the prohibition, and having on the other hand to deal with the legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself,[1] making him a burnout hero. [from Wikipedia.]

The German accountant 

My client was money. Lots of money. It dripped off her with every wave of her perfectly manicured hand. Took her a while to get down to business. Took her a while to sit, too. She almost dusted the chair seat before she sat down.
I fumbled for my cigarette case. Offered her one, she shook her head, no.
She talked.
I listened.
I stood, back against the frame and looked out the window for as long as it took me to smoke that cigarette and then I sat on the corner of my desk. The corner closest to her. I gave her a look. She was worth a stare.
She was slim and petite but looked durable. Expensive clothes. Blond hair parted in the middle and cut shorter than the fashion. Her mouth was thin. She used bright red lipstick to make it look better. It didn’t. She sat like a lady with her feet folded out to the side. I didn’t think she was a lady. The chauffer waited outside for her. I’d seen him from the window. She had money, all right, but it was new money. Maybe from daddy.
Right now she was in trouble. Husband trouble.
She gave me the details. I asked some questions.
“Twenty five dollars a day, plus expenses,” I said before she got weepy.
I didn’t ask how she got my name. I knew. A recommendation. I worked alone. Didn’t have a secretary. I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t gonna talk. Her reputation and her money were safe with me.
I thought about putting up my rates for special cases. Cases that could afford it. Nah. I was what I was, and it wasn’t expensive.
I went to the address she gave me and saw the husband leave in a dark sedan. He matched the photo she had given me. He did normal husbandly things. Went to the office. Had lunch with a client. Went home.
I waited.
It was after midnight when he got in his car again. I followed him to three different addresses. At each one he left after another person did. Meetings. Assignations. Whatever you wanted to call them. He was meeting them it seemed.
He was a busy man. Not all women, so it wasn’t sex.
I didn’t see him carry anything in or take anything out. No brown paper wrapped books of porn. But it could have been small. Drugs, maybe?
I followed the last guy he met back to his place. It was almost dawn and I needed a new lead. Looked like a nice suburb. Quiet. Small houses. Comfortable, not rich.
As I sat, studying the houses, there was a streak of light; a hot, hard flash and then nothing. A gunshot. I knew it when I saw one. I thought about it. Then I got out of my car and hot footed it inside. The door of the small bungalow was unlocked. The back door open. The shooter gone. The dead guy was dead. His ID read Boris Mecklenburg. He was an accountant at a big firm. Two glasses on the coffee table. One stained with bright red lipstick. I wiped everything down that I touched.
I drove to the nearest drugstore and bought a quart of bourbon. I sat in my car in the driving rain and drank a few mouthfuls until the bitter taste in my mouth was gone.
I watched the sun rise and I thought of another mouth with bright red lipstick.
I drove back to the bungalow to check. No cops on the scene. After watching for a while I went back into the house. The body was gone. The room had been cleaned. The glasses were squeaky clean in the dish drainer. Nothing in the trash. Nothing. Someone had taken it with them. A pro job.
I checked I had my gun with me and that it was loaded.
I knocked on some doors and asked some questions. The bungalow was a rental.
I looked up Mecklenburg at the library.
I drove back to the home address. The husband’s car was parked in the drive; I snuck close and shone a flash on the licence holder. I read the registration name. I swore.
I rang my client and told her to meet me at my office in an hour. I spent the hour looking up my client and her daddy at the library. That visit earned a few angry words. She had given me a fake name. I kept my mouth shut, but only just.
I told her she was a dope.
She told me she wasn’t paying me for advice.
I asked her if she had been at the bungalow and she denied it.
She left in a slam of doors. Took effort to slam my office and the reception room doors. I took a few more swallows of my bourbon.
I started at the beginning again. Followed the husband. Asked a few questions. Paid a snitch. Expenses. That got me a name here, a friendly apartment manager there, a picked lock, and a tailed car. It took me all day. I rang my detective contact. He was busy getting a car out of the harbor with a body in the trunk.
I had all the info. I just couldn’t put it all together. I needed a drink. And some time to think.
I had spent more than forty eight hours following him and asking questions. Did he sleep? I know I didn’t.
The bar was my favourite haunt. But the rain was hard and wet and the queue to get in was long. The joint was crowded and noisy. Friday night. I had forgotten what day it was.
Jimmy the bouncer nodded at me and let me in. My usual table was taken by a little man with cheap glasses and an expensive brunette. I took a booth up the back. I leaned on my arm and watched the show. On my second drink, my eyes closed.
I dreamed.
The broken pieces of the case flitted around like gulls. Numbers written on the body of a dead accountant. A naked girl wearing earrings and bright red lipstick. A too tall man in a powder blue suit. A slim and pretty boy chauffer, an old man in a wheelchair and a Buick with a body in the trunk. A rich blond bleeding money.
The memory gulls cried and flapped. They got louder. They flew into my face. My arms flailed to keep them away from my eyes.
I screamed and they swooped away to peck at the pieces of the case.
The pretty boy kissed the naked girl and then split in half. One half got in the driver’s seat of the Buick and the other half shot himself in the head and then climbed in the trunk. I chased the naked girl. I kept asking her if her earrings were jade. No, they’re German she said. The naked girl took off the earrings, wiped her lipstick on blue suit guy and vanished. Blue suit guy pushed the wheelchair down some stairs. The earrings appeared in his hand. The wheelchair wreckage vanished in return. The red lipstick looked like blood.
I woke with a start, as someone screamed my name.
My client was face first on the table top in front of me.
“Drop the knife,” Betty said in her ear.
I blinked.
“Hey, Betty,” I said.
“Hey, Sam. She was going to stab you in the back.”
“Figures. You saw her from the stage?”
“Yep.” She pressed hard on the blond’s twisted arm. A flash of pain crossed her face. “Who is she?” Betty asked.
“My client.”
Betty snorted. “You can pick ‘em.”
“Sure can.”
Jimmy, the bouncer was there by then and Tony, the manager. “Call the cops,” I told him. “Ask for Detective Jefferson. No-one else. They’re all crooked.”
Jimmy watched the poisonous blond. I trained a gun on her under the table. Safer that way.
Betty sat on my lap. It didn’t help my thinking. The band started playing when it was clear the show was over and Betty wasn’t coming back.
When Jefferson arrived, he asked, “Who’s the blond?”
“Detective, may I introduce Tiffany, daughter of John Athelstan Riley.”
“The inventor in the wheelchair?”
“That’s the one.”
“She shot your accountant.”
“I wish she would.”
“I mean the body in the trunk, Boris Mecklenburg.”
His eyes narrowed. “How-?”
“Never mind.” I lit a cigarette. “Tiffany here married Joey Camino last year. It was in all the society pages.”
“He’s mob.”
“I know. He still is. I spent all day trailing after him. Maybe daddy didn’t know.”
“Daddy likes him,” she interrupted. “He listens when he talks about his machines.”
“She hired me to tail her husband. She thought he was cheating on her. He is. With her pretty boy chauffer.”
Betty made a face. “Ouch.”
“She gave me a fake name, but I’m a good detective. She and Joey were stealing Daddy Riley’s plans and selling them to the German government. Boris the accountant was their contact. But hubby got greedy and thought he could cut her out of the deal and Tiffany got annoyed.”
“So she shot Boris?” Jefferson asked.
“Yeah. Came back later with help to get him in the car.”
“Did she kill her husband, too?”
“Didn’t need to. That’s my fault. I told her he was having an affair with the boy. All she needed to do was tell the mob.”
“They don’t like nancy boys.”
“No. And then she came here to tie up her last loose end.” I kissed Betty’s cheek. “If it wasn’t for my girl, here, I’d be dead too.”
“No one stabs my man in the back, except me.”
Jefferson laughed. “Evidence?”
“The scene has been cleaned, but he was shot at his place. I’d ask Daddy’s servants. One of them must have helped her clean up the scene and get rid of the body. The trash has been dumped. I’d try the neighbour’s bin. There must be something in it or they wouldn’t have taken it.”
“The gun?” suggested Betty. “She didn’t just shoot you.”
I kissed her. “You are so smart.”
“Too smart to marry you.”
“And I’m too smart to ask.”
Jefferson cuffed Tiffany and led her away.
I sighed. “There goes two days’ pay plus expenses.”
“Oh, Sam,” Betty said. “Get the money up-front next time.”
“You done for the night?”
“I can be.”
“Good. I’m tired. We’re going to your place.”
“You just want me for my mattress.”
“Now Betty, what kind of detective would I be to believe that?”
“I saved your life.”
“And I will thank you in the morning.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
© AM Gray 2013

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

How to load a story on

First, write your story. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? *snorks*

Have it divided into chapters of however long you like. I usually shoot for 2-3,000 words. It depends, for me, how much info I have in each chapter. Some are wordy but nothing much happens and some just have good places to break them. I usually write the whole story before I start posting, but it’s up to you. Others prefer 10-15k words in a chapter, but as I post often, I can get away with shorter ones.
Make sure you have put all legal disclaimers, ratings, warnings about content or trigger themes, etc. in your story. Think about and write your summary before you start loading it.
1. First you have to upload your saved document.
Open the ‘publish’ tab in ff.
Click on ‘doc manager’. It shows a box with a lot of slots. Scroll down to see more info about the types of documents you can load. There is a box marked ‘upload’.
Name your document and click ‘locate file on your computer’. Find the file and select it. Press 'submit document'. Wait a few seconds.
It will appear in one of the slots. You can edit it here. It’s a good idea to check to make sure it uploaded without problems. A dot in the middle of a word, for example, Mr. J.Jenks will read as a web address and ff will delete it. Add spaces after the dot if you want to put in a net address and it will miss it.
Save the changes.
2. Accept guidelines.
Open the publish tab, go to the ‘new story’ tab. You will have to read and accept the guidelines.
The warning looks like this:
The site insists that you accept the guidelines each time you start a new story. It will stay in force for seven days. So, if you start another story within that time period, you will not have to accept the guidelines again.
Please abide by the wishes of authors who have actually requested that fanfic NOT be written for their stories. They are listed on the same page. Click 'yes'.
3. New story
Click ‘new story’ again. Follow the prompts to name your new story, write a summary, pick the genre, main characters, language etc. There are thousands of categories and crossovers if it combines two genres. i.e. Harry potter and Twilight or whatever. You can save your favourite categories.
Do NOT write in your summary that you suck at summaries. If you, as the author, can’t write a decent summary, why the hell should anyone else bother to read it? It just shows that you can’t write and they will assume that your story will be rubbish too. I know they are tricky to write, but you know your story better than anyone, so sell it. Don’t give away the whole story in the summary either. Try to write it like a movie tag line.
The story example I am using in the pics is a one shot challenge about Charlie and Sue’s history called Heroes and Villains.  My summary was this:
A writing challenge from JBNP. Did you ever wonder how in the world Charlie suddenly ended up with Sue Clearwater? What happened in the past to make Charlie the man he became? Did those actions influence his friends as well?
People skim through the summaries looking for things to read so make sure it sounds interesting and not lame.
If it was a one shot don’t forget to select the ‘complete’ button.
Load the first chapter where prompted and you’re away.
Fanfic will send an email to all the people who have you on their author alert list that you have loaded a new story.
4. Loading other chapters.
Load the new chapter into the doc manager in the usual way, check it, edit it, and save the changes.
Then go to the ‘manage stories’ tab. You will see a page that lists all your stories and summaries. Select the one you are adding a chapter to, click the title and the summary page opens.
Click ‘content/chapters’. You can edit and name your chapters in here if you wish to do so.
Click ‘post new chapter’. Select the next chapter from the drop down menu at the right hand side. It will default to number consecutively. Don’t forget to save changes.
Again, a message will be sent out that you have uploaded to anyone who has you on an alert.
When your story is complete, don’t forget to change the story status to ‘complete’ and save changes.
5. Pictures.
I haven’t dealt with the image loader function. You can now add an image to your story after you click a box to say that you own the image or have the permission of the image owner to use it. I do not understand why fanfic has done this. I get that images are cool and add something, but it’s fanfic; we don’t own the worlds we are writing about. We sure as heck don’t own the images. But in any case, the images are loaded through an image manager, similar to the document manager.
Oddly, fanfic has chosen a 6/9 width to height ratio, or basically the opposite to every other banner maker out there. I assume that has something to do with the mobile site version.

So, that’s it. If you notice any errors, follow the instructions in my post titled ‘editing posted stories in fanfic’ to fix them.
Write often, write well.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Madame Won Ton's

Another challenge from Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds. This week a super ultra mega game of aspects.

Five categories for sub-genre, setting, conflict, aspect and theme. I rolled (well, random number generated) the following:
Southern gothic love triangle set in an opium den with a forbidden book & a theme of nature, man’s greatest enemy.

2k words. I do not cheat and keep rolling until something suits me. I go with what I got the first time. I had to look up southern gothic:
Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South. Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or disorienting characters, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or coming from poverty, alienation, racism, crime, and violence.[1] It is unlike its parent genre in that it uses these tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South, with the Gothic elements taking place in a magic realist context rather than a strictly fantastical one. The images of Great Depression photographer Walker Evans are frequently seen to evoke the visual depiction of the Southern Gothic.
The southern Gothic style is one that employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South. (From Wikipedia)

Tricky - I do not know what those values are… in any case, here is my entry.

Madame Won Ton’s

“This is madness,” Guy announced, but he followed them anyway. He was loath to let either of them out of his sight. “As if anything called ‘Madame Won Ton's is a real opium den.”

“My contact assured me that this was the place,” Chris said as he lifted the beaded curtain. The dingy interior had been painted in deep, dark red but had faded with time. It had taken them some time to locate the dilapidated building down a narrow lane in the back alleys of New Orleans. It hadn’t helped that the wind and the rain seemed to be trying to stop them.

“Come on, Guy. It’ll be fun,” said Maja.

Guy was starting to think that those words from Maja always preceded a disaster, emotional or actual.

Chris glanced at him over his shoulder. “Yeah, Guy, let’s go burn the midnight oil.” An opium joke.

Guy liked Chris; a lot. And that was a problem. He liked Chris, but he loved Maja, who had been Guy’s best friend since he was four, and was currently Chris’ girlfriend. Add in the fact that Guy was starting to think that he swung both ways and it got very messy indeed. Complicated. His life was complicated. “Explain to me again, just how collecting opium antiques got you so interested in illegal drugs?”

Chris gave him a mischievous grin.

God, Guy loved that grin. If he wasn’t so sure that Chris was firmly hetero he might be in love with him, too. He heard them go at it last night. He had lain in his bed with his hand on his cock and listened. And felt bad for doing it, too. Guilt and sex always went together for him. He adjusted himself in his jeans at the thought.

Chris stepped in close to him and whispered, “Get you hand off your dream stick, Guy.”

“You need to stop with the opium metaphors. It’s poppycock.”

Chris guffawed. “Good one, Guy.”

Guy looked astonished. “Seriously? That comes from opium, too?”

“Oh, you didn’t mean that? I thought you meant… you know… poppies.”

Guy wanted to lie, but couldn’t. “No.”

“I take it back, then. I thought you were hilariously witty as well as cute.”
Cute? “Yeah… and got a great dream stick.”

“I’ll bet.”

“If you two can stop flirting for a minute, there’s a news bulletin.” Maja was staring at her phone.

Shit. Were they flirting?

“What’s up?” Chris asked her.

“The storm. It’s getting worse. The news is they’ve started evacuations.”

The men exchanged a look. The whole town was waiting for the storm to hit. Hurricane Katrina. Word was it was going to be bad.

“More reason to rescue this book now; before the storm,” Chris argued.

“The levy will hold,” Guy said, but Maja didn’t look comforted.

“A book; really, Chris?” Guy had just come with them because they asked him to. He didn’t need another reason.

“Not just any book - it’s the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.”

“Say that again in English.”

Chris stepped closer to Guy and spoke in a low voice. “It dates from the mid 1500’s and it’s priceless. It lists all the books prohibited by the Catholic Church.”

“Did they even print books then?”

“They did, but only just. It took them a century to start complaining.”

“That’s quick for the Church.”

Chris laughed.

“See? I can be witty.” He studied Chris. “She doesn’t know the value, does she?”

Chris looked delighted. “No.”

Guy had an awful thought. Did he mean Madame Won Ton or Maja? He opened his mouth to ask when a woman entered the room and interrupted. She was probably close to sixty, but it was hard to tell in the darkened room and Guy could never pick ages with Asian women. Her dark hair was elaborately coiffed and her glasses were an older style with frames too large for her face.

“We’re closed.”

Chris turned to face her.

“Oh, it’s you.” She looked over the friends. Guy felt as if her eyes rested on him for longer. Maja was silent under her scrutiny. The woman nodded, and then gestured to the doorway she had entered. “No time,” she said enigmatically and walked away.

They followed her.

Guy would have lost the bet that this was not a real opium den. Secret doors and hidden passageways led them through a room filled with low couches and tables. Each set with a tray of opium implements; the pipe, a lamp, a tiny pedestal dish to hold the opiate. There was no attempt to hide what it was once you were in it.

Guy felt as if he had stepped back in time. It was like an elaborate tea ceremony where the ritual mattered more than the tea. He would have thought most people were into popping pills or a quick injection. But the room was clearly well used; the air reeked with a bitter-sweet scent.

Chris inhaled deeply and lifted an eyebrow at him.

For the first time, he felt a twinge of doubt about Chris. He didn’t know the man well; only had Maja’s word and he knew her judgement was flawed. Especially when it came to men. Maja’s problems came from her relationship with Daddy dearest. She might have torrid relationships with other men but she always went home to Daddy. It made him shudder just to think of it, but as a child he had been powerless to help. Daddy’s death had freed her and given her deep pockets. The combination was not good.

The women had gone into another room. Chris glanced that way and then suddenly pushed Guy up against the nearest wall. Shocked, Guy didn’t react. Chris’s hand held him firmly at the throat, holding him immobile. His thigh pushed between his legs and his hard body pressed against him. Guy reacted to that with a jolt of excitement.

And Chris knew.

He smiled at him. He pressed harder… rhythmically. He dry humped him and Guy couldn’t stop him. Nor could he stop his cock hardening painfully.

“You’d let me, wouldn’t you, Guy?” he whispered.

“Yes.” An admission laced with shame, treachery and guilt. His best friend’s lover and he’d do it without a second’s thought.

“Huh,” he said, as if he had proved his own point. He blinked, and then he kissed him.

It was hard and forceful and not feminine at all and Guy loved it. He didn’t even know where his own hands were. As first kisses went it was brilliant.

The house was hit by a wind jolt that stopped them both. Guy felt just as buffeted. Was he powerless now as well? One hand was clinging flat against the wall and the other was cupped over Chris’ ass. Divided, as always.

“Chris?” Maja called.

“Later,” Chris whispered in his ear. He bit the lobe as punctuation.

Guy couldn’t move. It took him a bit longer to follow into the other room. He did some heavy breathing and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. It didn’t help. He could taste him. He licked his lips and wanted to moan.

Maja gave him an odd look. Did she know? Shit.

Chris only had eyes for the book.

It wasn’t what Guy expected. Stupidly, he had this romantic image of a giant leather bound tome, an illuminated manuscript, not the normal book sized simple listing that Chris held in his hand. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Yes. See?” The frontispiece had an illustration of people burning books. His knowledge of Roman numerals wasn’t good, but he thought it said 1758. He didn’t say anything.

“Did you pay her?” Chris asked Maja. She nodded tightly.

Of course, Maja was the money. Guy’s bad feeling about this settled like a stone in his stomach.

The house rocked with another blast from the storm. The lights flickered and then went out. Guy heard a door bang and then Maja called out, “Chris?”

There was no answer.

Guy knew he was gone. The book, the money and the Asian woman would all be gone when the lights came up. “I’m here,” he told her, as if that would help.

The lights flickered back on for a second before going again. Long enough to confirm his suspicions. They’d been conned.


No answer.

He groped for where she had been standing. “We need to go.”

“What’s the point?” she sounded desolate.

He felt guilty. “I guess you’re right.” He finally touched her and pulled her into his arms. “Why don’t we sit out the storm here?”

“He didn’t have a contact. She recognized him.”

“Yes. And we came in his car.” There was no chance of them finding a taxi in this storm.

A pause.

“There must be matches around… this is an opium den,” Guy said.

Maja snorted. “Wanna try some?” Her face lit up as the match flared.

“You have opium?”

“Yeah… he loves authenticity.”

“Right.” And he’d make her carry the drugs for safety.

The couches were comfortable; made to recline on and they had all the supplies.

“Tell me about your father,” Guy ventured when he felt brave enough to say it. Poppy courage.

She felt brave enough to tell him.

When they crawled from the rubble days later, they were together in all ways. Chris was gone. They hoped permanently. But Guy remembered that whispered promise to see him later. It gave him the chills.


It started with that feeling that someone was watching him. Guy woke one morning with the taste of Chris on his mouth. It wasn’t possible. They had found the drowned car in the storm clean up. The body was buried quickly. The book was gone.

As he and Maja stepped out of a tiny wine bar one night she clutched at his arm.
He glanced the way she was staring and got a glimpse of elaborately piled black hair, before the figure stepped into the shadows.

“It was her,” Maja insisted. “I’d know those glasses anywhere.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong. It was... him.”

“Do you think he conned her, too?”

“Probably.” He shrugged. Coward that he was, he didn’t tell her about his odd feelings. They both had almost flashbacks to the days spent in the ruined house. Nightmares. Shock. The whole city did.

It was rebuilding, but it would take money and the South’s money was old and stagnant. Not good for starting again, only good for keeping things the way they were.

Guy was reading a book at a streetcar stop when he felt the nip at his earlobe. He spun around and there was nothing there. He couldn’t tell Maja about it.

But when he got home she was in the bath; her knees up and her arms wrapped around them. She was shivering.

“What happened?” he asked.

“She cursed him.”

“Madame Won Ton?”


“You saw her again.”

She nodded jerkily.

He sat on the tiled floor and reached for her hand. “I felt him... at the streetcar stop.”

Maja looked terrified. “What does he want?”

“Us? He lost us.”

“I’m scared, Guy.”

“Me too,” he confessed. He stripped and got in the bath with her.

“When?” he asked.

“Tonight. Midnight.”

Maja had inherited her father’s house. The three storey French Quarter home within walking distance of everywhere in New Orleans you would want to go.

They closed the shutters, dimmed the lights, poured two very large glasses of wine and sat down to wait for him.

It wasn’t a knock; it was a dull scrape sound.

A drowned zombie was not a pretty thing but Guy opened the door and let him in.

Chris apologized, in his own way. He wished them well, kissed them both on the lips and shambled away.

He left the scent of the swamp behind touched with the bitter-sweet memory of opium.

© AM Gray 2013