Tag Archive: A Story A Week


The time for talking was over, Siron Darr looked left and right, his company lined up beside him as they always were. The odds weren’t good, thirteen against fifty, but he’d seen worse. The Scallian’s were showing steel already, those deadly curved blades they favoured. The time for blood had arrived.

Darr felt movement beside him and saw Malash, the Shifter, step forward. His skin was alive, moving like waves on the sea. Darr smiled; the odds weren’t that bad after all. He drew steel, long sword in his right, shorter blade in his left, and gritted his teeth. The wet sounds next to him, the crunch of bones, ripping of clothes, were the only sounds and both groups tried their best to ignore them.

The low rumble was felt more than heard, Darr saw some of the Scallian’s pale; they were a superstitious race and he could see they were spooked, uncertain. Tales of Shifters existed in every society Darr had visited, from The Four to far away Sarakesh, but none had seen one in centuries. There was movement to his right, a black hulk towering above him. Darr was reckoned a giant, standing near seven feet tall, but compared to this, he was no bigger than a Scallian. Malash the Shifter was gone, a monster Gorilla twice Darr’s height stood in his place.

The moment broke the same time the Scallian’s did, Darr and his company surged forward, swords and axe’s flashing in the sunlight, screams and blood filled the air. Above all the mighty roar of the beast, it tore into the Scallian ranks throwing bodies around as it they were toys. Darr cut three down from behind; there was no room for honorable conduct in situations like this. All around bodies littered the ground, broken, cut and bloodied. Darr was glad to see none were his friend’s.

One, braver than the rest, turned and stood his ground, Daar swung and their blades locked. He had some skill with a blade this one, they cut and thrust, parried and twisted. But Darr was stronger and stood head and shoulders above the smaller Scallian. No matter what skill you had, size and strength always mattered. Eventually the Scallian made a mistake and Darr split him from shoulder to gut, both hands gripping the hilt, his full weight behind the cut. The Scallian didn’t cry out, he didn’t have time to, the look of surprise on his face nearly made Daar laugh out loud. Then, like a dead fish the Scallian flopped boneless to the ground. Darr moved on, he was already forgotten; there were plenty more where he came from.

The rest of the Scallian’s were broken, half their number dead the rest fled. Darr stood covered in blood and gore, his company around him all breathing heavily but alive. The monster Gorilla stood beside Darr, its arms covered in blood, the fur matted.

“Just a little chat you said?” Joakim, Darr’s second, spat onto the ground, his one eye blazing with battle fever still. He pointed at the bodies. “Is this your idea of a chat?” Darr smiled as Malash, the Shifter, began to change next to him, his skin moving like waves on the sea.

“In situations like this,” Daar wiped the sweat from his face, his hand running up over his bald head. “You can’t avoid a little blood.” He looked round the ring of bloodied faces, all battered and scarred from a life time of living by the sword, and they all nodded in agreement. Beside him the noises had stopped and Malash was Malash again, a frail grey skinned creature with an over large head and black eyes. He looked at Darr and smiled.

“Better than sex.

I’ve never been able to enjoy Christmas, not since my eyes had been opened to the horror it ensues, the death and destruction wrought simply because of one day. Of course I’m in the minority; part of a dwindling band sworn to defend against the truth that is Christmas, defend the Earth against the savage incursions that happen every year.

It’s always the children that suffer, they’re the ones that believe in the myth that is Christmas, believe that for one day it’s perfectly acceptable to allow a stranger into your home. But it’s that stranger that is the problem, him and his armies, poised to strike should any opening be found.

We were winning the war, just, but it was a war of attrition that was wearing us down, dwindling our numbers year on year. Because of this mistakes were bound to happen, lapses in the command structure; but that’s all it takes, one slip up, and they’re in. Swarming across the Divide in their thousands, all we can do is stem the tide and plug the hole; after that it’s a simple cleanup operation.

But some mistakes are too big to clean up, the incursions on such a scale that the collateral damage brings the world’s attention frighteningly close to the truth. I’m glad to say when that last happened it wasn’t on my watch, south-east Asia isn’t my section, but I know a lot of the guys who worked in that area, who were on duty that night; guys that are still struggling to cope with what happened and what they had to do to stop a full scale invasion.

But stop it they did, but the result was over a quarter of a million dead and large swathes of the coastlines of countries surrounding the Indian Ocean devastated. Was it too big a price to pay? To save the Earth, save over six billion souls from being wiped from existence by Claus and his minions. No, no price is too big for that. In wartime decisions have to be made that go against all that is considered rational and normal. To save a thing you may have to sacrifice a thing. The guys in the Indonesian section knew that, that’s why they plugged the hole, sealed the Divide and stopped the invasion.

But still it has its affects, still has its own sort of collateral. Even now eight years later people who were there that night have counseling, the images of what happened after were beamed around the world for all to see, but to them it was evidence of the aftermath of their actions. Some couldn’t handle it and took the cowards way out, others just withdrew into themselves. Some, the hardy few, still man the trenches in and around the area battling hard each December 25th in case the Divide should be breeched again. It’s a sad fact that no matter what the sacrifice, whatever the collateral, once a breech has been made it is forever weakened and is a target for continuous assaults.

But we are vigilant, were stand between mankind and the abyss, ready and willing to lay down life in order to keep the enemy out. Christmas is Hell; don’t let anyone else tell you any different soldier.

Now buckle up and prepare to move out.

NOTE: The following story is a work of fan-fiction. It was originally written for a competition ran by 2000AD under the title Dredd Lines. Judge Dredd and everything associated with the character are Copyright of Rebellion Publishing. There is no connection between myself and Rebellion or 2000AD, and none should be inferred. Judge Dredd is the creation of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

 

***

 

“No!”

Cripps flinched, as much from the roar of his Lawgiver as he did from Dredd’s voice. He knew he shouldn’t be intimidated, he was a Judge, well would be soon as long as he got through today. He shot a glance sideways at his assessor. Judge Dredd himself, up until two hours ago he’d been confident of finishing the day with his eagles; then Dredd had walked into the mess and called out his name.

Dredd stood stony still not speaking, but from the stories he’d heard he was like that most of the time. Cripps watched the perp slide down the wall leaving a bloody trail, his Lawgiver hung loose at his side. Dredd walked over to the body and looked down his hands placed on his hips.

“You never read him the charge sheet. Charges have to be read before carrying out the sentence.”

“He went for a weapon…”

Dredd rounded and in a second they were stood nose to nose. Cripps flinched again, if he was going to survive as a Judge he’d have to get that under control. He wasn’t a nervous man; they’d have picked that up in his psych evaluations and never passed selection.

“Weapon? You’re supposed to be a Judge, even if he had a weapon we have to follow procedures.”

He stormed passed Cripps leaving him standing there looking at the body. He heard the roar of a Lawmaster and turned towards his.

“What are you doing?”

Cripps was half on his ride uncertain what to do.

“Carrying on with the patrol sir?”

Dredd motioned towards the body.

“Call that in it’s your perp.” He revved the engine. “Procedure Cripps it’s the first rule of wearing the badge.”

He sped away up the on-ramp heading for the downtown overpass. Cripps settled into his seat looking at the body then triggered his comm.

***

The Obama Concourse was in flames, the remains of two hover transports scattered across a dozen lanes. The west side of Montgomery Scott Plaza was gone, taken out as they’d come in, the air was full of the roar of burning fuel and sirens.

Cripps stood next to Dredd listening to the report from a street Judge. Cripps tried to gauge the reaction Dredd had to what they saw, but there was none, he stood impassively as he was told of over a hundred fatalities; you’d think he was being told his dinner was late for what little emotion he showed. He knew what Dredd was, they all did, the stories were legends, his exploits; his cold heartedness. But up close, as they had been the past few hours, Cripps was having difficulty accepting anyone could be this detached from the world around him.

“There’s nothing we can do here cadet, simple case of droid malfunction.” Dredd turned to go then looked back at the other Judge. “Best have the owner questioned though, and pull his service records; there could be a case for maintenance negligence, culpable homicide.” The other Judge nodded and returned to his cleanup team, Dredd went back to the Lawmaster’s.

“If the company owner is found to be negligent what’s the punishment cadet?”

“Failing for proper droid maintenance carries a mandatory ten year sentence.”

“Why?”

“On your recommendation, after the robot wars, every company that operates droids has to ensure they were properly maintained and serviced.” Dredd looked at him, he wanted more. “To ensure there was no repeat of what went on before the war.” Dredd nodded but still showed no sign the question had been answered to his satisfaction.

“Alongside the negligence charge, if there are fatalities due to the poor maintenance then the sentence is life.”

Dredd started his Lawmaster and pulled away, Cripps watched him glide between the traffic: guess I passed that one then?

***

Billabongs was a popular entertainment franchise, they’d been popping up all over the city for a couple of years. Cheap synthol and high end holoprogs meant citizens could chill out and escape the daily drudge. The entrance faced onto Marcus Collins Drive, three ground cars showed extensive munitions damage, the second level windows blown out.

Dredd stood looking up, Cripps stood beside him watching the Justice Department drone cross the street towards the entrance. As it mounted the curb it was hit, an exhaust trail led up to the east side window.

“There.” Cripps pointed; Dredd looked at him managing to look even more unimpressed than normal.

“Thank you cadet I think I managed to ascertain the trajectory.”

Cripps dropped his arm quickly looking back at the window hopping his embarrassment didn’t show.

“Rocket launcher?” Judge Mitchells looked questioningly at Dredd.

“Exhaust all wrong that came from an inbuilt weapon. We have an ABC up there.”

ABC- Cripps looked from Dredd to the window. He’d never seen one of the old warrior droids, but knew all about them. Their history was required reading at the academy; if it was an ABC they had problems.

“What’s the procedure cadet?”

“Full tactical assault squad recommended, ABC’s have extensive…”

Dredd was already halfway across the street his Lawgiver in his hand.

“Sir?”

“No time.”

Dredd raised his weapon and let off two rounds at the window the rocket had come from. High explosive shells took most of the wall along the second floor out, as rubble fell towards the street Dredd ran up the steps and in through the front door.

“Drokk.” Cripps set off after Dredd his weapon out watching for any movement from above, and then was up the steps and inside.

Dredd was by the elevator, the doors open, as Cripps approached he tossed an anti personal mine in and hit the button, the doors closed and the elevator went up. Dredd headed for the stairs, Cripps ran to keep up; they’d not gone a dozen steps when the building shook with an explosion. Dredd didn’t break his stride and reached the door to the second floor seconds after the blast, without stopping he barged through his Lawgiver raised scanning the room beyond.

The room was a mess, several bodies lay just inside the door, heads split open, limbs missing. Cripps gasped involuntarily, he’d never been squeamish; you couldn’t be if you wanted to wear the badge, but it was a shock seeing them lain out like that. Dredd didn’t break his stride advancing into the room, stepping around the bodies; paying them no heed. To their left the outer wall was gone, blown out by Dredd’s high explosives, to the right another hole where the elevator doors had been. Some of the bodies closer to the elevator still moved, they’d obviously been caught in the blast, Cripps moved towards them and Dredd held up his hand and shook his head. He pointed forwards, touching two fingers to his visor then pointing at a pile of rubble against the far wall.

A metal leg poked out of the top, the ankle rotated with a sickening grating sound of mashed gears, Cripps moved to the other side of Dredd and came towards the pile from a different angle. A sound behind them made them both stop, Dredd was quick but the ABC was quicker, it came down out of the ceiling, one massive arm scythed through the air catching Dredd in the chest hurtling him across the room, he landed perilously close to the exposed elevator shaft. The rest of the ceiling gave way and the droid landed on its one remaining leg facing Cripps.

It towered ten feet high and had three bodies strapped to its barrel shaped chest section. Cripps looked on in horror as one moved, a young woman, she looked at him blood and tears streaming down her face.

“Please…”

He looked towards Dredd’s prone form but he’d get no help there. The droid took a hop towards him bringing one arm up as the launcher folded out from the surface. Cripps scrambled across the floor as the spot where he’d been erupted in a shower of stone and dust.

“Desist and disengage weapons systems droid.”

Cripps tried to put the sort of authority in his voice he’d heard Dredd use, but it didn’t sound the same. He was afraid, he may be a senior cadet and undergoing his final assessment but there was nothing he’d learnt at the Academy that prepared him to face off against an ABC.

The droid fired again, Cripps just managed to get away as what was left of the outer wall exploded sending debris crashing down. He knew he had to end this quick, there was only so long he could evade the shots. Making his way through the smoke and dust he found he was close to the elevator shaft, looking down he saw it was clear all the way down to the sub basements, a good 100 meters or more. Looking back towards the hopping shadow he formed a plan, all he had to do was figure out how to get the citizens off it.

Moving round the outside of the room he managed to get behind the droid, he tried to remember everything he’d read about the ABCs audio range, he hoped the falling masonry and electrical discharges would mask his movements. The body strapped to the droids back was a young boy, it wasn’t moving and as Cripps crept near he saw the ragged hole in the throat. Cursing under his breath he moved to the right where a man was strapped, he couldn’t see any visible wounds but could see he was unconscious.

That meant two were possibly alive, looking at the strapping it appeared to be industrial, setting his Lawgiver to needle laser he took aim and severed the strips holding the man’s upper body in place. Too late he realized his mistake, as the body tipped forward Cripps saw the strips holding his legs in place; the man’s head smacked against the floor, landing under the descending foot of the droid. There was a sickening crunch as the man’s head ruptured like a melon.

The droid stopped and looked down then its whole top section swiveled round and faced Cripps. The arm came up as the next shell cycled in the launchers chamber, Cripps looked at the woman; she appeared to have lapsed into unconsciousness again, toggling the selector on his weapon he fired two high explosive rounds at the droids leg before it had time to level its arm.

The leg gave out as the knee joint disintegrated sending the droids heavy top section backwards; it crushed the body on its back then skidded on the gore straight through the hole into the shaft and was gone. Cripps stood in amazement looking at the dark hole; he couldn’t believe what he’d just done, a loud crash from below followed by a rush of hot air told him it was finally over.

***

Cripps watched the medics giving Dredd the once over, he was sitting on his Lawmaster looking none too happy that they wouldn’t let him go until they were finished. Cripps half smiled and realized Dredd never looked happy. A shadow fell over him as Dredd pulled up alongside.

“Find something funny Cripps?”

“No sir, nothing, nothing at all.”

“Let’s head back; you need to write this one up rookie.”

Cripps nodded and hit the starter then stopped when he realized what Dredd had called him, Dredd leaned in close.

“You did well, it was a tough call; you can’t always save everyone.” Dredd clicked the gear selector then sat waiting. “Lead off Judge Cripps.”

Flash Fiction – Body Of Proof

What to do with the evidence? Probably a question asked by countless felons over countless years. But what was the answer? What was the best way to get away with it?

At fist Joyce thought of just burying Gerald. Drive out to the country, dig a hole; let the worms have him. But then she thought of the logistics in doing that. They didn’t have off road parking, she’d have to somehow get the body down to the car without the neighbors seeing – and Mrs. Prentice never missed a thing. Plus Gerald was twice her size; she’d never be able to shift him. Plus he was in a heap at the bottom of the cellar stairs, and even if they had off road parking she’d never get him up those.

Next up she thought of setting fire to the house. Gerald had always been a stickler for keeping the insurance up to date, so she knew she’d have a nice payout at the end of it. But she’d seen too many CSIs to know that wouldn’t work, she was no arsonist and knew she’d incriminate herself. Then it came to her, a flash of insight, sat halfway down the cellar stairs looking at Gerald’s crumpled form with his head twisted too far round so it looked like he had it on back to front.

As she thought about it she was initially disgusted, the thought of going through with it turned her stomach. But then she thought of her life with Gerald, the years of mental abuse, the twisted sex, and that awful way he had of honking like a pig whenever he was in her. Disgusted had been her life for the past fifteen years, disgusted was letting him do those things, making her watch him do them to others as well.

She’d got up off the stairs and went down, stepping over his body with a tickle of fear that maybe he was faking and would grab her leg. Then she’d crossed to his workbench, something he’d always taken such pride in, always kept clean. She’d picked up the hacksaw and flicked the blade, then turned to look at him.

“Any ketchup?”  Joyce jumped, shook her head to clear the memories. Mark from across the street stood in front of her, the top of his head starting to go pink from the sun. “You were miles away Joyce?”

“Sorry, wool gathering.”

Mark waved his plate that held more meat than salad.

“Thinking of when Gerald gets back hey?” He winked at her and she suppressed a shudder, he’d winked at her like that during one of Gerald’s little parties, the ones where he’d made her do things.

“Can’t wait.” She clamped her teeth together to keep the bile from rising and picked up the bottle handing it to Mark. The back yard was full of friends and neighbors, Pet and Cathy from next door. Marcia and John from next to Mark. Pat, Frank and Billy, three of Gerald’s party friends. She smiled to herself, glad they were all having such a good time. Looking back at Mark he’d covered his steaks in sauce and was picking up a large morsel.

“Damn fine pork Joyce. Gerald get it for you?”

“Yes.” She looked around at the BBQ; Billy was throwing some more steaks on, stepping back as the sizzled and spat. “They’re from Gerald.”

 

All Rights Reserved © Philip J Norris November 2012

Flash Fiction Short – Run FourE3t

4E3t watched the man came in through the doors, there was something about him that made the ‘bots subroutines question his appearance. It was a hot day, through the windows 4E3t could see people in casual summer clothes; but he was in a long camelhair coat and a wide brimmed fedora? If 4E3t had been programmed differently it’d probably have seen the man for what he was, a Fed, or at least Cop; but 4E3t was only programmed to tend bar.

The man surveyed the lounge area; he came down onto the lower level where customers as well as hotel guests could eat and drink. He stopped and looked around at the glass doors that led towards the reception, 4E3t noticed another man similarly dressed; it also noticed the slight head movement that passed between them. As the man turned towards the bar 4E3t activated one of its many subroutines and picked up a towel and glass.

“Good afternoon Sir.” It began cleaning the glass. “What’ll it be?”

The man sat on one of the stools and took his hat off placing it to his left. 4E3t saw the sweat mark around his head. As the man leaned forward, tugging his coat out from under him so he could sit more comfortable, 4E3t saw something under his armpit, a shiny sandalwood grip. If 4E3t had been programmed with curiosity it would have asked the man if he had a permit to carry a weapon, but 4E3t was only programmed to tend bar.

“Water, ice cold.”

The man reached inside his coat and pulled out his wallet. 4E3t swiveled its top section 180º, opened the vent on its steam inlet and its servos began to roll its bulk along the length of the bar towards the refrigerator. With a hiss it stopped and a secondary arm snaked out of its torso taking a bottle from behind the glass door. In a fluid motion 4E3t opened the bottle, filled the glass with ice, began pouring the water and turned heading back towards its customer.

“Will Sir be eating today?” 4E3t placed the already frosting glass in front of the man.

“Just the drink.” He opened his wallet and pulled out a single bill, at the same time he allowed one half of the wallet to hang open, showing his badge and ID. “I’m looking for a Steambot, designation Gum9.You seen it?”

4E3t adjusted its stance, retracting the secondary arm and closing off the steam inlet, its servos quietly hummed; a sound the man probably missed as it was just below the range of human hearing. Its optical sensors saw the barcode down the left hand side of the ID, a code designed to override any ‘bots programming, placing them under the bearers command. 4E3t noticed the second man in the reception area had now moved to just outside the glass doors, he had his arms folded, one hand casually inside his coat.

“The hotel registry is publically accessible Sir, any ‘bots with that registry would be listed.”

“But this isn’t just any ‘bot is it.” The man flipped his ID shut, the look on his face a mix of concern and determination. 4E3t watched as he sat forward, casually letting one hand fall inside his coat; close to the sandalwood grip. “A Gum prefix makes the ‘bot a military unit and so it should not be anywhere near the public, and certainly not tending bar in a hotel.”

A secondary subroutine activated inside 4E3t, steam was re-routed from its primary functions, shutting down the polite voicebox, deactivating the weak optical sensor and causing it to drop the glass it was still cleaning. New functions came online in their place, infra-red optics showed the cold metal of the man’s gun under his coat, the larger white smudge under the second man’s coat the told 4E3t that he carried a larger gun but that it wasn’t capable of penetrating his armored casing; and hidden armament ports under the waiters uniform it wore opened.  In the microsecond it took 4E3t to do all this, the man had sat back, his hand clearly grasping the grip of his gun. 4E3t calculated the speed he would draw the time elapsed before his comrade came in through the glass doors and the percentage fatal casualties within the lounge area. The results were acceptable and within preprogrammed guidelines.

4E3t fired, the man’s head disintegrated into a shower of blood, brains and bone. As the second man reacted 4E3t tracked his movement and fired again, the munitions hit him in his midsection; he folded and was lifted off his feet, trailing blood and intestines as he flew through the air before crashing into the reception desk.

All around was chaos, women screamed, men scrambled from cover, and somewhere an alarm sounded. 4E3t activated another subroutine, the outer casing of the ‘bot split open and fell to either side; inside a smaller, more maneuverable unit shot up into the air on twin steam jets. 4E3t hovered and scanned the area, both Policemen were dead; there was one man in the reception area downed when the munitions that had taken out the Policeman, had passed right through and into him. In the lounge a woman had gone into labor, 4E3t calculated the early onset brought on by its actions would not endanger mother or child.

4E3t fed steam into the jets and rocketed towards the street side windows, as it smashed through and shot into the air tracer fire followed it up, the small caliber rounds bounced harmlessly off and it felt no need to return fire. Rear sensors scanned the city below, but no heavier caliber munitions had been brought in to deal with the situation. 4E3t plotted a course out of the city and into the surrounding mountains; it kept low, below radar, as it thought what to do next.

 

All Rights Reserved © Philip J Norris September 2012

I’m Reviewing The Situation

As Fagin sang “I’m reviewing, the situation…” then so have I been. A few days ago I asked the question How Do Writers Do It, regarding managing workloads alongside family and the day job. Since then I have been looking at what I have on the go so to speak, and seeing my way to rationalize it into a more workable state. It has meant I’ve had to be brutal, somethings have had to give, but I think I at a place now where, hopefully, forward motion can be made.

I follow George RR Martin’s Not A Blog, and he occasionally posts about the monkeys on his back. I suppose that was my problem, I’d got in a situation where I had too many projects open. Now this may be fine for the great and powerful GRRM, writing is his work, his life, and he can devote as much – or as little – time to it as he see’s fit. For me, I don’t have that luxury, I have to fit my writing around work and life. So some of the monkeys I’ve been carrying around have been put into a zoo, until I have time to free them again.

To this end I’ve made myself a priority list, projects that will get my full attention until finished. The hope is this way I will actually finish something before the year is out. The list is as follows.

1. I’m five chapters into a novella, this has been taking up more and more of my time as it is, and was part of the reason other projects were not getting a look in. I’ve prioritized this because it is the one that excites me the most, I think about it all the time, ideas, characters, plot twists. I already have the rest of the novella plotted out, so I’m a step ahead of myself in already knowing where I’m going with this one. I’ll be making a separate post about it in the coming days, the novella has a title, and is part of a series, but more of that later.

2. Tales From Beyond The Event Horizon is semi-put on hold. I’ve had feedback from beta readers, and have started the 2nd draft edit. But the novella takes priority and so this has to wait.

3. Screenplay – I’ve been working on this for 18 months or more now. The intention was to get it finished for the Autumn slot for the BBC Writers Room, but looks like it maybe next year now.

4. Fantasy novella – Like the script above this has been gestating for at least 18 months, its the least developed project I have, so I feel safe in letting it sit for a while longer.

Everything else, a second script that only has initial outline & characters, the re-write/edit of my Pratchett Prize entry from a couple of years ago, the couple of Future Shock scripts I have ideas for, have all been put on hold for the duration.

Unlike before I’m not going to be trying to do bits to each as I go along. I am going to concentrate on one project and get it finished.

That’s the plan anyway, but as the saying goes, best laid plans and all that.

Oban – Short Story

“Remember Oban.” Is a familiar rallying cry for disenfranchised Romanichal.

Even now seventy years after the event it is still a raw subject, and one that will always garner a heated response. There was no real reason for it to have happened, if the situation had been left it would have ended peaceably for all concerned; but those who called themselves our liberators felt they needed to make a statement. Looking at the events that lead up to, and followed Oban, it is easy to see why what happened thirty years later in Andover, happened. It is also easy to see why many Romanichal still look upon modern society, and especially the ruling elite, with such distrust.

It was the summer of 1942, for nearly four years mainland Europe had been a warzone. The allied armies of the Danish Hegemony and Russian Empire had slowly pushed their way south and west, only three of the ten Gypsy Kings still remained in power, and the High King in Rome was looking at the dissolution of the federation of nations his position had ruled over for over nine hundred years. All that stood in the way of the encroaching armies was Spain, France and England. Due to treachery, by the end of ’42 England stood alone, even the High King had stepped down so as to save lives and aid the transition of power.

But England had always been different; whilst its own King bowed down to Rome, he had not always followed Rome’s lead, a tradition the incumbent King continued. As Europe ended the year under new rulers and with occupying armies encamped in their major cities, England settled down to the long wait for the expected invasion.

It had been a thousand years since Danish ships last set sail on a mission to claim England. Then it had been Saxon swords that had kept them at bay, now it was Gypsy bullets. But this time the Danes wouldn’t be giving up, and they had help.

Early in February 1943 the Danish invasion started along the Northeastern coastline. From Newcastle to Grimsby thousands of ships, and tens of thousands of troops were landed. Overhead squadrons of bombers laid waste to towns and cities far inland. In the south the armies under the Russian flag landed from Margate to Portsmouth. The plan was for the two forces to establish beachheads and move inland, the Russians would head for London, the Danes Leeds, from these bases they would carve up the country between them.

But resistance was fierce, the Russian beachhead nearly failed, thousands died and the sea for miles turned red. The Danes met with less resistance but still lost troops heavily, the air support was hindered by bad weather off the North Sea and a combined force of Northumberland and Scottish infantry kept the Danes pinned down on the beaches. If the bad weather had held the invasion would have been lost, but as it was, on the third day, the skies cleared and the aircraft carriers launched wave after wave to take out the strengthening defenses.

By the end of February the Russian’s were in sight of London, the Danes had already taken Leeds and had moved to establish strong supply lines east to the coast. The defenders were pushed back at every turn, already news was reaching the populace of mass evacuations across the sea to Ireland, it was reported the King still held the capital but had made plans to send his family across the Atlantic.

As the invasion entered its second stage, establishing local government and repression of opposition, news came of the evacuations from Oban. So far the Danes had failed to cross the border into Scotland; much of the far north of England was still in local hands, the defenders making the invaders pay for every inch. For the Danes history was threatening to repeat itself, they were sandwiched between the Scots in the north, and descendents of the Saxons in the south. But this time round there was no Alfred to lead the resistance, and as soon as the Irish began landing along the western coasts the invasion was a done deal.

As the defenses collapsed, and three separate forces began carving the country up, all eyes turned north; and the focus of the Danes turned to Scotland. According to diaries left by the Danish commanders, there was talk of leaving Scotland to the Scots. Even though part of a United England, they had never bowed to the King in Whitehall, let alone the High King in Rome. But as plans were afoot to negotiate a peace treaty; news came that the Royal family was bound for the evacuation port at Oban. All plans for a peaceful settlement were abandoned and the Danish force re-launched its attack on Scotland.

March 14th 1943 dawned bleak and cold; the harbour in Oban was packed with boats and ships, the quay a mass of humanity, pushing to get away. Most of the boats were doomed to sink, many had planned to get away to Ireland, but with their supposed allies now siding with the invaders that plan was dead. The aim for all was to get across the Atlantic, the Americas was a beacon of hope, where national allegiances were forgotten, and English, Scot, Dane and all nationalities lived side by side as one nation.

The Royal family had made it safely from London, a party of thirty strong, aunts, uncles, retainers; and at the core the three young children of King Marcus III. As the throng gave way to allow them to pass overhead the drone of engines could be heard, there clouds were low; no-one could tell whether the planes were friend of foe. As the children were hurried along up the gangway aboard a steamer the terrifying scream of engines was heard.

The Valkyrie bomber was the latest addition to the Danes armoury. A single propeller dive bomber carrying six high explosive bombs, as well as heavy caliber machine guns. Three of them pierced the cloud cover from the North and came screaming along the coast like their namesake out of legend. The mass of people on the dockside panicked, many were pushed over the side into the water, becoming crushed between the wall and ships. Those that didn’t fall tried to get aboard the waiting ships. No-one saw what happened to the young Prince and his sisters; they vanished beneath a swamp of bodies. As the bombers entered the harbour their pilots opened fire.

To say it was a bloodbath would be an understatement. The Valkyrie was designed for use against tanks, their munitions ripped the people on the docks to shreds, no-one stood a chance. As the planes cleared the docks three more followed them in, they too opened fire, and as they passed overhead released their bombs. The steamer that was at anchor ruptured, a bomb must have hit the something vital, house sized plates of hot metal slammed into the retreating crowds, the screams of the dying drowned out the sound of the first wave of bombers turning, and taking their second run across the dock.

In little over thirty minutes Oban had been reduced to a charnal house. The six bombers flew over several times, the docks and then the town was obliterated. After, when questioned, the pilots couldn’t answer why such indiscriminate brutality had been necessary. If the young Royals had been the target then surely the docks would have sufficed. But then no-one really knew if the Royal party was there, it had only been a rumour, a speculation. Years after, when the new regime finally bowed to pressure and held an inquiry into March 14th, it was the pilots who were convicted of war crimes, it was said they exceeded their orders by targeting the town.

Just over one thousand bodies were recovered, the firestorm had been so great it is believed the death toll was higher, and bodies had been incinerated. Today, Oban has a memorial for the fallen, there is a special ceremony attended by relatives. But for the Romani nation the memory is a living thing, Oban, along with the atrocities at Andover thirty years later, continue to be an open wound that festers at the heart of modern Europe.

All Rights Reserved © Philip Norris July 2012

Matt Hawkins wiped the rain from his eyes and not for the first time cursed his parentage. He’d deliberately not gone into the family business; he’d stayed in school and went to university specifically so he could lead a normal life. But then he should have known that being the son of Caleb Hawkins meant having a normal life was impossible.

The day had started like any other. Up at seven, showered and fed by eight, and sat in his car on the M25 waiting for whatever the snarl up of the day was to clear by eight-thirty. To cap it all it was raining, must be Wednesday. To add to his woes his driver-side wiper had a chunk missing meaning he had to endure the sorrowful squeal as it passed over the windscreen. He made it into the office by nine-twenty, by eleven most of the office had died horribly, and he was standing in the rain wishing his DNA was pulled from a different gene pool.

The Ursus was an impossible creature, part bear part lizard and all kinds of nasty. It towered over Hawkins by a good six feet, but strangely he felt no fear as its golden eyes glared at him from above its foot long snout packed with razor sharp teeth. He was well aware of what those horrible teeth could do; he’d seen the three sisters who worked in accounts tore apart by them less than four minutes ago. The admin head had fared little better, except his end had been quick thanks to the beast taking his head off rather than gutting him.

He felt someway responsible for their deaths; if he hadn’t worked here then they might have all gone on with their simple lives, and never had to face the truth that what they saw as reality was only a sideshow to the real world. But then if he had worked somewhere else it would have been a different set of people suffering the same fate.

The email that had popped up in his inbox just after ten-forty five looked innocuous enough. It came through the spam filters without being pulled and the attachment passed the firewall. But as soon as he opened it and clicked on the attachment he knew something was wrong, when his insides began to churn and he felt reality shift around him he guessed he was fucked. He’d seen some strange ways to call creatures across the gulf, or summon demons from the darkest places. But emailing one in an attachment must win the Noble Prize for best hexing, if there was such a prize.

Why anyone would target him he couldn’t think, he wasn’t part of what his family did so he’d never pissed anyone off that had that sort of power. But his family did, he supposed he should have thought about that before making it is goal to blend in with normal society. They made it their business to piss things off. And as the Ursus solidified in the air in front of him, he guessed someone had decided to take out their anger against the rest of the Hawkins clan and go for the softer target of a non-operation member.

He stood his ground, despite his insistence on not being part of the family business, he was still part of the family and so – like his siblings – had undergone years of training from a young age at their father’s and uncles hands. He’d learned all about Ursus during one particularly hot summer when he was eight. He’d even enjoyed a little jaunt to Kansas with his Uncle Peter; just so he could see how the Shawnee dealt with the problem. And the first thing he’d been taught – before the Kansas trip – was don’t run, running was a sure fire way to get the beasts attention that would result in a bloody death. That little fact had escaped him for the first few seconds after the beast had materialized. Like everyone else he panicked and headed for the exits, unlike most of them he didn’t head for the lift and then stand and wait for it to arrive. He headed for the roof along with several others, it wasn’t until he got there he realized there was no way off except the way he’d got on.

The beast hadn’t bothered with them at first, it attacked those trying for the lift and as he’d climbed the stairs to the roof their screams, mixed with the beasts growls, followed him. As they all ran out into the rain the roof shook under them, a couple lost their balance as a tear appeared in the roof, the beast’s massive clawed paw burst through, pulling a section of roof down. Mike from marketing fell through, no-one waited to see what happened and scattered towards the edges. In seconds the Ursus climbed through the hole it had made and stood roaring at the sky. It was around this time Hawkins remembered his training and stopped running around like a loon. The beast made short work of the rest of the staff, and as the bodies stacked up around him he wondered how he was going to get out of this. Then it came to him, the email.

When you’re summoning you have to leave the path open from where you have summoned from, if not whatever you have summoned is thrown back. He hadn’t closed the email, or its attachment. As the realization hit him Michelle from wages charged out of the stairwell, took one look at the disemboweled bodies scattered across the roof, then registered the beast, screamed and ran back towards the door. The Ursus was on her in a second, she barely had time to scream and her insides were being washed towards the guttering with half a dozen others.

Hawkins took a deep breath; the beast was distracted but was blocking the way down. Then he looked at the hole in the roof it had climbed through, stepping close he looked down, a ten feet drop onto the floor below. He considered his options, stand here until the Ursus ran out of snacks and decided to try anything else left standing, or jump down and end this. He jumped, he’d jumped from higher as a kid, not all the training had been about fighting and killing the un-natural; there was a lot of training involving running for your life.

He hit the floor and rolled, steadying himself at a crouch he looked up through the hole, the beast was still busy with Michelle and so he ran over to his work station. Sure enough the attachment and email were still open; grabbing the mouse he clicked and closed the attachment. Above the beast roared and there was a splintering of wood as it crashed back down through the hole. Without looking round Hawkins clicked and double deleted the email, the roar behind him stopped in mid cycle, he looked round and was alone in a devastated office. He began to laugh, but stopped when the sirens began to arrive and he realized he was the only one alive in a building of dead and mutilated, the phrase Oh fuck came to mind and he was pretty sure the Police wouldn’t buy his story.

All Rights Reserved © Philip Norris July 2012

One of the many tributes to Ray Bradbury last week included a list of tips he put forward for aspiring writers. One of those tips – Write at least one short story a week –  did spur me onto to come up with this plan, and to that end I asked the Twitterverse for some prompts on Monday. I got a healthy response and so set about implementing the plan.

Not sure if this will work, but I’ll give it a go, other priorities my come along that mean there could be a break in proceedings, but I’ll give it my best shot.

The first prompt I had was It Always Seemed To Rain On A Wednesday, which prompted me to write what comes next.