Today’s the day!


Hi, folks!

I am thrilled to announce that our anthology of short stories: A Seeming Glass, is available as of today – hooray! Read about my newly-qualified vampire hunter as he takes on his first challenge! Will he succeed – or will he trip over his own garlic balls? Also, thirteen other fantastic tales that will have you weeping, laughing and hiding under the bedclothes. It’s on Amazon, but all the links to the various platforms are here: http://jaironside79.wix.com/rasssa#!BUY/cnec

Enjoy!

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

New Anthology: A Seeming Glass


 

I am delighted to have had a story accepted for: A Seeming Glass – a wonderful new anthology of short stories by The Random Writers. By all acconts the collection is garnering a great deal of pre-publication praise, which is a tribute to the editors and contributors alike. Those folk lucky enough to have cast their optical dice over its anything but randomly placed words are muttering excitedly in small groups all over the place.

 A collection of reflected tales. Familiar, but with a dark twist.

‘How can I read the futures if I cannot see your skin?’

Six mysterious swans glide on a holographic pond in a totalitarian capital city.  A terrified girl awaits her part in a ritual that could change the future… and the past. A dancer in ancient Jerusalem mourns her maimed sister and prepares for the performance of her life.  A sword of legend sends its wielder back through the fiercest battles in history. A freshly qualified vampire hunter experiences the practical side of his vocation. Fourteen Intriguing, dramatic, humourous and unsettling tales,  inspired by existing stories and reflecting the breadth of storytelling from Greek myth to Hammer Horror, via fairytales and Arthurian legend.

A Seeming Glass will be available on the 7th of August from all the usual sources. More information here:

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces: Part Seven: The Curious Case of the Vampire Puffins


I will never forget the time I climbed Mount Killymanjaroo with Dicksworth. We’d slathered suncream all over ourselves before leaving base camp and were later very glad of it. We started early, the weather on the mountain is unpredictable and we needed to be at first camp by sundown. We debated a setting-off time and agreed on two o’clock in the afternoon. Dicksworth wore a freshly-laundered tea towel on his head, I wore my normal hair.

Puffins were clustered on the north face where we’d planned to begin our ascent, but the sherpas all agreed that this would be no barrier to a successful climb. I was dubious, but Dicksworth was keen to get going. Our equipment checked, we set off. The first obstacle to overcome was a pride of yaks. We’d been warned it was the rutting season, but the sherpas again assured us that this would present no problems. Dicksworth was fascinated by the way in which the male yaks clung, upside-down, to the sparse branches of the juniper trees growing on the lower slopes. I had to drag him away by the ears.

By the time we’d travelled a hundred yards or so, I was in a bad way. My chest was heaving like a harlot’s mattress and I was being severely tested by blisters exploding through my shoe- leather. Nevertheless, I was determined to continue and pressed on regardless. After about four hours, we reached the north face. It was rated two on the difficulty scale; we knew it would be a trial.

Dicksworth sat down to untangle the baling twine we’d use as a safety line. I unpacked the meat skewers borrowed from Mrs Dicksworth for the purpose of anchoring us to the rock face. It had been agreed that I would take the lead, so I looked up, gauged my route and put my foot in a crevice. To my surprise, a puffin shot out, its beak attaching itself to the crotch of my jodhpurs. I screamed, more in shock than pain, and fell two feet, landing on Dicksworth’s rucksack. He looked at me with pity in his eyes, so I poked him with a skewer, thus removing any vestige of pity, and with it, several fluid ounces of blood.

I brushed the puffin from my crotch and watched as it danced gleefully away. By now, the weather was closing in. We had to make a determined effort to get to first base or we’d surely end up as two more lifeless statistics on Killymanjaroo’s slopes. Before I knew it, Dicksworth shoved past me and began climbing. I had to admit he was doing rather well. He’d wisely bypassed the crevice and taken the more difficult line up the Chimney. Clouds of soot billowed round me as I followed in his wake, but I wasn’t about to let the cretin get the better of me. A miraculously-bearded man in a red suit hailed us as we passed a recess, but we ignored him and kept going, even though he offered to sell me an elf.

By now, Dicksworth had reached the place where we’d planned our first camp. When I arrived, he’d assembled the IKEA beach hut carried in his rucksack, the kettle was on, the table laid. We toasted ourselves by the Jotul wood burner and yarned deep into the night, before falling into bed for what we’d hoped would be a spot of well-deserved shut-eye. How wrong could we be? An hour or so later, I was awoken from a dream about Angela Pringle’s breasts by a blood-curdling howl. I leapt out of bed, tripped over my erection and stubbed a toe on the washing machine. Recovering quickly, I shook Dicksworth. He promptly clouted me with his home-made ice-axe; something cobbled together from a fairy liquid bottle, two toilet rolls and a yard of sticky-backed plastic.

There was a scratching at the door. I looked through the conservatory window. My giblets turned to water. There, flocking on the patio, was a group of vampire puffins! Their beaks dripped blood, they must have recently fed. I prodded Dicksworth again, this time with a large vibrator his mother had given him on his sixth birthday. Apparantly, he’d asked for a teddy bear, but she’d misread his infant scrawl. Once more, I narrowly avoided the ice-axe, as it thudded harmlessly into the bedside cabinet. Gripping him by the nose, I politely suggested that he might care to check the huskies. I half-suspected that the dogs had been the main course on the puffins’ menu, but didn’t let on. As I recall, I gave him some half-baked story about not being able to get my boots on due to having blisters the size of Cornwall.

He left the hut, muttering dark threats. It was several hours before he returned. There was a strange look in his remaining eye and his pyjamas were torn to shreds. I questioned him at length, but he was unable to say how this had happened. He rambled on about how he’d befriended some puffins and that they’d guided him to the summit. The view was not worth a light, he said. When he suggested abandoning the climb to ensure we got back to base camp before the sun came up, I was confused, but agreed and we began the descent without delay. We abseiled down the Chimney using the string and skewers, declining the red-suited man’s improved offer of elves, dwarves and reindeer muesli, and were greeted as heroes by a blind sherpa and his yak fiance. His name, he said, was Drogber Van Elfspring; vampire puffin hunter. Dicksworth shied away, his striped face riven with rage.

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces: Part Six. In the Shit Again.


 

The Three Hoarse Women of the Apoplectic. This was how Dicksworth, in a rare moment of lucidity, described the Sisters in the wake of the Bath House Incident. When I queried how he’d arrived at this particular soubriquet, the moment had passed; the cretin had reverted to his normal state; the blank stare, the feverish adjusting of the tea-towel on his head.

The truth is, there was a low-key investigation but the nuns weren’t that keen on reliving the experience. Sister Barnaby Goebbels would have, but Sister Immaculate Lobster and Sister Mary Napalm managed to convince her to drop it. I think they knew it was us, though. Dicksworth, desperate to scratch a newly-discovered itch, would have liked another chance at the bath house roof, but we were having nun of it.

The sewage farm that served our village lay just across the fields beyond the Laughing Donkey public house. Dicksworth lived with his parents in a reclaimed beach hut nearby. He told us that his father was employed to remove large particles from the raw sewage before it entered the treatment vats. I have no idea if that was true as Dicksworth’s father was ‘on the sick’. Consequently, I never saw him do anything except sit on the hut’s small porch, whittling eye-wateringly large phalluses from off-cuts of oak.

Mrs Dicksworth, a cross-eyed, sparrow-like woman with a furtive nose, crouched over him, whacking him around the head with a rotting bloater when production slowed. Cursed with a tarantula-like shuffle and a neck that bore comparison with a chicken’s, she was the real driving-force behind the Dicksworth’s dicks. The stall she ran at the local market was the outlet for her husband’s handiwork. By all accounts it was a popular destination for widows and the perennially frustrated.

This brings me nicely to Angela Pringle. I have mentioned her before but, apart from a brief description of her more obvious physical attractions, have said little of her gentle disposition. Sister Immaculate Lobster often talked of the need to find fulfilment in the service of others; well, Angela found her fulfilment in servicing others. This is not to say she was predatory in any way. Rather, I think Angela was in love with love and needed regular medicating with her drug of choice. As the only game in town, Stud, poker! could not have been a more apt call.

In later years, Jannings, Dicksworth and I learnt much as we climbed the cliff of her munificent bosom; abseiling to manhood in, what must have been for Angela, a series of rather unsatisfactory instants. Although I never did find out if she minded the ropes and crampons with which Dicksworth insisted on festooning her.

I digress. All the village children had been forbidden to go anywhere near the sewage farm. This then was an invitation to do exactly that. Jannings was especially bold and often occupied himself in a perilous game of ‘Thumb your nose at fate’ – although one would never have called it that at the time. In reality, it was more like ‘Party at the Wicked Fairy’s? What time?’

His particular metier involved scaling the rim of the vat and jumping onto the stirrer as it passed beneath. I had seen him do this hundreds of times with never a slip. In fact, it was becoming quite tedious. However, today the Wicked Fairy had sobered up, wiped the sick from his wand and, feeling pretty dreadful, was looking around for someone to poke. Jannings, as it turned out, was the poke of choice.

It was a blustery day. Just as the stirrer passed by, he launched himself into the air. If I had been anything other than a snot-nosed twelve-year old, I might have called it balletic. But this was no lake and Jannings, no swan. Dicksworth, sitting on the rim of the vat, clapped in eager anticipation of our friend’s party-trick. Something grabbed my giblets and gave them a tentative twist. You might already be imagining what happened next.

A strong gust of wind blew the tea-towel – Dicksworth’s Bedouin affectation – from his head and plastered it across Jannings’ face.  We watched in horrified satisfaction as the stirrer passed by, leaving Jannings blind and inelegantly sailing towards the lake of shit below.

It was more of a splat than a splash. Somehow, he managed to keep his head above the surface. Dicksworth ran off; nothing unusual there. I was left to pull the unfortunate fool from the stinking embrace of an entire village’s bodily ejections. I grabbed the ‘Large Particle’ net and thrust it into his eye. I hadn’t meant to, but these things can happen in the heat of the moment. His cry of pain was cut off by a partially decomposed toilet roll lodging in his throat. I had another go with the net, and this time was successful in hooking it under his arm.

A few short minutes later, he was back on terra-firma and looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was a tampon lodged in his hair. Other, less recognisable items (to a boy of twelve), adorned his father’s morris dancing costume. A foul soup of potty-products dripped from the baldrics and he peered at me through a veil of shit. The murderous glint – or piece of luminous sewage-plankton – that flickered in his one, visible eye spoke volumes.

I backed away. But it was not me who felt the wrath of Jannings that day. When they found Dicksworth much later, he was tied to a tree. His clothes were keeping him warm though. Jannings had stripped him naked and made a bonfire of them.

The Wicked Fairy laughed his socks off. Jannings had missed those.

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces: Part Five: Our Village Mayday.


Anyway, the whole village had turned out. Mother had to be dragged away from her giblets but we prodded her with a stick and she acquiesced. The Ancient Marinade led the way and we skipped our merry way to the green. It started to rain.

Everyone was wearing their Mayday costumes; Jannings, of course, resplendent in his father’s Morris-dancing gear. It was a poor fit and flapped about him like a mobile jumble sale. The Maypole had been put up the previous day. Jannings, Dicksworth and I had helped – which might go some way towards explaining its alarming lean. The ribbons were in a bit of a tangle but Jannings volunteered to sort them out. Looking at them now, I can only wonder if he might have suffered from some kind of temporary blindness during the process.

The vicar, in a spirit of holy-ignorance exited the vicarage gate and floated across the green. Three nuns trailed behind casting unforgiving looks at some of the more revealing of the girl’s costumes. A young novice twittered about his ankles in an attempt to keep his vestments out of the mud.

It began to hail. The vicar blessed us all and suggested that the girls might like to go first. Angela Pringle, sixteen and newly pregnant, pushed herself forward, breasts spilling over a low-cut blouse like two vast blancmanges. Several others reluctantly joined her and they took up station around the pole.

Mad Mike Scrivener wound up his Irish bagpipes and a ripple of applause ran round the green. Staggered round would be more accurate; most folk just groaned. Sister Immaculate Lobster began having another of her religious ecstasies and fell to the ground, writhing awkwardly.

Mother started muttering about lost trade and how the giblets would be impossible to read if this went on for much longer. One of the nuns, joyfully engaged in extracting Sister Immaculate Lobster’s false teeth in case she choked on them, looked up and cursed her for a witch. Mother stalked off.

Mad Mikes pipes were in full voice. The bag (punctured) wheezed, the pipes screeched like demented macaws. By accident or design, Mike began farting in poorly-judged accompaniment.

By now, Angela was lashed to the pole. She was thrashing about trying to free herself. I have since likened it to something I later saw in a Gentleman’s Club. Needless to say, a number of the menfolk were only too happy to offer such assistance as might be morally acceptable. The vicar, in holy-ignorance, smiled. Sister immaculate Lobster recovered. It began to snow.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces. Part Four: Sex in a Warm Climate.


I swear. This is true.

Jannings, Dicksworth and I. Our burgeoning interest in the opposite sex had driven us to observe Sister Immaculate Lobster, Sister Mary Napalm and Sister Barnaby Goebbels at their ablutions.

A glass skylight in the flat roof over the nun’s washroom adjacent to the vicarage provided the room with its only source of light, and us with an ideal vantage point.

I vividly recall Dicksworth’s reaction the time we climbed up the drainpipe, hoisted ourselves onto the roof and peered down into the steam-filled void below. Sister Immaculate Lobster was shaving her legs with a potato peeler while Sister Mary Napalm, whose prosthetic leg was leaning against the tin bath, chastised her nipples with nettles dipped in holy water. Sister Barnaby Goebbels was obscured by the roiling steam issuing from the sauna cabinet. (It was said that Sister Barnaby only agreed to transfer from the Vatican Inquisitors if certain stringent conditions were met; the sauna being one such. Others mentioned included: a bedside shaving socket, electric wimple heater, premium thumb-screws and a matched set of silver-plated scourges).

On reflection, Dicksworth – still wearing a tea towel on his head and quite recovered from his spell in hospital after the bicycle pump incident – should probably have been excluded from this early foray into a world the cretin wasn’t yet ready to in habit.

Jannings, the bells on his father’s morris dancing costume tinkling every time he moved, nudged me and pointed down at the figure of Sister Barnaby emerging from the steam. In his excitement, his jaw buried itself in the bitumen roof-covering. The sun was doing a pretty good job of heating it up and the boiling tar stuck to his chin. When it started to burn, he tried rubbing it off but only succeeded in spreading it further up his face. I tried to help but my fingers stuck to it and I had to stop pulling when he squawked in pain.

There we were then. Jannings and I glued together on the roof of the washroom. Only Dicksworth could extract us from the mess we’d gotten ourselves into. But it wasn’t to be. The sight of Sister Barnaby, stark naked, all twenty-seven stone of her slick with sweat, had turned him from a cretin with delusions of Bedouin ancestry into a raving lunatic. His eyes narrowed; tongue flopping out of his mouth like a land-locked haddock. Gurning and twitching, his fingers clawed at the skylight and he gibbered in tongues. His later assertion that a true son of the desert could only gain satisfaction in the arms of a woman of Zeppelin-esque proportions sounded as feeble to me then as it does now.

All my organs turned to mush and I panicked. I wrenched a hand from Jannings face and reached out to try and quieten the cretinous Dicksworth. Jannings shrieked, tripped over the edge of the skylight and pulled me down on top of him – and Dicksworth.

They say a man’s life flashes before his eyes in his dying seconds. At the age of twelve, I hadn’t had much of a life to flash – unlike Jannings who had once exposed himself to Angela Pringle and received a nod of approval in return.

I barely had time to register the sound of wood cracking beneath us and heave Jannings off, before the skylight fell open and Dicksworth plummeted into the judiciously placed tin bath below. A tsunami of water erupted from the bath, engulfing the screaming nuns and extinguishing the candles on the makeshift basin-altar. Only Sister Barnaby Goebbels remained unaffected by Dicksworth’s unexpected arrival. She grabbed Sister Mary’s prosthetic leg and began beating him about the head. At least she may have thought that was what she was doing. In point of fact, Dicksworth had hardly touched bottom before he was out, and off through the back door of the vicarage like a scalded cat.

No. It was the unfortunate Sister Immaculate Lobster who bore the brunt of Goebbel’s assault. From where I watched, she was flopped over the rim of the tub in a religious ecstasy. She may have believed the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived early and was anxious to welcome its representatives. Either way, she hardly noticed Sister’s ministrations.

I don’t recall how Jannings and I regained terra firma – or how we managed to coax Dicksworth out of the coal bunker. All I know is; that evening started the circuitous journey to manhood for all three of us.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces. Part Three.


As I believe I mentioned in my last communication, my school days were patchy. Perhaps that is not the best word I could have used to describe the disaster of those shameful years. Mother is all for education, believing that the mind is a useful organ best stimulated by a trained professional. The Ancient Marinade, however, believes that a man’s most useful organ lies a little to the south of his belt-buckle. And, for once, he is in full agreement with my mother regarding the need for stimulation by a trained professional.

I would usually meet my two best friends, Jannings and Dicksworth, outside the Coughing Donkey public house. From there we would do our best to make our way the two-hundred or so yards to the gates of the school. I say do our best, because it was difficult not to be side-tracked by the many interesting opportunities for adventure that our village presented. I well remember the time Jannings, a stout boy with a penchant for pigeon-sexing, arrived at the Donkey wearing his father’s morris dancing regalia. Dicksworth and I remonstrated with him; warned him that he might, in fact, face a degree of ridicule from the other four pupils, but he was having none of it. Our entreaties ignored, we were forced to tie him up and hide him behind the girls’ toilets. This wasn’t as daft as it sounds, as there was only one girl at our school, and she was anatomically suspect anyway.

As the number two in my gang, I had to keep the idiot company until the madness wore off. Dicksworth, designated number three, due to an early incident with a bicycle pump, kept watch. Ah, the bicycle-pump incident; it is forever seared into my memory. Someone had jokingly told the cretin that if you blew enough air into yourself, you could fly. Being of sound mind, they had also added that this, of course, was a physical impossibility.

In his own strange little way, Dicksworth is as stubbornly, and epic-ly bonkers as Jannings. He insists that his parents bought him from a Bedouin tribesman during their honeymoon in, um, Bedouin-land. He claims that no money changed hands as the tribesman wanted goats. (I believe he may be getting his goats and groats mixed up here.) That he has chosen to permanently adopt the wearing of a tea-towel on his head is, I think, another example of his genealogical ineptitude.

So, anyway; in a genius moment, Dicksworth gets Jannings to insert the bicycle pump into his anus – something, by all accounts, Jannings derived a certain dubious pleasure from. Two and a quarter hours later, Jannings was pretty red in the face. Dicksworth, however, hadn’t yet taken to the air. In point of fact, his innards hadn’t taken to the air either, having reorganised themselves somewhat randomly, with his lungs now giving him the shapely buttocks his slim frame had hitherto lacked. The surgeon, who’d done his best to prise the organs back into a semblance of good order, remarked that he had never seen a more perfect example of the folly of giving a boy a man’s tool. Something The Ancient Marinade agreed with whole-heartedly.

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces. Part Two.


I have no memory of events before the age of three. In piecing together my early years, I am leaning on the wonky lamposts of my mother, The Ancient Marinade and several completely unreliable relatives. One – my mother’s brother, Basil – worked in ladies underwear. His co-workers at the Brown & Balls abattoir suspected nothing, his predilections only being revealed after he suffered an unfortunate accident with his chopper. Naturally, he required hospital treatment, the surgeon generously using poor unconscious Basil in his fishnets as a student nurse tutorial. Although he has spent the last fifty-odd years hiding in a bush on our allotment, there have been occasional bulletins – written in a spidery copperplate hand and smuggled out by one or other of his malevolent ferrets.

Apparently, I was a difficult child. My mother was fond of strudel – she still is but I was not so keen, preferring breast milk which was quite hard to come by in austere, post-war Britain. Basil reports that, rather like Romulus and Remus, I was suckled by the old goat at No.27. (Plot 27 – Mr Scrivener was a goat-herder – he was also underarm-yodelling champion of all-England)

At the age of three, The Ancient Marinade introduced me to rum – Red Rum, that is. Produced in his own still in a purpose-built extension to The Shed, Red Rum was notorious for helping several generations of our vertically-challenged neighbours to a life of poverty. However, every cloud has a silver-lining – shredded betting slips make for jolly good confetti if you have a daughter at the altar.

What of the albatross, you may wonder? School was a bit of a hit and miss affair. I did go, once or twice but it was patchy. The Ancient Marinade sees education as the Devil’s work. He believes that if you can consistently throw a treble-twenty and get out on a double before your mate does that that’s just as valid as having Pythagoras’ Theory rammed down your throat. (Although he has mellowed of late and will acknowledge that ‘Pie-shag-erus’, as he euphemistically references the Ionian philosopher, can be useful when it comes to figuring out who’s buying the next round).

Mother’s giblets-bath attracts as much attention as ever it did. In the summer, the Health and Safety folk – or Gestapo – as she would have it, are around almost every week. They’ve been trying to close her down for years but she has some very important clients who put in a word for her. I can’t disclose their identities but shall we just say that the governance of the local council would come to a grinding halt if she could no longer plough her own furrow.

You may be wondering about the albatross. Well, he spends most evenings in front of the television. He particularly likes Loose Women (as does The Ancient Marinade). He is regularly plucked and mother is considering putting him out to stud. For years he has shared her bed but she assures me that there is nothing going on. I did once ask the Ancient Marinade how he felt about it but all he said was, ‘Got a light, Mac?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘But I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.’ We often engage in spirited banter like that. I think it helps to hide the pain of mother’s cuckolding.

My teenage years were spent on the land. Our allotment has been a millstone around my neck but nature’s a wonderful thing and I learnt a lot from watching lettuce. No, there’s never a dull moment at ours. Oh, and I can thoroughly recommend radish-dribbling for an exhilarating alternative to football – or tossing a caber (whatever that is). Sometimes I dream that my real parents show up in a Rolls or an Austin Avenger and whisk me away to a life of regal splendour. But then I wake up to find The Ancient Marinade pissing in my wardrobe and in that fetid moment I know that this is where I was meant to be.

Thank you for listening.

By stephenmark1

My Life in Pieces. Part One.


I swear. This is true.

Apparently I was found, a squalling baby, at the side of the road. The Ancient Marinade, exercising his pet albatross, heard my cries and, rummaging amongst the detritus on the verge, located me nestled in an old shoe box. (I later learned that the label on the box indicated the shoes were size nine, handmade in Northamptonshire and purchased from Harrods) Since then there has been much speculation as to whether I might have noble blood. The small, crown-shaped birthmark on my inner thigh has often been sited as proof positive of the possibility.

My mother, who reads the giblets to earn a crust, thinks this is all nonsense. She distinctly remembers my father telling her that he had severed the umbilical cord with a marlin spike (stolen for the purpose of repairing a punctured bicycle tyre). And that one end of the cord was wrapped around a tree – presumably to stop me running off. She thinks that I am the product of an early experiment in artificial insemination. Possessed of a fearsome temper she is not one to argue with so, with one notable exception, I have resisted the temptation, believing as I do that it is better to have blubbed and lost than never to have blubbed et al.

Although incredibly hirsute and needing to shave on an almost hourly basis, I still prefer to think that I might one day ascend to the throne. In fact, if the opportunity presented itself, I would grab it with all three hands.

There is so much more to tell but I hope this will serve as a useful introduction. If my heart can stand it I may reveal more of my extraordinary life in future posts.

By stephenmark1