A CHRISTMAS THING FOR YOU, FROM ME

It’s getting towards the end of the day. The Blu-Ray pile has Snowpiercer and two Quatermass movies, freshly purchased, waiting to be unwrapped and watched. The beer is in the fridge. I’m about to start putting together the special dinner platter for Luscious and I that marks the point where I wish you all a Merry Christmas and book the hell out until the other side of the festivities.

So, before I go, to say thanks for popping in every now and again and reading my bewildering blether, have a short story on me. It’s not even remotely festive.

Enjoy, Merry Christmas, and see you on the other side.




Perry hadn’t slept in three days. Not since he’d worked it out. Not since the last piece of the puzzle had presented itself, like a full-colour, 3D blow to the frontal cortex and he’d finally, after twenty years, fit the whole thing together. The World Government was real. He’d found them. The masters of humanity: identified; tagged; nailed down. Incontrovertible proof that, despite all the conspiracy theories, despite all the crazy people and the pop culture mockery and the Hollywood hand-waving, there was a secret cabal that ruled the planet. The faces in his folder. The names on his list. They all checked out. They all left trails. It had taken him twenty years, twenty years of playing the game, being the spy in the network, moving up the corporate and military and Government ladders until he could talk to the right people, stalk the right people, track the right people. And find the right people. All in his folder. All on his list.
Three days. He hadn’t slept, hadn’t stopped moving. Constant movement had become his watchword, his way of avoiding surveillance. He knew too much for safety. Who they were. How they did it. Mind control.  Perry snorted into his coffee. All those theories, all those lunatic fringes, all those message boards. All correct, without the strength of character to prove it. The Government, the real Government, could do control people’s minds. Were already doing it. Had been for years. Perry glanced around the diner. The only question was how. It wasn’t via the air. He had disproved that theory early. But it could be via contact, via subliminal messages in the TV, could even be something they put in the food. Through food. Jesus. He stared down at the coffee, then dropped the cup in sudden panic, watching the brown dregs as they pooled on the tabletop. Jesus. Through the food. He scrambled out of the booth and strode towards the exit. If they were doing it through food then movement was no longer a protection. It was a weakness, perhaps his only one. Anything prepared by a stranger was suspect. He had to get home, had to barricade himself against the world and work out what to do. He would need to source food, as fresh as possible, prepare it himself to be sure. Avoid processed meals, avoid anything tinned. Wash it himself, prepare it himself. That was the only way to be sure.
There was an ATM nearby. Perry steered towards it, peered at himself in the mirrored surface above the slot. Tired, haggard eyes stared back. He took out everything he had, made sure to keep the receipt. Leave no trace behind. That was the key. He turned the collar of his coat up, shrunk inside. A fresh food marketplace. A new kitchen knife. Supplies. Paid in cash. Talked to nobody. Said nothing. The hot weight of his file under his arm, tucked in against his ribs. Hidden. Safe. Took it out as he strode towards his flat. This, this was the evidence that would bring everything down, would expose the secret masters for what they really were, he thought, tearing it into pieces as he walked. Once this got out the world Government, the cabal, would topple. He dropped the folder into a bin, kept walking, his mind made up. Tomorrow, he would find safe avenues for release, people untouched by the global corporate message, and give them the information, see it released to the public in a million ways. He smiled, relieved now he had reached the endgame, and threw his money into an empty lot.
His flat was cold, dark, all his surveillance equipment undisturbed. Perry nodded in satisfaction. They hadn’t found him, not yet. They were still unaware of his pursuit. He put the food away, crumpled up the ATM receipt and flicked it onto the living room floor along with his empty wallet. Then he moved about the flat, making sure everything was in place: pulling out drawers, overturning furniture, slashing cushions with the new knife. Everything was as it should be. Perry released the breath he had been holding. He knew from long experience that this was the most dangerous time. The job was done but not finished. He could not afford complacency. After tomorrow, the world would be changed. There would be danger then. Those whose downfall he caused would be hurt, and would know his name. But for now he was safe, and undetected. Eat only the fresh food, he thought, draining a glass of beer from the fridge. Stay awake one more night. Be alert until the morning. Then, he nodded as he sat down at his computer and deleted the hard drive, then the secret masters will be exposed. Peace could come to the world, and eventually, to William Perry.
There was nothing left to do but wait. Perry put a can of soup on to boil, then returned to the hallway outside his flat. He made sure it was empty, closed and locked his door, then kicked it off its hinges. Twenty years of careful planning would soon be over. The lie at the heart of the world was exposed. Humanity would thank him, in time, when the cabal was thrown down. People could live free, released from their mind-controlled, drone existences. He stepped inside and lay down amongst the wrecked furniture in his living room.

Tomorrow, he thought, as he plunged the knife into his chest, again and again, tomorrow he would change the world. 

PEACE AND GOODWILL TO ALL ME….. GET THAT STITCHED, FUCKER!

It’s Halloween, a time when we pause in our Godless lives to pay tribute to Saint Allens, the patron saint of childhood diabetes.

Have a nasty little piece of fiction from my past to keep you warm. It was originally published in Scary Food, a horror fiction cookbook put out in the dim, distant past by now-defunct Aussie publisher Agog Press.

Here it is, regurgitated for your pleasure. It’s all you’re getting: I’ve eaten all the candy.

, Rabbit, Run

     So they picked him up, the broken-shelled, loose-limbed motherfucker, lying unconscious in a pool of his own piss. Didn’t matter where they found him, was all the same to them and hedidn’t care. He was only one anonymous, ruined face amongst thousands, millions, drunk and stinking in alleyways and shop doorways, every one a fugitive from some demon roaming the corridors of their own minds, lying under bridges and daring the night to come eat them up and see if anybody cares. Besides, he’d long since given up running. Couldn’t even remember why he’d started, memory ruined by knife points and alcohol, bouncer’s boots and junkie product, a hard man gone soft, dedicated to the act of fucking himself up, real hard man, real iron-muscled motherfucker, kill himself down dead long before whomever or whatever reached him and did the job their way. Choose the manner of your own death like a man, even if it’s a death of piss and vomit, gin blossoms and teeth on the tarmac in front of your face. Took time and effort, but he got there, more backs stabbed than a politician, he’d done it, oh boy, done it but good.
     They found him, though, dumped him in the back of a white truck and drove him away towards the lights of redemption. He was so wiped he didn’t even recognise them, couldn’t tell anybody where they came from or where he was going, no fight left in him and if they hadn’t found him it would have been some other monsters and fuck it, he was ready for them, finally, ready to lie between their teeth and play like meat. But they knew better. They smiled and tied him down and pumped his veins full of clear, clear liquid amnesia, called his name and played games with his screams as they drove slowly through the darkened streets, all the better to pass the time until the building drew them all in and he landed face down on a gurney through door after door banging the top of his head until the scalp bled. The scalpels made no sound as they cut him open, the drugs washed his blood and his marrow and his thoughts, and when they came to shave him here, there, and down below he didn’t even flinch at the sight of their faces, white and hairless and smelling of wine turned vinegar. And the sheets were soft, and the saline was tangy against his arteries, and if he couldn’t keep the food down for more than an hour before spewing it splash and splatter into the nearest corner nobody complained, so he puked all the harder just to watch them bend down to clean it.
     He slept when they told him to and ate when they told him to and wanked when they told him to, filling pots and buckets and forms and days, and somewhere deep down where the knives had missed and the scars circled round it like a ribcage, protecting, nurturing, hiding, a spark remembered itself: you can’t tell me what to do. You don’t own me. You’re not my…
     Fuck it. You’re not my anything.
     So he held the pills under his tongue and spat them into pot plants, crept along corridors at night smelling spirits and cleanliness, let his hair grow back and found a comb, cleaned his teeth by himself God Damn You!, ignored the outstretched hands and turned his back on the help and picked up the fork and took the spill-proof top from the cup and when they came for him one morning with the gurney and the bag of clear liquid with the tube hanging off it like a limp-dicked pensioner he said No. No more. I’m gone. I’m checking out. And they smiled and asked him if he was sure and he told them yes, fuck you, let me go. I want to go.
     That’s when they took him down to the offices with the soft carpet underfoot and pastel paintings and soft piped music and smiling lipsticked mouths saying yes, hello, we’re soglad. And a suit, in his size, washed and clean and smelling so good like a thousand fucks in teenager’s beds and a wallet filled with cash in the pocket and one final form with his name in neat black letters and the standard paragraph about release and welcome to the world and just sign here, here and here, please sir, no motherfucker you but a man, a real man, welcome back old friend just sign here.
     They helped him dress and placed the jacket over his shoulders and shook his hand, all in a line saying well done, good luck out there and he strode, not shuffled anymore, damn well strode to the front door and they held it open for him, sir and sir and sir and he turned for one last look and there they were, all lined up and not for a moment did their smiles slip or the love and affection in their gazes die but in each hand a scalpel, in each smile the taste for blood and every one of them a face he remembered, every one of them long teeth enemies fright in the night under the bed terror, every one of them a punch to his heart.
     Good luck, they said, and
     We’re so happy, they said, and
     See you again soon, they said, and
then, at last, to him,
really to him
     as the muscles in his legs spasmed and sent him to the cold concrete outside, ass on the ground and limbs splayed wide, the single street light bright against the gloom showing the first piss stain already damp dark wet against his trousers, one last thing before they started counting:
     Run.

LYING LIKE CARDS: A MARIUS DOS HELLESPONT FIX

To note the Aurealis Award nomination for The Marching Dead, here’s a little bonus for those of you who knew him before he went electric.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont fix is a vignette I wrote to mark the publication of The Marching Dead. It concerns the game of Kingdom, which I invented for the novels and which nobody has had the decency to licence and make me a rich man by producing limited edition gold-plated versions thereof. Or even a DOS game. The story takes place just before the opening of The Corpse-Rat King, so if you want to get the full benefit of the narrative, buy my goddamn books already. It’s appeared at the Angry Robot website and some delightfully hand-made booklet versions were given to people who attended the book launch, but it appears here for the first time.

Enjoy.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix

An hour ago there had been six at the table. Now there were two. Marius don Hellespont, late of His Automancer’s Court of Taslingham, even later of the cells beneath the court, took a moment to glance down at his cards before casually flicking over a stack of riner coins so they splashed across the green paper tablecloth.
“Whatever that adds up to,” he said, deliberately yawning. The fat Tallian across from him pursed his lips.
“That is bad etiquette, sir.”
“In this fine place?” Marius waved a hand at the shabby, peeling wallpaper, the warped floorboards, and the boarded up windows that surrounded them. “Where are my manners?” He nodded at the coins. “Whatever that adds up to. See it or raise, tubby.”
The fat man waited enough that Marius knew he was beaten. The game of Kingdom was a complex one, if you paid attention to the cards, and it became more difficult the fewer players were at the table. Ostensibly, the object was to build the hand most closely resembling the current ruling class: Royal family, if you were in Scorby, Council of Elders in Zerpha, Automancer’s Cabal in Taslingham, and so on. If you were paying attention to the cards. Only the most trusting of beginners did that.
Real players, and Marius was a real player, knew that the object of the game was much simpler: to take your opponent’s money. The cards were immaterial. What counted was keeping your opponent off-balance– learning their tells, their psychological weaknesses, and then exploiting them. Like all truly great sports, Kingdom was won by the one who best played the man. The Tallian hesitated the tiniest smidgeon, and Marius had him.
“Gods damn it.” The fat man blew out his cheeks, aiming to recover lost bravado. “Gods damn.” He made a show of counting the coins, then counting them again. Marius very deliberately did not leer like a greedy baby snatcher. “All right,” his victim said. “All right.” He riffled his stack, came to the decision Marius knew he was coming to all along. “All in.” He moved his pile into the centre of the table.
Marius didn’t count them. He had no need. He knew he had the bet covered. He paused just long enough to make him sweat, then casually smiled and laid his cards face down before him. “Call.”
A queen, a prince, a knight, three nobles, a peasant. Pretty close. Good enough to win most hands. The fat man stared at them for several seconds, then raised his gaze to Marius.
“One peasant.” He snapped the card onto the table. “Three nobles.” Snap. “One knight.” Snap. “One prince.” He held up the last card, turned it so that it faced Marius. “One King.” He laid it down with a grin, slid it into place with the others. “My hand, I think.”
He reached out to draw in Marius’ coins. To their right, a door crashed open.
“What the fuck?” Both players reared back from the table as if stung. A soldier was standing in the doorway.
“The King!” he roared. “The King has been killed!”
“What?”
“Assassins from the house of Belchester! The King is dead!” He flung himself back out the door. The room erupted in a mad scramble to follow him: off duty guardsmen and civil militiamen hurling themselves towards distant guardhouses, to swords tucked over lintels, to scythes and halberds and sharpening wheels in front yards. As the room emptied, Marius raised a sympathetic eyebrow at his stunned opponent, and began scooping coins into his pockets.
“Tough timing,” he said, and rose before the fat Tallian could recover himself enough to object. “Still, the cards never lie.”

# # #

Marius sat in a booth at the back of ‘The Hauled Keel’ and watched his young apprentice Gerd weave through the crowd, two tankards of Krehmlager in his beefy fists, plonking down opposite his master and passing one over. Marius raised it in salute, and took a long swallow.
“You hid the armour?” he asked, once he’d recovered his breath. Gerd took a sip, and choked.
“In a barrel on Pudding Alley.”
“Good. Good.” Marius removed a short stack of coins from a pocket and slid it over. “Your share.” Gerd accepted it without counting. Trusting lad. Stupid boy. Marius felt the weight of all the winnings secreted around his body, and took another swallow to help ignore a sudden pang of conscience. From outside came shouts, and a clattering so loud that even the seasoned drinkers within the pub were silent for a moment.
“What’s that?” Gerd stood, and turned towards the window. Marius tilted his head.
“Soldiers,” he said after a moment. “Forming up in front of Traitor’s Gate.”
“Isn’t that the…”
“Road to Belchester?” Marius nodded. Gerd slowly sat down.
“You don’t think..?”
Marius took a long draught of his lager, shook his head, and signalled a passing girl for another while he recovered the feeling in his face. Krehmlager was traditionally strong. The Hauled Keel’s brewing room deserved its own hospital. “No,” he said, finally, flipping a coin through suddenly-clumsy fingers. “And even if there’s a little skirmish or something, nothing will come out of it but opportunity.”
The new pints arrived. He picked his up and gestured to Gerd to do the same. “Drink up,” he said. “We’ve got to get our stuff and be ready to follow them.” He smiled, thinking of the riches to be had on the battlefield to come. “I’m going to teach you how to be a corpse-rat.”


WANT A TASTE OF CORPSE-RAT?

It’s Short-bits-of-Battersby week! 

First there’s the appearance of Canals of Anguilar in the Review of Australian Fiction, which you’re all aware of because you’ve already lashed out the $2.99 and have read it, but now you can pop over to the Angry Robot website and get a tiny taste of Corpse-Rat to whet your appetite for this Saturday’s launch event: a teensy tiny prequel to The Corpse-Rat King for your education and amusement.

Lying Like Cards: A Marius dos Hellespont Fix.

This is the story that 25 of you will be able to own in signed, dead-tree form, simply by being the first to purchase a copy of either Marius dos Hellespont novel at the launch and getting me to sign it. But have a read before you buy: I am a kind and generous God….

FREE FICTION FROM FARRUGIA’S FORCEFUL FELICITATIONS

Over at the Screaming Ink website, the groovy Mark Farrugia, co-editor of the upcoming Midnight Echo #8, has posted a list of short stories that have made an impact upon him due to their offbeat and disturbing nature. The entire post, entitled Fiction That Has Stayed With Me, is a nice little run-down of one man’s reading tastes.

If you pop down to number 46, you’ll see my beloved Luscious‘ story As We Know It. It’s a nasty, unsettling little gem of a type she does superbly: short vignettes starring a woman who says all the ‘right’ things and does all the ‘right’ things, but still ends up disturbing the living buggery out of you– femininity inverted, revealing all the rages and injustices that are subsumed beneath convention and ‘obedience’.
As We Know It first appeared in issue 10 of Borderlands magazine, back in 2008. The magazine has gone the way off all things, which is a pity as it was a classy little unit, but Lyn has kindly agreed to let me reprint it here in its entirety. So, for your entertainment, and in the hope that it will leave as lasting in impression upon you as it did Mark:
As We Know It
by Lyn Battersby
First printed in Borderlands 10, March 2008, Borderlands Publications.
     Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you like the sex. You enjoy the way he paws at your breasts, tweaks your nipples and runs his hands over your butt as he whispers eternal love in your ear. You’re even partial to the odd slap on the thigh as he grabs your hips and grinds himself into you, the rhythmic thwack, thwack, thwack of flesh assaulting flesh as you thrust against one another, him grunting, you panting, thrusting and grunting, panting and thrusting, panting, grunting, grunting, grunting, moaning, faster, faster, faster,
     breath,
     hold it,
     hold it,
     aaaahhhhh,
     And he’s come, and you’ve faked it, and you’re lying on the bed, on the grass, on the stairwell leading to the Humanities building and you recall the acrid tang of that one cigarette you had four years ago and wonder whether it’s too late to take up the habit.
     No, it’s the responsibility you’re avoiding. He doesn’t have to worry about words like breech or caesarean or placenta praevia or any of the hundreds of medical terms that share just one meaning: death.
     You search the campus surgery, ransacking the cupboards, searching for samples. You have your preferred brand, the one that doesn’t make you feel bloated or teary or furious, the one that acts as it should, regulating your cycle and preventing his little soldiers from invading your ovum.
     You find a  packet in the nurse’s station, enough to cover two months, but you’re always aware, always aware: the stocks are finite. Sperm isn’t.
     Once upon a lifetime ago, you were not alone. People milled through your life with their bad breath and sweat and the endless chatter of mobile phones and you barely noticed them, noticed him, failed to perceive the ebb and flow of one person after another.
     People were unimportant.
     Once upon a time.
     And now, you’re at the happily ever after and it’s just you and him and you can’t help but notice him because he is all there is and he wants more, many more, a world of more and you
     just
     don’t.
     “Maybe this month,” he says as he pushes you onto the table and opens you up with sex-stained fingers.
     You nod and agree, that it’s your responsibility, but all the while you’re aware of the sugar bowl, the tomato sauce bottle, the serviette dispenser as they bounce against your head and you try to distance yourself–
     Bristol, Devonshire, London, York–
     “What are you thinking about?”
     Lying back and thinking of England.
     “Maybe this time,” you say.
     –Stratford Upon Avon, Ferry Across the Mersey–
     His face screws up into a frown. Sweat drips onto your breasts, into the dip of your cleavage–
     — Eastenders, Dr Who–
     Then it’s over and you sneak off to the bathroom to flush away his semen. You pop out another pill and swallow it with a mouthful of tepid water from the basin.
You are the only woman for him, he tells you and you buy into it because it makes you special. You don’t know why you were chosen, it’s his mission not yours, but you continue on with your quest and take long walks off campus and one day you find it, the Promised Land. A chemist, unopened, unexplored, and it’s a simple matter to find a brick and aim for the window and an alarm shrieks its outraged cry while you head for Mecca, and there it lies, the Holy Grail, hundreds and hundreds of little tan tablets in their foil packets beckoning to you, promising years of infertility.
     Your lover doesn’t suspect a thing, him with his self-appointed assignment and need to repopulate the Earth in his image. You’ve seen behind the mask to the devil within and you know, you know there’ll never be one last hurrah, no last moment of giving fate the finger.
     For you, for all of you, this is the end of the line.
     Because he is the last man on Earth.
     And you still don’t want him.