Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 17
“Uh-oh! Uh-oh!! Uh-oh!!!”
“What? What is it?” Mullins came running. The sound of the food tray clattering on the floor had been a bad sign. The “Uh-oh!”s might as well have been written in neon tubing with bells on.
“It’s Count Erfitter,” said Harris. “Or…I mean…it’s not.”
Mullins took a look through the bars of the cell. “Oh geez.” He breathed in through his teeth. “Oh geez. Oh man. We are so fired.”
“Hey, hey, let’s not go nuts. We’ve let plenty of supervillains escape before and Warden Burt’s always been remarkably understanding about it.”
“Yeah, but they had psychic powers or robot tentacles or acid pee! This guy had…he had…” Mullins gestured to the thing standing in the cell. “What even is this?”
“I think it’s pizza boxes, mostly?” Harris squinted at it. “There’s some toilet paper in there too. And I think the eyes are blue M&Ms and toothpaste.”
Mullins put his head in his hands. “We are so fired.”
“To be fair, I don’t think anybody could have anticipated he’d be able to stockpile that much cinnamon chewing gum. And he was known for his cardboard cutouts.”
“Yeah! When he had a full set of paints and hours to use them! But I wouldn’t have thought you’d be so easily fooled by something he cobbled together with bits from the guards’ lounge bin!”
“In my defence, it’s pretty convincing at a glance.”
“No it isn’t!”
“Yes it is. Look, it even talks!”
“That’s a speech bubble, Harris! When was the last time you said something and the words came out of your mouth scrawled in ketchup on the back of a cereal box?”
“Well, there was last year’s Christmas Party.”
“I thought we’d agreed to never speak of that again.”
For a moment, the two of them simply stood there in silence, watching Count Erfitter’s left eye slide down his cheek.
Mullins said nothing.
Harris said nothing.
Count Erfitter said “Salut, mon ami!” but technically he hadn’t stopped saying that since it’d been stuck on the oval-shaped bit of card next to his suspiciously square and corrugated face.
“Okay, serious talk: would it look better or worse if we’d just found the cell empty?”
“What, like he didn’t bother with a decoy and just did a runner?”
“Better. Definitely better.”
“Okay.” Mullins shook out a black bin bag. “I’ll chuck this thing in the dumpster, you…punch yourself in the face or something. Just tell the warden he got the drop on you when you went in to give him his food.”
“Hey! Why do I have to be the one to punch myself in the face!”
“Because you were the one who was supposed to go in the cell and if you don’t punch yourself I’ll do it for you!”
Mullins stepped inside the cell and took one last look at the hastily-constructed junk effigy of Count Erfitter before sweeping it into the black bag. He tutted. “Seriously, man, this is just embarrassing.”
Mullins carried the bag down the stairs, out the back, and heaved it into the dumpster by the prison wall. It was a thankless job at the best of times—dangerous, poorly paid, and with nowhere near enough support from city hall—but sometimes, every once in a while, he wondered if he and Harris were to blame with the steady stream of supervillains escaping their custody. Well, Harris anyway. Basically just Harris.
He turned to walk back to the cell block, and as he did so he spotted Warden Burt running towards him waving his arms. That too was a bad sign. That was the sort of bad sign that couldn’t be any clearer if it was written in blood, set on fire, and Godzilla was spinning it around with its tiny dinosaur arms.
“That was Count Erfitter!” yelled Warden Burt. “You just binned Count Erfitter!”
Mullins turned around to discover that the pizza box, toilet roll and chewing gum dummy had torn free of the binbag and was now climbing the prison wall.
“Au revoir!” he called, as he vanished over the other side.
“Oh…” said Mullins, as Burt finally reached the dumpster. “That’s not good.”
“Captain Caulk is coming to check on the prisoner in ten minutes,” said Burt, still catching his breath. “We’re all so fired.”
“Not necessarily.” Mullins reached into the dumpster and picked out a distressingly squashy watermelon.
Warden Burt stared at it.
“So we draw a face on this and stick it in the bed…”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 15
Challenge #7*: Write a story from the perspective of an existing detective character in collaboration with another author. It must include a red herring and a film noir style inner monologue, but must not take place in a typical film noir setting.
I knew she was trouble from the moment she walked in. It was the way she pushed open the door. The way that she walked. This was a dame who took nonsense from nobody, with legs that went all the way up and boobs that went all the way down. Also her hat was on fire, or I might just have had a shade too much opium. It was almost four o’clock by the time she paid me that visit—the end of a very slow day—and by then it was hard to tell.
“The name’s Barbara Beckwith.” She took the seat in front of the desk, patting down her grey curls with a white-gloved hand. “I hear you’re a man who can take care of problems.”
“I’m a man who can solve problems,” I explained. “If you want a problem taken care of, you want a man from Lower London. One with a wrench or a length of pipe.” I did actually have a derringer, myself, but it was purely for protection. I didn’t like people to get the wrong idea about my profession.
“Like a plumber?”
Well, that was promising. One needed a certain level of wealth to maintain such a level of naivité. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 10
“Once upon a time there lived a little boy who liked to walk along the beach. One day he found a bottle washed up on the sand, and opened it in the hopes that there was a message inside. But there was no message. There was only an evil genie who popped out and said:
“‘Aha! Now that you have set me free, I shall wreak havoc all across the world! I shall be a terror like none that has ever been seen before!’
“But the boy was clever, and so he said: ‘I don’t know about that. I’ve heard tales of things much more terrifying than you.’
“‘Oh?’ said the genie, and it sat down right on the edge of the mouth of the bottle. ‘I should very much like to hear about that.’
“And so the boy began his tale: ‘Once upon a time there lived a dragon with teeth as big as oars and scales as big as rowboats, and it flew all around the Outer Hebrides frightening any it found upon the islands. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 8
Challenge #4*: Write a story featuring a Chaotic Evil protagonist with superpowers, for whom the ending is tragic.
General Public squinted at the number the girl had scribbled on her coffee cup, wishing she’d spent a little more effort on her penmanship and a lot less on decorating the thing with cutesy little love hearts. Going with his best guess, he punched it into his phone.
It started ringing. Fantastic.
“Hello?” came the answer.
“Hi, Sarah, it’s Phil,” he began. “I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a hiccup with the rota: we won’t actually need you to come in today after all.”
“Oh. That’s a shame… I could really use the hours.”
“No worries. I’ve got you in on Thursday instead.”
“I’m down for Thursday already.”
General Public cursed under his breath.
“Pardon?” asked Sarah. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 7
There was a gentle click as the safe-cracker found the last digit of the combination. It was followed by a loud crash as the massive steel door swung violently outwards, catching him in the ribs.
“Oof!” said the safe-cracker, lying winded on the floor. He would have said something significantly less family-friendly, but his bones hurt too much to really manage anything but “Oof.”
“Eeeyeah!” shouted a man in an ostentatious red robot suit as he emerged from the suddenly-open safe. “You were trying to crack this safe, but instead the safe cracked you!”
“W-what?” the safe-cracker managed to wheeze.
“Also you wanted to get what was in the safe, but what was in the safe got you.”
There was a pause.
“What?” the safe-cracker managed to wheeze again.
“Tony Snark.” The guy in the robot suit held out his high-tech hand for the criminal to shake. “A.k.a. Irony Man.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 5
Simon Guilford approached the door of the first house, tugging at the collar of his too-tight ballistic vest. For the next…he checked his watch…eleven hours and forty-nine minutes, all crime—including murder—would be legal, and though by all rights he should have been safe enough himself, in all the hubbub accidents were liable to happen.
He knocked on the door. “Purge Inspector!” he shouted through the letterbox. “As a government official of ranking 10, I’ve been granted immunity. I’m simply here to ask a few questions.”
The door opened—on a chain at first—and the occupant peered nervously outside.
“Good evening, sir.” Guilford put out his hand. “How are you doing this fine night? Keeping safe, I see? Not one for a bit of government-sanctioned murder?”
“Well,” the man smiled. “I supply half the security systems in Portland. I have to stand by my product, don’t I?”
Guilford laughed. “Yes, I suppose so. And it’s only the first year, after all: we expect participation will build up gradually as people adjust to the idea.”
“Oh, I’m participating now,” the man explained. “I’m just not going outside.”
“Ah, I see!” Guilford beamed. “You’ve paid a poor person to let you murder them. Well, I’m sure the victim’s family will appreciate the income.”
“What? No! I’m taking the opportunity to make false claims on my tax returns.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 2
Captain Caulk stared in amazement at the cache of treasures tucked away in the basement of the Château d’Erfitter. Just like that, the missing Sisley was the least of his concerns. Here were The Scream, The Thinker, The Mona Lisa! The theft of any one of these works could be considered the crime of the century, and yet these acts had gone completely undetected. What mastermind could have executed such a scheme? And what villain would resist taking credit for such a success?
There came a slow clap from the shadows. “Félicitations, Captain.” A man in an opera cape and a domino mask stepped forth to rest a hand on the buttocks of Michaelangelo’s David. “Vraiment, you are the real McCoy. Few others could have uncovered my little enterprise.”
“Who are you?” demanded Captain Caulk, falling for none of this flattery, “and what have you done with the Count?”
“Ohhh.” The villain tutted. “And just like that you ruin it. For you see, in truth…” he removed his mask and shook out his silver curls, “the Count d’Erfitter and the soon to be notorious Count Erfitter are one and the same!”
“That’s a pretty poor secret identity,” observed Captain Caulk, who could at a moment’s notice don his heroic Glasses of Obfuscation to become mild mannered reporter Clint Cark.
“Is it?” asked Count Erfitter, passing behind a pillar. When he emerged, he was wearing the mask once more. “Or is it a very convincing copy?” Continue reading
It’s been an interesting morning!
Getting permission to film on board Britain’s last surviving WWII submarine for my upcoming Ten Little Astronauts campaign was actually far easier than expected – the people at the museum were extremely helpful the whole way – but it was still a bit of a rush to get everything sorted on time. Because of that, although I only found out for sure yesterday that I’d be able to film on board, it was actually 6:30 this morning that I set out to record the pitch video.
If you go to visit HMS Alliance as part of the standard tour, you’ll see and hear much the same things illustrated in the video above. My visit to film from 7:45 to 9:45 – in the two hours before the museum opened – was a little different. Continue reading
July 1st, as always, marked the start of Flash Fiction Month, but for me personally there was also some very big news: I’ve had a book accepted for publication!
If you’ve subscribed to my newsletter or have spent some time in the Flash Fiction Month chatroom, you may already be aware of this, but the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year went a little better for me than I initially let on. One of my one-to-one meetings was with Scott Pack, an editor at Unbound. He passed on the manuscript for Ten Little Astronauts, my MA novella, to the rest of the team. A week or so afterwards I found out that they’d decided to go ahead and launch it.
Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher, which is pretty much why I decided to approach them: it is nearly impossible to get a novella published by conventional means. The couple of weeks since they accepted my work have mostly revolved around organising a campaign for it, which alongside Flash Fiction Month and my regular job have resulted in more than a couple of very, very long nights. I’ve been working on a pitch, thinking up rewards for supporters, and – for reasons that will become apparent below – arranging the use of an Acheron-class submarine.
I mentioned a while back that I’d be doing more audio work similar to The Mucky Angel, and here it is!
You might remember this story from Red Herring, my 2013 flash fiction collection. Well, a few weeks ago I was running a workshop at Winchester College and I’d been asked to read out a few of my stories. One of the points I wanted to make was that comedy in writing works best when you combine an absurd situation with a twist ending, and I felt as though (TM) did a pretty good job of illustrating that. However, it involves a lot of character speech without a whole lot of narration and, when read aloud, the only way I could make it clear who’s who was to give the characters silly voices. So I booked some time in the university recording booths to make sure I wouldn’t sound totally ridiculous attempting to voice “Big Harry.”
Turns out that I do. However, it was funny enough that I decided to stick with it. Continue reading