Sunday, January 24, 2016

On the convention floor

The current 2000AD forum short story competition is Tales from the Convention. Here's mine:

image by the fiendishly talented Dave Kendall
Face Lift


The lift doors opened and two Harley Quinns and a female Captain America spilled out giggling while the Judge Fear cosplayer slumped against the back wall.

I pressed the button for the mezzanine where I was meeting Ben for lunch after his photo shoot, and then turned to admire the impressive costume behind me. His cloak was tattered and cobwebbed, the mantrap shoulder pads looked like real metal with blood and gore on the rusted teeth, and a dull red light pulsed behind the eyes of the helmet.

"Blimey, mate, you've put in a lot of work. Might be a bit much though, you're going to give kids nightmares."

He didn't answer but pushed off the wall and stepped towards me. There was a strange jerkiness to his movements and I wondered if he might be disabled in some way.

"Whoh, save the act for the convention. Are you going to say the line?"

He came closer and stretched a gaunt hand towards me. That wasn't a rubber glove, maybe a clever paint job? A damp smell like wet leaves filled my nostrils as the lights started to flicker. He towered over me like a giant insect, a twitching monster from a silent horror film.

"Errr, excuse ..."

The words stuck in my throat as the hand touched my chest and everything went quiet, dead quiet. No machinery noises, no alarms, nothing but the sound of my heartbeat in my ears. I was suddenly cold as all heat left the world. All the noise, all the warmth, and all the hope were gone. I thought of Ben and I was afraid.

"P-p-please" a whisper died on my lips as his other hand jerked towards the visor and ...


The doors opened and noise, heat and life flooded in around me. I jostled my way out through a crowd of laughing cosplayers and looked back into the lift but Fear wasn't there.

I staggered towards the balcony to lean on the railing. Sweat dripped from me as I looked down to the convention floor and saw Ben walking towards the stairs. He raised an arm to wave and then turned as he noticed the tall, cloaked figure behind him.

I tried to call out but my throat was still frozen. Fear bent over him as the crowds swarmed between us and when my view cleared they had disappeared.

The police searched but Ben was gone. The cosplay societies didn't know anyone with a Judge Fear suit, and he didn't appear in any of the convention videos or photos.

It's been three months now and nothing. I haven't seen the face of fear but it has seen me. I take anxiety medication but it doesn't work, my counsellor listens but doesn't believe, and I wake most nights sweating and afraid. The police are ready to declare Ben dead and the terrible truth is I hope they are right because the alternative just fills me with dread.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

1600 AD

The previous short story competition on the 2000AD forums came with a "1600AD" theme of something Shakespearean or along those lines. I took the Scottish play and a certain blue skinned genetic infantry man, and then mixed in some film references plus a line from King Lear. I quite liked the results and the last line made more sense this time.

Blue Ruin

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair"

That's what the three mad women on the blasted Heath said. They foretold that our Thane would take the castle and that the cursed Southerners would fall to his sword. They said he could not be harmed by any man born of woman.

So we raised our standards high and marched on Fife as the Southern Sassenachs fled before us. We came to the citadel and our Lord was impervious, no man could touch him and he stood before the gates until the feeble gatekeeper opened them and we entered without any more resistance from the Souther scum.

We feasted, we drank and we sang. Our Thane sat on his throne and it seemed that the crones' predictions had all come true. But just as flies are sport to wanton boys so are we to the gods of war and a black shadow fell across our victory. The Lord began to stare into dark spaces as if he saw spectres lurking there, and his Lady tore her clothes and walked the battlements late at night.

And then came the terrible dawn when we gazed out though the sulphurous mists and saw something moving in the trees. The malodorous clouds faded in the early light and there was the army of the South coming up the hill and gathering on the heath.

The troopers parted and their champion strode through and stood before us. The painted man, daubed with the blue pigment his clan wear to war. Mad Macduff, the Woad Warrior himself, wearing the helm, shield and sword of his fallen clan brothers. And he bade the Thane come face him in single combat. But still we were not afraid, our Lord Commander strapped on his armour and took his great claymore in his hand and walked out to defeat the blue rogue.

"Come do your worst," he called. "I fear you not for I cannot be harmed by any man born of any woman."

But the blue man just threw back his head and laughed.

"Then fear me, little Thane, for I am from no woman's womb. My clan brothers and I were birthed in the witches' cauldron from base clay, and eye of newt, and toe of frog."

At that the dark shadow crossed the Thane's face again and we saw his courage falter, but he gathered himself up and raised his sword.

"Well lay on, Macduff, and damned be he who first calls 'Hold!' "

But damned he was, and now so are we. The blue man fought as if possessed. Our Thane's sword bounced off the shield and helm and the painted giant swept his attacks aside and ran him through and through.

With our commander dead it was a rout and now our bodies form a feast for crows, the streams run red with our Northern blood, and so foul and fair a day has never been seen before.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Films of the year

And I haven't really seen enough movies this year, even with membership of our local arts picturehouse in Cambridge. Suffragette was an impressive and important movie. The Lady in the Van was bit cutesy although the performances were good. The Martian was enjoyable but only about as third as good as this simply splendid book, and they disappointed me by adding the Iron Man ending that is quite rightly ruled out in the book for good scientific reasons.

Marvel put out the Avengers Ultron movie and Ant Man and I can remember very little about them. By contrast Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix were much more enjoyable and memorable for all the right reasons.

So that just leaves me with the four big blockbusters for the year. I had a good time at Spectre but the plot holes were huge and it was at least one set piece too long. I can't see Daniel Craig returning for a fifth go because this film ends with him hanging them up and choosing a life over a gun which was very refreshing.

Somehow Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation managed to out Bond Spectre and led the field in its use of practical effects and a splendid scene-stealing turn by Rebecca Ferguson. Strangely Tom Cruise managed to be less annoying that usual and it was all just terrific.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens also contained huge plot holes and moments of madness that made no sense but I didn't acre. It perfectly captured the magic of the original films and left me a very happy geek. I also was able to see it with my wife and kids, the first time we've gone to see a film together in years which was just as exciting. And when that music started I almost shed a tear.

But far and a way the best time to be had in a cinema this year was with Mad Max: Fury Road with Max himself almost reduced to a supporting character as Charlize Theron's Furiosa tore up the road and the screen. A movie where pretty much the first scene direction read cut to the chase, where former doctor George Miller threw everything at the screen and reminded us all how good action movies can be when we know it's actual stunt men doing this ridiculous stuff rather than those tedious bouncing CGI sprites. Best film of 2015 by several furious road miles.

Boo thousand tales

There are few other stories I need to post up but let's go right to the latest contest still running on the forum. The theme is all out horror with a seasonal twist. My killer uses a trick I saw in an ancient episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents back when the whole world was in black and white.

And let me use an image from the splendid Mutants in Mega-City One collection for which I now own the original artwork!

Dead men tell no tales

"Santa, please call here" says the sign but it's the judges who kick down the door. They are too late, the drug has taken hold and I'm already effectively dead.

"Jovus! He's been gutted like a fish."

"Eyes up, rookie. Perp may still be here."

The toxin paralysed me, heart rate reduced to almost zero, everything slowed to crawling speed, except my brain which races away but I can't let the judges know I'm still alive.

"Clear. Whoever did this is long gone."

"Call the tech. I'll check the body."

Coloured lights reflect off her leathers as the judge checks my non-reactive pupils. I can feel drops of moisture forming in my eyes. Maybe she'll spot my tears and realise I'm not dead? But no, judges are trained for blood and violence not tears, and she stands up again as the tech sets his tri-d camera recording the scene.

"OK, rookie. Tell me what you see."

"Male, mid forties, naked apart from his u-fronts. Belly has been opened with a serious blade, I'm guessing it nicked the aorta because there is a lot of blood. Let me just look inside ... yes, his liver is missing. It's him isn't it? This is the work of Santa Claws, the Christmas Delivery Man."

"Sure looks that way. Sicko's fourth victim in as many years. Let's see what else we've got here apart from a corpse."

Time passes. I'm just a piece of meat to them now.

"All done," says the tech. "You want me to send Re-syk up?"

"Yeah. We've got what we need here."

Then I'm alone again. I hear the judges starting their door to door but no-one will have seen or heard anything, while I lay here taking it all in, unable to speak.

Re-syk is a short guy in the familiar yellow jumpsuit. As he lays out the body bag he doesn't notice my finger twitching, the drug is wearing off. Good Grud, what if I'm zipped up in his van before I can move?

However this guy is slow, methodical, diligent. He hasn't even got me in the bag when I suddenly sit up. His face is a picture but my hand closes around his throat before he cries out. My blade was hidden beneath me and his eyes widen as it slides in below his ribs.

"I'm sorry," I whisper in his dying ear, "but you have something I need."

I eat his liver straight away and feel life flood through me as mine regenerates. My belly wound closes and my mutated skin knits whole again while I quickly bottle a pint of his blood to use next time. Five minutes later I'm wearing yellow and pushing the gurney down the corridor. The judges don't even look in my direction while they browbeat the neighbours.

Re-syk are expecting a body without a liver and that is exactly what I intend to deliver.

Perfect Ten

The theme for this 2000AD forum short story contest was cinema so I adaptated a story I had already written and called it My Fair Lady. As ever I was inspired by a story I read somewhere else and once again I manage a weak final line joke (must stop doing that).

My Fair Lady

“You’re Percy Malion, AKA Percy the Pig, Con-apt 1432, Rex Harrison block?”

“That’s right, Judge.”

“Time to explain yourself. Talk.”

“It was the Frothy-Fresh shower gel advert that started it. That’s where I first saw her.”

“Saw who.”

“The perfect woman, I’d never seen anyone as lovely. She had it all, the hair, the figure, the face of an angel, and those beautiful hands. The close ups of her lathering up with the Frothy-Fresh, well it fairly took my breath away, if you know what I mean.”

“So what did you do?”

“I had to meet her, I had to tell her how I felt. So I contacted Frothy-Fresh and they put me on to the company who made the advert. At first they said they couldn’t give me her name and contact details, but I can be persistent and after I dropped a few credits here and there I found someone who told me the truth about the model.”

“Who was she?”

“She didn’t exist. Not a single model anyway. They used a different model for each shot in the ad, One for the face, another for the legs, another for the breasts and so on. In all they used 12 different models to film that commercial. My perfect lady was a composite of a dozen different women.”

“The magic of Tri-D. Most people would have called it quits there, but not you, Malion?”

“No, Sir. I was in love and a man in love will move heaven and earth for the woman of his dreams, I had the list of all 12 models and their body parts. It was obvious what I had to do”

“For the record state what exactly you did.”

“I needed those body parts. I thought about gene-splicing and cloning. I had the funds but that would have taken too long. That’s when I contacted Dr Praetorius.”

“Praetorius is currently not cooperating with interrogation. Tell me what he did for you.”

“He did the surgeries. We started with Ellie “the body” Macafee. She was going to be the host body for all the others. It was easy for me to lure the women to my apartment. We just told them it was for a fashion shoot. You can get any model out of bed for 5000 credits. A glass of drugged Synthi-pagne on arrival and we were set. And we would have gotten away with it if Frothy-fresh hadn’t tried to book all the same models for another commercial. One model vanishing and we might have been OK but 12 missing models raised the alarms. And I was so close. Another two surgeries and I would have had her. The perfect woman all to myself.”

“Percy “Pig” Malion I find you guilty of the abduction and drugging of 12 women, and the murder and dismemberment of 10 of those women. You’re going to the cubes for life, creep. Looks like you might be making your own impression in the showers.”

Stay on target

2015 was going so well until my father's slow decline from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was suddenly overtaken by a gastrointestinal bleed and he slipped away from us with family sitting around the bed telling him they loved him on September 29th. You can read a little bit about his remarkable life (because they are all remarkable lives) here.

Then there was the funeral and some more family unpleasentness but it's time to put the blog back on the front burner. Dad loved a science fiction story so I'll fill some space with some of my unpublished 2000AD stories, and also tell you about my favourite books of 2015, the ones I would have discussed with my Da if he were still around to cut through my crap with his usual Irish charm.

Strap in for a minor eruption of January posts.