Broken bones

It was at times like these that Bruce found himself at his most introspective. Neither the endlessly winding corridors of his family manor nor the impenetrable sanctuary of his underground fortress could satisfy the conditions for peaceful meditation. Not even the bright lights of Gotham at night, observed from far above the chaos and pollution could grant him the serenity required for a moment’s quiet reflection. There was but one place in the entire world that Bruce could find the peace of mind he so desperately sought, and now as he sank further into his own thoughts, he truly appreciated the city for granting him this fleeting slice of paradise, the only place he was truly happy.

As he drove the palm of his hand into the back side of his assailant’s elbow, a short but no less satisfying crack signalled the last time that the arm would be of any use for some time. The scream that followed was pitiful, angry and telling in more ways than its owner could possibly know. Bruce released his grip on the now limp forearm and primed himself for the next assault. Every sense was peaked and waiting for the slightest hint of aggressive movement.

As the graceful rhythm of combat calmed his frantic brain, Bruce’s thoughts turned to the beautifully hand crafted box that his father once kept on the mantelpiece in the dining room. Bruce was eight years old when Alfred fell sick with a fever. He remembered vividly the joy of being asked to fetch the box from the mantelpiece. Inside were his father’s thermometer and stethoscope, his most coveted possessions. Back then Bruce wanted nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps. Thomas Wayne M.D, perhaps the most talented surgeon in all of Gotham and a role model that the whole city admired. Thomas helped people and sought no reward. He could have sat back and coasted off of the millions he had inherited from his own father, but that was not the type of man that he was. Thomas always said that by fixing people, by setting their bones and mending their broken bodies, he was giving them the chance to go out and fix others. To pass on the kindness that he had shown them.

Bruce’s fist shattered the second assailant’s rib cage like glass. The thug wheezed, helplessly sucking air into a punctured lung. Thomas had only lived to 35, Bruce was older than his father had ever been and was certain that he’d broken at least twice as many bones as his father had set. Was he destroying Thomas Wayne’s legacy? Was every shattered femur and torn ligament setting the world back another step? Perhaps Bruce was more of a cynic than his father. The longer he could put these men out of action, the longer it would be until they hurt anyone else. This was not the way that Thomas saw things. There was no special treatment in the operating theatre. Young or old, rich or poor, innocent or guilty, all would receive the same care and attention that Thomas gave to all of his patients. Judgement did not factor into his job, he saved lives, that was it. Bruce’s job was different. He had been tracking a group of sex traffickers from the docks all the way to Stanton. They were good, even the most keen eyed of cops would have passed over their “shipment” without a second thought. Even then, should the police find any one of the 60 hand picked girls that were being smuggled into the country, every one of them had passports, every one of them had the correct work permits and if you were to ask any of them whether they wanted to be there, the answer would be “yes”. After all, when your shipping business is run by Carmine Falcone then legal papers aren’t exactly hard to come by and when each and every girl has a family that they love and want to protect, silence is easy to buy.

In the eyes of the law, these men were innocent. If Thomas were alive today he would set their bones and put them back on the street in no time at all. Bruce’s brow furrowed as he thought on this. A man with a crowbar swung clumsily at his head, missing by a wide margin. In the blink of an eye the crowbar was in Bruce’s hand, another blink and the cold steel was dislocating the man’s jaw, sending him spiralling into the concrete.

If his father had been alive today would they be rivals? Would each be fighting tirelessly to undo the other’s work? Both were men of unshakable moral values, both were dedicated and unrelenting in their goals and both wanted nothing more than to make their city a better place. Bruce launched the crowbar with force into the face of yet another trafficker, this one panicking as he attempted to load an assault rifle. The sharp end of the crowbar found its mark in the man’s eye socket and blood sprayed the floor in front of him. The warehouse fell silent, the time for reflection was over. Bruce’s head was once again filled with noise. Unanswered questions from long forgotten cases, distant police sirens drawing closer to the scene, Alfred’s voice in his ear.

“Sir, if you are quite finished securing the area I would recommend leaving, the officers will take care of the girls from here.”

Bruce released the grapnel gun from his utility belt and aimed for the ceiling when a quiet whimpering sounded from behind him. One of the traffickers was lying on the floor, shivering and pale. Blood sprayed violently from an open wound on his forearm. Bruce lowered his arm and knelt down beside the injured man. The fear in his eyes was all too familiar, not the same fear that Bruce had spent years instilling in the hearts of his enemies but the cold, all encompassing fear of death. Bruce reached once more into his belt and withdrew a small cylindrical tube. Screams echoed off of every surface as flames burst from the nozzle of the tube and seared the wound shut. As the white hot light faded and the screams melted into desperate gasps, Bruce stood once again and withdrew his grapnel gun. Over the sound of screeching tires and blaring sirens pulling up outside, Bruce heard a weakened voice whisper from the direction of the injured man.

Thank you.

Bruce’s grappling hook found purchase in the rafters of the warehouse and his cape fluttered in the breeze as the wooden doors burst open to a sea of police officers with guns at the ready.

“Holy shit, it’s him!”



Bruce didn’t have to look back to the trafficker, the injured man knew that the Batman’s last few words were meant for him.

“Pass it on.”


The Note

President Matthew Santos entered the Oval Office and sighed. Winters in Washington DC were bitterly cold, but the sun glistening on the frost of the South Lawn made for a pleasant backdrop to inauguration day. He had very little still to do before he vacated the building for the last time as the leader of the free world, but one task in particular weighed heavily on his mind. The traditional note left from one President to the next.

The same eight years had passed for President Santos as for President Bartlet, but Santos wondered how his predecessor had coped with the exhaustion he now experienced. The youth and vigour that had been a feature of Santos’s first presidential campaign had evaporated by the time his re-election campaign was over, and now he felt utterly drained.

“Who knew that the President of the United States could feel so powerless?” He mused to the portrait of Abraham Lincoln that hung opposite the Resolute desk.

He thought back to the note President Bartlet had left for him. Concise, optimistic, and encouraging. But the country’s mood had shifted dramatically since, and the President-Elect would be inheriting a nation which felt divided more than ever.

The first 100 days of his presidency had contained all of of the achievements he would be most remembered for. After Governor Baker had been confirmed to the Vice-Presidency by Congress, he had tried to reform the role of lobbyists, but without the support of the Speaker of the House. On that issue he had won, but only with the help of some procedural tricks in the Senate.

Next, the cornerstone of Santos’s domestic policy was introduced; education reform. Where Baker’s confirmation was a (relatively) simple process, reforming the American education system was a much greater challenge. Democrats opposed ending teacher tenure, Republicans likewise disagreed over extending the school year and increasing funding. A compromise bill was passed, but only after expending all of his remaining political capital. At the time he had been arrogant enough not to care, but since the reforms weren’t in full force before the his re-election campaign kicked off, it had made running for a second term much more difficult.

The re-election campaign had taken over the primary focus of the administration, to the detriment of governing. That had always been the case to an extent, but Washington had used the situation as an excuse to run down the clock and hold up confirmation of his nominee for the Supreme Court, hoping for a change in the White House. It was on the strength of his handling of the continuing situation in Kazakhstan that he had won re-election, rather than his domestic achievements.

The second term was full of frustrations. Although his Supreme Court nominee had finally been confirmed, lobbying had returned to its usual levels, now that everyone had figured out how to skirt the letter of the law. Education was seeing changes start to be implemented, but whether they would be successful or not would be a question that could only be answered a generation later. The administration had started haemorrhaging staff; Josh Lyman had quit after the re-election campaign, burned out. Sam Seaborn had returned to the private sector, deciding he could do more good there than within the administration. That loss had hurt, not only because Sam was a great asset, but because of the vote of no confidence that it implied.

Santos turned his attention back to the blank piece of paper on his desk. The shortcomings of his own administration were well documented in the press, so it would be of little help to a new President to revisit them.

Although at this point Santos was not hugely popular, he had still been a presence on the campaign trail. His speeches tended to focus on issues, rather than the candidates, usually (much to Santos’s chagrin) on the subject of race. He had never wanted to be the minority candidate, the brown candidate, but was content to do what was asked of him in order to ensure a Democrat retained the White House. He had hoped that seeing a Latino man as President would have been another step on the journey to equality, but that was not to be. What this election was finally revealing was that racism in America was widespread, even rampant.

What was more disturbing to him was the way that the issue had been whipped up during the campaign. The Republican primary season had seen the establishment embarrassed by an outsider taking the nomination with little realistic opposition. The Republicans had nominated Southern businessman Daniel Ross, whose candidacy seemed to defy all conventional wisdom. He had run with barely a single coherent policy to offer, promising to restore America’s place as the only world superpower. What at first had been considered an exercise in vanity had turned into a grass-roots movement as the disenfranchised working class of America had connected with him rather than the career politicians running against him.

On the Democratic side, the process had been smooth. There had quickly been a consensus around Harriet Newton, a former Governor and three-term Senator from Maine. She was eminently qualified, but uninspiring. Santos had little doubt that she would make an excellent President, but on a national stage she lacked excitement. Her policy announcements were drowned out by Ross’s frequent rants. Newton was a victim of cable news, Santos thought. Being smart, eloquent and qualified didn’t make for good television. Being outspoken and offensive certainly ensured that you’d be on the news.

Of course there was always the subject of her gender, which drew more conversation than any policy she put forward. Santos had found it difficult to accept that it was even up for discussion that a woman might not be suitable for the highest job in the land, based solely on her gender. But Ross’s campaign around “traditional American values” took every opportunity to suggest that Newton’s place was (at most) to be running a home, but certainly not a country. It was obvious that much of the country had decided that “all men are created equal” only applied to the male half of the population.

Santos remembered that President Roosevelt had once said, ’The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us’. It felt like that was the biggest lesson the new President was going to have to try to impart on the population.

The new President had to find a way to re-unite the country and restore their trust in government. The election process had shown, despite the result, that much of the country did not feel that the government represented them. That feeling would not be going away with a President of one party, and a Congress of the other.

Santos finally began writing. He wrote about the role of the government and the need to convince people that it was an institution that could work for them again. There were certain things, he argued, that a government is uniquely suited to provide. The Constitution itself listed them in it’s preamble;

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

He turned to the election’s most contentious point, the point most personal to him; immigration. There was a time when America really did accept what the poet Emma Lazarus had called “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and given them a new home. Now it felt like there were so many conditions related to obtaining residency in the United States that the poem could be entirely inverted. He hoped that the new President would be able to restore America’s pride as an example to the world of inclusiveness and diversity.

Finally he wrote about the feeling with which he had started his own campaign for the Presidency; hope. It would be a difficult task to bring the people back to feeling invested in the government, but there was always hope. That remained the key to the American experiment. The American people are, by their nature, optimistic. The founding of the country itself was an exercise in optimism and hope – that they could do better for themselves as a self-governing people, free of British rule. If they could find a way back to that feeling of optimism, the country could keep moving forward.

His Executive Secretary Ronna Beckman knocked on the door of the office and entered.

“Mr President good morning”.

“Good morning Ronna”.

“I have the President-Elect for you on line one”.

“Thank you Ronna.”

He waited until she closed the door to pick up the handset.

“Madam President…”

Forge Fire

The hammer beat a steady rhythm on the anvil, flattening the glowing metal, stretching it out. With a flick of his wrist, Wyer expertly folded the flat sheet over and over on itself and hammered again. He worked steadily, evenly, each movement practiced. Strike, stretch, fold, strike, stretch, fold, strike, stretch, till the orange glow began to fade to a dull grey-blue. He folded the iron into a thick bar, then thrust it back into the heart of the forge.

Stepping to the bellows, Wyer pumped steadily, heating the bar once more. He gazed into the fire, feeling its heat against his bare skin. A familiar feeling; sometimes a danger, but more often a comfort.
“Not unlike her,” he muttered, and then grinned. Suddenly, in the heart of the fire, a coal fragment burst, sending sparks flying. Wyer sighed, and slowed his pumping a little; a slow, even heat to work the metal. Slow and steady was always best, with the forge and with so much more. He smiled to himself, shaking his head. “She’ll be here soon enough,” he murmured.
The bar was glowing once more, so Wyer left the bellows and took up the tongs. He pulled the orange bar out of the coals and held it up, watching the ripples of colour dancing over it as the cool air of evening drifted across it. Then he placed it on the anvil again and took up the hammer.
Strike, stretch, fold, strike, stretch, fold…

Twice more Wyer heated the metal, and folded it and flattened it, then returned it to the heart of the fire. As he did so the second time, he felt eyes on his back. He smiled and straightened, rolling his shoulders against the ache that was building, despite the slabs of muscle built from years in a forge. He turned to look at her, knowing it would be her and no one else. She leaned against the doorframe, a slim familiar figure with a cascade of copper-coloured hair falling about her shoulders. Her eyes were watching him, reflecting the light of the forge.
“I like watching you work,” she said, “it’s… calming.” Wyer grinned.
“Want to work the bellows for me?”

After a moment she nodded, and stepped out of the doorway. Wyer watched her walk across the small forgeroom. She moved with an effortless, unconscious grace; that of a fighter rather than a dancer. Her frame was slight, but there was strength in every line of her. It was this strength that had first called to him, even before he had known the truth about her. She did not look much like a Queen, but Queen she was. As she came close to the fire her copper hair shimmered and crackled, and the fire crackled as though in welcome. For a moment she just stared into the flames, but then she raised her eyes to his.
“You don’t need me to work the bellows,” she said.
“True,” he replied, for so it was; it was a small forge, and he could work it well enough alone. “But it’s nice to have company.” But she shook her head at him.
“I meant you don’t need the bellows at all. I could speak to the fire for you.” Again a crackle of her hair was answered by a bursting coal amidst the flames.
“Aye, I suppose you could,” Wyer said, without taking his eyes from hers. “But… It wouldn’t be the same.”
Jobber smiled then, and Wyer grinned at her.
“What will it be?” she asked, pulling on the bellows handle and making the middle of the forge ripple with colour.
“Can’t you guess?” he teased, and she frowned at the bar of metal for a moment.
“A sword? But so may folds…”
“I’m trying something a little different. We’ve lost so much knowledge, and recovering it is one thing, but… That’ll do, I think.”
He pulled the bar from the flames and looked at it a moment, conscious that Jobber was watching him curiously.
Wyer began to beat the metal once again, but slower strokes this time, not folding but shaping it…
“Perhaps we need to look at discovering things ourselves as much as recovering what was lost. That’s all.”
Jobber barked a laugh then, and her hair crackled and sparked. Wyer said nothing, he continued to work the glowing metal, shaping it beneath the blows of his hammer. But his eyes were calm, his expression patient, open. Jobber stared at the metal he was shaping on the anvil, and after a few moments she spoke, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice.
“You’re frigging right. You cut right to the heart of it, when all I can do is twiddle my fingers and trip over my tongue. What use am I to a Queen’s frigging Council? What use am I as a frigging Queen?”
Beneath the steady blows of the hammer, Wyer had shaped the metal into a long, graceful blade. He lifted it carefully off the anvil and with a steady motion plunged it into the quenching vat. As the heated metal hissed and sent steam billowing to the ceiling, Jobber shuddered and shook herself as though she too had been plunged into water.

Wyer moved to stand before Jobber, looking at her with concern, but mostly with admiration and love. Her eyes met his for a moment, but then she looked away. Wyer’s hands closed gently on her shoulders, preventing her from turning.
Her hair crackled again, and some sparks drifted from it, settling on the skin of his arms. But Wyer had started working in Crier’s Forge with his father almost as soon as he could walk; his skin was used to the fire’s touch.
“Look at me.”
Slowly she raised her eyes to meet his, and he saw the pain and frustration and uncertainty she was feeling, clear as day. He sighed. So much had changed, for everyone, but especially for Jobber. She had grown up on the streets of Beldan, hiding everything from everyone; her past, the Oran magic in her blood, even her sex… She’d been a Beldan street snitch, living on her wits, and now she was the Fire Queen, one of the four corners of the world of Oran. So much had changed.

“We’re a long way from where we were, Jobber,” Wyer said quietly. “Three years and more since Zorah died, a lifetime away from when you were the best bellows lad in Beldan… It’s a new world now, one we are all discovering. We’re forging it one day at a time, and if we do it right, it will last long after we’re gone.”
Jobber growled in frustration and whirled away from him. Her hair glowed bright, and the air was filled with the smell of copper.
“But I’m no frigging use, Wyer! The rest of them… Dagar is so clear… He isn’t Lirrel, but there is so much of her in him. He cuts through to the truth of things. Even Shedwin and Tayleb, they’re so… They’re so confident… What use am I?”
She spun back to him, heat rolling off her, greater than the forge at her side. She shook her head angrily, and more sparks flew. A large one landed on the side of Wyer’s neck, burning him, and he slapped his hand to it, sucking in a breath.

In a moment Jobber’s anger faded, her heat dissipating with it. Wyer dropped his hand, and she moved to him, touching her now cool fingers against his skin, her eyes full of worry.
“What use am I?” she whispered again, and Wyer smiled at her.
“You’re Beldan’s Fire,” he said, and grabbed her hand before she could pull away. She opened her mouth to protest, but he squeezed her fingers gently, and she closed it again. “It’s the simple truth, Jobber. Every candle flame, every forge fire is part of you and you are part of it. You are the Fire Queen in Oran’s Knot, and without you, our world would have torn itself apart.” Slowly he pulled her hand to his lips, kissing the tips of her fingers. “You aren’t supposed to have all the answers; no one ever does. You have to find them, and it’s not always easy. But you will, together. And the rest of us will help, when we can.”
He kissed her fingertips again, and stared into her eyes. She smiled at him, then, and pulled his hand to her lips.
“What would I do without you?”
“You’d get by,” he shrugged, smiling.
“I’m not so sure. Sorry I’m such frigging raver,” she said, and he grinned.
“I’m not. It’s who you are. Just be you.”
“Aye,” said Jobber. “I’ll do my best.”

She stepped toward him then, and Wyer wrapped his arms about her. He breathed in the smell of her hair, copper and smoke, and closed his eyes.
She was his Queen. His friend. His love.

Beldan’s Fire.

Nobody Expects The Hylian In-cluck-sition

Binky blinked.

Two black beads vanished and appeared again. One eyelid synced with the other in a slow, synthetic rhythm that only a vacant bird like a chicken could blink to. Binky, on the outside, was disappointingly placid. The lights weren’t on and even if they were, there was definitely nobody home. Hell, if you had picked Binky up and placed him to your ear, you could probably hear the Great Sea. You almost certainly would not have expected anything malicious from the stupid bird. Nobody did.

Mr Grimsby, a rotund and dumpy little man with kind sparkling eyes, wasn’t sure how Binky came to be on his farm. But it would be difficult for such a benevolent man like himself to turn away any creature, particularly the terribly average chicken that just appeared one day on his novelty welcome mat. If anything, it was awkward. Just a man and a chicken. Both staring at each other, one in surprise and the other apparently in the middle distance. For a very long time. Just imagine that. Imagine it.

After mutual gormlessness was had by all, Grimsby picked up the feathery vacuum with his stubby toe-hands and took him in. He bought some wood and chicken wire, and set to work. He hammered away for an afternoon, muffling pained expletives when he got slightly too overzealous with his tools. After all, he didn’t want to accidentally influence the small children feeding the goats in the farmyard petting area. By the end of the day, Grimsby pushed himself onto his feet, dusted off the gravel from his knees, and looked up his wonderful creation. A perfect hutch. He chuckled haughtily as he wiped his hands, all chuffed “and that”. Binky was by his heel. He clucked abruptly. Grimsby watched on expectantly, awaiting approval from a 20” tall chicken. Binky blinked. He nudged his head to one side, the sole “expression” the bird had “expressed” so far. The farmer’s head darted from the chicken to the hutch and back again. It was quite tense, indeed. Then, Binky lifted his foot, his eye fixed on the hutch, slowly made a 180° turn in 3 drawn out steps, and wandered off in the opposite direction.

Grimsby hung his head. When he finally recovered from his shame, he lifted his head and saw that his miniature critic had made its way to the gate of the petting area. The farmer frowned curiously, and headed over to him. Binky gazed forward. Grimsby’s wellingtons landed and squelched next to the chicken. The bird, who until now had been vertically comatose and walking, seemed… interested. Grimsby ducked to Binky’s level to try and see what the devil he was looking at.  After a bit of muttering, Grimsby gasped. He chuckled in a way that also gagged himself, the sort of unexpected joy you get when you realise something that should have been so painfully obvious. The chicken was lonely. He had been for some time. And somewhere in the distant past, he had been hurt. This majestic, vacuous beast was watching Dunnughae Farm’s petting area.  A safe haven, a place that man and beast could co-exist and love each other. For the first time, Grimsby gulped, this wonderfully dumb creature had a chance to be happy. He sniffled, placed a hand on Binky’s back, smiled and nodded.

A prim mother, who had been staring with concern at the farmer for quite some time now, declared with a twee swiftness that it was “probably time to go now, Hugo”.

In the blink of an eye, a year passed in the petting area. Binky, Grimsby thought, blinked more enthusiastically these days. But perhaps he had spent too long staring at a chicken hoping for change. Anyway, it was far too hectic at the farm to pay that much thought. Today, they were hosting a farmyard party for an obnoxious 8 year old city boy.

A little toddler of a girl hung from her papi’s hand, bored by her brother’s farmyard party that she was entirely too young to understand. Dressed in green, her fat little legs stomped in misplaced footsteps as she ditched dad and flitted from grandma to the parents of the party guests. To each, she burbled a sort of greeting from her smushable face, one donned with a party hat that matched her sweet little dress.  It was only in a sort of crossed eyed drunkenness that she’d stumbled away from the lunch benches and towards the direction of the petting zoo. When she looked up, any memory of the excitingly colourful party was erased and all she focussed on was Binky. He blinked at her. It became quiet.

The stumpy girl spluttered a dirty giggle, and thudded forward with grabby hands. Reaching for Binky, she began to pad his back repeatedly with an uncoordinated hand. The poor girl was just trying to stroke him. Binky nudged his head sideways on his neck ever so slightly, as though a faint yet instinctive grudge was seeping into his bones. And maybe, maybe if she had been too young to grasp the human language nothing would have happened. It was regrettable, really, that she had just about mastered a repetitive greeting ingrained into her by a hundred broody men and women. Happily, the girl slurred:


Binky didn’t blink. Instead, his eyes widened and squinted in the same moment.

What happened in that day was a blur. No one knew what had caused the docile bird to rampage. Or where the hoard had come from. Some of the guests, those that got away, say they heard a shrill squawk piercing the air with the rage of a thousand suns, a ca-caw against the injustice of one’s own kind. Children and their adults cried aloud. They spat out the feathers that had caught their bloody tongues as they pelted to their cars, followed by rabid flapping clouds of red and white. There were just so many chickens.

No one expected that.

New Times

She surveyed the spectrum of idiocy in front of her and wondered how exactly this had come to pass. Her place here, well, that she knew for certain, it had been her trajectory since the first dry quip escaped her lips at the advanced age of two but as for the rest… She had no way of accounting for their position in the room whatsoever. Clearly change was necessary. How soon into a position is it customary to allow before laying off eighty percent of your staff? No, she would have to do it in stages. Fire those most insufferable first and slowly work her way through until everything was as she would like it. As much as she would prefer the former, somehow she didn’t think the remaining twenty percent were capable of producing The New York Times with the same regularity as they currently do at full capacity.

“Run that by me again,” she said quizzically to the vast, bespectacled Lifestyle Editor across from her.

“We could do a review of the top restaurants in the city by cuisine,” he stammered, “The top Italian, the top Asian, French… a culinary map if you will.”

“Is this a fresh pitch or are you well into your research already Mitch?”

Mitch’s beady eyes widened behind his wire frames and his mouth gaped, adding yet another chin to the rolling tundra already protruding over his polo-neck. Before he had the opportunity to gather his thoughts enough to form a dismally ineloquent response she turned her attention to the sap beside him.

“And Bianca, Bianca is it?” she cut in, the woman next to Mitch with hair like a nest nodded frantically, her piled-up hair sloshing back and forth, “Please tell me you have a new angle on quite why online shopping is killing the high street because it’s been killing it for twenty years and, oh look! I can still step out on my lunch and purchase a whole new outfit and a sandwich toaster.”

Bianca mouthed unformed words like a dry-drowning fish. A dying fish would be more useful than this sack of idiots sat across from her.

“That’s it, get out!”

“But Ms Geller,” muttered Mitch.

“Out!” she screamed.

She watched as they filed out, muttering about it being their office so why did they have to leave, as she rubbed her temples. The door closed behind them and she heaved a huge sigh. Morons, she was working with genuinely stone age morons. Her first editors meeting and she was already debating who to cull first, she had expected better things from the New York Times. The Washington Post, sure, that rag couldn’t find an original thought if it jumped up and bit it on the ass but the Times… She resolved to look up their backgrounds when she returned to her office. Backwater institutions no doubt.

“Deep breath,” she told herself, “day one would always be trying, you knew this.” She knew she had to control her temper so as to avoid coming off as callous rather than the perfectionist she knew herself to be. The first edition under her name would provide a shape of things to come and must be nothing less than impeccable, certainly not the gross, disfigured retch Mitch and Bianca seemed determined to make it. Only one thing would calm her at this stage; the mere thought of it made her heart leap.

She crossed to the door, smoothing down her skirt before stepping through it. She turned right at the end of the bank of cubicles and made straight for the elevators. The timid mouse stood waiting caught sight of her and scurried off towards the stairwell. She grinned as the heavy doors closed behind her. She was feared. How delightful.

She studied her reflection in the silver a moment, her dark top masking her torso so that her head appeared to float. If she angled her head, the shorter side of her asymmetric cut made her think of that Sinead O’Connor video and she again questioned the trust she had placed in her hairdresser. Straight on, however, she had to admit, the man knew his trade. The sweeping fringe cut to her chin made her face sleek and elegant in a way she had never imagined herself to be. Somehow he had discovered her cheekbones too. She wondered if the fear she produced came from a Meryl Streep, Devil-Wear’s-Prada-esq vibe. Either way fear was much easier to work with.

The doors stretched wide to reveal the design floor, her home from home. She made a bee-line for Layout and stood, drinking in the mock-up pages tacked to the walls. Here is where it came together. Here is where the magic was made. The room smelled of paper and old ideas, and while everything was done digitally now, she liked to think she could still see the ink stains from yesterday’s news. Every editor the paper had known had stood here at one time or another, barking orders. She was the latest in a long line of talented people, high standards to live up to.

Like a drill burring at the side of her skull, something caught her eye and made her grit her teeth so as to not remove the designers head with the sheer force of her willpower.

“Excuse me, what is your name?” she quizzed as politely as possible.

The young man turned, caught sight of who was addressing him and immediately shrunk a good foot or two, which was impressive as he was not tall to begin with.

“Tony,” he muttered.

“Tony, why, may I ask, do I see Jean Michelle across the fold from this random blonde?”

Tony glanced up at the board and clocked where she was indicating.

“That’s Blake Lively, miss.”

“I don’t care how lively she is,” she bristled, “she doesn’t belong opposite Jean Michelle!”

“But… it’s the spotted section, miss.”

“Spotted section?!” she recoiled, “What is this, OK Magazine?!”

“Mr Portland thought it would get more young people engaged,” stammered Tony.

“Well Mr Portland is a sniveling idiot!” she screamed, “No wonder he’s out on his ear! Here’s hoping he got a good severance package as I shan’t be doing him any favors. Old coot couldn’t tell news from his latest bowel movement. ”

She closed her eyes and took deep, soothing breaths. Changes, lots of changes to be made. It seems they couldn’t have brought her in soon enough. At least her first issue would easily impress following on from this drivel.

Composed, she left the room, leaving Tony quivering on his stool, unsure whether to continue. She crossed down the hall to her office and lingered a moment, her fingers poised on the handle, taking in the writing on the glass door. “Paris Geller, Editor In Chief”. She smiled to herself, soaking it in. Maybe she’d contact Rory, see if she had anything interesting for above the fold. It also gave her an excuse to perfect her email signature, just in case the news hadn’t reached her yet.

The Postman Always Dies Once

Gary Extra stood at the mouth of the alley putting on his best Gandalfian ‘you shall not pass’ look for the throng of rubberneckers, looky-loos and slack jawed gawkers who were trying to peek at the commotion behind him. At the front of the crowd a gangly teen reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. Gary turned his frown up a notch and the teen’s hand froze in midair; Gary shook his head slowly and the teen slipped the phone back into his pocket with a grimace.

Gary was giving himself a mental pat on the back when a homeless man in a long trench coat bumbled through the crowd and headed in his direction. He ratcheted up his frown again but it had no effect on the blank-faced wino.

Gary ground his teeth in consternation and flung up an immaculately manicured hand. “Sorry pal, no one is allowed past this point; police business.”

“I’m sorry,” said the tramp rummaging around in his voluminous pockets. “Umm, I’m sure I have it somewhere. Do you mind holding this?”

Without waiting for an answer he hung a filthy handkerchief on Gary’s outstretched arm. It was swiftly followed by a banana peel, a sad bunch of mostly dead flowers and most bizarrely of all, a baby sparrow.

“Umm… I really must ask you to go back…”

“Ah there it is,” the tramp interrupted brandishing a small square of leather with a triumphant grin. Gary looked at the dirty brown wallet with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, sorry,” chuckled the tramp flipping it open to reveal a Los Angeles police detective badge; Gary stared at it in consternation.

“Lieutenant Columbo, I’m with homicide.”

Gary’s mouth fell open but before he could object Columbo had ducked passed him and was ambling down the alley whistling to himself. There was a flash and when Gary looked over the gangly teen had his phone out again, grin like a Cheshire cat.

 “Oi, no pictures!” shouted Gary he started forward but by the time he reached the barrier the teen was gone and all Gary could just see was his arm sticking out of the mass of bodies giving him the finger.


At the end of the alley Columbo dug a still smouldering cigar from his pocket and chewed it as he took in the scene. Even from this far away he could tell the body was a mess, his jacket was torn almost to shreds and soaked in blood with only odd patches of the trademark blue that marked him as a New York City postal worker. Arcs of blood covered the walls both left and right and his glasses lay shattered in the pool of blood that filled the alley almost end to end.

“Someone didn’t like him very much,” said the city M.E. as he crouched by the body poking at it with a quilted feather duster; he was a fine M.E. but he was something of a clean freak.

“What have we got Mac?” ask Columbo pointing to the body with his cigar. Mac batted away the falling ash with the duster and a look of absolute horror.

“His name’s Pat and as you can see he is a local postman. It looks like someone tore his throat out then went to town on the body with a sharp four pronged implement like a large fork or a claw of some kind.”

“So you could say they went postal on him,” cracked Columbo with a grin.

Mac shot Columbo a disappointed look but Columbo just grinned wider.

“You get it?”

The moment stretched on for what felt like an eternity until Mac coughed uncomfortably and stood. “An attack like this, it was personal, I’m afraid that’s about all I can tell you until I get him back to the lab for confirmation but I think Detective Murray has a suspect in custody.”

“You see going postal is when…”

“I know Columbo, I know.”

Columbo shot Mac a hurt look then ambled off to where a couple of deputies had the suspects corralled. This was his favourite and the most important step in the investigative process; the all-important snap decision on who was guilty. Columbo eyed them carefully, there was an old chick with short grey hair, a youngish dude with thick rimmed glasses and a tweed jacket and crouching at the back kind of obscured by two cops with guns drawn… a midget in a black and white onesie?

“Well I think this one is pretty cut and dried it’s obviously…” came a voice from behind Columbo making him flinch and drop the hard boiled egg he had just started peeling. He watched it sadly as it rolled end over end until it plopped into the gutter with a splash, and in Columbo’s minds a tiny scream.

“That was my last egg Murray.”

“Sorry boss, I didn’t mean to startle you it’s just I think we have this one in the bag…”

“Hey, hey, hey. I’m the detective here not you Murray.”

“Well actually I’m a fully fledged…”

“Let’s start with that guy over there,” interrupted Columbo. “What do we know?”

“OK,” murrmured Murray his shoulders slumping. “He is Barry Jonas professor down at the local College, sociology I think. He runs the local homeless shelter and he’s the one that called it in so I think we can rule him out.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” replied Columbo scanning Barry with his patented guiltdar. “How about that one?”

“Oh that sweet old lady is Jennie McFarland, or should I say Reverend McFarland? She was down here collecting for the children at her orphanage. She was the last person to see Pat alive aside from the murderer of course, he dropped some cash in her collection then went down the alley and…

“Pow,” interrupted Columbo with a loud clap. “The postman is toast.”

“Lieutenant!” said Murray a look of horror on his face. In the corner Postman Pat’s widow let out a agonised wail, her knees buckled and she was caught by two uniforms who shot Columbo a dirty look and carried her away.

“It’s from Die Hard.”

“I know Sir, it’s just…”

“When the tank thing gets blown up by the bazooka.”

“Yes sir we all get the reference but…”

Columbo shot the grieving widow a frown. “Some people are so sensitive.”

“She just lost her husband in the most brutal of circumstances,” protested Murray.

“It doesn’t mean she can’t have a laugh about it.”

Murray puffed out his cheeks at a loss how to respond.

“The third one Murray…” prompted Columbo taking a long drag on his cigar.

“Oh right, yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s our guy; he hasn’t said anything directly to us but the Rev says his name is Jess. When Officers Brice and Williamson arrived he was still pawing at the body, covered in blood.”

“I’m sure it was him, Columbo was it,” said the good reverend striding purposefully over towards the detectives; Columbo paled and backed away.

“What is she doing,” he hissed. “I haven’t decided who’s guilty yet.” He backed away his arms outstretched trying to fend off the portly reverend, who ignored his terrified look and took his hand giving it a firm shake.

“Please to meet you Detective Columbo.”


“Apologies Lieutenant Columbo. I just wanted to say Detective Murray is correct I saw the fiend attacking poor Mr Pat, screaming about how Pat was always… umm… touching him.”

“That sounds like the kind of thing a guilty person would say, trying to push it on a poor innocent, midget.”

“He’s not a midget he’s a cat, and if you think I’m guilty you’re very much mistaken.”

“I not only think you’re guilty, I’m sure of it,” replied a defiant Columbo.

“But Sir the evidence,” said Murray “It all points to Jess.”

“Yeah but he wasn’t the first person to speak to me so you see the bind I’m in,” whispered Columbo.

“But he clearly did it, and with his bare, umm… paws no less.”

“Yeah but you know how I work Murray, I decide who did it with no evidence then I follow them around and pester them until they confess.”

“Well I’m certainly not going to confess to something I didn’t…” The reverend screamed as Columbo gave her a surreptitious nudge in the back that sent her toppling onto Pat’s body.

“Officers, stop that woman she is going back in for more!” shouted Columbo. The two officers watching the other suspects ran over and hauled her to her feet.

“See caught red handed,” said Columbo waving his cigar at the blood on the reverend’s palms. “Take her away boys.”

“But I’m innocent!” she protested, as the two PCs hauled her away.

“So we’re just going to frame the reverend?” asked Murray

“Frame is such an ugly word, Murray.” replied Columbo. “The main thing is we get someone; you didn’t think my 100% solve ratio happened but itself did you?”

The trip doesn’t end when you get home.

I am alone with no home, friends or family, my only companion is the bottle next to me. Not the bottle itself, but the transparent liquor inside. Its dulls my senses numbing the pain.What is the point in these stupid, mindless and cruel games? What is it achieving among the people other than a wider gap between the wealthy and the starving. A world that breeds more elitism and crime with every passing minute. Why couldn’t I have just died rather than year after year being paraded around to be mocked and ridiculed.

I am nothing without her. I would’ve jumped off of that cliff there and then. But she pulled me away from the edge, despite having to compete, despite being in that arena. That is a debt I will never be able to repay, a burden I will always have to bear. Maybe if I told her to stay with me, it would be different, the media might paint our home, our people in a better light.

Twenty-three years I’ve had to play this charade, coaching, guiding kids to survive. Twenty-three years of boys and girls, being too weak, too beaten down to even bother training them into killers, victors. What’s the point when they barely have the energy to find food at home and the others are trained from birth? Each year I pretend it’ll be different, I’ll have someone strong, someone worthy of my time but every year I get lumbered with another target, another statistic against this dive, this barren land.

That ridiculous woman keeps appearing at my house – I’d call it home but I lost that the moment I ducked from what should have been a killing blow to my head. My family huddled around the small screen broadcasting the whole affair, were punished and what was it all for? Because I showed up the president, I made a mockery of him the moment I ducked. Another reminder that our people are just meant to go in to be hunted and killed by the soldier-like elite born. When I returned from the arena, I wasn’t greeted as a survivor or a victor. Instead, families and friends were at the front of the crowd crying, pointing to smoke in the distance. Barging past them, I stumbled down the town hall steps, running all the way to my home where the acrid smell of burning flesh hit the back of my throat. There were people rushing around with buckets of water, victims being pulled out of the remnants of surrounding houses but it was no use, there was nothing but fire and ashes left. From there I found myself in the victors village, in front of the house that my family and Rose should have been living in. I’d planned to propose to her when I returned from the Capitol. I couldn’t help but think about her when I lay there in the dark, hearing the beep of the machines that helped me regain my full strength and health. She had a soft wave to her hair that day before I was called up. The sun shone behind her as I looked out over the crowd, searching for her face. She had tears in her eyes, holding onto my brother, it was as if she had already lost me. But then a smile spread across her face, eyes looking right into mine and the light behind her increasing so much I could barely look. Blinking from the brightness I shielded my eyes and it was no longer a crowd surrounding her but a light grey dust falling around her, embers under her head. That was the image I’d remember them by now, the fire that took them from me had burnt the image into my memory and dreams.

That irritating woman wore pink today. Escorted by troopers, she carried a bucket of water with her when she entered the house, throwing it everywhere to rouse me. She’s lucky she brought those men in shining white armor with her or I’d have slit her throat like I did to those careers in the arena. She clearly hadn’t gotten any sensitivity training either or she would’ve worn a different bloody color. The flurry of fabric as she ran away from me squealing resembled the wings of those birds from the games. Images of swirling feathers and razor sharp beaks broke through my haze; flashes of red mixing with cerise, merged with her screams as the memory appeared before me like a vision. Poor Maysilee, no one deserved a death like that, not even the careers.

“Eyes bright, chin up, smile on! The day is here and we don’t want to be late! Get up, best clothes on and smile as everyone will be watching.” Her fake smile plastered on her face. Taking a small sigh she continued “ I’ve got a good feeling about today, I can just feel it.” Taking a deep breath in, grimacing from my apparent odor “well spit spot, we haven’t got all day!” she claps her hands before exiting.

I hate that woman. She is worse than the escort for the tributes when I was a kid and she really liked green and had a pox marked neck that not even the chiffon she wore could hide.

Making my way through the crowds, swaying a little from the liquor, I take my seat and get ready for the “spectacle” of the draw. Drinking deeply from the bottle in my hand, the whole affair passes by without so much of a blink that I couldn’t even tell you their bloody names.

The train however was a different story. The boy, some skin and bones brat, dares to ask when we start training before I even have a drink in my hand. Just woken up from some hellish “nap” and he already wants to start. I barely manage to pass on my sarcastic “congratulations” before he jumps down my neck. So instead of the advice he is looking for I merely tell him to “embrace the probability of his imminent death” and know that in his heart that there is nothing I can do to save him. It was worth it to see his face, looking back at me as if I shot his mummy. But it is about time these kids learnt what it is going to be like. They need to get used to the idea that they won’t survive, they will just be a number and everyone will forget he existed by next year. However unlike the other kids, the little bastard dares to take a swipe at me,shouting about me being a mentor and that is what I’m supposed to do. I may be a drunk, I may be grey but I am no less of a killer than I was when I was his age. Pinning him back with my foot I spilled whiskey on my new pants, to say I’m pissed off is an understatement. I storm out to the sleeping quarter angry at even coming to meet them. It should be her here instead, not me. Maysilee had the brains and personal skills to have made a good mentor. Hell, she even got me to like her. She had knowledge of poisons and the agility of a cat but in the end not even that could save her from the mutts. Instead I have to pass on the knowledge she should be, but I just want to forget and live my days out with my knife under my pillow and the only thing that helps me sleep through all of the terrors.

After changing, I sit down with him over breakfast – he’s stuffing his face with cream puff pies and all of the fruit he could wish for as all the tributes before him have done too. The girl, wandering in interrupts my advice to the boy who has the fighting spirit, she’s nagging me, asking me about finding shelter and food, I’ve not even had a bite of my toast. I politely, for me anyway, ask for the jam she has next to her but she keeps badgering on about the bloody shelter.

“Give me a chance to wake up sweetheart, this mentoring is very taxing stuff.” I explain as I fill the goblet in front of me from the hip flask that the rainbow lady didn’t manage to confiscate from me. However as I reach for it to take a sip, like a cobra she swipes the butter knife from the table and drives it home between my two fingers, nestling in the table.

I resist the urge to laugh as the escort cries out “that is mahogany!” and instead simply retort

“look at you, you just killed a place mat” but inside I’m smiling because for the first time in 23 years, I think we have found a tribute worth mentoring and she goes by the name of Katniss Everdeen.

Wake me up when September ends…

Ladies! Gentlemen! People of all creeds and followings! It’s here!!!!!!!!

Welcome to the first month of Novel Dreamers. I hope you’re excited as I am, because let me tell you I’m pretty damn excited. The writers have been given their brief this morning and as such they have until the 26th of September to write a piece to the following parameters:

The writers are to take a favourite character of their own choosing (game, book, film etc.) and must write a piece involving them, with a word limit of up 1500 words. This can be continuation to where the character was last left, a placement into a new story/world, whatever they like, they’ve just got to work with a specific character.

Below is my example for this month’s challenge, it took me a few days but these guys have a lot more time to make a lot better work!

Thank you for reading, we look forward to your participation. Alas, the example text:

Hero of Albion

Hero awoke, each vertebra in his spine clicking into place from years of torturous and somewhat spontaneous quests given to him from the Guild Master. He could feel the scar from his fight with Maze ripple as he slid out of the bed. He grabbed his sword, slipping it over his shoulder and stepped out of the cottage to find a large Shetland pony-like horse hitched to the fence.

“Hero, you’re needed in the village” a gruff voice called behind the tree next to the door. The Blacksmith was always hard to find when you needed him, though the forge was always burning away. The thick ginger hair fell down over his chest in a thick braided tail which contrasted the bushy beard; grey with blackened edges from years of singe.

“I don’t know why I bothered waiting for a reply, you’ve never really been one for words.”

He started up the hill towards the local village, the horse took the reins in its teeth and followed him at a short trot.

Funny that, Hero thought, after years of casting magic, fighting undead, watching a man be sucked into a void and come back as a dragon; The horse is the bit that threw me off.

He returned to the cottage to get the rest of his kit and set off in pursuit. As they reached the village square – adjacent to the inn – Hero was presented with a large box. The crystal like glass on the side seems clear as a summer sky yet Hero could not see what was behind the window. There was a large white patch underneath one window, it had some ancient ruin-like writing in the middle yet neither Hero nor Blacksmith could make heads or tails of it. A deep, unsettling rumble came from within.

“It appeared in the dead of the night, the tower crier gave such a scream as could have woke the entire village; and did, I might add. This is the man in question now,” he gestured to a balding with large moustache and a pale face. The juxtaposition of this and his portly frame gave him the look of a nightmare before Christmas.

“I shan’t go near it again, Blacksmith!” he cried, somewhat occupationally. Hero shrugged and stepped towards the box, not entirely sure what he should do. He could hit it with his sword? He could fart in its general direction? He could call Whisper and ask if she had any knowledge on this contraption.

No. He couldn’t stoop to that level. She’d gloat for weeks.

All of a sudden lights started to flicker around the edges of the box and behind the windows. The sound it started to make was worse than the constant thrumming made by The Spire, that ancient obelisk that once stood in the middle of the ocean, now broken after the battle between Hero and Lord Lucien, a few years previous.

That bastard should know better, thought Hero, readying his bow.

A door on the box exploded outwards, nearly taking him off his feet though luckily caught by a strong arm of the Blacksmith. The inside of the box gave further reason to accuse Lucien, for it had a mechanical look though more advanced; even for him. Hero took a step forward, his bow taught with anticipation of meeting an enemy.

It’s too advanced to be Lucien, but it also has the weirdness and colour schemes of the henchmen that Jack of Blades used, so many years ago.

He stepped into the orange lighting and the door slammed behind him. The crowd on the outside gasped, though Hero did not hear it. He treaded cautiously towards the main column in the box, slightly distracted by the sheer enormity of the inside; it had looked a lot smaller in the square.

“Excellent! You’re here!” A voice sprang from behind the column. A thin rake of a man stepped out in a brown suit, wearing a dickie bow and a multi-coloured scarf. “Glad you could join me, been in a spot of bother and didn’t really know what to do.” He stood, waiting for a response.

“Yes, well, I know you wouldn’t expect that from me! The Doctor knows everything – I’m The Doctor, by the way – which makes you the Hero of Albion! Crikey, you got short.”

I should let loose now, Hero’s hand started trembling.

“Wouldn’t let loose, old boy. Those are hardly your Sunday shoes! Kenny Loggins? No? Ok, either way you’ll want to put that down and grab onto something because this is where things get bumpy!” And with that, The Doctor threw a switch and everything started to shudder, it grew in intensity quite quickly.

Outside, the crowd was growing antsy, the Hero hadn’t returned and the box was humming and bobbing and glowing. The Blacksmith hesitantly went to knock on the door, only to make contact with nothing. The box disappeared with a small POP and the crowd broke into a mass scream. The Blacksmith dropped his head into his hand and an old lady placed hers on his shoulder. He looked up to her…

“Never one for subtlety, was he?”

She smiled and patted his head, “who? The Hero or The Doctor?”