Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Victorian Literature Challenge

NaNoWriMo is done! Time for some new challenges.

For starters, I am going to do this:



Essentially you sign up to read a certain number of books - published in Queen Victoria's reign - during 2011. What a way to catch up on that list of books I probably ought to have read!

I imagine I will review them too, possibly on Confessions of a Jobless Graduate rather than here. Will let you know!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Nine

I was name checked on Guardian Edinburgh this morning thanks to this nonsense. Here is the penultimate chapter, as promised! And here is a list of previous ones in order. This brings the word count to 51971... but is it any good? I talked about that briefly in an article on The Edinburgh Reporter here.

“You know,” Nicky said thoughtfully, “that actually makes a lot of sense. I had wondered why my downstairs mix-up didn’t look quite right.”

“Surely someone’s mentioned it to you before,” Tim said, “maybe in a urinal? It’s the type of thing that would get commented on!”

“I always use the cubicle,” Nicky said, “never knew why before, was just my gut reaction to head for cover.”

“Have you never had a girlfriend?”

“Well no. I’m too eccentric, girls round our way aren’t looking for that. They want guys like that one Nigella’s always going after.”

“Do you fancy girls?”

“I dunno. Never really thought about it too much, to be honest.”

“Which did Nicky like before you mucked about with her brain,” Bracken asked, “girls or boys?”

“How should I know,” Magenta said irritably, adding, “I’d have to look it up in the file.”

“Can you reverse it so she can go back to the way she was?”

“Does she want to go back to the way she was?”

“Hoi,” Nicky said indignantly, “does she take sugar? I’m right here, why don’t you ask me what I want?”

“Well,” Bracken said reasonably, “do you know?”

“Not a Scooby,” Nicky admitted, “I feel as though I’m not in full possession of the facts which makes it something of a tough call.”

“Are you getting all this,” Tim asked one of the camera crew bitterly, “I’d hate for you to miss out on a good telly opportunity, just because your boss has hired a mercenary to manipulate several people’s lives, which is probably against the human rights act and might see his BAFTA nomination revoked.”

“Actually,” Brian told Tim in his head, “the whole thing has been going out live since the beginning.”

“Totally uncut?”

“Totally uncut. Using the telepathic powers the amulet has afforded, I’ve been able to blow this thing wiiiide open.”

“You know,” Tim thought back to him, “I’m actually not sure how useful that is. People will watch, be outraged on Twitter for half an hour, then forget all about it. Such is the fickle nature of our modern society.”

The fire exit door clanged open with an almighty ruckus. Bert and the scarred guard appeared through it in a flurry of dry ice, he with his hair blowing dramatically in tht wind and she cradling the wean protectively. They looked like some kind of unusual crime fighting duo.

“Stop everything,” Bert bellowed boisterously, “we have important information to impart!”

“Really, though?” Bracken was unimpressed. “I bet you a fiver that most of it has already come up.”

“The woman who calls herself Esmeralda is in fact Esmeralda’s identical twin, Magenta?”

“Yep, we know.”

“Esmeralda has been dead for years, killed by her sister’s own hand?”

“Aye.”

“Posing as Esmeralda because her rogue methods have so incensed the global science community, Magenta has been conducting invasive brain experiments on unknowing people, with the full knowledge and financial backing of The Jeremy Kyle Show?”

“Tell us something we don’t know!”

“This little boy isn’t yours, Bracken.”

Her lip wobbled ferociously.

“I know that too,” she whispered, bravely biting back the tears.

“We have all the documentation to prove what’s been going on, so we can send these two down for a long time,” Bert informed them.

“Now that we did not know.”

Bert smiled victoriously.

“Here’s one for you then, Dad,” said Nicky. “Assuming that’s not a memory trick as well?”

“No,” Magenta drawled, “he is your father. The memory work there was mostly done by your mother, to be honest I just had to tweak it a little.”

“Right well, in that case… Dad, it turns out that I’m actually a woman.”

Bert looked surprised for a moment, then shrugged. “Now that you say that,” he meandered, “it sort of rings a bell.”

He pondered.

“I want to build up our relationship either way, assuming you still do.”

“Oh aye, definitely,” Nicky nodded. “I feel like I probably need to be supported through this traumatic time.”

“You’ll readjust surprisingly quickly,” said Esmeralda, “or at least, I think you will. Assuming you let me reverse the procedure.”

“Why does that not inspire me with full blown confidence?” Nicky asked scathingly. “Think I’ll just take it from here if you don’t mind.”

“Did you do anything to Nigella,” Bracken said suddenly.

“Who?”

“My cousin, Nigella. Well, I thought she was my cousin. Maybe she isn’t. She doesn’t know who the wean’s dad is, but she definitely thought he was mine.”

“Lanky girl, ginger, nasal?”

“That’s her,” grinned Nicky.

“Yeah, did some work on her,” Esmeralda confessed.

“Aaaaand here she is now,” said Kyle, “please welcome to the stage, Nigella!”

Nige appeared at the door, looking flushed and confused.

“How did I get here?” she asked Jeremy. “I was at home in the kitchen peeling a leek and then suddenly BAM, I was here!”

“Teleportation device,” Jez told her dismissively, “but that’s not important right now.”

“I disagree,” Nige disagreed, rather emphatically.

“You’re here today because you’ve got something to tell someone,” he bulldozed on in a vague sort of way.

“Erm, OK?”

“Well on you go then sweetheart,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the characters assembled before her, “spit it out.”

“Who am I meant to be talking to?” she enquired.

“That can be up to you,” he replied, “because at this point I don’t think it really matters.”

“Bracken,” she started, walking up to her cousin, “I’m sorry.”

This was the first time Bracken had ever heard her cousin apologise, and she was flabbersmacked. That’s a mixture of flabbergasted and gobsmacked – Peter Andre taught me it.

“That’s alright,” she said, unsure what it is that she was apologizing for.

“Me and Al never done anyhin,” she continued, “I was trying to make you jealous so I wanted to make you think we spent the night together, sexwise. But we never.”

“That’s alright, even if you had done,” Bracken said magnanimously. “It’s not as if we’re going out.”

Nige smiled, and gave her a hug. Meanwhile it dawned on Al that maybe Bracken did like him after all.

“Nicky,” Nige continued reproachfully, “where the hell have you been? You had us worried. Thought the aliens had got you at last.”

“I’ve been in this place,” Nicky filled her in, “living in a tiny cell against my will for an as yet unexplained reason.”

“It’s because Esmeralda – sorry, Magenta – ” Bracken rolled her eyes, “thought that if she asked people whether she could experiment on them they’d say no. So she took them without asking.”

“Be fair though,” Magenta countered, “as soon as I gave her the option, she did refuse.”

“She?” Nige said, bemused.

“Oh, Nicky’s a girl,” Bracken explained.

“Oh right. Cool.”

“Really?” Nicky said, “why is nobody even remotely surprised by this news?”

“It’s because they knew you before,” Magenta yawned. “The residual memories cushion the blow of the shock.”

“Course they do.”

“So this woman here – what did you call her? Magenta? Locked you in a cell for two weeks?”

“Pretty much.”

“Was the wean with you?”

“Not physically with me, no,” Nicky said, “although he was in the building, as it turns out.”

“I was keeping an eye on him,” said the scarred guard.

“And who are you?” Nigella enquired.

“I am his surrogate mother.”

“That’s a bit over the top, its only been a couple of weeks. He won’t remember that in later life.”

“She means she was the surrogate womb for him,” Bracken said sadly.

“Come again?”

“The wean isn’t mine, Nige. That’s why I couldn’t answer your questions about the dad. I didn’t know, because I never had sex with anyone, because I’m not his mum.”

“So who is the mum, then?” Nige asked in a state of understandable confusion. “If you’re not, and this lady was just a womb for hire?”

“I am,” Nicky informed her.

“Oh. That’s odd. But I guess you two have always got on pretty well.”

Just as the conversation seemed to be in danger of getting awkward, there was a clap of thunder, and Dennis appeared.

“Oh, Christy,” said Tim.

The noise was high pitched enough to break Brian’s concentration, and he did a big amulet shaped poo.

“Yoink,” said Dennis, grabbing it.

“Did that guy just steal a turd fae under the dug?” Nigella asked.

“Yup,” Bracken confirmed.

“Is that a common Scottish phrase?” Jeremy asked with interest.

“It will be soon,” Nicky commented, “as soon as she puts it on her Bebo.”

“Dennis,” Tim said, “don’t be an idiot. Give me that.”

“Why does that guy want the poo?” Nige asked.

“He doesn’t want the poo,” Al explained, “there’s a magical amulet inside the poo, and that’s what he wants.”

“What for?”

“So that I can destroy it.”

“But if you don’t even like it, why not let the other guy have it?”

“Because it’s evil,” Tim told her, “and it needs to be got rid of before the evil spreads.”

He advanced upon Dennis and tried to forcibly remove the poo. Dennis flew up into the air and levitated just out of reach, which is one of the perks of being a ghost.

“Ha,” he gloated triumphantly, “now what are you going to do?”

“What are you going to do?” Tim asked, “if you can use the amulet to resurrect yourself?”

“I’m going to have a bowl of frosties,” Dennis replied. “Then I’m going to go to sleep in a comfy bed.”

Tim shook his head.

“I know that’s what you want to do now,” he said, “but honestly, all that will go out the window if you use that thing. Just look at it, for goodnessake.”

Dennis obliged, staring into the mottled glass surface. The piece of tentacle within seemed to pulsate ominously, and Dennis thought he could hear an insidious whispering noise. “Kill,” it said, “rip, tear, slash, inflate.”

“Inflate?” Dennis said aloud.

“Sorry,” said the whispering, “I got confused. Maim and hurt, destroy, poke out their eyes…”

“That’s not very nice,” he chided, inadvertently floating back down towards the ground.

“GOTCHA!” Tim shouted, grabbing his ankle with one hand and maintaining contact for just long enough to yank Dennis earthward and grab the amulet.

Dennis instantly vanished in a huff.

“Right,” Tim said, “now all we need to do is destroy it.”

“I wouldn’t be so hasty if I were you,” said a robotic voice from a fire exit which nobody had noticed until now.

Everyone turned.

It came from the mink caped, hooded figure. The boss, the man, the big cheese.

He or she had Adric in a vice like grip, with a flick knife tight against his neck, blade just millimeters from piercing the skin.

“Give me the amulet,” the figure said, “or your boy toy gets it.”

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Eight

1-27. I have reached 50k now but there'll be a couple more chapters to round it off...

Bracken was confused.

One minute she was having yet another cryptic conversation with Esmeralda, the next she was onstage in front of a crowd of strangers baying for her blood. It was almost as if time had skipped a beat somehow. Maybe she’d fallen asleep for a couple of minutes and been moved here? Or more likely, Esmeralda had employed some kind of sneaky trick.

She looked about, blinking a lot and trying to smooth out her appearance a little. Al was there, she noticed, and the guy who sometimes gave Adric a ride home from the library on his motorbike. There was also a dog, and a suited gent who looked the spitting image of a daytime television presenter whose name she couldn’t place.

“Ricky something,” she wondered aloud, stretching her head. As she did so she became aware that she had the mother of all headaches. “No, that’s not right.”

“Welcome to the show, Bracken,” the man was saying. “How are you today?”

“Confused,” she replied truthfully. “I’ve had a lot going on lately.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, apparently sympathetically, “what sort of thing? Work, studies and so on?”

“Well up to a point,” she agreed hesitantly, “but also my flat burned down and my Uncle and baby went missing so that’s been quite stressful.”

“Your child went missing,” he responded slowly and thoughtfully, “so you stopped looking for him to come on here and build up a career as a Z-List celebrity?”

“Well no, that’s not – “

“Wanted to get a book deal, did you? Sell the story to all the papers and ladies magazines?”

“What?”

“I know your type. You sicken me. I might literally be sick just from looking at you and your sickening face.”

“Hey,” Al butted in, “that’s pretty unfair. You don’t even know her.”

“Oh but I do,” the Kylienator responded with a shark like grin, “I know her better than she knows herself.”

“Sake,” Bracken muttered, “you’re worse than Esmeralda.”

“My name isn’t Esmeralda,” announced the woman who up until a couple of moments ago we had thought was Esmeralda. “It’s Magenta.”

“Magenta?” Al spluttered incredulously, “as in Esmeralda’s long lost sister Magenta? The evil one who tried to kill her?”

“I think she may have succeeded on that front,” Bracken informed him.

“Sorry, what’s going on?” Jeremy asked, having lost the thread somewhat. “I’ve been employing you for over a year now, Esmeralda, and now you turn round and say you’re actually Magenta?”

“Yes. It’s not that much of a struggle, we’re identical twins. The only adjustment you need to make is to the first name you call me by.”

“Identical twins, huh,” Tim mused. “That’s the sort of thing that always happens in crappy romance fiction, or daytime telly like Diagnosis Murder. It never happens in real life. And I should know, I spend half of my real life dealing with the mythical and/or inexplicable.”

“So did the memory switch take place or not?” Bracken asked.

“Partially. I took on much of Esmeralda’s academic knowledge, but none of her… emotional baggage,” she enunciated with the smallest of nods in Al’s direction.

“What memory switch? What are you two talking about?” chorused Al and Tim. The audience were long gone, and most were engaged in a competition to see who could count how many hairs were on Brian to the nearest hair. How they would check and verify a final result was yet to be determined.

“Why don’t you tell them that, Jeremy,” suggested Magenta/Esmeralda with a toothy grin. “You did commission a lot of this work, after all.”

Jeremy Kyle’s lip wobbled. He looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. And not in a good way.

“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he ventured, in a foolhardy way. Of course she was going to call his bluff, she had nothing much to lose, except the albatross of a dead twin around her neck.

“The work I’ve been doing to condition the perfect guests for your show,” she replied cheerfully. “You know, implanting false memories in groups of people who look right for the parts you create for them. So Bracken, here, was chosen to be a single mum. Nicky was to be her eccentric uncle. The baby used was created in a lab, and one of my guards was used as a surrogate.”

“That’s preposterous,” Kyle blustered, “why would I bother?”

“Because you’re afraid,” the artist who was previously known as Esmeralda explained, enjoying herself immensely. “You’re worried that your show will be a failure, because your guests are always the same. You have the same people back for two or three follow up show a year and they’re always still stuck in the same pathetic rut they were in when you met them for the first time.”

“Bibble,” Jeremy Kyle offered in his defense. It didn’t wash.

“You got wind of the work I was doing in South America, under my sainted sister’s name because my own is cursed in the world of science. And you hired me, no questions asked, to create contestants for your shows that would turn out to have hidden depths. I got the money to support my research, you got the perfect blend of daytime television.”

“Not true,” Kyle said, aware that he was fighting a losing battle but encouraged by the fact that his studio audience didn’t seem to have noticed.

“I can’t believe you’re Magenta,” said Al, rather slow to react. “What did you do to Esmeralda, exactly?”

“Oh, you don’t want all the gory details,” she smiled sanguinely. “But she’s been dead a long long time.”

“That was you, when I thought it was her, returning from her travels.”

“Yes.”

“Explains a lot,” he admitted.

“Yes, it does. The fact I didn’t know where anything was unless it related directly to science. The lack of emotional memory or attachment. The point that I suddenly loved sun dried tomatoes, whereas previously I loathed them to the point that even just seeing a jar made me want to hurl.”

“Es didn’t hate sun dried tomatoes that much,” Al said vaguely, although if he was honest he couldn’t really remember.

After all, she must have been dead for a number of years now.

“Why did you do it?” he asked.

“For science,” came the reply.

“I don’t mean the brain stuff,” he frowned, “I mean killing your twin.”

“So do I,” she countered. “I killed her for science. And partly out of jealously, I suppose.”

“Don’t even think about trying to escape,” Al turned to Jezza, “or you’ll be sorry.”

The man himself blushed and stopped his embarrassing attempt to scale the studio wall. It would have crumpled his fine Italian suit, anyway, he told himself.

“So hold up and rewind a bit,” Bracken said, “you conditioned me and Nicky to think that we were related, but we’re not?” She looked around her. “Speaking of which, where is Nicky?”

“Here,” came a weak voice from the front row. Nicky was curled up in a cluster of middle aged women, to whom he was deeply allergic.

“I’m not even going to ask how you got there,” Bracken decided, it’s just been that sort of a day.

“It’s true,” Magenta admitted, “you two are not actually related. But Nicky is at least related to the wean.”

“Sorry?”

“Oh, that’s the results of the DNA test,” she said. “Although I knew already because I oversaw the procedure. Nicky provided the egg that created the wean.”

“The egg?” Bracken exclaimed, “surely you mean the sp-the other stuff?”

“No,” Magenta said definitely, “I know what I mean and I mean the egg.”

“But that’d mean Nicky was a… I don’t even know. A hermaphrodite?”

“More than that even,” Magenta explained. “Nicky is actually a woman.”

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Seven

Full chapter list here.

Morning had officially broken over The Facility.

“Tim and Al are here today to talk about their quest for a magic amulet,” Jeremy Kyle announced to camera.

Almost immediately upon his arrival and ages before they had time to object, he had led them through a maze of twisting corridors to a room that turned out to be the set of his popular daytime television talk show. They were now seated on uncomfortable chairs in front of an audience of ragamuffins and ne’er do wells, none of whom had anything of interest or value to say. They were totally loyal to Jeremy Kyle, and would defend him to the death if the need ever arose. He rewarded their devotion with signed photographs and free plastic tumblers of weak tea on the regular occasions when the heating broke.

“OooOooOoo,” the audience trilled in unison, which was a little unnerving.

“Why don’t you start us off, Tim?” Sir Jez suggested. “Tell us a bit about the amulet and what you want it for.”

“Oh, I don’t want it for my own personal use,” Tim said hastily, “I was trying to get hold of it before it fell into the hands of evil doers who would use its power for- well, for evil. And actually, I’m not even sure whether it’s me who was chosen to do it.”

“The prophecy is quite vague,” Al interjected helpfully, “it could just as easily be about me, or about that guy over there.” He pointed to a youngish man sitting a few rows back, who was of moderate good looks and possessed a full head of fair hair.

“It’s definitely not me,” the young man squeaked defensively, “I done quest duty last year. Fought a Lesser Spotted Snodrog and everything.”

“OooOooOoo,” the audience chorused obediently, although nary a one of them had the first idea what a Lesser Spotted Snodrog was.

“Really,” Tim said, “a fully grown one?”

“Not quite,” the audience member admitted, “it was a three quarter length one. But I sorted it right out.”

“Well good for you,” Tim said in what he hoped was an encouraging way rather than a patronizing one.

“Cheers mate.”

“Alright,” Jeremy shouted across them all, “alright, calm down, it is MY SHOW you know everyone, it’s called the JEREMY KYLE show, the name’s written on the wall and everything.”

“Yeah but in Comic Sans though Jez,” an overly familiar runner spoke up in an apparently temporary fit of madness.

“What did you say?” he fumed, his face turning the vibrant reddy colour of juice in a beetroot jar.

“Nothing,” the techie replied, “what? Did you say somefink Mr Kyle? Only I couldn’t hear you if you did….”

“You were making snidey comments about my font choice again, weren’t you?”

“No Mr Kyle,” he replied, “indeed I was not! The very idea is repellant to me!”

“Comic Sans,” Jeremy explained through gritted teeth, “enables me to appear young and fun, rather than the greying ball buster that TV sometimes makes me out to be. Comic Sans is the most empathetic font that there is.”

“Yes sir, Mr Jeremy, Lord Kyle, sir,” said a waitress, who shouldn’t even have been there. His anger was such that it made even innocent bystanders feel compelled to apologise for behaviour they hadn’t engaged in.

“That’s alright,” he told her condescendingly, “I’ll let you off. This time.”

“Thank you sir, you’re very kind sir,” she curtsied mimsily, backing away – although how she managed to do both of these things from her position of seated in the back row of the studio crematorium was a mystery, and would remain so for a long time.

“Anyhoo,” Kyle coughed, remembering the matter at hand as though it were a first idea goldmine. “This amulet. Where is it now?”

“Inside that dog,” Al said innocently, pointing at the dog.

Tim rolled his eyes.

“Way to announce it on national telly,” he said without moving his lips. “Now everyone and his great auntie Nellie knows where the bloody thing is. If that mutt makes it out of this place alive it’ll be a bloody miracle.”

Brian the dog whined mournfully. He was unable to link to everyone in the room telepathically, it would have been too much mental effort and he was very tired from the effort of holding in the amulet till he got to his masters.

“And what does it do?” Jeremy inquired, as if he hadn’t been keeping up with other parts of the story at all.

“We are not at liberty to discuss that information,” Al said in an attempt to redeem himself after his earlier faux pas.

“This is a talk show,” Jeremy Kyle said impatiently, “therefore people are expected to talk.”

“Well you never gave us the option of not being on your stupid show,” Al pointed out, “you offered to help us out and then brought us down here, to the cold and wet of your terrible studio.”

Jezza was incensed.

“How dare you call the program stupid?” He raged, “how dare you? It’s as intelligent and empathetic as a show can be.”

“In what way?”

“I try to help people!”

“You’re about as helpful to people as Bargain Hunt.”

Kyle thought about this for a second. He decided it was impossible to gauge what that meant. Different things to different people, most likely.

“Why don’t you stick to what you’re good at,” Al suggested, his hackles aroused. “Shout at some schemey single mums or something.”

“What a good idea,” Jeremy said with a sly grin. “Who wants to meet one of the worst mums they’ve ever seen?” He turned to the audience to enquire.

There was a cacophonous roar of applause, which he took as an encouraging sign.

“Great,” he said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation, “right. Please welcome to the stage… Bracken Lee McCracken!”

Friday, 26 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Six

47882 words. Aw yeah. Chronological chapter times here.

Tim and Adric arrived at the facility whilst Nicky and Bracken were chatting in the mysterious room the guards referred to as The Chamber.

Through the blind fold Time could make out that it was some sort of building with more than one floor. Not the highest vantage point he’d ever had, but it was something. There’s nothing worse than having your blindfold removed in a dingy room and discovering on your escape that you’re on a boat, or in the middle of a volcano. Sometimes, just knowing you’re in a normal building which will contain some stairs and possibly a lift, puts you in a position of great mental strength.

Tim didn’t have much time to enjoy this inner calm, though, because the heavies had parked in their allotted spaces in The Facility’s car park and were roughly manhandling him and Adric out onto the concrete.

“Alright,” he said cheerfully, “I’m going.”

He pretended to stumble so that El Nombre’s companions wouldn’t realize he could see where he was going, and stole a quick look at Adric. He was still completely out of it, his gangly frame propped up by the guy who was preoccupied with sausages.

They formed a convoy and entered the building, each balaclava-wearing figure stopping to have his or her retinas scanned and fingerprints checked. In actual fact, none of this information was relayed anywhere, or even backed up onto a floppy disc (remember them) or pen drive. It was all set up to create the illusion that The Facility was a fortress, with unbreachable security. ‘Nobody ever gets out or in without our say-so,’ the scans seemed to imply. But if you wanted to, you probably could, Tim suspected. He wondered whether El Nombre knew, and was merely playing the game.

Once inside, Adric was whisked away to a cell a couple of doors down from Nicky's and put to bed by the nurse with the scarred face. Being the kindest of the guards, and the only one with actual nurse’s training, she was required to deal with all the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, El Nombre secured Tim in a basement room. Well, that was what he told his colleagues. In actual fact, he only walked Tim down to the basement. No securing occurred, as such. He merely removed the blindfold and said

"I dunno which cell they'll have put him in to sleep off the effects of the sedative, but all those rooms are on the second floor."

Tim nodded his thanks. El must have known the whole time that the guy they were kidnapping was the guy he wanted to rescue.

"Want to chum me on this one, for old time's sake?" he asked hopefully.

"I can't," El replied regretfully, "I'm busting out of this joint, right now. It's time to do what I set out to when I became a mercenary."

"Pack it all in for a life of leisure?" Tim joked, like the jokey joke-maker he often was in times of stress.

"Find and destroy Wizard Chinnigan," El Nombre explained, missing the humour like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies.

"If you'd only hold on a couple of hours for me to rescue my friend, I could come with you," Tim offered, partly for old time’s sake and partly to repay the debt he had accrued by getting El to bring him here.

El shook his head no.

"This is something you need to do alone, huh?"

"It is."

"What if you get yourself killed? He's tricksy, that wizard."

"Tim, I know his ways better than no one. No, wait. Nobody knows the ways of that wizard better than I. You know this to be the case.”

Tim nodded reluctantly, feeling his hair swoosh against the back of his neck. It was getting too long.

“However, if anything in the way of mortality does happen up in my grill, I will expect you to avenge my death.”

“In the usual way?”

“In the usual way,” he agreed solemnly. “Death by cupcakes.”

Tim blinked.

“That isn’t the traditional – oh, I see. El, I do believe that you just cracked a joke.”

El smiled, and his perfectly white teeth dazzled out of the darkness of his balaclava till Tim was nearly blinded.

“I have been practicing, since that first quest. It was funny, yes?”

“Oh yes, very funny. Although death by cupcakes is too good for that old goat.”

“It is,” El agreed. “But in actuality I suspect that it will not be the way the wizard will go.”

They hugged awkwardly, in the manner of men who became close under extenuating circumstances, lost touch for a couple of years, then met up again just briefly, only to be parted once more by further potentially life threatening circumstances. There were a lot of complicated emotions at work in that hug, and it was a beautiful and touching thing.

“Give me a ten minute head start,” El muttered into the hug, “then head for the second floor. You will find your young man there.”

“Thanks, El, I will. Good luck with finding and murdering Chinnigan.”

“It sounds so distasteful when you put it that way,” El realized, pulling out of the hug. “And yet, it is what it is, and what it is must be done. The badger must kill the fox before it can truly find peace.”

“Is that an old Chilean saying?”

“No, I saw it on Autumnwatch.”

And with that, El bounded off up the stairs, wearing two balaclavas, never to be seen again. Probably.

Tim leaned against the wall and looked around him.

It wasn’t one of those interesting cellars that you hear about in some books, like ‘The Kid in the Cellar’ or ‘Get Me Another Chianti’. It had never been used as a dungeon, or a gym, or a place to keep wine. In fact, it was all but forgotten about by the people who owned the building, truth be told, even though it wasn’t plagued by damp or rats or unusual smells. It just sat there, quite a nice space, albeit a bit on the dark side, almost entirely empty apart from an old wheelchair with a broken seat and only one wheel; and several enormous piles of dust.

“Passing ten minutes in this place is probably going to be my biggest challenge yet,” Tim told himself with a chuckle. A mouse inside the wall rolled its eyes, and proclaimed him a goner. The mice had the run of the building, and knew how the owners perceived intruders, adventurers, and people who thought they were funny when they weren’t. It didn’t look good for someone who ticked all three of those boxes.

He heard footsteps above and to his right, and moved towards the tiny, grimy window to peek outside.

Dawn had broken, bathing the outside world in a pinky blue hue that would have made quite a nice colour for something that would look good in pinky blue. Tim enjoyed it for a moment, before remembering the footstep situation.

There were iron bars on the outside of the window which were totally in the way, but he was pretty sure he could make out the figure of Aloysius advancing towards the door of the building along with some sort of animal. Tim wasn’t all that great with nature, but was moderately sure that this one was a sheep dog of some sort.

“What is he doing,” he groaned, watching as Al strode purposefully towards the front door, “they’re gonna get him! And apparently, they’re gonna get his little dog, too!”

Tim grabbed the wheelchair and pulled it over to the window, intending to try and force his way out or at least attract Al’s attention so that he would not pursue this hideous course of action.

Unfortunately he wasn’t quick enough, and from his precarious position atop the rickety frame all he saw was the door closing behind Al as he entered the building.

Tim jumped down with a ker-thunk.

“That’s probably been ten minutes anyway,” he reasoned aloud, one assumes for the benefit of the mouse as there was nobody else present to hear him.

He bounded up the well-worn steps and out of the cellar as El had done some moments before, pulling the door open with a careful yet enthusiastic creak. Once out in the relative brightness of the corridor he made to travel back in the direction he had come, which wasn’t too difficult as he’d had years of practice at going back the way he had come.

To begin with he pressed himself against the wall like people do in action films, but then he decided there was little point, as there was nothing to shield him if someone did come the other way. He stuck out like a sore thumb against the holographic underwater scene they had used to decorate the place. It was an interior design nightmare, he thought to himself, not even a child would find this appealing and their taste in d├ęcor is bizarre.

Up ahead there was an archway, which he remembered led to a lobby area at the front of the building. Now at least he could hide behind something if the need arose, he thought with a satisfied nod.

He could hear voices a little way further, and recognized one to belong to Al, but the other was unfamiliar.

“If you’ve got to go,” Al was saying sympathetically as Tim drew nearer to the sound of their jibber jabber, “then you have to go, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I can’t go here,” the other voice said, “there’ll be hell to pay.”

Tim risked a look-see around a pillar that conveniently stood by the archway.

Al was the only person there, and his only companion was the dog from outside. That breed was called a collie, Tim remembered now. They got their name due to something about only eating cauliflower.

‘Talking animals, eh,’ he thought to himself. ‘The plot thickens.’

“I’m not talking,” the dog said patiently, looking in Tim’s direction as if waiting for him to come out of his hiding place. “I’ve set up a telepathic link between myself and anything living within a half mile radius. Heard you coming before we even got here, your thoughts are that loud.”

“Sorry,” Tim said, not really sure whether an apology was required but deciding to err on the side of politeness.

“It’s eaten the amulet, before you say anything about me mucking up the quest,” Aloysius told him defensively.

“I wasn’t going to slag you,” Tim replied, “I’m sure you did your best.”

“But my best wasn’t good enough.”

“Well, we’ll see. This thing isn’t over yet, there are four days left in November after all.”

Al looked confused, but didn’t say anything for fear of humiliating himself further.

“I’m not an it,” the dog said suddenly, “I’m a he. My name is Brian, actually.”

“Nice to meet you Brian,” breezed Tim, “I’m Tim Mahogany-Barnes, and this here is Aloysius Hunkington Smythe.”

“Tim Mahogany-Barnes,” Brian said, or thought, if you want to be pedantic (in which case, why are you here? Go and do something less first draft-y.) “why do I know your name?”

“Not sure,” Tim reported, scratching his nose.

“You’re not a relation of Cassius Mahogany-Barnes, by any chance?”

“Why yes,” said Tim, “he’s my uncle. Do you know him?”

“Know him? He was my owner, till I was dognapped a couple of years ago. Best old man I ever knew.”

“You’re the dog that went missing? Well that’s great, I’ll tweet him and say you’ve been found! He’s never given up the search, you know.”

“I know,” Brian said with a mixture of pride and sadness, “I saw the reports on Crimewatch. But he’ll never take me back now.”

“Whyever not?” Tim puzzled, “he misses you dreadfully. Never got another dog after you were taken from him.”

Brian’s lip trembled, which for those of you who’ve never seen a sad dog, was simultaneously the most adorable and the most heart wrenching thing you are ever likely to see.

“Because I’ve been a bad dog,” he moaned mournfully.

“I’m sure he’d forgive you,” Tim replied dutifully, although he wasn’t really sure. He didn’t know Cassius brilliantly well, as he was an eccentric old chap who liked to keep himself to himself.

“No,” Brain asserted with his tail between his legs. “Ever since the clan of the cape recruited me… Well I don’t want to go into it, really. But it’s been dark times.”

“Well how about you redeem yourself now, by giving us the amulet instead of letting the clan of the cape take it?”

This was Al speaking, using his famous logic to manipulate an animal into doing what he wanted. How like a human.

“I can’t,” Brian quaked, conflicted like a girl choosing between the sexy bad boy and the safe, dependable husband type. “They’ll kill me if I do. Or worse.”

“So the clan of the cape have a penchant for inflicting fates worse than death, eh,” said Tim, stroking his chin as if this information had in some way made him think. It hadn’t. “That’s no good at all. We must stop them, Aloysius.”

“How are we going to do that?” Al asked, logic to the forefront once more. “We know literally nothing about them, other than they want that magic amulet, and they have a base here. We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know whether this is their main HQ or just a holding place, we don’t know whether they’re sanctioned by any authorities in this country…. We’d be going in totally blind, with no weapons, and no idea whether they want to kill, maim, or let us go.”

“Well, I think it’s about time someone got you guys that information,” pealed a tiresome voice from one of the doorways.

“And as usual, that someone is probably me.”

And that was how Tim and Al were introduced to Jeremy Kyle.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Five

Today, following on from my announcement that I've kept on top of the word count fairly well, I was asked whether I was pleased with what I have been writing. An interesting question, and one that has seeded an article now growing in my brain. In a nutshell, though, I can't hardly wait till I can start editing the thing, which I suspect will include scrapping at least two thirds...

Esmeralda replaced the phone in its cradle.


She hadn't said a word in the entire twenty-minute conversation, and her perfectly heart shaped face had remained smooth and expressionless.

During such a long period of time, Nicky had got distracted and started counting things; but Bracken was more alert and was consequentially considerably freaked out by the behaviour of their host. The woman was like a life-sized version of one of those collectable porcelain dolls - cold, unfeeling, and owner of a lot of wavy hair. She might have been pretty, but there was nothing else going on there. Maybe it was all the years of science.

"It's not the years of science," Esmeralda told her, which was disconcerting.

"What? I didn’t-"

"Save it. I know what you were thinking.” Esmeralda advanced on her intimidatingly. “I'm an expert on brains, Bracken,” she whispered, putting her nose right up against Bracken’s cheek. “Human brains. Like the one you have."

"I can't argue with that," Bracken agreed, a hint of a smile playing around her soft lips as though remembering memories past, "I do have a human brain."

"Exactly. You were looking at me when I was on the phone, impassive like that, even though I was receiving bad news-"

"-such as?"

"That's not important right now."

"Oh right. Sorry, please continue."

She nodded graciously.

"Thanks, I will.

You were watching me, standing there in my work environment, not reacting to what I was hearing down the phone in any way for twenty minutes."

"I thought maybe you'd gone to sleep standing up," Nicky volunteered.

"You would think that," Esmeralda pointed out coolly, "but Bracken didn't, did you?"

"No," she admitted, "I can honestly say that never crossed my mind."

"Swot," Nicky grinned, sticking his tongue out at them both.

"ANYWAY," continued Esmeralda, not angrily but just a bit louder to get their attention, "you were watching me and thinking about my brain chat and the fact I was able to ditch the love of my life for no reason better than money. And you thought maybe science was to blame, because like so many you were no good at it in school and now you hate and fear it as a consequence."

"I got a 3 for standard grade," Bracken said, "that's alright."

"It doesn't denote a particular aptitude for the subject like what I have though."

"Spose not, no."

"You had some notion that the constant consideration of variables, attempts to prove and disprove things, and a world view at odds with the spiritual or emotional led to my detachment," Esmeralda surmised. "I was so interested in the process of literally dissecting people's minds and memories that I forgot to consider what goes on in their hearts. That's right isn't it?"

"I guess that was a theme," Bracken concurred uncertainly, running a hand through her hair. It needed a wash.

"Well you're WRONG," Esmeralda said triumphantly, "that's not my motivation at all."

"Oh right."

"Years of science has been my saviour
," she steamrollered on, little caring about Bracken's honest disinterest. All she wanted to hear about was her relationship to the wean, or lack thereof.

"Abandoned by my parents and sister, I was left to fend for myself in London when I was just four years old."

"That's terrible," Bracken said, pricking her ears up sincerely, "I'm so sorry."

"Well, they left me with a foster family," Esmeralda corrected herself, "but they smelled weird. And they kept my sister! So I ran away to find her."

"That's so weird," Bracken exclaimed, "why keep one and not the other?"

"The doctor didn't tell them they were going to have twins. They didn't want two babies."

"Did they not have enough money to bring up two?"

"Oh no, that wasn’t it," she said derisively. "They were rolling in it. Don't you remember what a long posh name I have?"

"Well, that could just be an affectation," Bracken pointed out.

"I suppose so. But it isn't. My family is way posh. Posher than God.”

“Is God posh?”

“I don’t know,” she waved away the question impatiently, “it’s just an expression.”

“I don’t think it is,” Nicky said helpfully.

“Fine, it’s not,” Esmeralda was heading towards something approaching irritation for the first time in ages, “but you know what I was trying to convey so will you please stop nit picking and let me explain.”

Nicky made the sign where you pretend to zip your mouth closed, then sat on his hands to make extra sure that he couldn’t renege on his unzipping and interrupt again.

“My parents were very wealthy, but also very lazy. They only kept my sister because having a kid was the in thing to do at the time. She was looked after by nannies, in the main, and rarely saw them.”

“How do you know?” Bracken asked.

“How do I know what?”

“How do you know she was looked after by nannies if you were given away to foster parents when you were only four? Did you find her after you ran away?”

“No,” Esmeralda reported darkly, “I found only heartache and sadness. It was as though I was living in a Bonnie Tyler album, only less fun.”

Bracken didn’t think this was a particularly great analogy, and would have left it out, herself, but she let it pass.

“I met my sister again, years later, and we exchanged notes on a few things.”

“So where is she now?”

Esmeralda looked pained.

“Gone,” she said.

“Gone?” Bracken’s suspicions were roused by the tone of face, and the look on her voice. “Gone as in travelling? Or gone as in dead?”

“The latter,” she replied.

“What happened?”

“Well,” Esmeralda said, “I accidentally killed her.”

Had Bracken been eating or drinking anything, this was the revelation that would probably have made her choke. But she wasn’t, so it was fine.

“Come again,” she managed.

“Well I was very angry,” Esmeralda said vaguely, as if that made it alright, “and she’d been so annoying, refusing to swap memories with me and so on as per usual.”

“You wanted to swap memories?”

“Only for a little while. Just to see if it could be done. I would have put them back again.”

“What if you couldn’t remember how?”

“That’s what she said. Amongst other, less pragmatic things. She said I was mental, and that I had to stop poking around inside other people’s heads like that. She called it invasive, and weird.”

“Well, she may have had a point there.”

“Pfft.”

“Let’s agree to disagree on that score, shall we. So where even was this? Did she come out to Peru to find you?”

“No, she was there by pure coincidence, as it goes. She was doing some research for her postgraduate thesis – she was a scientist too. We were really very alike, as identical twins sometimes are.”

“So what, you just bumped into each other at random?”

“Yes. It was at a gas station, I remember. I was leaving and she was coming in through the door, and it was like looking into a mirror. Then right away I realized that it must be my sister. She didn’t really remember me, though. Our parents told her I had died.”

“Your parents sound like really great people,” Bracken said sarcastically.

“Tell me about it. So anyhoo, I told her I wasn’t dead, and she came to stay with me for a while. We told each other all about our lives and our work, and it turned out we had kind of been living in parallel. She was doing some stuff about whether cats remember coyotes… something like that. She used to carry around this big scrapbook with identikit pictures of coyotes in for cats to recognize. I think what I’ve been doing is a little more high brow, to be honest.”

“Well, your stuff might have benefits I guess, for like coma patients or something,” Bracken stretched her imagination. “Hers sounds kind of… made up.”

“I think it was,” Esmeralda nodded. “She struck me as the type who would flirt her way through academia, rather than putting in the work.”

“Unlike your good seld.”

“Very unlike me. I dedicate most of my waking life to my work.”

“Which reminds me-”

“We’ll get to your story in a second,” she soothed, “I thought you wanted to hear about how I killed my sister?”

Only if it’ll help me assess how likely you are to kill me as well,’ Bracken thought.

“I wanted to do the memory swap, and initially she agreed – although to be fair we’d consumed a lot of tequila that night. But when it came to it, I don’t know… I’d prepared the solution that we needed to take – hers would knock her out whereas mine was a different dosage so that I could operate on us both prior to the hypnosis – ”

By this point Nicky was really struggling to keep a lid on his hands. He really wanted to metaphorically unzip his mouth and let a deluge of questions flood forth.

“You didn’t do the hypnosis first?” Bracken asked, trying to piece the whole bizarre mess together in her mind.

“No, I needed to be alert for the surgery.”

“And what’s involved in the surgery?”

“Just a small incision, and then I put a little flake of metal in a particular spot on the brain so that the nerve endings are disrupted and a kind of blockage is created.”

“Then what?”

“Then I close up – a paper stitch is needed in some cases – and embark upon a session of hypnotherapy where I implant memories in the other person.”

“But you said you wanted to swap. Who would implant her memories into your brain?”

“Well she would, once she was me.”

“Once she was you?”

“Once she had my memories, I mean.”

“Surely there’s no way you could impart all the required medical and scientific knowledge through one session?”

“Well I don’t know, because she bailed on me. But I thought I had it all worked out. We’d been preparing for a while – she listened to CDs of my memories when she was going to sleep at night, for example, and she’d sat in on some of my sessions with other people.”

“This all seems wildly implausible,” Bracken couldn’t help saying.

“She said that as well,” Esmeralda remembered through gritted teeth and angry, downward pointing eyebrows.

“Sounds like she and I would have gotten on alright.”

“Oh,” Esmeralda exclaimed, “you don’t know the half of it.”

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Chapter Twenty Four

I would like to point out that all the characters in this book are fictional, and any resemblance they bear to real people is totally coincidental... Read the story so far via my other blog, here.

Jeremy Kyle hurled his phone at the wall, incandescent with apoplectic rage.

He had just had some most irritating news, and he was pissed off about it. Later on he would pick up the smithereens of keypad and sim card and admit to himself that he may have overreacted a little bit.

Jeremy decided to find a slightly less destructive mode of venting his frustration, and took to pacing up and down his enormous living room, trying to work out simultaneously how he was going to save the show and exact his revenge.

"Daddy," one of his bleary eyed daughters poked her head around the open door, "is everything alright?"

"Yes," he lied to his innocent child in the way that parents do sometimes for their own good, "everything's peachy keen, jelly bean. Go back to bed now, there's a good girl."

Convinced that something utteryly terrible had happened, she shuffled off back to the bed she shared with an enormous furry crocodile called Cameron.

"Either mummy and daddy are getting divorced," she lisped adorably to her toy friend, "or something's gone wrong with his show and he doesn't know what to do about it."

"Heads will roll if it's the latter," Cameron intoned sagely, taking off his slippers and throwing them at the ceiling, as was his wont.

"Ain't that the twoof," the little girl replied with a vigorous nod. Her speech impediment worsened in times of stress as part of a little known condition called Orphan Complex whereby a child unconsciously tries to make itself cuter so that if something goes wrong in the parent department, they will be sure to be adopted, or in some cases kept on by the better parent whilst the sibling gets stuck with the other parent.

However, Jeremy Kyle and his wife were doing perfectly fine, so his daughter and her crocodile had nothing to fear at all. If only they could know. But they didn’t, so they played jenga to cheer themselves up. The next morning they would awake in amongst a nest of those wooden bricks, with strange markings on their faces where the blocks had imprinted on their skin.

Meanwhile back in the living room in the present, Jezza had glanced out of the window to see a cocaine addled hooker tottering by on red patent stilettos. She was too skinny for her own good, living as she did on a diet of irn bru and very few solids, and she looked a good fifteen years older than her actual age of thirty six.

He opened the window, then almost shut it again as the rush of cold air gave him goosebumps. But he was a stronger figure than that.

"OI, LOVE!" he bellowed at the top of his voice.

She turned around in surprise at hearing his familiar voice in such close proximity, wondering whether someone was watching repeats of the show in one of these houses. She squinted unattractively in his direction, wondering whether it was time to go and get a long overdue eye test at last.

"WOT?" she yelled back indignantly, for yelling is the first defense of the short sighted and squiffy, "I'm not doing anyfink wrong. I've finished work."

"Wanka," she added under her breath.

"I heard that," he shouted. "You need to SORT YOUR LIFE OUT!"

He slammed the window closed triumphantly.

"That's right," he muttered insanely, "it's MY show."

"Jez," his wife said, appearing in a salmon pink smoking jacket and cravat, "what's going on?"

"Nothing, it's nothing,” he lied, rubbing the back of his neck so hard that the friction caused sparks to fly onto the Persian rug. “Make us a cup of tea would you?" he added, stamping on the rug to stop it from catching fire.

He followed her through to their moben designed kitchen, as fitted by Laurence Llewellyn Bowen. As always, he paused to admire the black granite worktops with flecks of unicorn horn run through. A strong kitchen makes a strong man, that’s what he always said under his breath when nobody was listening.

"It's not nothing," his wife said, continuing the conversation and switching on the kettle like the multitasking female type she was, "you've broken the phone and you'll probably get an asbo for shouting abuse at that off duty hooker."

"I think if anyone gets an asbo it’ll be her," he said archly, taking the milk out of the fridge. "She'll be known
to the law."

"So are you though," his wife pointed out. "Everyone knows who you are. You're a public figure."

He picked at some leftover chicken in the fridge, then spat it out when it turned out to be fish.

“Fair point,” he acknowledged.

“Anyway,” she pressed on, handing him a milky brew with four sugars, “what’s gone wrong with the show to put you in such a foul temper?”

He sipped his beverage and gave a long sigh to indicate his pleasure at consuming the lovely drink.

“Just had one of the researchers on the blower,” he said, in gangster speak, “the one who’s been at that top secret facility finding out about some weird stuff that’ll make my show respected like Panorama or Dispatches or something like that.”

“The one you reckon’ll get you a BAFTA?”

“The very same. Anyway, thing is, right, what goes on in that place… well…”

“Well what?” she challenged, eyebrows raised higher than a post op facelift. “Your ‘serious documentary’ spiel is just a cover for the fact that you run the entire operation, churning out people with weird and wonderful life stories to jazz up the show?”

He looked at her in shock. His jaw dropped and everything.

“How did you know that?”

“I’m not an idiot, Jez. And you’re not very good at keeping secrets. I gather you have some sort of unhinged young woman from South America who hypnotises people or lobotomises them or something of that nature?”

“There are no lobotomies involved,” he said sharply, “that’s outdated and ridiculous. You’ve got no proof.”

“Alright,” she said, “touchy. Whatever you say.”

“AND,” he interrupted, “she’s not from South America, that’s just where she developed some of her less orthodox techniques.”

“Fine,” she allowed, “she’s not from South America. Great. What’s gone wrong? Has she developed a conscience?”

“No,” he sulked, “I could solve that by throwing more money at her. No, she’s decided in the name of science to tell them all what’s been done to them, and see whether that reverses the procedure or not.”

“Which would ruin the show.”

“Well yeah,” he complained, “you can’t do a big reveal when everyone involved knows everything already and has had a few days to come to terms with it. And it makes the whole scenario far too complicated to explain to our target audience.”

“So what are you going to do?” she asked, picking imaginary bits of fluff off her pashmina.

“The only thing I can do,” he said, draining his mug. “I’m going round there to sort it out.”

“Do you want me to come with?”

“What about the kids?”

“Oh they’re fine, we’ve got the live-in nanny after all.”

“Should we tell her we’re leaving?”

“I’ll stick a post-it note on the fridge door.”

“Right then,” said Jeremy Kyle, putting on his second best suit jacket. “Lets go sort some lives out.”