A – Z Challenge Day 11

Day eleven is here! It’s strange to think that we’re nearing the half-way point of this April’s Blogging Challenge, and even stranger to think that I’ve actually written ten stories before this one!

Anyway, today’s word comes from my very own proof-reader/second-pair-of-eyes/ideas-bouncer-offer/hand-holder/constant-source-of-encouragement, my partner, Sammi. Or, as I prefer to call her, Samwise! Today’s word is “KARMA”, and this gave me a bit of trouble to begin with. Initially I thought “great! I can write something about good and evil deeds and have some kind of mighty cosmic force balancing them out!”, but then I quickly realised that I had no idea how to write such a thing! After a little while of staring at a blank page , this is what I came up with.

Thanks again, Samwise!


By Adam Dixon


Karma looked up from her calculations and glanced at her computer screen. She’d received an email from one of her agents in the land mass currently known as Great Britain. She opened it, scanned it briefly and tutted.

“Hmmm…Mr Jones, you naughty little man!” she muttered under her breath. “Leaving the poor woman with two kids and no job, eh? Well, I’ve got the very thing for you…” She began typing, forwarding the email to her good friend and work partner, Death.

“This one’s been especially bad this time. He clearly has no stomach for commitment or hard work. I’d suggest bowel cancer. Let me know what you think!”

Karma pressed SEND, knowing full well that Death would respond in the affirmative. He almost always agreed with her on these matters, not least because it spiced up his day. She cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses before looking down at her calculations once again. She had been working out the scale upon which divine justice needed to be issued to European politicians based on their actions over the last two decades. It was proving to be quite tricky, as not all of them were crooked or uncaring bastards, but enough had been that it called for some serious punishment. She realised that it was something that she would have to build up towards, and she had an idea how to get the ball rolling. She reached for her office phone and dialled her receptionist.

“Percy, my dear, would you please send Pity in for me? Thank you!” Karma smiled as she sat back in her chair. Perception was the best receptionist she had ever had, and they had worked together for aeons now. He always knew which cases needed her direct intervention and made sure that the flow of celestial traffic into her workspace was one-way. After a few moments, the door opened and a tiny, meek-looking being shuffled inside.

“Come in, Pity! Have a seat, dear,” Karma smiled and gestured towards the empty space in front of her desk. She always said that, regardless of whom she was addressing. It was an example of her strange sense of humour.

“Hello, Miss Karma,” Pity mumbled, holding one of her arms nervously. “How can I help you today?”

“Well, dear, I have rather a big job for you,” Karma tapped a few buttons on her keyboard and wheeled her chair over to the printer as it began to whir. Collecting the ejected pages she turned back to Pity and showed them to her.

“Do you know who these men and women are?” She asked. Pity pushed her long hair from her eyes and scrutinised the images. She nodded.

“Yes, Miss Karma,” she replied quietly. “They are members of the current European governments. Such a shame, they have very difficult jobs…”

“Indeed, but they have made several mistakes and the cosmos demands balance,” Karma knitted her long fingers together and stared at Pity over them.

“I would like you to influence the various media organisations around Europe. Their reporters need to begin to pity these specific individuals so that the stories they release will reflect this. I trust you can have that done within the month?” Pity looked up at Karma, her soft face creased in confusion.

“Well, yes, of course I can, Miss Karma,” she said. “But, may I ask why?”

“Oh, I suppose so,” Karma replied, sniffing. “These men and women have built their careers on strong public images, and in doing so have trampled on many people, both their governmental peers as well as the people they serve. I need to bring them all down a peg or two before their individual punishments can be put into place. Does that satisfy you?”

“I…yes, Miss Karma…” Pity answered, fidgeting. “But, erm, wouldn’t this be a job better suited to Hate?”

“Pfft, no!” Karma waved the suggestion away as if it were a bothersome fly. “Hate will certainly become involved later, but for now a subtle touch is needed. These people do not need to be reviled just yet, they need to be pitied! Their public’s trust in them needs to be shaken not with a barrage of anger but with simple doubt and even understanding! They need to be seen as fallible humans and therefore not fit for their lofty positions, and that is why I require you to plant the seeds. Now, we have wasted enough time discussing this, off you go, dear! I expect to see firm results before next month!”

“Yes, Miss Karma,” Pity replied sadly. She bowed her head and trailed out of the office. Karma shook her head in irritation. Pity was a good worker, loyal too, but she was often a hindrance with her warped sense of morality. Yes, people got hurt when Karma did her work, and yes some of them even died, but she was doing the universe a service. Why did Pity have to overcomplicate everything? Besides, it was a fine balancing act; those who were wronged or helped others during their lives were due a bit of compensation and so Karma saw to that as well. It was all part of the job and Pity would do well to remember that. Karma pressed the call button on her phone again.

“Percy? Be a dear and send me up one of Gluttony’s special muffins, would you? I need the sugar today!”

“Well, I would, Karma, but you ate the last one yesterday,” came Perception’s amused reply. Karma could almost hear the smirk on his face. She pressed the button, an angry frown creasing her forehead.

“Well then, you’ll have to bring me that one you’ve hidden in your desk, won’t you? Don’t think I didn’t see it, Percy, I see everything! Now hop to it!”

Outside the office, Perception sighed and rummaged in his desk for the muffin. Karma’s behaviour didn’t bother him, he knew better than most that she could be a real bitch.

A – Z Challenge Day 7

I can’t believe it’s Day Seven already! My word today is “GARGOYLE”, once again suggested by Kate.

This one was fun to write. I began wondering what it would be like for the gargoyles if they were alive and what they would do to pass the time. I had to remind myself of the difference between “gargoyles” and “grotesques” before I did so, mind you!

Anyway, here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy reading it.


By Adam Dixon

It was a wet, miserable Wednesday morning in London, and as usual everyone was scurrying about the vast city with nothing but themelves in mind. It’s not that they didn’t care about the world and other people in it, it was merely that that kind of morning always succeeded in making the most cheerful of people recede into his or herself. With their consciousness sheltering in their skulls like turtles in their shells and their tunnel-vision modes activated, nobody was paying much attention to anything except avoiding the many large puddles dividing the pavement. But they should have been paying attention, and they should have been looking towards the rooftops, for the gargoyles were certainly paying attention to them.

“How about that one?” The Bearded Man said around the rainwater which was trickling out from his open mouth.

“Which one?” Several irritated voices answered at once. There were roughly two dozen other gargoyles within range of sight, clinging to their respective buildings and issuing forth the contents of their gutters. None of them could move, of course, so they needed the Bearded Man to be more specific.

“Oh, yes, my apologies,” the Bearded man mumbled sheepishly. “The woman in the bright red raincoat just passing by the Lloyd’s bank on the corner. Can you see her? She’s on my left.”

“I see her!”

“Target confirmed!”

“That’s an affirmative!”

“Wait, I can’t see her!”

“She’s by the entrance to the Tube now, moving towards the Nandos!”

“Oh yes, I see her now!”

“Good,” Bearded Man said, pleased. “Well, what do you think?”

There was a slight pause as the gargoyles thought for a moment. The rain fell more heavily, dancing a merry pattern on their stone features.

“Well I think that she is going to the library!” The Bearded Man announced proudly. “She is wearing glasses and she is carrying a large pile of books in that plastic bag, I’m sure of it!”

“No she isn’t!” scoffed the Rearing Lion from the other side of the road. “It’s got food in it! She’s probably just carrying around her lunch for this afternoon. She’s going to work, probably in one of the offices.”

“I think she’s goin’ to stop at the theatre,” the Grinning Imp asserted. “She looks like the thespian type to me.”

“Balderdash!” The Bearded Man said, incredulous. “Look, she’s going straight past it!”

“I mean the other theatre, you pigeon-fouled buffoon!” laughed the Grinning Imp. “That one’s only for the cheapos of the city, and judgin’ by her shoes she can afford to go to the more up-market one down the street!”

“Wait, I can’t see any fancy shoes!” the Stunned Dragon shouted.

“You can’t bloody see anythin’, you’ve got an eye missin’!” The Grinning Imp cackled. More voices filled the minds of the gargoyles playing the game, all eager to put forward their interpretation of the unsuspecting Londoner. In the end, the Screaming Man guessed correctly: the woman had walked into an infant’s school at the far end of the street. She was probably a member of staff or a mother dropping off a forgotten packed lunch. Screaming Man was very pleased with himself and made it known, whilst Rearing Lion grumbled that he had at least been right about the packed lunch.

“Oi, Crouching!” the Grinning Imp shouted telepathically. “You never made a guess. What’s up with you?”

“I’ve got more interestin’ things to look at!” came the Crouching Imp’s sniggered reply. That particular gargoyle was set facing a particularly grim-looking block of flats, so naturally the others were curious to know what he had been so preoccupied by.

“There’s this couple on the sixth floor,” the Crouching Imp chuckled. “They’ve left their curtains open an’ let’s just say that they’re havin’ a better mornin’ than most of this lot on the street!”

“Oh, you utter cretin!” the Bearded Man said in disgust. “Avert your eyes, for the sake of dignity!”

“Hey, I didn’t tell them to leave their curtains open, did I?” the Crouching Imp protested. “Besides, I can’t avert my bloody eyes, can I?”

“Oh, you lucky sod!” the Grinning Imp was very amused by this. “You’ll ‘ave to give me all the saucy details later on!”

“I should think not!” the Bearded Man shouted, eliciting a burst of laughter from various gargoyles who were listening in.

“Oh, shut it, Beardy!” the Crouching Imp snorted. “You get on with your bleedin’ game, I’m doin’ just fine over ‘ere!”

“Fine, I think I will!” the Bearded Man huffed with an air of contempt.

“Right…” the Rearing Lion began awkwardly. “Erm…what about that one, then? The fellow in the brown suit with the small umbrella? He might be a teacher as well!”

“Who, him? Nah, he looks more like a journalist!”

“Don’t be silly, look at his briefcase! He must work for the Council!”

“The Council? With that tie?!”

So the game continued on into the morning, with the gargoyles happily protecting their buildings from the worst of the rain. It was not a complicated game, but it served to pass the time.


A – Z Challenge Day 2


The word for today’s story has been provided by the ever-helpful Kate. Actually, Kate has suggested a number of excellent prompts for this challenge and this will be the first in a sequence of them. The word Kate provided is “BOMBASTIC”, and I’ll admit to being  surprised and slightly disappointed to learn that it doesn’t mean “crazy”, “lively” or “wild” as I initially thought. Curse you, Mr Bean, for misleading me!

Anyway, it’s still an interesting word and I rather enjoyed the character which came to life upon my re-education. I hope you all do, too.


By Adam Dixon

“…and I put it to you, dearest members of the public, that none of my esteemed peers would perform quite so well as I have!” The newly-crowned King Geoffrey asserted, brandishing the sleeves of his voluminous golden robe with gleeful vigour.
“Nay, but ‘tis true!” he continued, grinning from one end of his carefully-trimmed beard to the other. “’The fine body of men and women who make up the Assembly and who serve as my advisors are all able and intelligent people. Sharp of mind and keen of eye where matters of state are concerned; of this there can be no doubt! But, dear people, not one of them could perform the duties expected of a monarch with such stalwart effectiveness and practiced ease as I! ‘Tis true that I have been blessed by the gods of this world to be worthy of so lofty a duty, and in turn you are fortunate indeed to be the subjects over which I hold dominion!”
Kind Geoffrey beamed at the vast gathering of people standing before his palace. They had come to his grounds in droves following his coronation, with thousands upon thousands of them waiting to hear him speak. Rightly so, thought he! It was not every day that the common folk were graced with the attention of such a mighty and impressive figure of a man! The subjects gathered beneath him as he addressed them on his balcony would long tell the story of how they heard Good King Geoffrey speak, and their children would pass the tale on to their children and so on and so forth. King Geoffrey glowed with pride for these hypothetical offspring, and was delightfully happy for the very real men and women who were listening to him now. What a truly splendiferous day they must be having! He continued with his self-confident rhetoric for over an hour, before reaching the end of his speech.
“Sadly, dear friends, I must take my leave of you. All that is left for me to announce is that my first decree as King is to make a bold change to the face of my kingdom, to forever prove my undying loyalty towards you good people. I declare that from this day forward, I shall no longer be known as King Geoffrey, for I fear that the word “King” is rather archaic and distances the monarch from his people, but instead I shall be known as High Citizen Geoffrey, the first amongst his fellow men! Thank you, one and all, and I bid you adieu!” The ruler formerly and briefly known as King Geoffrey blew kisses to the crowd and bowed as he moved back inside, revelling in the rapturous applause he received.
“What d’you make of all that then?” A man in stained blue overalls asked, squinting at the man in the smart suit next to him. The grey-haired gentleman snorted and made a show of straightening his tie and jacket.
“Oh, more or less what I’ve come to expect,” he said with a nasal drawl. “The man is as bombastic as ever, full of wind and self-praise but little else. He’ll make an awful monarch.” The man in the overalls laughed, running a hand across his stubbly chin.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got that right, mister!” He said with a guffaw. “Makes for an amusin’ spectacle, though! High Citizen Geoffrey, may he live long and keep us all laughin’ while he does!” The two men shared a moment to appreciate the joke, as thousands of people shuffled home around them. Geoffrey watched his subjects dispersing from behind a curtain and smiled. Truly, what a magnificent day for all it had been!

Spook the Human

Spook the Human

By Adam Dixon


“So, what are you up to these days?” Fred the house spider asked his friend Stan as they met for a chat underneath a leather sofa. It was dark and quiet and that suited them well. The humans had been out of the house for most of that day, so they could fully relax. Stan raised two of his front legs in a non-committal gesture.

“Not much, friend, the usual,” He replied lazily. “Just one day to the next; avoiding the humans and trying to find a suitable mate.” After a moment, his eyes lit up suddenly in the dark, eight globes of excitement fixed on Fred. “Oh, but I have done well today for grub! Two fat, juicy bluebottles flew straight into my web this afternoon, one after the other. Beautiful, it was, and I’d not long finished spinning it! How they wriggled and fought! It was such fun wrapping them up!”

“Well done!” Fred cackled. “Impressive! By the way, where is your new home? I thought you were in the front porch?”

“Yes, I was,” Stan sighed. “But that bloody woman decided to clean it, and she caught my web with that vile pink thing that she brandishes around when collecting dust. Anyway, I moved into the conservatory after that, just above the doors. Prime location, perfect for catching curious flies!”

“Good choice,” Fred was eager in his approval. “Maybe I’ll leave my web in the loft and move in there, if you don’t mind, of course.”

“Not at all, it’ll be nice to have some company.” Stan sounded pleased at the thought. “Tell you what, come over this evening and share my meal. Consider it a welcoming present.”

“Don’t mind if it do!” Fred replied warmly. They lapsed into an easy silence for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of the house. The slight creaking of the floorboards, the whisper of a draught under the door, the electronic hum of the refrigerator. Then Fred spoke up again.

“Listen, I have to tell you about this hilarious game that my siblings and I have been playing,” He said excitedly. “We came up with it a while ago, and it is brilliant fun every time.”

“Alright, you’ve got my interest,” Stan replied stretching his rear legs a little.

“It’s called ‘Spook the Human’,” Fred continued. “It’s self-explanatory, really. You know how some humans are actually frightened of us? Even though they are several times bigger and stronger than we are?”

“Yes, I know. Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Stan guffawed.

“Completely. But that’s the point of ‘Spook the Human’; the aim of the game is to reveal yourself to a human in order to scare them into running away from you. I don’t mind telling you that when it works, it is absolutely hilarious! Sometimes, if you get really close, they all but lose their minds!”

“That does sound quite funny,” Stan said, amused. “But surely they’d just step on you right away? It can’t be worth the risk.”

“Wait and see, my friend,” Fred winked four of his eyes at Stan. “I’ll give you a little demonstration when the humans appear again. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.” Stan agreed to wait, and so they stood motionless for a long time, silently enjoying one another’s company. Eventually, the colossal ‘bang!’ of the front door and subsequent tremors along the floorboards announced the arrival of at least one of the larger occupants of the house. As the vibrations came ever closer, Fred became more animated in his anticipation.

“It’s the woman!” He cried, his fangs trembling he hopped about excitedly. “She’s terrified of us! Wait…She’s coming in! Watch this!”

With a devious chuckle, Fred scurried out from underneath the sofa. He ran across the smooth laminate flooring towards the towering figure of the woman. He made it about three feet before the woman let out an ear-splitting screech and threw her arms up in the air. Spinning on her expensive heels, she fled from the room, a squealing mass of blond hair and designer clothing.

Fred went back under the sofa next to Stan, laughing loudly.

“See?” He said, blinking tears from several of his eyes. “She can’t stand us! It’s a riot every time!”

“That did look like fun, I’ll give you that,” Stan chuckled. “In fact, I think I’ll give it a go next!”

“Great! But there are some warnings about the game that I must give you,” Fred said, becoming serious. “It is good fun, but you need to be careful about which humans you try it with and where you try it. Some aren’t scared at all, and will attack you instead of running away. Two of my brothers got crushed by choosing the wrong humans, and three of my sisters were drowned in sinks. Just be careful, even though the thrill is in the risk.”

“Alright, I’ll be careful,” Stan said dismissively. “Come on, I want to play!” With that he inched closer to the edge of the sofa, scanning the room beyond. His hairy legs were quivering as he waited impatiently and he clicked his jaws together in irritation. Soon, the floorboards began quaking once again, and a blond-haired child of about four years old came galloping into the room, grinning from ear to ear.

Laughing, Stan shot out from under the sofa, his legs moving like a skeletal hand with too many fingers. The child saw him and stopped in her tracks. After a second or two of scrutiny, the child seized a slipper from next to an armchair and squashed Stan flat. Smack! Smack! Smack! Without a word the child walked out of the room, leaving a brown smear on the laminate where he had been.

“Bugger…” Fred cursed sadly. “I did warn him!” Fred shook his head with regret before stealthily moving off in the direction of the conservatory. Well, it would be a shame to waste those fat bluebottles…


Bad For Business

Bad for Business

By Adam Dixon

George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.” A few seconds later the phone receiver crackled and a confused, high-pitched voice barked a reply.

“A visitor? Who is it, George? I’m not expecting to see anyone until tomorrow.”

“A tall gentleman with a large moustache and a bowler hat, Mrs. Whitfield,” George responded patiently. “He hasn’t give a name, he said that you would know him from that description. Shall I send him in?” The response was barely a heartbeat in coming this time.

“Oh, good Lord! Yes, George, send him in at once!”

George smiled at the man standing in front of him. He was in his fifties, his face impassive and his eyes steely grey orbs floating above an enormous walrus moustache. He stood erect with both hands clasped behind his back, his long black coat giving him the look of a funeral director.

“Mrs. Whitfield will see you now, sir,” George said, gesturing towards the door to his right. “Please go ahead and let yourself in.” The man gave him a curt nod before striding resolutely towards the door. His back was straight and his eyes were set dead ahead. As he passed, George’s smile faltered and a shiver ran up his spine. He smelled…strange. It was a musty scent yet somehow acidic, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Whoever he was, he gave George the creeps. The man opened the door to Mrs. Whitfield’s office and without a word he entered her inner sanctuary, slamming it behind him.

George sat at his desk staring after him, bewildered. Who on earth was that? He thought to himself. Mrs. Whitfield had seemed rattled, and that made George uneasy. This man was quite different from the usual suspects who dragged themselves into his employer’s office, seeking her legal aid concerning matters malignant and benign. For one, he seemed very sure of himself, whereas most of the people who passed through George’s line of sight were either quivering wrecks or hopeless optimists.

To pass the time, George decided to speculate on who this mysterious stranger could be. Perhaps he was an old client who needed help again, or he was a former adversary of Mrs. Whitfield’s? She had practiced law as a barrister several years ago, and this man had the look of a professional about him. Maybe he had crossed swords with Mrs. Whitfield in the past, and had come back for some personal reason. Embittered by a sound defeat at her legal prowess, possibly? That was interesting enough, he mused.

He could be Mrs. Whitfield’s estranged husband! He thought with excitement, his earlier discomfort vanishing. She had separated from Mr. Whitfield before starting up her own business, and perhaps he had come back wanting a slice of the cake. Perhaps he is an acquaintance of Mr. Whitfield, he thought, coming here on his behalf. Very juicy, that notion. He’d have to share that nugget with Debra from accounts. Maybe he was her lover? This one made George chuckle and he dismissed it immediately. Mrs. Whitfield was, although charming and attractive in her own way, completely asexual. Besides, the man George had let into her office didn’t exactly look like a man incensed by desire. No, come to think of it, he looked more like a man intent on doing some harm.

This last thought made him uneasy once again. George chided himself for considering such groundless notions, but he couldn’t help turning to stare at the office door, regardless. He sat in silence, straining his ears in the hope of catching a hint of the proceedings within. All he could make out were the muffled voices of Mrs. Whitfield and the stranger. It didn’t sound like they were arguing, so that was a relief. Soon, George’s curiosity got the better of him, and he gingerly picked up the phone receiver and held it to his ear. Mrs. Whitfield often forgot to toggle off the call button, which meant that George could eavesdrop on her meetings. Not a particularly noble, or indeed legal, thing to do, but it passed the time on slow days. Listening in on some of those conversations was like hearing a radio broadcast of The Jeremy Kyle Show. But this one wasn’t like that at all.

“I trust you realise why I’ve come to you now,” the man was saying, his voice a deep bass rumble.

“Yes, yes, of course I do,” Mrs Whitfield’s usually chirpy voice held an edge of tension. “But…does it have to be now? I’ve just gotten my life readjusted and my plans are secure. Things are going very well at present.”

“My dear woman!” The man laughed unpleasantly. “One could hardly expect this moment to come when it is convenient, could one? No, you have had ten years of success to this very hour, and now the payment is at hand. You must come with me!” The man spat the final sentence, and George could have sworn that his voice had become a rasping snarl for a moment.

“No, I will not!” Mrs. Whitfield was defiant. “Stay away from me!” George had no idea what was going on, but he had the feeling that things were about to turn ugly. He sprung out of his chair and rushed towards the office door. As he reached it, he heard a blood-curdling screech emit from within the office. He froze, unable to process what he was hearing. He then forced himself onwards, wrenching open the door and stepping inside.

The scene which greeted him defied all his expectations. The short, slightly plump Mrs. Whitfield was standing in the centre of the room holding aloft a large wooden crucifix. Her eyes were wild and there seemed to be a strange glow emanating from her hands. Backed against the wall, cowering and still screaming, was the strange man. He glanced past the arm which was shielding his sight, and George saw with horror that his eyes had turned blood-red. Half of his face was horribly burned and smoking skin was barely clinging to his skull. His walrus moustache was smouldering, the stink of burning hair and flesh filling the room.

“You ungrateful whore!” The man bellowed, his voice rasping again. “We had a deal, bound in blood! I will not be denied!” Mrs. Whitfield took a step towards the creature, brandishing her crucifix like a blazing torch.

“Yes, we did,” She glared furiously at the figure huddled against the wall. “But I’m a lawyer, dearie, and I always find a way out!” She flung out her right hand and a small glass sphere filled with water flew across the room. It struck the creature on his arm, shattering instantly and soaking it from head to foot. The creature bellowed in agony, and layers of skin began searing off its face and hands. Its moustache fell away as it burned, the impressive spectacle obliterated in seconds. At this final insult, the creature pointed a trembling finger at Mrs. Whitfield.

“You’ll pay dearly for this, woman!” It spat, baring its teeth in fury and pain. It straightened up, clasped its hands together as if in prayer, and abruptly vanished with a blinding flash of light. The after-image of the room still showed the purple silhouette of the creature before it had disappeared. George stood by the doorway, blinking rapidly and trying to make sense of what he had seen. He looked at Mrs. Whitfield, a dozen questions rendering him tongue-tied. Mrs. Whitfield lowered her crucifix and gave him a level stare.

“Well, that takes care of that pest, for now at least.” She said, matter-of-factly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, dearie, but it can’t be helped.” She frowned at the wet patch of carpet. “Hmmm, my contacts omitted to tell me whether or not Holy Water stains carpets. How irritating…” She trailed off, shaking her head. She smoothed her grey suit jacket absent-mindedly before glancing back up at George.

“Well, George? What are you still doing here?” She asked, somewhat dismissively. “Don’t you have some files to be checking for me? A few for Mr. Black’s wrongful imprisonment case, I believe?”

“I…Yes, Mrs. Whitfield, I’ll…erm…I’ll get on those right away.” George responded, dumb-founded. He turned around and walked with shaky legs back to his desk. He leaned heavily against the wooden frame for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.

“Oh, and George?” He started as the phone receiver crackled. He could almost see the amused smirk on her face by her tone. He pressed the call button.

“Yes, Mrs. Whitfield?” George replied, shaken.

“Be a dear and don’t mention that little incident to anyone, will you?” She asked nonchalantly. “Demons in the workplace are terribly bad for business! Many thanks!”

With that, the phone was silent, leaving George staring at it in astonishment.

Fever of Venus

Fever of Venus

By Adam Dixon

She stirred the bubbling green mixture in the pan, the heat from the rising steam warming her hand just enough to be pleasurable. It was hard work, brewing magic potions, and Andi had to find some pleasure in the process whenever possible. She closed her eyes and stretched, cracking her back deliciously for a few seconds. The problem was that modern witches simply didn’t have the time to make potions anymore; the effort of finding and preparing the multitude of ingredients was beyond them. Almost all of them had demanding jobs to maintain, such as being lawyers, business tycoons and high-ranking politicians; occupations which satisfied their own sinister, crafty agendas and allowed them to succeed in the world. They still had their spells and arcane hobbies, but they no longer had the leisure time to invest in potion-crafting. That is where Andi came in: as a member of an established and well-favoured family of alchemists she was trusted to fill this area of neglect in the lives of modern witches. Andi had learned her trade from her father, a near-legendary potions master, and she had been successful long enough to consider herself an expert in her own right. She brewed potions for uses good, foul and anything in between for a number of witches who paid her handsomely for her efforts. So, it was hard work, but the rewards were fantastic.

She was currently brewing a complex potion which rendered the unfortunate drinker paralysed whilst fully conscious. The effect could be moderated depending on the strength of the dosage; for example, two drops would cause paralysis for ten minutes, but half the bottle would incapacitate the drinker for twelve hours. It was a potion which had been created by Andi’s father, and it had become rapidly desired by witches who wanted to add something devious to their collections. As expected, it had also proven quite popular among those who had a proclivity for ill-acquired trinkets. Her customer this time was a young witch who had a taste for successful artists; enough said, thought Andi with a wry smile. She began stirring the potion first clockwise and then anti-clockwise in intervals, as the recipe required. She soon lost herself in the rhythm of her work and began to daydream, working by instinct rather than concentration.

Andi was brought back to reality after about ten minutes by a rattling sound coming from behind her. She turned around and saw that the Blood Receptacle was trembling on its pedestal. The Blood Receptacle was a large bowl fashioned from obsidian, making it very dark and strangely luminous as it sat proudly on top of a marble pillar in the corner of Andi’s laboratory. The bowl was filled three-quarters of the way up with blood, the viscous, crimson liquid partially visible through the glass. The blood was slopping to and fro in the bowl of its own accord, seemingly frantic. Andi sighed and turned the heat down on her Bunsen burner before moving towards the pillar. For all their readiness to embrace modernity, some witches still insisted on traditional modes of contact; Andi would much rather that they used the telephone.  She approached the insistent bowl and quietened it by placing her hands on either side of it. I hate this part, she thought to herself. Taking a deep breath, she lowered her lips to the surface and took in a mouthful of blood. Andi then straightened, and after waiting for ten seconds to pass she spat the coppery liquid back into the bowl with disgust and relief. The blood rippled in the bowl, and slowly the colour was drained until a clear, reflective surface was left. Moments later, the image of a face came into view, blurring slightly as the ritual was completed. A stern, female face of middling years stared out of the bowl and regarded Andi with cold grey eyes.

“Andromeda Hairlock, I presume?” A sharp voice issued forth, the sound wavering slightly. Andi beamed into the bowl.

“Yes, that’s me!” She said cheerfully. “But please, call me Andi. How may I help you today, lady sorceress?”

“I am in the market for a particular potion, Miss Hairlock,” The witch stated brusquely, her manner business-like and efficient. “Your establishment comes highly recommended.” The woman paused for a moment to peer more closely at Andi. “Although, I expected you to be much older, considering the strength of the appraisal.” The pride Andi had felt at the woman’s first words faded quickly and were replaced with annoyance. Her youth was a constant hindrance to her when dealing with prospective customers. She longed for the day when her glossy black hair turned grey, then she would perhaps encourage believability upon first encounters.

“Well, I do hope I can be of service, madam,” Andi said, ignoring her irritation. “Which potion are you looking to acquire, Miss…?”

“Ironbark. Clytemnestra Ironbark.” The witch replied, seemingly annoyed at having been asked. Andi gasped.

“My lady sorceress, it is indeed an honour to meet you!” Andi spluttered, inclining her head in what she hoped was a respectful manner. “Great elephants, I wonder what my father would say if he knew I was talking to a witch of such infamy and power!”

“Yes, I had hoped to enlist the services of your esteemed father,” the witch said matter-of-factly. “But I heard that he is currently indisposed, which is a frightful bother.” Andi’s smiled faded slightly.

“Yes, my lady sorceress,” She replied, caught off guard. “Father had a run in with a particularly nasty goblin who was trying to steal some of his notes. He is healing well, but remains unable to work for the time being.”

“As I said, a frightful bother,” Ironbark said coldly. “In my experience there are no other types of goblins but nasty ones. Loathsome creatures. Your father ought to have been more careful, I say. But no matter, his daughter will have to suffice.”

Andi had by now decided that she didn’t like this obnoxious, arrogant sorceress, but she could never turn down the opportunity to work for anyone so well-known. She bit back an angry retort and simply offered Ironbark a small smile and a nod, indicating that she should continue.

“I’ll say once again, I am in the market for a very specific potion,” Ironbark said brusquely. “I am prepared to meet any price for its production, and I am likewise prepared to wait as long as it takes for it to be brewed to perfection. I have never accepted lesser potions, Miss Hairlock, and I have absolutely no intention of starting with one as vital as this.”

“Understood, madam,” Andi replied warily. “I will do my utmost to provide the potion you seek. Which potion would that be?” I bet it’s a nasty one, thought Andi. She seems like a nasty sort of witch in person, and some of the stories about her are just terrible.

“Yes, well…” Ironbark hesitated, her image rippling slightly as she frowned and looked away. Why is she stalling? Andi pondered, curious.

“Miss Hairlock, I am looking to acquire the most potent reversal of a love potion which you are capable of concocting.” Ironbark said quickly. “As I said, money and time are no object, but I would prefer it to be created as soon as professionally possible. Can you aid me?”

Well, that was a surprise! Andi was stunned. Reverse a love potion? Clytemnestra Ironbark did not seem like the kind of woman who would even consider using a love potion in the first place, let alone reversing one. This was very interesting.

“Well, yes, lady sorceress, I certainly can aid you,” Andi said, taken aback, “There is no potion created which cannot be reversed. However, I will need to know which specific love potion was administered, so that I can correctly fashion its antidote.”

“Therein lies the problem, Miss Hairlock,” Ironbark stated, her cold eyes boring in to Andi’s. Was that desperation Andi saw in them? Surely not… “I…ah…do not know which potion I used, truthfully. I was hoping that you would be able to identify the draught from the information I can provide. First of all, I was informed that the potion I purchased had a short-term effect, possibly two or three days. I was additionally told that it was brewed from mermaid tears and foxglove at moonlight.”

“That sounds like Merlin’s Seduction,” Andi said, trying hard not to smirk. “You are correct, it’s only supposed to last for a couple of days. It focuses primarily on firing up the lust of the drinker; to render them completely enamoured and with an insatiable desire for-“

“Yes, yes, there is no need to spell it out!” Ironbark interrupted sharply, her cheeks turning slightly crimson. Andi had to fight the urge to burst out laughing. This was becoming a hilarious conversation!

“My apologies, lady sorceress,” Andi bowed her head, as much out of respect as to hide a wolfish grin. “But I assume that something has gone awry?”

“That is correct,” Ironbark said, regaining her stern poise and raising her chin slightly. “The effect is as described, but it has continued now for more than a month with no signs of…abating.” The flush returned to the witch’s cheeks. “The potion was red in colour, easily disguised in wine and it smelled faintly of wolfberries. Can you infer anything with that information?”

“Yes, I believe that I can,” Andi replied, her good cheer returning. “It sounds like you were wrongly sold a very powerful draught called the Fever of Venus. It is designed to increase the…erm…urges, of the drinker towards the first person they see. Depending on the strength of the dosage, the effect can last for months.”

“Great elephants!” Ironbark yelped, her eyes widening. She cleared her throat loudly, embarrassed by her outburst.

“But it is reversible,” continued Andi as if nothing had happened. “I will need to acquire some rare ingredients and brew it in a very complicated way, but I can do it.” She paused for a moment, allowing herself a visible smirk this time. “However, it may take me up to a week to complete the potion. Do you think you can…erm…hold off the…afflicted, for that long?”

“I suppose I will have to, Miss Hairlock!” Ironbark’s reply was haughty, and she was clearly incensed by Andi’s amusement. “I shall keep the wretch at bay until then, I am certain. Just ensure that you craft the item in that time, and not a day later!”

“Of course, lady sorceress,” Andi was insistent. “I will get to work this instant. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No, that will suffice,” Ironbark said almost rudely. “Send me an invoice for the ingredients you require and I will match the price without hesitation. Your fee will be generous as well, should your draught perform as expected.”

“It will, lady sorceress, on my Father’s good name it will.” Andi was quite keen to get rid of the unpleasant woman now, and betrayed her impatience slightly with her curt reply. Ironbark nodded, and after a moment spoke again.

“I…ahh…I would appreciate your discretion and professionalism in this matter, Miss Hairlock. This situation could prove disastrous to my reputation if ever it became public knowledge, and as I am sure you are aware, a witch is nothing without her reputation.”

“Of course, lady sorceress,” Andi replied in a serious tone. “My lips are sealed on this matter, don’t worry.”

“Good.” The old witch seemed greatly relieved. “Until next time, then.” With that, the image of the woman began to ripple, and with each wave the clear liquid began to turn crimson. After a short while the stern, yet embarrassed face of the infamous sorceress had disappeared, and Andi was left staring at her amused reflection in a pool of blood. She stood upright and lazily wiped the blood from her lips. Etiquette required that she did not do so during their conversation, another reason Andi wished that modern witches would ditch the macabre use of the Blood Receptacle. Seriously, what was wrong with the telephone? Or Skype, even? Surely that would save everyone involved a lot of bother!

Andi shook her head and walked over to her desk. She flipped open a huge leather-bound book filled with intricate drawings and long, detailed lists. The book was ancient, well-worn and lovingly preserved. She quickly located the page for the Fever of Venus and she spent the next few minutes working out the ingredients needed to reverse it and noting them down on her iPad. As usual, this blend of the traditional and the modern made her grin, and her thoughts turned to the infamous Clytemnestra Ironbark’s unfortunate situation. She found it amazing that such a historically shrewd and cautious woman could be so easily duped. She also found it hilarious.

“Modern witches,” she said to herself, chuckling. “Still just as clueless as everyone else!”

Ginger Nuts and Carrot Tops

Ginger Nuts and Carrot Tops

By Adam Dixon

“Do you know much about the world before they took over?” Mandy asked, taking a long drag on her cigarette. Her colleague, Jack, leaned casually against the back door of the hair salon, staring at the brick wall of the alley in front of him.

“Not really, darling,” he replied, his voice musical and feminine. He inhaled vapour from his e-cig, the base of it lighting up in a flash of pink. “That’s why I’m curious about it. You lived through the change, though, didn’t you?” He cocked his head inquisitively as he asked, his silver earrings dancing merrily at the movement. Standing there in his stylish faded-blue jeans and trendy white shirt, Jack was in stark contrast to the plump older lady next to him dressed in a simple, muted dress and sensible shoes.  He was the very picture of youth and optimism to Mandy, and she felt a longing for her simpler past. She nodded, absent-mindedly smoothing her fringe. Her hair, like Jack’s, was dyed bright orange.

Mandy and Jack both worked in the salon, and their main task each day was to treat customers’ hair with dye. Orange dye, exclusively; there were traces of the dye in their fingers from continual use of the stuff. That was the way of the world now, for during the 2020’s, ginger-haired people had unexpectedly, inexorably and irrevocably taken over the world. It was now 2053, and barely anyone could remember exactly how it had happened, but somehow it had. One of the first obligatory decrees that had been passed by the new world leaders had been that who had not been born with ginger hair must dye theirs bright orange. Initially, it had been a way of gaining a measure of revenge against decades of international ginger-jokes and ridiculing. It had since become part of the everyday structure of society once the initial grumbling and protestations had died down, and so bright orange hair could be seen from London to Beijing and everywhere in between.

“The bloody hair dye was the biggest change, obviously,” Mandy said, tucking a loose strand behind her ear. “Caused quite a bit of trouble once people realised that it was a serious demand. That’s why they had to get the Nuts involved.” Jack nodded, he knew that much. The Ginger Nuts, or just “Nuts”, were enforcers of the societal rules, essentially a secondary police force walking the streets. Many believe that the job title was again a means to subvert the previous stigmas towards red-haired people. It certainly appeared to have worked, as the Nuts were regarded with a grudging respect by the people of the world and were generally obeyed without question.

“Ginger Nuts…” Mandy continued, chuckling softly. “Why, I remember a time when that term was used to take the mickey out of the poor ginger lads and lasses! That and Carrot Top, but now they’re both respected titles! Unbelievable… Anyway, the dye created the new class system as well, labelling everyone ‘Pures’ or ‘Dyers’, as you know.”

“I read that Danny Dyer’s career took a bit of a nosedive thanks to those terms.” Jack said thoughtfully. Mandy threw her head back and cackled loudly.

“Yeah, and that was a good thing for us all!” She exclaimed with good humour. “One of the benefits we could all agree on!” She chuckled for a few moments, with Jack smiling and shaking his head.

“But, yeah, it all changed quickly,” Mandy said, becoming serious again. “Overnight, really, or at least it did to my mind. Quite a lot changed, but not all of it was noticed at first.”

“One of the major changes was the reshuffling of the monarchy, right?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, that was a bit of a to-do!” Mandy took another contemplative drag on her cigarette. “Prince Harry being declared the next in line to the throne ahead of William and his children. That caused quite a stir, make no mistake! Nearly caused some kind of civil war once Charles died! But it all settled down eventually and King Henry the Ninth was crowned without too much hassle. Not quite sure how they pulled that one, either, but they did.”

“Shocking,” Jack shook his head in disbelief. “It’s amazing how much stock people put in the royal family these days.”

“Well, you just watch this space, my lad.” Mandy said gravely. “Supreme Carrot Top Bollins has never been one for royals, even before all that power went to his head. He’ll likely abolish the monarchy in the UK if he has his way. He’d at least like to pretend to be a republican, I’ve heard. A republican emperor, imagine that!”

“We’ll see.” Jack appeared troubled. He shivered as a cold wind blew down the alley, brushing an unruly lock of hair across his high forehead.

“Why have you never asked me about this before, Jack?” Mandy asked, twirling her disappearing cigarette between her fingers. “We’ve worked together nearly two years now, you and I, and you’ve not asked anything about it all. So, why now?”

“I dunno, darling,” Jack shrugged, and gave Mandy an apologetic smile. “I suppose it’s just been on my mind recently. It all seems so ordinary to me, but at the same time it seems so silly, it’s hard to explain. Maybe my generation is brainwashed against that sort of thing, or maybe it’s just the job getting to me. It’s not exactly stimulating work, is it?” Mandy shook her head.

“You’ve got that right, love,” she sighed. “You’re a clever lad, and this ain’t exactly rocket science. But, it’s an important one in the grand scheme of things. Keeps people from getting arrested, which is fine by me even if it is a bit on the silly side. Don’t let anyone else hear you talking like that, though. It’s alright with me, cos I’ll never breathe a word, but others might take simple questions as rebellion and turn you in to the Nuts.”

“Don’t worry, darling,” Jack winked at her cheekily. “I know better than that. At least I can have a chat with a wise old mare like you if I’m feeling curious. That’ll do me just fine!”

“Old mare!” Mandy cried in mock outrage, swatting at Jack’s arm. “You little scamp! I’m not too old to give you a clip ‘round the earhole, sonny Jim!” Jack laughed and held up his hands in surrender.

“I know, I know! Sorry, darling, couldn’t help myself.” He smiled at her and slipped his e-cig back into his pocket. “We’d best get back to it, though. Don’t want Dave to think we’re skiving.” Now it was Mandy’s turn to grin.

“Oh no, we don’t want that,” she said sweetly as she nonchalantly ground her cigarette butt under her shoe. “He’ll have you over his knee in a heartbeat!” Jack grimaced as he opened the door for her.

“Oh, don’t!” He pleaded. “He would as well! Have you seen the way he looks at me? Dirty old perv!” Mandy cackled as she stepped back into the salon, her mirth filling the alley for a few brief moments. Beyond that, the world moved on in much the same way as it always had. People hurried to and fro along the street, each one about their own business, as usual. People lived, loved and laughed under the same sun, and very little was new…except that that same sun was now peering down on a sea of uniformly bright, orange hair.