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Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy’

Ring! Ring! Ring!

Who the hell uses a phone box any more? Other than flexible homeless people looking for shelter, foreigners with shitty cell phone plans and closing-time drunks in need of an emergency urinal?

Well, it turns out that even if phone boxes are neglected by much of the ‘normal’ world they’re still fetish objects for a whole host of urban myth and magic.

Red Phone Box is a story cycle contributed to by a bundle of great new and old talent and curated and edited by Tim & Salome. Salome does the editing on my stories, Tim will be known to many of you as a Master of Puzzles and one of the guys involved with Nightfall Games.

This project means I’m going to be published alongside Warren Ellis – something I never thought would happen – and it has also formed a loose community of creative people to form around it. It’s less a book than a family in many ways and it has cemented my love for the way social media can create something wonderful by pulling together writers and artists who are normally fairly… well, hermetic.

Anyway, I think you should back it. It deserves to be out there, read and enjoyed and with support there’ll be a sequel.

It’s a fever dream, pressed between the covers of a book like a preserved and delicate flower.

It’s cheaper than drugs.

Back it.

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Out on the frontier the streets are straight and the houses grow in neat little rows just waiting for someone to come along and occupy them. Mile upon mile of identical looking boxes stretching away into infinity, curving up to the horizon. It is maddening, dizzying and any sense of progress is difficult to find. The only thing that’s wild, the only thing that’s different are the plants growing in the untended gardens, window boxes and parks with nobody to tame them.

Where people live things are more chaotic, more interesting, more different. The straight lines become ragged, the houses are shifted, changed and moved. Lithomancers work their magic on bricks and mortar, tiles and stone and force the houses to grow as their owners want them. Even without the tender touch of a loving craftsman a building will shift and turn over the lifetimes of the residents, reflecting their dreams, their aspirations and their crafts.

Straight lines disappear beneath the babbling and bubbling humanity of the streets. Street stalls cling to the twisting, living houses and ruin the lines of the streets. The drains overflow with the waste and detritus of the people. It’s a glorious, living mess and so different to the unsettled areas.

Sometimes though, a street turns bad.

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Part One

“Jape! Wake up you fuckin’ spanner!” Dinn shook Jape’s inert body, desperately trying to ignore the mistweed scattered beside the bed in the vain hope that pretending Jape hadn’t smoked himself out of his gourd would mean he hadn’t.

“Muh?” When awakened at stupid o’clock in the morning Jape was not his usual, articulate self by any stretch of the imagination.

Dinn growled to himself and cast about for something to help wake Jape up. It wasn’t easy. Jape’s interior decorator appeared to have been a colour-blind magpie with poor impulse control. If it was shiny, expensive or might conceivably impress a girl, Jape had to have it. In spades. Dinn considered the chamberpot for a moment, but decided that was a step too far, so he just punched Jape in the nuts.

Jape gave a startled girlish scream, eyes wide open, body doubled and then fell off his bed onto the floor with a thump.

“What the fuck man? My balls? You punch me in my balls to get me up?”

“It’s important, besides, your sister could do with a break while your balls heal up.”

“I pimp her, I don’t fuck her you prancing gaylord,” Jape hauled himself back up onto the bed. “Martyr’s blood, my fucking balls man. You don’t do that!”

“It was that or the chamberpot,” Dinn carefully moved aside a stack of erotic woodcuts and hefted himself down into one of Jape’s woodworm infested – but very expensive looking – chairs.

“Fair enough then. What time is it?” Jape scrambled around for his clothes and started to pull them on, thankfully.

“Not long past two bells.”

Jape turned back to him with a scowl and pronounced, in his best faux-noble accent: “’Tis an ungodly hour.” The posh accent didn’t last but a few seconds. “What’s so fucking important you whore’s son?”

Dinn leaned back into the chair, which gave a dangerous creak. The woodworm had had an industrious couple of months it seemed. “You remember Reik?”

“Reik? The mad old mudlark? Stinks worse than sewage? No teeth? Always going on about his ‘treasure map’? What about him?”

Dinn leaned forward again, ignoring the splintering sound coming from one of the chairlegs. “I reckon it’s true and I reckon we can get his map.”

Jape just looked at him. “You punch me in the balls and get me up at two bells to go and rob a homeless old fuck who lives in mud? Come on, he’s just a fucking loony, everybody knows it.”

Dinn spread his hands. “That’s what I though, right up until tonight.”

“And what changed your mind?”

“Gale and her little gang decided to have a bit of fun with him. They caught him down Dagon alley, near the bridge and gave him a choice. Give up the map or they’d cut his cock off.”

“And?”

“And they cut his cock off. He might have been loopy but he really believed in that map.”

Jape winced and cradled his crotch. “I know how he felt. Except I believe in my dick more than treasure. I don’t think I could enjoy treasure without it. So where’s his map then?”

“Presumably still on his body. Once they’d sawn his cock off they didn’t have much use for him. I saw the Ashmen loading the body up for the trench.”

“And where do I come in?” Jape began hunting around for his shoes, the adrenalin from the testicular alarm clock wearing off as he yawned and rummaged.

“You used to go grave-diving didn’t you, as a sprat?”

Jape gave a weary sigh and began to change again, finding old clothes and old boots and tossing a clothes-peg over to Dinn who snatched it, neatly, out of the air.

“For your nose, and I get a double-share, you ball-punching twat.”

 ***

“Martyr’s bones what a stench!” Dinn had a peg securely on his nose but the stink here was a physical thing. It got into your skin, wrapped around your throat and half-heartedly strangled you like a lazy python.

“It’s full of bodies you tit. What did you think the trench would smell of?”

This was as south as the city went. No wall here. No enemy would be stupid enough to try and attack through the trench. It was a stinking heap, a rotting pile of refuse, bodies and offal. Anyone and anything that was done with and nobody cared about ended up here. Loosely sorted, more by luck than judgement, and left for the gulls.

While Dinn noisily threw up, which improved the smell a little, Jape relived some of his childhood. “Found some great stuff down here. The Westerfields throw out all kinds of great stuff most people wouldn’t. You can cut the hair off the corpses and sell it to rope makers. Sometimes…” he laughed while Dinn was trying to spit the taste out of his mouth, “…sometimes you’d even find a gold tooth.”

“Priceless memories,” Dinn wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “How do we get down?”

Jape rolled his eyes and slid down into the muck, sending up a cloud of angry seagulls in a squawking explosion of rage and affronted dignity. Dinn double-checked his nose-peg and followed.

The side was slick with god knew what and they tumbled into a soft pile of god didn’t want to know what. The gulls circled overhead and landed all around them, just out of arms reach, having learned over generations just how hungry Dunlunn’s poor could get. Jape grabbed Dinn’s hand and hoisted him up, wading through the ghastly muck.

“For a gussied up nonce you’re at home in this shit,” Dinn wiped his hand on his tunic and slogged after him.

“There’s no way you can stay clean here so why should I give a shit at all? Right, if they dumped him last night he should be… over there.”

Pointing across the stinking trench was one thing, getting there was another. It was a desperate scramble across dunes of oyster shells, pits stuffed with animal bones and the foothills of corpse mountain.

“I see him,” Dinn pointed up the side of the bodies, stacked like firewood, dry heaving to get the words out.

“Right, give me a bunk up,” Jape turned, grinning, foul muck plastered on his face, his teeth bright in the filth, but the grin quickly faded as his eyes tracked down. “Oh, never mind.”

“What?”

“Don’t look down.”

“Ugh.”

“Don’t move yet, I’ll get it.”

Jape scrambled up the side of the bodies like a spider and hooked the old, dead, crazy bastard down with a splat onto the ground and then helped Dinn get his boot out of a stray ribcage. “You know where he hid it?”

“Where’s a crazy street bum going to hide anything?” Dinn shrugged and flipped the body over.

“Eww, fuck, I’m not touching that.”

“We’ve just waded through fuck knows how much gunk, climbed a pile of corpses and you don’t want to touch an old man’s arse?” Dinn sighed and got out his knife, yanking down the rags around the old man’s hips. It was Jape’s turn to gag while Dinn sawed away. Blood didn’t bother him any, he’s spilt enough of it in brawls and street fights and this wasn’t the first arsehole that’d needed stabbing.

“Got it. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Getting out, wasn’t as easy as getting in. They were slippery now, clutching this little nugget of shit-covered ivory, a tiny scroll-case that they hoped, after all this, would be worth it all. The sides of the trench were slippery as hell and while Jape had the agility to scramble up, Dinn had strength but that wasn’t much help here and by the time he’d clawed his way to the top he was huffing like an asthmatic and flopped over onto his back panting.

Jape appeared between him and the sky. “Bath house, my treat, then we can snag Bel and see what we’ve got, yeah?”

“Can’t. Move.”

Jape’s face broke into a great big grin and he drove his knuckles into Dinn’s crotch, eliciting a squeal that set off the pigs in the nearby slaughterhouse. “Wakey fucking wakey dickhead.”

Dinn rolled over and got up onto his feet, slowly, unsteadily, hobbling, waddling his way down the street, leaning his weight on Jape’s shoulder. “I didn’t hit you that hard you cunt.”

“Yeah, but you’re a big tough guy, you can take it.”

“Fucking right.”

“Plus you have a tiny cock.”

“Cunt.”

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Hello everyone.

I’ve been heavily involved with the Red Phone Box collaborative novel that has been organised by the delightful Salome Jones and which will include a story by Warren Ellis amongst a whole fistful of other authors, including myself.

We’re getting closer to the publication date now and you can get on the pre-order list. So please do!

It’s a whole bunch of stories of the weird and the strange, all situated around a particular red phone box that seems to be a juncture in space, time – and mind.

Pre-order information is HERE

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