Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy’

Hypione’s shop squats in a tangle of alleys on the edge of The Briers – an abandoned area where the streets went sour many years ago. The rent is cheap, The Baron often overlooks taxes, and it has the vibrancy of many a poor district in the Infinite City. All this despite its proximity to the poison, horrors and byblows of streets lost to the darkness.

It’s an odd little place, her shop: a schizophrenic space that is neither one thing nor the other.

In the one half of the grubby little storefront, there is a menagerie of creatures — nothing anyone would want as a pet, perhaps. There are insects, rats, mangy curs and battle-scarred cats from the alleys, the occasional lice-infested pigeon. Well cared for, considering, but caged.

On the other side of the store, there is gleaming gold and brass, shining silver. It sounds out with a cacophony of tick-tocking that creates a background hum like the thrum of a cockchafer’s wings. This half is neat and ordered, the smell of oil stronger than the smell of piss, dung and musk from the animals.

It’s not the sort of place you’d necessarily expect to draw children, but there they are every day. The honey-cakes and sweetmeats of the other shops are beyond the street children’s meagre earnings; the other shops are esoteric, obscure, dull or ‘grown-up’. Hypione’s menagerie, and the gilt contents of her glass cases, on the other hand, are endlessly fascinating.

For her part, Hypione welcomes the interruptions, recruits the urchins who genuinely seem to care to feed and help care for the animals. Her few, well-paying, customers are not much company, and the children remind her of her sons, one killed by road-pirates as a child himself, one long gone to find his fortune in the far districts. She more that tolerates them, she loves her little visitors, though she never shows it. She also tolerates their shenanigans, or at least most of them.

Hypione is sat upon her high stool one morning, behind her countertop. She swaps her spectacle lenses back and forth, increasing magnification and clarity. She tinkers with the fine-tooled device in a near-trance. Her tools are even more delicate than the brass-and-silver thing held in the clamp, almost microscopic. All the while, she resolutely ignores the street children as they chase and play about the store.

Then Hox, one of her regular visitors, does something that even she, old and blithe as she is, cannot stand for.

A spider, fat and glossy and beautiful, barely the size of her little fingernail, descends from the ceiling on a fine gossamer thread. She alights on the counter, where Hox notices her. She preens with her forelegs and Hypione is momentarily distracted. In the magnification of the lenses, the little creature is more beautiful, not less, and for a moment she is lost in the predatory perfection of eyes, jaws and carapace.

Then Hox snatches up the tiny seamstress. “Ew!”, and before Hypione can react, he has plucked off one of the spider’s delicate little legs.

“You little fucking beast!” Hypione cries out. “Let that spider go this very instant and get out of my shop!”

Hox jumps almost out of his skin, dropping the spider and fleeing from the store, in shock that Hypione should swear, which she never does. The other children follow in a frenzied train, all flapping rags and chattering.

Hypione picks up the delicate little spider; her legs all curled in against her body. She takes a moment to shut the door and flip the sign before she gives her little sister a closer look.

Her little sister’s carapace is cracked. She leaks a tiny amount of fluid. One of her legs is gone, another has been snapped and is dangling. In the magnification of the spectacles, Hypione cannot fool herself that this tiny creature is meaningless, that it isn’t suffering, that it is just a pest to be stomped or swatted.

“This shall not do little sister. Your weaving keeps the flies from my food and the silverfish from my stores. I apologise for the way my house guest has treated you.”

She carries her little sister back into her workshop and, moving swiftly, immerses the tiny creature in a vat of sparkling, glutinous fluid.

The spider’s carapace begins to melt away, but she is not dissolving. Not completely. As the chitin, muscle and lymph dissipates into the fluid, what remains is replaced. A delicate filigree, as fine as any web she had ever spun, a sapphire net of her ganglia, nerves and brain.

While her little sister is stripped back to her most vital essence in the fluid, Hypione finds an empty shell. A clockwork spider carapace, no bigger than her thumb. Chip-emerald eyes, a body of platinum, palladium with jaws and toe-tips of tungsten.

She unscrews and opens it up with a deft and precise hand. She cleans it, oils it, winds the mechanism until it begins to tick – the only winding it will ever need. She swabs it with a delicate touch, a thin sheen of alcohol removing the oil from her fingers and evaporating into the air, leaving her wanting a nip. Not yet, though.

Tweezers lift the sapphire net from the tub, a squirt of water strips the gel from what remains. She holds her breath as she sets the spider-net on her bench and teases out the hardening sapphire thread to replace the missing and broken legs.

A pair of rubber-tipped, minuscule tweezers lift the little sapphire and nestle it into its body. The faintest dab of glue on the tip of a needle fixes the glittering blue weave in place.

A few twists of the screwdriver and the case is closed shut. Then the switch is clicked into place. The silvery spider flexes its legs and twists over onto its front with a twist and a kick.

She stands there a moment, staring up at Hypione, though there is no way such a little thing can know gratitude.


“Gods speed your way, little sister.”

Then the ticker-tack of tungsten feet on hardwood, and she is gone. Scurrying away into the darkness of the workshop.

Hypione heaves herself out of her stool and pauses a moment, running her hand across the front of a much larger tank of the glittering goo.

The size of a child

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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 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.”


“Don’t look down.”


“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.”


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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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