Dan Holloway, super-genius 🙂
You can find more of Dan’s writing on danholloway.wordpress.com
(If you want to write and self-publish, you can find my advice by clicking here)
L xx 🙂
Hope you’ve all had a good week so far and are planning a chilled-out weekend (let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you’re already chilling out compared to those folk stampeding around the shops).
I’ve put two Kindle ebook freebies up for the next 4 days – Friday 27th to Monday 30th November inclusive (until midnight Monday, Pacific time).
These are the books I learned the most by writing, back in 2008 – what not to do, genre ambiguity, what to say when I felt like it, whether it was bad writing or not – but mainly, how to stay sane 🙂 Editing was an unknown practise to me back then, so these are the long versions. Luckily, I did know how to proofread!
Considering all the ranting I do and advice I give, If you’d like the evidence that we all start somewhere, you can find it here:
The books were originally one massive book, which I split in half down the middle – no reason except for print cost at the first time of publishing. Another lesson – in the digital age – that’s not necessary either, although I do still love my print books.
Here’s the blurb:
Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator… and Connor Reeves, also not his real name – how he came by his, is less clear… Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.
When her head office try to set her up in a team with a wingman, her main concern is they’re trying to manufacture a weakness that they can manipulate her with – not to mention once they agree on a working colleague, Pest-Control-sniper-turned-police-officer Connor, that he might be quite manipulative too…
Hope you all have a very happy and safe holiday weekend xx
It takes a long time to write a book.
Seriously. Anything between three hours (going by what is currently being published on Kindle nowadays, and frightening all the ebook customers back into the paperback aisles of Waterstones) and sixty years.
At the end of the day – however long that working day has been – you hope that the author is the go-to expert on their work. Including thoroughly knowing what has been added or removed after an editor has had their grubby mitts on it, if you are one of those lucky authors.
A character’s eye colour or birth-sign shouldn’t change in the time it takes the reader to make a pot of tea between pages. For the writer, who was living in a different time-frame while constructing the story, this interlude between paragraphs may have been forty years. But even in a NaNoWriMo novel, over the course of a month’s hard writing, it’s possible to see where the author’s imaginary world morphed, grew, shrunk, and in some cases emigrated, with no reference point or explanation.
Continuity errors are not limited to film and TV. They appear in written prose all too often as well. But it’s not just continuity errors. It’s reality-check-bouncing too.
No matter how well you think you know your story, your characters, where they live, the layout of their house/spaceship/camp-site or crime scene (or any other matters of world geography) – or indeed, in how short a space of time you wrote it – you must sit down and read it cover-to-cover once it’s finished. It’s the only way you’ll find all the booby-traps you’ve set for yourself in the process of incorporating all of the add-ons your imagination has furnished the story with since you started.
Did you know that you can Google what time the sun sets anywhere in the world, on any given calendar day? Recently, one of my author clients nearly changed the solar year in Tokyo to be in parallel with Northern Scotland, imagining that the winter days in Japan were as short as those approaching the Northern Lights and the Arctic Circle. I checked, as she had not. It turns out that the shortest daylight span of the year in midwinter Japan is less than 3 hours shorter than on the same day in Nairobi, close to the Equator. Japan may have mountains with snow on, but so does Mount Kilimanjaro. Which is not in the highlands of Scotland either.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I thought Vienna was in Spain. I was sending imaginary holiday postcards between Barbie dolls. I then opened an atlas, looked it up, and had to change it. It’s even easier to look things up online. Don’t use the world of your imagination as an excuse for getting the simplest of things wrong, unless you too want to sound like an elementary schoolchild when reading out your story at your first public appearance.
While looking for continuity/geographical errors, check out your spelling and grammar. Do you know the meanings of all of your favourite words? Is your hero accurately described as ‘a tenuous mass of muscle’ with ‘an autocratic accent’ or did you intend to say something else when you pictured him?
Lord Dark Helmet of Spaceballs – both tenuous and autocratic…
Also, is your prose dripping unintentional double-entendres at every turn? Is your heroine always asking folk to ‘bare with her’ (while she doubtless races to win the strip-tease contest first) or to ‘grin and bare it’ (obviously to collect photographic evidence of the aforementioned strip-tease).
Not long ago, I formatted a family saga – book-club, women’s fiction, that sort of thing – not humour, not parody, but quite serious and stately. It started out in rural Yorkshire, with a patriarch named Dick, host to a large brood and an explosive temper. The book was already published traditionally in print, so it was only the ebook I had to format – no changes, no edits allowed. After a few chapters, Dick’s incendiary nature nearly cost me two cups of tea and a keyboard.
Before she could finish, Dick had exploded.
She opened her mouth, and Dick exploded again.
If you’re writing serious prose, and have to negotiate the waters around some delicate choices of character name, try to exercise caution with descriptive verbs. And maybe cut down on their repetition, if the behaviour is unavoidable, as with Dick’s hot temper.
Otherwise, you may be misleading the reader into believing you’re writing something else.
A few authors become attracted by certain phrases, no doubt picked up from earlier reading habits of their own, which they do not see are also misleading to the reader. One author who consulted me was fond of describing the reactions of his characters in a certain way. They always ‘managed to appear genuinely amazed’ or ‘managed to seem genuinely surprised’ or ‘genuinely appeared to be puzzled’ etc, etc… what the author does not realise, is that these descriptions would be perfect should the characters all be routine dreadful liars and deceivers – yet again, this was not the author’s intention. I said to him, “when you chat with friends and they tell you something amazing, do you say ‘I’m amazed!’ or do you say ‘I am managing to appear genuinely amazed!’ – which of those actually sounds realistic and genuine?”
If your character is amazed or surprised, just say so. He/she was amazed. No-one should ‘appear to be genuine’ in any reaction, unless it is an outright act put on to deceive the other character or characters. Be wary of a fondness for expanding on what should be very simple bits of your illustrative prose.
Authors suffer from short attention-spans as well as overactive imaginations, and that shows all too painfully also.
In third-person storytelling, the author gives away whenever they are bored with the internal thoughts of the MC, or are merely delighted with an incidental character they have just created, by glaring amounts of pointless head-hopping:
The bus conductor looked at the beautiful girl and felt pity for her. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t afford the fare, riding the strangely advanced London bus in 1914 with only ten pounds to last the day, before going home to her house in Mayfair and tightwad of a husband. Why, if he was ten years younger himself and wasn’t supporting his family of four he would have something to offer her all right, but on this occasion, a free bus journey was sufficient…
What the author thinks they’re doing is directing the reader to feel sorry for this loaded idle wench, as she trolls around the city of London with pockets full of her husband’s money on a daily basis. What they’re actually doing is attaching misleading significance to minor passing characters, while using as many pairs of eyes as they can in every scene to illustrate their own lust after the leading character (or desire to be the leading character, it’s usually one or the other).
If you want to make the readers feel sorry for your character, put them in piteous situations. Not riding buses around town, skirts weighed down with cash, while other characters stare at them and think the things that you want your readers to think.
Head-hopping can also take a terrifying and unforseen turn through ‘the fourth wall’ – away from the characters altogether:
Bella sighed as she got off the bus, and the flower-seller on the pavement nearby took pity on her at once, handing her a rose.
‘Poor girl,’ thought the flower-seller. ‘She looks like she’s been worrying over something all day. And it looks like she’s got off at the wrong stop…’
Yes – yes – see Bella suddenly running now, realising her mistake.
“Wait!” she shouted, but the bus had gone.
Look at Bella now – lost, dejected. Tears pricked at her eyelids. No! She mustn’t cry.
So – let’s watch and see what happens next, as she heads mournfully along the rain-sodden street…
A couple of things happened in the segment above. One, the author stopped writing the story from the point-of-view of the characters, and started addressing the reader directly, as if sitting alongside them in a movie theatre talking over the film. This is often a ploy when there is an annoying ‘narrator’ character, such as a ghost watching over the players, but it doesn’t work when it’s the author themselves.
Do you know why? Because the voice of the descriptive prose dictates the landscape portrayed in the reader’s imagination. If it suddenly switches to the author’s voice, saying in as many words ‘Look at this’ or ‘watch this’ then the reader is immediately teleported out of the location of the plot they were involved in, and into the seat next to the author as they wrote it (and a miserable place it is to be, too).
The reader is NOT INTERESTED IN YOU. Or in what you are thinking. Or in who you fancy eavesdropping on/sleeping with in the story, in any given session of writing. The reader wants to be on that street, with Bella, figuring out her next move with her, and when she’s going to learn that ten pounds will buy her quite a lot of groceries for her Mayfair house in 1914 – if she can only find a shopkeeper who has that much change to give her in return.
The reader does not want the author hanging around at their shoulder, prodding them, pointing at passers-by and telling the reader what each of them thinks about Bella as she freeloads her way around pre-WW1 London.
The other thing that occurred was the jumping of past tense to present tense. Past tense – that’s where the story was occurring (disregarding the head-hopping that was still going on). Present tense was what I used as evidence that the fourth wall was being smashed – that the author was addressing the reader directly. It isn’t necessarily the case – unwary writers can hop tenses as erratically as they can hop into and out of the heads of point-of-view characters – but it is occasionally a giveaway of fourth wall infringement that I’ve encountered as an editor and proofreader.
Remember, it takes a very clever writer to lead a discerning reader in a merry dance through the plot, on an entertaining journey to a satisfactory resolution. But it doesn’t take a genius reader to spot a terrible writer… you have been warned 😉 x
Spaceballs predicts the Clones 😉 x
Writing & Publishing For Yourself: The Indie Author Handbook, Self-Publishing Toolkit, and Staying Sane Survival Guide – or ‘The Adventures of an I.T. Helpdesk’ by Lisa Scullard (non-fiction/humour)
FREE on Kindle for a limited time (regular price $2.99 or equivalent) – Write a decent book, Tweet a few times, accept any spontaneous reviews graciously, and keep all of your friends…
Hi folks! Seeing as I didn’t know what I’d really done to earn recognition as a top blogger on here, a while ago I went through all of my posts on Writing and Publishing and compiled a list (see my Tutorials pages). Following that, and reading them through, I realised I had a whole lot more to add – to update – and articles elsewhere that were relevant. As well as journal entries of everything I’ve learned on the indie author rollercoaster.
I’ve now`organised them, fully-revised and updated, into this eBook above – containing my earliest advice on writing (reviewing the 27th Brussels International Film Festival, in 2000) to the latest. The eBook was was published yesterday, and I’ve just finished the final tweaks after uploading.
Here’s the blurb:
This isn’t a ‘How to sell a million copies’ or ‘How to be a New York Times bestseller’ guru session. This is not for seasoned ‘Authorpreneurs’ looking for new promotion and sales tactics. It is NOT a tried-and-tested formula for writing a blockbuster novel. And it will not tell you how to become a billionaire through exploiting your hidden USP (Unique Selling Point).
Neither is it a Zen lifestyle guide, telling you that it is simply a case of convincing the world (and yourself) that you are the world’s top author, and you will be showered with money, Nobel prizes, Oscars, Specsavers Daggers, retail sponsorship, street-value turnips, or whatever else takes your fancy.
None of the above. It’s a journal of the everyday life of a modern, under-the-radar indie author since the global self-publishing trend started, and a few confessions of advising others while being a Useful Technical Person to Have Around…
It is also a book for beginners, giving tutorials and case studies – on the subjects of inspiration, motivation, genre, legal hurdles, research, editing, and identifying your ideal market audience – along with the rocket science of formatting your documents, embedding illustrations, creating and linking to external content (such as audio and video), uploading them, and some gentle cautionary advice on publishing issues and promotions.
There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be revealing examples made (and for readers with browser-enabled tablets or PC/phone reading apps, links to working samples of multimedia content).
Above all, it’s designed to save you time, hassle (and ultimately, save you money) when joining the indie author phenomenon.
Lisa Scullard went online one day in 2014 to find she was suddenly (and without warning) a WordPress-promoted top blogger in Reader on the subject of ‘Writing & Blogging’ – and promptly understood the full meaning of the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This subsequent book is an organised compilation of relevant blog posts, tutorials, articles, experimental book trailers and journal entries made over the years, covering the topics of writing, researching, editing, publishing and promotion. It has been an undertaking of mass rewrites, edits, revisions, expositions and updates, and some keyboard-crunching efforts at formatting, in order to justify such an unprecedented amount of recognition.
…And it’s FREE until midnight PST, Wednesday 28th October 2015, on Kindle worldwide. Grab it while you can.
It’s already available in print on Lulu directly (postage £2.99 basic shipping) and should appear on Amazon in paperback form over the next few days.
Last updated: 14 November, 01.30 GMT – The latest updated version is now live. If you’ve downloaded your copy already, make sure it’s automatically synched to the newest version. You can use the Kindle Customer Services ‘Contact Us’ by chat/email method to request it to be re-delivered free to your app/tablet if it doesn’t update automatically from your reader settings. You’re always entitled to request the newest revision of an ebook for free, even after a paid purchase.
One of my supporting examples of fiction is also available FREE on Kindle for the same time period, for reference – Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition. (Also worldwide).
I hope you all have a great weekend, and for those of you off school and college, enjoy half-term break (and happy forthcoming Halloween) 🙂
Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.
I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.
EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.
I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.
Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀
DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?
(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)
I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.
I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.
My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?
I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.
Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.
So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.
He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…
I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.
“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”
“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.
* * * * *
It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.
Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.
The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.
“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”
“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”
He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.
“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”
I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.
The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.
I know, the moment I see her.
The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!
“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.
“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.
My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.
“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”
I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?
“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.
I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.
“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.
My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.
“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”
How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.
“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”
Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.
Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…
Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.
“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.
The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.
“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”
Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.
Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.
“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.
It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.
“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.
“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”
“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.
“It must be expensive.”
“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”
I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.
Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.
“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.
The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…
“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”
“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”
Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!
“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.
“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”
“Yes please – the last one…”
I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.
I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.
She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.
Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…
I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.
“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.
“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?
“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.
“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”
“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”
“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”
“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”
The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…
“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.
“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”
I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.
“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”
“With excellent book-keeping.”
I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…
I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.
“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.
My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.
“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”
She indicates the décor of the office.
“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”
Her face darkens. She looks away.
“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.
“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”
“You mean gr…”
She puts her finger to her lips.
“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”
She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.
“And what music do you listen to?”
“And last question. What car do you drive?”
“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”
Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.
“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”
“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”
I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.
“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”
Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.
“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”
“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”
I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.
Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…
As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.
Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’
See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:
Some visitors to my main blog here might have noticed ‘Planetoplasty’ in my links. It’s an open-source blog I started for anyone to visit and take ideas from for use in their own SF and fantasy, by developing the schematics and social geography of random concepts for planets as writing prompts – treat it as if it’s Earth, in other words, write anything you want about it. See the ‘About’ page for a better explanation 🙂
Enjoy the visit, compiled with a smattering of my usual nonsense, and I hope you gain some inspiration too.
I’ll be posting my first story based on this alternate world fairly soon – you’re welcome to send me links to your own versions as well.
Happy writing 🙂
The Cloud Islands on planet Crud, part of the Shatter that divides the eastern and western hemispheres, overlook both the Crater Zone (impact region) on one side, and the Shambles (lowlands) on the other. The Islands are a loosely interconnected chain of countries at high altitude, mainly in competition with the inhabitants of the ravines and canyons, miles below. The Cloud Islanders strongly dispute any mining of the bedrock beneath them, while the Canyonians resent fly-tipping and contaminated rainfall/effluent from above – even though it does add a remarkably sought-after fertility to their topsoil.
You would think that the Cloud Islands are barren and arid, but although at the poles they are ice-covered all year round, at the equatorial region there is as many as three months of the year with clement weather. Industry is focused on food (mainly of the game bird and poultry variety) with a huge…
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The intensity in the atmosphere is excruciating. Me, Crispin Dry (vending machine CEO of Dry Goods Inc., nouveau morte and bon viveur) in my element as host to a tasty morsel, exploiting all that the vast kitchenette of my Grade II-listed mansion has to offer. Chopping, dicing, blending, and mixing up the previously-mentioned cocktail, which is tailored especially for my salivating guest.
Her: Sarah Bellum – mild-mannered pizza delivery girl by night, ambitious Forensic Anthropology student by day, and incurable romantic. Apart from the very much alive Ace Bumgang, who she likes to watch from a distance through the chicken-wire fencing of Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard – especially when he’s outside his site office with his shirt off – bastard – the only male bodies she ever sees are in various stages of decay, on the Body Farm.
Not for much longer, baby. Have patience. Braaaiiins…
I’m lucky if I get five reports a week of her routine. So intriguingly little to go on! Her best friend and housemate is quite demanding, in contrast – with her electronically-tagged boyfriend, with whom Sarah also seems to be smitten.
More competition. I suppress a snarl, as my competitive libido broils, sending twitches to my flaccid appendix. What does she see in them?
And there is her dearest one at the Body Farm, Mr. Wheelie-Bin Under The Silver Birch Tree, a domestic violence victim. His hair, hanging off his scalp, like a bad ginger toupée… Another corpse to compete with. And he comes with a sympathy angle too. I thrust the five-star restaurant quality Sheffield steel cleaver back into its oak knife-block, picturing his festering innards in receipt of the same. Well, that won’t last – I will make sure of it…
…I regain my composure as I slide the completed tray along the counter. A work of art.
“No peeping,” I murmur, and she nods, confirming that her eyes are still obediently closed. Good girl. “Perhaps we should retire to the other room, where you will be more comfortable. Take my arm.”
“Where are we going?” she asks, sliding off the seat at the counter.
She had been enjoying the food game. The noises indicated that her stomach was still hinting it had room for more. She reaches out for the cold cloth of my sleeve, and the even colder press of my flesh underneath tucks her arm intimately into my side, to guide her along.
Even closer to her braaaiiins…
“Just across the hall,” I confide. “There is a very nice late evening lounge.”
“You have a lounge for different times of day?” she asks, making careful effort to keep pace with my stride. I slow down even further, to draw out the enjoyment. She bumps against me with every roll of my limp, like butter to my biscuit. If I had a biscuit, that is.
My one responsive gonad agrees.
“I have a room for every time of day, Miss Bellummm,” I assure her, heavy with implied meaning. “Turn around,” I whisper against her ear, my other hand on her shoulder, pivoting her to face me. I test the sleeve of her Pizza Heaven work fleece. What other delights could be beneath? “Would you like to take this off?”
“Er, well, actually…” she coughs, trying to sound nonchalant. “I kind of had a nap before work tonight, so this is all I have on. Er. Underneath. Just me.”
“Intriguing,” I merely say, approval in my tone. She gulps.
I move forward just enough to help her take a backward step into the soft give of a cushioned seat at the back of her legs.
“Make yourself comfortable,” I say, and she drops thankfully onto the velvet cushions. “I will return with the drinks. And still no peeping.”
“I promise,” she nods.
“I think I will take out a little insurance on your promise,” I remark, and I undo the knot at my collar with swish of silk. “I will use my tie to blindfold you. Do you mind?”
“Is it another game?” she asks, accepting the strip of material as I place it gently across her eyes.
“Another sensory game,” I agree. “Not taste, this time. I think your tastes are well-established.”
“Good,” she says, relaxing a little. “Because blindfolds and food combined could create a potential choking hazard.”
Trusting her to wait with patience for me, I cross the marble hall floor, back to my vast food-court of a kitchen. She won’t so much as smell anything disturbing in that room. Not even a joss stick, or deodoriser designed to mask the scent of a personal hygiene problem, or anti-social habit. Braaaiiins… Nor sound. While I prepare, I strain to hear anything other than her trepidatious breathing, the well-being of my morsel – I mean, guest – of paramount importance. I announce my return with the clinking of glassware on the tray in my hands, and the shambling shuffle of my footsteps approaching her again.
Blindfolded, she leans into the embrace of the couch, trying to appear relaxed. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact that the back of the couch is a lot further away than she thought, so she falls through the loosely-heaped pillows in slow-motion, until nearly prone.
Mmmm – like on a slab, ready for dissection.
“I see you are getting comfortable, Sarah Bellummm.”
I tease her with the sound of her own name. I know that all she gets called at work is ‘Cheese-Bag’ or at University, ‘Bell-End’.
The ink printed on her birth certificate has never sounded so sexy.
The couch dips beside her, as I sit down casually. Her abdomen rises and falls feverishly in response, like an onset of dormant malaria.
“We are going to play a game of touch,” I say.
“Soccer?” she asks, puzzled. “Blindfolded?”
“No, the sensation of touch.” I attempt to contain my excitement. Must not lose control. “With your permission I will draw some different objects across the surface of your skin, and you will guess what they are.”
“Oh, like Draw My Thing?” she concludes. I grit my teeth as jealousy wanders pervasively through my remaining organs, flinging the confetti of minor insecurities in its path, in a cavalier fashion. One of her favourite pursuits on the internet in the evenings, while not doing homework assignments, is to try and get Ace Bumgang to Draw his Thing and email it to her. And I bet his never plays dead on him. Lucky bastard. “Do I get three clues as to what you’re drawing?”
“If you relax, we shall start,” I say at last, swallowing down my rage. “And the game will explain itself as we go along.”
“Sure,” she shrugs, and rolls up her sleeve. “Nothing on the face. Or below the wrist, in case it doesn’t wash off. People don’t appreciate seeing knobs drawn on your hand when you’re delivering their pizza…”
She breaks off with a gasp, feeling something icy cold slide up the sensitive skin of her inner arm.
“What do you think this is?” I ask, as the tingling cold sensation slides slowly all the way down again, and back up, under my deft manoeuvres.
“Er…” The cold seems to have alerted parts of her that I didn’t even know were peckish. She could use another bucket of chicken wings, never mind that cocktail. Perhaps she’s hungry for something else… I try an adjustment of my groinal regions. Damn it. Still nothing! “Um, can I ask for a clue?”
“If you ask a question, it must be in the form of a question with a Yes/No answer,” I reply.
The icy cold sliding, torturously, all the way back down from her shoulder to her wrist. So different from playing online – she understands now…
“Okay,” she says at last. Her mouth is dry – it must be almost like sandpaper by now. Is that a twitch from below? My hope of satisfaction flares, before she voices her query for a hint. “Is it to scale?”
The original Zombie Adventures. Now on sale for the summer – 0.99c or equivalent from the Amazon Kindle ebookstore worldwide. (Also available on other reading devices)
6th July – After today’s latest updates go live on Amazon, you will be able to download The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum (standalone full-length parody novel, 180,000 words approx) for 0.99c (or equivalent) from Kindle worldwide
After over 100 downloads through KDP Select over the weekend (Lucky you if you managed to grab a copy!), I’ve now reduced the price for a summer sale on The Zombie Adventures, if any of you were still wondering what all that ‘Grey Matter’ (to be continued) stuff was based on 🙂 Now includes the two bonus chapters “from Crispin Dry’s point of view” 😉
(Find your regional Amazon product page listed below).
Thanks for all your follows and likes, hope you enjoy the read! xx
UPDATE: 5th July – still showing up as Free on Amazon worldwide, last chance to download for free today! Get in there! 😀
I hear the Pizza Heaven scooter protesting as it approaches up the mile-long driveway to my enormous stately home, and my equally huge anticipation is turgid, almost vibrating. I’ve never called out for pizza before. Chinese, Korean, sushi, fish-and-chips, shish kebab – many times. The little two-stroke engine is making those annoying noises, only slightly more annoying than the noises that Mrs Fritatta makes when I ask her to change the sheets for me – on the occasions that I’ve had a few too many braaaiiins, or a Jägerbomb cocktail more than three inches deep.
Good Lord, the suspense is killing me… Fuck. I can already smell her braaaiins.
My black stretch Cadillac limo is parked at the foot of the steps, the engine and exhaust still ticking quietly as it cools, as I have only recently arrived home. She will have to pull in behind. My eardrums pucker tightly, straining to hear every detail.
Footfalls scale the enormous marble steps. I wonder what shoes she is sporting now. Boooots?
In spite of the clear view of the morsel on my stoop from the security camera, my hitherto apathetic prostate leaps to attention at the press of the buzzer. Thank God, the damnest thing – it still has life in it! Ignoring the intercom, I loosen the resulting wedgie and attempt a nonchalant saunter across the grand entrance hall, hoping to build up my visitor’s own sense of anticipation.
She evidently gets a shock when the door is opened silently between us. She looks as though the world has just dropped out of her bottom. Or mine, for that matter.
Standing in front of her, my matt-black tie undone and just-dead hair hypnotically dishevelled, is me, Crispin Dry – vending machine magnate, entrepreneur, and the sexiest corpse she’s recently seen – at least, since 4.23p.m. last Thursday, in a wheelie bin under the silver birch tree at the Body Farm, or so the reports tell me…
What does she see in him? A mere Forensic Anthropology donor subject? Bastard…
“Mr. Dry!” she squeaks, terrified – and immediately thrusts the pizza box under my nose. It does not avert the even more delightful smell of nervous pizza-delivery girl.
“Miss… Belllummm…” I slur, and feign innocence. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come inside. The kitchen is just this way.”
I turn in the doorway and shamble into the opulent entrance hall, beckoning for her to follow. Come hither, baby.
She has no choice. Sarah Bellum pulls the gigantic door closed behind her. I wonder if she now knows how Gretel felt, upon entering the gingerbread house…
My kitchen is vast – like a bowling alley. When I open the great refrigerator, and start selecting my condiments, I know she half expects to see the bottles deposited mechanically onto the shelf, like a set of ten-pins.
My spine tingles, sensing her tentative approach. Fuck. I never felt this alive in the presence of a woman – even when I was alive…
“I’ll just leave it right here, shall I?” she suggests, sliding the box onto the glassy-smooth granite counter-top. I picture her sliding across it herself, in turn.
I know what I’d rather eat.
“Join me, Sarah Bellummm,” I say, surprising her. “I believe you might be famished, after your long day…”
She looks doubtful, and a flicker of jealousy flares unbidden, in my left gonad, while its master remains cold and unaffected. Bugger. It had better not fall off.
Dinner with me will scupper her usual Friday plans, of waiting outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard with a Chinese Meat Feast. Ace Bumgang always pretends to be surprised, which actively encourages her for some reason, and sometimes he even takes it with him. He’s usually in a big hurry to meet up with his friends at the boys’ club, Gentlemen Prefer Poledancers – which I am privy to, as I own the place. It means he’s telling her in his own special way that he’s not settled for anyone important yet… Why is he stringing her along? Isn’t it perfectly clear they’re not suited?
“Well – I think the last thing I ate, was a sip of chicken soup, from the vending machine at your office earlier…” she admits, timidly.
“Toooo long,” I agree, and give her a devastatingly wonky nod. “Take a seat. And close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”
A big surprise, baby. I consult my downstairs menswear department hopefully, but still an armed response from there is pending. My other appetite, however, is already open for business, at full throttle. Braaaiins.
She slips off her George and Mildred and tries to make the most of her helmet-hair as she arranges herself on the seat at the counter. I dart her a meaningful look, still foraging in the refrigerator, and obligingly she closes her eyes.
I wonder if she expects a big tip.
You won’t be disappointed, my love. Haha. My inside leg measurement remains obstinately unchanged. Bugger.
“Is that your Cadillac outside?” she asks, passing the time with small-talk, while I’m putting dishes on the counter in front of her.
“It is just a courtesy car,” I say, dismissively. “The Bugatti and the Maserati are away for servicing, and I only use the Diablo on holiday weekends, when I go hot-air ballooning.”
“Hmm,” she murmurs, disbelieving. Probably picturing more guys like Ace Bumgang, who have a couple of sports cars, a racing bike and a speedboat scattered around, as petrolhead mechanics always do… but she has no idea of what lights a businessman’s candle in the motoring department. A fleet of 1.2L commuter compacts, if anything…
“I hope you are hungry,” I say, rather darkly, interrupting any of her fantasies intruding on us about Ace Bumgang. “I have an idea of your tastes already. Open wide.”
She promptly rearranges herself on the seat.
Braaaiiins! Oh dear Lord – I wish I had something to put there! Perhaps I will have to get a clockwork one…
“I meant your mouth,” I croon, hiding my regret, and she slams her knees together again, like a barn door in a tornado.
Nervously, she lets her mouth fall open, in a textbook Q.
“Put your tongue in, pleeeaase,” I moan softly.
Her tongue is like an inviting ramp. Lead me to your braaaiiins… I can almost peer right into her skull. It’s so beautiful. A man could get lost in that empty space for days…
The Q becomes an O, as requested.
Her stomach rumbles immediately in response as I feed her the first tidbit, and she chews enthusiastically.
“You approve?” I ask, hopeful.
“Yum,” she nods. “Is there more?”
I will not admit to her that it is my own recipe. Not yet. I have been trying to perfect these Korean Fried Fingers all week.
“Nine more, I believe,” I confirm, as she runs her tongue around her teeth to dislodge any gristly bits. She coughs on something dry, and removes a crispy fingernail from her cheek, which I quickly brush aside. “I think we have found your acquired taste exactly.”
“Do you have anything to drink?” she asks. Her eyes are still rapturously closed, all thoughts of the tanned, toned and droolworthy Ace Bumgang evidently forgotten.
So keen! Her thirst makes my own liver turgid with agreement.
“Be patient, Sarah Bellummm,” I whisper. “I am sure I have a cocktail worthy of you.”
I shock her with my intimate tone.
“It’s as if you were expecting me,” she gasps, blushing.
“But of course,” I say, so close to her ear, she nearly swoons off the chair. I inhale surreptitiously, savouring her heady, pulsating aroma. My stomach acids pump, in a most gratifying response. “I even made sure to re-stock the vending machine in my bedroom, right before you arrived…”
Nothing between us but braaaaiiins, baby…
As I approach the reception area of my office on the beach, through the tinted glass door I espy an attractive, brunette newcomer get up to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest handed to her by Heather, my secretary, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. She pulls it on grudgingly over a badly-fitting Chanel. It looks borrowed.
She appears awkward, like a gazelle through a huntsman’s gun-sights. It sends an arrow of excitement to my rotting guts. Braaaiiiins…
The adjoining door creaks, as I push it open, and she turns, still adjusting her Velcro.
She knows, the moment she sees me.
The black suit. The pallor of my skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. The limp… Her knees are trembling. She will be putty in my undead hands…
“Crispin Dry?” Her voice catches in her throat.
“Miss… Bellllummmm,” I moan softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.
I see her deliciously alive heart palpitating wildly, noting my ragged cuticles and my long, gray, prehensile fingers.
“My housemate,” she begins. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”
She grasps my outstretched hand in greeting. So warm… and yet so apprehensive… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and she snatches her hand away quickly, as if scared of her own delightful response. I know my jet-black eyes are glittering, hungry and cold, and my upper lip curls in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Braaaiiins, baby.
“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” Remembering myself, I gesture towards the famous vending machines.
She shakes her head, and I turn to glare at the receptionist. Heather cowers visibly, and I emit a long, low, guttural sound. Braaaiiin-dead bitch. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.
“I’m fine, really…” Miss Bellum croaks. Her throat does sound terribly dry. Such a wicked little liar. Mmmm – living braaaiiins…
Her knees appear even weaker as I hold the door open, and I beckon, my head at a quirked angle.
“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”
How she staggers through the doorway makes my own gait feel more impeded than ever. I stumble hazily behind her through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and only the shuffling, shambling sound of my footfalls in her gazelle-like wake.
Braaaiiins. Must haaave…
“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”
Her breathing is like snowflakes falling onto a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my disintegrating spine. It resonates with my deepest, darkest, hungriest thoughts.
Things I had not entertained notions of since breakfast…
Sexy braaaiiiins. Gimme…
My arm extends past her to swipe my security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her Pears soapy scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.
“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” I whisper in her ear.
The door clicks open, and we step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and she gasps. Another personal assistant is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.
“Debbie,” I say, a tinge of disappointment, or possibly disapproval in my voice. “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”
Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as Miss Bellum shrugs them off, vulnerable and exposed now in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Boooobs…
Debbie takes her jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.
I take Miss Bellum’s arm to steer her past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from her. She must be so aware of my long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of her tricep… she trips fawn-like along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with my rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.
I want to lick her ear. Braaaiins.
“My office…” I hiss, swiping my security pass a second time, and ushering her through.
It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.
“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” I murmur, seeing her openly gape at the piece.
“It’s yours?” She sounds really very intimidated. She will find much more to be intimidated about, regarding my appetite. “It’s beautiful…”
“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” I confide in a husky voice. “Sit.”
She plants her quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and starts to take out her notes. The only sound otherwise in my office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.
I watch her, calculatingly. I circle around the sofa opposite, not yet seated, assessing her professionalism in getting ready – for me.
“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” I move languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.
The sound of her full name on my lips causes her own to part involuntarily, like the opening of a beautiful white lily…
“I am a little parched,” she admits. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”
“What would you like?” My hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”
“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear her say, and her stomach grumbles in agreement. I recall the report of the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza she ate for breakfast, many hours ago.
“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?” I prompt. She could use fattening up…
“Yes please – the last one…”
She watches as my clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.
I can sense her wondering what sort of businesses I supply this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. They are at the very bottom of our budget range.
I bring it to the low onyx table in front of her, and present it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way I arrange myself laconically on the sofa opposite, seems to disappoint her slightly.
She looks disillusioned, while I fidget my earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroke my knee with my other hand – I thought women were less threatened if a man threw at least fifty shapes of gay… Perhaps I should tone it down a little. But not too much machismo. Just enough heteropolitan transmosexual metrochismo to tease her braaaiiins a little bit.
She struggles to focus on the list of questions written out for her. She’s starting to worry that maybe she won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them. Haha. Braaaiiins, baby.
And when is she going to start eating? I’m literally dying to see her masticate. My bile gland twitches and swells in agreement.
“It’s very hot,” I say, in a warning tone. It startles her.
“Hmmm?” Is she always this jumpy? Perhaps I’ll have to tie her down and use the braaaiiin hooks…
“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” My mouth twitches in the corner, and my black eyes crinkle slightly. I can see into the dark shadows at the back of your own mind, baby. Braaaiiins.
“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” she says, brightly, apparently batting away the shadows in her head at my curt nod. She definitely assumes I’m gay – I must work on that. She looks down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”
“No.” I’m disappointed in turn. This is not the sort of question I hoped for. My answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”
“Right…” She scribbles this down, in what must be her best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”
“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” I assure her. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”
The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up my argument. But still… she doubts me! The complexity of her mind must be delicious… I cannot wait to savour it. I almost croon out loud. Braaaiiins…
“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” she asks, not a dampener to my appetite in the slightest.
“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” I muse, my eyes still faintly entertained, my head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”
She stares down at the page, and blushes at having spoken out of turn. That last question was not on the list, her own impetuous mouth running away with her. Not one of the listed questions at all. Let me punish you, Miss Bellummm!
“Moving on,” she says swiftly, aware that my eyes are mentally dismembering her. She looks at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”
“With excellent book-keeping.”
She glances up at me, as if uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. I am still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of my eyes resting on her steadily. Her own eyes follow the line of my jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. My square shoulders in this black suit make her feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? It’s just a pretty corpse! You’d be bored sick of me within minutes, same as all the others…
She presses on with the duller questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and I have a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved when she turns the page, and I find the closing questions are brief.
Finish me, baby…
“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”
I indicate the décor of the office.
“Black,” I confirm. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”
Braaaiiins. My face darkens. I look away.
“White?” Miss Bellum suggests, obviously thinking of the painting.
“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”
“You mean gr…”
I put my finger to my lips, caressing them to tease her further.
“Best left unspoken.” My black eyes burrow into her head, and my remaining adrenal gland surges tumescently, with unexpected concurrence. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”
There it is, baby. She looks distinctly uncomfortable now, and returns to the final questions.
“And what music do you listen to?”
“And last question. What car do you drive?”
“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”
On cue, outside the window behind me, I hear something crash wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Fuck – there goes another jealous secretary. No braaaiiins in any of them. Without looking around, I produce a remote control, and close the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.
“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” She’s on her feet in that instant, suddenly appearing too wary of being in an enclosed office alone with me. That’s right baby – you should start running. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of her mind, at the closing of the blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”
“Indeed?” I ask in turn, unable to resist a further moment of mental torture, rising out of my seat. It gives her time to notice how tall and manly I am… was, I correct myself angrily. Big fucking braaaiiins, baby. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”
So arrogant! But she loves it!
She just nods, blushing fiercely, and heads for the door. Run away, baby, as fast as you can…
“I will have to show you out,” I remind her, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany her. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”
Her trembling is driving me crazy. I can’t resist putting my hand on her arm again, guiding her out of the door and into the corridor. She practically scampers ahead, snatching her coat back from Debbie.
Run – run – I want to part your cranium and taste your terrified braaaiiins…
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” she says, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Heather the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get a new one. Sarah Bellummm would be – most serviceable. “It has been very educational.”
“I’m sure it will be,” I agree, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”
She runs to the Hummer in her pointy Pigalle pumps, and locks herself in, while the gulls continue flocking to the spot on the beach outside my office, on the far side of the building.
I watch her mournfully.
I reach for my cellphone, and dial the house.
“Mrs Fritatta,” I greet the housekeeper. “You will not be required to cook tonight. I wish to order in a pizza.”
The full-length original The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum parody is available in print and ebook on all devices – search for it in your e-reader store 🙂