How to make the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists: Jasmine Walt (one to watch)

Interview with Jasmine Walt by the Self-Publishing Roundtable

If you can spare just one hour out of your life to watch one video that could influence whether or not you ‘make it’ as an author (in the really, really BIG sense), watch this one.

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Jasmine Walt has made both the NYT and USA Today top 20 (including top 10) bestseller lists twice in the last month – firstly with her curated/co-authored box-set ebook Magic & Mayhem, and this week with the first in her new paranormal series, Shadow Born, co-authored with fellow HarperCollins ‘Authonomy’ site alumni Rebecca Hamilton.

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As Jasmine explains here, it’s not simply a case of luck. It’s a lot of marketing via social media and mailing lists, a huge advertising budget (hers doubled in the three month pre-order phase for the box-set ebook release of Magic & Mayhem, in order to have the desired impact) and endless navigating of the restrictions and regulations by the ebook publishing platforms, and criteria of the bestseller lists themselves, when pushing for this kind of exposure.

Because you need to watch the interview to get to the real nuts and bolts of how it was done, I’m not going to discuss the interview content further or give you my opinions, other than tell you, this is tried and tested, it happened, and it worked. If you have the time and financial resources to try it for yourself, and achieve the same initial sales figures in the process, there’s no reason why this business model shouldn’t work for you too.

One prerequisite: You do need to have written the book! And as Jasmine says “It does seem to work best with new releases” – so think carefully before republishing something that’s been lurking on Amazon already for the last five years. Look at the current market interests, and get those brain cells in gear – you’ll need every last one of them.

You can find Jasmine Walt on Twitter as @jasmine_writes

🙂 xx

Chapter Two – Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER TWO

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.

Mmmm. Yum.

“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.

Braaaiiins…

“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.

She’s eating!

“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…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

READ CHAPTER ONE HERE: GREY MATTER 1

BUY THE ORIGINAL ZOMBIE ADVENTURES HERE: THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM

Grey Matter: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum from Crispin’s point of view – the CtrlVquel

CHAPTER ONE.

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…

Braaaiiins.

“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…

“Very wellll…”

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.

Braaaiiins, baby…

“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?”

Braaaaiiiiiins?

“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?”

“Soul.”

“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.

Braaaiiins, baby…

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 Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

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 🙂

Formatting text and illustrated ebooks for publishing

Since you’ve all been so good to me reading my nonsense, or my making nonsense out of other people’s literary works, I wanted to share my latest instruction handout on formatting ebooks, and also formatting interior print files and covers for POD (Print-on-Demand). So long as you stay within the permitted file size, it’s possible to publish illustrated ebooks for all devices, as well as text-only books, and the idea is to ensure the reading enjoyment of the customer is optimised by making sure everything is clear and easy to navigate. If you want to, you can also include links to multimedia, and that minefield is covered here.

Some things, like linked endnotes, are also still a bit of a minefield, and what works for Kindle won’t work for Smashwords. But the main thing is to get the basic formatting of your book right. So once you’ve cleaned up your spelling, grammar, checked you know the meanings of all the words you’re using (I could write a whole blog post about misplaced meanings that I’ve come across, it’s one of my favourite things about proofreading!), double-checked your research, and decided you’re going to unleash one of the 25,000 new books currently being published every week (source: London Book Fair seminar, April 2013), here’s how to deal with the technical stuff…

FORMATTING E-BOOKS FOR INDIE/SELF-PUBLISHING:

© Lisa Scullard for Writing Buddies, February 2013

Format your ebook first, before your print version.

Your original document may be in Word, Works, Rich Text Format or Open Office text (ODT). The most usual format to save it as and upload into Kindle for sale on Amazon is as a webpage file (HTML). However, if your computer’s word-processor is OpenOffice, your formatting will be preserved better for Kindle if you save it as a Word 2007/XP document (DOC) instead. If you find persistent conversion errors in your HTML file after uploading and previewing it on KDP and Kindle, such as changes to line spacing or font sizes (the ‘Look Inside’ preview on your book’s product page on Amazon is a good indication), go back to your document that you formatted and save it as Word for upload to KDP instead.

Firstly ensure that there are no manual reasons for corruption in the end product. Different fonts are not supported, so your e-book should be set in either Times New Roman or Arial, and no larger than 12-point font size (the e-reader devices support zooming-in and re-justifying of font size for easy reading, so having larger fonts in your original document is not necessary).

*****

For clarity, set your paragraph formatting like this:

  • Left indent: 0cm
  • Right indent: 0cm
  • First line (special): 0.5cm (if centralising a heading or picture/caption, re-set to 0cm or ‘none’ at those points only)
  • Above paragraph: 0cm
  • Below paragraph: 0cm
  • Line spacing: 1.5 lines
  • Paragraph style: either – Normal, Default, Body Text or None – not a combination

It is up to you how you set out your justification. Both left and parallel margin justification is supported, so it is your choice depending on your preferred aesthetics. Centralising chapter headings, and right justification for other information, also works.

Always insert a page break at the end of a chapter or information page. The page break should be immediately after the last full stop of the chapter.

Remove all headers, footers, and page numbers. These will not convert.

Make sure border styles in your ‘Page’ formatting is set to ‘none’.

You can use bold and italics in e-books. These convert well into e-reader format.

Most readers of Kindle prefer a hyperlinked/reverse hyperlinked table of contents, and for other converters including Smashwords and Lulu for Nook and Apple, it is compulsory for distribution. If you do not know how this is done, we will cover it as well.

Automated footnotes1 and endnotesi always convert to appear at the end of a document in e-books. The automated links will not convert into Kindle format unless you manually hyperlink them – they will be numbered, but not navigable otherwise. Remember to link the endnote back to the start of the text where it originated as well. Use the same method to hyperlink them as you do for the contents list and chapters. For Smashwords, all automated bookmarks for footnotes/endnotes must be edited manually to include the prefix: ref_ Then each endnote and its reference will have to be re-hyperlinked manually as well. This ensures that rogue bookmarks do not convert into additional chapter numbers at the end of their automated Table of Contents.

You can use internet hyperlinks in e-books, as most e-readers are browser-enabled. This is useful to direct readers to your website or blog, to online references in non-fiction, or to research articles. Put your personal links in your author page at the beginning of the e-book. Distributors like Nook and Apple will reject books where outgoing links appear at the end of the book.

Straight apostrophes (‘) and speechmarks (“) look better in e-reader screen format than predictive curly ones (“”) and you will also have no problem with them appearing back-to-front as typos. Use ‘Find/Replace All’ to change them – remember to search for both (mirror) versions of each.

*****

Some important DO NOTs:

  • Do not use multiple returns for line spacing. E-readers convert multiple returns at the end of paragraphs, or at the top of pages, into completely blank e-reader pages. For a text pause, use one return and then ‘*****’ as a break (see above), which is the accepted format. You may use a single line return only before a chapter heading following a page break, for aesthetics.
  • Do not use space bar hits for indents, spacing or positioning text. Although fashionable in prose poetry for print books, your formatting will be lost once converted to an ebook. Again, these will convert into blank pages or empty lines, depending on the size of screen your book is viewed on. Phrases positioned using space bar strikes will not preserve their position when converted into e-books, but will simply ‘shunt’ phrases unevenly. Always use paragraph formatting settings (as described above) to create indents. A paragraph indent should never be more than 0.5cm – larger indents, such as 1.5cm, will push the first line of your new paragraph too far across the screen on smaller e-readers, such as the iPhone. You can use ‘Find/Replace all’ to remove multiple space bar hits – simply search for two spaces and replace with one space, and repeat until no more double spaces are found. This ensures that only one space at most appears between words, or in error. You can also use ‘Show Non-printing characters’ to scroll through and find spaces inserted in error at the start of a new paragraph.
  • Do not insert an additional blank line/return at the end of a chapter – this will convert into an empty e-reader page between the chapters.
  • If your writing style includes ellipses (…) make sure your ellipse immediately follows the previous word, without a space in between, i.e. ‘ellipse…’ or ‘ellipse… continued’ is correct whereas ‘ellipse …’ or ‘ellipse … continued’ will give the e-reader the ability to shunt the ellipse by itself to the start of a new line, or even to the top of a new page. This is frustrating if the ellipse appears at the end of dialogue or a paragraph, meaning that the sentence will appear to cut off dead on the previous page, while the three dots, or three dots and closed speech-mark, will appear all alone on a new line, or at the top of the next page. (The same can happen when formatting print books as the lines re-justify to your trim size). For your prose to make sense, always anchor your ellipses to the previous word by leaving no space in between them. Use ‘Find/Replace all’ to search for ellipses with a space before them ( …) and replace with ones without (…)
  • Do not include hyperlinks leading to other e-book retailers – for example, e-books containing links to Amazon, including your Amazon author page, will be rejected by Apple, Kobo and Nook etc. Link instead to the ‘books’ page of your blog or website, to direct readers to find your other work, on your ‘About the Author’ page at the start of your e-book.
  • Do not include pages and pages of reviews and comments at the start of your book, unless they are by celebrities! (This is a Kindle audience preference). A few comments are fine, should you wish, or a single page ‘Introduction’.
  • Do not use Wingdings, smiley faces or other non-typographical characters, even if they appear predictively through key-strikes. These do not convert into e-reader format. On my first attempt, I found these converted into empty square boxes on Kindle, and Chinese lettering on Smashwords! If you want to insert a character which is not on your keyboard, use ‘Insert/Special character’ from your chosen font only (for example, when writing the word pâté) and if you want to insert a smiley face or swirly shape as an artistic form, use ‘Insert/Picture/From File’ – there will be more on inserting pictures later, as the saved file format and layout is more complicated.
  • Do not leave a hanging space bar strike at the end of a paragraph. This will insert a blank line under the paragraph.

*****

Once you have cleaned up and formatted your file as above, there are a few inclusions to add. You will need a title page – just the title, in Bold, and your name underneath. This is usually centralised, and should have no more than one line return above the heading for aesthetics. Do not try to position it halfway down the page using line returns, or the first few pages of your e-book will be blank on smaller e-reader screens. A page break should follow immediately after your name.

The next page is your copyright page. Some authors write long-winded copyright pages. The legal minimum, to protect your rights, is to say ‘Book title © (your name)(year)’ and on the next line ‘The moral right of the author has been asserted’. You do not need to write anything more below that. If you have given yourself a publisher name, also include it on this page, e.g. First published by XXX Press in (year). Do not say ‘published by Kindle’ – they are not your publisher, just your distribution platform.

However, when publishing on Smashwords for Apple and Nook etc, and accepting a free Smashwords ISBN for distribution, they require acknowledgement as your distributor. In this instance, you must have ‘Smashwords Edition’ on the first (title) page, or the copyright page under your name, to be accepted for distribution. If you have paid for and supplied your own ISBN, then you are the publisher and must use the publisher name you bought the ISBNs with.

The free ASIN e-book identifier that appears automatically on your Kindle copy when you publish through KDP is not an ISBN, and not transferable – likewise, you cannot list your Smashwords-supplied ISBN on your Kindle version.

Lulu do not require to be referenced in your e-book as the publisher, when issuing their exclusive free ISBN for distribution on Nook and the iBookstore. If you have used Lulu, and also wish to publish on Kobo directly, you do not need to reference them as your publisher in the file either, or require your own ISBN. One will be issued free for Kobo once your book goes public, even if you leave the ISBN field empty when uploading the book on your Kobo Writing Life publishing dashboard.

*****

Following the copyright page is the Table of Contents. This should be hyperlinked. Your chapters can be named or numbered, standard numeric or Roman Numeral, or simply headed by title, e.g. all of these are acceptable:

  • Chapter One

  • Chapter 1

  • One

  • Chapter I

  • Ch. 1: A Mysterious Event

  • I – A Mysterious Event

  • Chapter One ~ A Mysterious Event

  • A Mysterious Event…

Or any combination of the above. A chapter heading should be long enough to understand and to navigate via hyperlink on a touch-screen, but not too long that it takes up several lines on a smaller e-reader. For example, the longest chapter heading I have in the Zombie Adventures series so far is ‘Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Leg of Extraneous Genito-Urinary Medicine’ – in the contents list, I only used the titles, not the chapter numbers, and it still took up two lines!

The way to hyperlink your chapters for Kindle and Smashwords is to insert bookmarks above each chapter heading, thus:

^Top of Contents page following page break^

(Insert bookmark in blank line here: Position cursor, Insert/Bookmark, e.g. ‘Contents’)

CONTENTS:

Introduction

About the Author

Chapter One: A Mysterious Event

(^Hyperlink to corresponding bookmark ‘001’^)

Chapter Two: Another Event… etc.

^Top of new chapter page following page break at end of previous chapter^

(Insert bookmark in blank line here: Position cursor, Insert/Bookmark, e.g. ‘001’)

CHAPTER ONE:

(^Hyperlink to bookmark ‘Contents’^)

A MYSTERIOUS EVENT

Where the bookmark is positioned determines the top of the e-reader page when the link is navigated. You can have the bookmark on the word ‘Contents’ but having it in a blank line above is aesthetically pleasing, and less overcrowded at the top of the screen.

Then hyperlink your chapter headings in the Contents list to the start of the corresponding chapters, by selecting the text to link and then using, from the toolbar, or by right-clicking: ‘Insert/Hyperlink/Target in document/Bookmarks(show list)+/(select appropriate chapter bookmark)’ and reverse-hyperlink the chapters themselves as shown above by selecting the chapter heading at the start of each chapter, and using ‘Insert/Hyperlink/Target in document/Bookmarks(show list)+/Contents’. Click ‘Apply’ before ‘close’ on the hyperlinks window, and your links should appear as above. Remember this style of contents list formatting is compulsory for Smashwords, for distribution to Apple, Nook, Kobo, and other outlets. They do not currently serve Amazon.

If you are using Lulu for your Nook, Kobo and Apple distribution, the chapter list is linked differently. Simply ensure that the rest of your document contains no ‘Heading’ styles, and format the title page heading (your ‘book title‘), the ‘Contents‘ heading (but not the chapter list) and each chapter title (at the start of each chapter only) all as the style ‘Heading 1‘. Then save as a Word 97/2000/XP doc. This is much simpler and quicker to do, and they have recently added distribution to Amazon Kindle and Kobo – previously they only sold to Apple and Nook. They pay regularly at a minimum of only £3 ($5) revenue gain. If you use Lulu and choose to have them distribute to Amazon Kindle as well, you will not need to use Amazon KDP.

Once your linked Table of Contents is complete, and you are sure there are no other potential conversion corruptions in the file, you are ready to save and upload. All of the below options are 100% free:

To save a file for upload to Kindle (kdp.amazon.com – you will need your Amazon account details to sign in and set up, and a bank account to receive royalties – for EFT payments there is no minimum payout threshold, except for sales in Amazon Brazil, and payout direct to bank takes place in the month 60 days after sale. Click on ‘Save As…’ and save it as Webpage (complete) – .HTML. Other file types such as Word are accepted and convert well if properly formatted as above. Kindle Help recommend HTML to prevent corruption of things like the linked Table of Contents and image cropping.

To save a file for upload onto Smashwords (www.smashwords.com – you will need a Paypal account to receive royalties quarterly, at a $10 minimum threshold) save it as ‘Word 97/2000/XP’ – .DOC.

To save it for upload onto Lulu* as an e-book (www.lulu.com – you will need a Paypal account to receive royalties), save it as Word 97/2000/XP as above – .DOC.

*You can also self-publish e-books on Kobo, if you have only used Lulu for Apple, Nook, and/or Kindle. (www.kobo.com/writinglife – you will need a bank account to receive royalties), save it as Word 97/2000/XP as above, or Open Office Open Document Text – .DOC or .ODT.

If uploading to Smashwords, you will not need to use Lulu, and vice versa. Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon, so you will have to use KDP for that.

COVER FILE:

In all of the above cases, you will need a separate JPEG cover file, high resolution, aspect ratio ‘portrait’ minimum 1400×2000 pixels to ensure reduced image quality. Do not insert these images into your e-book file – the online converter will do this for you, and you will be asked to add it via a separate instruction. The cover file and image is entirely your taste and choice, but for Lulu and Smashwords ISBN distribution, they must contain the title and your author name, exactly as they appear on the book’s title page (i.e. no alternative spellings, initials or additional extensions). It is recommended that they appear eye-catching in both thumbnail and full-screen, but there is no tried-and-tested style guarantee.

Thousands of free photographic images without copyrights attached or credits required, are available on www.morguefile.com, which you can customise and adapt any way you like, and appear in a range of resolutions and sizes. Search their site by keyword, e.g, trees, rainbow, cocktails, church, clouds, military etc.

*****

PREVIEWING BEFORE PUBLISHING AS AN EBOOK:

If you want to preview your ebook without the risk of publishing it on a public platform first, you can convert the file on your computer using Mobipocket Creator, a free non-nagware program to create mobi (Kindle) files. Your document will need to be saved as Word (see the instructions for illustrated books for Smashwords, Lulu & Kobo below if your file contains images). Once you have installed the free (full unlimited use) program, follow the prompts to create a mobi version of your book. If you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle app to try it out on, you can also download the Mobipocket Reader app for your computer or tablet desktop, which will open your mobi file for you automatically when you click on the new ebook document from its saved location in your hard drive files. Your mobi ebook can also be transferred like any other document to another file or memory stick, or attached to emails if you want to send it to reviewers for feedback.

ILLUSTRATED E-BOOKS:

So far I have had success creating illustrated e-books on Kindle format, because the accepted file type (HTML.zip) supports inclusion of an image file, and for Smashwords in Word document (.DOC), where the graphic links have been broken (meaning that the images are embedded, not in a separate file) and the images are compressed to be optimised for ‘web/screen’ i.e. to 96 dpi.

After creating your e-book document as above for Kindle, add your images where you want them to appear in the text, right-click each image, and in ‘Format Picture’ ensure that ‘page wrap’ is set to ‘none’ and the image is centred. You can also crop at this stage.

Images should be no more than A4 in original size before inserting, and should be saved once inserted, using image menu ‘Format/Picture/Compress’ as ’96dpi/Apply to all images in document’. This reduces the file memory size to a manageable one for uploading. Images can be landscape, portrait or square (in fact anything), but remember they tend to appear at the top of a new e-reader page due to shape and size, so the previous e-reader page may cut off early, as it shunts the image to the next page. For this reason, do not place images in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, where a large gap in the previous page would make no sense. They work best at the beginning and/or end of chapters. One way to have a neater presentation is to always have a page break before an illustration, and to insert any caption as text on the illustration itself before inserting, using MS Paint or Picasa image editing tools. As you will have no control over where text on the previous screen will cut off, depending on how much the reader has zoomed in on your font for reading, it may be more aesthetically pleasing – particularly in non-fiction books – to have the phrase ‘Photo (or ‘illustration’) on following page’ on a new line below the last paragraph before the page break where you will insert the image.

The e-reader conversion means that larger images will automatically be sized to fit the screen being viewed on, while tiny images will stay tiny. This does not always appear true in Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ preview, which is quite scarily random as the page boundaries are not set, but on the e-readers you can trust that your images will fit the screens.

Illustrated ebooks for Kindle:

Once complete, save as ‘webpage’ (HTML) as before. Then right-click on the icon for your HTML document, and select ‘Send to… Compressed/zip file or folder’.

A folder with a zip logo on it will appear under the same name, e.g. ‘Mysterious Events.zip’. Also a new separate folder will appear with the same the name as your book, e.g. ‘Mysterious Events files’ in the same location. This contains the tagged image duplicates required for your Kindle book. Click on the new ‘files’ folder containing these duplicated images, and drag it over into the HTML ‘.zip’ folder so that it is inside the zipped folder as well. You now have a complete zipped HTML file with tagged images, to upload as an illustrated e-book. When you sign in to KDP, select the ‘.zip’ folder as your file to upload.

N.B. When formatting illustrated ebooks in OpenOffice for Kindle, use the html-to-doc method described below, as for Smashwords, Lulu or elsewhere, and use the ‘saved as Word doc’ version for upload to Kindle KDP – NOT the html original. You are only saving your OpenOffice odt file as html initially in that instance in order to select and break the image links into an embedded format, but they are not preserved in the html for upload to KDP.

The previewer for ‘Kindle Fire’ and ‘iPad’ on KDP will show your illustrations in colour, but remember the basic Kindle has a grey-scale screen only, so the previewer will only show what your images will look like in black-and-white. This does not affect your original file.

KDP will offer to show a list of perceived spelling errors in your book, and after viewing this it is worth clicking on ‘Send this to me as an email’ so that you can review them and make any corrections before re-saving your file and uploading again.

Illustrated ebooks for Smashwords, Lulu and Kobo:

After inserting your images, go to ‘Edit’ in the Toolbar and select ‘Links’. In the dialogue box, a list of your images and their source locations will appear. Hold down the Ctrl key plus A, and select all the Graphic file locations in the list, then click on ‘Break Links’ and confirm the command. Your images are now saved within the file, which will be much bigger. There is a maximum file size limit, so you will also need to compress images as below – but not necessarily reduce their dimensions.

To do this when using OpenOffice rather than Microsoft Word, you will have to save your odt document as ‘webpage’ (html) first to embed the images. After doing so and closing it, go to its saved location and right-click on it, and select ‘Open using… OpenOffice Writer.’ When it re-opens for editing, follow the process for breaking the image links as above. Then use ‘Save as’ to save it as a Word (.doc) and confirm. Check that the links are still broken by clicking on the Edit menu (if the ‘Links’ command is not clickable, you have succeeded and won’t have to do so again). Use this saved-as-Word document for your upload – check your conversion previews carefully to ensure the images are in place.

To reduce the memory size required for the illustrated Word document (it will need to be less than 10MB for Smashwords and less than 600MB for KDP) in MS Word, right-click on any image in the document and select ‘show image toolbar’. Hover over the small white square in the pop-up toolbar that has an arrow pointing inwards at each corner. This is ‘compress pictures’. Select the option in the dialogue box that says ‘Web/screen’ (96dpi) and ‘delete cropped areas of pictures’ and ‘apply to all images in document’ and confirm the command. Your illustrations will look exactly the same in quality and size as you have placed them, but will take up only about a third of the original memory. Save as Word 97/2000/XP .doc. You now have a complete illustrated ebook document ready for upload onto Smashwords, Lulu or Kobo. Only upload this document as is – do not ‘zip’ it before uploading.

You can reduce image resolution of very high-res images in OpenOffice by using the ‘Mosaic’ filter in the Picture Tools toolbar – try a re-scaling of 4 pixels or 2 pixels to adjust them. If they subsequently blur or pixelate in your book, then they were already low-res enough and just click on ‘Undo.’ I’ve found this does not necessarily change the memory size taken up by the file significantly, but may do so with very densely-illustrated ebooks.

Always check your conversion previews. On KDP there is a good online previewer, while the best way to preview and check your Smashwords or Lulu version is to download your converted .EPUB file for Nook from your finished product page, and view it using Adobe Digital Editions (free to download and install from Adobe). The online-reading previewer for Smashwords strips out all your links and paragraph formatting for simplicity, so it is not true to your final version – it is only meant as a sample, so don’t take it as your final conversion. The .EPUB file on Adobe Digital Editions will show you the final version, fully-converted and functional.

*****

Editing your book after publishing:

Make your edits to the original document (right-click on your HTML document, select ‘Open using…’ your chosen word-processor) edit and save it as before. Select the title of the book you want to update on your Kindle dashboard and in the menu select ‘Edit book details’. Scroll down to ‘Browse for interior file’ and upload your new version. Preview your changes to ensure it has updated, click ‘Save and Continue’ and then ‘Save and Publish’ on the next page as before. Always make changes to the existing book – do not start again from scratch, as it will appear as multiple books with multiple product pages on Amazon.

The same when updating versions on Smashwords, Lulu and Kobo – edit your original Word document and save it again, select the title from your dashboard online, and edit/update it from there. On Lulu, at the interior file stage, delete the old file as it appears on the dashboard below the ‘Browse’ button before uploading the new one. Otherwise you will be asked to select from the multiple files available, which can get confusing.

KDP Select: AT YOUR OWN RISK 🙂

Smashwords discussion on FB

A version of your e-book must be exclusive to Amazon Kindle to use this. If the identical e-book is available elsewhere, your book is not eligible for the scheme. But you can publish the book in print, have 10% samples available online on your blog, continue to submit to agents, or have your book serialised in print magazines and journals.

They are getting stricter, but at your own risk, you can try any of the options below. If they judge that your book is not exclusive, they will contact you within around 14 days of enrollment:

You can publish alternative content versions or ‘special editions’ either exclusively to Kindle, or elsewhere as e-books – with bonus material, or omnibus editions, without risking your KDP Select status. So long as the content of the book, its title and cover enrolled in KDP Select is not identical to other e-books available on Nook, Apple etc, you will have no problems with it. For example, you could have ‘Mysterious Events’ on Amazon Kindle and enrolled in KDP Select, and also ‘Mysterious Events: Omnibus Edition’ with a slightly different cover available on both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle, but not enrolled in KDP Select.

If you enrol your book in KDP Select, it allows Amazon Prime readers to ‘borrow’ your e-book rather than purchase, should they wish, and also gives you five days you can list your book as free every three months in any order you choose using ‘Manage promotions’. Wet bank holidays are good uses of this, and will gain you a number of downloaders looking for freebies.

However, this is no indication of actual reads, these free promotions tend to attract no reviews, and then often negative ones, or ‘one-star review’ protection racket-style scams, whereby you are then spammed by pay-per-review promotion schemes. You may attract one or two follow-on sales, and I mean literally one or two!

But you may be lucky, and find readers keen on your subject who continue to share and promote it on your behalf.

Smashwords promotions:

Smashwords allows you to set up free promotion codes any time of your choosing, by generating a 100% off cover price coupon for you to share privately or publicly with friends, family, customers, blog followers, or in contest giveaways – simply select your published title and set up a coupon for your chosen time period, which will email you a code. There are no limitations of usage for this facility on Smashwords, and your book does not have to be ‘exclusive’.

Pricing:

Amazon is the only site so far I am aware of which sets up competitive pricing. If your e-book is cheaper on Smashwords, and it is reported to Amazon by a customer as ‘cheaper elsewhere’, Amazon will also cut the price and thereby your royalty. So it is best to have your prices congruent. Having a coupon code available on Smashwords will not affect this, as the ‘for sale cover price’ visible on your product page online will remain the same, and the coupon details remain private to you and those you share it with.

1 A footnote appears on the relevant page in a document, but will convert to an endnote in an e-book, like this.

i An endnote always appears at the end of a document, like this. All footnotes also convert to endnotes in e-books, in a separate list.

Have fun and good luck 🙂 xxx

Read an E-book Week, 3-9 March 2013*

read an e-book week

For Read an E-book Week, Smashwords authors were invited to discount their ebooks or make them free as a promotion. Three of mine were free with the promo code (RW100), including the novel of my previous blog serial, The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum.

*UPDATE: This promotion has now ended, but I’m sure there’ll be more in future!

The links to my books are:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262618

Living Hell – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56513

Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55782

Also available at other e-book (and print) retailers.

Happy reading! 🙂 xxx

Deja Voodoo: A Zombie Parody

Britney v. Rihanna – Take a Piece of Me mash-up…

I wake up eventually. It’s already Monday morning.

I can hear my housemate, the newly-christened Frankenminky, singing in the shower. I strain my ears, suspiciously. Is that Somewhere Over The Rainbow she’s murdering in there? I’ll definitely have to watch her…

By the time I had recovered the Pizza Heaven scooter, it was covered in sticky finger-marks, candyfloss, bogeys, and several thoughtful parents and dog-owners had used the insulated top-box as a diaper/baggie bin.

It still runs though.

I check my phone, which I’ve left on charge all Sunday, by the look of things. Holy Hell – a hundred and seventy-one requests on Draw My Thing? I don’t really have that much of a social gaming problem, do I?

And one voicemail – from Dry Goods, Inc.

Well – he can definitely wait. I have no idea how I’m going to explain the loss of the clockwork hand this time…

I peel myself off the bed, and go to push Miss Nipple-Nuts out of the shower.

* * * * *

I ride to the Body Farm in a blue funk. Passing Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard brings my mood even lower. And as for the D.I.Y. store, with its advertising billboard announcing a sale on patio slabs and cement – I can’t even look at it.

I enter the code at the gate for the Farm and let myself in, leaving the scooter to trudge up to my favourite silver birch tree, and even more comforting wheelie-bin. Eyeing some of the exposed body tags warily en route.

“Hands up any zombies here?” I say, but they’re all either asleep, or very good at play-acting.

I lift up a tarpaulin to check. Pooh. Maybe a zombie with a hygiene problem. If it’s true where we get half of these subjects from, that wouldn’t be unusual. I think we have the highest rate of scrofula victims per capita of the entire civilised world, on our little smallholding. Where do tramps go when they die? They get an open-air burial in a different sort of park.

Slumping down under my favourite tree, I take out my sandwiches and unwrap them. The sight of limp white crustless bread and lemon curd makes me want to burst into tears. No chilled monk brains. No cheese made from billy goat. Just plain old bread and sickly sweet yellow goo.

“I’m glad none of you are zombies,” I say out loud. “Too damn noisy by half, they are.”

I munch on my sandwich, and pull out my phone, with another gaming notification.

ANONYMOUS HAS SENT YOU A CHALLENGE ON DRAW MY THING. CLICK TO ACCEPT.

I tap on the screen, glad for another slice of reality as I know it.

An inverted triangle appears on the app, covered in scribbles. Five letters.

Dubiously, I count on my fingers. Most likely another illiterate twelve-year-old being rude.

I stick the remainder of the sandwich in my mouth, and send a request for a letter clue.

P appears as the first letter. Ohhhh – maybe they’re just really bad at drawing… I enter the letter E, and click on Send.

WRONG. GUESS AGAIN.

“Huh?” I try looking at the scribble from all angles. “Illiterate and crap at drawing?”

While my mind boggles, the message reminder on my phone flashes up again. Comforted and emboldened by the proximity of my beloved Mr. Wheelie-Bin, I switch to Voicemail to listen.

“I think we have some unfinished business, Sarah Bellummm.” The sound of Crispin’s disembodied voice on my phone still manages to send shivers down my spine. “If you would like to drop by my office at your convenience, we can conclude the interview.”

“He’s still serious about offering me a job?” I remark, to Mr. Wheelie-Bin. “I have a feeling that losing the clockwork hand won’t go in my favour… Mind you, trying to shove a giant squid up my bottom doesn’t exactly go in his…”

I look at the Draw My Thing challenge again, and to pass the time while considering my options, type in the letter N.

WRONG. GUESS AGAIN.

“It’s nice to know he’s alive, I guess,” I ponder, dubiously. “And that he’s checking up on me too…”

I glance in frustration at the game screen, and completely at random, try a letter T.

WRONG. GUESS AGAIN.

“Crap,” I mutter, and send a request for a hint. “I mean, it’s not every day a girl meets an eligible bachelor – dead or alive…”

HINT: LETTERS 3 AND 4 ARE THE SAME.

There is a noise, beside me. I freeze.

Did I imagine it, or did the wheelie-bin just rattle?

Putting my phone away, I sidle a little closer.

“Um…” I say, looking around quickly for any other evidence of undead activity or pranks in the Body Farm, but there is only the usual rustling of dead leaves, dead skin, beetle-husks and rotted clothing on the breeze. “Er… Mr. Wheelie-Bin?”

The square plastic garbage container vibrates again, followed by a definite scratching sound from within.

Bravely, I find the longest stick I can (which, being in over two acres of conservation woodland, is pretty long), and use it to poke the lid open.

Nothing… well, I suppose it would be more conclusive if I actually looked inside…

I drop my eight-foot branch, and creep closer, clearing my throat.

“Is anybody home…?”

The smell hits me first. It’s… it’s… well, I was going to say indescribable, but as it happens, it’s a lot like the barracks in the Six a.m. Lounge. Sleeping-bag farts, I think Higham Dry Senior described it. With a hint of coffee and dead thing, whoever said that as well.

It’s not as if I’m unused to it. Just that it seems particularly ripe and pungent today – or maybe some of that is me, and my nervous tension…

I’m just about to peer over the edge, when there is a glooping sound, and a dark, rancid slime bubbles out and over the side.

“Gosh,” I say, politely, looking down into the upturned eye-sockets. “I hardly recognised you…”

Barely holding together at all, the skeleton gropes its way out into the sunlight. A t-shirt hangs apologetically from his twisted torso, and one of his legs seems to be locked into a foetal position from his stay in the bottom of the garbage container.

The only thing that seems to have lasted the ravages of decay and exposure is that wonderful shock of copper hair, hanging from his scalp as it flaps on the side of his battered cranium, and my pity goes out to him.

Domestic violence is a terrible thing. Hmmm. Carvery Slaughter is probably better off wherever he is. Being a garden gnome somewhere, I suppose.

“You’re looking well,” I say, encouragingly. “In fact…”

I frown, as he lists weakly in the wheelie-bin, like an X-rated, morning-after Oscar the Grouch. Or Davros on a bad day – in need of a pampering session.

Doesn’t his hair look a little too bouffant for this stage of deterioration…?

I take out my Cramps University notebook, and flip back through the pages.

Hair – no change… hair – no change… hair – no change…

I look back up at him, in growing disgust.

“Your hair…” I begin, and watch as the breeze has no effect on its uplift and pattern at all. “…Is a wig!”

All this time! A badly-attached toupée!

It doesn’t even cheer me up that I will be getting an ‘A’ for my research, that I have spotted one of the mythological corkers that the academic staff like to test out on the Forensic Anthropology undergraduates.

I feel cheated. I feel conned. The rose-tinted scales have fallen from my eyes.

“You, sir,” I announce. “Are a liar and a cad!”

And I storm off, head in the air.

I’m not sure what ‘cad’ means, but I always assumed it was a golfing insult, implying that they weren’t good enough to play, just to hunt for the more qualified men’s balls. It feels appropriate right now, as fuming, I head back for my scooter.

Perhaps Crispin can make me a better offer, after all…

* * * * *

I recognise Debbie, Brain-Dead Blonde Mk II, in the Customer Services lobby of Dry Goods, Inc, but she doesn’t recognise me.

I suppose the yucca plant pot on her head, smashed deep into the front desk isn’t helping, but her left arm flaps out anyway and buzzes me through, as I ask to see Crispin.

His office door is already open at the end of the corridor when I show myself through.

“Sarah Bellummm,” he greets me, rising to his feet behind his own desk. “So glad you accepted my invitation…”

But I freeze in the doorway, staring at the opposite wall.

“What is THAT?” I demand.

He looks hurt.

“My art, Sarah Bellummm,” he reminds me. “High-Velocity Spatter. I thought you liked it.”

“Not the painting.” I point. “That… him.”

Alongside the painting, is the black onyx Carvery Slaughter, complete with shotgun.

“Ahh – Mr. Slaughter.” Crispin gestures for me to sit on the black leather sofa by the coffee table as before. “I rather like him as office décor, don’t you? You can hang your coat on him, if you want.”

“I got dressed in a hurry,” I say, stiffly, taking the seat ungraciously. “This is all I have on. Er, underneath. Just me.”

“Intriguing,” he echoes, in a low voice. “Would you like anything from the vending machine? Let me get you a coffee. Or – is it too early for a Sloe Gin Sling?”

“Definitely too early,” I say, pleased with my self-control, although the nape of my neck is itching in paranoia at sitting with my back to Carvery Slaughter. Stone statue or otherwise. “Um. How is Homer?”

“Having the time of his life, the precocious trollop,” Crispin grumbles, hesitating over the keypad of the state-of-the-art black vending machine. “Mother’s wardrobe hasn’t seen so much action since she posed for the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of Hello magazine.”

“Er, Crispin,” I say, twiddling my keyring in an embarrassed fashion. “There’s something I need to tell you…”

“No, Sarah Bellummm,” he interrupts. “Let me apologise first…”

“It’s not that…”

“…Lady Glandula de Bartholine was my greatest inspiration – more so than the munitions business that the male line in my family dominated, as you may have guessed,” he blurts out, and turns to face the window, unable to meet my gaze. “I was her star pupil, her brightest hope – and her devoted patron…”

I don’t know how much more icky and uncomfortable this monologue is going to get, so I sneak occasional peeks over my shoulder at Carvery, just to check he’s still a statue. Still a man-beast, but still a statue.

Mmmm. Pity you can’t get DNA from onyx…

“…It was my honour to serve her and keep her in the manner to which she was accustomed…”

If only I hadn’t lost the stupid clockwork hand – if I’d known he was going to end up displayed back here…

“…Provision of certain sacrifices, at regular intervals…”

My phone buzzes inside my fleece, with a notification. I pull it out.

ANONYMOUS SAYS: DO YOU NEED ANOTHER HINT?

“…Now with Homer, I imagine those services will become redundant, except for…”

I tap on YES to pass the time, and wonder if Crispin has forgotten about the coffee he offered me.

HINT: YOU EAT THIS.

“…At least once or twice a year, usually at the solstices…”

My brain slowly unfreezes as I stare at the app on my phone screen.

Inverted triangle. Covered in random scribbles. Five letters beginning with P. Letters 3 and 4 are the same…

My hand shaking, I feverishly type in the letters I, Z, Z, A after the P, and hit Send.

“…Of course, fulfilling the role of secretary would be neatly killing two birds with one stone, if that doesn’t sound too selfish of me…”

Before the app can respond, a text message arrives. My heart pounding, I open it.

IF YOU’RE OFFERING, MINE’S A CHINESE MEAT FEAST.

“…You don’t need to give me your answer straight away…”

It’s from Ace Bumgang.

I squeal out loud.

“Hmmm?” Crispin turns and looks at me. “Are you quite all right, Sarah Bellummm?

“Yes!” I gasp. Both of my hands are shaking now. He’s alive! Oh my God! “Er – I think I just need that coffee, Crispin. If you wouldn’t mind…”

“Of course, how foolish of me.” Crispin turns back to the vending machine. “Cream, sugar?”

“Yes, please.” How can I keep him distracted? “And perhaps some fresh air in here? And – do you have anything to eat? Maybe I just feel a little faint.”

“Anything my lady wants,” says Crispin, gallantly, typing away on the keypad, and reaching for the remote control for the windows and blinds. He suddenly seems very pleased with himself, although I can’t think why.

I reply quickly to the text.

MAYBE LATER. AT CRISPIN’S OFFICE. HE’S GOT A STONE COLD CARVERY SLAUGHTER ON DISPLAY. JUSTIN TIME HAS THE CLOCKWORK HAND.

“…I understand you might want more time to think carefully about my proposal,” says Crispin, a strangely intimate tone in his voice. “But your knee-jerk reaction has given me great hope already…”

Ace replies immediately.

I’LL SEE YOUR STONE CARVERY, AND RAISE YOU A MRS. TIME. SHE’S KICKING UP A NICE FUSS IN THE TRACTOR TYRE INFLATION CAGE HERE AT THE BREAKER’S YARD.

Ace has General Lissima hostage! And she most likely still has the little leather-bound diary! How did he manage that…?

Actually, not that hard to figure out – if he wanted to take me hostage, all he’d have to do is blow gently in my ear…

Crispin sets out a lovely arrangement of coffee and cream-filled strawberry jam scones on the low table, on a tray decorated with a single pink-and-white Oriental lily, reflecting the edible colours of the scones and filling the room with its spicy perfume. But my mind is racing.

Who is the most likely person to track down that thieving rickshaw pilot?

Yes! His wife!

And then – we’ll have the clockwork hand. And then – I’ll figure out how to change Carvery Slaughter back into a human being. Which might be necessary, I justify the idea smoothly, for if my housemate Frankenminky turns out to be a bit too little of Miss December, and a bit too much of Summer Jaundice…

I send a quick reply, under my napkin.

I’LL BRING YOUR PIZZA ORDER AT 5PM.

“…And then, we will take a tour of the premises, so you can find your way around,” Crispin is saying.

Ace answers again, promptly.

COOL. BY THE WAY – YOU WERE WRONG. THE ANSWER ISN’T PIZZA. X.

Eh? I frown at the message before closing it, and the app screen pops up again, with its response to my guess on Draw My Thing.

WRONG. GUESS AGAIN.

“Crispin,” I say, to hide my confusion and images of triangles with scribbles now dancing in front of my eyes – besides, I feel as though I haven’t really contributed much to the conversation so far, and should make it at least look as though I was paying attention. “It’s my turn to apologise. I’m afraid Justin Time has run off with the clockwork hand…”

“If it’s not one thief, it’s another,” Crispin shrugs, and treats me to his lopsided smile. “And Justin Time is just a great big pussy.”

Hmmm… I put my phone away, and sit back to enjoy my nice coffee. Of course, I’ll have to accept the job of secretary now – if only to keep an eye on Carvery, and ensure access to him when I get hold of the clockwork hand. I wonder how grateful he might be, if I was the one to save him for a change? There’s always a chance Justin Time might turn up here too. Negotiating some holiday, or another… But Ace Bumgang is alive! And wants pizza! And – is drawing very rude things on Draw My Thing!

You eat this’ he said! I have to hide my blush behind my sticky napkin, and get my phone out to re-read his last text message just to make sure. And I notice the ‘X’ on the end of it for the first time – and my brain swims alarmingly.

“I think I really should be going,” I smile, my mind now just pink fog. “Thank you for a lovely – er – interview.”

“Promise me you will consider my proposal carefully, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin says, gravely.

“I will,” I promise, sincerely, and hope he repeats it at some point soon, so I know what he’s so serious about.

But until then – I have other priorities. I drop my napkin into the waste basket, and before I get to my feet, I do a double-take.

All that the waste basket contains otherwise, is a note saying:

TAKE OUT TRASH.

Strange… isn’t that what was in his other waste basket, in the cellar…?

I recall the deep cellar under the mansion, and its refrigerated collection.

Dry family members in suspended animation, infected with the zombie curse. Waiting for Crispin to come up with the definitive cure, tested out on Homer – now fully recovered, and Queen of all he surveys… but that’s not all the note reminds me of.

What about his supposition that take-out delivery boys and girls are a good source of virginal donor organs?

Am I still just potential Take-Out Trash to him?

I get to my feet slowly. My brain now feels like it’s whirring and clanking as much as Higham Dry Senior’s clockwork braaiiiinsss.

“Could I start work tomorrow?” I ask, coughing to hide the tremor in my voice. “Shall I turn up for nine a.m? Or is that a bit too – warlike?

“I’ve always found that the working day is more civilised depending on the company one keeps, not the time of day,” Crispin beams, and offers me his hand.

I shake it, but have to resist the urge to snatch my own away too quickly.

As I hurry back outside to my scooter, a glance backward confirms that the seagulls have found some more pickings on the beach, outside Crispin’s office window. Looks like he gets through a lot of his own staff, not to mention other people…

I won’t be coming back here just to keep an eye on Carvery. I’ll be back to watch him as well.

Maybe with a shovel, and a plot marked out ready, at the Body Farm.

In fact, now I think about it – there’s a nice wheelie-bin going spare. Prime position.

Under the silver birch tree…

Trailer for the original ‘Deja Vu’ by the great Tony Scott… Enjoy…

…ROLL CREDITS:

THIS PARODY OF MANY SCENES WAS INSPIRED BY…

From film & television:

Secretary; 9 1/2 Weeks; Body of Evidence; Pretty Woman; Star Wars; Phantom of the Opera; Lara Croft, Tomb Raider; Dangerous Liaisons; Batman; Blade Runner; E.T, the Extraterrestrial; Home Alone; The Goonies; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Labyrinth; Romancing the Stone; Disclosure; The Chronicles of Narnia; Stargate; Jewel of the Nile; Return of the Jedi; Queen of the Damned; Pride and Prejudice; The Graduate; Pulp Fiction; Dirty Harry; My Fair Lady/Pygmalion; Death on the Nile; Octopussy; The Magnificent Seven; The Life of Brian; Big Trouble in Little China; The Men Who Stare At Goats; The Lost Boys; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Shallow Grave; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Hunt for Red October; Crimson Tide; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Splash; The Empire Strikes Back; Alien Resurrection; National Treasure; Beetlejuice; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Lawrence of Arabia; Sex & The City II; Casablanca; District 13; Casino Royale; Saw; Fermat’s Room; ParaNorman; Mission Impossible; Journey to the Center of the Earth; A Town Called Panic; Jurassic Park; Death Race; Men in Black; M*A*S*H; Good Morning, Vietnam; Dad’s Army; Full Metal Jacket; Apocalypse Now; It Ain’t Half Hot Mum; Time Bandits; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Stardust; The Tourist; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Tomb Raider, Cradle of Life; Cowboys and Aliens; Frankenweenie; Iron Man; Transformers; Pirates of the Caribbean; The Chronicles of Riddick; Bedknobs and Broomsticks; True Lies; Déjà Vu… and many, many more…

From books (not filmed or produced for broadcast at time of writing):

Fifty Shades of Grey © Fifty Shades Ltd

The Magician’s Nephew © C.S. Lewis

Forever indebted to the work of:

Henry Gray F.R.S. and H.V. Carter, M.D. – for Gray’s Anatomy, 1858.

You have been reading ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ now available in ebook from Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, and in paperback. Coming soon to Nook, Kobo, Sony and other online retail outlets. See the ‘Books’ pages (top of this blog) for details. Hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for all of your Likes and Shares over the last eight months! 🙂 xxx

True Lice: A Zombie Parody

Pink – ‘U and Ur Hand’ original video…

Thank you, Justin!” I remember to say, retrieving the clockwork hand, while he rolls up the little doormat and tucks it under one arm. Although I’m not sure I fancy another stroll through the hen-house, mingling with the monitor lizards again straight away – Higham Dry Junior might have to wait until I’ve at least had a lie down and several Sloe Gin Slings before getting his toy back. “How can I repay you?”

“Oh…” He pauses and looks thoughtful, and it occurs to me that making open cavalier offers to the rickshaw pilot might be unwise. “I like your little clockwork thing…”

“What?” I was right.

How stupid am I? I can’t give him the clockwork hand!

“Yes, with the little sparkly light,” he says. “I saw you pointing it at aircraft carrier. Flash-flash. Good for signalling.”

“Oh…” Relief bursts inside me. Fortunately, my bladder and everything else in there is empty. “The Trevor Baylis torch! Yes, of course…”

I pull it out of my pocket and pass it to him. He gives it an experimental twirl and a click on-and-off, looking very pleased.

“This good for busy air-traffic,” he says. “I make special sequence for ‘Get out of way, Stupid!’ But not tell anyone else what it is…”

“Phew,” I say, holding up the clockwork hand. “For a moment, I thought you meant this…”

“Oh, really?” His eyebrows go up. “Well, if you insist…”

And he snatches it from my grasp, and runs out of the front door.

“You get back here, Justin Time!” I yell angrily.

“And don’t forget, your friend promised to cook me dinner as well!” he calls over his shoulder. “Goat curry!”

Damn, damn, damn! And as I hurry after him, I hear an engine start.

Oh no – the Trevor Baylis torch was attached to my keys!

I tumble down the impressive stone steps, as my poor little Pizza Heaven scooter races away down the drive.

“No!” I shout, struggling back upright and spitting out gravel. Already, I’m getting flashbacks of musical push-along cart, and Old MacDonald Had A Farm. “No, no, no!”

“Has he gone?” Frankenminky asks, appearing in the doorway. “I didn’t even get his number…”

Something nudges me sharply in the behind.

Old MacDonald had a goat

“Baaahhh,” bleats the billy goat, giving me the drunken eye.

“Right,” I say. “I’ve ridden camels, clams, donkeys and doormats today!”

I grab the goat by the curly horns, and lean forward to whisper in its bearded ear.

“We are going to follow that scooter,” I tell it. “And in exchange, you will not become my housemate’s special, Goat à la Soggy Cheerios!”

I just remember to lift my feet off the ground, as the indignant billy goat bolts. We skid at the end of the driveway, and give chase down the main road.

How could I have been so stupid?! I should have learned by now that he isn’t to be trusted!

Justin must know we are on his tail, because he takes a short-cut through the park on the way into town. A park full of Saturday morning strollers, duck-feeders, and unwary fairground visitors…

Oh no – so many innocent bystanders…

My billy goat pounds after him untiringly, stopping only to divest a small child of its ice-cream.

The scooter, meanwhile, has become stuck on the Merry-Go-Round between a Cinderella pumpkin carriage and a fibreglass rocket, and Justin finds himself giving rides to children who pull on his whiskers and insist on calling him Ali Baba.

“Stop!” I shout, once my goat has polished off a ball of candyfloss and a blue raspberry Slurpie.

“Haha!” Justin cries, finally managing to kick the scooter free of the ride, and vanishing into the mirror maze.

We clatter after him, like the proverbial bull into a china shop. A china shop full of incredibly sticky children, and the occasional excitable puppy.

“I know you are in here, Justin!” I shout at my many distorted reflections. I already know what my goat is thinking – it’s thinking that maybe that last Guinness was one too many. “I can smell the two-stroke oil! Give back the clockwork hand! That was given to me to look after!”

“Can I pat your horsey?” asks a little girl with Elastoplast covering one lens of her glasses.

“My Dad says your pizzas are always cold,” adds her brother informatively, who is wearing a striped jersey with his spectacles, in a typically mean parental act of inferring that their child resembles Waldo.

“Well,” I say, while the billy goat receives his scratch around the ears magnanimously. “You tell your Dad that when his tips turn out to be legal tender in this country, maybe his pizzas will magically turn up on time.”

“Just in time?” says the little boy.

“Where?!” I look all around, but only see more reflections. “Where’s Justin Time?”

“Who?” asks the little girl.

“Creepy man, evil laugh, riding a motor scooter.” I struggle for descriptions that match First Grade interpretation. “Ali Baba!

Both the children point, to a gap in the mirrors that only small (and possibly bifocally-enhanced) eyes would notice.

I see a flash of Pizza Heaven top-box whizzing past.

“Tell your Dad the next pizza is free,” I say, and spur my steed to follow. “With onion rings!”

We gallop out of the maze, in time to see Justin and the scooter mount the Helter-Skelter, going up the spiralling slide the wrong way…

I race to the gate, but the attendant blocks my path and tells me my goat isn’t tall enough.

“No!” I scream, as Justin reaches the top, revs the tiny engine, and opens the throttle.

The Pizza Heaven scooter flies through the air, high above the funfair.

The billy goat butts the attendant out of the way, and we dash for the steps…

In slow motion, I watch the poor little work scooter falling, falling – the poor children beneath running, scattering, as fast as their slippery socks will allow…

We’ll never reach the top before it…

The scooter lands smack in the middle of the bouncy castle, which nearly folds up double. And then springs back up, catapulting Justin Time far over the treetops beyond, and out of sight.

“Jump!” I shout at the billy goat. “He mustn’t get away!”

But instead, my billy goat merely joins the queue at the top of the steps, to slide down the Helter-Skelter the more usual way.

“Oh my God, you are such a pussy!” I grumble, once we reach the bottom.

The goat takes no notice, but rewards itself with a bag of popcorn from a passing Disney princess.

“Never mind,” says the princess’s big sister, as she starts to cry. “Look up in the sky – at the lovely rainbow…”

I look up too, and pretty soon I’m crying as well.

Horseback/motorcycle chase scene from ‘True Lies’ – Enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

The Ridicules of Chronic: A Zombie Parody

Peter Gabriel vs. Gnarls Barkley – Crazy in Your Eyes mash-up…

He’s not wrong about that. Lady Glandula as a human zombie Queen was intimidating enough. Minus the corporeal shroud of Crispin’s mother, into which her mantle had somehow been squeezed, she’s just a giant evil-looking cephalopod.

Its purple iridescent eyes seem to zoom in on me as it slides back onto the deck, crushing the already-rotting remains of its former human hermit-shell unheeded, leaving a trail of vile slime.

“Yuck!” I struggle, trying to free myself from Crispin’s grip on my hair. “Crispin, that’s not your mother! It’s a Squidmorph!”

“She has been my mother as long as I can remember,” he says distantly. “I have to save her.”

“Well, why don’t you volunteer?” I suggest, and managing to free an arm, flap around wildly until my hand closes around the hilt of the last, smallest knife on the altar.

Yes! Even though it’d barely core an apple…

Reaching behind my head, I make one desperate slice.

My ponytail of hair bunched in Crispin’s grip shears off. Suddenly released, and sporting a new asymmetric bob, I run.

The giant Squidmorph moves to block my path, and I jump over Justin Time and the bounty hunters – far less nimbly than General Lissima did, getting a groin full of billy goat forehead for my efforts – aiming for my one and only hope.

“Higham Dry!” I call out, finding the elderly zombie in his clockwork armour still suspended from the crocodile-feeding platform. I grab the railings in one hand and reach out to him with the other. “Let me help you!”

“That very sweet of you, young man!” says Higham Dry, his bionic transformation evidently stopping short of improved optometrics. “Crispin still making crazy philanthropist talk up there? Trying to Save the Squid, and not for dinner?”

“I’m afraid so,” I reply, straining my arm to reach him.

I risk a glance over my shoulder. The Squidmorph, lumbering and ungainly without its human carrier, slithers towards the altar, where Crispin is waiting to greet it with outstretched arms.

“She won’t last long without a body,” Higham says, coughing. “But they get very angry the longer they wait. Pump out lots of adrenalin, move like bolt of diarrhoea! Better to run away first. Not have to outrun squid – just have to outrun all of your other enemies. Any port in a storm for squid!”

“You can help!” I plead. “Crispin is your grandson! You can talk some sense into him!”

“You flatter an old man, my boy…” Higham Dry Senior’s robot grip slides a little – the wrong way. “But sense is all just a matter of perspective.”

He looks down into the swirling darkness.

“No!” I shout.

Too late.

The golden armoured figure vanishes silently into the abyss.

I look up angrily at Atum, blotting out half of the sky.

“Why don’t you do something?” I yell. “You’re a god! I thought gods were omnipotent!”

Under his alien gaze, I feel very small indeed.

It occurs to me that the meaning of ‘omnipotent’ is not necessarily the same as I’m important

“Screw you!” I snap, and turn to size up my chances.

One giant hermit squid – check; one Oedipally-fixated zombie entrepreneur and his pole-dancing transvestite zombie brother – check; one formerly-estranged and now reconciled couple serenading one another (aahhh) – check; one housemate, name as yet unremembered – check; one renegade rickshaw pilot coveting a doormat – check; three bounty hunters that it would be unwise to touch without rubber boots on – check; one drunk billy goat – check; one albino donkey – check; one girlfriend-battering psychopath turned to stone (damn it) – check…

I look down to see what I’m armed with. A knife that wouldn’t give blade envy to a teaspoon. A Trevor Baylis wind-up torch in my pocket. No clockwork hand, and no little diary full of special symbols. They both went overboard, with Ace and General Lissima.

“Do not worry, Mother,” I hear Crispin telling the Squidmorph soothingly. “She will not get away.”

Both look at me, and my grip tightens on the knife.

They must have a weak point – an Achilles’ heel…

I wish Ace Bumgang was here. He’d know. He seems to have time to spare, looking up strange wildlife on Wiki.

I look sadly back down into the bottomless whirlpool, and across at the Nine a.m. Lounge aircraft carrier, tilting in towards us on the far side. Another fighter jet slips off its chocks on the upper deck, pitching into the blackness below. A brief fireball denotes its demise before it is swallowed up.

My foot slips on the Squidmorph’s trail of slime, and I glance back again to confirm, seeing Crispin chanting and splashing her with water from a terracotta jug, evidently to ensure she doesn’t dry out before finding a new host.

They need access to the Deep Ocean Trench… We just have to ensure the first thing the young Squidling sees is the ocean… Maybe these tentacle chicks have something against dry land…

Nothing. I’m getting nothing from this. No ideas at all…

“You had better come here, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin calls. “You will require lubricating as well.”

“Yes,” I agree, absently. “A large Guinness WD-40 would be about right…”

I look at the aircraft carrier. No longer running on Guinness.

Running on napalm.

I take out the Trevor Baylis torch and wind it up. Is it dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash? Or the other way around? I flash the light a few times at the other ship, half-heartedly.

Still nothing. The net of captive flying rugs on its deck flaps, trying to escape.

“Hey – Justin!” I call out.

“I never touched it!” Justin Time cries, slightly muffled under his captors and my housemate.

“How do you declare war on another Lounge?”

“Oh, that easy!” His nose appears from under the crush, his coolie hat somewhat crumpled around it. “You just make first pre-emptive strike!”

Fucknot the easiest thing done from a wooden barge with apparently no firepower. I need something to make the occupants of that dirty great military ship angry…

“As you wish, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin’s zombie monotone alerts me again. “But it will be much more painful this way.”

A tentacle lashes out towards my foot, and I jump. Higham Dry was right about something else.

They DO move damn fast when they’re desperate…

“Do not exhaust yourself, Sarah Bellummm!” Crispin cries, while I do laps of the deck of the Great Barge, dodging the slapping and groping tentacles. “You must conserve energy to survive the transition!”

“Not number one on my list of priorities!” I shout back.

“You will see immortality through her eyes!” he adds.

“She’s going to see tempura batter and hot chilli dipping sauce through mine!”

The giant Squidmorph lassos itself around the mast and tries a belly-flop from a great height, scattering the remaining zombie attendants – and eating one or two which get too close.

I only avoid her by grabbing part of the sail rigging Ace had swung from earlier, and slashing it with my little knife, so that the rapidly-ravelling rope hoists me up into the air, as the sail unfurls again in turn.

Swinging from my new perspective on things, I spot something down on the deck of the Great Barge that I had completely forgotten about…

I look out over the crocodile-feeding platform. Ace’s own rope still dangles there.

As the Squidmorph lunges up the rigging and hauls herself higher up the mast once more, I let go, and try to land in a professional stuntman’s tuck-and-roll, only succeeding in getting one of my feet caught around my ear. Meaning I scrabble, strained and crabwise, across the deck towards Justin Time and the others.

“Help!” cries my housemate. “This donkey keeps eating my hair!”

“Jolly good, carry on, Dobbin,” I pant, and snatch General Lissima’s peaked Naval officer cap from the floor.

“Um, Sarah…” she asks, managing to angle her head under the tussling heap so that she can see what I’m doing. “Why are you stabbing that hat?”

I thrust the tiny knife into the crown as many times as it takes to make a deep, ragged rip.

“I am declaring war!” I announce.

And just as the Squidmorph hits the deck again behind me, I run for the railings, and jump onto the crocodile-feeding platform.

My momentum means I skid the rest of the way, and have to make a desperate, split-second leap – grabbing the rope…

I pirouette outward, over the yawning, watery abyss, and I judge the apex of the swing – the point of zero acceleration in either direction – then spin the General’s ravaged officer hat across the gap.

It flies – and as I swing backwards, it dips. My heart sinks in unison.

Atum moves, turning to watch its progress.

Just as the backs of my heels crack painfully back on the crocodile-feeding platform, a sudden updraft of air from the whirlpool lifts the declaration of war just high enough – to skim over the railings of the Nine a.m. Lounge aircraft carrier, and vanish aboard its upper deck.

Either they’ll respond – or I guess they might celebrate. Hopefully with fireworks.

Depending on how popular she was.

“I don’t understand your reluctance at all, Sarah Bellummm.” Crispin is rolling up his shirt-sleeves – although I don’t see the point, they’re already stained beyond Cillit Bang guarantees. “You looked so at home in Mother’s clothes earlier today…”

Oh, boy. Does he have issues…

Hoooome,” says Homer indignantly.

“Yes, yes,” Crispin replies, exasperated. “They suit you too, Homer… but no matter. There is still the first option.”

The first option? What does he mean?

“Help!” shrieks my housemate again, as a tentacle latches around her ankle and tugs.

Oh – crap.

I vault back over the railings from the platform, and dive across the deck, catching hold of her wrists.

“Let her go!” Justin Time snaps. “Shameless hussy!”

“I thought you wanted a new girlfriend, Justin?” I huff, trying to brace myself against the donkey.

“Maybe…” he sulks. “But… she need a boob job first…”

“They’re in the wheelbarrow over there,” I promise, truthfully. “Help us!”

Justin sighs, and kicks out at one of his bounty hunter captors, who promptly delivers a small warning lightning bolt which each of us feels, and makes a real mess of my underwear this time. The donkey brays, the goat bleats, and the Squidmorph squeals, and retracts her tentacle.

“See?” says Justin. “Never mix water and electricity.”

“First rule of home D.I.Y…” I echo vaguely.

“Carvery used to say that,” says my housemate, looking past me at Justin with admiration.

Blimey, she moves on fast. What happened to ‘Where’s Carvery?’

He’d have finished off this fat old squid in a jiffy… so depressing…

The fat old squid in question doesn’t seem to be affected by electric shocks for long, and has its tentacle around my housemate’s leg again before our own pins and needles have worn off.

“Get your suckers off my girlfriend!” shouts Justin Time, as we both make a grab for her arms.

I hear Crispin’s voice, now sounding agitated.

“I am sure she will still let you borrow them, Homer…!”

The tentacle performs the whip-cracking manoeuvre, and my housemate is wrenched out of our hands.

“No!” Justin and I both shout. The bounty hunters pin us both to the floor.

The Squidmorph dangles the screaming Miss Numb-Nuts triumphantly in the air, high above the sacrificial altar.

“Now, Mother!” cries Crispin, his black eyes strangely aflame.

My housemate is slammed down onto the wooden plinth.

“Ow!” she yells, annoyed. “I bit my tongue!”

Crispin responds by drenching her with another bucket of the lavender-scented water, and while she splutters and coughs indignantly, the Squidmorph appears to coil itself, like a tensing spring…

I can’t look – I turn my head away. How could Atum allow this? Or did he already collect his dues, with Lady Glandula’s human body?

“Soulless…” I murmur unhappily, and wonder why the sky has suddenly, silently, without warning, turned from gray to blinding white…

The great mahogany-coloured planks of the deck splinter deafeningly beneath us, as the whole side of the barge explodes.

The central mast pitches into the river, every blood-red sail burning like the flags of Hell.

More gun turrets aboard the aircraft carrier swivel to face us after the first deadly assault, across the void.

“Holy ship!” Justin tries to burrow deeper under the bounty hunters. “Who piss the wife off now?”

But even more horrifying is the scream that comes from the altar – but it’s not the scream I was expecting.

“NOOOO!!” Crispin shrieks hideously.

Unwilling, I follow the sound of the cry with my scorched eyes, dreading what carnage I might see…

Miss Knobhead is on the floor by the altar, her nose bloody, her consciousness debatable. Crispin is on his knees alongside, clutching his hair in shock. And upon the plinth itself…

What?

Homer – clutching his pom-poms to his nearly concave gray chest. Smiling.

No squid… I look everywhere. Was she indeed blown up, as I had hoped?

Homer sits up slowly, and surveys us all with a regal – slightly smug – air.

“Oh, I see,” Justin Time scoffs. “He in too much of a hurry to wait and inherit his Mother’s wardrobe.”

“You mean…” I begin, and spot the telltale trickle of black squid ink down his skinny leg again. “Homer – you volunteered?

2004 trailer for ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ – Enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

Prostates of the Caribbean: A Zombie Parody

Chase & Status vs. Nero – No Problem/My Eyes mash-up…

We start to slide across the deck as the Great Barge tilts. Alongside, the Nine a.m. Lounge aircraft carrier also leans inward, with the centrifugal pull of the vortex appearing, mid-river. The heaped-up dinosaur skeletons take a dive from its upper deck into the abyss, followed by one of the jets, parked too close to the edge.

“Hold on!” I shout at my housemate, halted as my legs entangle with the billy goat. Apparently, it could remain upright on a sheer drop. “Grab onto something!”

The something she finds, with her groping clumsy hands, is Justin Time under his heap of bounty hunters. Justin squeals indignantly.

“I am a married man, Madam!” he yells, playing his loyalty card as it suits him.

Lady Glandula lashes out with her tentacle, anchoring herself to the main mast. Higham Dry Senior clamps onto her with his one mechanical-armed grip, trying to drag her away.

“You don’t want a little reconciliation with your god?” he says, gesturing over the side with his other scraggy zombie arm. “Surely it’s nothing personal… just good for business!”

Below us, in that watery whirlpool, the gigantic Eye is rising, scattering the sunbathing crocodiles.

For the first time, I see genuine panic cross the zombie Queen’s face.

“No!” she cries. “I will not enter the limbo of Darkness and Shades! Give me the rest of the Incantations!”

“Only your frail human form is in debt to Atum, Mother!” I hear Crispin shouting, but I don’t see him. “Let it go! Take a new body!”

“Frail?” Higham Dry grumbles, straining on his cyborg chassis. “She is testing the limits of WD-40 here, I tell you!”

“This frail human form is what gave birth to you, Crispin!” she yells.

“Exactly!” says Higham Dry. “The rest is just indestructible hermit calamari!

Over by the ravaged altar, Beneficience is on her ample knees, sobbing. Luke reaches her with his hands outstretched in supplication, still singing, like a taxi-driving absconding angel.

And beyond, General Lissima has finished dismembering the attendant zombie from its grip on the clockwork hand. She snatches a long-bladed knife from the altar in the tip of her tentacle, and turns her attention to the struggle between Higham Dry Senior and Lady Glandula de Bartholine.

“Hey, folks!” she taunts, waggling the golden clockwork hand, and the leather-bound diary. “I have something you want! Who is the better haggler?”

And she leaps quickly aside, laughing, as they both lash out covetously.

“Give me those Incantations, witch!” shrieks Lady Glandula.

“You going to feel Higham Dry’s foot in your barnacled bottom, young lady!”

Damn – where is Ace?! And what about Crispin…

Suddenly I have no need of concern with the latter, as an arm in a torn bloody shirt loops around my shoulders from behind, extracting me from the billy goat’s legs.

“Thank goodness you are all right, Sarah Bellummm!” he greets me. “I believe we still have time…”

“Yeah, he’s right there…” I say, pointing at Justin, under the increasing heap of bounty hunters, my housemate Miss Numbskull, albino donkey and inebriated billy goat. “Do we need him to get us home?”

“Not Mr. Time,” Crispin corrects me, pulling me to my feet. “Time in which to perform the ceremony. Before Atum recovers his dues.”

“What?” I ask, and find myself being dragged over to the altar.

General Lissima evades capture by Higham Dry Senior and Lady Glandula, sliding on her knees under their flailing limbs like a breakdancer under a limbo-stick, making it look effortless and elegant as she leans back almost parallel to the floor.

The second she is clear, she pivots sharply into a kneeling stance, and unleashes one devastating strike with her own tentacle. The knife-blade flashes – and Higham Dry’s exposed zombie hand flies off, severed halfway up the radial bone.

“Who is your Daddy now, old man?” she grins, back-flipping upright and twirling the sword into a blur on the end of her tentacle, like a Wild West gunslinger. “Bet this clockwork hand looks even more attractive to you, hmmm?”

“Quickly, Sarah Bellummm!” Crispin sweeps the remaining artifacts and accessories from the surface of the wooden plinth. “Lie down on here.”

“How about no!” I gasp. “I haven’t signed a release form for any elective surgery!”

“I have to save my Mother,” he states, obstinately.

“It won’t be your Mother!” I shout back. “It’ll be me, Sarah Bellum! With an ancient evil zombie squid parked up her!”

Crispin picks up a knife, and advances.

“That’s the only Mother I remember,” he says sadly.

I back away, around the altar. Who’d come to Sarah Bellum’s rescue? I look all around, desperately. No sign of Ace, damn it… Homer is still hanging for dear life onto a pillar, looking like a cheap date at Peppermint Hippo. Luke and Beneficience are lost in one another’s attention, for the first time since 1971. My housemate, struggling on the floor with the bounty hunters and Justin Time, is probably at less risk than she ever was in the company of Carvery Slaughter – who is still a black onyx stone statue.

I sigh. Judging so far, Carvery would have been my best bet for salvation. Even if he’d used that last shotgun cartridge already, I’m sure he’d have found another way of putting me out of my misery before I became a deadly Squidmorph cavity…

If only I could get hold of the clockwork hand – perhaps I could turn him back?

But otherwise, I don’t see any point in crying for ‘help’. The mathematics just don’t seem to be in my favour.

I just remember to sidestep in time, as Crispin makes a grab for my arm.

“I thought you wanted me for yourself, Crispin?” I try reminding him. “The old cure for zombies you wanted to try? Sleeping with a virgin?”

Crispin hesitates, and my hope flares.

“I am glad you are willing, Sarah Bellummm,” he remarks. “But…”

“But what?” I try an eyelash flutter, for the first time, and only succeed in making myself dizzy.

“Present requirements are more pressing,” he says, regretfully. “And virgins are not too hard to come by. Especially in the fast-food home delivery business.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I am sure your replacement at the pizzeria will be equally inexperienced,” he adds, with a wink.

The nerve of him! As if I’m as disposable as… as… a burger carton!

Now only clamped onto Lady Glandula with his armoured fist, Higham Dry struggles to remain upright, and the mast creaks with the strain.

“I am waiting…” hints General Lissima. “Nobody want to make me an offer? Atum looks like he got all day, but I don’t.”

The giant eye of the river-god is rising slowly out of the whirlpool in the river, gradually blotting out the misty sun in its veil of storm clouds. Crocodiles who weren’t quick enough to escape the vortex tumble down his sides into the depths.

As I dodge another grab by Crispin across the altar, General Lissima sighs impatiently, and with an impossibly high leap onto the mast, strikes downward with her sword.

The very tip of Lady Glandula’s tentacle is sliced free, with a terrible scream.

“Mother!” Crispin shouts, as Lady Glandula and Higham Dry Senior hurtle past down the sloping deck, still entangled. “Grandpappy!”

Hoooome!” cries Homer, hugging his pillar, like a cheap floozy.

General Lissima laughs, and scuttles after them, jumping over her husband and the bounty hunters en route.

“So keen to walk the plank!” she squeals happily, as Lady Glandula’s injured tentacle halts them at the railing right where the crocodile-feeding platform is attached, high above the swirling abyss. “Now, who wants to negotiate? Who wants to swear loyalty to the Nine a.m. Lounge first?”

“Never!” spits Higham Dry, clinging to the platform with his remaining mechanoid arm, cradling his stump protectively.

“No great loss,” General Lissima shrugs. “All you boys over at the Six a.m. Lounge interested in is beer and sauna and clean socks. And persecuting my husband, which is very naughty.”

“The Incantations!” cries Lady Glandula pitifully, her terror at the proximity of Atum evident, while she scrabbles to hold onto the side of the barge. “Give them to me!”

“Hmmm, but what are they worth, Lady Bathtub?” the General muses, twiddling the little book between her fingertips. “I already have a ship. Don’t need yours. What else have you got? And don’t try to fob me off with any of your undead pets. I have plenty of those too.”

Luke reaches the end of his song. But this time, Atum remains, his all-seeing omnipotent eye taking interest in the proceedings as they unravel below his gaze.

Beneficience takes Luke’s hands in her own and sobs into them.

“Forgive me!” she beseeches him, still on her knees at his feet.

“My dearest,” he says gently. “I am so proud of you, in spite of our differences… You have done such a good job with Corporal Punishment…”

“He is your son!” she blurts out. “I raised him – for you!”

“I know, my dearest,” he says soothingly, and pats her a little awkwardly on the gilt-frilled turban.

In the touching moment of distraction, Crispin vaults over the altar, and seizes me by the hair.

“Now, Mother!” he shouts. “While there is still time!”

“No!” I scream, and flounder for a good excuse to delay things. “I’m not sterile!”

“I don’t think you have anything I want, do you?” General Lissima smiles down at the crocodile-feeding platform, and twirls the sword again, preparing to strike.

There is a swisshhh through the air overhead, and one of the blood-red sails on the mast abruptly furls, lopsidedly, its rigging pulled sharply by a swinging counterweight.

“Gotcha,” is all Ace says, as he plucks the General neatly from the deck, too fast for her to react – and then, on its outermost swing, he lets go of the rope.

I gasp, as the two of them vanish over the side, into the boiling darkness below.

Again, with the jealousy problem… Why not me, Ace Bumgang??!

Ow – I wince, as Crispin twists my hair in his fist, holding me captive.

“Mother!” he calls out again.

Lady Glandula drags her despairing gaze from the bottomless depths beneath her, and seems to focus once more on her last chance of salvation. A new body…

Mine!

Yesss, Crispin…” she croaks, and starts to haul herself back onto the deck.

Higham Dry Senior looks on, helpless, and apparently weakening inside his special clockwork armour. The red glow in his eye-slits looks as though it is fading.

“Nobody want to help an old man?” his mechanical voice echoes, wryly.

“Nobody want to help a pizza-delivery girl?” I mutter.

Atum’s giant eye blinks.

Waiting.

“Sing it again, Gaylord,” says Beneficience, breathlessly. “Sing it – like you used to…”

Luke smiles benevolently down at his wife.

“‘You must remember this…’”

Beyond the crocodile-feeding platform, something flashes upwards out of the water, with barely a splash of foam.

“You are very scrawny,” Lady Glandula hisses at me, as she slithers over the railing.

I see the metallic twinkle and the blur, whirring in the air, like something out of the Wild West.

“Yes,” I agree, bravely. “I am a fidget.”

The zombie Queen opens her mouth to respond to my insolence, but only silence emerges.

The silence unrolls across us all like a deathly flood.

“‘As time goes by…’” Luke’s heavenly voice croons.

Lady Glandula was never destined to hear it.

Her human body crumples onto the floor.

The head rolls slowly backwards, and plummets from the end of the platform, alongside the retracting, sword-wielding tentacle that had finished her.

I swear an echo of the General’s laugh flits upward, snatched away in turn by the breeze.

“Typical Nine a.m. Lounge mercenary!” Higham Dry grumbles. “Rush off leaving job half done! There still a dirty great big squid up here, young lady!”

Original ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ trailer – enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

The Groanies: A Zombie Parody

Pendulum remix of Prodigy’s ‘Voodoo People’…

“Mrs Frittata is going to be very annoyed that you’ve taken her Sunday wig as well,” Crispin scolds his brother, while the transvestite zombie cowers in the closet, attempting to hide his face in shame, behind a bejewelled clutch-purse.

“Who’s Mrs Frittata?” I ask, wondering if they refer to their mother so formally in this house.

“The housekeeper,” Crispin groans. “She and her two sons, the Frittatas, form the main hub of my staff here. Jerry Frittata is my driver, while Ben Frittata is the gardener. There was a third Frittata brother, who did odd jobs as handyman on the estate – but he fell down a well in the sunken garden some years ago, and has never been quite the same since.”

“Is he in care?”

“No, still down the well. He likes to try and entice female visitors to climb down and kiss him, impersonating a cursed frog. Honestly. Like you say, as if women persist in believing that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before a prince appears, these days.”

“Quite,” I agree stiffly, thinking of my brainwashed housemate, Insert-Name-Here – who was virtually born with a glass slipper between her legs – and had been discussing the very same myth with me (in her usual deluded fashion) earlier this evening. Before having her boyfriend-amputated thumb reattached.

The reminiscing is interrupted by the ‘DONNNGGG’ of the impressive doorbell, reverberating through the mansion.

“Strange…” hisses my host for the night so far. “Who would call at this hour? I only ordered the one pizza…”

“Er – which you still haven’t paid for!” I point out, hurrying after him, as he leaves his mother’s boudoir.

With a squeak of abandonment, I hear his brother Homer disentangling himself from coat-hangers and designer footwear on the floor of the closet, and shuffling quickly to keep up – jabbering ‘Home… home…’ as he scuttles after us along the corridor, to the second-floor landing.

I risk a glance behind. His progress is hindered, Pippa-Middleton-style, by the pink fishtail wiggle dress.

Well – he doesn’t look too dangerous… At least, not to humans, I think, as he burps a chicken feather.

We descend the two flights of stairs to the ground floor again. Reaching the doors first, Crispin answers it himself – just as he did when I first arrived, with that pizza.

I wonder how I’m meant to ride the Pizza Heaven scooter back, now I’m only wearing his loaned pyjamas.

“Luke,” Crispin greets our Legally-entitled-to-work-since-1971 Nigerian taxi driver, from the hospital. “What brings you here?”

“The young lady left her mobile phone on the seat of my cab,” Luke announces, holding it out to me. “I was passing by on another passenger route, thought I would see if you folk were home.”

“How kind!” I say, although I’d barely missed it. The only calls I get are from my housemate Twatface, when she has some new drama with Carvery Slaughter…

I pocket the phone, and look up again, just in time to see another movement in the doorway behind the taxi-driver…

Fuck.

Speak of the Devil…

“Hey, this doesn’t look like The Astoria,” Miss Novelty-Tricks slurs, staggering in behind Luke.

“No – this is way better,” says another familiar voice, and – oh, no – Ace Bumgang lopes in as well. “Where’s the bar in this place?”

Last and definitely least, Mister Slaughterhouse himself walks in, and spots me immediately.

“Don’t know about the bar, but I’ve found the toilet,” he says, meaningfully. “Hello again, Sarah.”

“I’m sorry.” Luke apologises to Crispin, trying to herd the three of them back outside. “Drunk customers. Always leaping out of the cab if you so much as stop at a traffic light. Let‘s get you nice people home…”

“Home!” shrieks Homer N. Dry, tripping over his skirts, at the bottom of the stairs.

“Oh, do we have to?” complains Whatsername, pointing at the fallen zombie. “It’s fancy dress here as well, look…”

“Please,” Crispin steps aside, gesturing into the grand hall. “Make yourselves all at home. It is the least I can do to thank you, for returning my friend’s property. You will find a drinks bar in the Three a.m. Lounge – straight ahead to your left.”

“Very kind of you,” Luke grins, and strolls jauntily after the others.

I grab Crispin Dry’s sleeve.

“None of them are virgins,” I warn him, under my breath. “If you were thinking of including them in your little experiments in the basement!”

“Not at all,” he smiles. “Why would I need them, when I still have you, Sarah Bellummm?”

And he limps after them. Homer manages to get to his feet in turn, and hobbles along in pursuit.

A moment later, the cockerel appears in the kitchen doorway, gives me a sidelong glance, and flutters in the same direction.

“Et tu, Brute?” I sigh. “Looks like everyone wants to go and play with the big boys tonight…”

I hesitate, wondering whether to just go back to my scooter, taking my chances with the unknown zombies out there, and my boss at Pizza Heaven instead. It would beat the company of two very definite zombies, and one certified girlfriend-battering psychopath, right here in this house. Although the thought of Ace Bumgang getting himself approachably drunk in the same vicinity is hard to resist…

But with escape resolutely in mind, as I’m aiming for the kitchen to retrieve my crash helmet and keys, I’m alerted by the creak of floorboards overhead – and the unmistakeable sound of someone moving around upstairs…

“Someone else is in the house!” I cry, bursting into the Three a.m. Lounge. Miss Tosspot has somehow ended up wearing Homer’s hat, and Crispin is mixing up cocktails. He looks at me and holds out a Sloe Gin Sling in his gray-skinned hand. My legs betray me immediately, carrying me in a bee-line to the bar. “Didn’t you hear me? There’s someone in the room above the kitchen! I heard them moving around!”

“Ah,” Crispin muses, as I drain the cocktail in one gulp. “Our antics have awoken the housekeeper, Mrs Frittata. Homer, I hope you have prepared your apologies regarding her Sunday wig?”

“Homer!” cries Homer, clamping the wig to his ears, with both hands.

“What will she do?” Ace queries.

“Well, as she usually does when roused by strange noises in the early hours, she will wake up her two sons, Ben and Jerry, arm themselves with shotguns, and scour the property looking for interlopers.” Crispin leans idly on the bar, twirling a paper cocktail umbrella between his fingers. “Oh. I haven’t introduced any of you to the Frittatas, have I? How remiss of me.”

“We should go,” I announce, putting the hi-ball glass back down regretfully, and wishing there was a full one right next to it.

“No need,” says Crispin, smoothly. “The mansion is full of secret passageways. It is rather fun to play at avoiding the persistently dogged Mrs Frittata and her sons for a few hours.”

He pulls a lever under the bar, and a wall of bookshelves abruptly disappears. I’m disappointed to see that Carvery Slaughter, who was leaning nonchalantly against it, doesn’t follow through, but merely straightens up with the slightest acknowledgement of one eyebrow.

Grrrr… that butcher is going to pay in blood one day… and maybe sperm, given the opportunity.

“Shall we?” Crispin suggests. “And quickly? The Frittatas are always bad-tempered before breakfast.”

The others shrug and follow. I take out my Trevor Bayliss wind-up torch again, and duck into the narrow passageway behind them. I hear the shelves grind back into place, after I’ve gone less than ten feet into the walls of the great mansion.

“There are some minor hazards en route in these passages, designed to prevent misuse,” Crispin’s voice intones, from the front. “Just be careful to only follow my lead. Now – here we have pit of spikes. The ladies – yes, that includes you, Homer – will need assistance to step across…”

“This is scary,” I hear Miss Fuck-Nose whining, somewhere in front of me. “I can’t see a thing down here!”

“NOW you’re complaining of being scared?” Carvery mutters, in disbelief – much closer than I like to think.

Bringing up the rear, I approach cautiously, and shine my torch downwards. My toes are at the edge of a pit so deep and dark, even the torchlight fails to illuminate the bottom.

“When you’re ready, Sarah,” says a grim voice.

I look up into the evil eyes of Carvery Slaughter, feet braced across the abyss, holding out his hand to help me bridge the gap. Oh boy. I know where I’d like those spikes to end up…

I put my torch in my pocket, and allow him to take my shaking hand. But my feet panic, both wanting to go first – and my heels skid off the edge of the precipice.

I’m left dangling by one wrist, held at arm’s length by the monster Carvery Slaughter.

“Thinking of dropping me?” I challenge, numb with terror.

His amber eyes bore into my brain, faintly disgusted.

“You wish,” he replies. “Pervert.”

“I know what you’re like!” I hiss at him.

“No you don’t,” he says. And with barely a flick of his elbow, deposits me on the other side.

What? He didn’t try anything??

“You’re the kind of guy who’d break into my room, and wank on my diary!” I hiss again, and cover my mouth, horrified. Did I say that out loud?

“Only if it was full of stuff about cars and firearms,” he shrugs, easing himself over the gap, and falling into step again. “But I’ve read it already, when you’ve been at work. It’s all about dead guys at the body farm, and your fantasy notion about Ace Bumgang being The Stig. And if I wanted to, I could just wank on him when he crashes out at my place, so your diary is kind of a poor substitute. You don’t even talk about your tits or touching yourself in it.”

Outraged, I can’t even speak, let alone think of a response.

“Up ahead,” Crispin’s impeccable monotone breaks the fuming silence, ringing in my ears. “There is a giant pendulum. But it may be quite rusty now – and is a little unpredictable…”

Behind me, I hear a distant clatter, and the grumbling of three apparently male voices.

“Aha, Mrs Frittata and Sons have joined us,” Crispin continues. Odd. I thought the third son lived in the well? But Crispin seems to sense our communal doubt. “…Hers is the bass voice with the hacking cough, that you can hear. It might be an idea for the seven of us to split up at some point.”

“Hmmm…” I hear Carvery’s voice, right by my ear again. “That would make things more interesting…”

Short clip of the original – classic 🙂 Enjoy…

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

See what everyone’s laughing about… 😉

(Also available on Smashwords for all other devices)