Much of that writing time has been dedicated to her space-fantasy trilogy based on the fictional world of Abendau. She has also had Earth invaded by aliens who are confronted by the Irish, and discovered a girl who sees fairies that might, or might not, be real.
Another step and I’d have walked by without seeing it, but a quick stumble drew my eyes to the ground and, there, lodged in gravel, was a half-hidden penny. That day I needed luck to get a job before I lost the damn house, so I overcame my concern about the dirt that would spread onto my hands and potentially into my mouth when I ate, and picked it up. I dusted it on my trousers, wiping the worst of the germs away. I expected to see the Queen’s head – my dad called her the ‘Jelly Bean’ in some kind of convoluted not-Cockney slang – but she wasn’t there. Instead, it had a lizard’s head, briefly, before the Queen came back to replace it.
That’s how strung out and jittery the stress had made me: seeing dinosaurs instead of our Queen. But I kept the coin with me, mostly for luck. I took it out of my pocket and gave it a clean. Out of the corner of my eye, the lizard reappeared. I got better at spotting it with time: there was a knack to staring and not-staring at it, like a Magic Eye puzzle. With practice, the lizard grew easier to see. It was some kind of dinosaur, I reckoned, wearing a tiara that pulled its feathers into a frond.
Now, I’m no paleontologist, but I’m pretty sure T-Rex never evolved to wear tiaras.
I don’t have magic. And I don’t smell either. Well, not smell in the sense of pee, or BO. In fact, if Mum didn’t insist all her phoney potions need a drop of jasmine or sandalwood, I wouldn’t smell of anything other than lavender shower gel.
I’m reminding myself, so that when I see Miss Snippy-tits – sorry, Miss Snippleton, the headmistress who makes Hades look like fun – I have my story straight.
God, I hate to be called by my full name. I get to my feet and face the secretary and make myself breathe calmly.
“Yes, Miss.” They’re all Miss. It’s the only way I remember them.
“You can go in now.” She manages to make it sound like a favour.
The Nymph Of Hampstead Heath
At night, it’s almost silent. Just the rustling of the leaves, and the odd yip of a fox. The bats fly low, close to the water, mopping up moths, skimming the air.
In the day, it’s different. Still quiet, still peaceful, but there are women in the pool of water. They don’t see me, in the water with them. They feel me sometimes, and they think its weeds, twisting against them. But they never see me. Not in the water, and not out of it either. They tell me their secrets and sometimes, just sometimes, I listen very closely.
What sort of secrets? The sort you only tell another woman, here in the pond, separate from the world and guarded by me. And those secrets – they’ve barely changed, all through the years. Secret pregnancies, illnesses they’re too scared to face, relationship problems. Their fears. Mostly, I listen and the stories don’t touch me. Mostly, I’ve heard them all before and I know that come the next time Sandra or Jess come back to the pond, it will all be fixed. The money will have been paid, or the fight made up, and they’ll splash and shout and make the air tingle with happiness.
Strong Arms to Hold
Waddling. That’s one of the things no one told me. I bet they were lying about everything else, too – that it wouldn’t hurt and an epidural is a piece of cake.
I followed Ken down the mall, and tried my damnedest not to look like a duck. And the whole time I was scanning for a café, or somewhere I could go to the loo. Because that’s the other thing no one tells you about being 30-odd weeks pregnant – you pee all the time. Honestly, one glass of water and I was in and out for an hour. So that’s what I was thinking – that it was going to hurt getting the baby out, no matter what anyone said, that I made ducks look sexy and that I really, really needed to find a loo soon. Those were my last normal thoughts. I wish they’d been bigger ones. More important. About love and Ken and looking ahead. About all the things I’m going to miss.
The explosion came from somewhere to the left of me – a bin, they reckoned, packed with plastic explosive and sharp, sharp nails. Designed to kill, and to maim. To cause chaos. They were never sure how much explosive; the figure on the media was a best guess based on how far the damage went, and how far through the air people were sent. Enough, I could tell them.
It hit me without a sound, a blast that took me off my feet and put me down against the plate window of a café I’d have earmarked for a loo if I’d seen it earlier. There was no pain, not then. Just a vacuum of shock and I-don’t-know-what-happened stunned, slow thoughts. Continue reading
A Crime of Intelligence
* Winner of the 2014 Story of the Year Award *
Prosecutor General Eve Marshall – the meanest cross-examiner in the courts of New Scotland. Eyes that glint when she goes for the kill, a mouth that tightens at every lie, a manner that pulls jurors in and makes them believe.
And a babe; long hair practically to her waist, glasses she looks over the top of just so, and a way of sucking a pen that keeps men awake at night, and plenty of women, too.
Just my luck to get her on my case.
The jury were hanging on her every word. Sixteen fine upstanding citizens, chosen for this, “the trial of the year”. All of them watching Eve stick her little tongue out, all of them riveted as she put me through three days of questioning.
Three days where I hadn’t cracked, not once. Three days where question after question got hurled at me and I found the right answer. All I needed to do was survive this day and I’d be home and dry.
“So,” she said, in her lispy, false-cute voice. “You can’t tell us where you were the night of the murder, Oskar?”
“No, ma’am. Just that I wasn’t in the Five-in-a-Line store.” Continue reading
The Bridge of Souls
Shen-Kw’aim crouched in front of Jeta and Shan, and took a moment to embed their faces in his memory. He reached out to Jeta, brushing his daughter’s hair back from her eyes, and then put his hand on his son’s shoulder, squeezing just a little.
“Remember,” he said, “this body is not what carries our soul.”
He stood and took Elana in his arms. She wanted him to stay; her clutching hands told him so, even though she knew the contract was unbreakable. The pain ahead would be worse and more prolonged if he didn’t go. She shook against him, her tears wetting his shoulder and it was all he could do not to break down and show his fear. He used precious moments taking his wife in his arms and kissing those soft lips once more, parting them, melting into her.
A sharp pain in his wrist made him pull away. He could hide it no longer. He let his wife go and turned away.
It was time to die.
He started up the Hill of Souls, avoiding a new-soul who skidded down the path, sure of her way but not sure on her feet. Her face was lit with the wonder of sensation.
The building at the top of the hill, raised of silvered stone and glistening in the sun, was close now. Shen fell against the glass door, pushing it open with his left hand – his right arm throbbed from his wrist up to his shoulder, and the very thought of using it brought tears to his eyes. He hurried to the receptionist, cradling his right wrist with his left hand. He presented it to her, and already – so quickly, much quicker than any of his seven previous deaths – his soul was wriggling under the skin, making it bulge and rend the tissues beneath. He should not have delayed; he was glad he had.