Your Hallowe'en Flash Freebie: Collection Day

‘Morning, Mike.’
Mike nodded. ‘Harjit.’ He lugged the wheelie bin up his driveway and deposited it on the kerb with a grunt. It was full to capacity, and heavy as a bastard. He straightened, knuckling the ache in his lower back, and looked around at the Close. It was a crisp morning on the first of November, and the beech trees along the close were sifting flakes of copper-gold onto the pavement and the tidily trimmed lawn frontages of his neighbours’ houses. As an image of suburban tranquility it was marred only by the smoke rising from the blackened ruin of number twenty-one.
He caught Harjit’s eye and nodded at it. ‘Mrs Beauchamp had a busy night of it, by the look of things.’
Harjit, who was busy unfolding a large sheet of black plastic on his drive next to the open hatch-back of his Corsa, shook his head and sighed. ‘She should have known better than to try and see out Hallowe’en alone. Jaz spoke to her on Wednesday; she said that her sons were supposed to be coming down from Doncaster.’ He shrugged. ‘We offered to put her up, but you know what old people are like.’ He pointed at Mike’s wheelie bin. ‘You get many Treaters last night?’
‘No, just the one... hang on, wait.’ Mike peered at the label stuck to its bright crimson lid. ‘Shit.’
Harjit watched, amused, as he ran back into the house and returned a moment later with a replacement label which he stuck over the old one. ‘Danielle’s been pestering me for months to get this renewed,’ Mike explained. ‘She’d have my guts for garters if I missed this year’s collection.’
Something inside the blood-red bin moved with a slow, slithering bump.
Both men looked at it.
‘Borrow your shovel, mate?’ asked Mike.
‘Sure.’ Harjit went into his open garage and came back with a shovel. Its handle was stout hickory; its blade was wide, heavy steel. Mike took it, opened the bin’s lid, and rammed the shovel-head hard into the contents with several heavy, meaty thuds. The slithering stopped. He wiped the shovel off on the grass and passed it back to Harjit.
‘No probs.’
‘But yeah, it managed to get one of the security shutters off the kitchen window and had half the fridge on the floor before we knew what was happening.’ Mike paused to rub at a bandage wrapped neatly around his left forearm.
‘You want to get that looked at, mate.’
‘Nah, be fine.’
‘You know the way those bites go septic.’
‘Man, you’re worse than Danielle. If I want another wife I’ll join your lot.’
‘Bugger off, Farage.’
They laughed.
‘More of them every year,’ Mike mused. Three doors down, a young mother was hosing down the pavement outside her house. ‘Makes you wonder why the government doesn’t do anything more than just help with the clean up.’
‘Yup.’ Harjit had finished unfolding the big sheet of black plastic and laid out four bungee cords next to it. ‘Me, I’m taking mine down the tip. Every year the council puts the collection charge up and for what – once a year? I don’t think so.’
‘Still, nice that it’s a weekend for once, isn’t it? All of the neighbours pitching in together. Like when we had that snow. And you - how was your night? Jasmina and the girls okay? Any Treaters get through?’
 Harjit made a face. ‘So you know that hedge of hybrid blackthorn I had planted along my back fence? The stuff with the two-inch spikes?’
Mike nodded.
‘Chainsaw,’ Harjit said grimly. ‘Fuckers had a chainsaw. I mean where the fuck did they get a chainsaw?’
‘I thought I heard something. That’s a shame, man.’
‘I know – cost me an arm and a leg, that hedge.’ Then, realising what he had just said, he broke into peals of laughter. ‘Still,’ he continued, ‘turns out that a chainsaw’s bugger all use for digging your way out of a punji stake pit.’
Distantly, they heard the hydraulic whine and reversing siren of a collection truck from one of the other cul-de-sacs further around the estate. The Close was busier now with residents coming out to inspect the damage to their houses – the broken fence panels, the filth on the windows, the scorch-marks – and to park their shiny red wheelie bins neatly by the side of the road.
‘You know what though?’ said Harjit. ‘You’re right about the weekend thing. A bit of the old Blitz spirit, isn’t it? Want to help me with mine?’

Mike went to get his machete and together they went into Harjit’s garage, where the Treater was waiting for them, tied by his wrists with a bit of old nylon washing line looped over a ceiling beam. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old – bloodstained and stinking and his eyes rolling with terror above the gaffer-tape which muffled his screams as they moved towards him.

(image credit: @jodievents)

There's a Lot of Conning About

Didn't anybody stay at home this weekend? There was FantasyCon2015 in Nottingham, MCM Comic Con in London, and Showmasters Film and Comic Con Cardiff, while at the NEC you had your choice of the BDIA Dental Showcase, the Dive Show, and the Supreme Cat Show... something for everyone, especially if you're one of those people who like to cosplay as a scuba-diving cat-dentist, and let's face it, who hasn't at one time or another?

Me, I was at FantasyCon, and it was great. For most of the time I hung out with Iain Grant and Heide Goody (they of the fiendishly hilarious Clovenhoof series), but manage to catch up with some old friends and put flesh to some I've only met online ('put flesh to' is probably not the best choice of words, it wasn't that sort of con, but whatever). Jim 'Ginger Nuts of Horror' McLeod is exactly as lovely as he comes across on his blog. Jenny 'The Copper Promise' Williams looked slightly shell-shocked when I was wittering on about wanting to set up a franchise of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club in the Midlands, but by that time I was on my second bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale to armour myself against a nightmare book-reading I'd foolishly signed up for. Sorry Ms Williams.

Four people turned up to my reading - three of whom were Iain, Heide, and her husband Simon. The fourth was Cardinal Cox - poet-in-residence of the Dracula Society - who was a lovely man but really only in the room because he was on after me.

"Don't look up at the empty room. Don't look up at the empty room. Don't..."

I was on a panel about world-building, sat in on all the ones about the arcane secrets of marketing and how to get an agent and discovered that the answer was the same as it ever has been, which is to just bloody work your socks off, like that advice ever helped anybody. Sunday morning's panel on Religion in Fantasy was disturbingly well attended, but then given the prices of the drinks maybe not that many people could afford to be horribly hungover.

Yeah, there was that thing with the food. Still, I had a great curry in Beeston and discovered the student union food outlets at Nottingham Uni are pretty good, so there was that.

On Saturday evening there was a tribute to the late and very much missed Graham Joyce. It turned out that a number of folk had taken this off down to the pub, which is presumably what he would have wanted, and those of us who were left paid our respects in Conference Room 1. During the sombre and thoughtful proceedings, Joe 'Horns' Hill was passing by outside, saw what must have seemed to him a deeply introspective group therapy session and responded in the only appropriate way - by launching himself drooling at the window like something from the Walking Dead. We reckoned Graham would have approved of that too. When Lee Harris discovered that the 'official' event had taken itself off-piste, he very generously bought drinks for those of us left, of which I'm sure Mr Joyce would most definitely have approved.

I didn't know him at all well, and it's only quite recently that I've got myself into this writing gang, but I thought that I'd have more time to get to know him better. That's the danger, isn't it - thinking that we've got all the time in the world, and we just don't.

So I've booked a place for next year's con at Scarborough, and I've got my bucket and spade ready to build some sandcastles against the tide (you can see where this metaphor is going, can't you?) and even though I got a rejection from a publisher today, it doesn't matter because in the meantime I'm just going to write as many stories as I can. At the end of the day, it's all you can do, isn't it?