Happy Halloween. Have a free story!

The story is dedicated to smallhobbit, a friend in real life and on social media, who entertains me with her fanfic offerings and whose birthday falls on Halloween. The house in the story is real; I live in it. The characters and plot are based on something I wrote some years ago, but recently rewrote and edited extensively.


Hallowe’en Changes.

Adam ran quickly upstairs. Time had passed while he was putting the finishing touches to Ewan’s costume for the Hallowe’en party tonight and he hadn’t noticed, lost in considering how to attach the tail and horns so that a six year old would be unlikely to dislodge them. He was due at the school gates in ten minutes and and Ewan would cry if he was late again. Then the other parents, mostly mums, would tut and frown and mutter about children with two dads having problems. Mentally slapping himself for being such an irresponsible parent, he dashed into the bedroom and grabbed his coat. It was still October for just under twelve hours, but the temperatures were threatening frost, and since the hour had gone back it was almost dark when the children came out of school.

Oh no! He simply had to post the birthday card he’d made for his mother last night and it was up in his craft room in the attic. Two at a time wasn’t really an option on the steep narrow stairs from the spare bedroom but he did try to hurry.

And came out into a loft space full of strangers. Strangers working at cramped benches in an atmosphere of smelly chemicals and damp felt. Well, the house wasn’t called Hatters’ Court for nothing and he was tired. Maybe his brain was taking liberties. He knew the loft had been part of a communal workspace, accessible from the whole terrace. The previous owners had found a hat form and bobbins when they were renovating. Maybe the card could wait till later; there was a post at 5.30. He and Ewan could go for a walk to the postbox. There’d be plenty of time before the party.

He backed but didn’t quite make the stairs. A fatherly looking man in shapeless clothes took his elbow and ushered him to a bench.

“I know you’ve just lost your wife, dear, but you really must try to be at work on time. Those kiddies of yours depend on just your wages, now, don’t they?” It wasn’t a question so much as a threat, made softly but very firmly. And the man was all too solid. Not, definitely not, a figment of an overwrought imagination.

The other men at his bench were busy, their fingers impossibly entwined in felt and thread and needles. He watched them for a moment then gasped as a hat, or rather, the makings of a hat, was thrust into his hands.

“Come on, Timothy. Stop day dreaming. And get a move on.” The words were rough but spoken quite kindly and Adam stared at the speaker. About his own age. Badly dressed and careworn, but pleasant looking, with blue eyes and fair hair, a bit like his friend Mike. Very like Mike in fact. A joke? A hoax for Hallowe’en? Surely not at hometime. Mike would be there now. Maybe he’d pick Ewan up, take him home to wait for his idiot father. The other parents never looked critical when they regarded Mike, but then they didn’t know he was gay, too, just that he was a writer, and worked at home, and was therefore free to pick up Callum. Mike’s partner Dave had died in a road accident when Callum was a baby.

So, play along. Suss out what was going on and avoid making waves till he had more information. He worked carefully but rapidly, watching the others and picking up the intricacies of the task with growing confidence. For someone with experience of a variety of sewing techniques, it wasn’t too difficult. Once, he’d been a fashion designer and now his main contributions to the world of clothing were the costumes he made for Ewan, and some local garment repair jobs but it was, he thought, like riding a bike. However, he was soon tired, fancying a coffee or just a loo break. His fingers hurt. Nobody moved from their appointed workstations. No drinks were forthcoming. When he tried to get up there was a gasp of shock and he sat again, pretending he was just making himself more comfortable.

The windows were smallish and not at a height to let the workers see out but he could see that daylight was fading fast. What on earth would Richard think when he got home and there was no one in. No husband, no son, no dinner. There would be a row later for certain. People who gave up their high paid city jobs to be at home with their children were expected to cook and clean and wash instead, even if their card creation and tailoring skills were still pulling a respectable income. Richard had encouraged him to stay at home but he sometimes thought the price was steep.

“You can do your job anywhere,” Richard had said, coaxingly. Had he just been keen to have a house-husband waiting on him hand and foot? Sometimes, it seemed that way. To be fair, Richard’s work in the bank demanded a physical presence, though more and more of his financier colleagues were taking advantage of flexi-time and job sharing.

His fingers faltered as he mused and the overseer, the man who had greeted him, frowned and rapped on the table.

“Timothy, dreaming again! That’s no way to make a living! If finishers don’t finish, hats don’t sell.” His voice was sharper than that of the younger worker and Adam looked across the table for sympathy but the young man’s face was intent on the hat in his hand.

“Look, this has gone far enough.” He sounded as exasperated as he felt. “This hoax or whatever. It’s beyond a joke now. I’m out of here.” He threw the hat on the table and made his way to the stairs. To his surprise, others were following him. The overseer was saying,

“Time to knock off. Same time tomorrow morning. Expect a shake if you sleep in.”

And with that, they all trooped downstairs. Except that they didn’t come out into Adam’s spare bedroom. It could have been, he thought. It was about the right size. But there were three narrow beds crushed into the space that usually held one double and a dressing table. And the cheerful crimson and mushroom colour scheme had melted into brown and dirty white. The carpet was gone.

He looked out of the window and got the biggest shock yet. Now he could no longer pretend that this was a joke or a trick. The Fold, as the tucked-away lane was called, was there all right, but beyond the last house there was nothing but fields and there was no sign of the car park.

Mike’s house at the other end of the terrace was in darkness. There was what looked like a candle flicker next door. Adam’s house was the short leg of an L-shape. All present and correct. Only not correct. Not correct at all.

The other men took no notice of him as they made their way through the house and down to the ground floor. Not all of them. He could hear footsteps above his head, fading as they reached the corner where the lofts joined. They shouldn’t, he reflected, be able to get through the walls erected for fire safety. But they evidently did. The men in his house seemed quite at home. One of them went straight to the lounge. Adam’s lounge. Richard’s lounge. A kitchen in this reality. Heavy blackened pans and a fly covered ham hung from the beams. There were empty hooks, too, as if food were scarce. A woman was already stirring a big pot over the range where Richard’s expensive woodstove ought to stand.

“What’s for dinner, Sal?” The questioner didn’t sound hopeful.

“What d’you think?”

“Pea soup, I s’pose. It’s always pea soup. Did you put a bit of ham in it?”

“Naw, that’s got to last us, that has. Till Christmas, any road.”

Adam was shell-shocked. Confused rather than frightened. They didn’t seem to mean him any harm but surely they couldn’t be real? Or at least, they probably had been real once. He must be seeing the house as it had been a hundred and fifty years ago. But they could see him, talk to him, hand him things. He shook his head and tried to stop the sense of panic that was rapidly overtaking him.

Someone handed him a dish of greyish liquid. Pea soup, presumably. And a heel of bread. That was greyish too, and very stale. He was hungry, however, and curious. He dipped the bread in the soup, as the others did. It helped to soften it and he had soon polished off his helping. There was, apparently, no more. The others were washing their ‘pots’ as they called them, at a sink in the corner. Using a jug of cold water to pour over the dishes which they then left to drain on a sloping wooden board. Adam followed suit, grimacing inwardly at the lack of hygiene. Richard would be horrified; Ewan would be ill. He tried to think about them and shook his head to clear the fog that was forming in it.

Even in this once-upon-a-time world, surely hygiene mattered? He tried to recall period dramas he’d watched.

“Is there no hot water?” he asked of no-one in particular.

“Not for washing up.” It was Sal who spoke. “Can’t afford the wood any more.” He heard mutters from some of the others and realised there was the same slight disapproval here that he’d sensed among the mums at the school gate. He sighed. It seemed altogether too easy to annoy whatever group he found himself in.

There was little conversation, but he gathered these people were related. A sister and three brothers, plus himself, of course, and a couple of small children in a cot, in the corner opposite the sink, under some sacking. He glanced at them and was thrown by their resemblance to Ewan and Callum. One of the boys opened sleepy eyes.

“Papa,” he said. Shocked but touched, Adam kissed the little upturned face and replaced the sacking. He whispered a tentative goodnight and followed the others upstairs.

Two to a bed. That seemed to be the rule. And only one candle, guttering. It was quite dark outside now. He would have to sleep here and hope to wake in his own bed in the morning, next to Richard rather than this stranger. Unless he woke in a hospital ward which seemed increasingly likely.

The woman had a bed to herself of course. But that didn’t last long. A large man came up the stairs and joined her then turned straight over and started to snore. Adam sat on the edge of ‘his’ bed, staring at the candle. Nobody had undressed. It was quite cold and he was glad to keep his clothes on. Thank goodness he was wearing his warm jog pants and sweatshirt. Except that he wasn’t. Where on earth had he got the woollen trousers and the knitted jersey? And when?

“Come on, Tim.” His bedfellow sounded sleepy. “Moping won’t bring your woman back to life. Get to sleep now.” He turned over and Adam joined him in the narrow bed. He didn’t sleep much; he spent most of the night clinging to the edge so as not to fall out. There had to be a knack to this but he hoped he wasn’t going to have to learn it.

The next morning, after a cup of something that could have been either fruit tea or a vaguely alcoholic drink but was too weak for recognition, and another hunk of bread each, two of the men set off up to the workroom. The other looked set to follow, tying his shoe laces and draining his cup.

“Don’t just stand there, Tim. See to the kids then get yourself up there as soon as you can! Him in charge’ll get mad if you’re late again.” It was Sal speaking.

Adam helped the little ones out of bed. There was nothing to give them except water.

“Don’t be daft!” Sal was speaking again. “They can’t drink that! Haven’t you been listening? There’s cholera in town. Give them some ale like we had.”

Frightened by the mention of disease, as he had not been by the whole situation to date, Adam did as he was told. He might be immune to the cholera, if that was what it was, but the children wouldn’t be. One of them spoke.

“Is it time to go to Sairy’s, Papa?” he said. He let the children pull him out of the door and down the lane to the house where, in normal times, Mike lived. The woman who opened the door was not Mike, nor even some kind of female replacement. She was old and huge and exactly like Adam’s mental image of a witch. There were half a dozen listless children huddled round a small coal fire and Adam’s pair joined them without looking back.

He returned to the house and climbed up to the loft. The hats were waiting.

As he worked, he tried, haltingly, to explain what was happening to him, but even to his own ears it sounded mad and unlikely. The others seemed to think it was mad, anyway. There were mutters about hatter’s complaint, the mercury poisoning that sent so many of the workers insane. But his brother, if he was his brother, Bob spoke up for him. Losing his wife that way was turning his mind for the moment. What way? He couldn’t exactly ask but it couldn’t have been the cholera or someone would have been sharper with him about the water. He’d soon be back to normal, said Bob, grinning at Adam with a mouth full of rotten teeth; not quite full – there were a number of gaps.

They did knock off at lunch time. Adam had wondered if they would and had not felt hopeful. Someone brought some stewed tripe and it was shared out eagerly. He tried to eat it and almost gagged. Being hungry evidently didn’t extend to tripe. Bob was eyeing his plate and he handed it over without a word.

“Not hungry, our Tim?” Bob didn’t wait for an answer but tucked in.

After lunch the work stretched on into the afternoon and early evening. He was aware of sounds below. Sairy had brought the children home and put them to bed. There were noises in the lane. A horse and cart and a man whistling his dog. Older children playing. The sky was growing duller and still the hats filled his time.

About half an hour before ‘home’ time, he needed to pee. Desperately. Caught the overseer’s eye and asked for permission. Made his way downstairs and…

… found himself in the spare bedroom. The phone was ringing and he answered it automatically, reaching the landline handset in their bedroom before the rings could stop. It was Richard. Breathlessly he stumbled his story out to him and became aware of an ominous silence.

“Adam, it’s nearly hometime and I know you have to pick Ewan up. I haven’t time to listen to your trivia.” Trivia! “I’m phoning to say I won’t be home tonight. Or tomorrow for that matter. Or ever, apart from coming to pick up my things. I’m only telling you so that you don’t contact my firm. Or the police.” Adam held the phone away from him, not sure if it was real. He looked around at the turquoise carpet and aqua bedspread, chosen so carefully a lifetime ago. And yet he thought he’d been waiting for this and it was almost a relief.

He heard himself asking faintly what day it was and Richard’s puzzled reply that if it mattered, it was Hallowe’en and he’d have to go to the party without him if he wanted to go at all. Ewan would be disappointed. It seemed Halloween would be a joyless celebration this year but he would make an effort for Ewan’s sake, and he wasn’t quite as upset as he’d thought he would or should be.

He put the phone down and picked up his coat. The card for his mother was already lying on the bed beside it. The clock said 3.01. The children would only just be leaving the classroom.

He hurried and was at the school gates before they came piling out. Ewan was clutching a ‘Hallowe’en card’, a gaudy thing with a witch and glitter. Callum was behind him, sucking his thumb, all big eyes and untidy hair. Adam looked round for Mike then heard a teacher saying something about Mike not being able to pick Callum up and would he…?

Still in a daze, he shepherded both children home, made hot Vimto and opened a packet of Rich Tea biscuits. The phone rang again and it was Mike, a troubled, nervous Mike, who seemed to be apologising for something and hoping that Callum wasn’t rubbing salt in the wound. He became aware of Richard’s voice in the background telling Mike to put the phone down. Then everything clicked into place and sent his world spinning into uncomprehending mist and white noise.

Later, a minute later or an hour, but more likely a minute since the children hadn’t finished their Vimto, he was aware of Ewan pulling at the hem of his sweatshirt.

“Daddy, there’s a man at the door. He’s doing a pro – pro – well he wants to know about the hatters who used to live here, and did you get my devil horns for tonight and what time are we going?” Listening to a six year old could be confusing but Adam knew the man at the door didn’t want to know about the horns.

Adam pointed to them, attached to the hood of the red velvet onesie on the dining room table, and thought quickly that he’d have to dress Callum as a ghost; sheets were easy. Next time there was a fancy dress party he could sent them as twins, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Appropriate for people who seemed to have fallen down a rabbit hole.

The he crossed the room and opened the door.

Sebastian, tall, red-haired and handsome, was a researcher for television and his admiring first look at Adam turned to real interest when he found he could tell him a lot about the hatters. Adam wondered if he had it all absolutely right. After all, there was no proof that he’d gone back to a real situation. But then it probably didn’t matter since television histories were often full of inaccuracies and nobody really cared. Besides, it would be really hard to prove him wrong. Sebastian seemed conscientious and very, very interested. So interested that when Adam pointed out that he had a ghost costume to pluck from thin air and a party to attend with two small children and no significant other, Sebastian seemed to think that was an invitation for him to join them.

He was still interested when Adam told him about the cards and the sewing, briefly sorry about the loss of the high-powered fashion lifestyle but only for Adam’s sake.

“You’re well out of it,” he said. “It’s a rat race out there. And if you get itchy fingers we can always do with someone to help with costumes for shows.”

So there was a glimmer of permanence, maybe? Adam smiled. Maybe Halloween was going to prove joyous, after all.

Beating Hearts! (My new ebook.)

My latest book is available on Amazon and Smashwords. As the blurb on both sites says, it’s a collection of short stories and flashfics – all with a supernatural or paranormal element and all with an mm romance with a happy ending. I wrote the original material in response to prompts at various times in a Yahoo writers’ group I belonged to; it’s a group to which I’m eternally grateful because I learnt a lot and made friends I am still in touch with. The stories have since been expanded, edited, and brought together to form a collection with a fantasy theme. A couple of the stories contain slightly more erotic material than my usual work so if you go to Smashwords to look at the book, be sure to allow the site to show you adult content. I had fun writing the stories and hope some of you might have fun reading them! If you do, I’d be wildly grateful for a review on either site. I often seem to get links wrong so if these don’t work I’d suggest looking for my name.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/987045

What I have and haven’t watched on TV.

I copied this from various friends on Facebook. I gather it’s two stars if you’ve watched all episodes and one if you’ve watched more than 10. It all makes me seem to be out of touch with TV in general!! However, I could point to other series I’ve been glued to for every episode (e.g. Spooks, Line of Duty, The Bridge, Spiral, Carnival Row, Ripper Street, Whitechapel, Lewis, The Professionals, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek, SG1, SGA, Firefly, Black Books, League of Gentlemen, Sharpe, Desperate Housewives – I could go on…). I wonder how the ones below made the list and others, especially those to my taste, didn’t.

Grey’s Anatomy:
Stranger Things:
The Vampire Diaries:
The Walking Dead:
Dexter:
American Horror Story:
Orange is the New Black:
Breaking Bad:
Prison Break:
Suits:
Riverdale:
House of Cards:UK version 💗 💗
Once Upon a Time:
House:💗
True Detective:
Shameless: UK version 💗
Pretty Little Liars:
Bones:
Criminal Minds:
Chicago Fire:
Game of Thrones: 💗 (waiting for final DVD to arrive…)
The Big Bang Theory:
Lost:💗
NCIS:
Law & Order SVU
How I Met Your Mother:
Blue Bloods:
The Simpsons: 💗
Grimm: 💗
Sons of Anarchy:
The Originals:
Chicago P.D.:
Chicago Med:
Friends:
True Blood:
How to Get Away With Murder:
The Sinner:
You:
Lie to me:
Orphan Black:
Breakout Kings:
13 Reasons Why:
Making a Murderer
The Haunting of Hill House:
Power:
Arrow:
The Flash:
Supergirl:
Jessica Jones:
Scorpion:
Teen Wolf:
Call the Midwife:
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina:
DareDevil:
Marvel’s AOS:
Atypical:
Gotham:
Family guy:
Designated Survivor:
You, Me and Her:
Shadow Hunters:
I Zombie:
White Collar:
Instant Hotel:
Supernatural:
Nurse Jackie:
Boardwalk Empire:
The Affair:
Big Little Lies:
The Crown:
The Following:
Dracula:
Hannibal:
Santa Clarita Diet:
Dead to Me:
Cougar Town:
Black Mirror:
Luther:
Sherlock:💗💗
Lucifer:
Mad Men:
Homeland:
24:
Travels with my Father:
The Tudors:
Reign:
The Borgias: (European not American) 💗 💗
Peaky Blinders:
Castle:
Elementary:
Blacklist:
Queen of the South:
Charmed (original):
Charmed 2018:
Buffy:
Angel:
Glee:
Dawson’s Creek:
Sex in the City:
Outlander:
Roswell:
Doctor Who (Nu Who):💗
Doctor Who (Classic):💗
Torchwood:💗 Stopped watching after Children of Earth…)

September reviews

Late again, but this time with a cast iron excuse. I was ill for a week at the beginning of October and only managed to keep switching on the TV and falling asleep to it.

From next month I’m intending to do at least a couple of more in-depth reviews/critiques, probably as separate posts.

Films and TV

Politics, politics, politics. I think most of UK has been glued to the News…

Darkness: Those Who Kill**** Danish police procedural – gripping even though we knew the identity of the criminal quite early. But I was startled to see a European cop series with the sort of glossy look (sets and actors) normally associated with American output.

Jamie Oliver vegetarian cookery series**** I must get the book. We aren’t veggie but our daughter is, and we like some veggie dishes anyway.

Long series about the Vietnam War**** I can’t remember the exact title. It was about eight episodes and was very interesting. I think our news at the time was quite curtailed in some ways, since we weren’t directly involved.

Books

The good:

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch***** The state and future of English in the age of the internet. Fascinating research and commentary.

Gentleman Wolf by Joanna Chambers***** Werewolves and mm romance in Edinburgh – plus there’s a sequel on the way!

Lessons in Playing a Murderous Tune by Charlie Cochrane***** Cambridge Fellows mystery, set back when Jonty’s parents were alive. This long novella was really interesting.

Today by RJ Scott (Single Dads #2)**** A lovely story and well written. However, I wouldn’t re-read it because of the focus on the work of a firefighter. Fire tends to ‘trigger’ me since our loss in Portugal, and although I can read about it I’d rather not.

Lovers’ Leap by JL Merrow**** Nice romance story with plenty of humour set on the Isle of Wight.

Deep Magic by Gillian St Kevern**** Set in North Wales, using local legend about mermen, water horses, etc. I never quite suspended disbelief but enjoyed the tale anyway.

The Altered by Annabelle Jacobs**** Gripping thriller about werewolves, created when a medical/military research experiment went wrong. I loved the story but there was some less than stellar writing.

Going Home by Kris Ripper**** A clever exploration of the similarities and differences concerning slavery and BDSM in an alternative future. I got tired of the plot and the characters but finished it.

Scorched Haven by Amy Lane**** Urban fantasy with werewolves, fae, etc. I might buy series (Little Goddess), which sounds interesting. Well written, as usual. This was too short to merit five stars.

Not Every Time by Alexa Milne**** Shortish mm romance. Nicely written best friends to lovers story.

Flashbulb by Clare London**** PSTD after an air crash, explored through the characters of this mm romance.

The mediocre:

Nellie by Cynthia Woolf*** (Brides of San Francisco series.) I suppose the research about mail order brides in the nineteenth century was interesting but there was too much explicit sex and Nellie was a surprisingly modern heroine for the period.

Sweeter than Honey by CM Valencourt*** Pleasant enough short story about a beekeeper and a vegan.

And the poor:

Thunderpoint by Michelle Scott** A melodramatic ghost story with added mm romance and a whodunnit element. Not very well written.

Incognito by L.A.Watson** Tech industry spy/thriller but not well written. I felt there were plot holes, and the characters never really came to life.

The Clockwork Monk by Liv Rancourt** Steampunk thriller with a spy and his sister who is masquerading as a nun. Poor world building. The characters changed their names frequently which left this reader faintly confused. I’ve just bought a novel by the same author and am annoyed with myself.

Twins by Kevin L Nielsen** Nicely written but extremely short sci fi story. Winged twins save each other from death. That’s all…

And finally the dire:

The Woman without a face by Kendall Hanson* Police procedural but very short indeed with an unsatisfactory ending. There’s the threat or promise of a series but no suggestion this story will be finished properly.

Abandoned (mostly freebies):
The Society of Imaginary Friends by Kristen Pham. Valerie sees spirits which make her life difficult.
The Nuremberg Puzzle by Laurence O’Bryan. Thriller with so many characters in first chapters I lost track.
The Council by Kayla Kranz. This seemed to be a magic college story. It was boring and was told in present tense.
The Murder Diaries: Seven Times Over by David Carter. Serial killer? I couldn’t get into it.
Warrior by HJP. Confusing sci fi with too many characters somehow taking tech to the stars…

Fanfic

As usual, I’ve read odds and ends in various series, all too tied to canon to recommend to people not in the fandoms concerned. However, I’ve been watching the chaos caused by AO3’s Hugo Award. There are various stories and poems based on what happened but this was one of the first and, I think, sums it all up beautifully.
https://archiveofourown.org/works/20670977 Stanley Cup – What it Means by anonymous.