Beware the Dust Bunnies! (a short story)

June 2017

Canada:

It started suddenly without rhyme or reason. No one knew why. It was like the beginning of life, when the first creatures crawled out of the sea. Only this time they were born from dust.

Every night it grew. The whispering. Every night as Teresa slept. It was so faint that even the the old dog and the ginger cat couldn’t hear the dust bunnies communicating their terrible message under the bed.

‘Grow!’ breathed Fred gently, he was the biggest and hairiest of all. And at his command tiny particles of fluff and dust and hair gravitated towards them. And they grew bigger.

France:

The woman of the house had become obsessed with writing and for too long had ignored the housework. The vacuum cleaner, unemployed for weeks, had allowed the dust-bunnies to congregate. They had received messages on the air. Messages from the grand master hundreds of miles away in Canada. Now they grew softly, surreptitiously, under the beds, couch, and easy chairs, pulsing gently, whispering. Spiders gave them a wide berth, terrified of being caught up and fluffocated.

Australia:

Bruce lived alone in the outback. He was a simple man with simple ways. His ancient broom was dragged out every so often to do a minimalistic sweep around the kitchen while his arthritic knees defied any attempt at cleaning beneath anything. His guests, only one or two old mates a year, were hardly going to be peeping under the furniture. The dust bunnies picked up Fred’s message which reached them on the Australian breezes. The grand master must be obeyed.

Two years later

And so it was nearly everywhere in the world, under anything that could harbour them, the dust bunnies waited. Inconspicuously and stealthily they listened for the call. Compacted now, condensed, and hidden, crammed under any available shelter, they were ready.

In Canada Teresa had just got up when it happened, it was eight o’clock and she was sipping her first coffee. In France it was five in the evening and Jude was on the computer trying to think of a plot for a short story. In south-west Australia it was eleven o’clock and Bruce was sitting on his porch, eyeing the stars, his old sheepdog by his side and a cold beer in his hand. They all stopped what they were doing at the same moment and listened. A strange groaning was sounding throughout their houses, a creaking and a stretching and then the sharp splintering of wood. The dust bunnies were free at last.

Bruce glanced back over his shoulder at the open front door, wondering what the noise was. His jaw dropped. All he could see was grey fluff – a huge compacted writhing ball trying to force its way out onto the porch. His dog whined and cowered beside him. Bruce got unsteadily out of his chair, wondering how many beers he’d had, and backed across the yard, eyes glued to the front door.

The monster bunny was squeezing and squeezing, pulsating and pushing. Suddenly it burst forth and rolled out into the yard, rocking gently and expanding by the second to astronomical proportions as Bruce stared up at it. ‘Christ! It’s breathing!’ he said. It could engulf his house! But it didn’t. It suddenly took off, rising fast into the night sky, as though pulled by some unseen force, and in a flash it was gone. Bruce shook his head. Had he been on the whisky before the beer? Had it been a bad dream? He walked cautiously back to the house, put the TV on and sat down. The TV was showing a news bulletin; film of large balls of something in the sky, videos shot with mobile phones from all over the country. Then the newsreader was back, animated and excited.

‘These same sights are being reported from around the world. From just about every corner of the earth we are witnessing enormous balls of something, initially thought to be fluff, bigger than houses, travelling across the sky. Reports would suggest that they are all heading towards north America but nobody knows why. Fighter aircraft, scrambled in the U.K the U.S, here in Australia and in a number of other countries have reported that the balls don’t in any way appear to be dangerous – unless they fall on you!’ The newsman chuckled at his own joke. ‘Stay on this channel for further reports on what are being called the ‘Behemoth dust bunnies!’

Bruce was right, he hadn’t had too many beers! And it hadn’t been a bad dream.

Teresa, bare-foot, stepped through her shattered front door and gazed up in horror at the thing that had obviously been lurking under her bed – now overturned in a corner of the bedroom. It hung in the sky, a pulsating hairy monster, expanding by the second, blocking out the morning sun as it grew. All the neighbours were out gawking. ‘Mrs Clean’, as she was known, from three doors down, was in the street staring up in fascination.

‘Looks like a dirty great dust bunny, to me!’ she laughed, ‘I wonder where it came from.’

Apparently you could eat your supper off ‘Mrs Clean’s floor, it was that clean.

‘Who knows,’ muttered Teresa. Certainly not from under your bed she thought. She went back into the kitchen and picked up her phone. The front door needed fixing where the monster had burst through it. She watched the news on the TV in the corner while she waited.

The Breakfast News had just started.

‘The Behemoth Dust Bunnies appear to be heading right here!’ said the newsreader, ‘Reports say they are joining together at times to form even bigger balls.’ And almost as she said this the light faded. Screams from outside made Teresa drop the phone and rush to the door. Bumping and crackling sounds were coming from the sky as more giant bunnies came in fast from all directions. Open-mouthed the people in the street stared up in stunned silence as the new arrivals merged with Fred the master. And they kept coming. And a great shadow fell over the earth. And there was darkness.

The world held its breath. And then light, faint at first, started to return as the dust bunny as big as planet earth itself slowly rose, higher and higher, way past the clouds, further and further. And then it suddenly it gathered speed and in a flash it was gone.

Teresa stared up in awed relief as the sun fell on her face. She brushed some fluff off her bare feet and cursed the dog for nicking her slippers again. Then she went back in to phone the repairman.

Six Months Later

Teresa put her coffee on the table and switched on the TV. Someone was interviewing an astronomer called Bill Moon.

‘And you discovered this last night?’ asked the interviewer eagerly.

‘Yes, yes! It’s quite phenomenal,’ said Bill who was being photographed next to the biggest telescope in the world, ‘I’m really just an amateur, but sometimes I do get lucky and spot something really good. I discovered it last night, right at the end of the Milky Way. It’s the fluffiest planet I’ve ever seen! I got some rather amazing close-ups.’

The TV camera zoomed in and Bill’s close up filled Teresa’s TV screen.

‘It appears to be made of fine hairs, feathers, cobwebs and many other fibres,’ said Bill, ‘What I’m not sure about are those two small, but prominent, bright pink protrusions on the left hand side there.’

The camera zoomed in for an even closer shot.

Teresa sat bolt upright, and nearly spilled her coffee.

‘Those are my frigging slippers!’ she cried.

Creating A Cover For Your Book

Once you’ve written your book, edited it to perfection and decided that you can do no more, it’s time to think about the cover. You only have to Google ‘book covers’ to see the many companies offering their services. A lot of authors prefer to have a professional create their cover to be assured their book will look its best. But you can create your own if you have the tools and maybe a little experience of photo editing with Photoshop or GIMP.

I thought some may find it interesting to see the process I used for A Red Waterproof Jacket. I chose this book because the book has a wide spine and my other two paperbacks don’t. Books with very narrow spines don’t have enough space for any writing.

I published with CreateSpace who provide templates of different sizes. There are plenty of trim sizes to choose from. For this book I chose 5.25 x 8 inches. Here is the template I downloaded for my cover:

Above you can see how the entire cover, back, front and spine need to fit on the template. Note the width of the spine has already been worked out by CreateSpace, based on the number of pages in the book and the type of paper (cream). You can also see where they will put the book’s bar code, so you need to make sure that there’s nothing in that space that you don’t want covered up.

I looked at lots of paperbacks to see how the well-known authors have had their covers set up, and noticed a lot are done as a ‘wrap-around’. Basically they’re using a picture that covers the whole template, as opposed to separate pictures for the back, front, and spine. Your picture needs to be good quality – 300 dpi is required for printing. My photograph was 3563 x 2475 pixels.

This is the original picture I chose for the cover. I took it in Blois on a visit there a few years ago.

I loved the picture but the trouble was I wanted the steps on the front of the book, so I needed to horizontally flip the image.

Then there were the two people on the steps who needed to be removed. The photo also needed some improvement – a white balance, some sharpening, and a bit of extra light to give a stronger impact.

Next I wanted the figure in the red waterproof jacket on that top step. I wanted to try and add a touch of mystery – a figure waiting. I had a good photo taken some winters back.

He needed cutting out of this photo, shrinking, turning around, and placing on the top step.

Now the back cover was going to be exceedingly dark which I didn’t want. So leaving the area for the spine dark I lightened the back cover. This meant I could use black font for the back cover blurb. I notice I’ve still got a couple of small red markers, top and bottom, to show me where the spine finishes and the front cover starts.

Next I needed to decide on fonts for the author name and title. It wasn’t easy and I hummed and hawed and pondered and changed my mind many times. In the end after I’d eventually reduced my choice down to two I sent my choices to a friend for a second opinion and she agreed with me. (A Google search will throw up all sorts of sites with free fonts available to download). I put in the title and author for the spine first. And also my logo.

Next the title – but I needed to put the red word in separately .

Then the ‘Red’ and the author name.

Lastly the back cover blurb – to tell a prospective reader what the book is about. Notice the space left for the bar code with the ISBN.

I hope this post might be a help to anyone thinking about creating their own cover. I’m not an expert but if you have any questions that I may be able to help with then please feel free to get in touch.

‘A Red Waterproof Jacket’ has arrived!

I am just so thrilled! The proof for A Red Waterproof Jacket arrived yesterday! I published it as an e-book a few years ago but this year decided to go for paperback with CreateSpace for all my books. The proof looks so good. I love the way the cover has come out. I obviously got my design pretty much spot on. It really does look professional. I was sitting here staring at it and thinking ‘It looks like a real book!’ Then I thought ‘Stupid! It is a real book!’

In a nutshell I wrote this book to inspire anyone who feels stuck, who keeps telling them self ‘better the devil you know’, and to urge them to believe there can be another life. Maybe the best way to tell you a bit more about the book is to simply post the back cover blurb …

What if you were a woman of fifty-six, emotionally unable to disentangle yourself from a long-term bitter-sweet relationship with no future? Too often you find yourself staring out of the window across the fens dreaming of new horizons. Depression shadows you. What do you have? A dull, routine job and a motorbike.

Change was easy when you were young, when you set off to Canada aged twenty-two, heart full of hope, romance, and optimism. But now middle age and loss of confidence has withered hope. Relationships have never worked out; always an imbalance. You decided some time ago that better the devil you know was the safest route. Besides, the very thought of a new relationship is tiring.

But what if out of the blue a man walked into your life? A man with a motorbike. A man ten years younger than you, who couldn’t possibly find you attractive. Could he? He wants to meet for coffee. You’re scared to death. He’s attractive. He wants you to go to Spain with him. Would you dare? Could you dump your job, sell your house, and risk running off into the sunset once more, with man you’ve known for a little over a week?

A Red Waterproof Jacket is now on sale on Amazon, as either an ebook or a paperback.

 

SHOT! (a short story).

SHOT!

The Volvo estate pulled into the lay-by at the edge of the wood. An old blue Renault 12 was also parked, but the driver wasn’t in the car. The woman who got out of the Volvo was in her early fifties, she wore a loose-fitting blue top over a flowery gathered skirt, and flat shoes. She looked around quickly before taking a narrow path into the wood.

The man with the gun parked in the lay-by opposite, three or four minutes later. He locked his Land Rover and hurried across to the wood, taking the same path as the woman.

The man who owned the Renault was forty something and in no way handsome. He was a maths teacher, and dressed like one. But he was a passionate maths teacher; not in-love but harbouring a great lust. He waited expectantly in a secluded glade fringed with tall ferns. The woman in the flowered skirt ran the last few steps towards him, throwing herself into his open arms and kissing him with unbridled passion. They tore hungrily at each others clothes and sank into the ferns.

The man with the gun was a silent hunter. He was ex-SAS and schooled in stealth. Slipping like a shadow through the trees he took in every movement, every sound. Almost invisible in his camouflage gear.

The couple, coupled in the ferns, were in a world of their own. Bits of clothing scattered carelessly around them. Her red silk knickers, his corduroy jacket with the elbow patches.

The man with the gun spotted his quarry. Just as he’d suspected they were in the same place as last week. Same time of day. He smiled to himself and slowly raised his gun.

The couple, ignorant of the man in the woods were going for seconds already. His cords now down round his knees, and her matching red brassiere had joined her knickers. Wild cries and sighs, and moans and groans emanated from the ferns as passions peaked.

The man with the gun squeezed the trigger. He was an ex-SAS sniper. He never missed a target. There was a loud crack as the rifle fired once and then again, and a terrible scream rent the stillness of the wood. Damn! He’d have to use his knife to finish the job.

A minute or two later he was walking back to his car when a man tore past him, attempting to carry a jacket in one hand and hold his trousers up with the other. Close behind the man was a woman in a flowery skirt, white-faced and clutching something red to her chest, part of which tumbled to the ground as she fled past.

The man with the gun set down the brace of rabbits he was carrying and picked up what the woman had dropped. A pair of red silk knickers. It was too late to stop her. She and the man had disappeared from view. He shook his head and grinned as he heard two cars start-up somewhere ahead, then he hung the knickers on a hazel bush at the edge of the path, picked up his rabbits, and headed to the Land Rover.

Author Interview: Jude Thompson

Jack Probyn recently invited me to be a guest on his blog, so of course I agreed. He is also a writer, currently working on a fantasy novel, and his blog has some great short stories and writing-related posts.

Author Interview - Jude

This is my first ever interview/guest/author post – whatever you want to call it. I asked Jude a few questions and she responded.

The reason for this post is to gain a little insight into her career and into her life.

So, without much further ado…

Here’s a quick biography on Jude: she lives in France, enjoys riding around on her motorbike with her husband (weather permitting) and has published a total of four books. Initially, they were e-Books but early this year she started publishing them as paperbacks with CreateSpace. The Mouse and the Microlight and The Stowaways are finished and are on Amazon. You can see all her books on her author blog: https://judethompsonbooks.wordpress.com/. She is a talented writer with a very distinct voice which comes through in some of her short stories and general blogs posts!

1. What is the best part about being an…

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Blogging – Followers, Likes and Comments

Something I noticed a few days ago set me off thinking about the whole Following, Liking and Commenting thing with regards to blogging. I was recently looking at a blog which showed that it had close to 6000 followers. That’s a lot of followers! But many recent posts on that blog had only received up to fifteen Likes and only between seven and ten Comments. Why?

Does it mean that a few thousand Followers have …

Lost interest?

Died?

Had their computers stolen?

Signed up enthusiastically to so many blogs that they haven’t a hope of keeping up with them.

Or …

Were never really interested in the first place and only signed up in hope that they would get a ‘Return Follow’?

I have to admit to being in the over exuberant category. When I come across a great blog, I sign up with enthusiasm, but unless some sort of a rapport develops with that blogger then I can lose interest. I guess I just like to share and feel a connection. And sometimes time-wise, it’s just not possible to Like or Comment on every new post that comes in. But I do try.

There are those who will do anything to get noticed and try to get you to Follow their blog! I recently had 10 or 12 Likes come in, in a block, in my WordPress mail, all from the same person and all Liking comments that I’d made on other blog posts! They had all arrived within a minute or so of each other. I swear the person who sent them barely had time to read the comments I’d made before banging off a Like. Amazing! I bet I deleted them a lot faster than the sender sent them.

Personally I never follow a blog that I’m not attracted by, or don’t have an interest in, so it surprises me when someone whose blog is, for example, solely about fashion and make-up, follows our motorcycling blog. Am I just getting cynical in my old age?!

What do you think about the whole Following, Liking, Commenting subject?

Marjorie’s Revenge

Another short story that may give you chuckle or two. Enjoy!

Marjorie’s Revenge

Under cover of darkness Marjorie Butterworth slipped out of her back door. The night was starless and the autumnal fog hung low as she scurried along the road. She pulled the hood of her hoodie further down over her face whenever she passed a lighted window, head down and hands deep in the pockets of her camouflage trousers. Mrs Butterworth was nearly seventy and not a hoodie or a camouflage type of person, she was in fact an upstanding member of the community and a member of the parish council. But she’d been pushed too far.

The recent council meeting had done it. George bloody Blair! Again! Mrs Fairweather, the butcher’s wife, had brought up the subject of dog-fouling and ways of controlling it, and Blair, the pompous old sod, had jumped in and raged on about dog owners, and why did they want dogs anyway, all they did was shit and bark, and little old ladies should have budgies if they wanted pets instead of rats on strings! The chairman had looked suitably miffed at the outburst and George had sunk back into his tweed waistcoat and wound his handlebar moustache back in.

Marjorie became more furious as she made her way through the churchyard. How dare that bastard allude to her dear little Binky, a most beautiful pekingese, as a rat on a string! George Blair needed to be taught a lesson, him and his unbending, bombastic, military attitude. He was intolerable and intolerant. He’d recently tried to stop planning permission for an extension on a cottage in the village simply because the owners were gay, and now refused to buy his papers from the village shop because the new owners were Indian. The man was a dinosaur.

Marjorie hurried down Brook Lane, George Blair’s house was at the very end, a lovely old Cotswold stone building with wonderful views of open farmland – except he’d only be able to see them from upstairs. The back garden was surrounded by high walls, with ivy trailing over the top. If Marjorie’s plan was to succeed she had to get into that garden. Her cunning plan was to raid George’s pumpkin patch. The old blighter had done nothing but brag about the pumpkin he’d grown for the Harvest Festival Pumpkin Competition and at every parish council meeting his pumpkin got bigger, and was now apparently a pumpkin of Olympic proportions. Marjorie was going to prick his balloon. By way of nabbing his pumpkin.

Blair’s side gate creaked hideously. Marjorie held her breath. The mist swirled around her. After a minute she continued on tiptoeing up the path to the tall arched doorway that opened into the back garden. At least she needn’t worry about a dog hearing her. The big old wrought iron handle on the door was well-oiled and turned easily. She pulled the heavy door open and slipped inside, quickly taking in the perfectly mowed lawn, edged with flowerbeds, and at the far end of the garden she could make out a good sized potting shed. Keeping to the edge of the lawn and ducking under various small trees she hurried down to the shed and dodged behind it. To her delight she found she was standing in the vegetable garden right next to the old git’s pumpkin patch!

Best check all was clear before she got to work. She peered round the shed. A downstairs light had come on. Not a worry. Probably having one of his hideously expensive whiskies he was always bragging about. ‘Give me a pint of Guinness any day,’ she muttered. Marjorie dug in her pockets for her little penlight torch. The small beam quickly picked out an enormous orange blob in the middle of the patch. ‘Good lord!’ she muttered when she stood beside it and took in the size, ‘The mother of all pumpkins!’ Blair hadn’t been exaggerating after all. It wasn’t going to be easy getting this monster home, in fact it was going to be nigh on impossible without a wheelbarrow, and she only had a sack. There was no way she could carry it. But she could still ruin his day. In a few minutes she was getting down and dirty beside the pumpkin with her penknife, carving out an enormous wedge. The moon slipped out from behind a cloud as she manhandled the pumpkin piece into her sack, stood up, and slung it over her shoulder. She was just going to set off when she thought she heard a cough. She froze. Had she imagined it? Cautiously she crept back to the side of the shed and peered at the house. Across the lawn the patio doors were open and the downstairs light was still on. But no sign of anyone. She decided to get out now. Leg it!

Marjorie pulled her hoodie well down over her face and taking a firm grip on her sack she launched herself from behind the shed.

She collided heavily with a tall blonde woman coming from the opposite direction.

‘Aagh!’ they both yelled.

Marjorie, who had lost her balance, and ended up on her ample backside, peered up from under her hood at the blonde in the moonlight. She didn’t get it. Blair had never talked of a wife or girlfriend. The dirty old sod had kept this quiet! The blonde was looking equally shocked. Marjorie noticed she was wearing a bright pink ballroom dancing dress and silver high heels. Her gaze travelled up to the woman’s face – a dreadful make-up job from what she could see between the strands of long blonde hair. Two puddles of black mascara and … a handlebar moustache!

‘George?’ gasped Marjorie in amazement.

George Blair grabbed at a set of earphones which snagged in the blonde hair and whipped the wig off with them. Marjorie caught a few brief strains of James Last’s ‘Somewhere My Love‘.

‘Please Marjorie, I’m begging you!’ George’s voice was stricken with panic.

Marjorie got up, smiling. ‘Dancing round the garden in drag to James Last George. What will the neighbours think?’

‘Please! … Marjorie! … I’ll do anything!’

‘I’m sure you will George. From now on I’m sure you will!’

Marjorie picked up the sack and slung it over her shoulder, the pumpkin would make a nice bunch of pies for the Harvest Festival.

author of fantasy, fiction and memoir