Saturday, 29 June 2013

Little Rosie - Extract from Chapter One

Previous Installment

I had been fortunate enough, in the two years after my father was murdered, to avoid the attentions of White Kenneth and his runners.   Many of the denizens of St Giles did not.   He preyed upon the isolated, the lonely and the helpless.  And the young.  Especially the young.   Do not think, sir, that one such as White Kenneth would have been stirred to sympathy with the plight of an eight year old orphan girl who found herself without protectors.   He would not.   He would have licked those pale lips of his and given the order for a couple of bag-men to go a-hunting.  And he would have mentally estimated his profits, and imagined spending them even before those bag-men returned with their quarry.

But I was sharp witted and sly, and well aware of the dangers.   I kept well clear of White Kenneth and his dreadful crew and although my path and his did cross, rather dramatically, that was not until much much later and ended rather... messily I'm afraid to say.   I pride myself of always having been a neat worker, but alas it is not always possible to do ones best work at all times.

Do pour me another spot of sherry would you?   All this talking is dry work.    Most kind of you.   So.   After my father was taken from me I fell into the company of dear Jack Merryweather.    He was fifteen or sixteen at the time and quite the elder brother to me, having been one of my father's companions on various little jobs.    Jack was quite a card, always with a smile and a quip, and with what my father called a fool's face... he could always look entirely innocent.   Jack Merryweather was the sort of scamp that if you entered a room and saw him with his hand in your strongbox, he could tell you that he was adding a few coins of his own as a Michaelmas gift and you'd find yourself thanking him for his kindness and sending him on his way with a handshake.  After which if you were wise you'd count the rings on your fingers.   Dear Jack, he was such a kind young man too.    He took me in and gave me a safe place to sleep and we worked together on... our business... very well.  I must have been about eight years old at the time but already quite adept at the basics of the trade; shinnying up drainpipes and through tiny windows for instance; or turning a tear streaked face of abject misery to some well appointed old fellow and telling him about my broken dolly while Jack emptied the contents of his pockets all unobserved.   Oh but you know this sort of thing I'm sure, quite commonplace.   We made enough to live on, and just a little over for occasional comforts.   It was a good life I suppose, though it never could have lasted as it was.    We were good apprentices but would never have progressed much past that.

Poor Jack.  He never got the chance.

I suppose I was ten years old when it happened.  I remember the day as though it was yesterday, a dreadfully cold day in October 1850 and I was sitting inside Charlie's Chops just off Cowper Alley.   Oh I'm quite sure it isn't there anymore.   Most of the old places have gone now, and good riddance to them I suppose.   It was a little hole in the wall sort of place, more like the front rooms of a house than any real business, but old Charlie Renton made his money by selling bad food and bad gin to bad people.   Both the food and the gin were cheap as hope though so nobody minded the badness.   And it was always warm.   I got on well with Charlie because my father had got on well with Charlie so he always saved me a place by the chimney where it was warm and he'd always sell me a bowl of whatever was cooking over the fire at his cheapest rate.

What did you say?  Give me it for nothing?  Oh goodness, what an innocent you are, sir.   This was the Rookery of St Giles and Cripplegate.   For nothing indeed!   Offer any of the inhabitants of that hellhole something for nothing and they would run for the nearest bolthole in fear of their lives.   Charlie Renton sold me his dreadful stew cheap, and that was as kind as kind got in those days.

I recall I was prodding at that day's bowl of vaguely brown, vaguely lumpy stew with a wooden spoon, and sitting perched in the brick lined alcove next to the chimney.

"Bean stew," Charlie said, seeing my curiousity.

"I don't care what it's been, Charlie," I said, "What is it now?"

He raised a fist to me then, and we grinned at each other.  It was an old joke even then I suppose, and I'd copied it from my father.  Charlie always played along with the old banter and it was one of the reasons people liked the man so much.    They said that he'd once been a sailor in the Royal Navy but he'd given that all up after he'd lost an eye and an ear and a great slice of his face to an exploding cannon shell, so he wasn't comfortable to look at but he always had a joke and a friendly welcome.  And cheap food and drink of course.

When the door opened it let in the cold air, and colder than you'd expect.   I looked up from my food to see who had entered and quickly looked away again.    If you think I sound fanciful, young man, then I assure you this is God's honest truth.   In that quick glance I knew, I just somehow knew, that the man who had entered Charlie's Chops was evil through and through.  Through and through sir.    Oh there were bad men aplenty in St Giles in those days, aye and further afield, but I had never seen one before that struck me so instantly as foul and dangerous and utterly utterly... well, forgive the repetition... evil as this man did.    He was not tall, but he was broad shouldered and as solid looking as a stone wall, with ugly flat features and skin that was pale but mottled with broken veins and discolored dark patches on his neck and forehead.   But it was his eyes, young man, his eyes that had made me look away from him so quickly.    They were cold and dry and completely without humanity.   They reminded me at once of the eyes of a dead man, sir, and I do not revise that opinion even to this day.

The other patrons obviously felt much the same as I did about this newcomer.   All conversations stopped at the instant that he stepped through the door, and all eyes were kept steadfastly away from him.   I looked at him sly-wise, my head down but peering through my lashes and wishing I'd already eaten my stew, which I had paid a farthing for, so I would not regret running out the back way if I had to.    The monstrous intruder smiled a knife-wound of a smile and said in a rough dry voice.

"Jack Merryweather.   Any friends of his here?"

Jack!   My stomach turned over at the thought that this ogre even knew Jack's name, for in our trade and in our little world, to be known of was a sign of danger and upset, and no mistake at all about that.  And by someone of this type?  Well it was plain he was not looking for Jack to award him a wooden medal for good service to the parish.   I held my breath and did not dare move.   Those dreadful dead eyes of his looked over us all slowly.

"No friends of his anywhere it seems," he said, and then he laughed such a laugh as I hoped never to hear again.   "Well if any of his friends pass this way, tell them Mister Honeyman passes on his condolences.  Such a sad end."

He raised his finger to the brim of the battered hat he wore, looked slowly over us all again and then his smile just stopped and his face went slack and empty and then he turned around and walked out of the door, not even troubling to shut it.

"Sounds like Merryweather's copped it," said old Ikey Cleaver, "or's about to.    I'll go round his gaff and see that all's well, or how bad it's bad."   He rose on creaky legs from the table.

"That's a green trick," said I, still sick to my stomach at the thought of such a monster on dear Jack's trail, "It's a pound to a penny that..."  I couldn't think of a word to suit the man who had just been and gone, but everyone knew who I meant by the look I gave toward the door, "is watching to see who runs to find Jackie and will lead him right to him."

I saw the crafty look that passed between the Monk brothers at those words.   A right pair of snakes those boys were, crafty and cruel but with no real skill to turn their ambitions into action.   I could read that look, sir, better than a parson could read a prayerbook.    They were wondering if Honeyman would pay on the nail for news of Jack Merryweather.

"Here," said Charlie Renton taking my arm and whispering confidential like, "that's sense you're talking.   Get you out the kitchen window and go warn Jackie boy.   Fast and unseen, that's the way."

"That's the way," said I, sounding braver than I felt.   If I  could get to Jack's and my little hideout before that foul Honeyman found out where he was, whether from  the Monk brothers or some other Captain Comegrass who'd sell a man's life for a handful of coins, then all might yet be well.

"I've paid for that stew!" I reminded Charlie Renton as I slipped through the kitchen door.

"Business is business," said old Charlie scraping the bowl's contents back into the big pan.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Little Rosie - Prologue

Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,
Rosie filches everything
Sneaking, snatching, this and that
Crafty as a creeping cat
Bolt the doors, the shutters bar,
Rosie reaches near and far,
All in rags, not dainty frocks
Little Rosie laughs at locks

I may be an old woman, young man, but there is nothing wrong with my memory I assure you.  Of course I remember that silly little ditty.   I suppose I was a little bit flattered by it. after all how many little girls are immortalised in playground chants and songs?

Oh don't look so surprised, goodness but you're a dreadful hand as a liar.    No don't act all innocent sir, for it won't wash.  You knew full well that I was the Little Rosie referred to in that piece of doggerel and don't dare deny it.   That's why you're here, and why you've spent the last few weeks ingratiating yourself with all the right people.  Or the wrong people, as most would say, eh?   Oh yes I was fully aware of your little investigation, and of all your little questions.   And the amount of money that you've been spreading around to ensure that word of your nosing didn't reach the wrong ears.   I hope you got receipts for that sir, for it was money ill spent.

Sit down, sir, sit down, don't take offense.  Allow an old lady her mischief won't you?   Of course you will.   Sit down and take your ease.   Yes I knew you were nosing around after me, but I still agreed to meet you didn't I?   I did.     So don't stand on your dignity.   You've been sniffing out the trail of the infamous Little Rosie Lochlan, and you've found her.   So clap yourself on the back, sir, and if you've learned that you're not as cunning or as devious as you'd flattered yourself that you were well that's a lesson learned, and cheaply too.   There are many lessons that are taught a lot less kindly I assure you.

Do you know, I'm not entirely sure why I agreed to meet with you.  After all I've spent the best part of... oh many more years than I'm happy to recount... avoiding attention, and certainly avoiding enquiries about those days in the old Rookery of St Giles.    The worst place on Earth, sir, and beyond.    What?  An unusual turn of phrase?   Perhaps it is, but I must be allowed my little ways, at my time of life, eh?   I must.

It has been a long journey from the squalor and the slums of that hellish warren to the life of a lady of wealth and influence, indeed it has been.   Look around you sir, and allow me to confirm your base speculation ... don't deny it... that barely a pennyworth of this luxurious home and its fittings has been honestly obtained.    Perhaps the occasional small ornament was fairly and legally purchased, but even good Homer nods occasionally.


Don't flaunt your erudition, sir, it is beneath you.  I do not speak the wretched language.   As you will know if you know anything of the infamous Little Rosie, you will know that I did not receive a formal education.  Greek and Latin, sir, were no use in the shadows and the cellars, and profoundly pointless when scampering along the slippery rooftops of London's foulest haunt of the poor and worthless.    No formal education indeed, but many lessons to learn.   And many taught in very hard ways.

I began my education as a child so young I cannot recall the early days of it.   I was set to steal, sir, or to offer distractions while others stole.  I neither excuse it or apologise for it.   And I proved to have an aptitude that may have been bred in the bone, for my father was equally adept at the arts of the cracksman, the prigger and the fine-wirer.   Hmm?  Pickpocket, sir.  Fine-wirer is a pickpocket, but a very good one.   The everyday pickpocket was a dip or a... oh you know the term 'dip'?   How very well informed you are, sir.   Goodness, yes.

Oh don't pout so, sir.  A little gentle mockery, that's all.   Not enough to drown a flea.    Now where was I?  Ah yes, my father.   I do not recall a mother, though I presume I must have had one at some point.   He never spoke of her, and I don't recall it ever occurring to me that I should ask.       He was a good man, though many would disagree, and a good father so far as I can judge.   He put food in my mouth and clothes on my back, yes and he taught me how to do the same for myself.  He began my education, sir, and taught me the tricks of that disreputable trade when I was still too young to know right from wrong, thank heavens. What a burdensome complication that would have been, eh?

Yes, my father began my education, sir.   But he did not complete it, alas no.  He was taken from me when I was most in need of him, when the darkness and the danger were closing in on every side and when there was literally nowhere in this world I could turn to find a safe refuge.

Oh now that is a knowing look, sir, indeed it is.   When I said 'nowhere in this world' you practically smirked.  A most unpleasant expression to find on the features of a gentleman of quality.    You know something don't you, sir?   No don't deny it, I can smell deception a mile away upwind, my life has depended on that skill for me to be easily gulled.     Well not another word will pass my lips until you prove your honesty.   You know where I found my refuge don't you?   No evasions, sir!   You tell me what you've heard, and if you're right then I'll carry on with my tale, otherwise the rest is silence.  I'll not be played for a fool.   If you've heard something of my tale, then tell me and I'll go on.    Where did I find my refuge, sir, where did I complete my training as the finest thief in her Majesty's empire?  Well?

Goodness.  You are well informed.   I must confess I am surprised, and more surprised still that you say the word without a hint of mockery or condescension.  And that, sir, suggests there is more to you than meets the eye.   Excellent.  It has been a long time since I was surprised and it is quite a pleasant sensation.   Yes, sir, Fairyland indeed.   But not as most people would understand it.

Reach for the rope and ring for my maid.   This is a story that may be long in the telling and we'd both appreciate a little refreshment as we discuss it.

Make yourself comfortable.   Then we'll begin.

Next Part

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sister, Waiting

(A writing prompt from Write on Edge using the picture below, from Trifecta using the word "Rusty" and from Studio30+ using the word "Shower" - no more than 333 words)

I start and end here on the timeless rocks, and the sea is endless.   Here is the place where I rest, and feast, and rejoice, and mourn and where I wait, where I always wait.

Here on the rocks where once I saw long low ships with bright sails, distant things with black winged birds above them seeking out land.    Those ships knew me, though not by name, and sometimes I reached out with my need and I took them.

Sunrises and sunsets turned the sea to fire and blood more times than could be counted, and the distant ships grew larger, and stranger, sailed and sped faster and more often.   And sometimes, from time to time, when it pleased me, I took them.

I watched as brief men came to the rocks and flickered anxious lives, and stern eyes raked the land.   A tower rose , iron girders obscene here in my presence, and stone and glass.   They set a light, a shining eye to turn ancient mother night into their harlot to dance at their command.   And sullen I sat on the rocks and watched the ships with longing but now I could not take them.

Sunrises and sunsets seem further apart now, the iron girders an anchor binding me to dreadful day-by-day.   I wait.  I always wait.    The sea showers the rocks and the hard upright tower, and time showers it too.   Soon, not soon as flickering men measure things but soon, the tower of stone and glass will wear away and iron girders will fail and wash the rocks rusty, pass blood-red into the sea and be gone.

For now though I wait.  I hunger but I do not starve.   I watch the ships pass by and though I cannot take these ships in this place I am still nourished.  All seas are one sea and I close my eyes and listen.

Listen now to the waves between the rocks.  The salt sweet sigh of shipwrecked souls.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Third Time

Third Time's The Charm
(33 Words - A writing prompt from Trifecta)

Three young heroes, came one by one to slay her.  Wicked witch.   Perhaps she was, yet she wept as they died.   In the blood of the last bonny boy the talisman shivered, alive.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Beautiful Stranger

(A writing prompt from Trifecta)

(A writing prompt from Studio30Plus)

When I first became immortal I assumed it would be like being part of an exclusive club of wise and mysterious beings, roaming the earth like gods and angels.  It really isn’t.   There aren’t many of us but we keep bumping into each other.   The world becomes a dull party.  You know their jokes, stories, habits and hang ups.   One minute you’re sitting on a beach watching the sun set and the next some bastard’s bitching about some merchant from Thebes who stiffed him over an amphora of bad wine.    Most of us become solitary.  All of us become bad company.

Not you

Hah.  Maybe.    I’ve been alone too long and sometimes I need to make contact.   Not with another immortal though.    Tedious bunch, like I said.  And the ones that aren’t tedious are too damned dangerous.   I warned you about those didn’t I?

Scared me silly.   I’ve been looking out for Them ever since.

They’re too good at hiding.  I’m putting you at risk by talking to you, I should go.

Please don’t.  I want to learn more about you.  Not just the immortality thing, but you.  You as a person.

Too dangerous.   They are always watching, and they hate the idea of one of us opening up too much to a mortal, exposing our secrets.   But I have to.   The solitude crushes me sometimes.   I just want to watch the sun rise with someone by my side who understands.  Just once.    Idiotic really.  Sentimental.   And dangerous for you.  I can’t believe I’ve been so reckless, I’m sorry.  I’ll go now.

Please!  I want you to stay.  I want to watch the sun rise with you.   Want to know you better.  You don’t have to be lonely.

Alright.  If you want.  There’s a high hill above the bay, glorious view to the east.  Know it?

I do!

Meet me there in two hours.    Be careful They don’t follow you.

I’ll be careful.  I love you.

I love you.   Delete your chat logs.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Felix Ascendant

(A writing prompt from Trifecta: to write a story in three sentences)

“He served five years for petty treason after stealing her highness’ soul gem from her garter of office,” grumbled the Hierophant-in-Virtua.

“And another five years after that for filching the imperial omniclave from under the nose of the Grand Justicar,” added the Coin Shriver.

“Then a new face and a new job with us,” said the young prince, grinning, “will be his third and final sentence.”

Thursday, 6 June 2013


It was boredom that drove me.   The drugs were simply for something to do.   Acid, peyote, salvia, shrooms, they were all just things to do. I’d read Castaneda, and Huxley, and the others.   The mysticism of it passed me by, the experiences all I wanted.

I was introduced to Petrie by the friend of a friend.   I loathed him.  Petrie was too thin and smiled too much, like Death with a dirty joke he was waiting to shock you with.

“You really want this,” he said and handed me a single blue crystal.  It looked like a teardrop and felt like gel.   I didn’t ask him what it was, wasn’t interested.   He called it “HPL” and laughed.

That night it melted on my tongue, bitter and lingering.    I sat and watched static on my television and waited for the effects to kick in.

Time slowed and I could no longer move.  Not breathe nor blink nor twitch.   Each heartbeat rolled like a peal of thunder taking an hour from start to finish.    Even that stopped.  The television static was truly still now, a collage of visual gibberish.

I could not stop my thoughts.  All else had stopped but not my thoughts.   Time had ceased and only thought persisted.    There was me, and there was an eternal moment that I would never be free of.

In my mind I screamed for centuries.

And my screams were heard.

The things that live in the gaps between moments came to stare.  I cannot describe them, but they felt like the presence of the bereaved.   And they came to stare at me like a freak in a sideshow.   For milennia they came and soon I knew them all.

“Weep,” said Petrie after ten thousand years, and he pressed a glass tube to my cheek.  I blinked then, only once, and a half dozen tears fell and became blue crystal in his keeping.

He smiled and crept away, and left me timeless.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


(A writing prompt from Write on Edge:  Bubblegum)




The noise was disgustingly organic and impossible to ignore especially in the tome-silent atmosphere of the university library.   This was time I’d set aside for studying organic chemistry.   Naturally I was reading a text on psychological aberrations instead (all work and no play etcetera) but even so I didn’t want distraction.

The girl was too young to be here anyway.   She looked about ten years old, pudgy with straw coloured hair in pigtails.  She had a band aid on her knee on which she’d drawn a piratical skull and crossbones in blue ink.  And she chewed bubblegum.  I watched her as she blew a hideous pink bladder of gum from her mouth, let it pop with a loud crack and then chewed it liquidly back into her mouth and masticated it into readiness again.

Ignore her, I decided.   I tried to lose myself in the labyrinth of sociopathy.


I looked again, she was grinning as she chewed.  And blew.  And chewed.

Nobody else seemed bothered by her.  I knew why.

“Alright,” I said, “If I promise to find out who killed you, will you leave me in peace?”

“Maybe,” she said.