Though the battle around her was bloody and cruel, Sadie MacGregor fought fair. That went without saying, perhaps -- that even in the middle of a bloody battle she fought Marquis of Queensbury style. It made no difference to her. She wasn't supposed to be involved at all. Not this way.

A Barnling ran shrieking at her with a weapon made from a broom handle and two garden forks, and she simply felled him with a well-placed sock to the chin. That was how your do it. The Barnling was unconscious, but would recover. Sadie checked the sleeping man's conscience and noted that he'd been padding his hours for weeks. That was morally wrong, and yet Sadie felt a brief flicker of sympathetic triumph on the man's behalf for ripping off the DIY Barn.

This mission. It had… It had weakened her. Watered down her resolve. Done something to her, anyway. The only consolation was that it had done the same thing to her sister. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 67: Gaslight"

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Old Axel was out the front of the Barn, fighting for his life, but that was something he'd done before. More importantly, he was fighting for the Handy Pavilion. He'd figured it out, in the end. Figured out about the shirts and what they meant and why he cared if Pavilion staff lived or died.

He cared. He'd never cared before. True, he cared about a weird, arbitrary grouping that his stupid parole officer had put him into, but that didn't matter. When your back is to the wall, what does it matter which wall?

Battle flowed on around him. The air was full of sounds of shouting, gunshots, whirring engines. The scent of smoke filled Axel's nose. The tarmac beneath his feet was growing slick with blood.

The fighting hurt, now. That had always been his advantage back in the days when he'd been trying to conquer the world. He didn't really care whether or not he won. World domination was just the challenge he'd set for himself. Axel was as apolitical as you could get. He had no idea what he'd do with the world if ever he had it. Fighting had never been about victory. Not really.

Axel had started the fight armed with a propane flamethrower, but he'd had to abandon it when a valve had cracked. Now he had nothing but a shiv made out of a chisel and a red mist in front of his eyes. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 65: Scars"

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Christian sat in the staff room, a blanket around his shoulders and the nicest meal he'd had in weeks in front of him. The Phantasm was toasted him sandwich after sandwich and plying him with sugary tea. Most of his workmates were marshaling outside, but a few stood and listened as he spoke breathlessly of his ordeal:

"…And there was nothing to eat but luncheon meat and cabbage, and we had to watch Barn employees confess to their crimes on black and white TVs, then we had to spend five minutes hating Emanuel Goldstein – I think he's Jeff Goldblum's brother or something – and there was nothing to read but Jackboot Enthusiast Quarterly and they tried to torture me with a slowly descending pendulum, but it squeaked and the torturer got annoyed but anyway, I know where the weak spot is on the Barn." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 62: The Breakroom of War"

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Belinda was kind of a pain in the arse. That was no great secret. If asked, she would have admitted without hesitation to being 'kind of a pain in the arse' and then she would have laughed really annoyingly, just so that there was no mistaking she meant it.

Belinda wasn't a terrible person, by any means. Just one of those people who have no particularly desire to be good, but lack the ambition to be especially bad. She was a second-rate employee of the Handy Pavilion. She was an indifferent stock filler, with mediocre product knowledge and her tendency to see customers as unwitting spectators to her hackneyed impromptu comedy bits.

But… Of course there's a but. No one is completely useless, and there were two things that Belinda was very, very good at. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 61: On the Practical Applications of Cosplay"

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It was Buck Dusty who took the glass skull. Definitely. The security camera footage had been useless, so Christian didn't know how he knew. But he knew. There had always been something fishy about the guy. Seriously, who wears cowboy hats to work?

Well, cowboys, obviously. Oh, and country singers. And truckers. And corrupt Texan mayors, but also Texas rangers. And that one guy in the commando unit who isn't the hero, but survives for pretty fair while.

Okay, lots of people wear cowboy hats. But even so, Christian didn't trust Buck an inch. There was just something uncanny about the man. Something eerie had slowly overcome the man. When Christian had first joined the Pavilion, Buck had seemed like a friendly, happy sort of cowboy, like in the old movies his Christian's grandfather had loved. Someone like Audie Murphy or Hoot Gibson. Now, though… Now he didn't seem so much fun. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 45 — The Barn Door is Open"

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It was almost a week before Christian saw Pennington again. This wasn't good news. Christian was holding onto his job by a thread, and he was terrified that he'd be fired before he could speak to the alchemist.

A whole dozen people had been fired. Low performers, chronic latecomers, suspected pilferers. To be fair to Ms Shan, she didn't play favourites – though to be unfair, that might just be because she never remembered anyone's name. Only a couple of weeks before, Christian would have thought himself invulnerable to anything less than a complete shutdown of the Handy Pavilion, but his indicators were all down since the Phantasm's disappearance. He might have escaped the last round of layoffs, but the next round would take him out.

He needed Pennington's help before that could happen. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 43 – Never Pay Retail"

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Christian had not been at work the day the meteor struck. He was glad of that. He worried every time the glass skull picked up a spot of dirt, and the thought of a scratch terrified him beyond belief. The whole Handy Pavilion shaking at the impact… that might have given him a heart attack, straight up.

Now he stood behind the power tools counter, polishing the skull with a soft cloth as Belinda told him about the incident. Buck Dusty had already told him, but since all the laconic cowboy had said was, "Reckon that was a bad'n," Christian was a little short on details.

"So was it an alien, or something?" Christian said once she got up to the part with the monster. He held the skull up to the light. Ostensibly this was to check his polishing, but even after all this time he was hoping he could see his mistress the Phantasm in there. As usual, he could not. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 40 – Belinda is Helpful"

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An important order was late to arrive, so Ms Shan spent her morning the Trade section, assuring a local builder that his framing pine would be arriving soon. When it did turn up, the builder kept complaining about how long he'd been kept waiting, effectively adding another hour to his departure time after the half hour that the late delivery had cost him.

"It's a bloody outrage," he said at last, grabbing his bored apprentice by the shirtsleeve and pulling him away. "I'm on a deadline, you know. Come on, Gavin, let's get some lunch."

Ms Shan rubbed her weary eyes. At least it was normal. At least an idiot complaining was a normal, mundane thing. Nothing weird, nothing spooky. Just an everyday jackass was almost a treat.

She turned, and her almost-happiness dissolved. There, lounging awkwardly against a pile of cement sacks was Mr Smith from the DIY Barn. "Hello, Ms Shan," he said.

"Mr Smith," she said. She thought of asking what she could do for him, and decided that she didn't even have the energy to pretend to care. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 38 – Between Two Doors"

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The toilets were out of commission at the Handy Pavilion. That wasn't the terrible thing in Christian's book. There were a couple of porta-loos out the back, so it wasn't like no one could go. It did mean that the customers would be asking questions about the bathrooms all day, in spite of the dozens of big signs up explaining the situation. So annoying! But still not the problem.

The problem was that the plumbers would be digging up part of the toilet floor, and in doing so they'd find the passage to the Phantasm's lair. They'd have to. Wouldn't they? And then what would happen? ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 35: Toilet Humour"

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Buck Dusty was ringing up a sale in the power tool section when his trigger finger started to itch. He looked up at the time. The hour hand on the clock behind the key cutting counter pointed straight up. The minute hand was off by maybe twenty degrees. Three minutes to High Noon. He knew what was coming.

He wanted to hitch up his belt, spit on the floor and mosey out to the stand in front of Mailboxes and Doormats, but the last time he'd done that he'd been given an official warning. Instead, he fought down the squirming in his gut and finished the transaction he was processing.

"Afraid we don't take AmEx, suh," he said to the man in the expensive shirt who was buying an overpriced biscuit joiner.

"No one takes AmEx!" the customer whinged, and produced another credit cart.

His duty done, Buck gestured to Christian to take the counter. Then he hitched up his belt, but refrained from spitting at the floor. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 30: Showdown at Loading Bay Gulch"

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