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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Seamus the gnome awoke under the full moon, finding himself alive and well. He felt himself up and down for cracks or chips. He felt nothing at first, but realised that the arm with which he was feeling was sore and stiff and he realised that it had been glued back on.

"Feckin' terrific," he said. "Sure and it's a hardware store here. Ye'd think there would be better glue."

"Oh, that's bloody gratitude."

Seamus looked up to see Wellsey lounging against a shelving unit full of trellises, and munching on a sandwich.

"We had a man down and a destroyed AA gun that was looking like it was going to set fire to the Pavilion," Wellsey said. "I figured you wouldn't bleed out while I found some superglue and a clamp." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 57 — Gnome Time to Lose"

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1

Wellsey leant against one of the pillars that held up the lofty roof of the Handy Pavilion and sighed deeply. It really was just one of those days. Marlon, leaning on the other side of the pillar, sighed even more deeply. From his jeans pocket he took a hip flask, took a swallow, and handed the bottle to Wellsey. Wellsey shook his head. Marlon shrugged, and slipped the flask away.

"You and Joyce got Valentine's Day plans?" Marlon said.

Something came hurtling over the nearest shelving unit. Part of a toilet? Something porcelain anyway. Both men ducked as it hit a nearby shelf, smashing a pile of paint cans, sending blue acrylic dripping to the floor.

"Nothing fancy," Wellsey said There's a Valentine's special at our local restaurant. Free bottle of champagne. And we don't get out as much as we used to. How about you?" ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 55 — Principles of Retail Management"

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Donna cast an eye over the morning deliveries of lightbulbs and sighed. She had never realised just how much work Sadie had accomplished until Sadie hadn't been there. Now, even though business was poor and customers were thin on the ground, Donna could barely keep up with doing the work of her supervisor as well as her own. Marlon had given her extra hours to try to deal with the workload, and Donna's studies were suffering. Still she endured.

She endured because that was what Sadie would have wanted. Sadie never quit or gave in. Sadie's job had been shedding light on her customers, and that is what she had done. She had never wavered, never faltered. Not until the end. Not until she had fallen into darkness. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 54 — Deliver Us Not"

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It was Valentines Day. This is probably a big day if you work in a florist's, a jewellery shop or a high-end restaurant, but for most sections of the Handy Pavilion it was just another day.

There were exceptions, of course. The garden centre was busier than it had been in months, while Nalda in arts and crafts was struggling to keep papier-mâché hearts and red paint on the shelves.

"Excuse me, miss, where's the pink glitter?"

"Ofer dere, and next year buy champagne." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 53 — A Very DIY Valentines Day"

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"So," Fiona said.

"So," Norman said.

They sat at a wicker table, just by the plastic jerry cans in the Outdoor Furniture section. Not that long ago, Adam would have chased them away, but even he'd stopped caring. A grim, defensive mood had settled over the Handy Pavilion and customer numbers were at an all-time low.

"It's just that sort of a bloody morning, isn't it? Norman said.

"We have to give ourselves up," Fiona said. "We can't stay free while Sadie takes the blame for the armoured cat heist. There's not even any reason for her to go to prison any more. She was only confessing to save Axel." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 52 — Inside Your Mind"

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Seamus the Gnome no longer made his life a secret. He couldn't really. When the full moon rose and brought him to life, he found that there were too many people in his garden section, and he couldn't be bothered to hide himself from them. Besides, one of the late-night gardeners already knew him. Was that his name? Wellsey? Something like that

The old feller wore a plastic safety hat which some keen artist had painted in camouflage colours. He stood in the gap between the impatiens and the camellias, right next to a huge thing of cast iron and bamboo that looked somewhere between an ugly garden ornament and a surprisingly attractive anti-aircraft gun.

Beside Wellsey was a young woman, also in a hardhat, scanning the skies with a pair of binoculars. A young man was clearly also supposed to be watching the skies, but his work here was hindered by frequent breaks to look at the young woman.

"Saints preserve us, and what's going on here?" Seamus said. "Oh, it's you, Seamus," Wellsey said. "Laura, Carlos, this is Seamus." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 51 – Incoming!"

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Claudia Lebeau sat across the desk from Ms Shan. Ms Shan sat behind the MDF desk in her little office, her fingers steepled in front of her. The office was small and while it had some very pleasant associations for Mrs Lebrau, right then it seemed oppressive. It was airless and the only decoration was a small brass statute, a dying peace lily and a one of those posters that is meant to inspire but somehow only serve to bring the spirit a little closer to breaking.

"Officially, I can take no action," Claudia Lebeau said.

"I understand," Jasu Shan replied, and it was the worst thing she could possibly have said.

If Jasu had argued, Claudia had arguments. If she'd shouted, Claudia could have stalked off in a huff. If she'd threatened, well, Claudia could have reminded her that she was in no position to make more enemies.

Instead,  she'd simply agreed. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 50 — Third Wheels and Fifth Columns"

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Taking a week off, coming back after New Year. But I leave you with this short story. Enjoy!

***

Light stabs my eyes as the hood come off. My hands are bound, so I cannot shield my face. A figure is silhouetted in the bright light. No, not silhouetted. Some of the light seems to come through the figure, as if it isn't all there. I am already bound, helpless and terrified, yet the sight of this translucent form makes my guts feel like ice.

They have me. Them.

"Name?" the figure says.

"Please," I say. "What have I done?"

"The sooner you answer, the sooner you will be processed. Name?"

"I am Oswick Bozzbaddle."

It raises a clipboard, opaque against the light, and makes a tick. The sound of the pen on paper is hard; precise.  "Do you like Christmas, Bozzbaddle?" ...continue reading "Yuletide 101"

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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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