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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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Adam: Works in garden furniture. Seems perfectly normal.

Alfred J. Pilbrook: Owner/manager of Arthur C. Clock's timepiece shop. A timid, aging gentleman.

Ali: Head of the power tools department.

Angela MacGregor: Head of the curtains and blinds department. Angela rarely impacts on the plot directly, but is often present when someone makes an uncharacteristically unpleasant or ruthless decision. Sister of Sadie MacGregor.

Axel Platzoff: a 'reformed' supervillain, formerly known as Professor Devastato. Axel has been channelling his villainous tendencies into the struggle against the DIY Barn. Archenemy of Captain Stellar, sometimes mentor to Norman and Fiona.

Belinda: An extremely annoying Pavilion staffmember. She changes departments frequently, presumably deliberately shuffled around by irate superiors.

Bruce: The ghost of one of the electrician. He was one of contractors who originally built the Handy Pavilion. Another contractor – a concreter – discovered that Bruce was sleeping with his wife, and buried him in the concrete. Bruce finds the afterlife somewhat unrewarding.

Buck Dusty: A cowboy who works in power tools. Buck reports to a mysterious organisation of mysterious western types known as COWBO. COWBO seems to report to something called the 'Grey Barn', though it is not clear if this is related to the DIY Barn.

Captain Pete: Sinister one-handed aquarium specialist at the Place O'Pets.

Captain Stellar: aka 'Vincent'. Superhero and member of the Vigilancers superhero team. Former archenemy of Axel Platoff. Boyfriend/former boyfriend of Cycloman

Carol: Owner/barrista at the Super Centre's only good source of coffee. A slightly annoying new-agey hipster type, Carol is also completely fearless. In love with Zorbar.

Carlos: Works at the Pavilion key-cutting counter. Carlos is the object of Laura's affections, but it has not been revealed how he thinks about her.

Christian: A young but highly successful sales assistant in power tools. Christian's rise in the power tool department is orchestrated by his mistress, the Phantasm.

Claudia Lebeau:  Manager of the South Hertling Super Centre. Girlfriend and ally of Ms Shan. Senior to Karl Wintergreen.

Cycloman: Boyfriend/former boyfriend of Captain Stellar.

Delia Crispin: Owner of the Storage Universe store. Severe, but basically good hearted.

Donna: Junior member of the lighting department. A disciple of Sadie and, later, a friend of Fiona.

Fanaka: A time traveller from an alternate history, Fanaka hails from a nineteenth century Steampunk-futurist Africa. He is a friend of Nalda.

Fiona: An initially hapless young worker in the plumbing/bathroom section. Fiona has water control powers of unspecified origin. Initially an ally of Axel, a friend of Norman and Wellsey.

Gwen Harper: A dryad who takes the appearance of a middle-aged Kiwi woman. In love with Norman.

Jemmy Harrison: Owner of the music shop and possessor of a powerful holographic projector.

Karl Wintergreen: Owner of the local stationary shop, editor and sole reporter for the South Hertling Super Centre Newsletter. A conspiracy theorist and a genuinely terrible writer, his researches do occasionally hit upon the truth.

Jane Nguyen: Works on the equipment counter. Seemingly normal?

Laura Cho: A new employee who gains super powers when one of Axel's superweapons explodes. She becomes the superhero Voyager, and is vexed by the appearance of her own doppelganger from the future. In love with Carlos.

Marlon Dillinger: The duty manager at the Handy Pavilion. A soft-hearted tyrant. Ally of Ms Shan.

McKinley: A cartoon cat.

Mildred Po: Owner of the Stars in their Eyes telescope shop and amateur rocket scientist.

Mr Smith: The General Manager of the DIY Barn. A somewhat inept Fascist who is nevertheless a threat. Fortunately he is entirely fictional; in the real world inept businessmen/Fascists never threaten anybody.

Ms Shan: Jasu Shan, the General Manager of the Handy Pavilion. Ms Shan wants to view the Pavilion in a bloodless, corporate sort of way but discovers a hidden sense of loyalty to her employees. In love with Claudia Lebeaux. Occasionally also spelled 'Ms Shen' for reasons that I can only assume stem from subconscious racism on my part. Seriously, I can't remember a four letter name?

Nalda Teheintausand: A killer cyborg from the future who works in the arts and crafts department. Also an excellent arts teacher. Very good with children. Friend of Fanaka.

Norman: A young man who dreams of being a big deal in power tool retail. Friend of Fiona, after their involvement in Axel's first plot against the DIY Barn. Comes from a strange family background.

Phantasm of the Pavilion, The: A mysterious hooded and masked figure who seems intent on causing chaos in the Handy Pavilion. Served by Christian.

Richard Pennington: A customer. An alchemist, almost certainly with sinister intent.

Ron: An inhabitant of an alternate world, stranded in South Hertling.

Sadie MacGregor: Head of the lighting department. Sadie is an extremely moral person, possibly supernatural in nature. She is often present when someone makes an uncharacteristically high-minded decision. Sister to Angela MacGregor, mentor to Donna.

Seamus: A garden gnome who comes to life under the full moon. Speaks in a stereotypical Irish dialect, but the good people of Ireland would like to disavow all knowledge of him. Friend of Zorbar and Bruce.

Stavros Theopoulos: Owner of the Super Center's kebab shop.

Wellsey: Former petty criminal, now head of the plumbing/bathrooms department. Well meaning, but basically in over his head.

Woman in Laplander Hat: Too mysterious to possibly.

Voyager: See Laura Cho.

Zorbar Ofthechimps: The son of a wealthy Sydney family, for unknown reasons he was raised by a family of chimpanzees. He used to work in the Pavilion garden centre. In love with Carol.

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