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Night was falling as Laura Cho arrived for night duty at the Handy Pavilion. A sad paper sign on the main door assured customers that the Pavilion was still open in spite of the damage. So sad it was, it almost brought a tear to Laura's eye. It had been a terrible day, Valentine's Day. The Pavilion had been dealt its greatest blow, and without the DIY Barn even making a move.

Laura had been away on the day of that the mushroom men had gone wild. She'd been visiting Karl Wintergreen and poor dear Carlos in the hospital. She'd hoped that Carlos would have noticed her decision to visit on Valentine's day, but he was still… not cold, perhaps. But distant. Very distant.

She'd had to come clean to him about her secret identity as the superhero Voyager. What had happened to Carlos made no sense otherwise, and it was not fair to leave him in ignorance. The simple fact was, he'd tried to save her by shoving her out of harm's way, and succeeded only in breaking a total of eight bones against her invulnerable body.

She'd had to explain this to him. Of course she had. And he'd been distant ever since. Perhaps he was still processing it. Then again, perhaps he felt threatened. Aquatic Woman had warned her that this could happen in relationships between superheroines and non-super men. It was hard to say yet what the deal was. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 56 — Tall Tales Part 1"

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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 light-bulbs 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 some 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?"

"Over 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. There were just too many people in the garden section when the full moon rose and brought him to life. He just couldn't be bothered to hide himself from them any more. 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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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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The skirmishing was over and war had come at last to the Handy Pavilion. Employees that had once arrived by bus or on foot were now in mandatory car pools. Safety in numbers. Every effort had been made to conceal from the public all the preparations for battle. Still, an observant customer might have noticed how the theft-prevention people on the door now focused their attention on the outside rather than inside; how the skylights all suddenly sported heavy iron grilles; how the woodwork demonstrations now seemed to produce nothing but baseball bats.

Axel Platzoff sat alone in the cramped little break room, building a matchstick model of the Riechstag and wondering about the role he would play in the coming conflict. He'd been involved in wars before. He was a veteran of wars of secrets, wars of infinities, invasions, civil wars and a seeming endless array of world crises. They were always hard. Hard on survivors, harder on the dead. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 46 — Farewell"

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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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