The five Ts of being a writer

Being a writer is a claim that many make, but few put the time and effort into. I know this is very skeptical of me, and even a little sad, but it’s true. I’ve met a lot of people in my time who have said they are writers and they want to write a book, but I’ve known very few who have done it.

In my time as a writer, and a leader of a writers’ group, I’ve discovered there are five distinct traits that successful writers (those that evolve into published authors) tend to have. So, in no particular order, here they are…

Talent
Yes, you need the talent to write. Not so much for the technical side, that can learnt, and we will discuss that in a moment, but you really need to have the imagination and mind of a real writer. You can have the best grammar and writing skills in the world, but if your story is lacklustre, your theme is non-existent, and the concept of the story is cliche and stale, well, no one is going to want to read it. There are ways of igniting that creativity in you. However, I genuinely believe you need at least a seed of it to begin with. This is a skill that can not be taught, but can be nurtured with the right mind-set.

Technical skills
Grammar, spelling and the basics of writing a decent sentence is a must for anyone looking to publish their work and have it read by others. But, my advice is, don’t get too hung up on it until you start drafting. I’m a firm believer in learning while you do and if you try to write your first draft while learning the basics of English language, you’ll find it jerky and frustrating – it’s the quickest way to destroy creativity and turn a budding author off the career altogether. Yes, technical skills are incredibly necessary, need I remind you of ‘Let’s eat Grandma‘ but make sure you bring them in at the right time of the process, to me that’s in the drafting and editing stages.

I also want to point out here, you have to know the rules before you break the rules. Many new writers think that their work will stand out if they consider themselves above the rules of the English language, they are not, and yes their work will stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.

Tenacity
You have to keep writing and submitting. It can be devastating to have your hard work denied time and again by publishers, but if it were easy, then everyone would do it. You can’t give it. The only difference between a writer and a published author is that the author didn’t give up. Yes, there are those once in a blue moon stories of the lucky who get a massive publishing deal straight off the bat, but these are rare and often don’t do the writer justice as it can foster complacency with their success. Earn your stripes, keep writing, keep submitting, work hard and never lose faith that you can get where you want to be if you put the time and effort into it.

I am published. I have two YA book series with a publisher and also have had over 40 short stories published in anthologies all over the world, but I’m still rejected by publishers and still can’t earn enough to live as a full-time author – this is most authors’ stories, but that can change with just one book and the right publisher; but, if you stop writing you’ll never get that deal, and that’s why I won’t stop writing and submitting my work. I want to write full time which brings me on to…

True Love
You have to love writing. It has to be your ambition and mistress. It takes an inordinate amount of time to write a book, then to edit, draft and then to submit. So you need to go into it with your eyes open. You will need to sacrifice things in your life to accommodate this. We all get 24 hours a day; you need to look at what you do, who you spend time with and decide what you need to give up to make enough time for your writing. I’m not saying that you need to become some crazy hermit in a log cabin with a laptop and broadband, but you do need hermit style sessions to get the job done. Take a long hard look at your life and trim away the things and people who are not supporting you and your dreams. This sounds harsh, but it’s the only way to ensure you not still writing that first novel twenty years after you started it.

Timing
Makinbg sure you hit deadlines is crucial when you’re a writer. I’ve spent my whole career in sales and marketing so hitting deadlines and targets are ingrained in me, but most people don’t have this discipline. My advice? Take baby steps and be realistic about what you can do. Having lofty goals is great, but if you set the bar too high you’ll never reach it, and so you’ll be more likely to quit. Decide what you are writing and roughly how long you want it to be, then set word counts each day. Smaller ones to begin with, and then build up. Make your time count and make sure you get your work into publishers by their deadline.

Being a writer/ author is one of the few dreams that does not ask you to be a certain age, race or gender. It doesn’t care if you have a disability and what your sexual orientation is. Anyone can set themselves on this path; just remember the 5 Ts and you’ll soon be on your way.

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2018 is the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

200 years ago, Mary Shelley penned a horror story that would not only last the test of time but would also make us think about the nature of monsters – not an easy task.

I first read Frankenstein at school. When you’re young, its easy to be afraid of monsters, to shy away and not dig any deeper than the skin they wear and the acts they commit. It wasn’t until I was much older that I saw Frankenstein’s creation for what it was, the product of yet another monster.

I hope I’m not spoiling the book/ movies for anyone by saying this… although the monster commits atrocious acts, his creator perhaps is the bigger monster of the two. Lead by arrogance and selfishness; he achieves his dream of creating life, only to shun the life he has created. This can happen to many people, to be driven and passionate about something, only to get it and feel the energy that has been sustaining you for so long begin to ebb and die.

The monster, although grotesque and made up of a mish-mash of criminal parts, doesn’t start off evil. He actually does some good, that is, before he’s shunned yet again; this time by society. Dr Frankenstein has created something that simply does not belong and, as the psychologist, Maslow pointed out in his Hierarchy of Needs, to feel you belong is central to anyone’s well-being, even a creature whose every limb sports pot-luck DNA.

It makes me wonder if Mary Shelley knew the impact of her book, which it wouldn’t be just the terrifying tale of a dark and stormy night if she would have written it differently. Perhaps give it a happy ending so that readers can go away feeling that there is some good in the world? Probably not. Most horrors end, well horribly. Happy endings are reserved for fictional romance and children’s books. As an author myself, I can’t help but consider the impact of the story if Dr Frankenstein had realised what he had done and attended as the monster had asked. Or even better, he hadn’t run from the creature at first sight, but instead had loved and cared for it?

In the UK, Sky Atlantic had a series called Penny Dreadful. The premise was that monsters and myths were alive and well and living in Victorian London. Although the series, by the end, dropped a little of it’s entertainment value, it boasted a Dr Victor Frankenstein and his monster as part of the cast and explored their relationship after what would have been the end of Shelley’s book. If you haven’t seen this series, I’d highly recommend digging into the box sets; there’s more than just Frankenstein and his monster to get your teeth into.

What are your thoughts on this literary classic? Let me know below…

The Assassin of Oz – The Twisted and The Brave #2 – Out Now!

The Assassin of Oz – The Twisted and The Brave #2

The Assassin of Oz – The Twisted and The Brave #2

Monsters and madmen and murderers, oh my!

A club of serial killers calling themselves Oz is stalking the streets of London. Alone and desperate, 17-year-old Halo finds herself drawn into the middle of their blood-soaked storm of murders. Struggling to survive, Halo must contend with both known and unknown killers, put her trust in the most unlikely of devilish places, and play by a new set of rules if she is to become the Assassin of Oz.

Gavin, a young US homicide detective, has moved to the UK to catch the serial killers, Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow, and The Munchkin Masher but soon finds himself two steps behind the headline-grabbing murderers and one step behind vigilante group, Wonderland.

Stalked by death and danger, both Halo and Gavin are going to need all the brains, heart, and courage they can muster to take down Oz.

You can buy it here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia 

Direct at the Publishers

You can see it on GoodReads here…

Excerpt:

Cameras flash, journalists whisper, and the television crews quickly check their equipment. An odd hush then smothers the noise as a tall man wearing a dark suit and a graying white shirt steps onto the podium before them. His head hangs down somewhere between guilt and shame.

He scans the crowd and finds a mix of the usual faces, who will inevitably ask the usual questions, make the usual accusations, and of course never agree with his decision—whichever one he has chosen. He will give them the usual responses, the usual arguments, and defend himself, in the same manner he usually does. Yet this self-fulfilling prophecy gives him no comfort or confidence. What he is about to do will affect not just his life, but the lives of the whole country for which he is responsible. Even though he finds it easy to foresee his next few minutes with uncanny accuracy, his foresight cannot predict the years that will follow this speech.

He watches for the signal from his press officer and then drops his stare to the blank pages in front of him, surrendering his auto cue. With a sigh, he takes off his glasses and slowly opens his dry, pursed lips to speak.

“I cannot express to you the great sadness that grips my heart this day. As a man who has dealt with war, famine, and crises born of nature’s wrath, I can honestly say I have always tried to see the good in my fellow man, but today I … I stand in front of you in doubt. I have tried to pinpoint one single event that has brought me here. One particular crime that has been the catalyst to today, but alas there have been so many, they are now a bloody blur to me, leaving stains of faceless ambivalence.”

A murmur ripples through the crowd and the photographers steal the opportunity to take a few more choice shots for the morning news. The man squints at the barrage of flashes, shakes his head, and grips the podium tighter.

“It has been estimated there are now at least five murders occurring every week in London alone, with the bulk of these murders being attributed to at least seven different serial killers that are freely roaming our streets. We have drafted in police from across the globe to combat this alarming crime spree, but alas, I feel, as your Prime Minister, that this is still not enough to keep the innocent people of this country safe. And so it is with a reluctant and heavy heart that, as of this day, I reinstate the death penalty to be carried out no less than one week after a conviction of murder has been secured for anyone who is over the age of sixteen. From this day, if you willingly, and knowingly, take an innocent life for pleasure or gain, you will forfeit your own.”

The murmur rises to a roar as some reporters cheer, and others cry out angry questions.

“Prime Minister, how can this be justified? There has been no vote in Parliament?” one reporter yells.

“Why haven’t these killers been stopped by now?” asks another.

“Sixteen is too young!” cries another.

“What about the ongoing cases? Will this sentence be given to those already on trial?”

He recognizes the last voice, Levi Goodman, a sleazy reporter from a popular TV channel who’s been drumming up panic since the UK descended into this blood-soaked mess.

“Yes, this will apply to any conviction from today onwards,” he replies, his eyes downcast.

“How can that be justified?” Levi asks.

The rest of the reporters burst into a spasm of questions, comments, and more outrage.

The Prime Minister looks through the throng of animated journalists. He moves to step down, but pauses and then turns back to them and says, “May God have mercy on our souls, and may The Devil have room enough in Hell. There will be no answers to your questions. There were none to mine.”

The writer’s New Year resolutions

I can’t believe that another new year is on our doorsteps again. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was sat in front of my computer and listing all the things I wanted to achieve in 2017. Did I achieve them? Yes, I think I did get my grubby mits on some, but not as much as I would have liked. Are you thinking the same thing? If you are, I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help you finish that novel, get published or even merely feel just in calling yourself a writer.

1) Just write something – I’ve said it time, and again, if you want to call yourself a writer, you need to start writing. You’d be shocked at how many people out there will tell you that they want to write a book, but then never sit down and string a sentence together. Let me be blunt…you will never write the perfect sentence straight off the bat, you just won’t. First drafts are just that, first drafts. No writer anywhere has had a first draft published. We all write the first draft and then edit till we’re blue in the face and sick to death of our own words. This is how excellent prose is made. So just write, anything, everything whatever you like, just start doing something. You need a draft to edit, and elves don’t hack your computer at night and write them for you! Although, it’d be cool if they did!

2) Make a space for your writing – I mean this both physically and mentally. Create a physical space for yourself to write in, This might be a shed by your house (like Roald Dahl), or it could be a desk in your study or somewhere else entirely. Have laptop, will travel. Pick a nice pub or coffee shop and just burrow down with a great drink and some tasty grub and get on with it. I always find the first 10 minutes hard work, but once I pass this marker, I love every minute of it. Top tip, turn your internet connection off. As well-meaning as it might be to have access to online research, believe me when I say that it’s a temptation that just isn’t worth it.

3) Treat your writing like a best friend – you want to spend time with your best friend, right? We all have them, and we all love chilling and gossiping with them. So treat your writing like a friend. Plan to spend time with it. Put it in your diary that you are meeting. You’ll find your attitude to it will change. You don’t want to let your friends down do you? So you’ll turn up for your writing. Call it a name if you need to, Bob, Mr Write, Lady Cornerwinkle, it doesn’t matter. If your writing is important to you, make an effort to spend serious time with it.

4) Keeping it safe – cybersecurity has never been so important, so ensure that you have backed-up your work. Losing something you’ve spent months or even years on is not an option. You’re advised to change your passwords at least every couple of months or so, so do it. Take it one step further and use your book title as your password, every time you punch it in it’ll reinforce what you should be writing on, and before you all try to access my accounts, I also use random numbers in my passwords too!

5) Read – read often, read well and read some more. Books are a writer’s bread and butter. If you don’t know what’s already out there, then that 100,000 word novel about a sexy S&M addicted businessman and an unfortunately annoying virgin girlfriend might prove a massive waste of your time. Read books in your genre, and out of it. If you’re a writer, then odds on you’ll love reading too anyway, but not make an effort to check out Goodreads and Amazon once in a while and buy something to entice and tickle your imagination and more…

So there you have it, 5 top tips for writing in the New Year, because you know what? A year from now, you’ll wish you’d have started writing your novel today.

Now, I’m off to the pub with Lady Cornerwinkle.

 

The Ghosts of Christmas

I love a good ghost story. The UK has such profound and dark historical roots that tales of the paranormal are everywhere. From the headless horseman that rides out on Halloween, to the White Lady that appears whenever disaster is near, their stories are spine chilling and engrossing. You might be forgiven for thinking that Halloween is the best time for such supernatural frights, but in the UK there is a strong tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas.

Author, M R James would write a different story every year to be read out at his Christmas Eve party. In my imagination, it was between eggnog and charades (but I’m only guessing!) and of course, let’s not forget the classic Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that boasted four ghosts all going above and beyond to teach Scrooge a valuable lesson.

So, why don’t you indulge a little ghostly Christmas chills and either read or watch something a little less festive, but with a bit more spirit:

Read a little of Susan Hill. This author has scared me silly in the past. Her story The Little Hand still makes me shudder!

Joe Hill’s (wait, I’m sensing a pattern…) Heart Shaped Box is another tale that will have you blowing out the atmospheric candles and running for the light switch.

Graham Masterton’s collection of stories, Figures of Fear will make you lock all the doors and not open them to a single carol singer.

Watch the new Annabelle Creation movie. Dolls are pretty scary on their own but are so much worse when they’re inhabited by a demon.

My personal favourite, The League of Gentleman’s Christmas Special, aired in 2000, many stories all dripping in dark humour and a dash of festive frights.

So, forget the turkey and the presents, curl up on the couch and get yourself a dash ghostly goodness to see you through the Christmas period.

But,  I will leave you with my favourite (clean) Christmas joke:

How did Scrooge win the football game?
The ghost of Christmas passed.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good write!

Women in Horror Annual 2 out now!

Women in Horror Annual 2 is out now and includes one of my short stories, Backseat Driver.

The Women in Horror Annual 2 is the second volume of an anthology of horror fiction and nonfiction written by women. WHA promotes and celebrates female voices in horror, and the stories and papers contained within represent a diverse group of writers, each with their own unique vision. Ranging from supernatural tales of horror to quotidian terror, and touching on themes of empowerment, insanity, and freedom, the stories herein run the gamut from melancholic to darkly humorous. As was the case with the first volume, WHA 2 is further proof that horror has something for everyone.

 

Contents:

Rumspringa by Melissa Burkley

The Coffin Builder by Caroline Katz

Eyes like Kali by Tanya Smith

Behind the Music by Madison McSweeney

The Girl in the Stairwell by Victoria Dalpe

Backseat Driver by Nicky Peacock

Taphonomy by Melanie Wanghorne

Red by Kathleen Danielson

Mother Love by Alyson Rhodes

Revenge of the Combine Killer by Lesa Pescaris Smith

We’re the Weirdos, Female Empowerment in the Craft by Horrorella

All Our Rooms are Ensuite by Tracy Fahey

Inside Out by Ruschelle Dillon

The Fiddlers by Pam Farley

 

Buy the book in the UK on Amazon here…

 

What’s up with clowns?

What’s up with clowns?

I recently watched the new IT movie and loved IT. I was a big fan of the 1990s mini TV adaptation, but in my opinion, this new film blindingly outshone it. Not just because of the better effects, but also it was wisely pulled forward in time to the 1980s which made me feel nostalgic and quickly bonded me to the characters. I’m not sure whether Stephen King’s book started the ‘creepy clown’ mindset or merely tapped into something that was already there, but few people can talk about clowns without mentioning IT.

The fear of clowns is called Coulrophobia, and I’m not that scared of them to consider this a personal problem for me, but I certainly wouldn’t choose to be in the same room with one; God forbid, get trapped in an elevator with one. Weird, underneath that white pancake make-up and exaggerated black and red features is just an average person, right? Hmmm, I guess that’s a dangerous assumption. It’s a fact that masks and costumes can change a person. Some actors can’t get into character until they are in their costumes, some people are more willing to commit immoral acts while wearing a mask and assuring their anonymity – but does the mask give that person license to do what they want? Or does it go deeper? When you put on a persona, can it alter your personality?

I work on an industrial estate that can sometimes get clogged with traffic. One night I was sat in a traffic jam when I absent-mindedly looked in the rearview mirror and saw that there was a clown in the car behind me. It was a weird thing to see, but I quickly assured myself that he was probably on the way to a party or perhaps on his way home. But, even with this logic, I found it hard to take my eyes off him. What if he did something weird? What if he pulled out some pins and started to juggle awkwardly behind the wheel? What if he got out of the car? And then he waved at me.

I did two things. I waved back with one hand and then locked my car’s doors with the other. I’m polite, but not stupid. As a horror writer, my mind suddenly began to swim with images of him bounding over to my car, cheap silky costume billowing behind him, breaking my windows with his chubby gloved hands, and then dragging me out and into the nearby shrubbery… but he didn’t do anything else. He just waited patiently for traffic to move, just like everyone else. But I was creeped out beyond belief. Maybe he meant it as a friendly gesture? But do any strangers wave at fellow drivers on the road? I’ve never had it before and not had it since. Was being dressed as a clown a factor in this friendly yet odd behaviour? I’ll never really know. I do know though, that what we wear affects how we act, just ask any business or school that enforces a uniform. Does dressing like a clown permit you to indulge a comical yet dark side that would usually remain hidden? I am guessing a lot of you are yelling the name of the famous serial killer John Wayne Gacy at the screen now, but arguably there have been more serial killers that haven’t dressed as clowns than ones that were. Or maybe, they just haven’t been caught yet.

My American Nightmare – Women in Horror Anthology

Coming Soon! 

My American Nightmare – Women in Horror Anthology

Includes my short story She Looked Like Krystal Sparkle. A modern, twisted take on the fairy tale The Enchanted Canary.

For Fans of American Horror Story, Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Danielle Vega

America, land of the free, land of the brave, land of nightmares? A group of female authors come together in this collection of creepy tales and psychological horror stories to bring you chills and disturbing images that won’t leave you long after you are done reading. From zombies to rural small towns, to the foggy New England to the glamour of Hollywood, each story focuses on a diverse aspect of living in America and the horror found in bullying, being the “new girl,” starting your first job, and navigating the murky waters of adolescence and all the terrifying changes that come with it. Bold and haunting, My American Nightmare encompasses daring stories from new voices in the horror genre. This collection will unsettle your nerves and linger in your mind, demonstrating that women can show you a nuance of horror that isn’t always evident from the male perspective.

Author Line -up

Angela Sylvaine – Ballad of Sorrow and Lila

Amelia Kibbie –  We Kill The Skullman

A. Goli – Mr. Buttons’ Tea Party

Jamie Kahn –  The Poison & The Ivy

Rachel Bolton-  The Girl & The Yellow Wallpaper

Hillary Lyon – Boys’ Night Out

Nicky Peacock –  She Looked Like Krystal Sparkle

Spinster Eskie – Angie’s Change

Sheri Kreitner – The Pickman Sisters of Salem

Sierra Ryan –  Volunteer

Kara Nelson – The Eye

E.F. Schraeder – Night Moves

Andrea Teare – 39 Days

Heather Miller – The Stars

Marnie Azzarelli – When Evacuating Pennsylvania

Erica Ruhe – Perle

Phoebe Jane Johnson – Ruby

Azzurra Nox – Whatever Happened to Peyton Rose?

Kara Dennison – Billson

Released Oct 31st 2017

For further information:

The Blog Tour

Good Reads

Amazon

Video Trailer 

 

Flash Fiction Day 2017 @nationalflashfd

A little bit of Nicky style horror flash fiction to celebrate Flash Fiction Day 2017

 

Together

By Nicky Peacock

You run fast, but they are faster. Thump. As your body hits the ground, a painful tremor rattles your bones. Sharp nails drag across your chest. Blood blooms up like a salty, scarlet flower. A dirty hand rapidly thrusts between your ribs. Crack. The creature tugs at your heart, pulling part of it free. Rip. Quickly, it crams the organ into its foul smelling, yawning mouth and mashes it between barbed teeth. Munch. As it swallows, its dead eyes spark with life. Its expression morphs from hunger to affection. As the others mindlessly continue to split and steal your twitching limbs, it looks at you with the purest love you’ve ever known; will ever know. Tears squeeze themselves from its glazed, ebony, oozing eyes. Drip. It gently strokes your gore covered hair from you face.  Caress. Your heart meat seems to have slid into the chasm-like crack that had crept deep into its soul. Love. And just before a bright, white light flutters down to swallow your soul whole, the creature grips onto your hand, determined to go with you and never let you go again.

If you like this, you might like my published books and short stories…

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

National Share a Story Month – Food Chain by Nicky Peacock

Food Chain

By Nicky Peacock

He wanted a relaxing day, to just melt into the overgrown grass of the reservoir’s bank like he’d died and his essence was being sucked back into Mother Nature’s belly; alas it was not meant to be. No matter how still he sat, his little amphibian mind buzzed with the constant hum of the nearby human buildings that surrounded the small man-made lump of nature he called home.

At least it was the weekend, and there were no school trips today. It was on those days he, and his neighbours, were subjected to stints of incarceration in brightly coloured buckets, and worse, forced into cartoon character backpacks never to be seen again. Yesterday had been one of those days. Three teenagers had snatched him up and, while laughing maniacally, passed him around and licked his back. All the while he was painfully aware that yet another group of kids were leaving the school system without knowing the difference between a common frog and a hallucinogenic toad.

He stretched out his long legs and tried to relax, such moments of peace were rare for him, so he felt obligated to enjoy them. All too soon he found himself wondering what it would have been like if he’d have been spawned in one of those lovely natural rivers. Maybe he should take a trip over to one, fight the homing urge? No, it was a bad idea, frogs from such waters looked down on the likes of him coming from a quick crudely made ‘reservoir’ rather than one lovingly evolved by Mother Nature. The idea left him as fast as it had appeared, although if he was truthful to himself, it had merely retreated to fight with his reason another day.

It was starting to get dark and the night dwellers that lived in the reservoir were beginning to wake. It was then he saw the human; a lone man carrying a wriggling sack over his shoulder….

The frogs were used to things being dumped in their home. Currently, it was being utilised by a scientific research centre. The last thing they had abandoned there was the Three Eyed Toad. Too large to hunt for food, the frogs had looked after him. In return, he had told them about the humans and their experiments, the strange coloured liquids that burnt, and the howling animals with greedy stares. He hadn’t lasted long in the wild; he’d simply known too much. He may not have been born of nature, but she was forgiving and didn’t judge him in death, she took him back. His body fed a flock of birds who watched the reservoir’s inhabitants with hungry vigilance.

“What’s going on Toby?” Minty scrambled up on the rock beside him and watched as the man dropped the sack on to the ground.

“Not sure, hope it’s someone like the toad, he was nice.”

“Yeah.” Minty looked away, a slimy tear dribbling down his jowl.

The man kicked the sack then looked up and around like he’d spotted a predator; he then shook his head and pulled out his car keys and started striding back toward the road where his company van was parked. They didn’t need to look at the van to tell it was from the research centre. Three Eyed Toad had warned them never to go near it, although deep in their frog bellies they had always known as much.

“Let’s go and have a look, someone might need our help,” Toby said, and then he bounced off the rock. Minty followed close behind him.

The first thing they noticed was that the bag smelt strange. It wasn’t like the unnatural smell of Three Eyed Toad or even the brightly coloured buckets that randomly became their prisons; no this was naturally unnatural.

“Don’t get too close, Minty.” Toby edged forward getting another whiff of weirdness.

It was a bag about five times the size of them, and it wriggled. Something was inside trying to get out, and Toby had the oddest sensation that whatever was in there, shouldn’t be free.

“Minty, hop onto the edge of the sack.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Minty jumped onto the sack’s edge, and Toby sat on the other end. The wriggling inside got worse.

“Can’t you feel that?” Toby asked, shooting a serious look at his friend.

“Feel what? The thing in the sack, we should let it out, it might be injured after the human kicked it.”

“No. It all feels…wrong we need to…”

Suddenly the sack stopped wriggling and deflated.

“What happened?” Minty moved from his corner to investigate.

“No, Minty, stop!”

The sack was empty, whatever it was it had eaten its way out of the bottom of it. Below, the ground was alive with scuttling creatures that swarmed toward Minty with a common purpose, “Hello, what do we have here?” was all he got out before they were all over him.

“Minty!” Toby was rooted to the spot; he wanted to help his friend, he needed to, but it was like his legs had turned to frog spawn, and all he could do was watch on helplessly as Minty was devoured by the little creatures.

The creatures looked like ants, but not like any ant Toby had seen before; they had giant yellow horns that erupted from their heads, horns that must have weighed more than any ant could carry, as they dragged their heads down, making it impossible to see their eyes. They didn’t act like other ants either; frogs were their natural predators they should be swarming away from Minty, not eating him.

“What are you looking at Toby?”

Toby turned to see his friend Kewl hopping toward him.

“What the? Is that Minty?”

“Was.”

“Come on brother let’s move!” Kewl grabbed Toby and pulled him toward the rocks.

Toby looked back to see the remains of Minty’s skeleton sinking into the mud. They reached the rocks and leapt behind them.

“Where’d they come from?”

Toby shook his head, “Guess!”

“Those scumbag humans.” Kewl looked back to see the ants had stopped swarming and were just standing eerily still. There were about twenty of them, and they had all simply stopped and were now silently watching the night sky above them, their heads still labouring beneath the horns.

“We have to do something Kewl, those things eat us, and we need to kill them before they start a nest here.”

“Ok, ants for dinner then.”

“No! There’s something wrong with them, can’t you feel that?”

Kewl peered over the rocks, “Yeah, no I get it, brother, I feel it too, they’re not supposed to be here.”

Toby joined him, and they both watched the ants staring at the sky. Shadows flickered above them.

“Birds! Get down!” Kewl yelled.

Both frogs jumped back behind the rocks and watched as a group of black birds circled the ants who just stared up at the feathered death bringers with oblivious abandon. One swooped down and started pecking at the small ant army. Instantly they were all over it. The bird cawed, struggled, and then was subdued as the ants feasted on its innards and licked the blood from its feathers.

“Toby, we are in so much trouble right now!”

The frogs stared up at the other birds circling the ants. After watching their comrade roll and writhe and then succumb to the strange horned creatures, they squawked at one another and then flew off into the safe horizon.

“Whoa!” Kewl looked from the empty sky to Toby, “I’ve never seen birds fly away from a meal before.”

“Food that eats you is not exactly high on their menu choice.”

“These little guys are rattling the food chain, no wonder they don’t feel right, brother. What did the humans do to them?”

“Three Eyed Toad said that they liked infecting creatures with viruses and bacteria for their amusement.”

“That’s no virus!” Kewl motioned at the ants that were now milling around the bird carcas, having stripped it like a Christmas Turkey.

“We need to see.”

“See what?”

“What they are, they don’t act like ants, ants would be working by now, building a hill, a home, and they’re not doing anything like that,”

“Apart from eating everyone, oh, hang on, what do you mean, see? I’m not getting any closer to those horny little weirdoes than I have to,”

Toby turned and looked Kewl in one of his side eyes, “We need to get one, we won’t know what we’re dealing with till we…”

“What? Pull it apart? What are we now? The humans? Shall we make up a cage of lily pads and twigs?”

“Actually that’s not a bad idea.”

“You’ve gone insane!”

“The world’s gone insane Kewl; I’m just a frog trying to keep up.” Toby jumped behind the rocks and started pulling at twigs and yanking plants out by their roots.

Kewl watched with sticky eyes and a dry mouth. Minty was dead. Rather than admit that and move on, like move way on to the next body of water away from the horned ants and certain death, Toby was waging a one frog war. They had all grown up together, spawned at the same time in the reservoir, probably not brothers, but as they had been tadpoles shedding tails and crawling out of the goo at the same time together, they felt like family. They’d stayed here and not jumped into the horizon like the rest of them, they had braved the school trips, scientific dumps and legions of birds and for Minty to die covered in ants… Kewl felt his back leg vibrate with anger, “What do you need me to do?”

Toby looked over and nodded, “We need to build a trap.”

“Count me in, brother.”

The two frogs worked quickly, their webbed hands moulding the mud into a primitive cage, the plant life of the reservoir tied together as ropes. Now and then one of them would poke their head up from the rocks to see what the ants were doing; the answer always seemed – not much, apart from staring at the sky and of course looking weird.

Once their tasks were complete, the frogs watched the ants for a while, judging the stragglers.

“There, the one to the right, he’s furthest away from the group,” Toby motioned to the ant almost on its own.

“Good spot, brother, let’s do this.”

It’s hard to be stealthy when you’re a frog, the very act of jumping is both noisy and noticeable, especially when croaking on lift off was almost a reflex; so they both decided that a surprise grab would work best. Once in position, they nodded to one another, took deep breaths and jumped onto the ant. Toby whipped out his tongue, grabbed it, and they both jumped back behind the rocks. Once there, Toby threw the ant back up and into the mud prison. It stared at them, its foreign looking giant horns waving in the breeze coming from the two panting frogs. After gaining their breath and composure back, they checked if the other ants had noticed. They hadn’t; their interest was still captivated by the night sky.

“So what the hell are you?” Kewl asked slamming his amphibian hand onto the mud ceiling. “I’m bad cop,” he whispered to Toby.

“No you’re a frog,” Toby whispered back.

The ant had no reaction to the question but squinted at the mud prison around it.

Toby pulled on their makeshift rope and wrapped it around the ant’s horns, “Just in case you get the nibbles friend.”

“We know that you came from the lab, tell us what you know.”

It said nothing. It just stared at them, the only difference than when it had stared at the sky was that now it had a hungry glint in its eye.

“That’s so odd,” Kewl said moving closer to it, “it’s not an ant, or I think it was maybe one at one time, just not anymore,”

Toby tightened his grip on the rope, “What do you mean?”

“It has this glazed look, and I can’t hear a heartbeat.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Kewl, of course; it has a heartbeat. If it didn’t, it would have been taken by Mother Nature already,”

Kewl moved even nearer, “Maybe it’s heartbeat is just faint?”

“Don’t get any closer!” Toby felt the ant tense then suddenly it reared back. The rope constricted on its horns and swiftly pulled them off.

“Whoa!” Kewl hopped back, and both frogs watched as the ant decomposed in front of them, its body turning several shades of death, then sinking into its mud prison, leaving the yellow horns still tied to the rope.

“That ant was dead; it was the horns that were alive, they were just using its body to…”

“To what? Have a nibble at the wildlife buffet? This is wrong, brother, we’ve gotta do something, if just one of those things gets outta here, it could upset the whole food chain. What if it’s not just ants that it can use? What if…”

Toby nodded, “Ok, we need a plan.”

Kewl took a deep breath, “I miss Three Eyed Toad, he would have known what to do.”

“That’s it! You’re a genius; we need to get to that lab and talk with his friends if he would know, they’d know. They might even know what these zombie ants are.”

“Hang on there brother, that place is dangerous.”

“The lab is now only marginally more dangerous than being here, and what if those yellow horns were to attach themselves to a human? What then eh? We need to know what we’re dealing with if we’re to stop them.”

“I don’t care what they are, brother, I just what to know how to kill them.” Kewl looked off into the middle distance and puffed out his chest.

“We know how to kill them Kewl; we pull off their horns, we just need help, we can’t get them all on our own, there’s too many, they’ll swarm us.”

Deflated Kewl sighed, “I know that I was just trying to be cool.”

Toby laughed, “You are Kewl, that’s how you got your name.”

***

They hopped like it was spawning season, the wind against their drying skins, and the fear of the ants weighing heavy on their minds. They stopped briefly to tell their few frog friends about the zombie ants and ask that they keep an eye on them, but not to go too near. Although most had gathered as much upon seeing the horns and feeling the insect’s aura that declared ‘keep away’. Funny the animals got it, most of them anyway, why hadn’t the humans? Surely they would have felt that primeval kick in the gut when they had seen those things, and if they had, why release them into the wild? Three Eyed Toad was set free because he had outgrown his usefulness; what could be learnt from an extra eye? The frogs quickly found that it made his eyesight worse rather than better, his balance was terrible so moving was a constant game of gravity roulette, where would he fall next? Humans were meant to be top of the food chain; they controlled the wild, made the reservoir, could freely walk anywhere without fear of being eaten by a hundred and one other species, yet still they didn’t seem happy to leave Mother Nature to get on with it. They still had to interfere.

***

The smell of humans and chemicals was everywhere, and the smooth floors were proving painfully slippery to the frogs, but they had made their way via a sewer grate, and up through a toilet, so there was no turning back.

Their little eyes bulged at the giant furniture and flashing lights, even at night the lab didn’t rest. They hadn’t seen any humans though; Three Eyed Toad had instilled a fear so deep within them about the white coated creatures that the mission would have been instantly aborted upon one’s appearance – every frog for himself.

The door that held the animals was unmistakable in its scent, so the frogs made their way beneath the cracks and soon found themselves staring at row after row of metal cages.

“Our mud cage was better, brother.”

“These things look pretty sturdy, how did Three Eyed Toad escape again?”

“He didn’t; he got released. He said that they put a pink slip in his cage and the next day he was free.”

“The pink slips are too dangerous; they could mean get rid of for all we know. There must be another way to open the cages; we’ll find it and talk to these guys, we need help, Kewl.”

“What about the food chain? If we let something above us out, it’ll just eat us.”

Toby hopped further into the room. Eyes, pink and raw stared back at him, “Don’t worry Kewl. They’re beyond the food chain now, the humans have done things to them.”

Kewl followed him, and soon a strange whispering began to echo about the cages, voices from a hundred different tiny tongues.

“Umm, hello.” Toby stood on his hind legs so he could meet their eyes, as best he could, “I’m Toby, this is Kewl.” He gestured at his friend who rolled his eyes.

“How did you get in here?” a small voice from behind the nearest cage.

Toby hopped toward it and peered into the darkness.

Two round pink eyes greeted him then a clawed hand slowly extended from the cage, “I’m Number 335.”

Toby took the hand and carefully shook it; it belonged to a large white female rat, who, when she smiled, the frogs discovered, had no teeth,

“They took them out,” she explained, “we bit them when they grabbed at us, so they took our teeth.”

Lots of furry clawed hands then extended from the cages. Some took them quickly back in, some waved, one made an awkward ‘thumbs up’ sign.

“I’m Number324,”

“I’m Number527,”

“I am Number125,”

And the different numbers kept coming.

“Did you know the Three Eyed Toad?” Kewl asked Number335.

“No, sorry before my time I think,” she replied.

Toby stepped closer, “We need help, Number335, will you and your people help us?”

“Help with the ants?”

“Yes! What do you know of the ants?”

“They’re dead.”

“No, they’re not, they are in our reservoir, eating anyone who comes near them.”

“No, they are dead,” Number335 said, “We saw them, they were normal, they had a queen, they didn’t talk much, but they worked hard to build a home here at the Lab. Then a human came, he was meaner than the rest, he had cold eyes and a dish filled with a pale yellow powder which he threw at the ant hill. They all died. Then they got back up and started growing horns. They ate their queen. They were not ants anymore, just mindless eaters driven by the yellow powder.”

“What was the powder, sister?” Kewl asked.

“We are uncertain, but we heard the humans speak of finding it deep below the earth, somewhere called Prehistoric.”

Toby inched closer to Number335, “Can you help us, we’ll set you free, but we need to kill all the ants in our reservoir,”

“We will help you Toby and Kewl, but we do not know how to kill the ants.”

“That’s ok, we figured that bit out, we just need the manpower.”

“Manpower we cannot give, ratpower however…” she winked her pretty pink eye and smiled her toothless smile.

***

With the aid of the rats, Toby and Kewl found the switch to open the cages. They had to move quick, not every creature there was as friendly as their new thirty-two rat friends. Before they could be eaten, they all ran toward a grating that led to an extraction fan, which was fatefully broken; through that, they escaped and into the fresh night air.

“Lead us to your home, Toby,” Number 527 said and then gave the ‘thumbs’ up sign again.

“I think you should be called Thumbs from now on, brother.”

“I like that.” Thumbs grinned.

“I’d like a name too.”

“Name me.”

Kewl put his webbed hands in the air, “No worries we’ll give you all proper names.”

Toby nudged him, “Let’s do it after, ok?”

“After what?”

“The ant battle.”

“Oh, ok, brother.”

They moved with swift intent through the grass and cut across the human road; when it came to roads, the animals knew there was safety in numbers, a car was more likely to see a hoard of rats than two small lone frogs.

When they made it back to the reservoir, they found that the frogs that had stood guard in their absence had disappeared.

“Oh great, who’s watching the ants?” Kewl motioned over to the rocks and then hopped onto one, “Oh no, they’ve gone too!”

“The ants have died?” Number335 joined Kewl on the rock, “No, look they are there.” She pointed with her long nose to a mass of feathers and blood; the ants had spread out to take another victim.

“Ok, here’s the plan,” Toby motioned for them all to gather round, “Tomorrow is a school day, and if there’s a trip and the human tadpoles get hold of one of the ants, it could not just disrupt the food chain but could break it all together.”

“We’re protecting humans?” Thumbs cocked his head.

“Not humans, but Mother Nature, the natural order must be upheld, and it’s up to us to do it.”

“Tell us what we must do.” Number335 huddled closer, and the rest of the rats followed suit.

The problem was Toby didn’t know what to do; in truth, he didn’t think they’d get this far. Dying in the lab was as far as he’d thought up to, but with the army of pink eyes blinking at him and Kewl nodding heroically at a plan he had yet to hear, well he had to say something…

“Right, the plan.” He stood up on his hind legs, so he was the tallest of the group, “Ok the plan is…” and the next thing he knew he was air born clutched in the talons of a big black bird who looked down casually at him as it flew toward the sky. His friends, frozen in terror watching on.

It was now or never to form a plan, thought Toby, “Excuse me, bird.”

The bird stopped flying and hovered.

“Bird, please put me down.”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m sure you are, but we have a problem that needs addressing, and I’m the only frog who can do it; by eating me, you could be dooming the planet to a zombie ant invasion.”

The bird narrowed its eyes, “That’s what those things are?” He nodded his beak to the squirming Horned Ants below.

“Yes.”

“They’re not natural.”

“No, they were dumped by the humans.”

“Of course, humans,” the bird spat and snorted and then almost dropped Toby.

“The ants have already eaten two birds that we know of; help us avenge your fallen friends?”

“I will not help; humans can clean up their own mess.”

Fear and dread tumbled through Toby’s tight, dry little body and he realised that he’d never again see the wonders of a dawn or the eat a fat fly, or mate and spawn in the Spring.

“Please Bird.” He stared up at it, “We are the only defence Mother Nature has.”

The bird began to carefully tumble through the sky till it was just above the rock where Kewl and the rats were still sitting, their mouths slack with the horror of Toby’s abduction.

“Suddenly I’m not so hungry little frog,” the bird said then carefully placed Toby on the rock and propelled itself back into the sky.

“Brother! Are you OK?”

“No Kewl, I’m so far from OK right now that OK had invented the time machine and zapped itself back to the age when our ancestors were twenty foot tall and roamed the earth.”

“What did you say to the bird?” Number335 put her nose on Toby and sniffed him.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ve had an evil week: back licking, science dumps, Minty killed before my very eyes, a trip through a sewer and a toilet when we could have gone straight through the air ducts, yes Kewl I noticed that! Then, to top it all off, I was a victim of a bird attack,”

“How was I supposed to know about the air ducts?”

“You knew about the sewers!”

“Frogs,” Thumbs said peeking over the rock, “the ants are finished with the bird, they’re now moving around, with… more purpose.”

“Ok, there’s no time for a plan, let’s just roll in there and start ripping horns out!”

“Yeah!” Kewl jumped onto the rock. “Come on brothers and sisters, no ant lives!”

The rats squealed and applauded so loudly that the ants heard them and started moving towards the rocks.

Then Toby got an idea, “They kill by their numbers, but there are more of us, everyone picks an ant and destroys that one before they can swarm.”

As the two armies clashed together, the battle cry of the frogs and rats was heard slicing through the still night air. Clawed paws met with yellow horns, each of the frogs pounced onto an ant and held it in place for a rat to rip into. A few of the rats were careless and eaten so quick it was like they’d sank into quicksand. The actual fighting took but a few minutes, but to the frogs and rats, it felt like hours.

By the end, the reservoir looked like a forgotten battlefield strewn with bodies like red and white confetti and defiant yellow horns that, by their continued presence mocked Mother Nature.

“What about the horns brother?”

Toby picked a pair up, “We bury them Kewl, as far down as we can so the humans can never find them again.”

“We will dig.” Number 335 rallied the other rats.

“Thank you, Num… Pink Lady.” Toby smiled at her, and Kewl started naming the other rats.

***

The story of what happened was told time and again for many moons. Sometimes it was a beaver that led the white army to victory against the Horned Ants; sometimes it was a stray dog looking to win back the love of its masters. Although the basic story remained the same, there are two truths consistently left out. One was that a lone bird circled the battlefield keeping away any skyward predators from picking off the brave soldiers. The other was that it was all down to two frogs, two little frogs that saved the world from the zombie ants.

After all, it would never have been believed, and we all have the responsibility of protecting the food chain.

 

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