A Conspiracy of Pigeons – a scifi short story

A pigeon looks down across a city.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Leo crept along an alleyway and out along dirt-smeared store fronts, stalking pigeons through the city streets. He knew that they were here. They always had been. They always would be. But somehow, they were harder to find these days. He had no trouble finding mice and rats, squirrels in the parks, small birds among the rooftops. The old city was full of exquisite morsels, but pigeons were a distant grey movement, tantalisingly out of reach.

He stopped to lap at a puddle in the shadow of a statue, a vast feline body with its face worn smooth. Limbless trees lined the road ahead.

When Leo was a kitten, pigeons had been plentiful in the old city, drawn down by the litter humans left. That was back when floods barrelled through the streets, bludgeoning and drowning; when winds ripped tiles from the roofs and rained down shards of shattered windows. It had felt like the world was ending.

Not that the old city was safe now. A fox emerged from the mouth of a drain, its eyes feverish with one of the city’s sicknesses. Some creatures caught infections that slowed them down. Strange shining things latched onto others, changing how they behaved. This fox had one of those silvery objects clamped to its head and a hungry, desperate  look.

The fox charged at Leo, who dashed to a limbless tree, dug his claws in and scrambled frantically up. The fox tried to follow but the shining thing on its head wrecked its balance. It fell to the ground, squirming and twitching.

From the top of the tree, Leo gazed across the rooftops. On these clear days, he could see all the way to a new city, one of the tall ones with gleaming walls and woodlands on their roofs. When the humans left the old city, they had taken Leo with them. He’d found himself in a place that was safe, calm, and clean. The humans had seemed happy. So had the dogs, of course, even most of the cats. But Leo couldn’t settle. He’d spent half his life on the perilous streets, and they called to him.

The old city had changed different cats in different ways. Leo was smarter and could understand humans better than most. He knew that they had left the old city standing on purpose, a way to remember the terrible past.

Looking now from his treetop to the centre of the city, Leo saw familiar grey wings flutter around a vast dome. That was where he needed to be. Thick wires ran along the line of trees to there. He placed his paws on the wire and, with swift steps, followed the swaying path across the city.

Leo’s journey back from the new city had been its own balancing act, swaying between the need to keep moving and the risk of recapture and return. By then the storms were fewer, the floods less dramatic. The old city had seemed strangely quiet without its human occupants.

Over the years that followed, a calm had settled across Leo’s world. Life became easier and he became discontented. He needed a challenge.

Then he realised that the pigeons were up to something.

A hundred feet from the dome, the wire ended, severed and dangling. Frustrated, Leo leaped from the treetop to a nearby window, through its rotting frame, down mouldy stairs, and back into the street. A pigeon flapped past overhead. Wires trailed from the gleaming thing between its claws. Leo purred softly. He almost had them.

Skulking from shadow to shadow, Leo approached the domed building. One of its doors was ajar, hinges broken and base pressed into the floor. Leo slipped past. From deeper in the building, he heard clattering and fluttering.

He tensed at the smell of another cat. This might mean trouble.

That scent led Leo slowly up narrow stairs. At the top, a balcony looked out across the chamber beneath the dome. In its centre hung a mass of human-made pieces, dark and stark-edged with wires binding and connecting them. Pigeons fluttered around, pushing those pieces together. The floor below was pale and slick with their mess, but their construct was pristine.

Like Leo, the pigeons had been changed by the things humans left behind. But while Leo had become ever more solitary, the pigeons clung closer together. They were the true city-dwellers now, and they were making something.

A cat perched on the edge of the balcony, woefully skinny beneath her tabby fur. She had clearly been around the wrong sort of humans, as she bore a scar on her hip where some device had been removed. She looked hungrily at the pigeons and pulled back her lips, but closed them without a sound. Utterly preoccupied with the pigeons, she showed no sign of sensing Leo, but tensed, ready to pounce.

Leo leapt, grabbed the tabby, dragged her back. She hissed and fought, claws slashing, but his experience and her hunger favoured him. He pinned her down, then looked from her to the pigeons and back again, until she got the message. Resentfully, she drew her claws in and untensed.

Leo pressed his cheek against hers and purred. Later, he would show her how to catch the twisted animals of the old city, how to live here away from humans. First, though, he had to see what had brought him here.

Leo and the tabby peered through the balcony rail. Moving like a single beast, the pigeons fluttered to the edge of the room and settled, cooing.

After a moment, the thing they had made stirred. Shapes like wings scraped the floor. The pigeons cooed again, an excited chorus, then flocked in to work at their creation once more.

The tabby’s soft hiss was a question. Leo didn’t know the answer, but he knew that this was important. In the city humans had left as a warning, animals were coming into their own.


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Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors by Andrew Knighton

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is available for pre-order now:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

The Clockwork Cat – a flash steampunk story

13th March 1887

Never trust a salesman. I was explicitly told, when I subscribed to Professor Turnberg’s Cabinet of Wonders, that they would substitute other mechanicals for those in a likeness of animals, as per my directions. After all, if I wanted a pet I would have bought a pet. What I wanted was mechanical art, but when I opened this month’s box, I found inside a life size clockwork cat.

I spoke to the delivery man, of course, as he was departing with last month’s miniature train, ready to take it to the next subscriber. He promised that he would raise the issue with his superiors. I fully expect a response by the end of the week.

16th March

No reply from Turnberg’s. I wager the delivery man never even passed on my message. I shall write to his superiors to complain.

In the absence of another mechanical piece to adorn the drawing room, I have reluctantly unboxed and wound the cat. It stalks the floor as my mother’s dreaded Mister Snubbles once did, rubbing itself against the furniture and purring in its strange, mechanical voice. I will admit that the work is uncannily convincing, but in a model of a cat, I find that far from appealing.

18th March

During a visit for tea, Lady Kirby insisted that I name the cat, saying that I could not spend a whole month calling it “the beast”. After some consideration, I have settled for Bella – if I cannot have the beast I will have beauty, however unfitting that name is.

19th March

Bella is becoming almost as much trouble as a real cat. It roams the house and protests before any closed door, of which there are many, given its propensity for scratching antique furniture. The things is an infernal nuisance, but I cannot simply let it wind down and stop – what sort of house does not have a mechanical on display in this day and age?

21st March

Today, Bella brought me a dead rat it had caught in the kitchen.

A dead rat. On my writing desk. Disgusting.

I must admit, the sophistication of this feline mechanical is truly admirable. Between the hunting, the playing, and the rubbing against my legs, it is unsettlingly close to the real thing. I will be glad when it is gone.

25th March

Bella has taken to sleeping on my desk while I work. It is inconvenient, but allows me to better show her off when business associates come calling. Having such a fine mechanical can do my reputation no harm.

30th March

Today, Bella did not come to sleep on my desk. I should have been more productive, but instead found myself worrying that my prize mechanical might have come to harm. I eventually found her sleeping in a box in a spare room. Her little chest was rising and falling as she purred in her sleep. Truly a remarkable piece of art.

1st April

No Bella at my desk for the third day running. I was eventually able to lure her into the study with a mouse-shaped toy on a string, but then she caught the mouse, chewed it up, and tried to swallow it. Only swift intervention on my part saved her from with shredded cotton tangling her gears. I would not want to have to pay for damages when she is returned to Turnberg’s.

Now she is sleeping in a sunbeam on the rug. I have drawn a sketch of her there, just to keep my hand in with the old pencils.

6th April

Three nights ago, I forgot to close the bedroom door and Bella came in to sleep with me. Since then, she has become my companion every night, curled up by my feet, sometimes rising in the darkness to go and chase mice in the kitchen. After years on my own, it is strangely comforting to share a bed, even with a mechanical beast.

8th April

At last, a letter from Turnberg’s acknowledging their mistake. They have promised that, from now on, my monthly subscription will match my request for no animals. As compensation for their mistake, this month they will be sending me an intricate clockwork village from their elite subscribers list. I greatly look forward to impressing Lady Kirby with it when she comes for tea.

9th April

Bella is back on the desk, in a box I placed there for her.

I find myself having second thoughts about the clockwork village. Where will I even display something so fine with the house in its current state? Perhaps I should save it for another month.

10th April

Bella is due to be taken away in three days. Perhaps she can take her box with her.

11th April

I don’t think I have time to make space for the village. I will send a telegram to Turnberg’s asking them not to change my mechanicals this month. Just while I make some changes in the decor.

I have given Bella her own blanket at the bottom of the bed, to keep her off the other sheets when I’ve oiled her joints.

13th May

The delivery man came today with the second cat. I will be calling this one Bete. He and Bella have been watching each other warily across the study, but I am sure they will soon be firm friends.

Along with Bete came the first item in my altered subscription – a set of mechanical mice for my cats to chase. Next month there will be birds.

I do not like pets, but my heart skips at the sight of a truly great mechanical.


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Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.

For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.

Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.

Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.

Elmo is Watching

I haven’t done an Elmo post in ages, so here he is, watching a truck from the office window. I haven’t seen much of him recently, as he’s usually out enjoying the summer weather. It always feels weird to wish for cooler weather when you live in England, but I’m looking forward to him being at home more. The writer’s life can be a lonely one (plays smallest violin, gets back to decadent life of sitting around working at home).

Even Evil Overlords Worry About Their Cats

He’s much better now, and as helpful as ever.

When we’re writing stories, we often expect the characters’ motives and decision making to be all about the big stuff. Their doomed romance, their grand ambitions, their quest to save the world. But sometimes little things are just as important.

Take me. My cat Elmo recently had an injury. Nothing serious, but it got infected and he was grooming it too much, which stopped it healing. There wasn’t much I could do about it except take him to the vet and then feed him his medicine, but for two weeks it affected everything I did. I arranged my schedule around vet visits. I was extra cautious leaving the house so he couldn’t get out. I lost sleep because he was waking me in the night instead of going out hunting. Even when I wasn’t directly dealing with him, his health was constantly in the back of my mind, shaving away a fraction of my emotional processing power.

When you ask “why did someone act that way?”, you can always provide a big issue answer. But the reality is that there are often little things too, and they can make the difference.

Of course, writing isn’t just about presenting reality. We want our characters to mostly be concerned with the grand issues and big emotions. But it’s worth putting in those petty little factors from time to time, the things that distract us from the big cause or put a little extra strain on our brains. They can make characters more convincing and give you an excuse to vary their behaviour.

After all, even evil overlords must worry about their cats.

End of Year Review – Elmo the Cat

Having reviewed my own achievements this year, I feel that my writing assistant, Elmo the cat, deserves the same treatment. So, his achievements this year…

He’s learnt to catch mice, which is good, as it turned out some were living in the kitchen.

He’s made friends with other cats in the street, which is a relief after the fights and face-offs at our last house.

He’s calmed the f**k down, which makes my life easier. Now he can entertain himself by running around the allotments, he hardly ever ambushes me on the stairs or wakes me up to play at three in the morning. I almost miss those crazy days.


So well done Elmo. Treats all round. And maybe next year you can learn that the sink and the toilet aren’t good places for you to drink from.